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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.

With the Upcoming Concord Consulting Not Guilty Plea, Russians Continue to Win the Lawfare Hockey Title

Last year, I observed how effective the mostly-Russian (with some assistance from Republicans) lawfare surrounding the Steele dossier had been. Between the Webzilla and Alfa Bank suits against Steele dossier actors (the latter advised by top Republican lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis), they forced out information that would embarrass Democrats and assist Republican efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. Further, the many suits were far more costly than the initial oppo research had been.

As a number of outlets have observed, one of the firms named in the Internet Research Agency indictment, Concord Management and Consulting, is waging similar lawfare in response to that indictment.

Concord is the firm of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, often called Putin’s chef because he’s gotten rich of catering contracts. The indictment claims Concord provided the bulk of the funding for the IRA. It further alleges Concord funds disinformation campaigns not just targeting America, but targeting other countries and domestic Russian audiences.

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]

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.

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.

Among the details in the indictment that would require the most SIGINT (as distinct from cooperation from Facebook and domestic forensics analysis) is a paragraph describing the funding behind the operation.

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.

Presumably, the Mueller team named Concord and Prigozhin because doing so would support sanctions against him and his companies (indeed, Prigozhin was added to sanctions back in March). But it was also a way to put the operation within the immediate vicinity of Putin and tie it to the patronage that he uses to stay in power.

But then the corporate person of Concord Consulting unexpectedly started to contest the charges. On April 11, two lawyers from Reed Smith filed an attorney appearance for the firm. That same day, the lawyers sent Mueller’s team two letters, one asking for a Bill of Particulars and the other an expansive discovery request. Mueller’s team (having previously tried to serve Concord via the Russian government) then sent a letter to the lawyers, asking for confirmation they can receive summons for their client, which the lawyers returned it 10 days later, saying it violated Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The government, based on the returned summons, asked for a continuance to make sure that summons had been accepted.

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. Here, proper service is disputed. It would not be an efficient use of resources to conduct proceedings against Concord clouded by the question whether Concord has been properly served. And as mentioned above, that is particularly true given the sensitive intelligence gathering, national security, and foreign affairs issues presented by defense counsel’s initial requests.

Concord’s lawyers responded by arguing the Special Counsel was ignoring local rules requiring two weeks advance notice to make a scheduling change, and further noting the government had not cited any case law supporting the argument that there might be uncertainty about whether Concord had been served.

The Special Counsel is not entitled to special rules, and is required like the Attorney General to follow the rules of the Court. See United States v. Libby, 498 F.Supp.2d 1, 10-11 (D.C.C. 2007).

The Special Counsel’s motion, filed late on a Friday afternoon, essentially seeks to usurp the scheduling authority of the Court by requesting a continuance of a proceeding scheduled in five days knowing that Defendant is ordinarily entitled to fourteen days to respond.

The Special Counsel’s motion is in violation of Local Criminal Rule 47(b) in that its contains no citation to points of law and authority and instead proclaims without citation to any authority that “A criminal case against an organizational defendant ordinarily requires that the defendant has been properly served with a summons in order for the court to be assured that the defendant has submitted to the jurisdiction of this court and has obligated itself to proceed in accordance with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and other applicable laws that govern this criminal proceeding,”

Judge Dabney Friedrich denied the government motion, meaning there’ll be an initial appearance Wednesday.

Before looking at what Concord is trying to do with its discovery request, let’s take a step back.

The US has been charging Russian hackers and other criminals (like Viktor Bout) for years. Russia hates it. Even ignoring the number of Russian criminals we’ve imprisoned for long sentences, in cases where we don’t nab defendants while on vacation, the indictments still provide the US a forum to expose Russian intelligence activities with little cost to the US.

Charging a corporate person — one close to Putin — for a crime (information operations) that the US also engages in, the government provided Putin and his ally Prigozhin with an opening to either inflict some damage or force the government to withdraw the indictment (and think twice before indicting any other Russian corporations in other Russian investigation indictments).

Here’s some of what Concord is asking for:

Unnamed co-conspirators. When Rod Rosenstein announced this indictment, he emphasized that no Americans were named as co-conspirators in the indictment. That’s different than saying no Americans did conspire (indeed, I’ve noted that three Trump Campaign Officials described in the indictment may be under ongoing investigation). The motion for a Bill of Particulars asks for the identities of those three Trump Campaign Officials, as well as the identities of at least ten other Americans described specifically, and 100 recruited by IRA (described in ¶81). It also asks for the name of co-conspirators for an act, ¶7 of the indictment, who were required to register even though no co-conspirators are alleged to have to do so. Intriguingly, it asks not just for the identity of the real US person who held a sign in front of the White House (¶12b), but also all details surrounding the communications behind that appearance.

Related crimes the government will introduce at trial. The discovery request makes a very normal Rule 404(b) request for any “other crimes, wrongs, or acts” the government might introduce at trial. If Mueller’s team believes anyone in this indictment was involved in other parts of the operation, they might have to disclose that.

SIGINT. The request for a Bill of Particulars asks the government to identify all VPNs, PayPal accounts, Twitter accounts, and web-based emails used in the operation. It asks for the IDs of the people behind the operation and a definition of what significant funds means which would convey how much money Mueller has tracked. It asks for the specific bank accounts the indictment alleges Concord used to launder its money. It asks for specific evidence showing Prigozhin’s knowledge of the operation. It asks for all the communications behind the named events in the indictment. Showing this would provide Concord, and so Prigozhin, and so Putin, a very detailed picture of how much intelligence the US collected to draw up this indictment, which would also hint a lot about how we got it.

Details they will use to show US double standards. This includes a request for all the times since 1945 an agent of the US “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes in any foreign country,” which is probably a reference to this study that shows CIA has done it more than Russia, along with a parallel request about any times Americans have been charged under the same crime, 18 USC 371, charged in the indictment. It also asks for a definition of a bunch of terms — such as “improper foreign influence,” “computer infrastructure,” “collecting intelligence,” and “began to monitor” that Russia will then use to point out where US spooks do the same. The request asks for a list of all criminal statutes that prohibit interference operations, the specific statutes behind the FECA, FARA, and visa violations alleged, as well as statutes that prohibit “impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the US … [by] interfer[ing] with US political and electoral processes. Together, those requests are designed to show that much of this stuff is either legal or spying.

The names of informants. Concord asks for this both as a general Brady request and asks for the specific name of the uncharged co-conspirator who traveled to Atlanta in 2014 in the request for a Bill of Particulars. While Prigozhin probably knows which Russians cooperated, Russia will nevertheless love to use that to punish whoever did.

While neither 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.

As I said, for years, it has pissed off Russia generally and Putin in particular that the US used its criminal justice system to embarrass Russia, particularly for actions (like nation-state spying or information warfare like that alleged in this indictment) that we also engage in, including against Russia. It seems clear Putin and his buddy Prigozhin are using the incidence of the latter having had his company be named in this indictment as an opportunity to retaliate and make DOJ think twice as it continues to expand such efforts in the future.

And to a large degree, it’s quite likely to work.

The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief (Part Two in a Series)

As I explained in Part One of this series, I think the Mueller questions leaked by the Trump people actually give a far better understanding of a damning structure to the Mueller investigation — one mapping out cultivation, a quid pro quo, and a cover-up — than the coverage has laid out. This post will lay out how, over the course of the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo, involving a Putin meeting and election assistance in exchange for sanctions relief if Trump won (as noted, the Russians dangled real estate deals to entice Trump based on the assumption he wouldn’t win).

April 27, 2016: During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?

Given the structure of George Papadopoulos’ plea, it’s highly likely Mueller knows that Papadopoulos passed on news that the Russians had thousands of Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump to people in the campaign. Papadopoulos could have passed on that news to Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski as early as April 27. On the same day, Papadopoulos helped draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev signaled a willingness to meet.

Between the time the GRU first exfiltrated DNC emails in April and the election, Trump invoked “emails” 21 times on Twitter (usually to refer to emails from Hillary’s server). The first of those times came on June 9, less than an hour after the Trump Tower meeting. The most famous of those came on July 27, when Trump addressed Russia directly.

Earlier in the day, Trump had called on Russia to release the emails not to the FBI, but to the press.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

The timing may reflect awareness among some in the campaign that the call to Russia was a step too far legally. (h/t TC for the addition)

That Trump’s email comments pertain mostly to Hillary’s home-based server doesn’t actually exonerate him. Right after the DNC release (and therefore the July 27 Trump tweet), GOP rat-fucker Peter Smith started reaching out to Russian hackers in hopes of finding hacked versions of those emails. His support documents named Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, and Mike Flynn. If those people actually learned of the effort (there’s reason to believe Smith was just overselling the ties to the campaign), it’s possible that Trump learned about it as well.

As to social media, while it has gotten virtually no attention, the reference to three Florida-based Trump campaign officials in the Internet Research Agency indictment suggests further investigative interest in them.

[T]here 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.

So Mueller may be pursuing whether there was state-level coordination going on, and if so, how far up the campaign chain of command knowledge of that coordination extended.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?

On June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his campaign, the Agalarovs offered to serve as an intermediary between him and Putin.

Then, starting at least as early as March 31, 2016 (with Trump’s first foreign policy meeting), his aides started floating pitches for meetings with increasingly senior campaign officials that would hypothetically lead up to one between Trump and Putin.

Those include at least:

  • The George Papadopoulos thread, spanning from March 21 through August 15
  • The Carter Page thread, including his Moscow trip in July, and possibly continuing through his December Moscow trip
  • The NRA thread, focusing on the NRA meeting in Kentucky in May; NRA’s longer outreach includes Trump associates John Bolton and David Clarke

We know Trump was present and did not object when Papadopoulos pitched this in the May 31 meeting. Several of the other entrees went through Don Jr. Many of the offers got briefed at least as far as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. We don’t know how many of the other offers he learned about. We just know that years earlier he had joked about becoming Putin’s best friend, and over the course of the campaign, Russian intermediaries made repeated, persistent efforts to work towards a meeting between Trump and Putin, with a meeting between Agalarov representatives (who, again, had offered to serve as intermediaries with Putin when Trump kicked off the campaign) and the most senior people on the campaign happening just as Trump sealed up the nomination.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

This is an open-ended question that might pose particular problems for Trump given the misleading statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions and not the Magnitsky sanctions. More interesting still are hints that Mueller sees a signaling going back and forth involving Papadopoulos; some of this may have involved signaling a willingness to provide sanctions relief.

Both Aras Agalarov and Natalia Veselnitskaya followed up after the election pushing for sanctions relief.

June 9, 2016: When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?

Sam Nunberg has suggested Trump probably learned of the Trump Tower meeting before it happened. While he is unreliable on that point, the original June 3, 2016 email Rob Goldstone sent to Don Jr suggests reaching out to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Democrats suspect that between two calls Don Jr had with Emin Agalarov about the meeting on June 6, 2016, he called his dad.

Trump Jr.’s phone records show two calls to and from the same Russian number on June 6, 2016.62 The first call occurred at 4:04 pm on June 6, 2916 – just 21 minutes after Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that Emin Agalarov was “on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call. [emphasis added]” 63 At 4:38 pm, Trump Jr emailed Goldstone, “Rob, thanks for the help.”64

This documentary evidence indicates that a call likely took place between Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov. During his interview, Trump Jr. confirmed that the Russian phone number belonged to Agalarov, though he claimed to not recall whether he actually spoke with him. Rather, despite one of the two calls reflecting a two-minute connection, Trump Jr. suggested that Agalarov may have left voice messages.65

The phone records also show a “blocked” number at 4:27 pm, between the two calls to and from Emin Agalarov. Trump Jr. claimed he did not know who was associated with the blocked number.66 While the Committee has not pursued leads to determine who called Trump Jr. at this crucial time from a blocked number, Corey Lewandowski told the Committee that Mr. Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.” 67

Mueller, of course, almost certainly has the phone records the Democrats weren’t able to obtain.

Finally, Steve Bannon has stated that he’s certain Don Jr “walk[ed] these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor” on the day of the meeting. There’s reason to believe Ike Kaveladze and Goldstone could have done so, including the new piece of evidence that “Kaveladze left [a meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia Veselnitskaya] after a few minutes to take a call from Agalarov to discuss the meeting.”

The day after the meeting — and four days before Trump’s birthday — Agalarov sent Trump an expensive painting as a present.

The June 9 meeting is, as far as is public, the most important cornerstone in a presumed quid pro quo. Russians offered unnamed dirt that Don Jr seemed to know what it entailed even before speaking to Emin Agalarov personally. Having offered dirt, four Russians — including two representatives of Trump’s long-time handler Aras Agalarov — laid out a pitch to end the Magnitsky sanctions. And less than a week later, a presumed Russian agent released the first dirt stolen from Hillary Clinton.

July 7, 2016: What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

We don’t have many details on what Mueller knows about Manafort’s requests for help on the campaign. We do know he remained in close touch with Russians via someone the FBI believed was a Russian intelligence agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, through whom he remained in communications with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is named in some court documents in a way that suggests his relationship with Manafort may be the still hidden third prong of investigation into Manafort approved by August 2, 2017.

Starting in April, Manafort and Kilimnik (whom Rick Gates and therefore presumably Manafort knew was a former GRU officer), exchanged a series of cryptic emails, suggesting that Manafort might be able to pay off the $20 million he owed Deripaska with certain actions on the campaign. In an email sent on July 7, Manafort offered to provide briefings on the campaign to Deripaska. On or around August 2, Manafort and Kilimnik met in person at the Grand Havana Club, in Kushner’s building at 666 5th Avenue. Both deny that anything about the campaign came up. Shortly after this meeting, one of Deripaska’s jets came to Newark, and Russian opposition figure Viktor Navalny has claimed to have proof the jet went from there to a meeting between Deripaska and Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko.

An August 2017 report describes intercepts picking up “Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, … relay[ing] what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

There’s one more area of potential assistance I find of interest. Since January, we’ve been getting hints that Oleg Deripaska has some tie to the Steele dossier, possibly through a lawyer he and Steele share. I’ve raised repeated concerns that the Russians learned about the dossier and found ways to feed Steele disinformation. If they did, the disinformation would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacks that targeted them. And whether or not the dossier is disinformation (and whether or not Deripaska had a role in that, if true), Paul Manafort coached Reince Priebus on how to attack the dossier as a way to discredit the investigation into the campaign’s ties with Russia.

With regards to this Manafort question: remember that Rick Gates flipped on February 23, and the questions date to early March. So Gates may have proffered confirmation about these details. In any case, Mueller likely has learned far more about them two months after Gates flipped.

July 10-12, 2016: What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?

The Majority HPSCI Russia Report explains that the RNC platform was changed by staffers at the convention based off Trump’s public statements on sanctions.

[Rick] Dearborn generated a memorandum, dated August 1, 2016, outlining a detailed sequence of events that occurred between July 10 and 12, 2016. As part of that memo, J.D. Gordon created a timeline that noted candidate Trump’s policy statements–including at a March 31, 2016, national security meeting–served as the basis for the modification of [Diana] Denman’s amendments. Gordon’s timeline made it clear that the change was initiated by campaign staffers at the convention–not by Manafort or senior officials.

J.D. Gordon has not confirmed that he was asked about this, but he surely was. I would expect Mueller to have tested the timeline Gordon laid out in summer 2016 (when the platform change was a big political issue) against the testimony and communications records of everyone else involved.

Of course, by asking the question in this fashion, Mueller doesn’t reveal what he has already confirmed about the platform changes.

August 5, 2016: What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?

After multiple public statements that the Russians were behind the hack-and-leak, on August 5, 2016 (after traveling from NY to LA to his home in FL), Roger Stone wrote a column claiming to believe that Guccifer 2.0 was a hacktivist with no ties to Russia. Stone’s purportedly changed beliefs about Guccifer 2.0 coincide with an August 4 claim he made in an email to Sam Nunberg that he had met with Julian Assange the night before. Stone’s claimed belief that Guccifer 2.0 is not Russian is key to his denials of any involvement or pre-knowledge of hack-and-leak events. It also kicked off an alternative story that others, up to and including Trump, have adopted to excuse their own embrace of the stolen emails. In other words, a key prong in the plausible deniability the Russians built into the hack-and-leak campaign came from long-time Trump associate Roger Stone, after a dramatic and unexplained change in beliefs (Lee Stranahan, who used to work for Breitbart and now works for Sputnik, has claimed some credit for the change, and given how lucid the August 5 column is, someone had to have helped Stone write it).

Ten days later, after Stone had called on Twitter to let him out of Twitter jail, Guccifer 2.0 and Stone started exchanging (fairly innocuous) DMs.

There are events both before and after that which suggest Stone — probably through more interesting go-betweens than Randy Credico — sought information on what dirt Assange and Wikileaks had, and what and when planned to do with it.

Much has been made, especially in the DNC lawsuit, about Stone’s seeming prediction that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Perhaps that’s true (and Stone’s explanation for the tweet is garbage), but any explanation of Stone’s supposed prediction needs to acknowledge that he more often predicted Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation emails, not Podesta ones, that he got the timing somewhat wrong, and that he didn’t dwell on the Podesta emails at all once Wikileaks started releasing them (preferring, instead, to talk about Bill Clinton’s lady problems). Still, that may reflect Stone involvement in the Peter Smith operation, and efforts to get WikiLeaks to release purported Clinton Foundation emails passed on via hackers.

That Mueller is even asking this suggests (if the several grand jury witnesses in recent months dedicated to it don’t already) that Mueller has a pretty good idea that Stone’s communications were more extensive than his denials let on. That he thinks Stone may have shared that information with Trump is all the more interesting.

All of which is to say that the known answers to Mueller’s questions map out a quid pro quo set up during the election, in which Russians offered a Putin meeting and dirt on Hillary, with the expectation that Trump would lift the Magnitsky sanctions if he won (and would get a Trump Tower in Moscow if he lost). I suspect there are other pieces to the quid pro quo, dealing with Ukraine and Syria. But certainly the June 9 meeting set up an understanding: dirt in exchange for Magnitsky relief. The release of the Guccifer 2.0 emails may indicate the Trump camp provided some signal they had formally accepted the offer.

Update: Fixed syntax in last paragraph, h/t LT.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

Yet More Proof Facebook’s Surveillance Capitalism Is Good at Surveilling — Even Russian Hackers

I’ve long tracked Facebook’s serial admission to having SIGINT visibility that nearly rivals the NSA: knowing that Facebook had intelligence corroborating NSA’s judgment that GRU was behind the DNC hack was one reason I was ultimately convinced of the IC’s claims, in spite of initial questions.

Among all his evasions and questionably correct answers in Senate testimony yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg provided another tidbit about the visibility Facebook had on the 2016 attacks.

One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016. We expected them to do a number of more traditional cyberattacks, which we did identify, and notified the campaigns, that they were trying to hack into them. But we were slow to identifying [sic] the type of new information operations.

Not only did Facebook see GRU’s operations in real time, but they notified “the campaigns” about them.

Note, Zuck didn’t describe the targets in any more detail than “campaigns.” That led Robby Mook to dispute Zuck, eliciting more details from Facebook CISO Alex Stamos.

Aside from illustrating how routinely those involved in and covering the 2016 hacks confuse the possible affected targets (resulting in some real misunderstanding of what happened), Stamos’ clarification provides important new details: these hacks affected both the DNC and RNC’s key employees, and Facebook alerted the FBI (something we’ve previously heard).

The DNC likes to claim they never got any warning they were being hacked. But apparently, in addition to the FBI’s serial attempts to lead them to discover Russia was hacking them, Facebook let them know too.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Zuck got coy about the degree to which Facebook remains involved in the Mueller investigation, a fact that should have been obvious to anyone who has read the Internet Research Agency indictment, but which numerous news outlets treated as news anyway.

Facebook has a lot to answer for (this David Dayen piece on yesterday’s testimony is superb).

But one thing that has continued to trickle out is that Facebook’s surveillance capitalism is good at what it’s designed for: surveillance, including of Russian hackers.