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The “Subject” of Robert Costello’s Declination

Since April, the SDNY investigation into whether Rudy Giuliani worked as an unregistered foreign agent for Yuri Lutsenko has gone dark. I thought it possible that it had reached a dead end, but figured we’d learn if that were true when Rudy’s lawyer, Robert Costello, noisily announced that prosecutors told Rudy he was no longer a subject of the investigation.

Costello gave a version of that announcement yesterday to the NYT and at least one other outlet.

Only, he didn’t announce that prosecutors had told him Rudy was no longer a subject. On the contrary, Costello appears to confirm that Rudy remains a subject of investigation at SDNY. Costello used a different event — the return of Rudy’s seized devices — as his basis for saying he probably won’t be charged in the Lutsenko inquiry.

Because a broad swath of people routinely misrepresent what I have or am saying about Rudy, let me be very clear: I have no reason to doubt the NYT reporting or Costello’s claim that the investigation that Jeffrey Rosen intentionally circumscribed in 2020 into whether Rudy failed to register for his work for Ukrainian official Yuri Lutsenko will likely not result in charges.

But the specifics of what Costello said and did not say are of interest.

Before I look at what Costello said, a reminder that SDNY seized Rudy’s devices in April 2021. In September, they got Judge Paul Oetken to approve their preferred scope for a Special Master review of Rudy’s phones to include for review everything, regardless of subject, after January 1, 2018. In November and January, Special Master Barbara Jones turned over materials to the government. Half of the devices she reviewed covered just a focused period specific to the Ukraine investigation December 1, 2018 through May 31, 2019; the rest covered the entire period of review, January 1, 2018 through the April 2021 seizure. After Jones finished her privilege review, the material she turned over would be scoped (meaning, sorted for the material that matched the warrant(s) against Rudy) by the FBI. Jones’ last publicly posted report actually showed that the review of the single phone seized from Victoria Toensing’s phone was ongoing, with the involvement of Dmitry Firtash. Firtash had been represented by Toensing when the phone was seized but is now represented (again) by Lanny Davis. The last we heard from Jones in this case on January 21, she said, “I will confer with the Government and counsel for Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Toensing regarding additional review assignments.”

In March, in the related SDNY counts, Lev Parnas filed to change his plea on the remaining charge against him and pled guilty on March 29. At a sentencing hearing on June 29 where the government scoffed at Parnas’ claims of cooperation and associated media blitzes, Judge Oetken sentenced Rudy’s former associate to 20 months in prison. That’s relevant because one identifiable source for yesterday’s NYT story was Parnas, who in fact telegraphed something was coming the day before. Parnas, it seems, has reason to believe Rudy and he won’t be charged for his Lutsenko work (this work was actually included in Parnas’ original 2019 indictment, but was removed in 2020).

The day before Parnas telegraphed such a story was coming, DOJ asked to unseal a July 29, 2021 Oetken opinion finding that a communication describing efforts that Alexander Mikhalev was making to hide his role in influence-peddling relating to some cannabis businesses in the US was crime-fraud excepted.

I believe what’s left was for Igor and Lev to establish who is going to be shareholder(s) of the NewCo and could we all use LLC’s as our proxy’s in it. I am just trying to establish core structure and how transparent should Andrey be exposed for the benefits of NewCo Transparency, his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it.

My wildarse guess is DOJ wants this unsealed so a different Federal entity can use the email to sanction Mikhalev for foreign influence peddling, but that’s just a WAG. SDNY’s letter asking for the unsealing reflects having obtained permission from Parnas’ attorney before the unsealing, so even though SDNY believes Parnas unreliable for the way he blabs to the press, there was recent communication with him on this point.

Back to Rudy. When last we heard, in April, CNN reported that SDNY might soon reach a charging decision on Rudy’s case because he provided investigators some possible passwords for several (the numbers here are inconsistent with the Special Master’s numbers) of the phones FBI couldn’t unlock.

Federal prosecutors may soon reach a charging decision regarding Rudy Giuliani’s foreign lobbying efforts involving Ukraine, after he helped investigators unlock several electronic devices that were seized by the FBI, according to multiple sources familiar with the probe.

Giuliani has also offered to appear for a separate interview to prove he has nothing to hide, his lawyer told CNN, renewing a proposal that federal prosecutors have previously rebuffed.

That, CNN’s sources claimed three months ago, could lead to a quick decision.

In recent weeks, Giuliani met with prosecutors and during the meeting he assisted them in unlocking three devices that investigators had been unable to open, according to people familiar with the investigation. It is unclear if Giuliani also answered questions from investigators during this meeting.

Giuliani provided a list of possible passwords to two other locked devices, the people said. Is it unknown if those passwords successfully unlocked those devices and how much relevant material is on the recently unlocked devices.

Now that several more devices are unlocked, that could speed up the review and ultimately lead to a quick decision over whether the former mayor of New York will face criminal charges. Unless new information comes to light that leads to new routes for authorities to pursue, federal prosecutors at the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York — which Giuliani led in the 1980s — are likely to decide whether to bring charges soon after the review, people familiar with the matter told CNN.

Even then, the anonymous sources talking about Rudy’s case suggested he would only be charged if new information came to light.

That claim showed up in yesterday’s NYT story, as well: DOJ had enough to seize Rudy’s devices, but found no smoking gun. Yesterday’s piece even linked the CNN story from April, which had suggested Rudy had met with prosecutors “in recent weeks,” but this time dating the meeting to February, so months before CNN reported that a recent event meant a decision was imminent and at least five months ago from today, and clarifying that Rudy had answered prosecutors’ questions.

One key new piece of news, however, was that DOJ had recently returned Rudy’s devices.

While prosecutors had enough evidence last year to persuade a judge to order the seizure of Mr. Giuliani’s electronic devices, they did not uncover a smoking gun in the records, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a federal investigation.

The prosecutors have not closed the investigation, and if new evidence were to emerge, they could still pursue Mr. Giuliani. But in a telling sign that the inquiry is close to wrapping up without an indictment, investigators recently returned the electronic devices to Mr. Giuliani, the people said. Mr. Giuliani also met with prosecutors and agents in February and answered their questions, a signal that his lawyers were confident he would not be charged.

We can assume that detail — that DOJ returned Rudy’s devices — likely came from Robert Costello because (as happens increasingly these days), another outlet — Reuters — quoted Costello on the record saying what NYT had granted someone anonymity to share.

FBI agents recently returned the cell phones and other electronic devices they had seized from Donald Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani, in a possible sign the investigation into whether he failed to register as a foreign agent of Ukraine could be winding down, his attorney said on Wednesday.

Robert Costello, Giuliani’s lawyer, told Reuters he has not been officially notified yet whether federal prosecutors in Manhattan are closing the investigation.

But he said the return of the devices is a positive sign for his client.

“I have not been officially told that its [sic] over,” Costello said. “It is possible they could make some startling new discovery…but we have always been confident that he didn’t do anything wrong.”

The primary other new piece of news in the NYT story describes documents and texts — the likes of which have recently been returned to Robert Costello — detailing a purported review of Rudy’s contacts with Dmitry Firtash that started in June 2019.

Mr. Giuliani began contacting Mr. Firtash’s lawyers in June 2019 seeking information about corruption in Ukraine, around the time Mr. Trump was pressing Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate the Bidens. Mr. Firtash’s lawyers told Mr. Giuliani they did not know of anything relevant.

There is no indication Mr. Firtash assisted Mr. Giuliani in his attacks on the Bidens, and Mr. Davis said the oligarch “categorically denies ever helping Giuliani or anyone else in any effort to dig up dirt.”

Even so, in the summer of 2019, an associate of Mr. Giuliani, Lev Parnas, met with the oligarch and recommended he add new lawyers to his team, the husband and wife, who were helping Mr. Giuliani dig into the Bidens. Mr. Parnas was paid to serve as their interpreter, and Mr. Firtash agreed to pay for some of Mr. Parnas’s travel expenses.

The offer seemed ideal. Around this time, Mr. Giuliani was preparing to go to London, and wanted to determine who would cover his travel. “Running into money difficulties on trip to London,” Mr. Giuliani wrote to Mr. Parnas in a text message.

During the trip in late June, Mr. Giuliani met in a hotel conference room with some Firtash associates, including a banker whose cousin was a Burisma executive.

Mr. Davis said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Mr. Firtash’s contention that his extradition was politically motivated, and his associates did not talk about Burisma. The oligarch’s associates did not seek Mr. Giuliani’s help, Mr. Davis added.

That day, Mr. Giuliani upgraded hotels to the Ritz London. Mr. Firtash’s company, Group DF, later covered the roughly $8,000 stay, interviews and records show. The next month, the company paid $36,000 for a private flight Mr. Giuliani took from the Dominican Republic to Washington. And that August, Mr. Giuliani traveled with a friend and a bodyguard to Spain at a cost of more than $30,000, an expense that was listed on an invoice to a Group DF assistant and a longtime adviser to Mr. Firtash.

Mr. Costello said that Mr. Giuliani “doesn’t know how it came about.”

Note: Much if not all of this activity pertaining to Firtash post-dates the temporal scope, which ended on May 31, 2019, of Jones’ prioritized reviews. For eight of Rudy’s phones, the privilege review would not (based on public records, anyway) have been complete on materials after that period when Rudy met with prosecutors in February. The material would be in the temporal scope of the known warrants, which extend through December 2019, but not the Special Master review of eight devices.

Firtash’s name also didn’t appear in Parnas’ description of the scope of the inquiry that he released via redaction fail last year.

In a chart, the Government identified that it had sought and seized a variety of undisclosed materials from multiple individuals, including: the iCloud and e-mail accounts of Rudolph Giuliani (11/04/19); the iCloud account of Victoria Toensing (11/04/19); an email account believed to belong to former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko (11/6/19); an e-mail account believed to belong to the former head of the Ukrainian Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov (12/10/19); the e-mail account of Victoria Toensing (12/13/19); the iPhone and iPad of pro-Trump Ukrainian businessman Alexander Levin (02/28/2020 and 3/02/2020); an iCloud account believed to belong to Roman Nasirov (03/03/2020); historical and prospective cell site information related to Rudolph Giuliani and Victoria Toensing (04/13/2021); electronic devices of Rudolph Giuliani and Giuliani Partners LLC (04/21/2021); and the iPhone of Victoria Toensing.

If there were any SDNY investigation into Firtash, you would expect to see warrants targeting his cloud content as well. It wasn’t in the warrants that Parnas had seen at the time of seizure.

So one thing this story (which also relies on Firtash lawyer Lanny Davis as a source) does is compare notes between suspects about the scope of SDNY’s interest in Rudy’s contact with Firtash. As NYT notes, it actually reveals that the investigation into Rudy was  broader than previously known, and broader than the scope of the known warrants as described by Parnas.

In any case, what Costello told Reuters and presumably told NYT is that 1) he recently got these phones (content from which likely contributed to this story) back and 2) SDNY has not told him that Rudy is no longer a subject.

Generally, if DOJ seizes items as part of a grand jury investigation, they can keep them:

  • So long as the grand jury investigation in which the property was seized is ongoing
  • Until such time as FBI fully exploits the devices (that is, until they crack passwords and identify deleted content)
  • During the pendency of a Special Master review
  • For use in a charged prosecution if the validity of an extraction might otherwise be challenged

This response to Project Veritas’ efforts to get their phones back in a different SDNY investigation lays out the precedents in the District.  If the grand jury investigation is closed, the subject of the investigation gets their property back, and Rudy has gotten his property back. So Costello fairly concludes that the known grand jury investigation into Rudy has been closed.

The thing is, if those materials are used for any other investigation — particularly now that they’ve been reviewed for privilege with kind of involvement from Costello that would amount to stipulation about the accuracy of the exploitation — would not be shared around DOJ as actual devices, some imaginary bag of Rudy Giuliani’s many phones passed from FBI agent to FBI agent. They’d be shared, via separate warrant from separate grand jury investigations, on hard drives of the post-privilege review content.

Costello can say with some confidence the grand jury investigation opened in 2019 won’t result in charges. But he doesn’t have a good explanation for why even SDNY has not told him Rudy is no longer a subject.

A more interesting part of the timing, to me, is that before Rudy got his devices back, a different part of DOJ obtained two rounds of subpoena returns from at least a dozen people asking (among other things) for all their post-October 1, 2020 communications to, from, or involving Rudy Giuliani or Victoria Toensing. Some of the people receiving those subpoenas would be hostile witnesses, themselves possible suspects of a crime. DOJ started, though, with people who had refused to take part of the fake elector scheme, who presumably could be expected to fully comply with the subpoena, including providing any Signal, WhatsApp, ProtonMail, or Telegram communications that might otherwise be unavailable.

The FBI likely has enough sets of subpoena returns including Rudy’s comms to know what content should be on his phones from when he was helping to plot a coup.

That’s the kind of thing FBI might have wanted to check before they released Rudy’s phones, to know how aggressively they had to look for potentially deleted content on the devices.

In Sentencing Memo, SDNY Scoffs at Lev Parnas’ Claims of Cooperation

The two sides have submitted sentencing memos for Lev Parnas’ scheduled June 29 sentencing. In the face of DOJ’s call for a 78 to 97 months sentence, Parnas is claiming that he “cooperated” with the 2019-20 House impeachment investigation. Parnas suggests that DOJ won’t give him a cooperation departure because they didn’t like what he had to say.

Apparently, the information Mr. Parnas wished to supply the Department of Justice in this case was information that it did not want to hear. Prosecutors kept Mr. Parnas at bay for months before finally hearing his proffer. When they did, it was principally used to thwart his potential trial testimony, rather than to consider his attempt to provide substantial assistance in good faith. Mr. Parnas’s cooperation with Congress was timely and material.

His media statements were intended to place information and evidence that was important to our national interest into the public domain—frequently at great risk to himself. And yet, from nearly the moment Mr. Parnas committed to cooperating with Congress and producing videos, photographs, documents, text messages, proton mail messages and other information, the value of this evidence was of undeniable significance.

But SDNY argues that Parnas did no more than comply with a subpoena, his civic duty.

Parnas’s compliance with the HPSCI subpoena does not justify a downward departure. His decision to produce documents in response to a duly issued subpoena is akin to a civic deed that is “ordinarily not relevant in determining whether a sentence should be outside the applicable guideline range.” § 5H1.11.

SDNY details at more length what transpired before Parnas started pitching his story to Congress: Parnas’ attorney, Joseph Bondy, provided a series of proffers that fell short of the truth. In November 2019, they told Parnas explicitly that his public campaign was harming his bid to cooperate.

Within a week of Parnas’s arrest, on October 16, 2019, Parnas’s counsel contacted the Government to indicate that Parnas was “really upset” that then-President Trump was “claiming he didn’t know [Parnas],” and that Parnas was interested in cooperating. 1 The Government then requested an attorney proffer—that is, a summary from Parnas’s attorney of what Parnas would be able to testify to at trial—in order to evaluate Parnas’s truthfulness and potential to provide substantial assistance. Parnas’s counsel provided a number of attorney proffers beginning on October 28, 2019, but the information was not fully credible and in material respects was plainly contradicted by the evidence the Government had gathered to date, which caused the Government to have serious concerns about Parnas’s credibility and candor. The Government had extended discussions with Parnas’s counsel in the weeks and months following Parnas’s arrest during which the Government pointed counsel to evidence that contradicted the attorney proffers.

Moreover, in an effort to encourage Parnas to be truthful, on November 6, 2019, the Government took the extraordinary step of meeting with Parnas and his counsel for a reverse proffer to explain, among other things, the evidence the Government had gathered against Parnas; what the cooperation process entailed; and that Parnas would have to be truthful and accept responsibility for his own crimes. At the close of that meeting, the Government informed Parnas that public spectacles, leaks, and social media postings could undermine his credibility and diminish his value as a potential cooperating witness. The Government also explained to Parnas how certain information he had provided through his attorney proffers had been contradicted by the evidence and was materially false. After that meeting, Parnas’s counsel wrote the Government to report that he could not “accept responsibility for criminal activity for which he is not guilty,” which based on discussions with counsel, the Government understood to be a reference to, among other things, the campaign finance and false statements offenses of which Parnas now stands convicted.

[snip]

As this Court is aware from pretrial litigation, the Government met with Parnas for a proffer on March 5, 2020. During that proffer, Parnas was not fully credible or forthcoming. He minimized, blamed others for the criminal conduct he has pled to and been convicted of, made statements that were inconsistent with the evidence, and the Government was ultimately unable to corroborate significant portions of what Parnas said. Due to his lack of credibility, candor, and unwillingness to accept responsibility, the Government did not meet with Parnas again for another proffer session and did not proceed with cooperation. [my emphasis]

The government seems far more worried that Judge Paul Oetken, who sentenced Parnas’ co-defendants to a year and a day, would give Parnas a lower than guidelines sentence to avoid a sentencing disparity than that he’d get credit for cooperation.

Parnas is playing that up, too, noting that Igor Fruman got released to a halfway house just three months after reporting.

Two of Mr. Parnas’s co-defendants, David Correia and Igor Fruman, were ultimately offered plea agreements to select counts of the indictment and entered guilty pleas. Mr. Parnas, who was not offered such a plea, proceeded to trial along with another co-defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, which ended in conviction on October 22, 2021. Mr. Parnas filed post-verdict motions for a judgment of acquittal and for a new trial, which were denied.

Thereafter, he entered a plea to the single remaining count against him–which had been previously severed—”the Fraud Guarantee” wire fraud conspiracy. All of Mr. Parnas’s co-defendants have been sentenced by the Court to 366 days’ imprisonment. Mr. Fruman, who surrendered to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons on March 14, 2022, has already been released to “residential reentry management.”

All of which is most interesting for the disposition of the charges relating to Yuri Lutsenko, which were part of the original indictment against Parnas and Fruman, but which were removed in a 2020 superseding indictment. These are the charges that Parnas and Fruman would face with Rudy Giuliani.

In April, Rudy offered what reporters presented as a last minute meeting, before prosecutors made an imminent decision on his prosecution, but nothing has come of it since then. Perhaps we’ll learn more after Parnas’ sentencing next week.

Matryoshka Doll: The Aleksandr Babakov Indictment

I’ve been trying to track the US government’s efforts to rein in Russia via various kinds of lawfare.

The indictment unsealed yesterday against Aleksandr Babakov is a remarkable example of the form.

To understand why, let me first explain what I imagine the goals of US lawfare in response to the expanded Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Since the Russian invasion, a number of Western countries have been rolling up Russian intelligence networks and expelling people serving under diplomatic cover by declaring them persona non grata under suspicion of spying. Whereas normally spooks would let other spooks carry on their work so they could spook on other spooks, there seems to have been a decision among most US allies to roll up Russia’s networks, perhaps with twin goals of blinding Russia and cleansing their countries of Russia’s formidable influence networks, which persuaded many in Western countries to trade principle for cash.

That is happening at the same time the West has been trying to craft sanctions to target people powerful enough to influence Vladimir Putin’s thinking.

The series of indictments — variably charging influence-peddling crimes (Foreign Agent and/or FARA), violations of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, and visa fraud — have exposed past influence peddling and raised the legal costs to Americans to continue to be a party. But the only American charged for providing cover for such operations so far — Jack Hanick — was actually charged in November and arrested before Russia expanded its invasion (though the indictment of Andrey Murviev was tied to already-existing charges against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman).

So it might seem like these indictments are just speaking vehicles: a way for DOJ to make evidence against Russians public, without any real legal impact. But this Babakov indictment demonstrates that’s not the case. This indictment, and the campaign generally, does the following:

  • Continues to flesh out Russia’s efforts to use its diaspora networks to illegally exert political pressure in other countries
  • Charges Aleksandr Babakov, making it impossible for him to travel if Russians ever get the opportunity to travel again
  • Demonstrates the cultivation of specific members of Congress
  • Puts the American involved — identified here as CC-1 — on notice they have to register past lobbying under FARA

One more detail before I explain the indictment. Remember that there are two overlapping foreign influence peddling laws, which are often confused (because both Michael Horowitz and John Durham fucked this up, I picked a fight with Peter Strzok to call attention to the distinction last night, but Brandon Van Grack, under whom these cases were surely developed, agrees with me.). [Update: I should clarify. This indictment is charged as an 18 USC 371 conspiracy to get an American to commit 18 USC 951, not 951 directly.]

There’s 18 USC 951, acting as an unregistered Agent of a foreign country, which is what is charged here. To be charged, it requires the influence peddling to have been done on behalf of a foreign government. It does not require knowledge of the requirement to register with the Attorney General. By contrast, FARA (22 USC 611), does require that the person peddling foreign influence know they need to register. But it can apply more broadly, to include “foreign principals,” like an oligarch who is not a part of a foreign government. Prosecutions under FARA were rare before Robert Mueller discovered that foreigners were asking agents like Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort to lie to their lawyers about whom they were actually working for. But generally, before that, DOJ would just formally alert someone they needed to register, the person would back-date a FARA registration, and they’d carry on with their sleazy influence-peddling.

So (in addition to sanctions violations and visa fraud) this indictment charges Babakov and two staffers with conspiring to recruit an American — CC-1 — to serve as their unregistered proxy for influence-peddling. The reason I call this a matryoshka doll is because this is how the influence-peddling worked.

As the indictment lays out, Babakov has three jobs. The first is to be a member of the Duma — and he was a member of the Duma for the entire period covered by the indictment, which is why DOJ can charge this under 951. The second and third are serving as the head of two cover organizations, the Institute for International Integration Studies and the International Council of Russian Compatriots. The funding for the two European consultants (their nationality is unclear) involved in this scheme — CC-2 and CC-3 — was paid through IIIS. Babakov recruited CC-1, the American whose involvement allows 951 to be charged — through CC-2. And it was through CC-1 that Babakov attempted to forge ties with members of Congress.

The reason this matryoshka structure matters is because it’s possible CC-1 did not know the extent to which he was working on behalf of the Russian government. CC-1 is described as someone who lives in NYC and has experience “relating to international relations and media.” This could well be a journalist and I don’t rule out knowing him personally. A footnote describes that the communications in the indictment are translations, so CC-1 appears to communicate with CC-2 and CC-3 in a non-English language, but it is not necessarily Russian. CC-2 first solicited CC-1’s involvement on a “national campaign” tied to “human rights and the cause of Cuba.” So it was based on that — an interest in helping Cuba, not an interest in helping Russia — that CC-1 first started pitching meetings with one of two targets described as a “then-member of the U.S. House of Representatives.” From there, CC-3 started sucking CC-1 in with free trips to Europe and Russia.

Via that recruitment process, CC-1 came to be introduced to and serve as the instrument for Babakov’s own views — views that are still quite familiar on the horseshoe left, which may well be the politics this person holds.

At around this time, ALEKSANDR MIKHAYLOVICH BABAKOV, the defendant, publicly expressed his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “approaches to building the country’s foreign policy priorities, including the prospects for developing relations with the United States,” blaming “instability” of the U.S.-Russia relationship on “well-known stereotypes and phobias, as well as the absence of a solid economic foundation,” and “destructive steps in the field of missile defense, NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] expansion to the East.”

Years later, as they were ratcheting up this effort in 2017, the Russians would use CC-1 as an American cut-out.

[T]he defendants[] planned to deploy CC-1 to obtain meetings in the United States with individuals perceived to have political influence, and to use CC-1’s status as an American citizen to help them gain access to visas to travel to the United States for these meetings, all in furtherance of the defendants’ foreign influence operations.

In 2017, CC-1 helped draft some letters to a second then-member of Congress in an attempt to set up a meeting with Babakov, including to invite the Congressperson on an all-expenses paid trip to Crimea.

The lines they pushed in 2017 were the same ones we hear from the horseshoe left now: recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and,

elaboration of issues of further reduction of nuclear potentials and confidence-building measures in the military sphere, including with regard to NATO’s policy in Eastern Europe and the problem of building up conventional weapons near Russia’s borders.

Let me be clear: This pitch feels familiar to me because I’ve experienced it first-hand. From 2013 until 2018 — until the time I revealed I had gone to the FBI about someone — I would get such pitches. I’m sure the US government considers Snowden’s Freedom of the Press Foundation to be such a cover organization — indeed, Xeni Jardin quit its board over its ties to Russia — and I received funding from them for several years (though always with the understanding that I was being funded by a specific, named American). And a slew of my friends in the dissident left or civil liberties community would get such pitches, as well, many with travel and some with lucrative business opportunities attached. Some of my former associates who most loudly disputed the Russian attribution of the 2016 operation did so after getting such pitches. This happens all the time. And many of the people to whom it happens are the last people the US government would provide counterintelligence training or warnings to in advance. Many are also the kind of people who would ignore government warnings if they were given any. I probably would have when I was getting such pitches.

To be clear, CC-1 is not free from blame. When the person was pitching meetings with three members of Congress in 2012, he claimed to be the “‘President and CEO’ of a nonprofit organization” inviting the members to Europe. CC-1 remained involved after Russia’s puppet in Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, was sanctioned in the 2014 Ukraine-related sanctions.

For example, on or about March 18, 2014, the day after Aksyonov’s OFAC designation, CC-1 posted a photo on a social media website of Aksyonov standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, and directed the post to VOROBEV, CC-2, and CC-3. Several weeks later, CC-1 made another post referencing a news article regarding “the new US sanctions on Russia.”

After those sanctions, CC-1 continued to pitch Russia’s line on Ukraine — again, a view that is still familiar among the horseshoe left.

[O]n or about May 1, 2014, CC-1 contacted the head of an American internet publication via email and asserted that he had “access to Crimean officials and other pro-Russian officials in Eastern Ukraine willing to go on the record to denounce US interference in the region and to give specifics about it.” CC-1 cited his ties to “[Country-1] MPs and also members of the Russian Duma,” that is, ALEKSANDR MIKHAYLOVICH BABAKOV, the defendant.

The last overt act CC-1 took, at least as described in the indictment, was on April 10, 2017. And while this indictment was unsealed on April 14, 2022 (and so days beyond a five years statute of limitations) it was filed on April 7, a few days short of it.

So it’s unclear whether the government will use this indictment to force CC-1 to retroactively register his lobbying efforts in 2017 under FARA, or whether there was another indictment filed on April 7 we haven’t seen yet. There’s also no description of CC-1 receiving money or other benefits (such as free travel) after the time when these people started getting sanctioned, so it’s unclear whether CC-1 faces a sanctions violation himself.

DOJ is not revealing what legal impact this indictment will have on CC-1 (or a businessman the effort recruited in 2017, or other American targets alluded to in passing), which may have been done to permit for the possibility of cooperation.

What it will do is force CC-1, whoever he is, to account for the fact that his support for carving up Ukraine was not organic, but instead was part of an extended effort by Russia to turn him into a spokesperson for the Russian state.

Update: The June 2017 sanctions against Babakov and his aides are pretty interesting. He appears, without much explanation, along with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s front companies.

Today’s action also targets six individuals and entities pursuant to E.O. 13661, which authorizes sanctions on, among others, any individual or entity that is owned or controlled by, or that has provided material or other support to, persons operating in the arms or related materiel sector in the Russian Federation, and officials of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Molot-Oruzhie, OOO manufactures ordnance and accessories and is located in the Russian Federation. In 2016, previously-designated Kalashnikov Concern advised a foreign company to use Molot-Oruzhie, OOO to falsify invoices in order to circumvent U.S. and EU sanctions. Molot-Oruzhie is being designated for operating in the arms or related material sector of the Russian Federation and for acting or purporting to act for on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Kalashnikov Concern.

Limited Liability Company Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering are being designated for being owned or controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who OFAC designated in December 2016.

Alexander Babakov is the Russian Federation’s Special Presidential Representative for Cooperation with Organizations representing Russians Living Abroad. Babakov was sanctioned in 2014 by the EU, which noted that he voted “yes” on a Russian bill for the annexation of Crimea. Alexander Babakov is being designated as an official of the Government of the Russian Federation.

Aleksandr Vorobev is Alexander Babakov’s Chief of Staff. Aleksandr Vorobev is being designated for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Alexander Babakov.

Mikhail Plisyuk is a staffer to Alexander Babakov. Mikhail Plisyuk is being designated for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Alexander Babakov.

It’s as if the US had already developed a pretty good sense that Babakov was running an information operation. And it makes me wonder if he had a role in 2016.

Imagine if DOJ Used the Hunter Biden Inquiry to Get Testimony against Rudy Giuliani…

I’m going to return to my argument that The Laptop is functionally equivalent to the Steele dossier. But until I do, I want to return to the parallels between the Ukrainian influence peddling investigation of Hunter Biden and that of Rudy Giuliani.

First, take a look at this passage from the Ken Vogel-bylined NYT story that inflated new life in The Laptop story.

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

Elsewhere, the NYT story reports that the investigation into Hunter Biden turned to his influence peddling in 2018, well before the laptops in question were purportedly dropped off at a blind computer repairman’s shop.

The investigation, which began as a tax inquiry under the Obama administration, widened in 2018 to include possible criminal violations of tax laws, as well as foreign lobbying and money laundering rules, according to the people familiar with the inquiry.

The contents on The Laptop were iCloud content, which the FBI could have and would have preferred to obtain with a warrant. We know the emails in question weren’t deleted by all parties because sources for stories describe still having them.

In other words, it’s unlikely that The Laptop played a critical role in the FBI investigation into the President’s son, because the FBI had other, better ways to obtain the same content and because the FBI had already turned to these matters well before the laptop got shared with the FBI on December 9, 2019.

So let’s go back to the way that Vogel-bylined NYT article reflated The Laptop story. The passage I quoted says three things:

  1. Prosecutors have looked at emails in question.
  2. NYT had obtained emails from what it credulously calls The Laptop.
  3. The “Laptop” emails were authenticated by “people familiar with them and with the investigation.”

The source for the first claim is likely someone who was a witness in the DE investigation (and we know that witnesses who have offered up their testimony have been part of the recent Murdoch-driven campaign to reflate it). The second claim is simply NYT’s ham-handed effort to make it clear the emails they received were part of the same campaign as the original NY Post story.

The third claim, however, is interesting. Written as it is, it suggests there are people who are familiar with both the investigation and the email cache. That would seem to suggest that some of the very limited universe of people involved with The Laptop — Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Robert Costello, and Mac Isaac — believe they know something about the Hunter Biden investigation.

Let’s focus on Robert Costello for the moment: He loves to be a cut-out. And when Billy Barr set up a special back channel to ingest Ukrainian-provided Russian dirt on Hunter Biden, Costello was that back channel. In other words, the lawyer that Rudy and Steve Bannon share is one possible source for that third claim, but if he were, it would suggest investigators in Delaware had spoken with him as a witness because he knew of the process by which he came to be in possession of a sketchy laptop.

Whatever testimony the source of that third claim offered could be shared with SDNY, which is investigating Rudy’s own influence-peddling scandal with Ukraine.

With all that mind, take a look at this passage of Philip Bump’s excellent summary of all the ways that laptop story is sketchy.

Giuliani was central to that effort. In late 2018, he began exploring the idea that Biden, as vice president several years before, had improperly tried to influence Ukraine to block an investigation of Burisma, a company for which Hunter Biden served as a board member. This story, promoted by an investigator targeted for termination by the U.S. government, was later debunked, but it seemed a promising line of attack. On April 1, 2019, a writer linked to Giuliani named John Solomon wrote the first of several stories about the allegations.

On April 12, the laptops were dropped off at Mac Isaac’s repair shop. Mac Isaac is legally blind and was not able to identify Hunter Biden by sight. One of the laptops, though, bore a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation, an organization dedicated to Hunter’s late brother.

At some point in the middle of this month, Hunter Biden left Burisma’s board. Presumably he was by that point aware that questions were being asked about his role. If not, it became very clear on May 1, when the Times elevated the Burisma question in its coverage.

In the meantime, Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, and efforts to pressure him to announce an investigation into Biden began. In early May 2019, Giuliani planned a trip to Ukraine to dig up information that might damage Biden — a plan that was covered in the press. After broad outcry, he scrapped the trip. But the signal was sent: Giuliani was seeking information deleterious to Biden.

Later that month, someone in Kyiv was approached about buying Hunter Biden’s emails. This was not reported until Oct. 21, 2020, a week after the Post’s story about the laptop.

This time period — December 2018 until May 2019 — is precisely the time period that prosecutors asked Special Master Barbara Jones to prioritize for her privilege review of the last set of Rudy’s phones (as well as the one phone from Victoria Toensing).

In the initial incarnation of this investigation — the one charged in 2019, before Lev Parnas started running his mouth — the focus of this investigation was exclusively on how Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired.  But in September 2020, that part of the investigation was put on hold to await Rudy.

Yovanovitch’s name doesn’t appear in Bump’s summary at all. Yet it happened in the same month — May 2019, the culmination of this effort — when Rudy was going to go to Kyiv to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, and when someone was wandering around Kyiv offering to sell what looks like what ended up packaged as The Laptop.

Whether or not Rudy’s effort to solicit what ended up being dirt that looked just like The Laptop was originally the focus of the investigation, DOJ has now obtained a privilege review of Rudy’s comms from that time period when he was soliciting it.

DOJ Unseals 18-Month Old Indictment against Lev Parnas’ Financial Backer

Yesterday, SDNY unsealed an indictment against Andrey Muraviev, the Russian national who gave Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman $1 million to spend on pro-cannabis Republican politicians.

SDNY presented the indictment as part of an effort to protect US politics, and it was.

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the unsealing of an indictment against ANDREY MURAVIEV, a/k/a “Andrey Muravyov,” a Russian citizen, charging him with making illegal political contributions as a foreign national, and conspiring to make illegal political contributions as a foreign national in the names of straw donors. Muraviev is charged with conspiring with Lev Parnas, Andrey Kukushkin, and Igor Fruman, and others, who were convicted at trial or have pleaded guilty to these crimes.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Andrey Muraviev, a Russian national, attempted to influence the 2018 elections by conspiring to push a million dollars of his foreign funds to candidates and campaigns. He attempted to corrupt our political system to advance his business interests. The Southern District of New York is committed to rooting out efforts by foreigners to interfere with our elections.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “As alleged, Muraviev, a Russian foreign national, made illegal political contributions and conspired with Parnas, Kukushkin and Fruman to obscure their true source. The money Muraviev injected into our political system, as alleged, was directed to politicians with views favorable to his business interests and those of his co-conspirators. As today’s action demonstrates, we will continue to aggressively pursue all those who seek to illegally effect [sic] our nation’s elections.”

But I’m still not sure what explains the unsealing of the indictment yesterday. It’s actually exactly the same as S1 — obtained the same day on September 17, 2020 — only with Muraviev charged rather than described as Foreign National-1.

Indictment: October 9, 2019

S1 Indictment: September 17, 2020

S2 Indictment: September 17, 2020 (unsealed March 14, 2022)

s3 Indictment: August 26, 2021

It may be just part of the effort to roll out charges against as many people — along with Jack Hanick and Elena Branson — for Russian influence peddling as possible right now. It may relate to Lev Parnas’ plans to plead guilty to the remaining charged charge against him (the Marie Yovanovitch related charge from the original indictment was removed in S1 to await Rudy’s inclusion).

Or perhaps DOJ unsealed it to make it easier to share with some other entity, such as Federal prosecutors in Florida who are investigating some of the pro-cannabis politicians who received Muraviev’s laundered campaign money.

Now that DOJ Has Rudy Giuliani’s Phone Contents, Lev Parnas Prepares to Plead

Back on January 21, Special Master Barbara Jones reported on the status of her privilege review of Rudy Giuliani’s devices. For eight of Rudy’s devices, she had turned over over 27,000 items that post-dated January 1, 2018. For eight others, she had turned over the 3,000 items dated between December 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019.

While she had started to turn over materials as early as November, Jones turned over the balance on January 19. From there, a filter team at the FBI would have to scope the contents to make sure the investigative team only got items covered by whatever warrants the government has gotten.

The one known warrant that SDNY has covers Rudy’s efforts — assisted by Lev Parnas — to get Maria Yovanovitch fired in 2019. Those charges were included on the original October 2019 indictment against Parnas, but removed when the charges against him were superseded in September 2020.

If DOJ is going to charge Rudy for ousting Yovanovitch at the behest of Yuri Lutsenko and others, they are probably preparing to do so now.

Which makes it interesting that yesterday, Parnas asked for a change of plea hearing on the remaining already-charged count for which he still has to stand trial.

Remember: Back in March 2020, Parnas tried, unsuccessfully, to flip.

Lev Parnas spent much of January 2020 claiming to want to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry — though those claims were often suspect. At the same time, SDNY seemed to want to stall those efforts. The Senate acquitted Trump in February.

Only after that, on March 5, 2020 (and apparently just March 5), did Parnas proffer testimony in what he had been publicly claiming for some time was an interest in cooperating. But apparently after making statements that support the government case against him at trial next month, nothing came of the proffer.

On March 5, 2020, Parnas and his counsel met with members of this Office and the FBI, to proffer Parnas’s potential testimony about the charges at issue here and other matters. In advance of the proffer, the Government provided a written proffer agreement to Parnas’s counsel, setting forth the terms under which statements Parnas made during the proffer could and could not be used against him.

[snip]

During a lengthy proffer, Parnas made several statements that tend to prove the charges at issue here, or facts underlying those charges. An FBI agent took detailed notes of the proffer, and later produced a formal report memorializing it (the “302”). Those notes, and the 302, have been provided to Kukushkin and Parnas.

In a pretrial hearing last October, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy revealed that at that early point, SDNY had insisted Parnas plead to all the charges against him (which at that point still included the Yovanovitch charge).

But now that DOJ has — after 30 months of work — obtained all Rudy’s communications about the Yovanovitch plot (and already facing prison based off his October 2021 guilty verdict), Parnas appears to have a deal that’s worth pleading guilty to.

Remember: When Parnas was previously trying to flip, it wasn’t just the Yovanovitch plot he wanted to cooperate on. He also wanted to help SDNY prosecute obstruction of the investigation into that effort, including efforts to delete iCloud content as impeachment started. Parnas has receipts — not just against Rudy (and Mike Pompeo), but also videos implicating Trump.

Meanwhile, as Parnas prepares to plead guilty, Yovaovitch is using her book tour to highlight the damage done by autocrats like Putin and Trump.

Rudy Giuliani Attacks Biden as SDNY Sifts Through His Comms for Ukraine Foreign Agent Investigation

Among the many Trump allies suggesting that the former President was better on Russian issues than the current, Rudy Giuliani attempted to attack President Joe Biden with a Tweet dripping with projection.

Just over four weeks ago, the Special Master Barbara Jones delivered the latest tranche of records seized from Giuliani’s phones to prosecutors in SDNY, the US Attorney’s Office that Rudy once led.

While the scope of the review exceeds the scope of the known warrants, those known warrants target Rudy’s role in getting Maria Yovanovich fired in 2019 as part of an effort to get campaign dirt on Joe Biden.

Indeed, for six of Rudy’s devices, the latest review focused on the period from December 1, 2018 through May 31, 2018, which would cover the following events.

Late 2018: Rudy Giuliani participates in a Skype call with the former top Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was ousted from office after multiple Western leaders, including former Vice President Joe Biden, pressed for his removal. Leaders complain Shokin was failing to tackle corruption. It’s around this time that Giuliani says he first learned of a possible Biden-Ukraine connection.

January 2019: Giuliani meets in New York with the top Ukrainian prosecutor at the time, Yuriy Lutsenko. This is when, Giuliani says, his investigation into the Bidens began.

A man named Lev Parnas has said he attended the meeting with Lutsenko and arranged the call with Shokin. Parnas told NPR he attended at least two meetings Giuliani had with Lutsenko. Parnas and an associate, who also worked with Giuliani, are later arrested and charged with violating campaign finance law in a separate matter.

March 31: The first round of presidential elections take place in Ukraine. Zelenskiy, a comedian who once played a president on television, comes out ahead of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. The race goes to a runoff.

April 7: In an interview on Fox News, Giuliani, unprompted, brings up a Biden-Ukraine connection. He says that while investigating the origin of the Russia investigation, “some people” told him “the story about [gas company] Burisma and Biden’s son.” Giuliani suggests that as vice president, Biden pressed to remove Shokin because he was investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that had Biden’s son Hunter on its board for several years. There is no evidence to support this claim.

April 21: Zelenskiy is elected president of Ukraine and Trump calls to congratulate him. A White House readout of the call says Trump “expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

April 25: Trump calls in to Sean Hannity’s TV show and says he has heard rumors about Ukrainian “collusion.” He tells the Fox News host he expects Attorney General Bill Barr to look into it. “I would imagine he would want to see this,” Trump says.

May 6: Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and an Obama appointee, ends her assignment in Kyiv. According to the whistleblower complaint filed against Trump, she had been “suddenly recalled” to the U.S. by senior State Department officials a week earlier.

Giuliani later says in an interview that she was removed “because she was part of the efforts against the President.” Yovanovitch tells Congress that she learned from the deputy secretary of state “there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018,” according to prepared remarks reported by multiple outlets.

May 9: Giuliani tells The New York Times he will travel to Ukraine “in the coming days” to push for investigations that could help Trump. Giuliani says he hopes to meet with President-elect Zelenskiy to push for inquiries into the origins of the Russia investigation and the Bidens’ involvement with Burisma.

“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani tells the Times.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he says. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Among the members of Congress criticizing Biden, Tulsi Gabbard voted present to impeach Trump on his related extortion attempt; virtually all Republicans voted not to impeach Trump, including Biden critics Paul Gosar and Scott Perry. Of Republican Senators, just Mitt Romney voted to convict the President.

Trump was not serious about Ukraine. He viewed it as nothing more than a political football. Almost his entire party backed him in that effort.

And his former attorney, wailing on Twitter about the ‘CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER” posed by “mentally deteriorating [men], who [were] of limited intelligence even before [] dementia” remains under criminal investigation as an unregistered agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians for his role in politicizing Ukraine.

Special Master Barbara Jones Turns Over Rudy’s Chats

After much delay, the Special Master reviewing Rudy Giuliani’s phones, Barbara Jones, has released an update. It reveals that she released a bunch of materials to DOJ on January 19.

Those include:

  • The balance of 25,629 chats and messages that post-date January 1, 2018 from one of Rudy’s cell phones
  • From that same phone, 56 chats and messages that Rudy had initially claimed privilege over but for which he either withdrew or chose not to challenge Jones’ designation that they were not privileged
  • 3,204 chats and messages from between December 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019 from Rudy’s other devices, none of which he said were privileged (there should be eight devices; FBI seized 16 devices total)

These releases are in addition to 2,223 items from seven phones reviewed last year.

I find the last bullet most interesting. The known scope of the Ukraine warrants targeting Rudy go from August 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019; the review described in this update doesn’t even cover the full time frame of those warrants. The timeframe of this review is more consistent with a review covering the tail end of the Mueller investigation than the Ukraine investigation.

But they might prioritize such reviews if they were worried about tolling statutes of limitation.

In any case, by my read, all of Rudy’s texts and messages from that period — December 1, 2018 through May 31, 2019 — would have been reviewed for privilege.

Update: TF has convinced me the narrowed date for the most recent review might better reflect a narrowed period of the known Ukraine warrants — that is, just the six most interesting months. I think his argument may be more persuasive than mine in the italicized language, above.

Rudy’s Phones Defy Guarantees We’d Know of an Investigation into Trump

I’m certain, when people assert that if DOJ were investigating Donald Trump, there would be some visible sign, they’re wrong.

I say that because I’m among the people who have followed the proceedings surrounding the Special Master review of Rudy Giuliani’s phones most closely. And I can’t even tell you what the status of that review is, much less whether DOJ obtained warrants for phone-based content for investigations beyond the foreign influence-peddling investigation for which the phones were first seized.

I’m not saying that has happened. I’m saying that if it had happened, none of us would know.

We know Rudy was Trump’s key facilitator in several other crimes Trump committed besides the foreign influence peddling described on the warrants: both obstruction of the Mueller investigation and Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election. There is already public evidence that Rudy would be a subject in any investigation into both those crimes. After all, he (and his current lawyer) dangled a pardon in an attempt to buy Michael Cohen’s silence in April 2018, and in the days after the insurrection, Rudy appears to have been in contact, using his phone, with a Proud Boy associate, James Sullivan, who coordinated with some of the perpetrators.

If Rudy were a subject in these investigations, prosecutors could obtain the content of his phones with no public notice. The people keeping that secret would be the same people who kept the warrants targeting his cloud accounts in 2019 secret for 18 months, and the same people who kept warrants targeting Cohen secret for three months, including one of the very same prosecutors, Nicolas Roos.

Before I explain what we know about Rudy’s phones, let me explain what we learned from Michael Cohen’s investigation, Rudy’s predecessor as Trump’s fixer whose phones got seized by SDNY (Cohen’s criminal docket is here and the Special Master docket is here).

The very first warrant targeting Michael Cohen — a warrant for his Google email that Mueller’s team obtained on July 18, 2017 — described how he set up Essential Consultants not for real estate purposes, as he had claimed to his bank, but instead to pay off Stormy Daniels. But the campaign finance crime that Cohen eventually pled guilty to was not among the crimes listed on that original warrant. Instead, the warrant focused on his lies to his bank, which would be included in his eventual charges, and foreign agent charges, which were not. It wasn’t until April 7, 2018 that the hush payment was included in a warrant for the campaign finance crime to which Cohen eventually pled guilty. Importantly, that warrant, obtained by SDNY, asked to access content obtained with most (but not all) of the warrants targeting Cohen up to that date (the exception was a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Organization email). Those warrants included:

What that April 7 warrant asked to do, then, was to access three devices on which Cohen’s previously-seized content was stored, but to do so in search of evidence of  campaign finance crimes not covered by the earlier warrants. (SDNY had expanded the crimes included on the warrants once already in February 2018.) It was only two days later, when SDNY executed searches on Cohen’s residences and phones, that anyone would discover that the government had shown probable cause to obtain warrants targeting Trump’s personal lawyer for crimes including conspiracy, lying to a bank, and campaign finance violations. It was over a year later before the foreign agent warrant searches were publicly disclosed.

This process offers several lessons for this discussion about Rudy’s phones and therefore for discussions about whether DOJ is investigating Trump. First, the government can — and did in the case of two of Donald Trump’s personal lawyers — obtain probable cause warrants without news of the warrants leaking. It’s only when the government conducts an overt search that an investigation would become public. In the interim, and even after the overt search, the government can simply conduct a filter team review of the seized material and store it at FBI. If prosecutors find probable cause to access the already collected content for different crimes, they can do that. They just need to get another warrant. In Michael Cohen’s case, they did that twice.

These three posts — one, two, three — explain how what we’ve learned of the searches on Rudy thus far; this is the docket for the Special Master review of Rudy’s phones).

They show that the government is currently in possession of the contents of Rudy’s email and his iCloud account from roughly May 1, 2018 (three months before the August 1, 2018 start date of the warrants targeting his phone) through November 4, 2019. The FBI did a filter team review of this content that was almost completed in April when they seized Rudy’s phones. So not only has FBI been reviewing that content for evidence of illegal foreign influence peddling with Ukraine since April, if SDNY or some other unit of DOJ could show probable cause that those emails or that iCloud content probably included evidence of other crimes, they could have obtained and executed a search warrant for that, too. We wouldn’t know if they had.

That information would slightly post-date the period in April 2018 when Rudy Giuliani’s (and Steve Bannon’s) own current lawyer, Robert Costello, was writing Michael Cohen implying that Trump would pardon him to buy his silence; because those conversations were with a then-third party, Costello,  and preceded the time Rudy was formally representing Trump, they likely would not have been filtered. The discussions that Rudy Giuliani had with Paul Manafort’s attorney in fall 2018 that led Manafort to renege on his cooperation agreement would be covered in that time period, though probably would have been filtered as privileged. Discussions Rudy had with Manafort about Ukraine when he was in prison likely would not be privileged.

If Lev Parnas’ redaction fail is to be believed (and thus far his claims have been utterly consistent with what prosecutors and Judge Paul Oetken have said), on April 13, 2021, DOJ also obtained historic and prospective cell site data for Rudy, as well as Victoria Toensing. While this was probably done to pinpoint the location of the phones targeted in the overt search conducted on April 28, in Rudy’s case that cell site data might have useful information about where Rudy was during or in the aftermath of the January 6 attack. (This is likely to be a fairly circumscribed time period tied to specific events shown in the still-sealed affidavit, but when Mueller obtained historic cell location data on Roger Stone in 2018, it covered a five month period.) This warrant, covering whatever period, would also provide information about with whom Rudy was in contact, though the government would have had some of that without even requiring a warrant.

It’s Rudy’s phones where things begin to get interesting. The FBI seized 16 devices from Rudy. Once he got to review the material extracted from his phones, Rudy claimed that the content dates back to 1995, though the government relayed that Special Master Barbara Jones reported that the bulk of the data dates to 2010 and later. Both Rudy and Toensing pointed to the vast scope of initial data obtained and asked Jones to limit her review to the materials dated within the scope of the warrant, which for Rudy is August 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019. The government responded that this would put Jones in the role of conducting not a privilege review, but also a responsiveness review, something which is a clear government role.

The Letters conflate the scope of the Special Master’s review for privileged material with the scope of the Government’s eventual review for material responsive to the Warrants. The Letters present extensive argument concerning only the latter, yet seek relief concerning the former. That is, the Letters contend that the Government’s search for responsive materials must conform to certain limits, then leap from that conclusion to request limits on the Special Master’s initial screening for privileged items. (See Giuliani Let. 4-24 (arguing Government can review only materials dated August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019); id. at 1, 25 (requesting order that Special Master review only materials from the same period)). The Letters thus ask the Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review: To identify and withhold from Government investigators documents that are in no way privileged, based on a determination that they fall outside the scope of the Warrants. Neither the Warrants, nor this Court’s order appointing the Special Master, contemplate that an arm of the Court, rather than Government investigators, would conduct such a review. (See, e.g., Dkt. 25 (order appointing Special Master)). The Letters’ attempt to limit the materials to which investigators will have access thus appears to be an attempt to relitigate Giuliani’s and Toensing’s meritless efforts to limit the search contemplated by the Warrants ex ante, which this Court already rejected. (See Dkt. 20 at 3-6 (Court rejecting motions for pre-charge (indeed, pre-search) suppression and return of property)).

The government noted that under the terms of the (known) warrants, they are entitled to anything created, accessed, or deleted in that time frame (the government knows from the Parnas investigation that he deleted information from his iCloud in 2019 and Parnas predicted that Rudy and Toensing did as well). And so the government generously offered to have Special Master Jones limit her privilege review to files created on or after January 1, 2018, arguing that such a limitation is akin to the initial scoping that FBI would do.

SDNY further argued that there is no basis, at this time, to delete any of the older material, because the government might later discover that the material is actually responsive to the investigation.

This Court should not, however, grant the Letters’ requests to destroy or return any data at this time. The Court has already rejected motions for exactly that relief. (See Dkt. 20 at 3-6). Moreover, the Government is entitled to retain a complete copy of the seized data, so that it can authenticate any portion of the data ultimately offered in evidence. See Ganias, 824 F.3d at 215. Data that clearly predates January 1, 2018 should thus simply be put aside, and not reviewed by the Special Master or the Government. It may be that the Government’s eventual review of the materials post-dating January 1, 2018 reveals reason to believe that some of the segregated material is in fact responsive. If that is so, then the Government would have reason to search it—just as an FBI agent might return to that 2013 filing cabinet if his search of other files revealed that documents in the searched office were often filed under the wrong dates. At that point, the Government could then request the privilege review which it is now willing to forego for efficiency’s sake.

Without asking for this explicitly, DOJ’s argument had the effect of asking that Jones conduct a privilege review of content that includes the foreign influence peddling for which SDNY showed probable cause occurred between August 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019, but also content that would cover the entirety of the time that Rudy Giuliani was helping Trump obstruct the Mueller investigation and the entirety of the time that Rudy played the leading role in helping Trump attempt to overthrow an election.

As I have shown, the government sought (and is paying for) a Special Master review in this case because they have reason to believe, presumably based on their earlier search and the investigation into Parnas, there are crime fraud-excepted communications in this content. This very same Special Master, Barbara Jones, provided SDNY with a way to access to Michael Cohen’s communications discussing a campaign finance crime with Trump, and SDNY seems to believe they will obtain communications of Rudy discussing crimes with Trump, as well.

Let me interject and note that Judge Paul Oetken knew of the earlier search on Rudy’s cloud content — indeed, he authorized the gag keeping it secret. And in the 18 months between that search and the time Rudy got notice of it, Oetken likewise issued orders that helped the government cordon off parts of the investigation, such as the initial foreign influence peddling charge against Parnas and Igor Fruman tied to their efforts to fire Marie Yovanovitch, until such time as SDNY was able to access the information in question. That is, Oetken has been persuaded to allow SDNY to protect their investigation into Rudy, even during a period when Billy Barr was actively trying to thwart it, and part of that involved keeping warrants secret not just from the public, but from Rudy, as well.

If SDNY or some other component of DOJ obtained additional warrants for this same content, Oetken would undoubtedly know of it and probably would have had to approve it.

Whether or not there are other warrants and whether or not Oetken knows of them, though, he ruled to give the government access to the content that spans Rudy’s involvement in Trump’s obstruction, his own foreign influence peddling, as well as Rudy’s lead role in attempting to overthrow the election. In mid-September, Oetken ordered Jones to limit her review to materials post-dating January 1, 2018, which is tantamount to ordering her to include in her review everything covering all the potential Trump-related exposure that might be under investigation. And he explicitly denied, for a second time, Rudy and Toensing’s request to delete or return everything else.

That means that at the end of Special Master Jones’ review, the government will have all the unprivileged or crime fraud-excepted contents from Rudy’s 16 devices covering the period when he helped Trump obstruct justice, when he solicited campaign help from foreigners, and when he attempted to overthrow the election (as well as any pardon-related discussions from the post-election period). That doesn’t mean they’ve gotten warrants targeting that content. We would not know whether they had, one way or another. But the content would be available, having already undergone a privilege review, if they did get those warrants.

What we do know is this: Of 2,226 items found on seven of Rudy’s 16 seized devices reviewed by Jones thus far, he claimed privilege over just three items. But even with respect to his privilege claim over those three items, Jones has reserved judgment, meaning she may doubt his claim they can be withheld (perhaps because they are crime fraud-excepted).

The Government has provided Seized Materials from 16 electronic devices seized from Mr. Giuliani. On September 28, 2021, I directed that Mr. Giuliani complete his review of the data contained on seven of these devices by October 6, 2021, which was later extended to October 12, 2021. These seven devices contain 2,226 items in total dated on or after January 1, 2018. Mr. Giuliani designated 3 items as privileged, and I am reserving decision on those 3 items. The remaining 2,223 items have been released to the Government.

Additional documents for review have been assigned to counsel for Mr. Giuliani, with the next set of designations due to me on November 5, 2021.

So as of a month ago, the government had started getting materials — covering the period from January 1, 2018 through April 21, 2021 — from Rudy’s phones.

Jones and her staff were able to conduct privilege review on that content over two weeks time, and they were supposed to have had a second tranche of materials to review a month ago, meaning they likely have reviewed an even larger quantity of material since.

But that’s it! That’s all we know. Jones has reported less frequently than she did during her Cohen review, though assuming she will issue monthly reports now that she is reviewing in earnest, one should be due shortly.

We don’t know how much of the content on Rudy’s phones is evidence of a crime and how much is evidence of drunken blathering to reporters. We don’t know if any entity of DOJ has obtained warrants for those other Trump crimes in which Rudy was centrally involved. We don’t know why Jones has reserved judgement on the few privilege claims that Rudy has made thus far, six months into a Special Master review.

We know just two things. First, if there is evidence of crimes on Rudy’s 16 devices, DOJ will have a way of getting to it. And we would not have anyway of knowing that they had.

Update: In related news, a pre-taped interview I did for NPR was on Weekend Edition this morning.

Lev Parnas’ Failed Attempt to Flip

With a non-cooperation guilty plea earlier this month from co-conspirator Igor Fruman, a trial scheduled next month for Lev Parnas’ laundering of money from a Russian national into the politics of marijuana, another trial scheduled next year for Parnas’ Fraud Guarantee with Rudy Giuliani, and an investigation into Rudy’s foreign influence peddling in a very active phase, it’s a complex time to be prosecuting Parnas. That’s reflected in the government’s motion in limine filing submitted on Tuesday, which argues what and how evidence should be admissible at the October trial.

Since we talk a lot about the hearsay exception under charged conspiracies (as the October trial is), the filing is interesting for the complex ways the government proposes the statements of the participants can be admitted at trial:

  • Out of court statements — including narrative descriptions of past events — from Parnas, Fruman, David Kukushkin (the other defendant who will face trial), David Correia (who pled guilty in a non-cooperation plea last year), and Andrey Muraviev, the Russian who funded all this, can be entered against each other
  • The out of court statements made by Parnas employee Deanna Van Rensburg can be admitted for their truth against Parnas, but not against Kukushkin
  • The government wants to limit questioning of three FBI witnesses to matters affecting their credibility and not other matters (such as why Agent Jacob Balog, who will testify about some charts showing the government’s version of the timeline of events, would be added to the team just recently)
  • Both defendants have already advised they won’t mount an advice of counsel defense and so the involvement of a lawyer doesn’t help them (though none of the lawyers in question are named Rudy Giuliani)
  • The defendants’ attempts to clean things up in 2019, including after they got charged, should not be treated as evidence about their intent in 2018
  • Parnas shouldn’t be allowed to attempt to nullify the jury (and has apparently already committed not to argue to the jury that this matter arose out of vindictive prosecution based on his cooperation in Trump’s 2019 impeachment)
  • Parnas should not be allowed to argue that Adam Laxalt must be batshit crazy given his more recent public statements in support of Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election (or about a matter that the government redacts in their filing)
  • The government should be allowed to introduce evidence of how Parnas spent Muraviev’s money on lavish spending benefitting himself, but Kukushkin should not be able to argue that Parnas’ skimming is proof the two of them did not conspire
  • The court should decide ahead of time what damning details it will let Parnas and Kukushkin introduce to incriminate each other
  • Parnas should be held to the claims he made in a March 5, 2020 proffer to the government

It’s the last of these that I find particularly interesting.

Lev Parnas spent much of January 2020 claiming to want to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry — though those claims were often suspect. At the same time, SDNY seemed to want to stall those efforts. The Senate acquitted Trump in February.

Only after that, on March 5, 2020 (and apparently just March 5), did Parnas proffer testimony in what he had been publicly claiming for some time was an interest in cooperating. But apparently after making statements that support the government case against him at trial next month, nothing came of the proffer.

On March 5, 2020, Parnas and his counsel met with members of this Office and the FBI, to proffer Parnas’s potential testimony about the charges at issue here and other matters. In advance of the proffer, the Government provided a written proffer agreement to Parnas’s counsel, setting forth the terms under which statements Parnas made during the proffer could and could not be used against him.

[snip]

During a lengthy proffer, Parnas made several statements that tend to prove the charges at issue here, or facts underlying those charges. An FBI agent took detailed notes of the proffer, and later produced a formal report memorializing it (the “302”). Those notes, and the 302, have been provided to Kukushkin and Parnas.

[snip]

Under the terms of the Proffer Agreement, therefore, defense counsel is free to present a defense and to argue, for example, that the Government has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt (or failed to present “credible” evidence).

[snip]

Counsel cannot do so, however, in a matter that directly or indirectly contradicts facts elicited during the proffer without triggering the waiver provision of the agreement.

As the Proffer Agreement and the above law make clear, Parnas may not present evidence or make arguments that are contrary to his own statements in the proffer session without permitting the jury to assess those assertions in light of his contradictory proffer statements. Among the statements that appear most likely to be relevant with respect to the Foreign Donor Scheme, Parnas admitted that the purpose of the money Parnas, Fruman, and Correia obtained from Muraviev was to make campaign contributions to U.S. political candidates. With respect to the Straw Donor Scheme, Parnas admitted that Fruman, rather than Parnas, paid for the donations made to the campaign of Congressman Pete Sessions in Parnas’s name, and that Parnas did not reimburse Fruman for those payments. Allowing Parnas to suggest otherwise, when he had in fact admitted those facts as true, would deceive the jury and subvert the truth-seeking purpose of trial. See Gomez, 210 F. Supp. 2d at 472.

Basically, this means that Parnas can now be held to what he told the government during his proffer. If he tries to deviate from that, they can then used his proffered testimony to disprove his claims. The government explains that they can avoid using this against Kukushkin by having the agent who would testify about the proffered testimony simply not mention Parnas’ inculpatory statements against Kukushkin.

Offering Parnas’s proffer statements to rebut specific claims he may make at trial will not infringe Kukushkin’s rights. Parnas discussed Kukushkin during his proffer, and if read in its entirety the report of Parnas’s proffer plainly inculpates Kukushkin. But the individual admissions that might be relevant to rebutting improper argument by Parnas—such as that Muraviev’s money was sought and used for donations—did not mention Kukushkin. Moreover, because the Government would offer Parnas’s statements through a testifying agent (rather than, for example, a recording), the relevant admission can easily be elicited without mentioning Parnas’s statements about Kukushkin.

All that’s the technicalities and hazards of what happens when someone contemplates a cooperation agreement but then — for whatever reason — doesn’t go through with it.

What I find interesting is the timing and circumstances of this proffer. Parnas had been claiming to want to cooperate far earlier than March 2020. In the interim, however, the government learned certain things (such as what files he had deleted from his iCloud and when) that would have made it easier to identify any lies Parnas told in his bid to convince prosecutors he wanted to cooperate. Plus, as we saw with Michael Cohen, SDNY requires cooperators to cooperate on everything they know, not just the crimes they’ve already been charged with.

Also in the interim, of course, Jeffrey Rosen sharply limited SDNY’s ability to investigate any new leads that Parnas may have given, without first getting approval from EDNY.

And then after Parnas went on the record describing (in part) the crimes for which he’ll go on trial next month, something happened to — quickly, given the single proffer session — make it clear a plea deal was not going to happen. In the 18 months since then, and especially in the five months since Lisa Monaco seems to have authorized SDNY to resume this investigation, DOJ would have been permitted to use Parnas’ proffer to develop new leads in SDNY’s investigation: This investigation, but also the investigation into Parnas’ influence peddling with Rudy.