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

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

Khusyaynova may be named, but the real target is Prigozhin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prigozhin continues to fund influence operations affecting US politics

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

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

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

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

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

Another of the trolls posted this image:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By issuing this complaint, the government does several things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: This post has been updated since initial posting.

In Putin’s Russia, Trolls Fool Even You

In a long story on the Russian hack that I believe falls for at least one piece of propaganda (I’m working on writing this up, but it will take time), Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti quote Christopher Painter talking about how much people deny they’ve been duped by propaganda, but suggest only Trump supporters would be so naive.

He added that “people don’t like to admit they’ve been fooled” — hence the strenuous efforts from Mr. Trump and his supporters to deny or dismiss the significance of the Russian interference.

They then use Harry Miller — a Trump supporter who got paid to organize a rally with a fake Hillary in prison — to portray the kind of rubes who fall for propaganda.

A case in point would be Harry Miller, a devoted Trump supporter in Florida who was paid to organize a rally in which a woman portraying Mrs. Clinton sat behind bars on the back of his pickup truck. It turned out that the people who had ordered up the rally, “Matt Skiber” and “Joshua Milton,” were pseudonyms for Russians at the Internet Research Agency, according to the Mueller indictment.

But don’t tell that to Mr. Miller. Contacted via Twitter, he insisted that he had not been manipulated by Russian trolls.

“They were not Russians, and you know it,” Mr. Miller wrote, adding, “If you don’t then you are the one snookered.”

Here’s the part of the Internet Research Agency indictment that describes Miller getting duped.

In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016.

a. In or around August 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to communicate with Trump Campaign staff involved in local community outreach about the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook and Instagram to promote the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies.

c. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to contact multiple grassroots groups supporting then-candidate Trump in an unofficial capacity. Many of these groups agreed to participate in the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies and serve as local coordinators.

d. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used false U.S. personas to ask real U.S. persons to participate in the “Florida Goes Trump” rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators asked certain of these individuals to perform tasks at the rallies.

For example, Defendants and their co-conspirators asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform. Defendants and their co-conspirators paid these individuals to complete the requests.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that Miller was duped, just like I believe Shane and Mazzetti were duped. I believe I got duped in 2016 too!

But there’s a part of the IRA indictment that might help explain why Miller got duped, one that reporters ought to chase down before they single out others for being duped, because it might help them understand how they, too, might get duped.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

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

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

[snip]

78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain donaldtrump.com. On or about the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

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

During precisely the period when Miller was networking with Russian trolls to set up a real campaign event, the very same trolls using the very same fake identities were networking with actual Trump campaign staffers about the very same campaign events in the very same state that Miller was. That means it is quite possible that he had validation from real people he trusted that the trolls duping him were real.

Virtually anyone — including NYT reporters — might get fooled if the trolls duping them networked in via real trusted people.

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

Andy McCarthy’s Misconception

I was struck, in reading Andy McCarthy’s review of the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort guilty outcomes last week (in which he measures Trump via a vastly different standard than he once measured Bill Clinton), by this erroneous claim:

The Trump camp continues to stress that Manafort’s case had nothing to do with the original rationale for Mueller’s investigation, “collusion with Russia.” But as we’ve pointed out any number of times, Mueller took over a counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia was just one thread in the larger probe.

The claim that the Trump-campaign “collusion” was just one thread of what Mueller originally took over is false, but utterly critical for McCarthy’s sustained belief that Mueller has not found evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. While it is true that when Comey confirmed the investigation, he did not specify the structure of the investigation,
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
When Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he described Mueller’s scope to include,
  • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
  • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
  • any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)

Why McCarthy made this error is clear: he uses the existence of and Mueller’s indictments in a broader counterintelligence investigation to sustain his belief that Mueller doesn’t have a “collusion” case against Trump or his associates.

At this point, it does not appear that Mueller has a collusion case against Trump associates. His indictments involving Russian hacking and troll farms do not suggest complicity by the Trump campaign. I also find it hard to believe Mueller sees Manafort as the key to making a case on Trump when Mueller has had Gates — Manafort’s partner — as a cooperator for six months. You have to figure Gates knows whatever Manafort knows about collusion. Yet, since Gates began cooperating with the special counsel, Mueller has filed the charges against Russians that do not implicate Trump, and has transferred those cases to other Justice Department components.

When it comes to the president, I believe the special counsel’s focus is obstruction, not collusion. When it comes to Manafort, I believe the special counsel’s focus is Russia — specifically, Manafort’s longtime connections to Kremlin-connected operatives. Mueller may well be interested in what Manafort can add to his inquiry into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting (arranged by Donald Trump Jr. in futile hopes of obtaining campaign dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton). That, however, is not the more serious “collusion” allegation that triggered the Trump thread of the investigation — cyberespionage conspiracy (i.e., Russian hacking of Democratic party emails).

That is, because Mueller indicted trolls and GRU hackers and then spun those prosecutions off to other teams (in the GRU case, back to one of the teams that originally investigated it), it is proof, in McCarthy’s mind, that Mueller isn’t targeting Trump and his associates for conspiring with Russia.

The actual background of the Mueller investigation suggests precisely the opposite. As I noted when Lawfare made precisely the same error in a post on the GRU indictment,

Friday’s indictment is, rather, the result of investigations conducted primarily in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. At the time Comey confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s camp and at the time Comey got fired for not shutting the Trump counterintelligence investigation down, those San Francisco and Pittsburgh investigations were totally separate. Those two investigations almost certainly had little if any involvement from Peter Strzok (indeed, they involved a bunch of FBI cyber agents, a division of FBI that Strzok never tired of mocking in his texts to Lisa Page). The DOJ press release from Friday states that explicitly.

This case was investigated with the help of the FBI’s cyber teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Francisco and the National Security Division.

Those two investigations (plus the separate one noted in Philadelphia that started later, as I understand it from what a lawyer who represented a witness in that investigation described to me) got moved under the Mueller umbrella sometime in or just before November, and now the GRU officer part of the investigation will be moved back to Pittsburgh where it started, to languish forever like some other nation-state hacker indictments investigated by Western District of Pennsylvania.

Given that both public reporting (starting in February 2017 and extending into November 2017) and Mueller team changes (not to mention my own reporting about the Philadelphia grand jury’s activity in the second half of May 2017 and my own knowledge about where I interviewed and where my interview materials subsequently got moved to) support this narrative, McCarthy (and the Lawfare crowd) might ask why Mueller decided to integrate the cybersecurity parts of the investigation, only to spin the Russian defendants back to other teams once they were indicted?

We can begin to get an answer from the two indictments that — Andy wants to believe — are themselves evidence that Mueller doesn’t have evidence on Trump’s associates but actually are. The Internet Research Agency indictment actually describes three Florida-based Trump campaign officials inconclusively, as if they were either still under investigation or at some legal risk.

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.

And while the GRU indictment (on top of key clauses being misread by virtually everyone who has read it) doesn’t use the same convention to describe Roger Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0…

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

It pointed to Russia’s response to Donald Trump’s request that they hack Hillary without referring to him one way or another.

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

What Mueller has done with both of the counterintelligence indictments that McCarthy takes solace in is lay out the Russian side of a conspiracy (and both are charged as conspiracies) with very clear spots into which American co-conspirators may be dropped when Mueller is prepared to do so. (I laid this out at more length in this post.)

Importantly, the fact that some of this investigation started out in other parts of DOJ but then got moved under Mueller make it clear that something came up in the investigation that Mueller and Rosenstein believed required they be moved under Special Counsel when they weren’t there, originally.

Let’s put it this way: Mueller didn’t subsume investigations located elsewhere at DOJ because the Special Counsel needed to be the one to indict a bunch of Russians. He did it to set up the conspiracies that would — that will — later be occupied by Russians and Americans.

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

The Tea Leaves on Mueller’s Hand Off

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mueller Frees Up the Troll Team

In the background of the celebrating over the Carpenter SCOTUS decision — which held that the government generally needs a warrant to access historical cell phone location — there were a few developments in the Mueller investigation:

  • The George Papadopoulos parties moved towards sentencing, either on September 7 or in October. If Mueller told Papadopoulos his wife Simon’s Mangiante seeming coordination of the Stefan Halper smear with Sam Clovis (and his lawyer, Victoria Toensing) and Carter Page got him in trouble, we got no sign of that.
  • Amy Berman Jackson dismissed a Paul Manafort attempt to limit the criminal penalties of his Foreign Agent Registration Act violations; this isn’t very sexy, but if the well-argued opinion stands, it will serve as a precedent in DC for other sleazy influence peddlers.
  • After ABJ made sure Rick Gates ask Mueller if he really didn’t mind Gates going on a trip without his GPS ankle bracelet, Gates got permission to travel — with the jewelry.
  • Kimba Wood accepted Special Master Barbara Jones’ recommendations, which among other things held that just 7 of the files reviewed so far pertain to the privilege of anyone, presumably including Trump,  to whom Michael Cohen was providing legal services. So Cohen and Trump just paid upwards of $150,000 to hide the advice Cohen has gotten from lawyers and seven more documents — that is, for no really good reason.
  • In two separate filings, four DOJ lawyers filed notices of appearance in the Internet Research Agency/Concord Management case.

It’s the latter that I find most interesting. Mueller has added a team of four lawyers:

  • Deborah A. Curtis
  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Kathryn Rakoczy
  • Heather Alpino

To a team with three (plus Michael Dreeben):

  • Jeannie Sclafani Rhee
  • Rush Atkinson
  • Ryan Kao Dickey

Devlin Barrett (he of the likely impressive link map) reported that Mueller did this to prepare for the moment when his office shuts down and the Concord Management nuisance defense drags on for years.

People familiar with the staffing decision said the new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation. The case those prosecutors are joining could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. Russia does not extradite its citizens.

The development suggests Mueller is contemplating the end of his work and farming out any potentially outstanding prosecutions to other parts of the Justice Department.

Except this doesn’t make sense. Not only are Concord and the judge, Dabney Friedrich, pushing for a quick trial, but Atkinson and Dickey are themselves DOJ employees, so could manage any residual duties.

Far more likely, Mueller is ensuring one of his A Teams — including Dickey, DOJ’s best cyber prosecutor — will be able to move on to more important tasks on the central matters before him.

Shorter Yevgeniy Prigozhin: Don’t Send the PII We Already Stole — Just Send the Intelligence

In this post, I described the Mueller team’s motion for a protective order that would keep sensitive information from the case against Concord Management away from its owner, Vladimir Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin.

Concord’s lawyers have now responded with the performative aspect that has characterized their filings in this case. From a legal standpoint, they argue both that protective orders are an unusual thing (which seems utterly absurd on its face) and that withholding information from a co-defendant who has not presented himself before the court is not supported by case law (a proposition I await Mueller’s answer to judge).

For now, though, note that their demands have actually gotten worse than what, according to Mueller at least, they had already agreed to.

Mueller, as I noted, contended that Concord had agreed to keep all discovery in the United States, but objected to Mueller’s request to withhold it from Prigozhin. The US-restrictions showed up on their protective order this way:

Neither defense counsel nor any person authorized by this Court is permitted at any time to inspect or review Sensitive materials outside of the U.S. offices of Reed Smith LLP, without prior permission from of this Court. Defense counsel or a designated and identified employee of Reed Smith LLP must accompany any person at all times while he or she is reviewing Sensitive materials at U.S. offices of Reed Smith LLP, unless otherwise authorized by this Court.

[snip]

Sensitive materials shall not be viewed or stored on any device that is connected to or accessible from the Internet.

Sensitive materials may under no circumstances be transported or transmitted outside the United States.

But Concord has now changed its mind about the US restrictions.

Further, the Special Counsel attests to the Court that the defense has agreed “on many procedures designed to enable the government to turn over discovery,” Mot. at 2, while failing to tell the Court the truth; that any such concessions were made as part of a concerted effort by undersigned counsel to reach a stipulated agreement of this issue, and absent that stipulation there is in fact no agreement at all. Despite this fact, and as a courtesy to the Court only, Defendant Concord represents that it is willing to accept the draft protective order attached hereto as Exhibit A, which will permit it to protect its constitutional rights in defending this criminal case.

It calls the requirement that discovery remain in the US (it doesn’t address the demand that it remain firewalled from the Internet) a hostage situation.

The Special Counsel seeks the unprecedented process of prohibiting defense counsel from sharing or discussing any discovery with any co-defendant—including the only person affiliated with Concord named in the Indictment—unless those individuals come to the United States to become hostages in this political game of tit-for-tat. See ECF 24-1, proposed Protective Order at ¶ 2.

Perhaps even more interesting, having been told that Mueller will hand over everything because it is too unwieldy to strip Personal Identifying Information of victims and others, Concord not only says they don’t want it (though they caveat about whether they’ll eventually release it at trial), but that they refuse to accept it.

Not yet ashamed, the Special Counsel plays the personal identifying information (“PII”) card. See Mot at p. 9. However, undersigned counsel has already advised the Special Counsel that Defendant does not seek any personal identifying information that is irrelevant to the defense. The Special Counsel stated to undersigned counsel that it would not be possible to remove any such information from the discovery. But that is the Special Counsel’s problem, not Concord’s. And undersigned counsel will not accept any such information unless the Special Counsel can demonstrate that, in fact: 1) it is relevant to the defense of the case; 2) the Special Counsel intends to use the item in its case-in-chief at trial; or 3) the information was obtained from or belongs to Defendant. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(E). The Special Counsel’s reliance on the out of circuit case United States v. Johnson, 191 F. Supp. 3d 363 (M.D. Pa. 2016) provides no cover. To the contrary, Johnson, a drugs and firearms case, returns to the concept of an umbrella protective order that is unheard of in published opinions in this district, and further addresses PII which we are not seeking unless it is relevant to the defense.7

7 The Special Counsel’s description of the PII to undersigned counsel makes it difficult to understand how it could be relevant to the defense. The Special Counsel generally noted that some of the discovery contains financial account numbers of innocent individuals. As noted above, undersigned counsel refuses to accept or be responsible for any such irrelevant data. As to names, addresses and other personal information of the same or other individuals, undersigned counsel has no intention of making any such information public prior to trial.

Of course, Russia has already stolen a lot of this PII.

So effectively, what Prigozhin is saying is that he doesn’t want any of the PII he already stole; he just wants the intelligence showing what the US government knows about how he stole it.

Don’t get me wrong: the underlying legal issues here will be an interesting question. But the message — don’t send the PII we already stole, just send the intelligence — is quite simple.

Update: In a hearing on Friday, Friedrich expressed impatience that discovery hadn’t begun yet, but generally showed great deference to the government’s concerns about security. She set a deadline for the parties to agree on a protective order, but if the interim one she drew up until they agree on something is any indication, the Mueller team will generally get what they want. In particular, she prohibited the sharing of discovery with anyone not in Concord’s law firm, meaning they can’t share it with Prigozhin.

Pursuant to this interim order, the government shall initially produce the materials to defense counsel. In the first instance, and unless and until further order from this Court, defense counsel shall not further disclose the materials or their contents directly or indirectly to anyone except defense counsel, as defined above.

And she required sensitive materials to be firewalled from the Internet, and prohibited sensitive materials being transmitted outside the US.

The government shall provide Sensitive materialsto defense counsel in a password protected, electronic format. Sensitive materials shall not be copied or reproduced without prior permission from this Court, except that defense counsel may make copies for use exclusively by defense counsel in connection with this criminal case. Sensitive materials shall be maintained in a locked room at Reed Smith’s offices within the United States, when they are not in the actual possession of defense counsel. Sensitive materials shall not be viewed or stored on any device that is connected to or accessible from the Internet.

Sensitive materials may under no circumstances be transported or transmitted outside the United States.

She also endorsed the idea of a firewall counsel who could raise objections on sharing, and even suggested a special master for discovery here.

Update: Fixed protection for protective. h/t mw.

Mueller to Yevgeniy Prigozhin: Sure You Can Have Discovery … If You Come to the United States to Get It

This Concord Management filing, from Mueller’s team, is attracting a lot of attention because Mueller predictably asked for a protective order and said Russians are still engaging in information operations (so are we!!). Since we covered the certainty that there’d be a protective order in this case over a month ago, I’m going to focus on some other interesting tidbits about this filing.

As a reminder, Concord Management is a company owned by close Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Concord is accused in the Internet Research Agency indictment of funding the troll operation.

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.

[snip]

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.

The indictment accuses Prigozhin of supervising the operation closely enough to have been saluted by troll operations in the US.

PRIGOZHIN approved and supported the ORGANIZATION’s operations, and Defendants and their co-conspirators were aware of PRIGOZHIN’s role.

For example, on or about May 29, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through an ORGANIZATION-controlled social media account, arranged for a real U.S. person to stand in front of the White House in the District of Columbia under false pretenses to hold a sign that read “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss.” Defendants and their co-conspirators informed the real U.S. person that the sign was for someone who “is a leader here and our boss . . . our funder.” PRIGOZHIN’s Russian passport identifies his date of birth as June 1, 1961.

When Concord moved to defend itself, it presented the possibility that it and Prigozhin would obtain discovery, and via Prigozhin, everyone else in Russia who was part of this operation, up to and including Putin. Indeed, the Mueller filing makes it quite clear that is the intent of the defense attorneys. They explicitly asked to share information with co-defendants that serve as officers of Concord, which can only mean they want to share information with Prigozhin.

In its initial proposed protective order, the government proposed a complete prohibition on sharing discovery with any co-defendant charged in this criminal case, whether individual or organizational. Defense counsel proposed that they be permitted to share discovery with a codefendant if that co-defendant is an officer or employee of Concord Management. To the government’s knowledge, the only charged defendant in this category is Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who was charged individually for conspiring to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

So this dispute over the protective order is an effort to continue with the prosecution, while ensuring that Russia doesn’t obtain important information on the investigation into the operation by doing so.

Before I get into how Mueller’s team proposes to resolve the dispute, it’s worth reviewing the data in question, because that’s actually one of the most interesting parts of this filings. Apparently, the government used no classified information in the investigation of social media trolling (or parallel constructed whatever they did use).

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. [my emphasis]

Later, the filing makes it clear that much of the evidence in the case came from US providers — surely Facebook and Twitter and others.

The evidence includes data related to hundreds of social media accounts, as well as evidence obtained from email providers, internet service providers, financial institutions, and other sources. Additionally, the need to produce much of the data in its original format (formats that include, for example, Excel and HTML files) makes it infeasible to make certain redactions without compromising expeditious review of the data.

These two details confirm a point I made in March: this indictment really doesn’t rely on information as secret as many reporters claimed. It relies on stuff you get from social media providers.

And contrary to what NBC says about the heavy reliance, in the Internet Research Agency indictment, “on secret intelligence gathered by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),” it really wasn’t all that sophisticated from a cybersecurity standpoint. Especially not once you consider the interesting forensics on it (aside from IDing the IRA’s VPNs) would have come from Facebook and Twitter.

That detail — that much of this indictment comes from the social media providers that Russia exploited in 2016 — is important background to this passage (this is the one that has gotten all the press), which asserts that Russia continues to do what Prigozhin’s trolls did in 2016.

Public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States. First, the substance of the government’s evidence identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment. Second, information within this case’s discovery identifies sources, methods, and techniques used to identify the foreign actors behind these interference operations, and disclosure of such information will allow foreign actors to learn of these techniques and adjust their conduct, thus undermining ongoing and future national security investigations.

And that, in turn, explains much of the logic for the larger protective order request: the government is trying to prevent Prigozhin and through him Putin from learning what the US is doing to counter its information operations.

The government’s description of what it considers “sensitive” information that it wants to require a special review before sharing with foreign nationals reveals it is also trying to prevent Prigozhin and others from learning about the status of the investigation and its targets.

a. Witness statements provided pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3500;

b. Information that could lead to the identification of potential witnesses, including civilian, foreign and domestic law enforcement witnesses and cooperating witnesses;

c. Information related to ongoing investigations, including information that could identify the targets of such investigations; and

d. Information related to sensitive law enforcement or intelligence collection techniques.

Finally, the government is trying to hide what it knows about relationships between parties involved in this operation and “other uncharged foreign entities and governments.”

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. [my emphasis]

So one thing the government wants to protect is what it knows about the relationship between Prigozhin and Putin, and the Russian government’s involvement in this trolling operation more generally.

And to do that, the government is demanding the ability to prohibit Concord’s lawyers from sharing information with Prigozhin (or any other defendant) without prior court review.

Notwithstanding the previous categories of authorized persons, no co-defendant charged in this criminal case, whether individual or organizational, shall be deemed an authorized person for purposes of discovery until the co-defendant appears before this Court. Defense counsel shall not disclose or discuss the material or their contents to any co-defendant charged in this criminal case, whether individual or organizational, until the co-defendant appears before this Court unless otherwise directed by this Court. If defense counsel, after reviewing discovery in this matter, believes it necessary to seek to disclose or discuss any material with a co-defendant who has not appeared before this Court, counsel must first seek permission from this Court and a modification of this Order.

Perhaps more interesting, it is demanding that Concord’s lawyers keep anything deemed sensitive in the US, firewalled from the Internet.

Neither defense counsel nor any person authorized by this Court is permitted at any time to inspect or review Sensitive materials outside of the U.S. offices of Reed Smith LLP, without prior permission from of this Court. Defense counsel or a designated and identified employee of Reed Smith LLP must accompany any person at all times while he or she is reviewing Sensitive materials at U.S. offices of Reed Smith LLP, unless otherwise authorized by this Court.

[snip]

Sensitive materials shall not be viewed or stored on any device that is connected to or accessible from the Internet.

Sensitive materials may under no circumstances be transported or transmitted outside the United States.

The logic here is nifty: even if they lose on the ability to protect all materials from Prigozhin, they’ve already succeeded in requiring that he come to the US if he wants to read it. At which point, he’d be met by authorities at customs and promptly put in custody.

On one point I was mistaken. I thought there would be classified discovery of some sort, that would require the use of the Classified Intelligence Protection Act procedures. It will apparently never get to that. The government will either win on this protective order, which will largely moot much of the logic for Concord to contest the case, or it will lose, which will likely lead it to dismiss the indictment against Concord.

Update: Fixed protective for protection, h/t mw.

The Crimes with which NSD Envisions Charging Those Attacking Elections

The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on how to protect our elections today. Among others, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Adam Hickey from DOJ’s National Security Division testified. He gave a list of some of the crimes he thought might be used to charge people who tampered with elections.

Foreign influence operations, though not always illegal, can implicate several U.S. Federal criminal statutes, including (but not limited to) 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy to defraud the United States); 18 U.S.C. § 951 (acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General); 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (false statements); 18 U.S.C. § 1028A (aggravated identity theft); 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (computer fraud and abuse); 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 1344 (wire fraud and bank fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1519 (destruction of evidence); 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (visa fraud); 22 U.S.C. § 618 (Foreign Agents Registration Act); and 52 U.S.C. §§ 30109, 30121 (soliciting or making foreign contributions to influence Federal elections, or donations to influence State or local elections).

In their testimony, Ken Wainstein (someone with extensive experience of national security prosecutions, but less apparent focus on the available evidence in this investigation) and Ryan Goodman (who doesn’t have the prosecutorial experience of Wainstein, but who is familiar with the public facts about the investigation) also list what crimes they think will get charged.

I find a comparison of what each raised, along with what has already been charged, to be instructive. I believe that comparison looks like this:

I’m interested, in part, because Hickey, who likely has at least a sense of the Mueller investigation (if not personal involvement), sees the case somewhat differently than two differently expert lawyers. Two charges — agent of a foreign power (basically, being a foreign spy in the US not working under official cover) and CFAA (hacking) seem obvious to both National Security Division prosecutors, but have not yet been publicly charged. Illegal foreign contributions seems obvious to those paying close attention, but also has not been charged. We might expect to see all three charges before we’re done.

Neither Wainstein nor Goodman mentioned false statements, but of course that’s what we’ve seen charged most often so far.

Then there are the two crimes Hickey mentions that the others don’t, but that have not yet been charged (both have been alleged as overt acts in the Internet Research Agency indictment): Visa fraud (alleged against the trolls who came to the US to reconnoiter in 2014) and destruction of evidence (again, alleged against IRA employees destroying evidence after Facebook’s role was discovered). Mueller also described George Papadopoulos destroying evidencec when he deleted his Facebook account, but like the Russian trolls, he didn’t get charged for it. Visa fraud, in particular, is something that multiple figures might be accused of — Alexander Torshin and others reaching out via NRA, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and even Brits who worked illegally during the election for Cambridge Analytica.

I confess I’m most interested in Hickey’s mention of destruction of evidence, though. That’s true, in part, because SDNY seems to think Michael Cohen might destroy evidence.

Hope Hicks, too, reportedly thought about hiding evidence from authorities. Then there’s the report that Mueller is checking encrypted messaging apps as people turn in phones when they arrive for interviews.

Huckey seems to think some of the people being investigated — beyond Papadopoulos and IRA troll Viktorovna Kaverzina — may have been destroying evidence.

I wonder if he has reason to suspect that.

Rudy 9/11’s Latest Outrageous Attempts to Obstruct the Mueller Probe

I’ve been noting Trey Gowdy’s expressed support for Mueller’s investigation since he announced his retirement back in February.

On Sunday, on one of the Sunday shows, Trey—I think it was a Fox show—Trey Gowdy said, “You know, this memo should come out. It’s important. But my side should not use it to undermine the Mueller investigation.” And the reason he gave is that what is not being seen about the Mueller investigation is there’s a whole counterintelligence side to it. There’s a whole side of it investigating how the Russians tampered in our election. And according to Gowdy, who has seen these underlying documents, he thinks that’s an important and legitimate investigation.

This Sunday, in the wake of last week’s briefing on Stefan Halper’s role in the investigation of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos (and, possibly, other aspects of the Russian investigation), Gowdy did it again, explaining that the FBI did precisely what they should have done in response to identifying counterintelligence concerns in Trump’s campaign.

GOWDY: [I]t was President Trump, himself who said, number one, “I didn’t collude with the Russia but if anyone connected with my campaign did, I want the FBI to find that out.” It looks to me like the FBI was doing what President Trump said I want you to do, find it out. He is not the target. So, when Schiff and others don’t make that clear, they’re doing the disservice to our fellow citizens. He is not the target.

MACCALLUM: But this raises the question that the president raised in this — in this one of those tweets, there were a lot of them. In which we talked about quite a bit here last week, is if that were the case, why didn’t they give him a little briefing?

So, here is what we found out. You know, we do have somebody who asked some questions of George Papadopoulos. We do have somebody who’s asked questions of Carter Page. Here’s what you need to know.

GOWDY: I think, defensive briefings are done a lot. And why the Comey FBI didn’t do it? I don’t know, but Chris Wray and Rod Rosenstein have at least made it clear to us, Donald Trump was never the target of the investigation. He is not the current target of the investigation. Now, keep in mind that can all change depending on what a witness says.

But as of now, I think Chris Wray and Rod Rosenstein are stunned whenever people think Trump is the target of their investigation. I’ll leave it up to them how to brief the president, or how to brief his lawyers.

MACCALLUM: Was that point of view that you’re talking about right now, was that strengthened when you went into this briefing last week?

GOWDY: Yes, I am — I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got. And that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

MACCALLUM: All right. So, given the things that were over here on your right hand, all the frustrations, do you think it’s problematic the way the president has — is tweeting about this all the time? Because he feels like he needs to get — he needs to vent. He’s got to get his message out there. Is it legally problematic in your mind what he is doing?

GOWDY: I think any time you create prior statements, you give Mueller or other folks a chance to question you on them and ask what was your factual basis, why did you say that? The president should have access to the best legal minds in the country. And I think he should take advantage of those. And he has got some really good communicators that are on his staff and at his — at his call. If I were his lawyer, and I never will be, I would tell him to rely on his lawyers and his comes folks.

MACCALLUM: All right, here is one of them, Rudy Giuliani, speaking with Bill Hemmer over the holiday weekend. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS CO-ANCHOR: What’s wrong with the government trying to figure out what Russia was up to?

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Nothing wrong with the government doing that. Everything wrong with the government spying on a candidate of the opposition party, that’s a Watergate, a spy gate. I mean, and without any warning to him. And now, to compound that, to make it into a criminal investigation bill? That’s why this is a rigged investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GOWDY: There are two things wrong with what the former U.S. attorney said. Number one, no one knows whether this is a criminal investigation. Mueller was told to do a counterintelligence investigation into what Russia did. And number two, President Trump himself in the Comey memos said if anyone connected with my campaign was working with Russia, I want you to investigate it.

And it sounds to me like that is exactly what the FBI did, I think when the president finds out what happened, he is going to be not just fine, he’s going to be glad that we have an FBI that took seriously what they heard. He was never the target, Russia is the target.

MACCALLUM: So, it sounds to me as if you would advise him that there’s no problem with him sitting down with Robert Muller.

GOWDY: Oh, absolutely no. I have always said, I think you want to sit down with Bob Mueller. You’ve told us publicly there was no collusion, you’ve told us publicly there was no obstruction. Say in private what you’ve said publicly, limit the scope to exactly what the — what the Mueller memo is, but if he were my client and I’d say if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you need to sit down and tell Mueller what you know.

Mind you, Gowdy wasn’t the only one who said this. Mitch McConnell came out of the briefing (I’m still not sure whether Gowdy was in the Gang of Eight briefing or just the one with Devin Nunes) and said he supports Mueller. Nunes has gone silent, either because he, too, believes the FBI’s actions were proper, or because because he attended a briefing with the rest of the Gang of Eight, he’ll be more constrained about any bullshit claims he makes.

Nevertheless, Rudy is now targeting Gowdy in the same way Republicans have targeted Adam Schiff for supporting the investigation, even attacking him for running a never-ending investigation into Hillary.

Giuliani lashed out at Gowdy — who isn’t running for reelection — for his comments, saying that his constituents “would probably be outraged at what he’s doing.”

He then veered off-topic, adding that those constituents “probably want to figure out what the hell he did with Benghazi.” Gowdy was the chair of the House committee that looked into the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four dead, including Christopher Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya.

“He sure screwed that one up. You got four families that do not think that Trey Gowdy did his job,” Giuliani said.

Rudy did something else in that interview with BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner that Geidner didn’t emphasize, but deserves closer focus. He asserted that Trump’s legal team would still demand to see the files on Halper.

“We want to review all of the documentation they have for the investigation of what they call the spying on Russia and the spying — that led to the spying on the Trump campaign,” he said. He said the president’s attorneys have no plans to ask for the alleged informant’s identity — which has been reported in multiple outlets to be Professor Stefan Halper.

“Once we see what they’ve revealed,” Giuliani said of the documents, “I think we’ll need his identity even less, because I think it revealed bullshit. Which is why they don’t want to show it to us. This informant was a total waste of money, a total lark, a complete attempt to try to frame Trump, and it’s gonna show that he did nothing wrong. And that’s why they concealed it for a year.”

As Adam Schiff noted, this move demolishes any claim that the document request is about oversight; it makes it clear this request — and, I agree with Schiff, the prior ones — are all about giving Trump a peek into the investigation.

“Rudy Giuliani has effectively admitted that [House Intelligence Committee] Chairman [Devin] Nunes’ demand for information about the investigation is a charade designed only to obtain material for the Trump legal defense team,” Schiff said. “He now seeks to use the improper effort to obtain information about an investigation implicating the president as a justification to refuse to allow the president to testify.

Meanwhile, I’ve got new questions about whether Trump already has gotten information on the investigation.

Among the things Rudy has said of late, he mocked the Internet Research Agency indictment, suggesting it’s phony.

Even those Russians, the phony indictment they have of the Russians who will never come here for trial, they colluded with each other. Russians colluding. Oh wow that’s big news. Russians have been colluding since the Soviet Union to interfere in our elections.

Mind you, as I’ve noted, Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s firm, Concord Consulting, is mounting a defense. Even there, Concord and the government just jointly proposed a schedule to lead towards trial (which would take place sometime after November). So that’s happening, at least until the US butts up against evidence it refuses to share even with Concord’s US lawyers (the parties are still discussing a protection order now).

But I’m interested in Rudy’s comment for another reason. While a lot of attention has been paid to the news that the government and George Papadopoulos have moved towards sentencing, a similar announcement came this week in the Richard Pinedo case — the guy who sold identities that IRA used to create troll accounts. I have no idea what the Papadopoulos move means, but with Pinedo, I’ve wondered what cooperation he offered to get the plea in the first place. And I’ve wondered whether the move to sentencing actually means Mueller has finished any investigation of Campaign Official 1, 2, and 3 named in the indictment.

Which is to say that I find the timing of Rudy’s mockery of the IRA indictment, which is a real description of the damage Russia did, to be of interest.

Concord Consulting Aims to Make Russian Bots Legal

Remember when they used to say, “they hate us for our freedoms” in the wake of 9/11? The company of Putin’s buddy Yevgeniy Prigozhin is doing the opposite — having a field day with the due process rights his company, Concord Consulting, gets under US law after being charged in the Internet Research Agency indictment.

As I noted, Concord unexpectedly decided to contest its indictment for using Prigozhin’s troll factory to interfere in the 2016 election. Last week it pled not guilty.

In that post, I suggested that the risk posed by the Concord not guilty plea could be deferred, for now, by arguing over a protection order and ensuring that sensitive data be shared under CIA.

[N]either will happen immediately — Mueller’s team will push for a protection order and CIPA process before turning over the requested discovery and defendants almost never get a Bill of Particulars — effectively, Concord signaled its intention to impose real costs on the US government’s use of our criminal justice system to embarrass Russia. They made it clear that one of Putin’s closes allies will be demanding the intelligence behind an indictment naming him and two of his companies. Which is going to pose real discomfort for Mueller’s team (which might explain a bit of their delay here).

Let me clear: Concord is entirely within its right to begin demanding such evidence. That’s the risk of using our criminal justice system, affording due process, in charging a Russian corporate person who can challenge any charges without risking their freedom. I imagine Mueller’s team didn’t sufficiently account for this possibility when charging it this way. And if there are any other known Russian corporations involved in this operation (or fronts, such as the one Joseph Mifsud worked behind), I would imagine Mueller’s team is rethinking their approach to including those fronts. This could be problematic to the extent that proving any “collusion” between Trump’s people and Russians would most easily be demonstrated via conspiracy charges involving Russian entities.

If and when Mueller dismisses the indictment against Concord (but not its 13 paid trolls), it would be an embarrassing PR moment. But the contest thus far only posed a legal risk to any further indictments that relied on corporate entities, which the rest of the Internet Research Agency one does not.

Concord’s latest challenge may pose a greater threat. It requests the judge in the case (which here would be Magistrate Michael Harvey, though Trump appointee Dabney Friedrich is the District judge on the case) to review the grand jury instructions to make sure the prosecutors explained the mens rea required behind the conspiracy to defraud the US charge in the case. It is, as the motion argues, a fairly modest request (the government will argue, rightly, that it asks for grand jury information it is not entitled to, but Concord is asking just for the judge to review it). It’s basically asking the judge to make sure prosecutors explained to the grand jury that they had to find that IRA knew that it was violating US law.

As I noted here, ConFraudUs provides Mueller’s team with a way to argue the abuse of weak parts in our electoral system violates the law, and charging a conspiracy sets up a way to drop in American defendants at a later date. And, as Lawfare laid out in this good legal review of ConFraudUs, ConFraudUs has been used in the electoral context in the past.

Notably for present purposes, §371 has been deployed in the context of election law specifically. The Justice Department’s manual on federal prosecution of election offenses explicitly contemplates bringing charges of conspiracy to defraud based on campaign finance offenses. It explains the theory as follows:

To perform [its] duties, the FEC must receive accurate information from the candidates and political committees that are required to file reports under the Act. A scheme to infuse patently illegal funds into a federal campaign, such as by using conduits or other means calculated to conceal the illegal source of the contribution, thus disrupts and impedes the FEC in the performance of its statutory duties.

Several federal circuit courts have heard cases brought under §371 based on this theory and have not found fault with its application to behavior that may also violate the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).

But Concord is arguing the use of ConFraudUs in this case departs from the approach DOJ has previously used to keep foreign influence out of elections (citing cases of Chinese influence peddling under Clinton).

The Court is well aware that heretofore investigations of alleged improper foreign involvement in American elections have been handled by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”); specifically the Campaign Finance Task Force created by former Attorney General Reno in 1997, and where the Court worked as a prosecutor from September 1997 to August 1998. Former Attorney General Reno refused to bow to massive political pressure to appoint a special counsel, and instead the Task Force methodically investigated and prosecuted cases through 2000.1 Throughout all of that activity, the DOJ never brought any case like the instant Indictment, that is, an alleged conspiracy by a foreign corporation to “interfere” in a Presidential election by allegedly funding free speech. The obvious reason for this is that no such crime exists in the federal criminal code.

It doesn’t actually prove that use of ConFraudUs in this case would be improper (indeed, after complaining that Janet Reno didn’t appoint a special counsel to investigate funding of Clinton, the motion spends a page complaining about a special counsel in this case). Rather, it argues that the indictment couldn’t charge ConFraudUs because none of the Russians involved knew they had to register with the government before engaging in online trolling (they note they’re going to make similar challenges with respect to other charges in the future).

But violations of the relevant federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration requirements administered by the DOJ and the FEC require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” a word that does not appear anywhere in Count One of the Indictment. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d) and 22 U.S.C. § 618(a).

[snip]

Count One of the Indictment appears to be facially invalid because it fails to charge an essential element of the offense of conspiracy to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing and defeating the functions of the FEC and the DOJ, that is, that the Defendant acted willfully, in this case meaning that Defendant was aware of the FEC and FARA requirements, agreed to violate those requirements, and ultimately acted with intent to violate those requirements.

There’s a two-fold risk here, if Concord is successful (and they could be).

First, there’s a risk that such a ruling would in effect provide foreign corporations more ability to engage in improper election speech than domestic ones. Particularly as social media companies move to require more transparency in online advertising, a foreign company could continue to violate those requirements simply by pleading dumb. Certainly Congress could mandate some kind of transparency on foreign companies and with that require private companies to administer such things. but it wouldn’t be a quick fix.

There’s a more immediate risk, however. The filing claims that this indictment is, “a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government.” While it is true that Rod Rosenstein emphasized there was no allegation in the current indictment that any American knowingly conspired with these Russians, there are actually three Trump campaign staffers described in a way in the indictment that may reflect they’re still under investigation. And in its last filing, Concord demanded the communications behind one event — an American holding a sign in front of the White House — that leads me to believe Concord knows that the involvement of this US person is more complex than alleged in the indictment.

With respect to ¶ 12b, identify the “real U.S. person,” identify the specific Defendant or conspirator who communicated with the “real U.S. person,” provide the dates and times of any such communications, identify the Defendant or conspirator who stated “is a leader here and our boss . . . our funder,” and clarify whether it is alleged that any such communications were made on behalf of Defendant Concord.

That is, while Rosenstein said that thus far there are no Americans in this indictment, that doesn’t mean Mueller didn’t have plans to add some at a later date.

But if Concord can get this conspiracy charge thrown out before then, it’s going to undercut any effort to claim the conspiracy that will be critical to substantiating the collusion charge even if Mueller presents clear evidence of an agreement to carry out this trolling.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be able to prove a conspiracy involving a more obvious agreement — such as the Agalarovs offering dirt in exchange for sanction relief (though that would invoke the bribery rules that SCOTUS has significantly reined in).

But for now, the IRA indictment is a test case in a legal theory that will make it fairly easy to show that Republicans engaged in a conspiracy to tamper with the election. Because Mueller named a corporate person, he provided a way for the Russians to otherwise undercut a theory that seems central to the effort to hold Trump and the Russians accountable.

Again, Mueller can likely prove ConFraudUs with other players in the larger conspiracy. But this filing poses an immediate threat of undermining the logic of such an approach before he can charge it.