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HJC Democrats Do Little to Limit Jim Jordan’s Assault on Public Health and Rule of Law

Jim Jordan, a self-purported libertarian, garnered the love of authoritarian Donald Trump by yelling. And yelling. And yelling.

But his normally obtuse manner of engagement didn’t undermine the dual threat he posed in today’s hearing on the ways Billy Barr is politicizing justice. Democrats failed to get him to abide by the committee rule that he wear a mask when not speaking (not even while sitting in close proximity to Jerry Nadler, whose wife is seriously ill). At one point, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called him out on it. But Republicans on the committee thwarted the means by which Nadler was enforcing the rule — which was to not recognize anyone not wearing a mask — by yielding their time to Jordan.

Jordan used the time he got to attack the integrity of the witnesses unanswered, make repeated false claims about the conduct of the Russian investigation (both pre-Mueller and under him), and softball Barr’s own actions.

There were exceptions, mind you. Joe Neguse brilliantly got Michael Mukasey to talk about how normal it is — and was for him, when he had the job — for Attorneys General to show up for oversight hearings. Neguse then revealed that the last time an Attorney General had as systematically refused to appear for oversight hearings as Barr, it was Bill Barr, in his first tenure in the job. Val Demings got Mukasey to lay out that Barr himself has said the President was inappropriately interfering in investigations, but no one followed up on the significance of that admission. Likewise, after Demings got Mukasey to affirm a statement he made during confirmation to be Attorney General that he was never asked what his politics were, she didn’t follow up and ask whether it would have been appropriate for Mueller to ask prosecutors about their politics, or even for Republicans to ask Zelinsky about the partisan leanings of Mueller prosecutors in this hearing. No one used Jordan’s repeated questioning of Mukasey about the sheer number of unmaskings of Mike Flynn to ask Mukasey to lay out the real national security questions that might elicit such a concerted response to what was apparently one conversation, to say nothing of testing whether Mukasey actually understood what Jordan was misrepresenting to him.

Worse still, no Democrats asked Mukasey questions that would have laid out how complicit he is with some of Trump’s crimes, particularly the politicization of investigations into Turkey.

Then, long after Republicans sand-bagged anti-trust attorney whistleblower John Elias, presenting cherry-picked results of the whistleblower complaint he submitted, Mary Gay Scanlon circled back and laid out how he submitted the complaint, how it got forwarded, and laid out that Office of Professional Responsibility didn’t actually deal with the substance of his complaint, but instead said even if true, it wouldn’t affect the prerogatives of the department. Even there, neither she nor anyone laid out the significance of OPR (which reports to the Attorney General) reviewing the complaint, rather than DOJ IG, which has statutory independence. The way Elias got sandbagged should have become a focus of the hearing, but was not.

And no Democrats corrected the false claims Jordan made, particularly about the Flynn case, such as when he ignored how Bill Priestap got FBI to cue Flynn on what he had said to Sergey Kislyak or the date of notes released today that Sidney Powell had every Republican, including Mukasey, claim came one day before they had to have. No one even asked Mukasey why he was agreeing with Jordan about Obama’s pursuit of Mike Flynn when the prosecution happened under Trump (and recent documents have shown both Peter Strzok and Jim Comey working hard to protect Flynn). Mukasey would have made the perfect foil for such questions. He even could have been asked how often DOJ flip flops on its position from week to week, as Barr has in the Flynn case.

Even worse, no one circled back to get Aaron Zelinsky to correct the premise of Jordan’s questions about whether Amy Berman Jackson’s final sentence accorded with the initial sentencing memo or not, much less his cynical reading of one sentence out of context to falsely portray ABJ as agreeing with DOJ’s second memo.

Finally, Democrats did almost no fact-finding (indeed, it took Jordan to lay out the hierarchy of the politicization of the Stone sentencing). For example, while Eric Swalwell got Zelinsky to agree that the Mueller Report showed gaps in the investigations, he did not invite Zelinsky to describe what specific gaps he would be permitted to identify in the Stone investigation, such as that DOJ was not able to recover any of Stone’s texts from shortly after the election until a year later, in 2017. No one circled back to invite Zelinsky to explain that he had been able to describe Paul Manafort’s testimony implicating Trump directly in Stone’s work because descriptions of that testimony were hidden by DOJ and just got declassified — months after Stone’s sentencing. Hakeem Jeffries got Zelinsky to lay out one thing that prosecutors had been forced to leave out in the initial sentencing memo — Randy Credico’s testimony about how freaked out he was about Stone’s threats — but he left it there, without follow-up to learn if there had been anything more (like Stone’s discussions personally with Trump).

The testimony of the witnesses — especially Donald Ayer, who had to testify over Louie Gohmert’s tapping of a pencil to try to drown out his testimony — was scathing. But the Democratic members of the committee left them hanging out there, which is going to further disincent other witnesses from testifying. This hearing was far too important not to do better prep work to ensure the risks the witnesses took on will be worth it going forward.

Sometime today, Nadler said he’s reconsidering his earlier statement that the committee would not impeach Barr. But unless Democrats seriously up their game — both on preparation and on discipline — then any impeachment of Barr will be as ineffectual of the Ukraine impeachment, if not worse.

Rudy Giuliani’s Actions Remain Under Investigation

Last night, DOJ released a “reprocessed” Mueller Report in the BuzzFeed/CNN FOIA of it. (one, two, three)

I’m driving most of the day today, so probably won’t be able to comment on how little genuinely “new” it shows. But I stand by my prediction that the warrants in the Stone case are far more damning than anything released yesterday.

That said, given Billy Barr’s attempt to fire Geoff Berman as US Attorney for Southern District of New York, it’s worth noting the referrals portion of the report. That shows, among other things, that a referral from the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates influence-peddling — which could be Rudy’s grifters — is still redacted as an ongoing investigation.

In addition — as Katelyn Polantz noted on Twitter — the references to Rudy’s attempts to broker a pardon for Michael Cohen remain redacted.

SDNY is due to supersede the indictment for Rudy’s grifters, and we know from the Schulte case there is a working grand jury (albeit in White Plains, not Manhattan). So Rudy may well be in Berman’s crosshairs.

 

If the Steele Dossier Is Disinformation, Republicans Have Become Willful Participants in the Operation

I was among the first people to argue that the Steele dossier had been planted either partially or predominantly with Russian disinformation.

Republicans never consider the implications if the Steele dossier is disinformation

I first suggested the dossier reflected a feedback loop — magnifying both the Alfa Bank and the Michael Cohen allegations — in March 2017 (there’s increasing evidence the Alfa Bank story was disinformation, too, which I’ve also argued). In November 2017, I showed evidence suggesting the Democrats were complacent in response to their discovery of the hack in May and June 2016, in part because the dossier falsely led them to believe that the Russians hadn’t accomplished such hacks and that the kompromat Russians had on Hillary consisted of old FSB intercepts of her, not newly stolen emails. In January 2018, I showed how the dossier would be useful to Russia, partly to thwart and partly to discredit the investigation into their operation. In August 2018, I laid out six specific false claims made in the dossier that would have led Democrats or the FBI to take action counter to their own interests:

  • Russians hadn’t had success hacking targets like Hillary
  • Russians were planning to leak dated FSB intercepts rather than recent stolen emails
  • Misattribution of both what the social media campaign included and who did it, blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency
  • Carter Page, not George Papadopoulos or Roger Stone, was one key focus of Russian outreach
  • Russia had grown to regret the operation in August, when instead they were planning the next phase
  • Michael Cohen was covering up Trump’s funding of the hackers rather than Trump’s sexual scandals and an improbably lucrative business deal

Also in August 2018, I laid out the specific risk that Oleg Deripaska, who had influence over both Christopher Steele and Paul Manafort at the time, could have been manipulating both sides. In January, I wrote a much more detailed post that, in part, showed that that’s what Deripaska seems to have done. The post also showed how any disinformation in the dossier succeeded in confusing and discrediting the most experienced investigators into Russian organized crime (both Steele and at both DOJ and FBI), as well as harming Democrats.

Long after I started laying out the implications of the possibility that the dossier was disinformation, Republicans came to believe that was the case. Unsurprisingly, however, that’s all they’ve done, point to Russia’s success at feeding the FBI and Democrats disinformation (just as Russia got Don Jr, Roger Stone, and Mike Flynn to embrace and magnify other disinformation), as if that in some way uniquely damns Democrats. When, earlier this year, Chuck Grassley got footnotes declassified providing further evidence that the dossier was disinformation, Republicans just kept squawking that it was, without thinking through the implications of it.

Because Grassley and others raised the issue in the Rod Rosenstein hearing yesterday (and because I’m preparing a post on that hearing), I’m going back to look closely at three footnotes reflecting Russian knowledge of the dossier project. As with all my other posts criticizing the dossier, nothing here is meant to excuse the Democrats’ refusal to come clean on it, or the ham-handed way the project was managed in the first place. But the footnotes don’t actually say what the Republicans think they do, and in some ways they increase the import of Paul Manafort’s interactions with Deripaska during the campaign.

The three references to June 2017 reporting on mid-2016 knowledge of the dossier

There were actually three mentions of June 2017 reporting related to the Steele dossier. I’ve included the context from the IG Report and footnotes below, but summarized, they are:

  • Footnote 211: An intelligence report from June 2017 said someone associated with Oleg Deripaska was or may have been aware of Steele’s work by early July 2016.
  • Footnote 342: An early June 2017 USIC report said two people affiliated with Russian intelligence were aware of Steele’s work in “early 2016” (this is either a typo or inaccurate, as the earliest anyone could have known would have been May 2016, and more likely June 2016).
  • Footnote 347: The FBI received reporting in early June 2017 that must come from 702 coverage revealing a bunch of details about a sub-source, including that the person had contact with the Presidential Administration in June/July 2016 and that he or she was strongly pro-Hillary.

I’ve highlighted the temporal references in the longer passages below, to make this more clear, but it’s worth noting that all three of these references are to intelligence reports dated June 2017. Once you account for the error in footnote 342 (since Steele’s election reporting didn’t start until May 2016, awareness of it most post-date that), all three of the reports reflect some time to Steele’s project in roughly the same time frame: May to early July 2016.

So it’s possible that some if not all three of these reports are the same report. All the more so given that two key Deripaska deputies, Konstantin Kilimnik and Victor Boyarkin, have been publicly identified as having links to Russian intelligence.

The Mueller Report describes evidence–including but not limited to witness interviews–that Kilimnik has ties to GRU.

Manafort told the Office that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian “spy.”859 The FBI, however, assesses that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.860 Several pieces of the Office’s evidence-including witness interviews and emails obtained through court-authorized search warrants-support that assessment.

It makes no such claims about Boyarkin, though it does note that he served as defense attaché in the past, the kind of job often used for official cover. But when Treasury sanctioned Boyarkin in December 2018 along with all the people who implemented the Russian interference campaign in 2016, it identified Boyarkin as a former GRU officer.

Victor Alekseyevich Boyarkin (Boyarkin) is a former GRU officer who reports directly to Deripaska and has led business negotiations on Deripaska’s behalf.  Deripaska and Boyarkin were involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections.  Boyarkin was designated pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13661 and 13662 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Oleg Deripaska, who was previously designated pursuant to E.O. 13661 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of a senior Russian government official, as well as pursuant to E.O. 13662 for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy, as well as with entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.

The government refers to both of these guys as GRU-linked publicly. So if either showed up in a classified intelligence report, that affiliation would likely be more explicit. Both Kilimnik and Boyarkin were the target of retroactive surveillance as part of the investigation in Paul Manafort. And because they were interacting with Manafort, it would be likely one or both of them would learn of any issues involving Manafort, like the dossier, if such information came to Deripaska. To be clear, it is speculation that one of these men was the person associated with Deripaska who got wind of the dossier, but the description would fit both, both were under surveillance, and both would have a reason to be informed of the dossier if feeding disinformation to it was part of a larger project.

If either of them were one of the people named in the intelligence reports, it would mean Deripaska’s actions towards Manafort during the election would have been conducted by someone who knew of the Steele dossier. It would also mean that Boyarkin’s outreach (via Kilimnik) to Manafort in July 2016 would have come just after (this intelligence report reflects) learning of the dossier.

For example, in response to a July 7, 2016, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaska-backed investment, Manafort asked Kilimnik whether there had been any movement on “this issue with our friend.”897 Gates stated that “our friend” likely referred to Deripaska,898 and Manafort told the Office that the “issue” (and “our biggest interest,” as stated below) was a solution to the Deripaska-Pericles issue.899 Kilimnik replied:

I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest.

Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska].900

Eight minutes later, Manafort replied that Kilimnik should tell Boyarkin’s “boss,” a reference to Deripaska, “that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”901

It would also mean that when Manafort traveled to Madrid in early January 2017 he may have learned whatever the Deripaska people knew of the disinformation effort.

Manafort’ s activities in early 2017 included meetings relating to Ukraine and Russia. The first meeting, which took place in Madrid, Spain in January 2017, was with Georgiy Oganov. Oganov, who had previously worked at the Russian Embassy in the United States, was a senior executive at a Deripaska company and was believed to report directly to Deripaska.940 Manafort initially denied attending the meeting. When he later acknowledged it, he claimed that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.941 Other evidence, however, provides reason to doubt Manafort’s statement that the sole topic of the meeting was the Pericles lawsuit. In particular, text messages to Manafort from a number associated with Kilimnik suggest that Kilimnik and Boyarkin-not Manafort’s counsel-had arranged the meeting between Manafort and Oganov.942 Kilimnik’s message states that the meeting was supposed to be “not about money or Pericles” but instead “about recreating [the] old friendship”-ostensibly between Manafort and Deripaska-“and talking about global politics.”943

According to an old Ken Vogel story, Manafort called Reince Priebus the day the dossier came out — at a time when he’d still be in Madrid with Oganov (he returned on January 12) and suggested he discredit the Russian investigation by focusing on the Steele dossier.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a personclose to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whom he alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative.

This would have been one of the few communications Manafort had with anyone in the Trump Administration (per court records, he had no direct communication after the inauguration, though he did use Sean Hannity as a back channel after that).

From that Manafort call to the present, the push to discredit the Russian investigation by treating the dossier as the Russian investigation and discrediting the former by unpacking the (admitted, egregious) problems in the latter has been the primary response to the Russian investigation. If Manafort was tipped to the fact that the dossier was full of baseless allegations because the Russians had put them there, it would mean the entire GOP effort since has been one of the intended goals of the disinformation.

Again, this rests on speculation, but if, in fact, Manafort’s interlocutors were the people identified as those who learned of the dossier, then everything the Republicans have been doing since would be part of that disinformation campaign.

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

347 The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016[redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source.

In an Attempt to Absolve Mike Flynn, Eli Lake Accidentally (and Erroneously) Accuses Flynn of “Outright Espionage,” Then Lies about the Evidence

As part of the campaign to magnify the cover story for Mike Flynn, Eli Lake has written a long, prettily edited piece laying out the same narrative everyone else uses. It has drawn applause from the typical facilitators of gaslighting: Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Swan, and Pepe the Frog.

But it also got plaudits from someone who normally cares about accuracy and facts as much as pretty narrative, Noah Shachtman, which led me to do a long thread pointing out all the times Eli misrepresented the record or outright lied about it. You can read that thread or read the post I did on Glenn Greenwald’s attempt to defend Flynn and Bill Barr, because Eli makes many of the same false claims that Glenn did, as if there’s a script these men are working from.

Unlike Glenn, though, Eli performs the entire Logan Act part of the script. He claims, as if reading from a Sidney Powell script, that the FBI researched the Logan Act solely to keep any case against Flynn alive.

Bringing up this old chestnut suggests that the FBI was looking for any conceivable pretext to keep its Flynn hunt alive. To that end, the FBI officer overseeing the Flynn case, Peter Strzok, eagerly provided a Congressional Research Service report on the history and utility of the Logan Act to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who was working in the office of Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe.1 In his 2019 memoir, McCabe writes that in “high-level discussion at the relevant agencies and at Justice, the question arose: Was this a violation of the Logan Act?”

And then he points to two more references to the Logan Act in support of a claim that the FBI was considering it.

Then Eli steps in it.

Eli then turns to the scope memo describing what potential crimes Mueller was investigating in 2017, makes no mention that there were four things on the list (none of which are the Logan Act), but does claim the FBI was investigating one of two things: the Logan Act, or “outright espionage.”

Moreover, a recently declassified “scope memo” on the Mueller probe—a document defining the range of issues Mueller was to examine—drafted on August 2, 2017, by then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized Mueller’s team to investigate whether Flynn had “committed a crime or crimes by engaging in conversations with Russian government officials during the period of the Trump transition.” The only crime or crimes that could be found in this case would either be outright espionage or a violation of the Logan Act.

Here’s the document in which Eli claims to see Flynn investigated for “outright espionage.”

Somehow, Eli skips the opening memo for the Flynn investigation, which names the crimes actually under investigation in August 2016 (and still, on January 24, 2017, along with the Logan Act): FARA and 18 USC 951. Had Eli examined that memo, his entire Logan Act canard would have been clear, and his silence about the evidence showing that the Flynn interview always prioritized Foreign Agent component would be more damning.

The goal of the investigation is to determine the captioned subject, associated with the Trump Team, is being directed and controlled by and/or coordinating activities with the Russian Federation in a manner which may be a threat to the national security and/or possibly a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 18 U.S.C section 951 et seq, or other related statutes.

It is true that early in 2017, the FBI had decided Flynn’s calls with Russia did not make him a Foreign Agent of Russia (though later obtained evidence may have changed that view). And the Foreign Agent investigation listed in the 2017 memo focused on Flynn’s hidden relationship with Turkey, not Russia.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to defend Flynn, Eli Lake either lies or appears to describe 18 USC 951 as “outright espionage.”

If 18 USC 951 is “outright espionage,” as Eli claims, then an “outright espionage” charge is what Flynn was avoiding when he pled guilty to the false statement charge that Eli is now misrepresenting. Here’s how Brandon Van Grack explained that to Judge Emmet Sullivan at Flynn’s aborted sentencing in 2018.

THE COURT: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. Your answer is he could have been charged in that [EDVA] indictment.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: And that would have been — what’s the exposure in that indictment if someone is found guilty?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I believe, if you’ll give me a moment, I believe it was a conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, which I believe is a five-year offense. It was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 951, which is either a five- or ten-year offense, and false statements — under those false statements, now that I think about it, Your Honor, pertain to Ekim Alptekin, and I don’t believe the defendant had exposure to the false statements of that individual.

THE COURT: Could the sentences have been run consecutive to one another?

MR. VAN GRACK: I believe so.

THE COURT: So the exposure would have been grave, then, would have been — it would have been — exposure to Mr. Flynn would have been significant had he been indicted?

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes. And, Your Honor, if I may just clarify. That’s similar to the exposure for pleading guilty to 18 U.S.C. 1001.

THE COURT: Right. Exactly. I’m not minimizing that at all. It’s a five-year felony.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Excuse me one second. (Brief pause in proceedings.)

THE COURT: Yes, Counsel.

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I’d clarify that the maximum penalty for 18 U.S.C. 951 is a ten-year felony and five years —

According to Flynn’s own sworn statement, that 15 year sentence is what Covington’s lawyers advised he might be facing if he didn’t take a plea deal that (if Flynn behaved) would result in probation.

November 16, 2017, was the first day of the proffer with the SCO. That same evening, after concluding the first proffer, we returned to the Covington offices where my attorneys told me that the first day’s proffer did not go well and then proceeded to talk me through a litany of conceivable charges I was facing and told me that I was looking at the possibility of “fifteen years in prison.”

That Eli considers Flynn’s exposure to 18 USC 951 because he was secretly on Turkey’s payroll “outright espionage” is telling, because — way at the end of the story, as if the Turkish investigation didn’t happen in parallel with the Russian one — Eli finally gets around to mentioning it. When he does, Eli outright lies about the record on Flynn’s work for Turkey. First, he lies that Inovo was the client, not Turkey.

The reason that Flynn put his name to something he knew was not true was that Mueller’s investigators were squeezing him on an unrelated matter.

In August 2016, Flynn took a contract to represent a Dutch firm known as Inovo BV on a project aimed at investigating and defaming Fetullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish cleric who had become a mortal enemy of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and was living in exile in Pennsylvania. In 2016, Erdogan survived a military coup he blamed on Gulen’s followers. Erdogan’s regime sought Gulen’s extradition back to Turkey, where he would almost certainly have faced the death penalty.

Taking that contract showed horrendous judgment on Flynn’s part. He was the Trump campaign’s national-security adviser and had no business getting himself in the middle of this. That said, it was a potential political problem for Trump, not the national-security threat that many in the resistance now say it was. It’s fair game for journalists and Democrats to make a stink about the Inovo contract. But it was highly unusual for Flynn’s missteps in this case to be the basis for a criminal prosecution on the grounds that Flynn had violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

According to Flynn’s grand jury testimony — almost the only sworn statement that Flynn has not reneged on yet — the work was always being done for Turkey.

Q From the beginning of the project what was your understanding about on whose behalf the work was going to be performed?

A I think at the — from the beginning it was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government.

[snip]

Q Did he ever mention to you that the project had significantly changed in any way? A He d.id not, no. No, we pretty much stayed on the same track.

Q Did he ever mention to you that the principal beneficiary of the project had changed?

A He did not. He did not, no.

[snip]

Q Let me finish the question if you it be fair to say, as you testified would, General. So would earlier, that the principal beneficiary was the government of Turkey?

A Yes.

Q Or these high-government officials?

A Yeah.

Q Did he ever mention to you that that principal beneficiary or those principal beneficiaries had changed throughout the project ?

A No, no.

Flynn’s testimony describes how, after Ekim Alptekin said the Turkish clients had given him permission to discuss “confidentiality” and budget with Flynn, just days before Flynn sat in on his first classified candidate briefing with Trump, the named client changed to Inovo.

Q Do you see the first part of the email where Mr. Alptekin says, “Gentlemen, I just finished in Ankara after several meetings today with Min. of Economy Zeybekci and M.F.A. Cavusoglu. I have a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget, and the scope of the contract”?

A Mm-hmm.

Q Is this email an example of how Turkish government officials provided the initial approval for the project?

A Sure is.

Q Originally what was the planned source of funding for the project?

A Initially I was told that the Turkish government would likely — you know, may fund it. And then it changed when that came back that they would not fund it, that it would be funded, you know, via different means, via Ekim’s business, basically.

Q Who told you that the Turkish may fund the project originally?

A Bijan. Conversations we had.

Q Do you recall the name of Mr. Alpteikin’s company?

A Inovo.

Not only does Eli outright lie about whom Flynn was working for, he misrepresents the source of Flynn’s registration problems, the reason they became so acute he faced 15 years in prison over them.

Flynn had initially registered the Inovo contract in August 2016 through a less stringent law known as the Lobbying Disclosure Act. He did so on the advice of his counsel at the time. And when Flynn took the contract, that advice was sound. The legal environment for FARA registrations was quite permissive at the time. But at the end of 2017, and with Mueller in hot pursuit and with unlimited resources, Flynn—and his son, Michael Jr.—could have found themselves facing years in prison. So Flynn, in financial ruin and wishing to get his son out of Mueller’s crosshairs, agreed to cooperate.

Eli doesn’t explain that in March 2017, after Trump had been elected, after Flynn had engaged, as incoming National Security Advisor, in discussions about a Russian-Turkish peace plan for Syria, after Flynn had been fired for hiding details of his conversations with Russia, Flynn registered under FARA, but even then lied about having worked for the Turkish government until days before he became National Security Advisor.

This was not, as Eli falsely portrays, about misrepresenting work for a foreign company. It wasn’t even just that, as Flynn, with his Top Secret clearance, was sitting in on Trump’s first classified briefing, he was also inking a deal to secretly work for Turkey. It’s that Flynn continued to lie about it, even in his official FARA filing in March 2017.

And claimed national security hawk Eli Lake, in a bid to make Flynn look less sketchy, repeats the very same lies that got Flynn in such deep legal trouble, Flynn’s cover story for his relationship with the government of Turkey.

It’s one thing to work for foreign entities and hide that fact if you’re a washed out campaign pro, as Paul Manafort was when he hid that he was secretly working for Ukraine’s ruling oligarchs for years. It’s another thing to sit in on classified briefings with a man running for President while hiding that you’re in talks with Turkish government ministers for a half-million dollar deal.

Eli, in a moment of candor or sloppiness, called this “outright espionage.”

That’s Eli’s representation, not mine. In reality, 18 USC 951 is more ambivalent than that, covering a range of secret relationships with foreign governments. But if the facts of Flynn’s relationship weren’t so damning, then why did Eli lie so aggressively to hide them?

Update: Meanwhile, Flynn’s Turkish handler is outraged that the IC might have read his communications with Flynn.

Lindsey Graham and Ric Grenell Reveal Mike Flynn May Not Have Fully Disclosed His Foreign Contacts

Lindsey Graham has used the tenure of Ric Grenell to get a slew of stuff declassified, such as a George Papadopoulos transcript bragging about fucking an older woman that redacts a reference to Sergey Millian, even though the Millian reference is the entire point of the exercise of releasing such transcripts. They’re doing it in the name of “FISA abuse,” even though most of it doesn’t relate to FISA and none of the additional material shows abuse beyond the FBI’s over-reliance on informants (which Lindsey has shown no interest in reforming).

Tonight, they released the memo Rod Rosenstein used to scope out Robert Mueller’s mandate on August 2, 2017 (I wrote about the original release of it here.)

The declassified bits describe the crimes FBI was investigating Carter Page, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn for. Plus, there’s one other Trump person whom I’ve been told is not the person you think it is (though I understand new details about it seeing it redacted like this), the description of which is entirely classified.

For Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos, the memo authorizes an investigation into whether they “colluded” in the 2016 election. Such a bullet point is not included for Flynn, one of many pieces of evidence that the FBI had ruled this out in late 2016/early 2017 only to discover that Flynn had called the country up that had just attacked us and told them “no big deal.”

Page was only being investigated for “collusion;” the memo doesn’t include his willingness to deal known Russian spies non-public economic information about American companies.

For the others, there were additional bullet points authorizing investigation into stuff there was substantial evidence they had done. For Manafort, the memo included two things that were ultimately charged:

  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of his receipt of loans from a bank whose Chief Executive Officer was then seeking a position in the Trump Administration;

Though Stephen Calk is being prosecuted for Manafort soliciting a loan he had no business getting, not Manafort.

And the memo didn’t include all the things Manafort was charged or even investigated for.

With Papadopoulos, the memo (written less than a week after he’d been arrested after taking money from some Israeli) also included Israeli influence peddling.

  • Committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent of the government of Israel;

That is, for Manafort and Papadopoulos, this memo authorized an investigation into things they were known to have done.

Which brings us to Flynn. As noted, Rosenstein did not authorize Mueller to investigate whether Flynn “colluded,” which is proof that once the FBI chased something down, they dismissed it.

The list of things Mueller was authorized to investigate includes three things that Flynn was known to have done (the italics are what Flynn was known to have done).

  • Committed a crime or crimes by engaging in conversations with Russian government officials during the period of the Trump transition;
  • Committed a crime or crimes by making false statements to the FBI when interviewed about his contacts with the Russian government;
  • Committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent for the government of Turkey;

Flynn did converse with at least one Russian government official during the transition, though as written, this suggests there may have been more. Flynn did lie to the FBI when asked about those contacts. Flynn was still lying about his knowledge that his foreign influence peddling was for the government of Turkey, not some Dutch company.

That is, this memo (and most non-“collusion” bullet points) lays out things the person in question was known to have done.

But this detail is completely new:

  • Committed a crime or crimes by failing to report foreign contacts and income on a Form SF-86 that he completed in anticipation of his being selected to serve as the National Security Adviser to President Trump;

Lindsey Graham just released a document suggesting that General Flynn lied on this SF-86 form for clearance by hiding some of his foreign contacts.

To be sure: I’ve been told Flynn told DIA of the foreign contacts that raised the most suspicion, such as bopping off to Moscow to sit with Putin at a gala for RT. That said, last year DOJ claimed that Flynn’s DIA record was actually inculpatory, not exculpatory information they should have turned over as Brady.

Request #15: The government is not aware of any information in possession of the Defense Intelligence Agency that is favorable and material to sentencing, including the information that the government provided on August 16, 2019. Specifically, the information of which the government is aware, including that August 16 production, is either inculpatory or has no relevance to the defendant’s false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, or to the FARA Unit.

What Lindsey Graham just released to claim there was some kind of FISA abuse suggests that the FBI — which had access to the FISA intercepts showing Mike Flynn calling up the country that had just attacked us and telling them no big deal — believed on August 2, 2017 that Flynn had not disclosed all his foreign contacts when he got a security clearance tied to becoming National Security Advisor. Flynn’s 2016 security clearance review is something Powell has raised repeatedly in her bid to get Flynn’s prosecution set aside. If she knew that Flynn was investigated because he failed to fully disclose all his foreign contacts, that may explain why.

Which is to say, Lindsey Graham thinks he’s exposing abuse. But in the case of Flynn, he’s not only showing that the FBI stopped pursuing leads once they had chased them down, but were chasing one that was previously unknown.

The Nuances of the Carter Page Application

I’ve now finished a close read of the last Carter Page FISA application. I think the contents bring a lot more nuance to the discussion of it over the last three years. This post will try to lay out some of that nuance.

Hot and cold running Carter Page descriptions

In most ways, the declassified application tracks the DOJ IG Report and shows how the problems with the application in practice. One newly declassified example conservatives have pointed to shows that FBI Agents believed that Page’s media appearances in spring 2017 were just an attempt to get a book contract.

The FBI also notes that Page continues to be active in meeting with media outlets to promote his theories of how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted with regard to Russia and also to refute claims of his involvement with Russian Government efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. [redacted–sensitive information] The believes this approach is important because, from the Russian Government’s point-of-view, it continues to keep the controversy of the election in the front of the American and world media, which has the effect of undermining the integrity of the U.S. electoral process and weakening the effectiveness of the current U.S. Administration. The FBI believes Page also may be seeking media attention in order to maintain momentum for potential book contracts. (57)

Even if Page were doing media to get a book contract, short of being charged and put under a court authorized gag, there’s nothing that prevents him from telling his story. He’s perfectly entitled to overtly criticize US foreign policy. And as so often happens when intelligence analysis sees any denials as a formal Denial and Deception strategy, the FBI allowed no consideration to the possibility that some of his denials were true.

Julian Sanchez argued when the IG Report came out that FBI’s biases were probably confirmation bias, not anti-Trump bias, and this is one of the many examples that supports that.

One specific Page denial that turned out to be true — that he was not involved in the Ukraine platform issue — is even more infuriating reading in declassified form. As the IG Report noted, by the time FBI filed this last application, there were several piece of evidence that JD Gordan was responsible for preventing any platform change.

An FBI March 20, 2017 Intelligence Memorandum titled “Overview of Trump Campaign Advisor Jeff D. [J.D.] Gordon” again attributed the change in the Republican Platform Committee’s Ukraine provision to Gordon and an unnamed campaign staffer. The updated memorandum did not include any reference to Carter Page working with Gordon or communicating with the Republican Platform Committee. On May 5, 2017, the Counterintelligence Division updated this Intelligence Memorandum to include open source reporting on the intervention of Trump campaign members during the Republican platform discussions at the Convention to include Gordon’s public comments on his role. This memorandum still made no reference to involvement by Carter Page with the Republican Platform Committee or with the provision on Ukraine.

On June 7, 2017, the FBI interviewed a Republican Platform Committee member. This interview occurred three weeks before Renewal Application No. 3 was filed. According to the FBI FD-302 documenting the interview, this individual told the FBI that J.D. Gordon was the Trump campaign official that flagged the Ukrainian amendment, and that another person (not Carter Page) was the second campaign staffer present at the July 11 meeting of the National Security and Defense Platform Subcommittee meeting when the issue was tabled.

Although the FBI did not develop any information that Carter Page was involved in the Republican Platform Committee’s change regarding assistance to Ukraine, and the FBI developed evidence that Gordon and another campaign official were responsible for the change, the FBI did not alter its assessment of Page’s involvement in the FISA applications. Case Agent 6 told us that when Carter Page denied any involvement with the Republican Platform Committee’s provision on Ukraine, Case Agent 6 “did not take that statement at face value.” He told us that at the time of the renewals, he did not believe Carter Page’s denial and it was the team’s “belief” that Carter Page had been involved with the platform change.

But the application’s treatment of this issue doesn’t just leave out that information. The utterly illogical explanation of why the FBI believed he had a role in the platform — which was quoted in the IG Report — appears worse in context.

During these March 2017 interviews, the FBI also questioned Page about the above-referenced reports from August 2016 that Candidate #1’s campaign worked to make sure Political Party #1’s platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces [this matter is discussed on pgs. 25-26]. According to Page, he had no part in the campaign’s decision. Page stated that an identified individual (who previously served as manager of Candidate #1’s campaign) more likely than not recommended the “pro-Russian” changes. As the FBI believes that Page also holds pro-Russian views and appears to still have been a member of Candidate #1’s campaign in August 2016, the FBI assesses that Page may have been downplaying his role in advocating for the change to Political Party #1’s platform. (55)

(Here’s the March 16, 2017 interview.)

It’s not just that the FBI had about five other pieces of evidence that suggested Page was not involved, but for the FBI, it was enough that he was pro-Russian to suggest Page would have had the influence and bureaucratic chops to make it happen, even in the absence of any evidence to the fact. Add in the fact that FBI obtained a pen register on Page as part of this application (as reflected by notations in the margin of redacted material), and the fact that FBI didn’t track what communications he did or did not have at any time is particularly inexcusable.

So there’s abundant evidence in the Page applications that FBI acted like they normally do, seeing in every denial yet more evidence of guilt.

That said, the application does show more to explain why the FBI suspected Page in the first place and continued to have questions about his veracity until the end. For example, here’s the full explanation of how Page came to tell a Russian minister he had been the guy that Viktor Podobnyy was recruiting.

Based on information provided by Page during this [March 2016] interview, the FBI determined that Page’s relationship with Podobnyy was primarily unidirectional, with Page largely providing Podobnyy open source information and contact introductions. During one interview, Page told the FBI that he approached a Russian Minister, who was surrounded by Russian officials/diplomats, and “in the spirit of openness,” Page informed the group that he was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. (16-17)

The FBI took this both as Page’s own confirmation that he was the person in the complaint, which in turn meant that Page knew he was being recruited, and, having learned that, sought ought well-connected Russians to identify himself as such.

As the application laid out later, Page at first denied what he had previously told the FBI about this incident and the Russians who had previously tried to recruit him in his March 2017 interviews. (This occurred in his March 16, 2017 interview.)

In a reference to the Buryakov complaint, Page stated that “nobody knows that I’m Male-1 in this report,” and also added that he never told anyone about this. As discussed above, however, during a March 2016 interview with the FBI regarding his relationship with Podobnyy, Page told the FBI he informed a group of Russian officials that he (Page) was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. Thus, during the March 2017 interview, the FBI specifically asked Page if he told any colleague that he (Page) was “Male-1.” In response, Page stated that there was a conversation with a Russian Government official at the United Nations General Assembly The FBI again asked Page if he had told anyone that he was “Male-1.” Page responded that he “forgot the exact statement.”

Note, Page’s 302 quotes Page as telling the Minister, “I didn’t do anything [redacted],” but it’s unclear (given the b3 redaction) whether that relays what Page said in March 2017 or if the b3 suggests FBI learned this via other means. But the redacted bit remains one of the sketchier parts of this.

The application also describes how Page denied having a business relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov, the first presumed time Russia tried to recruit him, claiming he may have had lunch with him in New York. That Page claimed only to have had lunch with him is all the more absurd since this was the basis for his supposed cooperation with the CIA.

Having seen how Page handled his HPSCI interview and TV interviews, it’s not surprising to see he denied ties he earlier bragged about (which, in any case, undermines any claim he was operating clandestinely). But at best, Page didn’t deny the key thing he could have to avert suspicion: to admit (as George Papadopoulos readily did) that he was overselling his access in Russia to the Trump campaign, in emails the FBI presumably obtained using FISA. Nothing in the IG Report rebuts the claim that Page claimed things in communications that provided basis to believe he was lying (the actual communications are redacted in the applications because all of the FISA collection targeted at Page has been sequestered). So while the FBI did a bunch of inexcusable things with Page, there were things that Page did — and never explained — that explain the FBI’s sustained suspicion of him.

An explanation for some of the GOP’s core beliefs about the dossier and the investigation

The release of the full application also helps to explain how Republicans came to have certain beliefs about the Steele dossier and the Russian investigation. Take this passage:

Source #1 reported the information contained herein to the FBI over the course of several meetings with the FBI from in or about June 2016 through August 2016.

The passage is slightly inaccurate: Mike Gaeta first got reports from Christopher Steele in early July.

Shortly before the Fourth of July 2016, Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that he received a call from Steele requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Handling Agent 1 said he departed his duty station in Europe on July 5 and met with Steele in Steele’s office that day. During their meeting, Steele provided Handling Agent 1 with a copy of Report 80 and explained that he had been hired by Fusion GPS to collect information on the relationship between candidate Trump’s businesses and Russia.

Since initial details of Steele’s reporting have been made public, the frothy right has been unable to understand that information doesn’t necessarily flow instantaneously inside of or between large bureaucracies. And having read this line, I assume Kash Patel would have told Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy that it was proof that the FBI predicated the investigation on the Steele dossier, because “the FBI” had Steele’s reports a month before opening the investigation into Trump’s aides (though, in fact, that was months after NYFO had opened an investigation into Page). The IG Report, however, explains in detail about how there was a bit of a delay before Steele’s handler sent his reports to the NY Field Office, a delay there for a while, and a further delay after a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team asked NYFO to forward anything they had. As a result, the CH team didn’t receive the first set of Steele reports until September 19, over a month after the investigation started.

On August 25, 2016, according to a Supervisory Special Agent 1 (SSA 1) who was assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, during a briefing for then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the investigation, McCabe asked SSA 1 to contact NYFO about information that potentially could assist the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. 225 SSA 1 said he reached out to counterintelligence agents and analysts in NYFO within approximately 24 hours following the meeting. Instant messages show that on September 1, SSA 1 spoke with a NYFO counterintelligence supervisor, and that the counterintelligence supervisor was attempting to set up a call between SSA 1 and the ADC. On September 2, 2016, Handling Agent 1, who had been waiting for NYFO to inform him where to forward Steele’s reports, sent the following email to the ADC and counterintelligence supervisor: “Do we have a name yet? The stuff is burning a hole.” The ADC responded the same day explaining that SSA 1 had created an electronic sub-file for Handling Agent 1 in the Crossfire Hurricane case and that he

In any other world, this delay — as well as a delay in sharing derogatory information freely offered by Bruce Ohr and Kathleen Kavalec — would be a scandal about not sharing enough information. But instead, this passage about when FBI received the files likely plays a key part of an unshakeable belief that the dossier played a key role in predicating the investigation, which it does not.

Similarly, declassification of the application helps to explain why the frothy right believes that claims George Papadopoulos made to Stefan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 should have undermined the claims FBI made.

To be clear: the frothy right is claiming Papadopoulos’s denials should be treated as credible even after he admitted to a second informant that he told the story he did to Halper about Trump campaign involvement in the leaked emails because he believed if he had said anything else, Halper would have gone to the CIA about it. The FBI, however, believed the claims to be lies in real time, and on that (unlike Carter Page’s denials) the record backs them. There’s even a footnote (on page 11) that explicitly said, “the FBI believes that Papadopoulos provided misleading or incomplete information to the FBI” in his later FBI interviews.

That said, the way Papadopoulos is used in this application is totally upside down. A newly declassified part of the footnote describing Steele’s partisan funding claims that Papadopoulos corroborates Steele’s reporting (the italicized text is newly declassified).

Notwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s herein to be credible. Moreover, because of outside corroborating circumstances discussed herein, such as the reporting from a friendly foreign government that a member of Candidate #1’s team received a suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the release of information damaging to Candidate #2 and Russia’s believed hack and subsequent leak of the DNC e-amils, the FBI assesses that Source #1’s reporting contained herein is credible.

This is the reverse of how the IG Report describes things, which explains that the DNC emails came out, Australia decided to alert the US Embassy in London about what Papadopoulos had said three months earlier, which led the FBI to predicate four different investigations (Page, Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort; though remember that NYFO had opened an investigation into Page in April) to see if any of the most obvious Trump campaign members could explain why Russia thought it could help the Trump campaign beat Hillary by releasing emails. The Steele dossier certainly seemed to confirm questions raised by the Australia report (which explains why the FBI was so susceptible, to the extent this was disinformation, to believing it, and why, to the extent it was disinformation, it was incredibly well-crafted). The Steele dossier seemingly confirmed the fears raised by the Australia report, not vice versa. It seems like circular logic to then use Papadopoulos to “corroborate” the Steele dossier. That has, in turn, led the right to think undermining the original Australian report does anything to undermine the investigation itself, even though by the end of October Papadopoulos had sketched out the outlines of what happened with Joseph Mifsud and discussed wanting to cash in on it, and Papadopoulos continued to pursue this Russian relationship, including a secret back channel meeting in London, well into the summer.

Finally, I’m more sympathetic, having read this full application, to complaints about the way FBI uses media accounts — though for an entirely different reason than the frothy right. The original complaint on this point misread the way the FBI used the September 23 Michael Isikoff article reporting on Page, suggesting it was included for the facts about the meeting rather than the denials from Page and the campaign presented in it. The discussion appears in a section on “Page’s denial of cooperation.”  And — as I’ve noted before — the FBI always sourced that story to the Fusion GPS effort, even if they inexcusably believed that Glenn Simpson, and not Steele, was the “well-placed Western intelligence source” cited in the article.

But with further declassification, the way the application relied on two articles about the Ukraine platform to establish what the campaign had actually done (see page 25), rather than refer to the platform itself — or, more importantly, Trump’s own comments about policy, which I’ll return to — appears more problematic (not least because FBI confused the timing of one of those reports with the actual policy change.

Steele and Sergei Millian as uniquely correct about WikiLeaks

There’s another thing about sourcing in this application (which carries over to what I’ve often seen in FBI affidavits). While there are passages discussing the larger investigation into Russia’s 2016 operation that remain redacted (and indeed, there’s a substitution of a redaction with “FBI” on page 7 which probably hides that the IC as a whole continued to investigate Russian hacking), key discussions of that investigation cite to unclassified materials, even in a FISA application that would have under normal circumstances never been shared publicly. For example, the discussion describing attribution of the operation to Russia from pages 6 to 10 largely relies on the October 7 joint statement and Obama’s sanctions statement, not even the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, much less (with the exception of two redacted passages) anything more detailed.

Even ignoring secret government sources, there was a whole lot more attributing Russia and WikiLeaks’s role in the hack-and-leak, especially by June 2017. Yet the Page application doesn’t touch any of that.

And that makes the way the application uses the allegations — attributed to Sergei Millian — to make knowable information about the WikiLeaks dump tie to unsupported information in the dossier all the more problematic. As parroted in the application, this passage interlaces true, public, but not very interesting details with totally unsupported allegations:

According to information provided by Sub-Source [redacted] there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them [assessed to be individuals involved in Candidate #1’s campaign] and the Russian leadership.” Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the conspiracy was being managed by Candidate #1’s then campaign manager, who was using, among others, foreign policy advisor Carter Page as an intermediary. Sub-Source [redacted] further reported that the Russian regime had been behind the above-described disclosure of DNC e-mail messages to WikiLeaks. Sub-Source [redacted] reported that WikiLeaks was used to create “plausible deniability,” and that the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page. In return, according to Sub-Source [redacted], Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page, agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise U.S.NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

The DOJ IG report describes how FBI responded to this report by (purportedly) examining the reliability of Steele and his sources closely.

The FISA application stated that, according to this sub-source, Carter Page was an intermediary between Russian leadership and an individual associated with the Trump campaign (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” that led to the disclosure of hacked DNC emails by Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign team’s agreement, which the FBI assessed included at least Carter Page, to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue. The application also stated that this same sub-source provided information contained in Steele’s Report 80 that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Trump’s campaign for an extended period of time and that the information had reportedly been “very helpful,” as well as information contained in Report 102 that the DNC email leak had been done, at least in part, to swing supporters from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. 300 Because the FBI had no independent corroboration for this information, as witnesses have mentioned, the reliability of Steele and his source network was important to the inclusion of these allegations in the FISA application.

Except there would seem to be another necessary step: to first identify how much of this report cobbled together stuff that was already public — which included Russia’s role, the purpose of using WikiLeaks, Carter Page’s trip to Russia (but not specifics of his meetings there), and — though the application got details of what happened with Ukraine in the platform wrong — the prevention of a change to the platform. On these details, Steele was not only not predictive, he was derivative. Putting aside the problems with the three different levels of unreliable narrators (Steele, his Primary Subsource, and Millian), all of whom had motives to to package this information in a certain way, the fact that these claims clearly included stuff that had been made available weeks earlier should have raised real questions (and always did for me, when I was reading this dossier). Had the FBI separated out what was unique and timely in these allegations, they would have looked significantly different (not least because they would have shown Steele’s network was following public disclosures on key issues).

This is not the kompromat you’re looking for

Which brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of this application.

As I started arguing at least by September 2017 (and argued again and again and again), to the extent the dossier got filled with disinformation, it would have had the effect of leading Hillary’s campaign to be complacent after learning they had been hacked, because according to the dossier, the Russians planned to leak years old FSB intercepts from when Hillary visited Russia, not contemporaneous emails pertaining to her campaign and recent history. It might even have led the Democrats to dismiss the possibility that the files Guccifer 2.0 was releasing were John Podesta files, delaying any response to the leak that would eventually come in October.

To the extent the dossier was disinformation, it gave the Russian operation cover to regain surprise for their hack-and-leak operation. At least with respect to the Democrats, that largely worked.

And, even though the Australians apparently believed the DNC release may have confirmed Papadopoulos prediction that Russia would dump emails, it appears to have partly worked with the FBI, as well. This passage should never appear in an application that derived from a process leading from the DNC emails to the shared tip about Papadopoulos to a request to wiretap Page:

According to reporting from Sub-Source [redacted] this dossier had been compiled by the RIS over many years, dating back to the 1990s. Further, according to Sub-Source [redacted] his dossier was, by the direct instructions of Russian President Putin, controlled exclusively by Senior Kremlin Spokesman Dmitriy Peskov. Accordingly, the FBI assesses that Divyekin received direction by the Russian Government to disclose the nature and existence of the dossier to Page. In or about June 2016, Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time. Sub-Source [redacted] also reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time and added that the information had reportedly been “very helpful.” The FBI assesses the information funneled by the Russians to Page was likely part of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Note, the FBI contemporaneously — though not after December 9, 2016 — would not have had something Hillary’s team did, the July Steele report on Russia’s claimed lack of hacking success that the FBI should have recognized as utterly wrong. Still, the earliest Steele reports they did have said the kompromat the Russians were offering was stale intercepts. At the very least, one would hope that would raise questions about why someone with purported access to top Kremlin officials didn’t know about the hack-and-leak operation. But the FBI seems to have expected there might be something more.

Trump clearly was not, but should have been, the target earlier than he was

There’s an irony about the complaints I lay out here: they suggest that Trump should have been targeted far earlier than he was.

The Page application rests on the following logic: One of the notably underqualified foreign policy advisors that Trump rolled out to great fanfare in March 2016 told someone, days later, that Russia had offered to help Trump by releasing damaging information on Hillary. The July dump of DNC emails suggested that Papadopoulos’ knowledge foreknowledge may have been real (and given Mifsud’s ties to someone with links to both the IRA and GRU people behind the operation, it probably was). The temporal coincidence of his appointment and that knowledge seemed to tie his selection as an advisor and that knowledge (and in his case, because Joseph Mifsud only showed an interest in Papadopoulos after learning he was a Trump advisor, that turned out to be true). That made the trip to Russia by another of these notably underqualified foreign policy advisors to give a speech he was even more underqualified to give, all the more interesting, especially the way the Trump people very notably reversed GOP hawkishness on Ukraine days after Page’s return.

In other words, the FBI had evidence — some of it now understood to be likely disinformation, and was trying to understand, how, after Trump shifted his focus to foreign policy, he shifted to a more pro-Russian stance in seeming conjunction with Russia delivering on their promise (shared with foreign policy advisor Papadopoulos) to help Trump by releasing the DNC emails.

It turns out the change in policy was real. And JD Gordan attributed his intervention on the RNC platform, in contravention of direction from policy director John Mashburn, to Trump’s own views.

Gordon reviewed the proposed platform changes, including Denman’s.796 Gordon stated that he flagged this amendment because of Trump’s stated position on Ukraine, which Gordon personally heard the candidate say at the March 31 foreign policy meeting-namely, that the Europeans should take primary responsibility for any assistance to Ukraine, that there should be improved U.S.-Russia relations, and that he did not want to start World War III over that region.797 Gordon told the Office that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail following the March meeting underscored those positions to the point where Gordon felt obliged to object to the proposed platform change and seek its dilution.798

[snip]

According to Denman, she spoke with Gordon and Matt Miller, and they told her that they had to clear the language and that Gordon was “talking to New York.”803 Denman told others that she was asked by the two Trump Campaign staffers to strike “lethal defense weapons” from the proposal but that she refused. 804 Demnan recalled Gordon saying that he was on the phone with candidate Trump, but she was skeptical whether that was true.805 Gordon denied having told Denman that he was on the phone with Trump, although he acknowledged it was possible that he mentioned having previously spoken to the candidate about the subject matter.806 Gordon’s phone records reveal a call to Sessions’s office in Washington that afternoon, but do not include calls directly to a number associated with Trump.807 And according to the President’s written answers to the Office’s questions, he does not recall being involved in the change in language of the platform amendment. 808

Gordon stated that he tried to reach Rick Dearborn, a senior foreign policy advisor, and Mashburn, the Campaign policy director. Gordon stated that he connected with both of them (he could not recall if by phone or in person) and apprised them of the language he took issue with in the proposed amendment. Gordon recalled no objection by either Dearborn or Mashburn and that all three Campaign advisors supported the alternative formulation (“appropriate assistance”).809 Dearborn recalled Gordon warning them about the amendment, but not weighing in because Gordon was more familiar with the Campaign’s foreign policy stance.810 Mashburn stated that Gordon reached him, and he told Gordon that Trump had not taken a stance on the issue and that the Campaign should not intervene.811

[snip]

Sam Clovis, the Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor, stated he was surprised by the change and did not believe it was in line with Trump’s stance.816 Mashburn stated that when he saw the word “appropriate assistance,” he believed that Gordon had violated Mashburn’s directive not to intervene.817

Sam Clovis would ultimately testify there had been a policy change around the time of the March 31 meeting (though Clovis’ testimony changed wildly over the course of a day and conflicted with what he told Stefan Halper).

Clovis perceived a shift in the Campaign’s approach toward Russia-from one of engaging with Russia through the NATO framework and taking a strong stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But (as noted above), to lay this out in the Page application, the FBI sourced to secondary reporting of the policy change rather than to the platform itself. More notably, in spite of all this happening after late July 2016, there’s no mention of Trump’s press conference on July 27, 2016, where he asked Russia to go find more Hillary emails (and they almost immediately started hacking Hillary’s personal accounts), said he’d consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting sanctions, and lied about his ongoing efforts to build a tower in Russia.

Trump directed Mueller to a transcript of the press conference, I’ve put excerpts below. They’re a good reminder that at the same press conference where Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails (and in seeming response to which, GRU officers targeted Hillary’s personal office just five hours later), Trump suggested any efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow were years in the past, not ongoing. After the press conference, Michael Cohen asked about that false denial, and Trump “told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’” He also said they’d consider recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which makes Konstantin Kilimnik’s travel — to Moscow the next day, then to New York for the August 2 meeting at which he and Paul Manafort discussed carving up Ukraine at the same meeting where they discussed how to win Michigan — all the more striking. Trump’s odd answer to whether his campaign “had any conversations with foreign leaders” to “hit the ground running” may reflect Mike Flynn’s meetings with Sergei Kislyak to do just that.

In other words, rather than citing Trump’s language itself, which in one appearance tied ongoing hacking to an even more dramatic policy change than reflected in the platform, the Carter Page application cited secondary reporting, some of it post-dating this appearance.

Mueller asked Trump directly about two of the things he said in this speech (the Russia if you’re listening comment and the assertion they’d look at recognizing Crimea) and obliquely about a third (his public disavowals of Russian business ties). Trump refused to answer part of one of these questions entirely, and demonstrably lied about another. Publicly, Mueller stated that Trump’s answers were totally inadequate. And these statements happened even as his campaign manager and Konstantin Kilimnik were plotting a clandestine meeting to talk about carving up Ukraine.

The FBI may have done this to stay way-the-fuck away from politics — though, to be clear, Trump’s call on Russia to find more Hillary emails in no way fits the bounds of normal political speech.

But by doing do, they ended up using far inferior sourcing, and distracting themselves from actions more closely implicating Trump directly — actions that remain unresolved.

The Carter Page application certainly backs the conclusions of the DOJ IG Report (though it also shows I was correct that DOJ IG did not know what crimes Page was being investigated for, and as such likely got the First Amendment analysis wrong). But it also shows that the Steele dossier, which fed the FBI’s inexcusable confirmation biases, undermined the FBI investigation into questions that have not yet been fully answered.

Trump Blames Mueller for Woes Mike Flynn Brought on Himself

Yesterday, in his COVID rally, Trump was asked whether he was thinking of pardoning Paul Manafort or Roger Stone so they’re not exposed to coronavirus in prison.

I just tell you this. Roger Stone was treated very unfairly. Paul Manafort — the black book turned out to be a fraud — we learned that during the various last number of weeks and months, they had a black book that came out of Ukraine, turned out to be a fraud. Turned out to be a fraud — they convicted a man — turned out to be a fraud! General Flynn was a highly respected person, and it turned out to be a scam on him. The FBI said, he didn’t lie. And Mueller’s people wanted him to go to jail. So what am I gonna do? You’ll find out what I’m gonna do. I’m not gonna say what I’m gonna do. But I’ll tell you the whole thing turned out to be a scam and it turned out to be a disgrace to our country. It was a take-down of a duly elected president. And these people suffered greatly. General Flynn! I mean, what they did to him! And even the FBI said, and they had some — nobody bigger fan of the FBI than me at the level of the people that really matter. But the top of the FBI was scum. And what they did to General Flynn — and you know it and everybody knows it — was a disgrace.

Unsurprisingly, all of these claims are lies.

Roger Stone was treated unfairly, but because Billy Barr intervened to override a guidelines sentence. Barr himself said the prosecution was righteous.

The black book was not proven to be a fraud. More importantly, however, it wasn’t used in the Manafort prosecution. And he pled guilty to all the money laundering alleged.

But the Flynn claim is perhaps most ridiculous of all, because it obscures why Flynn faces prison time, absolving Fox News for the role it played.

Mueller’s people didn’t want prison time for Flynn (indeed, their sweetheart deal for him was probably one of the mistakes they made). They recommended probation when he was first set to be sentenced in December 2018.

And then Flynn stepped in it by insinuating he had been ambushed in an FBI interview he willfully took and believed to be friendly.

Then Flynn stepped in it again when he fired Rob Kelner and decided to renege on his promises to cooperate against Bijan Kian.

And then he stepped in it again by letting Sidney Powell convince him to withdraw his guilty plea, multiplying his lies under oath.

Flynn may yet avoid a prison sentence and if he gets one and if BOP actually makes him report during the coronavirus Trump likely will pardon him. But Trump will only be pardoning Flynn for his own stupidity that led him, at each stage of the game, to expose himself to more and more legal danger.

Liberate All Trump’s Criminals to Sustain the Lockdown

According to multiple reports yesterday, Michael Cohen will soon be released to serve out the remainder of his prison sentence in home confinement.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has notified Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, that he will be released early from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter and his lawyer.

Cohen is serving a three-year sentence at the federal prison camp in Otisville, NY, where 14 inmates and seven staff members at the complex have tested positive for the virus.

Cohen was scheduled for release in November 2021, but he will be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence from home confinement, the people said. He will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine at the prison camp before he is released.

Cohen was notified on Thursday of his pending release, and his lawyer, Roger Adler, confirmed it to CNN.

As Josh Gerstein has described, sometimes these promises don’t work out.

The spouse of an inmate at one of the hardest-hit federal prisons, in Elkton, Ohio, described a puzzling transfer of prisoners into pre-release quarantine and then out again.

Tammy Hartman said her husband Pete, who’s due out of prison in August of next year, was one of 56 inmates whose names were called on Saturday to report for quarantine so they could be sent on home confinement.

“They were all told: you’re going home,” she said. But on Wednesday, 54 of the men were sent back to their cells. “They told them, sorry, you’re not going anywhere, because they’d approved only two of them to leave.”

“I actually thought he was coming home,” Hartman said of her 59-year-old husband who — like other prisoners mentioned in this story — is serving time on drug charges. “I canceled all his subscriptions to magazines because I thought he’d be home in 14 days… I’m trying to hold it together.”

Which is, I guess, why Cohen’s lawyers promptly made this public — to make it harder for BOP to renege.

Otisville prison is one of the federal prisons with a growing cluster — currently, officially, with 14 prisoners and 7 guards testing positive. So it is an appropriate places for BOP to attempt to move older, non-violent prisoners. That said, Cohen is not actually that old (just 53) and as far as is public, his health is fine.

A far better case might be made that Paul Manafort should be sent to home confinement. He’s 71 and wasn’t all that healthy when he first went to jail almost two years ago, and he has continued to have health problems since then. His attorney, Kevin Downing, cited those health problems in a letter to BOP asking for his release. Curiously, Downing appears to be thinking exclusively in terms of internal appeals, rather than appealing to a judge, which suggests he thinks his client stands a better chance if someone working for Bill Barr makes the decision (which certainly worked to keep him out of Rikers when he was arraigned in New York). Perhaps that’s because the prison he’s in, Loretto, has had no reported cases yet. Manafort has been quarantining since the end of March, so can be sent home if there are cases there.

Paul Manafort is a shithole who sold out the candidate he worked for and his own country. He got fabulously wealthy fronting for dictators and other sleazebags, and stiffed the American taxpayers on the blood money he got in exchange.

But BOP should seriously consider moving him to home confinement for as long as the COVID outbreak lasts. Manafort was not nor should he have been sentenced to a death for his crimes. And if you can’t support that move for his miserable humanity, then do it for others he might infect, like the far poorer guards who tend to him.

Cohen and Manafort are not the only Trump criminals who may dodge full prison terms because of this virus. As bmaz noted, yesterday Amy Berman Jackson rejected Roger Stone’s bid for a new trial. While BOP doesn’t assign spots to people all that quickly in any case, for new non-violent prisoners, BOP is not rushing people into incarceration. And Stone, at 67, is also old enough to be considered a higher risk.

So rather than starting rebellions against stay-at-home orders in Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia, Trump should encourage Bill Barr to liberate his criminal co-conspirators, along with the similarly situated men of color incarcerated with them.

But the only reason to remove Paul Manafort from an environment where he’d be more likely to contract the virus is if there’s a shut-down. So if Trump wants his criminals liberated — or wants Stone to remain out of prison long enough for the post-election pardon — then he should be rooting for a continued shut-down.

How the Concord Management Prosecution Fell Apart

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

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

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

The IRA indictment intersects with a number of important policy discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

c. To conceal its involvement, CONCORD labeled the monies paid to the ORGANIZATION for Project Lakhta as payments related to software support and development. To further conceal the source of funds, CONCORD distributed monies to the ORGANIZATION through approximately fourteen bank accounts held in the names of CONCORD affiliates, including Glavnaya Liniya LLC, Merkuriy LLC, Obshchepit LLC, Potentsial LLC, RSP LLC, ASP LLC, MTTs LLC, Kompleksservis LLC, SPb Kulinariya LLC, Almira LLC, Pishchevik LLC, Galant LLC, Rayteks LLC, and Standart LLC.

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

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

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

Going to legal war with a shell company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government intended to try this case with unclassified information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, should the Court assume for purposes of this motion that neither Concord nor its co-conspirators knowingly or unknowingly violated any provision, civil or criminal, of FECA or FARA by failing to report expenditures or by failing to register as a foreign agent?

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

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

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

Although the § 371 conspiracy alleged does not require willfulness, the parties’ disagreement may be narrower than it first appears. The government concedes that § 371 requires the specific intent to carry out the unlawful object of the agreement—in this case, the obstruction of lawful government functions. Gov’t’s Opp’n at 16 (“Because Concord is charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, . . . the requisite mental state is the intent of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful function of any department of government through deception.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Further, the government agrees that to form the intent to impair or obstruct a government function, one must first be aware of that function. See Hr’g Tr. at 40 (“[Y]ou can’t act with an intent to impair a lawful government function if you don’t know about the lawful government function.”). Thus, Concord is correct—and the government does not dispute—that the government “must, at a minimum, show that Concord knew what ‘lawful governmental functions’ it was allegedly impeding or obstructing.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 22; Def.’s Reply at 5. Here, as alleged in the indictment, the government must show that Concord knew that it was impairing the “lawful functions” of the FEC, DOJ, or DOS “in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.” Indictment ¶ 9. But Concord goes too far in asserting that the Special Counsel must also show that Concord knew with specificity “how the relevant laws described those functions.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 22; Def.’s Reply at 5. A general knowledge that U.S. agencies are tasked with collecting the kinds of information the defendants agreed to withhold and conceal would suffice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

The government resorts to CIPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other cases of interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

Trump’s meltdown last week — in which he purged top staffers at the Director of National Intelligence after a briefing on Russian interference in the 2020 election, followed by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien making shit up on Meet the Press — has created a firestorm about Russian interference in the 2020 election. That firestorm, however, has spun free of what ways Russia interfered in 2016 and what effect it had.

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

First, remember that there were at least five ways Russia interfered in 2016:

  • Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt
  • Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary
  • Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation
  • Tampering with the voting infrastructure
  • Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt

The most obvious way Russia interfered in 2016 was by hacking the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta (it also hacked some Republicans it did not like). It released both the DNC and Podesta data in such a way as to exaggerate any derogatory information in the releases, successfully distracting the press for much of the campaign and focusing attention on Hillary rather than Trump. It released DCCC information that was of some use for Republican candidates.

Roger Stone took steps — not all of which are public yet — to optimize this effort. In the wake of Stone’s efforts, he moved to pay off one participant in this effort by trying to get a pardon for Julian Assange.

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

In addition to creating a messaging problem, the hack-and-leak campaign created ongoing security challenges for Hillary. Someone who played a key role in InfoSec on the campaign has described the Russian effort as a series of waves of attacks. The GRU indictment describes one of those waves — the efforts to hack Hillary’s personal server — which came in seeming response to Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. An attack that is often forgotten, and from a data perspective was likely one of the most dangerous, involved a month-long effort to obtain Hillary’s analytics from the campaign’s AWS server.

Whatever happened with this data, the persistence of these attacks created additional problems for Hillary, as her staff had to spend time playing whack-a-mole with Russian hackers rather than optimizing their campaign efforts.

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

Putin’s “chef,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also had staffers from his troll factory in St. Petersburg shift an ongoing campaign that attempted to sow division in the US to adopt a specific campaign focus, pushing Trump and attacking Hillary. Importantly, Prigozhin’s US-based troll effort was part of a larger multinational effort. And it was in no way the only disinformation and trolling entity involved in the election. Both parties did some of this, other countries did some, and mercenaries trying to exploit social media algorithms for profit did some as well.

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

Russia also tampered with US voting infrastructure. In 2016, this consisted of probing most states and accessing voter rolls in at least two, though there’s no evidence that Russian hackers made any changes. In addition, Russian hackers targeted a vendor that provided polling books, with uncertain results. The most substantive evidence of possible success affecting the vote in 2016 involved failures of polling books in Durham County, NC, which created a real slowdown in voting in one of the state’s most Democratic areas.

In recent days, there have been reports of a ransomware attack hitting Palm Beach County in September 2016, but it is unclear whether this was part of the Russian effort.

Because there’s no certainty whether the Russian hack of VR Systems was behind the Durham County problems, there’s no proof that any of these efforts affected the outcome. But they point to the easiest way to use hacking to do so: by making it harder for voters in particular areas to vote and harder for specific localities to count the vote.

Some of what Russia did in 2016 — such as probes of a particularly conservative county in FL — may have been part of Russia’s effort to discredit the outcome. They didn’t fully deploy this effort because Trump won.

Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Finally, Russia accompanied its other efforts with various kinds of influence peddling targeting Trump’s aides. It was not the only country that did so: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Israel were some of the others. Foreign countries were similarly trying to target Hillary’s campaign — and the UAE effort, at least, targeted both campaigns at once, through George Nader.

Importantly, however, these efforts intersected with Russia’s other efforts to interfere in the election in ways that tied specific policy outcomes to Russia’s interference:

  • An unrealistically lucrative Trump Tower deal involved a former GRU officer and sanctioned banks
  • At a meeting convened to offer Trump dirt about Hillary, Don Jr agreed in principle to revisit ending Magnitsky sanctions if Trump won
  • George Papadopoulos pitched ending sanctions to Joseph Mifsud, who had alerted him that Russia had emails they intended to drop to help Trump
  • Paul Manafort had a meeting that tied winning the Rust Belt, carving up Ukraine, and getting paid personally together; the meeting took place against the background of sharing internal polling data throughout the campaign

As I’ll note in a follow-up, information coming out in FOIAed 302s makes it clear that Mike Flynn’s effort to undercut Obama’s December 2016 sanctions was more systematic than the Mueller Report concludes. So not only did Russia make it clear it wanted sanctions relief, Trump moved to give it to them even before he got elected (and his Administration found a way to exempt Oleg Deripaska from some of these sanctions).

Manafort continued to pursue efforts to carve up Ukraine until he went to jail. In addition, Trump continues to take actions that undercut Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia and corruption. Neither of these have been tied to a specific quid pro quo (though the investigation into Manafort’s actions, especially, remained inconclusive at the time of the Mueller Report).

So while none of these was charged as a quid pro quo or a conspiracy (and the reasons why they weren’t vary; Manafort lied about what he was doing, and why, whereas Mueller couldn’t prove Don Jr had the mens rea of entering into a quid pro quo), Russia tied certain policy outcomes to its interference.

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

The Russian attack was more effective than it otherwise would have been for two reasons. First, because he’s a narcissist and because Russia built in plausible deniability, Trump refused to admit that Russia did try to help him. Indeed, he clings more and more to Russian disinformation about what happened, leading the IC to refuse to brief him on the threat, leading to last week’s meltdown.

In addition, rather than let FBI investigate the people who had entered into discussions of a quid pro quo, Trump obstructed the investigation. Trump has spent years now attacking the rule of law and institutions of government rather than admit what DOJ IG found — there was reason to open the investigation, or admit what DOJ found — there was reason to prosecute six of his aides for lying about what happened.

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

It’s also important to remember that Russia’s interference was just one of the many things that contributed to Hillary’s loss.

Other aspects were probably more important. For example, Republican voter suppression, particularly in Wisconsin and North Carolina, was far more important than any effect the VR Systems hack may have had in Durham County. Jim Comey’s public statements about the email investigation had at least as much effect as the Russian hack-and-leak campaign did on press focus. Hillary made some boneheaded choices — like barely campaigning in WI and MI; while I had worried that she made those choices because Russia tampered with her analytics (with the AWS hack), that doesn’t seem to have happened. Disinformation sent by the Trump campaign and associates was more significant than Russian disinformation. It didn’t help that the Obama Administration announced a sharp spike in ObamaCare prices right before the election.

The response matters

As noted, Trump’s narcissism dramatically increased the effect of the Russian efforts in 2016, because he has always refused to admit it happened.

Compare that to Bernie’s response to learning that Russia was trying to help his campaign, which accepted that it is happening and rejected the help.

“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

This was not perfect — Bernie could have revealed this briefing himself weeks ago, Bernie blamed the WaPo for reporting it when it seems like the story was seeded by O’Brien. But it was very good, in that it highlighted the point of Russian interference — sowing divisions — and it reaffirmed the import of Americans selecting who wins. Plus, contrary to Trump, there’s no reason to believe Bernie would pursue policies that specifically advantaged Russia.

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

There’s very serious reason to be concerned that Russia will hack the outcome of 2020. After all, it would need only to affect the outcome in a small number of precincts to tip the result, and the prospect of power outages or ransomware doing so in urgent fashion have grown since 2016.

That said, as with 2016, there are far more urgent concerns, and those concerns are entirely American.

Republicans continue to seek out new ways to suppress the vote, including by throwing large swaths of voters off the rolls without adequate vetting. There are real concerns about voting machines, particularly in Georgia (and there are credible concerns about the reliability of GA’s tally in past elections). Republicans have continued to make polling locations less accessible in Democratic precincts than in Republican ones.

Facebook refuses to police the accuracy of political ads, and Trump has flooded Facebook with disinformation.

And Bloomberg’s efforts this year — which include a good deal of trolling and disinformation — are unprecedented in recent memory. His ad spending has undercut the ability to weigh candidates. And his personnel spending is increasing the costs for other candidates.

Russian efforts to sway the vote are real. Denying them — as some of Bernie’s supporters are doing in ways that hurt the candidate — does not help. But, assuming DHS continues to work with localities to ensure the integrity of voting infrastructure, neither does overplaying them. Between now and November there’s far more reason to be concerned about American-funded disinformation and American money distorting our democratic process.