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How the Concord Management Prosecution Fell Apart

The frothy right and anti-Trump left both politicized DOJ’s decision to dismiss the single count of conspiracy charged against Concord Management and Concord Catering in the Russian troll indictment that Mueller’s team obtained on February 16, 2018. The right — including the President — and the alt-Left are falsely claiming the prosecution against all the trolls fell apart and suggesting this undermines the claims Russia tampered in the 2016 election.

The mainstream left speculated, without any apparent basis, that Bill Barr deliberately undermined the prosecution by classifying some of the evidence needed to prove the case.

The politicization of the outcome is unfortunate, because the outcome raises important policy questions about DOJ’s recent efforts to name-and-shame nation-state activities in cyberspace.

The IRA indictment intersects with a number of important policy discussions

The decision to indict the Internet Research Agency, its owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin, two of the shell companies he used to fund Internet Research Agency (Concord Management and Concord Catering, the defendants against which charges were dropped), and twelve of the employees involved in his troll operations intersects with three policy approaches adopted in bipartisan fashion in recent years:

  • The use of indictments and criminal complaints to publicly attribute and expose the methods of nation-state hackers and the vehicles (including shell companies) they use.
  • A recent focus on Foreign Agents Registration Act compliance and prosecutions in an attempt to crack down on undisclosed foreign influence peddling.
  • An expansive view of US jurisdiction, facilitated but not limited to the role of the US banking system in global commerce.

There is — or should be — more debate about all of these policies. Some of the prosecutions the US has pursued (one that particularly rankles Russia is of their Erik Prince equivalent, Viktor Bout, who was caught in a DEA sting selling weapons to FARC) would instill outrage if other countries tried them with US citizens. Given the way Trump has squandered soft power, that is increasingly likely. While DOJ has obtained some guilty pleas in FARA cases (most notably from Paul Manafort, but Mike Flynn also included his FARA violations with Turkey in his Statement of the Offense), the FARA prosecutions of Greg Craig (which ended in acquittal) and Flynn’s partner Bijan Kian (which ended in a guilty verdict that Judge Anthony Trenga overturned) have thus far faced difficulties. Perhaps most problematic of all, the US has indicted official members of foreign state intelligence services for activities (hacking), though arguably not targets (private sector technology), that official members of our own military and intelligence services also hack. That’s what indictments (in 2014 for hacks targeting a bunch of victims, most of them in Pittsburgh and this year for hacking Equifax) against members of China’s People’s Liberation Army and Russia’s military intelligence GRU (both the July 2018 indictment for the hack-and-leak targeting the 2016 election and an October 2018 one for targeting anti-doping organizations) amount to. Those indictments have raised real concerns about our intelligence officers being similarly targeted or arrested without notice when they travel overseas.

The IRA indictment is different because, while Prigozhin runs numerous mercenary activities (including his Wagner paramilitary operation) that coordinate closely with the Russian state, his employees work for him, not the Russian state. But the Yahoo indictment from 2017 included both FSB officers and criminal hackers and a number of the hackers DOJ has otherwise indicted at times work for the Russian government. So even that is not unprecedented.

The indictment did serve an important messaging function. It laid out the stakes of the larger Russian investigation in ways that should have been nonpartisan (and largely were, until Concord made an appearance in the courts and started trolling the legal system). It asserted that IRA’s efforts to thwart our electoral and campaign finance functions amounted to a fraud against the United States. And it explained how the IRA effort succeeded in getting Americans to unwittingly assist the Russian effort. The latter two issues, however, may be central to the issues that undid the prosecution.

Make no mistake: the IRA indictment pushed new boundaries on FARA in ways that may raise concerns and are probably significant to the decision to drop charges against Concord. It did so at a time when DOJ’s newfound focus on FARA was not yet well-established, meaning DOJ might have done it differently with the benefit of the lessons learned since early 2018. Here’s a shorter and a longer version of an argument from Joshua Fattal on this interpretation of FARA. Though I think he misses something about DOJ’s argument that became clear (or, arguably, changed) last fall, that DOJ is not just arguing that the trolls themselves are unregistered foreign agents, but that they tricked innocent Americans into being agents. And DOJ surely assumed it would likely never prosecute any of those charged, unless one of the human targets foolishly decided to vacation in Prague or Spain or any other country with extradition treaties with the US. So the indictment was a calculated risk, a risk that may not have paid off.

But that’s why it’s worth understanding the decision to drop the prosecution based off the record, rather than presumptions about DOJ and the Russia investigation.

Just the funding side of the conspiracy to defraud indictment got dropped

The first step to understanding why DOJ dropped the charges is to understand what the two Concord entities were charged with. The indictment as a whole charged eight counts:

  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States for preventing DOJ and FEC from policing our campaign finance and election system (and State for issuing visas)
  • Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud by using stolen identities to open financial accounts with which to evade PayPal’s security
  • Six counts of aggravated identity theft for stealing the identities of Americans used in the wire and bank fraud

The wire and bank fraud charges remain untouched by DOJ’s decision. If any of those defendants shows up in court, DOJ remains fully prepared to hold them accountable for stealing Americans’ identities to thwart PayPal’s security protocols so as to fool Americans into doing Russia’s work. Such an identity theft prosecution would not rely on the aggressive FARA theory the Concord charge does.

Even still, most of the conspiracy to defraud (ConFraudUS) charge remains.

The two Concord entities were only named in the ConFraudUS charge. The overt acts involving Concord entail funding the entire operation and hiding those payments by laundering them through fourteen different affiliates and calling the payments “software support.”

3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendant ORGANIZATION received funding for its operations from Defendant YEVGENIY VIKTOROVICH PRIGOZHIN and companies he controlled, including Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC and CONCORD CATERING (collectively “CONCORD”). Defendants CONCORD and PRIGOZHIN spent significant funds to further the ORGANIZATION’s operations and to pay the remaining Defendants, along with other uncharged ORGANIZATION employees, salaries and bonuses for their work at the ORGANIZATION.

[snip]

11. Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.

a. CONCORD funded the ORGANIZATION as part of a larger CONCORD-funded interference operation that it referred to as “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.

b. By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.

c. To conceal its involvement, CONCORD labeled the monies paid to the ORGANIZATION for Project Lakhta as payments related to software support and development. To further conceal the source of funds, CONCORD distributed monies to the ORGANIZATION 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.

Concord was likely included because it tied Prigozhin into the conspiracy, and through him, Vladimir Putin. That tie has been cause for confusion and outright disinformation during the course of the prosecution, as during pretrial motions there were two legal fights over whether DOJ could or needed to say that the Russian state had a role in the operation. Since doing so was never necessary to legally prove the charges, DOJ didn’t fight that issue, which led certain useful idiots to declare, falsely, that DOJ had disclaimed any tie, which is either absurd misunderstanding of how trials work and/or an outright bad faith representation of the abundant public evidence about the ties between Prigozhin and Putin.

By including Concord, the government asserted that it had proof not just that IRA’s use of fake identities had prevented DOJ and the FEC from policing electoral transparency, but also that Putin’s go-to guy in the private sector had used a series of shell companies to fund that effort.

By dropping the charges against the shell companies, that link is partly broken, but the overall ConFraudUS charge (and the charge against Prigozhin) remains, and all but one of the defendants are now biological persons who, if they mounted a defense, would also face criminal penalties that might make prosecution worth it. (I believe the Internet Research Agency has folded as a legal institution, so it would not be able to replay this farce.)

Going to legal war with a shell company

As noted, the indictment included two shell companies — Concord Management and Concord Catering — among the defendants in a period when Russia has increasingly pursued lawfare to try to discredit our judicial system. That’s precisely what happened: Prigozhin hired lawyers who relished trolling the courts to try to make DOJ regret it had charged the case.

As ceded above, DOJ surely didn’t expect that anyone would affirmatively show up to defend against this prosecution. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have the evidence to prove the crimes — both the first level one that bots hid their identities to evade electoral protections, and the second level conspiracy that Prigozhin funded all that through some shell companies. But it likely means DOJ didn’t account for the difficulties of going to legal war against a shell company.

One of the two explanations the government offered for dropping the prosecution admits that the costs of  trying a shell company have come to outweigh any judicial benefits.

When defense counsel first appeared on behalf of Concord, counsel stated that they were “authorized” to appear and “to make representations on behalf” of Concord, and that Concord was fully subjecting itself to the Court’s jurisdiction. 5/9/18 Tr. 5 (ECF No. 9). Though skeptical of Concord’s (but not counsel’s) asserted commitments at the initial appearance, the government has proceeded in good faith—expending the resources of the Department of Justice and other government agencies; incurring the costs of disclosing sensitive non-public information in discovery that has gone to Russia; and, importantly, causing the Court to expend significant resources in resolving dozens of often-complex motions and otherwise ensuring that the litigation has proceeded fairly and efficiently. Throughout, the government’s intent has been to prosecute this matter consistent with the interests of justice. As this case has proceeded, however, it has become increasingly apparent to the government that Concord seeks to selectively enjoy the benefits of the American criminal process without subjecting itself to the concomitant obligations.

From the start, there were ongoing disputes about whether the shell company Concord Management was really showing up to defend against this conspiracy charge. On May 5, 2018, DOJ filed a motion aiming to make sure that — given the uncertainty that Concord had been properly served with a summons, since, “Acceptance of service is ordinarily an indispensable precondition providing assurance that a defendant will submit to the jurisdiction of the court, obey its orders, and comply with any judgment.” Concord’s lawyers responded by complaining that DOJ was stalling on extensive discovery requests Concord made immediately.

Next, an extended and recurrent fight over a protective order for discovery broke out. Prigozhin was personally charged in the indictment along with his shell company. The government tried to prevent defense attorneys from sharing discovery deemed “sensitive” with officers of Concord (Prighozhin formally made himself an officer just before this effort started) who were also defendants without prior approval or at least a requirement such access to take place in the United States, accompanied by a defense attorney lawyer. That fight evolved to include a dispute about whether “sensitive” discovery was limited to just Personally Identifiable Information or included law enforcement sensitive information, too (unsurprisingly, Concord said it only wanted the latter and even demanded that DOJ sift out the former). The two sides established a protective order at start. But in December, after the government had delivered 4 million documents, of which it deemed 3.2 million “sensitive,” Concord renewed their demand that Prighozhin have access to discovery. They trollishly argued that only Prigozhin could determine whether the proper translation of the phrase “Putin’s chef” meant he was the guy who cooked for Putin or actually Putin’s boss. At this point, the US started filing sealed motions opposing the discovery effort, but did not yet resort to the Classified Information Procedures Act, meaning they still seemed to believe they could prove this case with unclassified, albeit sensitive, evidence.

Shortly thereafter, DOJ revealed that nothing had changed to alter the terms of the original protective order, and in the interim, some of the non-sensitive discovery (that is, the stuff that could be shared with Prigozhn) had been altered and used in a disinformation campaign.

The subsequent investigation has revealed that certain non-sensitive discovery materials in the defense’s possession appear to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. political system. These facts establish a use of the non-sensitive discovery in this case in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the protective order and demonstrate the risks of permitting sensitive discovery to reside outside the confines of the United States.

With a biological defendant, such a stunt might have gotten the defendant thrown in jail (and arguably, this is one of two moments when Judge Dabney Friedrich should have considered a more forceful response to defiance of her authority). Here, though, the prosecution just chugged along.

Perhaps the best proof that Prigozhin was using Concord’s defense as an intelligence-collecting effort came when, late last year, Concord demanded all the underlying materials behind Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control decision to sanction Prigozhin and his companies. As Friedrich noted in her short notation denying the request, OFAC’s decision to sanction Prigozhin had nothing to do with the criminal charges against Concord. Nevertheless, Prigozhin used the indictment of his shell companies in an attempt to obtain classified information on the decision leading to sanctions being imposed on him.

Prigozhin’s goal of using his defense as a means of learning the US government’s sources and methods was clear from the first discovery request. That — and his unwavering efforts to continue the trolling operations — likely significantly influenced the later classification determination that contributed to DOJ dropping the case.

The government intended to try this case with unclassified information

That’s the other cited reason the government dismissed this case: because a classification determination made some of the evidence collected during the investigation unavailable as unclassified information.

[A]s described in greater detail in the classified addendum to this motion, a classification determination bearing on the evidence the government properly gathered during the investigation, limits the unclassified proof now available to the government at trial. That forces the prosecutors to choose between a materially weaker case and the compromise of classified material.

At the beginning of this case, the government said that all its evidence was unclassified, but that much of it was sensitive, either for law enforcement reasons or the privacy of victims in the case.

As described further in the government’s ex parte affidavit, the discovery in this case contains unclassified but sensitive information that remains relevant to ongoing national security investigations and efforts to protect the integrity of future U.S. elections. At a high level, the sensitive-but-unclassified discovery in this case includes information describing the government’s investigative steps taken to identify foreign parties responsible for interfering in U.S. elections; the techniques used by foreign parties to mask their true identities while conducting operations online; the relationships of charged and uncharged parties to other uncharged foreign entities and governments; the government’s evidence-collection capabilities related to online conduct; and the identities of cooperating individuals and, or companies. Discovery in this case contains sensitive information about investigative techniques and cooperating witnesses that goes well beyond the information that will be disclosed at trial.

Nevertheless, after the very long and serial dispute about how information could be shared with the defendant noted above (especially Prigozhin, as an officer of Concord), later in the process, something either became classified or the government decided they needed to present evidence they hadn’t originally planned on needing.

This is one way, Barr critics suggest, that the Attorney General may have sabotaged the prosecution: by deeming information prosecutors had planned to rely on classified, and therefore making key evidence inaccessible for use at trial.

That’s certainly possible! I don’t rule out any kind of maliciousness on Barr’s part. But I think the available record suggests that the government made a good faith classification decision, possibly in December 2019 or January 2020, that ended up posing new difficulties for proving the case at trial. One possibility is that, in the process of applying a very novel interpretation of FARA to this prosecution, the types of evidence the government needed to rely on may have changed. It’s also possible that Prigozhin’s continued trolling efforts — and maybe even evidence that his trolling operations had integrated lessons learned from discovery to evade detection — made sharing heretofore sensitive unclassified information far more damaging to US national security (raising its classification level).

As discussed below, the record also suggests that the government tried to access some evidence via other means, by subpoenaing it from Concord. But Concord’s ability to defy subpoenas without punishment (which gets back to trying to prosecute a shell company) prevented that approach.

The fight over what criminalizes a troll conspiring to fool DOJ (and FEC)

Over the course of the prosecution, the theory of the ConFraudUS conspiracy either got more detailed (and thereby required more specific kinds of evidence to prove) or changed. That may have contributed to changing evidentiary requirements.

Even as the dispute about whether Concord was really present in the court fighting these charges, Concord’s lawyers challenged the very novel application of FARA by attacking the conspiracy charge against it. This is precisely what you’d expect any good defense attorney to do, and our judicial system guarantees any defendant, even obnoxious Russian trolls who refuse to actually show up in court, a vigorous defense, which is one of the risks of indicting foreign corporate persons.

To be clear: the way Concord challenged the conspiracy charge was often frivolous (particularly in the way that Concord’s Reed Smith lawyers, led by Eric Dubelier, argued it). The government can charge a conspiracy under 18 USC § 371 without proving that the defendant violated the underlying crimes the implementation of which the conspiracy thwarted (as Friedrich agreed in one of the rulings on Concord’s efforts). And on one of the charged overt acts — the conspiracy to hide the real purpose of two reconnaissance trips to the US on visa applications — Concord offered only a half-hearted defense; at trial DOJ would likely have easily proven that when IRA employees came to the US in advance of the operation, they lied about the purpose of their travel to get a visa.

That said, while Concord never succeeded in getting the charges against it dismissed, it forced DOJ to clarify (and possibly even alter) its theory of the crime.

That started as part of a motion to dismiss the indictment based on a variety of claims about the application of FARA to conspiracy, arguing in part that DOJ had to allege that Concord willfully failed to comply with FECA and FARA. The government argued that that’s not how a ConFraudUS charge works — that the defendants don’t have to be shown to be guilty of the underlying crimes. Concord replied by claiming that its poor trolls had no knowledge of the government functions that their secrecy thwarted. Friedrich posed two questions about how this worked.

Should the Court assume for purposes of this motion that neither Concord nor its coconspirators had any legal duty to report expenditures or to register as a foreign agent?

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?

The government responded by arguing that whether or not the Russian trolls had a legal duty to register, their deception meant that regulatory agencies were still thwarted.

As the government argued in its opposition and at the motions hearing, the Court need not decide whether the defendants had a legal duty to file reports with the FEC or to register under FARA because “the impairment or obstruction of a governmental function contemplated by section 371’s ban on conspiracies to defraud need not involve the violation of a separate statute.” United States v. Rosengarten, 857 F.2d 76, 78 (2d Cir. 1988); Dkt. No. 56, at 9-13. Moreover, the indictment alleges numerous coordinated, structured, and organized acts of deception in addition to the failure to report under FECA or to register under FARA, including the use of false social media accounts, Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 32-34, 36, the creation and use of U.S.- based virtual computer infrastructure to “mask[] the Russian origin and control” of those false online identities, id. ¶¶ 5, 39, and the use of email accounts under false names, id. ¶ 40. The indictment alleges that a purpose of these manifold acts of deception was to frustrate the lawful government functions of the United States. Id. ¶ 9; see also id. ¶ 5 (alleging that U.S.-based computer infrastructure was used “to avoid detection by U.S. regulators and law enforcement”); id. ¶ 58 (alleging later obstructive acts that reflect knowledge of U.S. regulation of conspirators’ conduct). Those allegations are sufficient to support the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States regardless of whether the defendants agreed to engage in conduct that violated FECA or FARA because the “defraud clause does not depend on allegations of other offenses.”

Friedrich ruled against the trolls, except in doing so stated strongly that the government had conceded that they had to have been acting to impair lawful government functions, though not which specific relevant laws were at issue.

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 the 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.

Then Concord shifted its efforts with a demand for a Bill of Particulars. The demand itself — and the government’s opposition — included a demand for information about co-conspirators and VPNs, yet another attempt to get intelligence rather than discovery. But Friedrich granted the motion with respect to the application of FECA and FARA.

In other words, it will be difficult for the government to establish that the defendants intended to use deceptive tactics to conceal their Russian identities and affiliations from the United States if the defendants had no duty to disclose that information to the United States in the first place. For that reason, the specific laws—and underlying conduct—that triggered such a duty are critical for Concord to know well in advance of trial so it can prepare its defense.

The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed to a course of conduct that would violate FECA’s and FARA’s disclosure requirements, see Indictment ¶¶ 7, 25–26, 48, 51, and provides specific examples of the kinds of expenditures and activities that required disclosure, see id. ¶¶ 48– 57. Concord, 347 F. Supp. 3d at 50. But the indictment does not cite the specific statutory and regulatory disclosure requirements that the defendants violated. Nor does it clearly identify which expenditures and activities violated which disclosure requirements. Accordingly, the Court will order the government to:

  • Identify any statutory or regulatory disclosure requirements whose administration the defendants allegedly conspired to impair, along with supporting citations to the U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, or comparable authority.
  • With respect to FECA, identify each category of expenditures that the government intends to establish required disclosure to the FEC. See, e.g., Indictment ¶ 48 (alleging that the defendants or their co-conspirators “produce[d], purchase[d], and post[ed] advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton”) (emphasis added)). The government must also identify for each category of expenditures which disclosure provisions the defendants or their co-conspirators allegedly violated.
  • With respect to FARA, identify each category of activities that the government intends to establish triggered a duty to register as a foreign agent under FARA. See, e.g., id. ¶ 48 (same); id. ¶ 51 (alleging that the defendants or their coconspirators “organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States” (emphasis added)). The government must also identify for each category of activities which disclosure provisions the defendants or their co-conspirators allegedly violated.

In a supplemental motion for a bill of particulars, Concord asked which defendants were obliged to file with DOJ and FEC.

That came to a head last fall. In a September 16, 2019 hearing, both sides and Friedrich discussed at length precisely what the legal theory behind the conspiracy was. On Friedrich’s order, the government provided Concord a list of people (whose names were redacted) that,

the defendants conspired to cause some or all of the following individuals or organizations to act as agents of a foreign principal while concealing from those individuals that they were acting as agents of a foreign principal [who should register under FARA].

That is, whether or not this was the original theory of the case, by last fall the government made it clear that it wasn’t (just) Prigozhin or his trolls who needed to register; rather, it was (also) the Americans who were duped into acting and spending money on their behalf. But because they didn’t know they were working on behalf of a foreign principal, they did not register.

Meanwhile, in a motion for clarification, the government argued that it had always intended to include foreigners spending money in the indictment. Friedrich held that that had not actually been included in the original indictment.

These two issues — the claim that duped Americans would have had to register if they knew they were working with a foreign agent, and the need to strengthen the assertion about foreign campaign expenditures — forced the government to go back and supersede the original indictment.

DOJ obtains a superseding indictment with more specific (and potentially new) theories of the case

On November 8, 2019, the government obtained a superseding indictment to include language about foreign donations that Friedrich had ruled was not in the original indictment and language covering the duped Americans who had unknowingly acted as agents of Russian trolls.

New language in the superseding indictment provided more detail of reporting requirements.

¶1 U.S. law also requires reporting of certain election-related expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

[snip]

U.S. also imposes an ongoing requirement for such foreign agents to register with the Attorney General.

The paragraph explaining the means of the ConFraudUS added detail about what FEC, DOJ, and State functions the trolls’ deceit had thwarted.

¶7 In order to carry out their activities to interfere in the U.S. political and electoral processes without detection of their Russian affiliation, Defendants conspired to obstruct through fraud and deceit lawful functions of the United States government in monitoring, regulating, and enforcing laws concerning foreign influence on and involvement in U.S. elections and the U.S. political system. These functions include (a) the enforcement of the statutory prohibition on certain election-related expenditures by foreign nationals; (b) the enforcement of the statutory requirements for filing reports in connection with certain election-related expenditures; (c) the enforcement of the statutory ban on acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal in the United States; (d) the enforcement of the statutory requirements for registration as an agent of a foreign principal (e) the enforcement of the requirement that foreign national seeking entry into the United States provide truthful and accurate information to the government. The defendants conspired to do so by obtaining visas through false and fraudulent statements, camouflaging their activities by foreign nationals as being conducted by U.S. persons, making unlawful expenditures and failing to report expenditures in connection with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and failing to register as foreign agents carrying out political activities within the United States, and by causing others to take these actions.

These allegations were repeated in ¶9 in the section laying out the ConFraudUs count.

The superseding indictment added a section describing what FEC and DOJ do.

¶25 One of the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission is to monitor and enforce this prohibition. FECA also requires that individuals or entities who make certain independent expenditures in federal elections report those expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. Another lawful government function of the Federal Election Commission is to monitor and enforce this reporting requirement.

[snip]

¶26 The U.S. Department of Justice enforces the Foreign Agent Registration Act (“FARA”), which makes it illegal to act in the United States as an “agent of a foreign principal,” as defined at Title 22, United States Code, Section 661(c), without following certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements established by the Act. Under FARA, the term “foreign principal” includes foreign non-government individuals and entities. FARA requires, among other things, that persons subject to its requirements submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and income earned from them. One of the lawful government functions of the Department of Justice is to monitor and enforce this registration, reporting, and disclosure regime.

In perhaps the most interesting addition, the superseding indictment also added language to include the actions of unwitting Americans.

¶48 …and caused unwitting persons to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton. Defendants and their co-conspirators did not report these expenditures to the Federal Election Commission, or register as foreign agents with the U.S. Department of Justice, nor did any of the unwitting persons they caused to engage in such activities.

The superseding indictment repeated this “unwitting” language in ¶51.

This superseding indictment is significant for two reasons, given the dismissal of the count against the two Concord defendants. First, the possibly changed theory of the conspiracy may have changed what evidence the government needed to prove the crime. For example, it may be that DOJ has evidence of IRA employees acknowledging, for the period of this indictment, that spending money on these activities was illegal, whether or not they knew they had to report such expenditures. It may be that DOJ has evidence of communications between the trolls and actual Americans they otherwise wouldn’t have had to rely on. It may be that DOJ has evidence about the regulatory knowledge of those same Americans about their own reporting obligations. Some of this evidence might well be classified.

Just as importantly, if Bill Barr wanted to jettison this prosecution, he could have done so last November by refusing to permit the superseding indictment. That likely would have undermined the case just as surely (and might have led Friedrich to dismiss it herself), and would have been far better for Trump’s messaging. Moreover, from that point in time, it would have been clear that trial might introduce evidence of how three Trump campaign officials coordinated (unknowingly) with the Russian trolls, something bound to embarrass Trump even if it posed no legal hazard. If Barr had wanted to undermine the prosecution to benefit Trump, November would have been the optimal time to do that, not February and March.

While it’s not clear whether this superseding indictment changed certain evidentiary challenges or not, three key strands of activity that seem to have resulted in the dismissal started only after the superseding: an effort to authenticate digital evidence on social media activity, an effort to subpoena some of that same evidence, and the CIPA process to try to substitute for classified information.

The government goes to some lengths to try to pre-approve normally routine evidence

The last of those efforts, chronologically, may hint at some of the evidentiary issues that led DOJ to drop the case.

In a motion submitted on February 17, the government sought to admit a great deal of the social media and related forensic data in the case. In many trials, this kind of evidence is stipulated into evidence, but here, Concord had been making it clear it would challenge the evidence at trial. So the government submitted a motion in limine to try to make sure it could get that evidence admitted in advance.

Among the issues raised in the motion was how the government planned to authenticate the IP addresses that tied the IRA trolls to specific Facebook and Twitter accounts and other members of the conspiracy (Prigozhin, Concord, and the interim shell companies) to each other. The government redacted significant sections of the filing describing how it intended to authenticate these ties (see, for example, the redaction on page 8, which by reference must discuss subscriber information and IP addresses, and footnote 7 on page 9, the redaction pertaining to how they were going to authenticate emails on page 16, the very long redaction on how they would authenticate emails between IRA and Concord starting on page 17, and the very long redaction on how they were going to authenticate Prigozhin to the IRA starting on page 21).

Concord got special permission to write an overly long 56-page response. Some of it makes it clear they’re undermining the government’s efforts to assert just that, for example on IP addresses.

IP addresses, subscriber information, and cookie data are not self-authenticating. The first link in the government’s authentication argument is that IP addresses,6 subscriber information, and cookie data are self-authenticating business records under Rules 803(6) and 902(11). But the cases the government cites are easily distinguishable and undercut its argument.

6 The IP addresses do not link an account to a specific location or fixed address. For example, for the Russian IP addresses the government indicates that they were somewhere within the city of St. Petersburg, Russia.

[snip]

It should come as no surprise then, given the lack of reliability and untrustworthiness in social media evidence such as that the government seeks to introduce, that the case law forecloses the government’s facile effort at authentication of content here. Unlike Browne, Lewisbey, and the other cases cited above, the government has offered no social media accounts bearing the name of any alleged conspirator and no pictures appearing to be a conspirator adorning such page.7 Nor has the government pointed to a single witness who can testify that she saw a conspirator sign up for the various social media accounts or send an email, or who can describe patterns of consistency across the various digital communications to indicate they come from the same source.

7 The government has indicated to Concord that it intends to introduce at trial Fed. R. Evid. 1006 summaries of IP address records, apparently to create the link between the social media accounts and IRA that is not addressed in the motion. See Ex. B, Jan. 6, 2020 letter. Despite repeated requests from undersigned counsel, the government has identified the 40 social media accounts for it intends to summarize but has not provided the summaries or indicated when it will do so.

Some of this is obviously bullshit, particularly given the government’s contention, elsewhere, that Concord (or IRA, if it was a typo) had dedicated IP addresses. Mostly, though, it appears to have been an attempt to put sand in the wheels of normal criminal prosecution by challenging stuff that is normally routine. That doesn’t mean it’s improper, from a defense standpoint. But given how often DOJ’s nation-state indictments rely on such forensic evidence, it’s a warning about potential pitfalls to them.

The government resorts to CIPA

Even while the government had originally set out to prove this case using only unclassified information, late in the process, it decided it needed to use the Classified Information Procedures Act. That process is where one would look for any evidence that Barr sabotaged the prosecution by classifying necessary evidence (though normally the approval for CIPA could come from Assistant Attorney General for National Security Division John Demers, who is not the hack that Barr is).

In October 2019, Friedrich had imposed a deadline for CIPA if the government were going to use it, of January 20, 2020.

On December 17, the government asked for a two week delay, “to ensure appropriate coordination within the Executive Branch that must occur prior to the filing of the motion,” a request Friedrich denied (even though Concord did not oppose it). This was likely when the classification determination referenced in the motion to withdraw was debated, given that such determinations would dictate what prosecutors had to do via CIPA.

On January 10, 2020, the government filed its first motion under CIPA Section 4, asking to substitute classified information for discovery and use at trial. According to the docket, Friedrich discussed CIPA issues at a hearing on January 24. Then on January 29 and February 10, she posted classified orders to the court security officer, presumably as part of the CIPA discussion.

On February 13, the government asked for and obtained a one-day extension to file a follow-up CIPA filing, from February 17 to February 18, “to complete necessary consultation within the Executive Branch regarding the filing and to ensure proper supervisory review.” If Barr intervened on classification issues, that’s almost certainly when he did, because this happened days after Barr intervened on February 11 in Roger Stone’s sentencing and after Jonathan Kravis, who had been one of the lead prosecutors in this case as well, quit in protest over Barr’s Stone intervention. At the very least, in the wake of that fiasco, Timothy Shea made damn sure he ran his decision by Barr. But the phrase, “consultation within the Executive Branch,” certainly entertains consultation with whatever agency owned the classified information prosecutors were deciding whether they could declassify (and parallels the language used in the earlier request for a filing extension). And Adam Jed, who had been part of the Mueller team, was added to the team not long before this and remained on it through the dismissal, suggesting nothing akin to what happened with Stone happened here.

The government submitted its CIPA filing on the new deadline of February 18, Friedrich issued an order the next day, the government filed another CIPA filing on February 20, Friedrich issued another order on February 28.

Under CIPA, if a judge rules that evidence cannot be substituted, the government can either choose not to use that evidence in trial or drop the prosecution. It’s likely that Friedrich ruled that, if the government wanted to use the evidence in question, they had to disclose it to Concord, including Prigozhin, and at trial. In other words, that decision — and the two earlier consultations (from December to early January, and then again in mid-February) within the Executive Branch — are likely where classification issues helped sink the prosecution.

It’s certainly possible Bill Barr had a key role in that. But there’s no explicit evidence of it. And there’s abundant reason to believe that Prigozhin’s extensive efforts to use the prosecution as an intelligence-gathering exercise both for ongoing disinformation efforts and to optimize ongoing trolling efforts was a more important consideration. Barr may be an asshole, but there’s no evidence in the public record to think that in this case, Prigozhin wasn’t the key asshole behind a decision.

DOJ attempts to treat Concord as a legit party to the court’s authority

Even before that CIPA process started playing out, beginning on December 3, the government pursued an ultimately unsuccessful effort to subpoena Concord. This may have been an attempt to obtain via other means evidence that either had been obtained using means that DOJ had since decided to classify or the routine authentication of which Concord planned to challenge.

DOJ asked to subpoena a number of things that would provide details of how Concord and Prigozhin personally interacted with the trolls. Among other requests, the government asked to subpoena Concord for the IP addresses it used during the period of the indictment (precisely the kind of evidence that Concord would later challenge).

3. Documents sufficient to identify any Internet Protocol address used by Concord Management and Consulting LLC from January 1, 2014 to February 1, 2018.

Concord responded with a load of absolute bullshit about why, under Russian law, Concord could not comply with a subpoena. Judge Friedrich granted the some of the government’s request (including for IP addresses), but directed the government to more narrowly tailor its other subpoena requests.

On December 20, the government renewed its request for other materials, providing some evidence of why it was sure Concord had responsive materials. Concord quickly objected again, again wailing mightily. In its reply, the government reminded Friedrich that she had the ability to order Concord to comply with the subpoena — and indeed, had gotten Concord’s assurances it would comply with orders of the court when it first decided to defend against the charges. It even included a declaration from an expert on Russian law, Paul Stephan, debunking many of the claims Concord had made about Russian law. Concord wailed, again. On January 24, Friedrich approved the 3 categories of the subpoena she had already approved. On January 29, the government tried again, narrowing the request even to — in one example — specific days.

Calendar entries reflecting meetings between Prigozhin and “Misha Lakhta” on or about January 27, 2016, February 1, 2016, February 2, 2016, February 14, 2016, February 23, 2016, February 29, 2016, May 22, 2016, May 23, 2016, May 28, 2016, May 29, 2016, June 7, 2016, June 27, 2016, July 1, 2016, September 22, 2016, October 5, 2016, October 23, 2016, October 30, 2016, November 6, 2016, November 13, 2016, November 26, 2016, December 3, 2016, December 5, 2016, December 29, 2016, January 19, 2017, and February 1, 2017.

Vast swaths of the motion (and five exhibits) explaining why the government was sure that Concord had the requested records are sealed. Concord responded, wailing less, but providing a helpful geography lesson to offer some alternative explanation for the moniker “Lakhta,” which the government has long claimed was the global term for Prigozhin’s information war against the US and other countries.

But the government fails to inform the Court that “Lakhta” actually means a multitude of other things, including: Lake Lakhta, a lake in the St. Petersburg area, and Lakhta Center, the tallest building in Europe, which is located in an area within St. Petersburg called the Lakhta-Olgino Municipal Okrug.

On February 7, Friedrich largely granted the government’s subpoena request, approving subpoenas to get communications involving Prigozhin and alleged co-conspirators, as well as records of payments and emails discussing them.  That same day and again on February 21, Concord claimed that it had communicated with the government with regards to the subpoenas, but what would soon be clear was non-responsive.

On February 27, the government moved to show cause for why Concord should not be held in contempt for blowing off the subpoenas, including the request for IP addresses and the entirety of the second subpoena (for meetings involving Prigozhin and records of payments to IRA). Concord wailed in response. The government responded by summarizing Concord’s response:

Concord’s 18-page pleading can be distilled to three material points: Concord’s attorneys will not make any representations about compliance; Concord will not otherwise make any representations about compliance; and Concord will not comply with a court order to send a representative to answer for its production. The Court should therefore enter a contempt order and impose an appropriate sanction to compel compliance.

Friedrich issued an order that subpoena really does mean subpoena, demanding some kind of representation from Concord explaining its compliance.  In response, Prigozhin sent a declaration partly stating that his businesses had deleted all available records, partly disclaiming an ability to comply because he had played games with corporate structure.

With respect to category one in the February 10, 2020 trial subpoena, Concord never had any calendar entries for me during the period before I became General Director, and I became General Director after February 1, 2018, so no searches were able to be performed in Concord’s documents. Concord did not and does not have access to the previous General Director’s telephone from which the prosecution claims to have obtained photographs of calendars and other documents, so Concord is unable to confirm the origin of such photographs.

He claimed to be unable to comply with the request for IP addresses because his contractors “cannot” provide them.

In order to comply with category three in the trial subpoena dated January 24, 2020, in Concord’s records I found contracts between Concord and Severen-Telecom JSC and Unitel LLC, the two internet service providers with which Concord contracted between January 1, 2014 and February 1, 2018. Because these contracts do not identify the internet protocol (“IP”) addresses used by Concord during that period, on January 7, 2020 I sent letters on behalf of Concord to Severen-Telecom JSC and Unitel LLC transmitting copies of these contracts and requesting that the companies advise as to which IP addresses were provided to or used by Concord during that period. Copies of these letters and English translations, as well as the attached contracts, are attached as Exhibits 2 and 3. Severen-Telecom JSC responded in writing that the requested information cannot be provided. A copy of Severen-Telecom JSC’s letter and an English translation are attached as Exhibit 2. Unitel LLC responded that information regarding IP addresses cannot be provided. A copy of Unitel LLC’s letter and an English translation of is attached as Exhibit 3. Accordingly, Concord does not have any documents that could be provided in response to category three (3) of the January 24, 2020 subpoena.

The government responded by pointing out how bogus Prigozhin’s declaration was, not least his insistence that any oligarch like him would really be the person in charge of his companies’ record-keeping. It also described evidence — which is redacted — that Concord had an in-house IT provider at the time (though notes that “as the Court knows, it appears that Concord [sic; this is probably IRA] registered and maintained multiple dedicated IP addresses during the relevant time period”). It further noted that the date that Prigozhin claimed his company started destroying records after 3 months perfectly coincided to cover the start date of this subpoena. In short, it provided fairly compelling evidence that Prigozhin, after agreeing that his company would be subject to the authority of the court when it first filed an appearance in the case, was trolling the court from the safety of Russia.

On March 5, Judge Friedrich nevertheless allowed that bullshit response in her court and declined to hold Concord in contempt. Eleven days later, the government moved to dismiss the case.

The government files the motion to dismiss before the evidentiary dispute finishes but after the subpoena and CIPA fail

On March 16 — 17 days after what appears to be the final CIPA order and 11 days after Friedrich declined to hold Concord or Prigozhin in contempt, and one day before the government was due to file a follow-up to its motion in limine to authenticate normally routine evidence in the case — the government moved to dismiss the case.

While it’s unclear what evidence was deemed to be classified late in the prosecution (likely in December), it seems fairly clear that it affected (and possibly was a source or method used to collect) key forensic proof in the case. It’s also unclear whether an honest response to the government’s trial subpoenas would have replaced that evidence.

What is clear, however, is that there is sufficient explanation in the public record to support the government’s explanation — that Prigozhin was using the prosecution to reap benefits of obtaining information about US government efforts to thwart his activities without risking anything himself. And whether or not the government would be able to prove its case with the classification and CIPA decisions reflected in the docket, the trial itself would shift more evidence into the category of information that would get shared with Prigozhin.

None of that disproves that Barr sabotaged the case. But it does provide sufficient evidence to explain why DOJ dismissed the case, without assuming that Barr sabotaged it.

Other cases of interest

As noted above, not only do the identity theft related charges remain, but so does the ConFraudUS case for all the biological defendants, including Prigozhin. It may be that, given the opportunity to imprison Prigozhin in the highly unlikely event that he ever showed up in the US for trial, the classification trade-offs would be very different.

But there are three other legal issues of interest, given this outcome.

First, there’s one more unsurprising detail about the superseding indictment: It also included an end-date, January 2018. That’s not surprising because adding later activities probably would presented all sorts of problems given how advanced the trial was last November. But it’s also significant because it means double jeopardy would not attach for later activities. So the government could, if the calculus on classification ever changed, simply charge all the things Prigozhin and his trolls have been doing since January 2018 in an indictment charged under its revised theory.

That’s particularly significant given that, in September 2018, prosecutors in EDVA charged Prigozhin’s accountant, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova. Even at the time, I imagined it might be a vehicle to move the IRA prosecution if anything happened to it in DC. Unsurprisingly, given that she’s the accountant at the center of all this, the Khusyaynova complaint focused more closely on the money laundering part of the prosecution. Plus, that complaint incorporated evidence of Prigozhin’s trolls reveling in their own indictment, providing easy proof of knowledge of the legal claims DOJ made that didn’t exist for the earlier indictment. None of that would change the calculus around classified evidence (indeed, some of the overt acts described in the Khusyaynova complaint seem like the kind of evidence that Prigozhin would have turned over had he complied with the Concord subpoena. So there is another vehicle for such a prosecution, if DOJ wanted to pursue it.

Finally, Prigozhin has not succeeded with all his attempts to wage lawfare in support of his disinformation efforts. In January, he lost his bid to force Facebook to reinstate his fake news site, Federal Agency of News, based off an argument that because Facebook worked so closely with the government, it cannot exercise its own discretion on its private site. As I laid out here, the suit intersected with both the IRA indictment and Khusyaynova complaint, and engaged in similar kinds of corporate laundry and trollish bullshit. The decision was a no-brainer decision based on Section 230 grounds, giving providers immunity when they boot entities from their services. But the decision also confirms what is already evident: when it comes to shell companies in the business of trolling, thus far whack-a-mole removals have worked more consistently than seemingly symbolic prosecution.

DOJ may well revisit how it charged this to try to attach a FARA liability onto online disinformation. But ultimately the biological humans, not the corporation shells or the bots, need to be targeted.

On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

Since the NYT revealed that SDNY is investigating Rudy Giuliani for what they call “lobbying” laws,

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

And since the WSJ reported that Pete Sessions — named as Congressman 1 in the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman indictment — was cooperating with a grand jury subpoena targeting Rudy,

A grand jury has issued a subpoena related to Manhattan federal prosecutors’ investigation into Rudy Giuliani, seeking documents from former Rep. Pete Sessions about his dealings with President Trump’s personal lawyer and associates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena seeks documents related to Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings with Ukraine and his involvement in efforts to oust the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, as well as any interactions between Mr. Sessions, Mr. Giuliani and four men who were indicted last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy accounts, the people said.

Mr. Sessions’ knowledge of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings is a primary focus of the subpoena, the people said.

There has been a closer review of whether it would be possible to indict the President’s personal lawyer under foreign agent laws, with broad consensus that what Rudy is doing is actually covered by FARA — and not just his work for Ukraine, but also (among other places) for Turkey.

But there have been a number of claims that, I think, have been too pat about how easy or hard this is going to be.

Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Bijan Kian are not apt precedents

First, a number of people have looked at how SDNY considered — but did not charge — Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, and Vin Weber under FARA, suggesting the same considerations would hold true with Rudy. Others have looked at Greg Craig (who was prosecuted but acquitted in DC for FARA after SDNY decided not to charge it) and Bijan Kian (who was convicted but then had his conviction thrown out by Judge Anthony Trenga based on the legal theory DOJ used) to suggest these cases are too difficult to charge to get Rudy.

It is absolutely the case that when powerful men with skilled lawyers have been pursued under FARA in recent years, DOJ has succeeded not in trial, but instead has gotten either plea deals or failed at trial (and that may have been one of the facts behind Mueller’s decision to strike a plea deal with Paul Manafort). That is sound evidence that SDNY is no doubt aware of.

But several things distinguish Rudy.

Most notably, all of those earlier cases came before DOJ’s newfound commitment to prosecuting FARA, with Mike Flynn prosecutor Brandon Van Grack taking over where a woman named Heather Hunt had been in charge before. At a minimum, that means a process that originally took place with Craig, Podesta, Weber, and Kian under an assumption that FARA would be treated solely as a registration issue may now be taking place under an assumption that violations of FARA — presumably to include both a failure to register and (what most charges have been so far) false statements under registration — can be prosecuted. That assumption would dramatically change the attention with which DOJ would document their communications, so prosecutors would not now be stuck going to trial (as Craig’s prosecutors were) without having DOJ’s documentation of a key meeting.

Notably, the same thing that triggered the FARA prosecution of Mike Flynn — concerns raised by Congress — happened last year when seven Democratic Senators wrote National Security Division head John Demers asking for a review. So there may well be documentation of Rudy’s claims about whether he does or does not need to register that SDNY is building a prosecution around.

Plus, one thing clearly distinguishes Rudy from all these other men. Rudy is not taking this investigation seriously, and does not have a lawyer reviewing his exposure. From reports, he may not have the ready cash to pay the likes of Rob Kelner (Flynn’s original, very competent, lawyer) or Robert Trout (Kian’s excellent lawyer). So he may be doing things now (not least, running his mouth on TV and making public statements about who he works for and how it gets paid) that put him at greater exposure.

Rudy G’s efforts to implicate State and DOJ (and the President) in his work

That said, another thing distinguishes Rudy from these past cases. Since the whistleblower complaint got made public, he has spent most of his time insisting that everything he did, he did with the awareness and involvement of — at least — the State Department. And in Trump’s July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky, he invoked Bill Barr’s name right alongside his nominal defense attorney.

Both foreign agent statutes (FARA — the one being discussed for Rudy, and 18 USC 951 — another one, with more flexibility, that Kian was charged under) require registration with the Attorney General. And while telling foreigners you’re negotiating with that the Attorney General will be by soon to pick up the disinformation demanded does not fulfill the requirements for registry (in part, the point of registering is to provide a paper trail so the public can track who is paying for what), it does change things that Rudy is suggesting that his work has the imprimatur of official policy to it.

That said, the assumption that implicating powerful government figures will keep you safe is a dangerous proposition. If the easiest way to end the Ukraine inquiry is to blame Rudy for it all (and if that’s still possible after several weeks of damning testimony), that may well come to pass.

And if Bill Barr needs to greenlight a FARA prosecution of Rudy as a way to minimize the damage to the Administration, and to himself, he may well do that (yet another reason why he should have recused long ago).

That’s all the more true given that most of Trump’s aides seem to recognize how damaging Rudy is for Trump’s exposure. If Trump won’t separate himself from Rudy, his lackeys might one day decide, then separate Rudy from Trump by prosecuting him, the same way they separated Michael Cohen from Trump.

That said, with Trump, loyalty is always transactional. And if he believes Rudy has dirt that can bring him down — and given the likelihood some of what Rudy is doing is the continuation of what Paul Manafort had been doing since August 2, 2016, that may be true — then Trump will defend Rudy’s work even if it means claiming everything he did operated under Article II authority.

The additional factor: ConFraudUs

The discussions about Rudy’s exposure under FARA, however, seem not to have considered another factor: that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have already been charged with conspiracy in conjunction with actions Rudy had a key role in. The Ukrainian grifter indictment charges them with two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud the US for hiding what money was behind their influence campaign on Ukraine (count 1) and Nevada marijuana (count 4), as well as False Statements to the FEC (count 2) and falsification of records (count 3) tied to the Ukraine influence operation. Counts 1-3 all pertain to the Ukrainian grifters laundering of campaign funds through Global Energy Producers, a front that (SDNY alleges) they falsely claimed was “a real business enterprise funded with substantial bona fide capital investment,” the major purpose of which “is energy trading, not political activity.” Those funds went, among other places, to the Trump related Super PAC America First Action and to Congressman Sessions.

Rudy has equivocated about his relationship to the Ukrainian grifters (and claims it goes through Fraud Guarantee, not GEP). But John Dowd, writing as the grifters’ lawyer, already stated for the record that he does have ties and those ties relate to his representation of the President. That is, the grifters are working for him, even while he works for them.

That’s important because Sessions’ statements have denied any official action in response to meetings with the grifters, but he also had meetings with Rudy in the time period, official action in response to which he has not denied. In addition, Rudy (whom Sessions says he has been friends with for three decades) also headlined a fundraiser for Sessions. And on top of the straw donations the grifters gave Sessions directly, America First Action gave Sessions far more to him, $3 million, the indictment notes twice.

In other words, while Sessions has denied doing anything in response to the grifters’ meetings, he has not denied doing anything in response to Rudy’s communications with him. If he sent his letter calling for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch in response to a request from Rudy — whose finances are inextricably tied to the grifters — then it may be fairly easy to add him to the conspiracy the (successful) object of which was to get Yovanovitch fired. The propaganda Rudy sent (as laid out by NYT, and which the State IG already sent to the FBI earlier this year) would then simply be part of the conspiracy.

A few more points. There’s a passage of the indictment included to substantiate the allegation that the grifters were affirmatively trying to hide their purpose.

Indeed, when media reports about the GEP contributions first surfaced, an individual working with PARNAS remarked, “[t]his is what happens when you become visible … the buzzards descend,” to which PARNAS responded, “[t]hat’s why we need to stay under the radar…”

The indictment doesn’t disclose a number of details about this communication: who the interlocutor is, how it was collected, and whether it involved a mere warrant (for stored communications such as email or texts) or a wiretap. But particularly given the seeming overlap between these activities and those of people we know were surveilled during the period in question, it’s a pregnant inclusion in the indictment. It suggests the Feds may already be privy to far more about this scheme and the reasons the grifters might want it suppressed. Add that to the fact that, as WSJ reported, the Feds already have Rudy’s bank records, which will show whether he really worked for Fraud Guarantee or whether that, like GEP, is just a front.

Cui bono

Finally, consider this. The indictment says that the grifters were pushing to oust Yovanovitch to benefit  particular unnamed Ukrainians’ interests.

[T]hese contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.

[snip]

At and around the time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for [Sessions], PARNAS met with [SESSIONS] and sought [his] assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall [Yovanovitch]. PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

According to NBC, the Ukrainian in question was Yurii Lutsenko. But Lutsenko has since been ousted, and he has reneged on statements elicited by Rudy implicating the Bidens. More importantly, one of the promises Zelensky made in his July 25 call to Trump was to put in his own prosecutor who would pursue the two investigations — to trump up a claim Ukraine was behind the election tampering in 2016, and to invent evidence against Hunter Biden — that Trump wanted.

The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor bf New York Ci:ty, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The oteer thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son. that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.

Which is what led to Lutsenko’s ouster.

Moreover, the prosecutor Biden shut down was not Lutsenko, but Viktor Shokin, who has written affidavits which then got fed to John Solomon on behalf of Dmitry Firtash, who is trying hard to avoid extradition (on bribery charges) to the US.

That — plus the financial and legal ties between Firtash and the grifters — suggests there may be other Ukrainians on whose behalf the grifters were working to get Yovanovitch withdrawn. Firtash is certainly one. A corrupt prosecutor with ties to Russian intelligence, Kostiantyn Kulyk, who had worked for all these guys — and who is behind a dossier on accusing Hunter Biden of corruption — may be another. That is, Yovanovitch may have been the impediment not to inventing dirt on the Bidens, which is a fairly easy ask, but instead on creating the pre-conditions for people like Firtash to go free (which would also explain the natural gas angle).

All of which is to say that it would be a fairly trivial matter to establish the evidence to charge Rudy in ConFraudUs along with the Ukrainian grifters, as SDNY already has a lot of the evidence it would need.

Yes, Rudy Giuliani is, by all appearances, in blatant violation of FARA. Yes, he may get away with that, in part because DOJ hasn’t yet figured out hard to charge it consistently (though knows what not to do given recent history), and in part because he has made sure to implicate Trump and his cabinet officials.

But there’s a larger question about whether those same financial ties expose Rudy for much uglier conspiracy charges.

How to Read the Mueller Report Referrals

A filing in the BuzzFeed/EPIC FOIA lawsuits to liberate an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report provides new insight on how to read the referral section at the back of the report. (Here’s BuzzFeed’s own report on the filing.) The filing provides a more specific breakdown of the exemptions used to withhold parts of the report, especially the b7 redactions.

As it explains, it uses four categories of b7C, which protects, “information ‘compiled for law enforcement purposes’ when disclosure ‘could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'” These distinguish between four kinds of people: those unwittingly involved, those who were considered for charges but ultimately not charged, those “concerning a subject of the investigation,” and those whose non-criminal activity got described in the report.

  • (b)(6)/(7)(C)-1: names, social media account information, and other contact information of unwitting third parties;
  • (b)(6)/(7)(C)-2: names and personally-identifiable information about individuals not charged by the SCO;
  • (b)(6)/(7)(C)-3: information concerning a subject of the investigation by the SCO; and
  • (b)(6)/(7)(C)-4: names, social media account information, contact information, and other personally-identifiable information of individuals merely mentioned in the Report

The description of the third category claims that all the b7C-3 redactions hide information about Roger Stone or “also … other individuals discussed in connection with the facts related to Mr. Stone’s criminal case.”

72. The third category of privacy-based withholdings protects information pertaining to an individual who was a subject of the investigation by the SCO, and is coded as “(b)(6)/(7)(C)- 3.” Within this category, OIP has protected non-public information pertaining to Roger Stone and/or his pending criminal case in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The redactions in this category include information pertaining to Mr. Stone, but also to other individuals discussed in connection with the facts related to Mr. Stone’s criminal case. 17 The information related to the investigative subject or subjects that has been protected in this category would, if released, clearly invade the individual’s or individuals’ personal privacy and in particular, Mr. Stone’s ability to receive a fair trial and to respond to the charges against him in court without compounding the pre-trial publicity that his case has already received.

73. As noted above, in order to withhold information pursuant to Exemptions 6 and 7(C), a balancing of the privacy interests of the individuals mentioned in the Report against any FOIA public interest in disclosure must weigh in favor of non-disclosure. Given the intense public interest surrounding the SCO’s work as well as the public and media attention surrounding this individual’s ongoing court case, and the significant attention that any new fact made public will receive, disclosure of any additional non-public information about the individual or individuals protected in this category would certainly subject them to unwarranted harassment, stigma, further reputational or even physical harm. Individuals have protectable privacy interests in premature release of investigatory details relevant to criminal law enforcement proceedings against them, beyond what is made public in connection with their criminal justice proceedings. That interest is magnified here, where Mr. Stone’s trial is imminent, and any further public disclosure of details regarding the case against him will impact his ability to amount an effective defense and deprive him of the right to a fair trial.

This would obviously include information on Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico, at least the latter of whom will be a witness at Stone’s trial. But it almost certainly includes WikiLeaks, because the redaction started on page 176 of Volume I describes why publishing stolen information was not prosecuted.

Then there’s category b7C-4, which hides the sensitive information about people who had a role in the operation (including as victims), but were not subjects of Mueller’s investigation. So among other things, this redaction is used to hide the identities of people who were referred for criminal prosecution for things unrelated to the Mueller investigation (like, say, George Nader’s child porn). It covers,

names and related personally-identifiable information of individuals for whom evidence of potential criminal activity was referred by the Special Counsel to appropriate law enforcement authorities. With respect to the latter group of individuals, who are mentioned in Section B (“Referrals”) of Appendix D to the Report, these individuals were not subjects of the SCO investigation. Rather, they are included in an appendix to the Report only because evidence of potential criminal activity periodically surfaced during the course of the SCO’s investigation.19

But as this footnote describes, two of the people in the referrals are “individual or individuals” labeled with the designation limited to Stone’s case. Another appears to be someone whom Mueller decided not to charge for Russian related activities, but whom Mueller referred for something else.

19 Two entries in Section B of Appendix D relate to an individual or individuals whose privacy information has been categorized and coded as (b)(6)/(7)(C)-3, discussed supra in ¶¶ 72-75. Another entry in Section B of Appendix D relates to an individual against whom the SCO contemplated, but did not pursue, charges related to the Special Counsel’s investigation. Although information about this individual is considered a “mere mention” in the context of Appendix D, this individual’s privacy information has separately been categorized and coded as (b)(6)/(7)(C)-2, elsewhere in the Report.

In other words, people or subjects referred to in the referrals section appear to be:

  • b7A: People or subjects (these can be criminal or national security investigations) not mentioned in the report (in the transfers section, this is likely used to hide the names of people like Tony Podesta and Vin Weber who are tied to Manafort’s Ukrainian graft)
  • b7C-3: People who have some tie to the Stone case referred on their own right
  • b7C-4: People who appear in some non-criminal fashion in the Mueller Report, but who got referred for unrelated possible crimes (again, George Nader might be included in this category)

Here’s the updated FOIA version.

This redaction could be of Jerome Corsi for his false statements (though that would mean someone who fit between Cohen and Corsi in the alphabet would be included).

I’ve suspected that this redaction pertains to WikiLeaks (this part of the report is in alphabetical order and this is the last entry).

If all that’s right, it would mean the referrals include:

  • Michael Cohen
  • Greg Craig and related
  • 4 and 14: Two people associated with Stone (possibly Corsi and WikiLeaks)
  • 1, 3, 6-9, 11-12: Eight people who play a non-criminal role in the Mueller Report, but were referred for some other crime
  • 10, 13: People or subjects not mentioned in the report, but referred for prosecution for some other crime or national security investigation

And one of those category b7C-4 people was considered, but not charged, in the Russia investigation but was referred for investigation for something else.

Update: Fixed the referrals for people who play a non-criminal role in the Mueller Report but were referred for some other potential crime. H/t EB.

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. 

Rick Gates’ Status Report Suggests Trump Will Be a Focus of Roger Stone’s Trial

As I noted yesterday, the government submitted a status report in Rick Gates’ case yesterday — the first since Mueller submitted his report. In the past several prior reports, the government had asked for sixty day extensions, but here, the government is asking for over three months.

The prosecutors who submitted the report — who are both on the Greg Craig prosecution team — make one reason for the longer extension clear: they’re scheduling the next status report for after Craig’s trial is expected to finish.

To date: (1) defendant Gates continues to cooperate with the government as required by his Plea Agreement, and (2) this Court has scheduled a trial in United States v. Craig, 19-CR-125 (ABJ), to begin on August 12, 2019,

Gates is not obviously mentioned in Craig’s indictment, but Paul Manafort is central to it, so presumably prosecutors want to have Gates explain why Manafort thought it so important that Craig hide the source of the funding for the Skadden Arps payment, Victor Pinchuk, which parallels the reasons why Manafort wanted everyone else who worked for him to keep their Ukrainian paymasters secret.

But prosecutors also mention Roger Stone’s November trial (though none of Stone’s prosecutors are on this filing).

another trial, United States v. Stone, 19-CR-18 (ABJ), to begin November 5, 2019

That’s interesting given the way the very redacted passages treating Stone’s charges in the Mueller Report flesh out Gates’ role as a liaison between Trump and Stone in the effort to optimize the WikiLeaks releases. Stone’s indictment had been coy on this point (so much so, I’ve wondered whether Big Dick Toilet Salesman told Mueller to stop mentioning Trump in charging documents after the Michael Cohen plea). It describes senior members of the campaign contacting Stone to find out what WikiLeaks had coming.

During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1.

[snip]

By in or around June and July 2016, STONE informed senior Trump Campaign officials that he had information indicating Organization 1 had documents whose release would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.

And there’s this very pregnant passage using the passive voice to describe someone — the indictment doesn’t name who — directing a senior campaign official to contact Stone about further releases, which would lead to Stone’s efforts to find out, in part via Jerome Corsi, what was coming in late July and early August.

After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.

Stone has denied it happened but said if it did, Gates would have been the one who reached out to him.

And while the passage of the Mueller Report describing all this is heavily redacted, it does seem to confirm that — after Trump and Manafort both showed great interest in the WikiLeaks releases, at least Manafort and probably both (given the reference to Manafort “separately” telling Gates to stay in touch with Stone) told Gates to reach out to Stone.

[snip]

In addition, Gates seems to have witnessed Trump take a call from Stone at which the then candidate’s rat-fucker informed him about the upcoming WikiLeaks releases.

Given all the documentary evidence the government has against Stone, Gates’ testimony is probably not necessary to prove that Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases. But it may serve several prosecutorial roles.

First, given that Stone was interacting with Trump directly on the WikiLeaks releases, Gates’ (as well as Michael Cohen and even Manafort’s, the latter of whom seems to have uncharacteristically told the truth on this to the grand jury) confirmation that such contacts occurred could easily explain Stone’s motive to lie to HPSCI — which would serve to protect Trump. This is all the more true given how brazenly Trump lied about this point in his sworn answers to Mueller.

I recall that in the months leading up to the election there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information and there was a lot of talk about this matter. At the time, I was generally aware of these media reports and may have discussed these issues with my campaign staff or others, but at this point in time – more than two years later – I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.

I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between [Stone, Donald Trump, Jr., Manafort, or Gates] and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks or any of the other individuals or entities referred to in the question.

[snip]

I was in Trump Tower in New York City on October 7, 2016. I have no recollection of being told that WikiLeaks possessed or might possess emails related to John Podesta before the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was reported by the media. Likewise, I have no recollection of being told that Roger Stone, anyone acting as an intermediary for Roger Stone, or anyone associated with my campaign had communicated with WikiLeaks on October 7, 2016.

I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with [WikiLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, or DCLeaks] regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.

I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.

Gates will not only help to prove that Trump knew all this was going on, but that the campaign had dedicated resources to make use of Stone’s disclosures.

In addition, the government’s ability to tie the President directly to this part of the operation will make it harder (though nothing is beyond Trump) to pardon Stone before the trial, even while it will provide incentive to Trump to do so. Trump’s centrality in all this may be one reason William Barr is so aggressively protecting the Stone related disclosures, including with his refusals to share unredacted copies of the report with Congress: because Trump’s documented role in encouraging Stone’s efforts is far stronger than it is in any of the other potential incidences of election tampering.

Finally, all this may change the calculus if and when Julian Assange gets extradited to the US. Trump was asked about — but refused to answer — whether he considered a pardon for Assange.

Trump’s lies to Mueller are perhaps best documented as they pertain to WikiLeaks. Using Gates as a witness at Stone’s trial will make the trial an exhibition of the President’s lies as much as those of his rat-fucker.

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

A Tale of Three (Former) Mueller Dockets

Because I’m wondering why Robert Mueller remains a DOJ employee, which makes it harder for the House Judiciary Committee to get his testimony by subpoenaing him, I wanted to observe the status of three different former Mueller dockets, three weeks after Mueller submitted his “final report.”

The mass swap: Paul Manafort

First, there’s Manafort’s (and Rick Gates’) docket. On March 25, the first work day after delivery of the report, every single Mueller prosecutor filed a notice of withdrawal (Kyle Freeny had already withdrawn on October 17, 2008):

  • Adam Jed
  • Andrew Weissmann
  • Elizabeth Prelogar
  • Greg Andres
  • Jeanie Rhee
  • Michael Dreeben
  • Scott Meisler

Those seven prosecutors were replaced with a remarkably large team, considering Manafort is supposedly done, Rick Gates only awaits sentencing, and Konstantin Kilimnik presumably will never show up in the US to be prosecuted on his single witness tampering charge. The team includes:

  • Deborah Curtis
  • Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez
  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Molly Gaston
  • Zia Mustafa Faruqui

The large team for a prosecution that’s supposedly over is interesting for two reasons. First, Campoamor-Sanchez and Gaston just filed a status report in Gates’ case saying he’s not ready for sentencing. They specifically mention both Greg Craig’s August 12 trial (both are on that prosecutorial team) and Roger Stone’s November 5 trial suggesting they’ll hold off on sentencing him until after those are done.

More interesting still has been the government response to WaPo’s effort to unseal the redactions in Manafort’s plea breach proceedings. At first, Dreeben and Jed filed appearances, signing a request for an extension on March 19, just three days before Mueller finished a report that included new details about issues (the sharing of polling data and the Ukraine “peace” deals) that made up one of the most redacted topics in the breach proceedings. On March 27, Dreeben, Jed, and DC AUSA Jonathan Kravis filed another request for an extension, citing the transfer of “this matter” to the DC US Attorney’s office. After securing that extension on March 28, Dreeben, but not Jed, filed a notice of withdrawal on March 29. On April 15, Kravis responded by saying that the government could not yet unseal the documents — it went through and listed all the documents at issue — because of ongoing investigations, plural, and privacy concerns; the filing said WaPo should check back in six months.

We know what some of the ongoing investigations are: there’s the government’s effort to learn via what kickback system Manafort got paid, as well as some other attempt to save Trump’s campaign in August 2016 where Manafort’s lies aligned with those of the person trying to avoid prosecution after he signed the plea.

Still, that doesn’t explain why the polling and Ukraine stuff can’t be unsealed. Unless the government’s trying to hide Manafort’s lies about it all. Or the government continues to investigate Manafort’s post-election efforts to help Russia carve up Ukraine.

The new addition: Mike Flynn

Compare that to Mike Flynn’s case, which seems to be a mid-point between Manafort and Gates’ status. There, Brandon Van Grack (who has been put in charge of DOJ’s new FARA unit) and Zainab Ahmad (who has moved back to her old prosecutor job) remain on the docket. On April 9, Deborah Curtis joined that docket. She seems to be dealing with the ongoing counterintelligence interests arising out of Flynn’s case. She has joined Brandon Van Grack in WaPo’s suit to obtain the sentencing documents not yet made public. The government has to submit a response to WaPo’s request in that case tomorrow.

And on May 7, prosecutors in the Bijan Kian case requested and got an extension on some discovery materials; previously there had been a delay in turning over materials related to Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller.

The hybrid: Roger Stone

Finally, there’s Stone’s case. That case is different because DC AUSAs were included from the time Stone was indicted.

  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Michael Marando

Several of the Mueller prosecutors filed withdrawal notices on April 16, presumably when the considerable work of redacting all the Stone references in the Mueller Report was done.

  • Jeannie Rhee
  • Rush Atkinson

Andrew Goldstein didn’t file his notice of withdrawal until April 30, the day of Stone’s last status hearing. Adam Jed, one of Mueller’s appellate specialists, filed a notice of appearance that day, not long after Stone submitted a bunch of largely frivolous challenges to his prosecution that tie in part to Mueller’s mandate. One other Mueller prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, remains on the docket.

Zelinsky’s continued presence on the docket may be tied to the Andrew Miller challenge to a subpoena. I’ve wondered if Mueller remains at DOJ to keep that and the Mystery Appellant subpoena challenges active.

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. 

Mueller Juggles Plea Agreement Housekeeping

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Access Hollywood Search Doesn’t Mean Trump Coordinated with Assange

As I noted, yesterday several outlets reported that among the things included in the FBI warrant for Michael Cohen’s premises was communications between Trump, Cohen, and others (whom I suspect to include Steve Bannon and Marc Kasowitz) “regarding the infamous ‘Access Hollywood'” video.

FBI agents who raided the home, office and hotel of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer sought communications that Trump had with attorney Michael Cohen and others regarding the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump making lewd remarks about women a month before the election, according to sources familiar with the matter.

[snip]

The search warrant also sought communications between then-candidate Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape, according to one of the sources. In addition, investigators wanted records and communications concerning other potential negative information about the candidate that the campaign would have wanted to contain ahead of the election. The source said the warrant was not specific about what this additional information would be.

From that, people on both the right and the left have assumed, without presenting hard evidence, that this means there must be a tie to Russia. Most often, people assume this must mean Trump somehow managed the events of October 7, when the Intelligence Committee report blaming Russia for the DNC hack, the Access Hollywood video, and the first Podesta emails all came out in quick succession.

That’s certainly possible, but thus far there’s no reason to believe that’s the case.

Mueller and Rosenstein referred this

That’s true, first of all, because after consulting with Rod Rosenstein, Robert Mueller referred this to the Southern District of New York for execution and prosecution, rather than dealing with it himself. He did that surely knowing what a sieve for leaks SDNY is, and therefore knowing that doing so would undercut his remarkably silent teamwork thus far.

In spite of a lot of reporting on this raid this week, we don’t yet have a clear understanding of why the two chose to refer it (or, tangentially, why interim SDNY US Attorney Geoffrey Berman recused himself from this matter).

There are two options. The first is that Rosenstein believed hush payments and taxi medallion money laundering sufficiently attenuated to the Russian investigation that it should properly be referred. In which case, the fact that it was referred is itself reason to believe that Mueller — even while he had abundant evidence supporting the search warrant — has no reason to believe those releases were orchestrated with Wikileaks, and therefore have no direct interest to his investigation (though they may cough up one to three witnesses who will be more willing to cooperate when faced with their own fraud indictments). In which case, the Access Hollywood video would be just another example, like the Stormy Daniels and the Karen McDougal payoffs, of Trump’s efforts to bury embarrassing news, using whatever means necessary.

The other option is that Mueller does have evidence that Trump in some way managed the October 7 events, which would be one of the most inflammatory pieces of evidence we would have heard of so far, but that there was some other reason to refer the matter.

Michael Cohen wasn’t serving as an attorney for much of the reported documents

The really good reason to refer the warrant would be so that SDNY would serve as a natural clean team, sorting through seized items for privileged communications, only to hand them back to Mueller’s team in DC once they’ve sorted through them. It’s an idea Preet Bharara and Matt Miller, among others, have floated.

Before we conclude that SDNY is only serving as a clean team for Mueller’s team here, consider that coverage has vastly overstated the degree to which the items being searched will fall under attorney-client privilege.

The search also sought information on Cohen’s taxi medallions, a business in which he has had really corrupt partners, some Russian, with their own legal problems, and one that has reportedly left Cohen with some debt problems that make his purported personal payment to Stormy Daniels all the more sketchy.

In addition, as soon as Trump claimed to know nothing of the hush payment to Daniels last Friday, the government could credibly claim that either Cohen was not representing Trump when paying off Daniels, or involved in fraud.

The NYT has reported that the raid also sought all communications between Cohen and National Enquirer’s top brass, communications that would in no way be privileged.

Even the reported communications about the Access Hollywood video may not be privileged. If they involved four people, then the only way they’d be covered by privilege is if they counted as campaign emails and Marc Kasowitz, not Cohen, was the attorney providing privileged advice in question. In that case, Cohen would have been playing the press contact role he often did during the campaign.

Still, just because Cohen was not playing the role of an attorney during most of the activities the FBI is interested in doesn’t mean the FBI won’t be really careful to make sure they don’t violate privilege, and I’m sure they’ll still use a taint team.

Mueller has already dealt with (at least) two sensitive attorney-client relationships in his investigation

Even on top of the eight members of the White House Counsel’s office who have spoken with the Special Counsel, Mueller’s team has dealt with (at least) two other sensitive attorney-client relationships.

The first was Melissa Laurenza, a lawyer for Paul Manafort whom he had write false declarations for FARA registry. Judge Amy Berman Jackson permitted Mueller’s team to ask her seven of eight proposed question after proving Manafort had used her services to engage in fraud.

More recently, we’ve gotten hints — but only hints — of what must be extensive cooperation from Skadden Arps and its partner Greg Craig, describing how Manafort and Gates laundered money to pay the firm loads of money to write a report they hoped would exonerate Ukraine’s persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. While the cooperation of Skadden itself was probably effusive in its voluntary nature (the firm seems determined to avoid the taint that Tony Podesta’s firm has acquired in this process), Mueller did subpoena Alex Van der Zwaan and it’s unclear what methods the FBI used to obtain some of the materials he tried to hide from prosecutors.

Neither of those exchanges involves a search warrant. But they do show that Mueller is willing to take on the tricky issue of attorney testimony first-hand. Using SDNY as a clean team still may be the easiest option in the Cohen case, but Mueller clearly isn’t shying away from managing all such issues in-house in other cases.

The other possible explanations for the Access Hollywood search and the October 7 timing

Which brings us finally to the other possibilities behind the Access Hollywood search.

It’s certainly possible that the coincidental release of all these things was coordination, entirely orchestrated by the Trump campaign. But there are a number of reasons — on top of the fact that Mueller isn’t keeping this search far tighter under his own control — I think that’s not the most likely explanation.

Consider this story, arguing that the real story of Access Hollywood isn’t that it leaked on October 7 — the piece notes that David Farenthold had only received it that day — but that it didn’t leak earlier in the process, when it might have led Trump to lose the primary.

t is just impossible to believe that the tape not coming out at the start of Trump’s campaign, when logic dictates that it would have blown Trump instantly out of the water (before he was in a position where Republicans had no choice other than to keep backing him against the evil Hillary Clinton), was anything but a highly unethical political decision by someone at NBC. The fact that no one has ever even gotten an answer from NBC about how this could have happened is equally unfathomable and yet, given the news media’s overall incompetence, kind of expected.

[snip]

It has always struck me as EXTREMELY odd that it was the Washington Post, not NBC, who first released the tape on Friday Oct. 7, 2016, barely beating NBC which, it should be noted, was clearly ready to go with it immediately after the Post did. I presumed that perhaps NBC wanted this to be the case because it might take some of the focus off why they had not released it during the primaries (and thus chose not to prematurely kill off the media’s Golden Goose which was Trump’s ratings-friendly campaign).

However, there is another aspect of the Post being the outlet which got the big scoop that has always struck me as potentially very significant. The Post’s reporter, David Fahrenthold, has said that he was only made aware of the tape, via an unnamed source, THAT day — which is a clear indication that whomever was trying to get the Post to release it had decided to do so in tremendous haste. After all, if the source had planned it sooner they would have made contact with Fahrenthold well before then because he might have been out of pocket that day.

[snip]

For instance, what if it was actually someone from the TRUMP team who leaked the tape. At first glance, this seems ludicrous because no one thought that Trump would be anything but greatly harmed by the tape (though he clearly was not). But what if someone in Trump World got wind that the tape was about to be released and decided that stepping all over the Russia news (which would normally have dominated the narrative for the remainder of the campaign) would at least create the least bad outcome for them?

I don’t agree that the release was released when it was to distract from the Russia announcement that day. As I’ve long noted, in reality, the Access Hollywood distracted from the Podesta emails, effectively burying the most damning release in the bunch, the excerpts of Hillary’s speeches that even Democrats had been demanding she release since the primary. And while the Trump team might claim they didn’t control the release of the Podesta emails directly — and Roger Stone’s predictions that Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation rather than Podesta emails were dead wrong — the Trump team at least knew something was coming (indeed, Wikileaks had made that clear themselves). So there’s little reason they would stomp on what they had long welcomed with the Access Hollywood tape. As this post alludes, I also think the Trump team and Russians or Wikileaks may have been squabbling over whether Wikileaks would release possibly faked Clinton Foundation emails that week, only to scramble when Wikileaks refused to release whatever the Peter Smith effort had gotten dealt to them.

Like the Mediate piece, I’m interested in the way that Steve Bannon had Clinton accusers all lined up to go that weekend (indeed, I noted how quickly Stone moved to that after having raised expectations for a Clinton Foundation release). But I also think there are some reasons to believe that attack was in the works for other reasons (though I agree it might reflect advance knowledge that the video might come out, or even that Stormy Daniels might come forward).  Finally, I don’t think the release came from Trump because of all the reports of Republicans trying to convince Trump to step down (though it’s possible the GOP dropped the video in one last bid to get him to do so).

One alternative narrative, then, is that the real story about the Access Hollywood suppression goes back months or years earlier, as one of the things Trump managed to suppress throughout the campaign, but something happened internally to breach that agreement. And, separately, that either Assange by himself, with Russian help, or with Trump assistance, timed the Podesta emails to come out as the Russian attribution was coming out. That is, it could be that the real story remains that whoever orchestrated the Wikileaks release did so in an attempt to bury the Russian attribution, but that the coincidental release of the Access Hollywood video in turn buried the Podesta emails.

Finally, it’s possible that Democrats got ahold of the Access Hollywood video and they released it to (successfully) drown out the Podesta emails, which they (and the intelligence community) also would have known were coming, but by doing so, they also drowned out the all-important Russian attribution in the process.

The point is, we don’t know. And nothing we know thus far about the process leading to this warrant or about the suppression and release of either the video or the women’s stories suggest it all took place that week of October. Trump’s usual m.o. is about suppression, not timing.

That said, I’m curious if this raid will reveal details about one other item Trump probably tried to suppress: the nude Melania photos that NYPost released on July 31, 2016, just as campaign season got going in earnest.

Bannon Aims to Best Jared Kushner’s Biggest Mistake in Modern Political History

Back in September, Steve Bannon agreed on 60 Minutes that firing Jim Comey was the stupidest decision in modern political history.

In a “60 Minutes” interview that was posted online Sunday night, Bannon was asked whether he considered Comey’s dismissal — which ignited a political firestorm and directly led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential ties to Trump’s campaign — the biggest mistake in political history.

Bannon responded, “That would be probably — that probably would be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.

“He went on to acknowledge that if Comey had not been let go, it’s unlikely that the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller would have been established.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel, yes,” he said. “We would not have the Mueller investigation. We would not have the Mueller investigation and the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going for.”

At that time, Bannon insisted that he faced no risk from even the expanded Mueller investigation, and hadn’t even lawyered up.

All that changed, of course, after he ran his mouth to Michael Wolff. Bannon claimed to be offended by the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. In his apology he would even say the entire meeting offended his life’s work making movies about fighting “the evil empire.”

“My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them.”

But what really irked Bannon is that when Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Russians in an effort to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton, they didn’t use lawyers as cutouts.

“The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero,” said an astonished and derisive Bannon, not long after the meeting was revealed.

“The three senior guys in the campaign,” an incredulous Bannon went on, “thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the twenty-fifth floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately. Even if you didn’t think to do that, and you’re totally amoral, and you wanted that information, you do it in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people and go through everything and then they verbally come and tell another lawyer in a cut-out, and if you’ve got something, then you figure out how to dump it down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication. You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to. . . . But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

On Monday, the home, hotel, and office of the lawyer Trump has long used as such a cutout, Michael Cohen, got raided. Among the things the FBI sought — in addition to information on Cohen’s own corrupt business — were communications Trump and that lawyer and others had about the Access Hollywood video.

FBI agents who raided the home, office and hotel of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer sought communications that Trump had with attorney Michael Cohen and others regarding the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump making lewd remarks about women a month before the election, according to sources familiar with the matter.

[snip]

The search warrant also sought communications between then-candidate Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape, according to one of the sources. In addition, investigators wanted records and communications concerning other potential negative information about the candidate that the campaign would have wanted to contain ahead of the election. The source said the warrant was not specific about what this additional information would be. [my emphasis]

Bannon — and Marc Kasowitz, who sent a lawyer to meet with Trump in the wake of news of the raid — was probably among those associates. After all, Bannon also told Wolff that he and Kasowitz had to deal with a number of “near-death problems on the campaign” pertaining to women — like Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — making legal threats against Trump.

Unable to hire prestige talent, Bannon turned to one of the president’s longtime hit-man lawyers, Marc Kasowitz. Bannon had previously bonded with Kasowitz when the attorney had handled a series of near-death problems on the campaign, including dealing with a vast number of allegations and legal threats from an ever growing list of women accusing Trump of molesting and harassing them.

Now, Steve Bannon, the guy who claimed firing Jim Comey was the stupidest recent political decision, the guy who wasn’t so much opposed to political rat-fucking as he was opposed to doing it without using lawyers as a cutout, is shopping a new plan to get Trump out of his legal woes: fire Rod Rosenstein.

Stephen K. Bannon, who was ousted as White House chief strategist last summer but has remained in touch with some members of President Trump’s circle, is pitching a plan to West Wing aides and congressional allies to cripple the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

The first step, these people say, would be for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and in recent days signed off on a search warrant of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Bannon also wants to fire Ty Cobb, one of Trump’s remaining semi-legit lawyers, as part of an effort to invalidate all the testimony from White House officials — including himself!!!! — based on the claim it should have been covered by executive privilege.

And he is telling associates inside and outside the administration that the president should create a new legal battleground to protect himself from the investigation by asserting executive privilege — and arguing that Mueller’s interviews with White House officials over the past year should now be null and void.

“The president wasn’t fully briefed by his lawyers on the implications” of not invoking executive privilege, Bannon told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday. “It was a strategic mistake to turn over everything without due process, and executive privilege should be exerted immediately and retroactively.”

[snip]

Bannon believes Trump can argue he was given poor counsel by his lawyers on Russia, including Ty Cobb, who has encouraged a cooperative approach to Mueller’s team.

“Ty Cobb should be fired immediately,” Bannon said.

I’m agnostic about whether the Access Hollywood video actually relates to the Russian investigation. If it does, the only conceivable reason to refer it to Southern District of NY would be to establish a clean team — but Mueller’s team has already handled interactions with investigations involving two lawyers and/or legal teams, Melissa Laurenza (who testified that Manafort led her to lie on FARA forms), and Skadden Arps. I do think it possible — highly likely, actually — that Cohen may have been used as a cutout in some hotel room in New England to cover-up other sensitive issues.

But given Bannon’s response, the investigation into Cohen’s cover-up of Trump’s problems with women — including both the Access Hollywood tape and the legal negotiations with Daniels and McDougal — probably implicates Bannon as well as Cohen.

And so Bannon wants to do what Kushner did when he, similarly, realized how much a legal investigation jeopardized him personally: fire the guy running the investigation.

Indeed, Bannon seems so panicked he can’t even remember that such moves rank among the stupidest in modern political history.

Update: One more thing about the Stormy/McDougal/Access investigation. That may come directly out of Bannon’s own testimony, which would explain why he’d want to try to invalidate it.

Alex Van Der Zwaan: “Gone Native”

Tomorrow, Alex Van der Zwaan, the former Skadden associate who unsuccessfully attempted to hide ongoing conversations between him, Rick Gates, Konstantin Kilimnik, and (presumably) Greg Craig that took place in September and October 2016 will be sentenced. The government is seeking prison time, his lawyers are seeking probation (in part to keep him out of our nightmarish deportation process).

In advance of the sentencing (and today’s filing explaining how all this is authorized under the Special Counsel mandate Rod Rosenstein gave to Mueller), I wanted to lay out a few more details revealed by the public documents in this case, including the prosecution and defense arguments on sentencing.

Taken together, the documents reveal a few interesting wrinkles.

First, the defense argues that Van der Zwaan didn’t hide the communications he had with Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik in fall 2016 to hide the ongoing relationship Trump’s onetime campaign manager had with someone the FBI still believed had ties to GRU, the Russian intelligence agency behind the hack-and-leak of the DNC emails. Rather, his defense lawyers claim Van der Zwaan hid those things (or rather, attempted to hide them, using means it’s shocking a lawyer would believe might work) because he didn’t want to reveal to the Skadden lawyers who represented him in his first interview with Mueller’s team that he had recorded his conversations in that time period with Greg Craig.

He knew it was improper to have recorded his conversation with the Skadden senior partner; indeed, he understood that he could be fired for having done so. He also knew that a truthful disclosure about his September 2016 calls with Gates and Person A would almost inevitably lead to questioning that could quickly get to the existence of the recordings. During the interview, Alex was keenly aware that he was not speaking only to OSC. Alex was represented by Skadden lawyers, and anything he shared with the OSC would simultaneously be heard by Skadden. In his mind, his boss was listening to every word.

The explanation is unconvincing (so is his lawyers’ claim that Van der Zwaan couldn’t read the Ukrainian document he received). After all, Craig knew (and presumably has also told Mueller’s team unless he’s at legal jeopardy himself) of some of those emails. So Van der Zwaan was bound to be asked the same kinds of questions in any case. Which he was. Which is how he came to confess to making the recordings (and keeping his own notes) in the first place.

It’s not entirely clear why he made that recording. The defense filing claims he didn’t tell anyone about them. But given another detail laid out by all this paperwork, I at least wonder whether he intended to share it with Gates or Kilimnik.

Consider the “going native” claim made about Van der Zwaan by an unnamed witness (who might be Greg Craig).

Yet, although he had been instructed not to share advance copies of the report with the public relations firm retained by the Government of Ukraine, van der Zwaan had, in the words of one witness, “gone native”—that is, he had grown too close to Manafort, Gates, and Person A.

While we knew that Van der Zwaan had shared the Skadden report with Gates and Kilimnik back in 2012, in direct violation of Skadden’s wishes, the defense filing reveals another key detail. In 2012, either while he was moonlighting while being paid by Skadden to help Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik spin the Skadden report to make the prosecution of Tymoshenko look kosher or just after, Van der Zwaan was talking about working for Manafort and Gates.

That’s another good reason to hide all this: Van der Zwaan was ignoring Skadden Arps instructions at a time when he was considering a job with Gates and Manafort, who weren’t technically the client, but who were laundering the money to pay Skadden with.

Finally, while I don’t make as much of the tie between Van der Zwaan and his father-in-law, Alfa Bank founder German Khan, as others do, the defense filing provides more details on when Van der Zwaan joined the family. He and Eva Khan first met in “spring” 2016; elsewhere that gets described as a year before their marriage, which took place in June 2017.

Which is to say, the entirety of Van der Zwaan’s relationship with the Khan family has taken place during the Russian operation and attempt to cover up the tampering in the US election.

Just for fun: Back in 2008, American diplomats passed on complaints about Khan’s heavy-handedness in the operations of BP Russia, including the anecdote that Khan said he considers The Godfather to be his “manual for life.”

At dinner that evening, Khan had told a stunned Summers that The Godfather was his favorite movie, that he watched it every few months, and that he considered it a “manual for life.”

There’s actually no reason to believe that Van der Zwaan would have become a valuable enough resource that Khan would marry off his daughter to him, Godfather like.

But Van der Zwaan’s behavior in 2016 may make better sense considering the full context of that “going native” comment.

Update: I see from Zoe Tillman’s coverage of Van der Zwaan’s sentencing (where he was given a month in jail) that his lawyers fibbed a bit when they said his second grand jury appearance was entirely voluntary.

[Andrew] Weissmann refuted the idea that van der Zwaan voluntarily came back to tell the truth, saying he had been served with a grand jury subpoena after his first meeting in November 2017 and would have been required to return to the United States anyway.


2012: Van der Zwaan working on Tymoshenko report in facilitating role

July to early August 2012: Van der Zwaan provides unauthorized copy of Skadden report on Yulia Tymoshenko to PR firm engaged by Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice

September 2012: Van der Zwaan provides Rick Gates talking points to spin Skadden report

2012-2013: Van der Zwaan conducts discussions over Gmail about working directly for Gates and Manafort; these were among the other materials Van der Zwaan attempted to destroy in advance of his Mueller interview

2014: Eva Khan moves to London to study art (she is 11 years younger than Van der Zwaan)

Spring 2016: Van der Zwaan and Eva Khan meet

September 2016: First public allegations of spam traffic between Trump marketing account and Alfa bank

September and October 2016:

Rick Gates contacts Van der Zwaan, urges him to contact Kliminik and sends him a document in Ukrainian

September 12, 2016: Van der Zwaan emails Konstantin Kilimnik, who asks him to contact him on Telegraph or WhatsApp

Van der Zwaan reports this to (presumably) Greg Craig

Van der Zwaan reports back to Gates

[These communications continue as a series]

January 2017: Paul Manafort provides Trump a strategy to rebut the Russian investigation by discrediting the Steele dossier

January 2017: Brian Benczkowski leaves transition team and returns to Kirkland & Ellis

March to May 2017: Pending Assistant Attorney General nominee Brian Benczkowski advises Alfa Bank on lawsuit against Buzzfeed

April 2017: Jeff Sessions asks Benczkowski if he wants to be AAG for Criminal Division

May 26, 2017: After months of consultation with Alfa Bank (and German Khan by name) sue Buzzfeed over the Steele dossier

June 2017: Van der Zwaan and Khan married; she applies for permanent residency as his spouse

Prior to November 3, 2017: Van der Zwaan gives Skadden his laptop from the 2012 time frame

October 3, 2017: Alfa Bank lawsuit is moved to federal jurisdiction

November 3, 2017: Van der Zwaan participates in eight hour voluntary interview, represented by Skadden Arps lawyers; during that interview, FBI confronts him with an email he withheld from Skadden’s discovery

November 16, 2017: Van der Zwaan returns to the US

November 17, 2017: Van der Zwaan surrenders his passport to the FBI and retains new counsel (this is probably when Skadden fired him)

November 29, 2017: Kilimnik emails Manafort for review of purportedly exonerating op-ed

December 1, 2017: Van der Zwaan’s second interview with FBI

February 14, 2018: Van der Zwaan agrees to plea deal

February 20, 2018: Van der Zwaan pleads guilty

February 23, 2018: Gates pleads guilty

May 2018: Date Van der Zwaan would have made partner

August 2018: Due date of Van der Zwaan son

The Silent Cast of Characters in the Very Noisy Recent Mueller Moves

A fuck-ton has happened in the Mueller investigation already this month. Amid the noisy pleas and indictments, we’ve seen indications of hidden cooperation from a range of people, cooperation that may point to where Mueller’s next steps are.

Here, arranged by the date of the development, are hints at who either was or soon is likely to be talking to Mueller’s team.

February 1: In a proffer to Mueller’s team, Rick Gates lied about a March 19, 2013 meeting with Paul Manafort, Vin Weber, and Dana Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher’s statement in response to the guilty plea is inconsistent with the version laid out in the plea, suggesting he’s not the means by which Mueller’s team learned it was a lie.

After the guilty plea on Friday, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, who has sought better relations with Russia, said: “As the congressman has acknowledged before, the meeting was a dinner with two longtime acquaintances –- Manafort and Weber –- from back in his White House and early congressional days.”

“The three reminisced and talked mostly about politics,” the spokesman said. “The subject of Ukraine came up in passing. It is no secret that Manafort represented Viktor Yanukovych’s interests, but as chairman of the relevant European subcommittee, the congressman has listened to all points of view on Ukraine.”

This suggests someone else provided the version of the meeting the government included in the plea. While it’s possible the other version came from Gates’ former lawyers, it’s more likely the version came from someone else. Vin Weber is the most likely source of that information.

Back in August 2016, as news of the secret ledger was breaking,Weber suggested he may have been misled by Manafort, both as to the purpose of his lobbying and regarding the need to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine. If he felt that way in August 2016, I imagine he came to feel that even more strongly as Manafort’s legal woes intensified.

February 9: Returning a call from John Kelly but speaking to Don McGahn, Rod Rosenstein spoke of “important new information” about Jared Kushner that will delay his clearance.

Given all the evidence that suggests Jared faces very significant exposure in this investigation, this new information could be any number of things. But two possibilities are likely. First, it might reflect Jared’s January 3 disclosure of additional business interests in yet another update to his SF-86, or his family’s increasing debt over the last year.

More likely, it reflects things the government has learned from Mike Flynn (who has an incentive to burn Jared, given that the President’s son-in-law was asked for and didn’t provide exonerating information tied to Flynn’s own lies to the FBI). Indeed, that seems to be one theory of those who reported on this phone call.

Kushner’s actions during the transition have been referenced in the guilty plea of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted he lied to the FBI about contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Prosecutors said Flynn was acting in consultation with a senior Trump transition official, whom people familiar with the matter have identified as Kushner.

All that said, there are two more possibilities. Given that she appears to have lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in her confirmation process, KT McFarland would be an obvious follow-up interview after the Mike Flynn plea; she asked Trump to withdraw her nomination to be Ambassador to Singapore on February 3. And February 9 might be (though probably isn’t, quite) late enough to catch the first sessions of Steve Bannon’s 20 hours of interviews with Mueller, and Bannon has long had it in for Jared.

February 14: Alex Van der Zwaan got caught and pled guilty to lying about communications he had with Rick Gates, Konstantin Kilimnik, and Greg Craig in September 2016. On top of whatever he had to say to prosecutors between his second interview on December 1 and his plea on February 14, both Craig and Skadden Arps have surely provided a great deal of cooperation before and since September 2016. (As I was finishing this, NYT posted this story that details some, but not all, of that cooperation.)

February 16: As I noted in my post on the Internet Research Agency indictment, Rod Rosenstein was quite clear: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” That said, there are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

Again, the DOJ convention of naming makes it clear these people have not been charged with anything. But we know from other Mueller indictments that those specifically named (which include the slew of Trump campaign officials named in the George Papadopoulos plea, KT McFarland and Jared Kushner in the Flynn plea, Kilimnik in the Van der Zwaan plea, and the various companies and foreign leaders that did Manafort’s bidding, including the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs in his indictment) may be the next step in the investigation. As a reminder: Florida Republicans are those who most tangibly can be shown to have benefitted from Russia’s hack-and-leak, given that Guccifer 2.0 leaked a slew of Democratic targeting data for the state. (In perhaps related news, this week Tom Rooney became the third Florida Republican member of Congress to announce his retirement this cycle, which is all the more interesting given that he’s been involved in the HPSCI investigation into Russian tampering.)

February 23: Manafort’s superseding indictment (a version of which was originally filed February 16) added the description of the Hapsburg Group for former European officials who lobbied at the direction (to some degree via cut-outs) of Manafort.

MANAFORT explained in an “EYES ONLY” memorandum created in or about June 2012 that the purpose of the “SUPER VIP” effort would be to “assemble a small group of high-level European highly influencial [sic] champions and politically credible friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine.” The group was managed by a former European Chancellor, Foreign Politician A, in coordination with MANAFORT.

It may be that the government only recently obtained this document (meaning it was not among the 590,000 pages of documents obtained and turned over to Manafort in discovery thus far). But it’s likely this also reflects further testimony. Former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer denied he is Foreign Politician A to BBC, though that may be a non-denial denial tied to his claim he wasn’t directed by Manafort and only met him a few times (this Austrian story suggests only he doesn’t remember what American or English firm paid him). NYT reported that Gusenbauer’s lobbying during the relevant time period was registered under Mercury Public Affairs. This is another piece of evidence suggesting the group — and Vin Weber personally — has been cooperating since the original indictment.

Note, I assume that Mercury/Weber’s cooperation has been mirrored by Tony Podesta’s.