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Rudy the Dripper: The Vicious Cycle of Dead-Ender Propagandists Feeding Bullshit to Tribalist Republicans

Not long after the former US Attorney of the Southern District of New York headlined a press conference where he and other lawyers presented insane conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump had been robbed of his victory, CNN reported that the FBI continues to investigate Rudy Giuliani for his ties to Russian Agents.

Complicating matters is that Giuliani’s post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.

In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.

But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign’s chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.

Meanwhile, the same propagandists who’ve helped Trump survive in recent years — on the left and the right — are claiming that because Democrats and others backed the investigation of Russian efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 (an investigation that attempted to understand why Trump fired Jim Comey, the person most Democrats chiefly blame for Hillary’s loss), it is precedent for Trump’s efforts to disclaim Joe Biden’s resounding win.

This exemplifies the vicious cycle we’ve been on since since August 2016, when Donald Trump authorized his rat-fucker to take desperate measures to find bullshit stories to tell to try to win an election.

After WikiLeaks released the first set of files Russia had stolen as part of its plot to help Trump get elected in July 2016 and someone — it’s not clear who — released damning information about Paul Manafort’s corrupt ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, Donald Trump doubled down. Rat-fucker Roger Stone, desperate to save Trump’s campaign and maybe even the job of his lifetime buddy, made a Faustian bargain for advance access to fairly innocuous John Podesta emails that Stone believed would provide the smoking gun for a conspiracy his allies had been chasing since March. The Faustian deal, by itself, exposed Stone as a co-conspirator in a hack-and-leak operation led by a hostile foreign agency. But the deal also brought ongoing exposure: at least as soon as he was elected, Trump’s rat-fucker (and maybe his eldest son!) started pursuing an effort to pay off Julian Assange with a pardon or some other way out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby implicating Trump in a quid pro quo. After Trump assumed the Presidency, his own exposure through Stone gave him reason to want to shut down the investigation, even the investigation into the hack-and-leak itself. As a result, from very early in his presidency, Trump had obstructed justice to hide the quid pro quo and conspiracy his rat-fucker (and possibly he and his son) had joined to help him get there.

Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, acting on advice that Paul Manafort gave after returning from a meeting with one of Oleg Deripaska’s key deputies, the Republicans defended their President by attacking the credibility of the Steele dossier — one that Deripaska himself likely ensured was filled with disinformation — as a stand-in for the larger investigation itself. Deripaska even has apparent sway at one of the outlets that most relentlessly pursued that synecdoche, the dossier as the Russian investigation. Former hawks on Russia, like Trey Gowdy, were lured into fiercely defending Trump even in the face of overwhelming proof of his compromise by the able gate-keeping of Kash Patel and the discovery of how the use of informants can implicate members of your own tribe, as it did with Carter Page. By the time Billy Barr deceived the nation with his roll-out of a very damning Mueller Report, almost every single Republican member of Congress was susceptible to ignoring damning evidence that their President treated both the pursuit of the presidency and his office as a means for self-benefit, no matter what that did to US interests.

Key to the process of co-opting virtually all Republican members of Congress was the process of villainizing the people who had tried to keep the country safe from Russian compromise, starting with Peter Strzok but also including Andy McCabe. That process easily exploited the same apparatus of Congress’ “oversight” powers — and the same susceptibility to heated rants over logic — that had been used to turn a tragic incident in Libya into a multi-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. Also key to that process were certain propagandists on Fox News, including three of the lawyers that stood with Rudy yesterday: DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell.

The day after Mueller closed up shop, those same propagandists joined with Rudy to pursue a revenge plot for the investigation — they started pursuing a way to frame Joe Biden in anticipation of the 2020 election. Most Democrats didn’t believe that Hillary lost because of Russia, but Trump and his conspiratorially-minded advisors believed they did. And so Rudy, relying on advice Manafort offered from prison, used the same networks of influence to try to frame Biden in a Ukrainian plot that, at the same time, might provide an alternative explanation for the Russian crimes Trump was personally implicated in.

Once again, Trump got personally involved, extorting the Ukrainian president over a series of months, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s abuse of Congress’ power of the purse in an effort to extort a campaign benefit from a foreign country merited impeachment. There’s also no doubt that it served to heighten the tribalism — and ranting illogic — of Republican members of Congress.

Things snowballed further.

That tribalism, by itself, might have gotten Trump re-elected. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. Instead, the President prepared an attack on the integrity of the vote by dissuading his own supporters from using mail-in ballots, setting up the Equal Protection hoaxes that Rudy has pushed in recent days. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claims that, by itself, the effort to discredit mail-in voting cost Trump the state of Georgia. But partisan attacks are what got Trump where he is, and partisan attacks are what he knows.

Trump also doubled down on what had gotten him elected in 2016: overblown attacks sourced to stolen emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, in this case rolled out by one guy at legal risk for his ties to Fraud Guarantee, and another under indictment for exploiting the tribalism of Trump’s supporters to commit fraud. According to CNN, the FBI believes these emails may have been packaged up by the Russian agents that have been buying access through Rudy and DiGenova and Toensing.

Trump’s DOJ, working with Sidney Powell, even tried to invent an attack on Joe Biden by altering exhibits in a court proceeding. In that case, the overblown attack was sourced to real notes, albeit notes that actual law enforcement officials had packaged in such a way as to tell a false story. Yet again, however, this was a false story that scapegoated those who’ve protected the interests of the country — adding Joe Biden to the targets along with McCabe and Strzok — to try to cover-up unbelievably damning evidence about Trump’s coziness with Russia. The effort to deny that Mike Flynn was secretly working for Turkey while claiming to work for Trump and to deny that Mike Flynn repeatedly called up the country that had just attacked us to try to obtain further benefits turned into an attack on those who tried to keep the country safe from sell-outs like Mike Flynn.

It’s a false story. But Republicans in Congress believe it with all their being. And so it has succeeded in convincing those Republicans they need to redouble their efforts to defend Trump.

So, yesterday, Rudy and the other propagandists gave a press conference that was, for the first time, broadly labeled as a coup attempt and roundly mocked, even by otherwise true believers. Trump, Rudy, Republicans, they’re all victims of an international plot launched by George Soros, Cuba, China, Venezuela, according to Rudy and the lawyers who spun the last several conspiracy theories on Fox News.

And this propaganda, an attempt to set aside the clear will of the voters, derives its strength not from any basis in fact. Rather, it derives its power from the fact that Republicans have gotten so tribally defensive of Trump, they will set aside the clear good of the country to back him.

Donald Trump, if he leaves office, may face legal consequences for what he did in 2016 to get elected. If Trump leaves office, Rudy may face consequences for the things he has done since to keep Trump in office.

To save themselves, they’re pursuing the same strategy they’ve pursued since 2016: telling bullshit stories by waving documents around and lying about what they say, relying on tribalism and raw power rather than reason to persuade their fellow Republicans. It just so happens that several of these stories got told with the help of Russian foreign agents (though some got told with the help of a corrupted law enforcement). It just so happens that Trump and Rudy (and Stone’s) willingness to rely on Russian help to tell these stories has greatly exacerbated their legal risk, and therefore made the spewing of bullshit stories more urgent.

But the Russian role mostly serves to magnify the desperation of this gambit.

Mostly, this is about weaponizing the tribalism of the Republican party that puts party loyalty over loyalty to the country or Constitution. And while there have been a few defectors from this dangerous tribalism in recent days, for the most part, Republicans in Congress don’t care that Trump is exploiting them like this or even — in some cases — don’t understand that this is all a shoddy set of lies.

Rudy’s Coup

ABC, which was the first outlet to report on a split within the Trump camp over strategy going forward, called it a coup (meaning, within the campaign).

As President Donald Trump’s legal efforts challenging the election results continue to hit dead ends, his campaign and legal teams have descended into chaos behind the scenes as many brace for the end of the post-election fight, multiple sources tell ABC News.

Since launching a long-shot effort to overturn the election results through baseless claims of voter fraud, President Trump has suffered a dizzying barrage of court losses and setbacks around the country, leading him late last week to install Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, to lead the legal efforts going forward.

But Giuliani’s ascent has led to an explosion of infighting and disillusionment among the president’s longstanding legal team and top campaign officials, resulting in dueling factions emerging from inside the president’s dwindling campaign, multiple sources tell ABC News.

Over the weekend, Giuliani and his own team of lawyers, which also includes Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, attempted what was described to ABC News as an internal campaign “coup”— an attempt to wrestle power away from the current longstanding Trump campaign leadership by claiming the president had given them full control moving forward, multiple sources said.

Giuliani’s team has taken over office space in the Trump campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters and Ellis, who White House aides have previously expressed concern about, began telling Trump campaign staffers they now report to her.

[snip]

Advisers fear that Giuliani and Ellis’ heightened influence over Trump will continue to result in the president giving in to his worst impulses, sources said.

In one story alluding to Rudy’s take-over of the legal fight, the WaPo reports that Boris Epshteyn is involved, along with the DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell dead-enders from the Russian investigation and impeachment fights. (According to the SSCI Report, Epshteyn pitched Trump on a third Trump Tower Moscow deal during the election.)

Referring to the withdrawal of former Trump attorneys in Pennsylvania, an official said, “Rudy wants to make arguments in court that other lawyers are not willing to make. It’s not that they weren’t willing to represent us. When they intersect with Rudy’s world, they don’t want to make those arguments that Rudy wants to make.”

Two campaign officials said Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, attorney Justin Clark and others were barely involved anymore in the legal fight, with it all being “Rudy all the time,” in the words of one.

“Rudy is calling the shots, and we are following,” one senior Republican involved in the campaign said. “I wouldn’t have organized it this way, but that’s the way the president wants it.”

One Republican lawyer close to the campaign said they too quickly jumped to accusations without proof of fraud and instead should have asked for examinations in states to glean evidence first.

This Republican said the campaign also should have engaged higher-power lawyers earlier on, instead of hiring “TV show lawyers.”

“The lawyers on the outside, none of them are supportive of the Rudy strategy,” this person said. “Rudy is not advancing the cause of the law.”

Giuliani is seeking to orchestrate a large news conference at the RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill for later this week, but Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is unlikely to attend, officials said. He is working with Boris Epshteyn, who in between stints as a campaign aide worked as a Sinclair TV commentator and appeared with him in court on Tuesday.

Robert Costa has noted that Rudy doesn’t actually think he’ll win any of these. He claims to want to force this decision to the House.

The ploy is probably even better understood as disinformation affecting all sides. Actual lawyers know that Rudy can’t legally win. They dismiss his apparently futile efforts as a bid to get rich and not a serious effort to undermine a democratic election. Telling that story allows them to play along — it’s just crazy Rudy leading crazy Donald astray, not any serious attempt to end American democracy. Their inaction facilitates Rudy’s efforts.

All the while, Trump’s supporters grow more and more certain that Trump is being denied his rightful victory by cheating, effectively convincing them that Trump isn’t the one who is trying to cheat, but rather Biden is. At the very least, that will ensure that Republicans in Congress will have no leeway to work with the Biden Administration. Given past events, it’s likely it will lead to violence.

So long as Rudy claims to be pursuing something, anything, it’ll delay the peaceful transfer of power and allow Trump to take steps — installing loyalists at DOD, firing the guy in charge of protecting the Georgia run-off, possibly even firing the FBI Director — that will make any further efforts at consolidating power still easier. Republicans, thus far, have played along (though they may be balking at Acting Secretary Christopher Miller’s plan to drawn down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq). Republicans are okay harming the country to ensure that Biden is weaker when he does finally start the transition.

And if Trump somehow manages to hold on to power, the Republicans will happily blame the coup on Trump, even while benefitting from the roll-back of democracy.

That leaves all options for something more aggressive on the table.

By all reports, Rudy Giuliani looked like a crazy old man arguing a facetious case in Williamsport, PA. He doesn’t care though. He’s got criminal exposure for all the sleazy influence peddling with mobbed up Ukrainians to fight off, and keeping Trump in power is the easiest way to do that. Rudy Giuliani has nothing to lose.

“Looking Forward” Will Be Harder for President Biden than It Was for President Obama

NBC has a story that has caused a bit of panic, reporting that “Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity.”

The panic is overblown, given that the main point of the story is that Biden is hoping that DOJ will resume a more independent stance than that taken, especially, by Billy Barr.

Biden wants his Justice Department to function independently from the White House, aides said, and Biden isn’t going to tell federal law enforcement officials whom or what to investigate or not to investigate.

“His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward,” an adviser said. “But the most important thing on this is that he will not interfere with his Justice Department and not politicize his Justice Department.”

If there were to be investigations of Trump, everyone should want them to be completely insulated from the White House.

The story raises two more specific types of investigations which are both likely moot.

They said he has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he “just wants to move on.”

Another Biden adviser said, “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”

New York state already has a tax investigation into Trump, so a federal one would be duplicative. And the pardon power is absolute; there’s little likelihood DOJ could investigate the pardons that Trump grants, because doing so would be constitutionally suspect.

All that said, attempting to move forward may not be as easy for President Biden as it was for President Obama.

That’s because there are a number of investigations that implicate Trump that are either pending (as of right now, but I don’t rule out Trump trying to kill them in the interim) or were shut down corruptly, to say nothing of the obstruction charges Mueller effectively recommended (which aforementioned pardons would renew, even in spite of DOJ’s declination prior to pardons). At a minimum, those include:

  • The Build the Wall fraud case against Steve Bannon and others that might, eventually, implicate the failson or his close buddies
  • The Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas graft which clearly implicates Rudy Giuliani and by all rights should always have included Trump’s extortion of Volodymyr Zelensky; given the timing of David Correia’s plea, it’s likely there will be grand jury testimony from him banked
  • Other foreign agent charges against Rudy
  • The investigation into Erik Prince for selling his private mercenary services to China
  • False statements charges against Ryan Zinke that Jeffrey Rosen attempted to kill
  • Various campaign finance and grift charges implicating Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, to say nothing of the hush payments involving Trump personally
  • Possible hack-and-leak charges against Roger Stone from 2016, as well as the related pardon quid pro quo for Julian Assange implicating Trump himself
  • The possible aftermath of Judge Sullivan’s decisions in the Mike Flynn case, which could include perjury referrals or an invitation for DOJ to prosecute Flynn on the foreign agent charges he pled out of

All of these investigations still do or were known to exist, and if they no longer exist when Biden’s Attorney General arrives at DOJ, it will be because of improper interference from Barr.

The last of these might get particularly awkward given that multiple people at Billy Barr’s DOJ, possibly in conjunction with Sidney Powell and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, altered documents to concoct a smear targeting Joe Biden in a false claim that he invented a rationale to investigate Flynn for undermining sanctions on Russia. You cannot have an independent DOJ if the people who weaponized it in such a way go unpunished. Except investigating such actions would immediately devolve into a partisan fight, particularly if Republicans retain control of the Senate. (This particular issue will most easily be addressed, and I suspect already is being addressed, via a DOJ IG investigation.)

Still, in the other cases, DOJ may need to decide what to do with investigations improperly closed by Barr, or what to do with investigations where just some of the defendants (such as Fruman and Bannon) get pardons.

And all this will undoubtedly play against the background of the confirmation battle for whomever Biden nominates. I would be shocked if Mitch McConnell (especially if he remains Majority Leader) didn’t demand certain promises before an Attorney General nominee got approved.

So none of this will be easy.

A far more interesting question will pertain to what President Biden does about the ICC investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan, crimes that occurred during both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Mike Pompeo launched an indefensible assault against the ICC in an attempt to block this investigation, sanctioning ICC officials leading the investigation. Biden’s Secretary of State will have to decide whether to reverse those sanctions, effectively making a decision about whether to look forward to ignore crimes committed (in part) under Barack Obama.

Trump’s Pardon Jenga, Starting with the Julian Assange Building Block

I was going to wait to address Trump’s likely use of his power of clemency in the days ahead until it was clear he was going to leave without a fight and I will return to it once that’s clear. But there have already been a slew of pieces on the likely upcoming pardons:

None of them mentions Julian Assange (though Graff does consider the possibility of a Snowden pardon, which I consider related, not least for the terms on which Glenn Greenwald is pitching a package deal as a way for Trump to damage the Deep State).

I would argue that unless a piece considers an Assange pardon, it cannot capture the complexity facing Trump as he tries to negotiate a way to use pardons (and other clemency) to eliminate his legal exposure itself.

I’m not saying Trump’s decision on whether to give Assange a pardon is his hardest decision. But it may be one a few that could bring any hope of protecting himself falling down.

Trump has talked about pardons, generally, covering a number of crimes in which he himself (or a family member) is implicated:

  • Asking DHS officials to violate the law in order to build the wall
  • Working with the National Enquirer to capture and kill damaging stories during the 2016 election
  • Dodging impeachment
  • Steve Bannon’s Build the Wall grift (which likely implicates Jr)

There are others whom Trump would give a pardon because they’re loyal criminals, like Ryan Zinke or Commerce Officials and others who’ve lied in court. There are hybrid cases; in addition to Bannon, Erik Prince has legal exposure both for his own lies that protected Trump, but also for his efforts to sell mercenary services to hostile foreign governments. And Rudy Giuliani has committed his own crimes as well as possible crimes to protect the President. With the possible exception of Rudy (who still might claim attorney client privilege to refuse to testify about Trump), those pardons create challenges, but they’re highly likely (unless Trump made some pardons contingent on remaining in power).

Then there’s the Mueller Report. In 2019 testimony to HPSCI, Michael Cohen credibly described Jay Sekulow considering mass “pre-pardons” in the summer of 2017 in an attempt to make the Russian investigation go away. But the Mueller Report itself only obviously talks about five pardons:

  • An extensive discussion of the reasons why pardons for Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone would amount to obstruction (a sentiment with which Billy Barr once agreed)
  • A discussion of Robert Costello’s efforts to broker silence from Cohen in exchange for a pardon and almost certainly a still-redacted referral of Costello for the same; Costello is currently Rudy Giuliani’s attorney
  • A question about discussions of a Julian Assange pardon, even while the report did not mention or obscured the tie with underlying evidence proving such an effort occurred, possibly as a part of a quid pro quo to optimize the WikiLeaks releases

There are difficulties — albeit surmountable ones — for pardons of Flynn and Manafort, not least because Billy Barr has found other ways for Trump to keep them out of jail (so far), even while issuing a DOJ ruling that his prior pardon dangles are not obstruction. Costello is someone who has no privilege directly with Trump and so might implicate him personally in trading pardons for silence if Trump himself is not pardoned.

But Stone (and quite possibly Don Jr) is indelibly tied to an Assange pardon.

It’s possible something might make this easier between now and January 20. If British Judge Vanessa Baraister rules on January 4, 2021 in favor of Julian Assange’s Lauri Love gambit, arguing that American prisons are not humane for those on the autism spectrum, then there’s a decent chance he’ll beat extradition. If not, his chances are slim. And even if he beats extradition the UK could choose to prosecute him on Official Secrets Act charges tied to Vault 7.

That presents Trump limited choices. He could pardon just Stone (and Don Jr, who will undoubtedly get a broad pardon in any case). But then both could be coerced to testify against Assange under threat of contempt or perjury from a Biden DOJ.

He could pardon all three, including a broad pardon (including Vault 7) for Assange. But if he did that, it could complete the conspiracy, a quid pro quo tied to Russian interference in 2016. That would make a Pence pardon of Trump much more politically costly; it would likewise make a Trump self-pardon much more toxic for even a very partisan SCOTUS to rubber stamp.

But if he doesn’t pardon Assange, he risks pissing of those who helped him in 2016, with whatever repercussions that would have for Trump Organization funding going forward. To sum up:

  • Pardoning just Stone and Jr would expose them to coercion to testify against Assange and maybe others
  • Pardoning all three would make Trump’s own pardons much less defensible to those who would have to ensure he himself got immunity
  • Pardoning Assange at all would complete the conspiracy Mueller never charged
  • Not pardoning Assange might risk ire from Russia

I’m not saying he can’t find a way out of this dilemma. But it is one of the reasons why Trump’s pardon gambit is far more complex than others are accounting for.

Convergence: Mueller Obstruction, Ukrainian Favors, and DOJ’s Altered Documents

Amid uncorrected false claims about election results and tweets inciting violence in DC, Donald Trump tweeted this last night.

After respectable law firms withdrew in AZ and PA, Trump’s legal team is now down to Rudy, DiGenova and Toensing, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, along with “other wonderful lawyers” whom he did not name.

Finally, the grand convergence: Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation into Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, his demand that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “do him a favor” by inventing an investigation of Joe Biden, and the Billy Barr-led effort to blow up Mike Flynn’s prosecution for covering up Trump’s efforts to undermine sanctions imposed for helping Trump to win. All one grand effort led by lawyers barely clinging to reality.

That’s not a unique observation. Many people are making it (along with laughing at the sorry state of affairs for Trump, a glee that may be premature).

But it’s worth focusing on the relationship between Jenna Ellis and Powell. As I have noted repeatedly, when Judge Emmet Sullivan asked Powell whether she had been in direct contact with Trump about Mike Flynn’s case, she not only confessed to that, but also admitted multiple contacts with Trump’s campaign lawyer, Ellis. That means Ellis is directly implicated in whatever effort there was to alter documents to launch a false attack on Joe Biden, one intimately tied to DOJ’s false excuses (that the investigation was primarily about the Logan Act) for wanting to blow up the Flynn prosecution.

That is, the effort to throw out the Mike Flynn prosecution (about which the lawyers have mostly gone silent, post-election) was all part of an effort to obtain power via illegitimate means. And still is.

The Last Time Billy Barr Ordered a Politicized Investigation, DOJ Altered Documents for Public Consumption

It is a fact that someone (or someones) who were part of the Jeffrey Jensen review of the Mike Flynn prosecution altered documents for public consumption. That is not speculation. It is not hyperbole. It is a fact, one that other outlets had better start replicating and enhancing if they want to prevent Barr’s green light on investigations into election irregularities, announced last night, from doing the same.

At a minimum, DOJ removed protective order footers from a set of documents shared with Sidney Powell on September 23, in advance of the first debate.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, altered to suggest a January 5, 2017 meeting might have happened on January 4, 2017, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe notes, altered to include a date, with the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

The two other documents released that day, a newly repackaged set of Page-Strzok texts (with newly released personal information that constitutes a new violation of the Privacy Act) that DOJ now claims not to have had a purpose to release and a set of FBI analyst texts the identities of which DOJ seems very concerned about hiding, also lacked protective order footnotes.

The three documents (above) subsequently released with the protective order replaced all had dates added to the initially altered document, a misleading date in at least the case of Peter Strzok’s January 5, 2017 notes and misleading redactions used to suggest something false about the date added to the McCabe notes. DOJ claims those added dates were inadvertent, but the fact they happened with documents that had otherwise been altered (and on a document, the Strzok January 5, 2017 notes, that had already been released once without the date) makes that claim highly unlikely. When prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine submitted a filing admitting that the dates had been altered, she falsely claimed that Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers had confirmed nothing else was altered.

There are several other problems with the altered set of Andrew McCabe notes (including that notes about prep for the Global Threats Hearing got released with no declassification stamp), problems that merit more attention from experts.

But those aren’t the only pieces of evidence that the Jeffrey Jensen investigation evolved from inventing an excuse to blow up the Flynn prosecution into an opportunity to set up campaign attacks for the President. Pro-Trump FBI Agent Bill Barnett gave an interview that was materially inconsistent with his actions during the Flynn investigation (and that claimed to be unaware of key pieces of evidence against Flynn). When DOJ released it, they redacted it in such a way as to hide complimentary comments from Barnett about Brandon Van Grack that would have completely undermined DOJ’s claimed reasons to throw out Flynn’s prosecution.

There are more signs of irregularities with this “investigation.” But this list by itself proves that DOJ, in an investigation personally ordered up by Billy Barr, used the “investigation” to package up propaganda to help Donald Trump. The package even seems to have served to tee up an attack Trump made on Joe Biden in the first debate.

As noted, last night Barr authorized what had previously been forbidden for over forty years, DOJ’s conduct of investigations into claims of irregularities ginned up by the very same lawyers — Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — who invented the complaints about the Flynn prosecution. One of Barr’s investigations has already altered official documents to sustain false claims. That means there’s reason to believe he would do it again, to serve the same cause. Indeed, Trump’s election loss gives Barr’s a greater incentive to repeat the process, to ensure he is not replaced by someone who would treat these alterations as a crime.

A Bill Barr politicized investigation altered documents to serve propaganda in the past. We should assume it will happen again.

Trump’s Enablers Are Mistaking an Insurgency for an Off-Ramp

Jake Tapper tweeted that Jared Kushner and Rudy (both of whom have criminal exposure that Trump’s loss might make imminent), along with Jason Miller, are entertaining Trump’s demand that they hold rallies delegitimizing the election results. David Bossie (whom Jared reportedly brought in to play the role of respected elder, like Jim Baker played in the 2000 recount, which by itself is hilarious) and Mark Meadows are pushing Trump to concede.

The AP reports that anonymous senior officials are telling themselves that helping Trump to delegitimize the results is really just a way to give the Narcissist-in-Chief an “off-ramp” to accept the loss that he can’t grasp.

But senior officials, campaign aides and allies told The Associated Press that overwhelming evidence of fraud isn’t really the point.

The strategy to wage a legal fight against the votes tallied for Biden in Pennsylvania and other places is more to provide Trump with an off-ramp for a loss he can’t quite grasp and less about changing the election’s outcome, the officials said. They spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

Trump aides and allies also acknowledged privately the legal fights would — at best — forestall the inevitable, and some had deep reservations about the president’s attempts to undermine faith in the vote. But they said Trump and a core group of loyalists were aiming to keep his base of supporters on his side even in defeat.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is one of the few world leaders who has not congratulated President-Elect Biden, because — his spox says — there are still ongoing legal challenges. Thus, it is official policy of Russia to follow the strategy that Russia and its assets had planned in the eventuality of a 2016 loss, to discredit the outcome.

I get that Trump’s closest advisors are calculating the best way for him to remain kingmaker. Ensuring that his frothers remain frothy even after Trump is exposed as a weak man that even Georgia rejected is a one way to do that.

But kidding themselves that this is about getting Trump to come to grips with his loss is a dangerous game. Whatever these rallies would do for Trump’s damaged ego, they will serve to create a potentially violent insurgency, members of which have already tried, on repeated occasion, to engage in political violence in Trump’s name.

No one should treat these excuses for discrediting a clearcut democratic result as serious. They’re just rationalizations to repackage anti-American actions as something else.

Docket Tea Leaves: Manafort, Bannon, and Flynn

I’d like to point to some curious docket doings in cases pertaining to Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Mike Flynn

Manafort

First, two things pertaining to Paul Manafort, who is serving his prison sentence from home. In his book, Andrew Weissmann raises the “other investigation” in which Manafort, on the day he succeeded in getting a plea deal, implicated someone — almost certainly Jared Kushner — and wondered why the material still hadn’t been released.

Most notably, at one point we asked him about an email he’d received in August 2016 from Roger Stone. Manafort gave a long explanation, the gist of which was to implicate two senior Trump campaign officials; it was related to an investigation in New York. (As the precise material is still under seal I cannot discuss the details, although it is unclear to me what the continued basis is for keeping all this material under seal.) We were trying to assess his credibility, fixating on signs of dishonesty—any indication that Manafort was still angling for a pardon, or attempting to play us. Volunteering this information, which implicated senior officials, suggested he may have written that possibility off, even though we all had continuing doubts.

It’s a damn good question given that Manafort’s defense and prosecutors filed a sealed joint motion about what else could be unsealed from Manafort’s breach determination. At the time, the government was proposing to unseal at least some of the information — and had even given proposals to Manafort’s lawyers to unseal them.

On May 29, 2020, the government provided counsel for Mr. Manafort with the last of the government’s proposals for lesser-redacted materials. Counsel for Mr. Manafort is now considering the government’s proposals, and the parties respectfully request additional time for counsel for Mr. Manafort to do so, and for the parties to confer and prepare the joint report for the Court.

But Judge Amy Berman Jackson hasn’t ruled yet. She’s busy as hell, but some of this information would be fairly important for voters to consider before they vote.

Meanwhile, in Manafort’s case in chief, on Tuesday, one of the two DC AUSAs who were on the docket swapped out for a different one.

The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Assistant United States Attorney Arvind Lal, hereby informs the Court that he is entering his appearance in this matter on behalf of the United States. Assistant United States Attorney Zia M. Faruqui no longer represents the United States in this matter.

Manafort’s serving his prison sentence from home. And the AUSA on the unsealing docket, Molly Gaston, remains on this one (so it shouldn’t pertain to the unsealing debate). There doesn’t seem to be a need to add new AUSAs when all he’s going to do is continue to sit in his condo until Trump pardons him.

Bannon

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a sealed document was placed in Steve Bannon’s docket.

This could be a lot of things, and Bannon has three co-defendants, so it’s not even clear that it pertains to him. But it’s the first sealed document (as a simple fraud case, this shouldn’t involve any classified evidence). And it was filed the same day as the Hunter Biden faux-scandal broke.

NBC reported that the FBI is investigating whether this faux-scandal has ties to foreign intelligence.

Federal investigators are examining whether emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The FBI seized the laptop and a hard drive through a grand jury subpoena. The subpoena was later published by the New York Post. The bureau has declined to comment.

Though there are other sketchy aspects to the story, such as the claim that the shop owner, having been subpoenaed for the laptop, also made a copy and gave it to Rudy’s lawyer, Robert Costello.

“Before turning over the gear, the shop owner says, he made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello,” the Post said. “Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, told The Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September and Giuliani provided The Post with a copy of it on Sunday.”

Bannon’s Chinese benefactor, Guo Wengui, was hyping the dirt before it was released.

Weeks before the New York Post began publishing what it claimed were the contents of Hunter Biden’s hard drive, a Sept. 25 segment on a YouTube channel run by a Chinese dissident streamer, who is linked to billionaire and Steve Bannon-backer Guo Wengui, broadcast a bizarre conspiracy theory. According to the streamer, Chinese politburo officials had “sent three hard disks of evidence” to the Justice Department and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi containing damaging information about Joe Biden as well as the origins of the coronavirus in a bid to undermine the rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Three days later, a Twitter account linked to Guo and Bannon’s Himalaya movement subsequently amplified an edited clip of the segment alongside the pledge of a “Bombshell… 3 hard disk drives of videos and dossiers of Hunter Biden’s connections with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been sent to Nancy Pelosi and DOJ. Big money and sex scandal!”

And Bannon was boasting of having the laptop on September 28.

If the FBI was already investigating this — including why the shop owner was handing out copies of the purported laptop — then the FBI may have been aware of Bannon’s activities before Wednesday.

The point is, some of this — particularly if it delves into fraud — would be a bail violation. There’s a status conference on October 26, so it’s possible we’ll get hints then.

Ultimately, I think Bannon is virtually guaranteed to be pardoned, because he still hasn’t told the full truth about 2016. So even if he were jailed, it’d likely be for a matter of days until Trump got him out again.

Flynn

Finally, there’s Flynn’s case. The one unopposed amicus — filed by the NACDL — got docketed today. It’s a strong case — far stronger than a similar argument that Sidney Powell tried to make — that Flynn should not be held in contempt for the lies he has told in Judge Emmet Sullivan’s case. It’s an argument that Sullivan would, I imagine, normally find persuasive, and the fact that he has docketed it today makes me wonder if he’s relying on it in his order on Flynn’s case.

The only problem with the brief is it misunderstands the full scope of Flynn’s lies to the court. The brief assumes all his lies pertain to his guilty pleas, and argue that defendants can’t be held accountable for perjury on coerced guilty pleas.

But — as I’ve noted repeatedly — the sworn declaration Flynn submitted as part of his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, which DOJ’s recent excuses for blowing up his prosecution increasingly rely on, also conflicts with what Flynn said to the grand jury as well as evidence submitted in this docket, which shows notes from Covington recording Flynn telling lies about his engagement with Turkey (see the bold for a conflicting statement).

  • June 26, 2018: Mike Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, among other things, that:
    • “From the beginning,” his 2016 consulting project “was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,”
    • He and Bijan Kian would “always talk about Gulen as sort of a sharp point” in relations between Turkey and the US as part of the project (though there was some discussion about business climate)
    • “For the most part” “all of that work product [was] about Gulen”
    • When asked if he knew of any work product that didn’t relate to Gulen, Flynn answered, “I don’t think there was anything that we had done that had anything to do with, you know, anything else like business climates or stuff like that”
    • He was not aware of “any work done on researching the state of the business climate in Turkey”
    • He was not aware of “any meetings held with U.S. businesses or business associations”
    • He was not aware of “any work done regarding business opportunities and investment in Turkey”
    • He and his partner “didn’t have any conversations about” a November 8, 2016 op-ed published under his name until “Bijan [] sent me a draft of it a couple of days prior, maybe about a week prior”
  • January 29, 2020: Mike Flynn submitted a sworn declaration. Among the assertions he made were:
    • “On December 1, 2017 (reiterated on December 18, 2018), I pled guilty to lying to agents of the FBI. I am innocent of this crime.”
    • “I gave [Covington] the information they requested and answered their questions truthfully.”
    • “I still don’t remember if I discussed sanctions on a phone call with Ambassador Kislyak nor do I remember if we discussed the details of a UN vote on Israel.”
    • “My relationship with Covington disintegrated soon thereafter.” [After second proffer session.]
    • “I did not believe I had lied in my White House interview with the FBI agents.”
    • “In the preceding months leading up to this moment [when he agreed to the plea deal], I had read articles and heard rumors that the agents did not believe that I had lied.”
    • “It was well after I pled guilty on December 1, 2017, that I heard or read that the agents had stated that they did not believe that I had lied during the January 24, 2017, White House interview.”
    • “I agreed to plead guilty that next day, December 1, 2017, because of the intense pressure from the Special Counsel’s Office, which included a threat to indict my son, Michael, and the lack of crucial information from my counsel.”
    • “My former lawyers from Covington also assured me on November 30, 2017, that if I accepted the plea, my son Michael would be left in peace.”
    • “Regretfully I followed my lawyers’ strong advice to confirm my plea even though it was all I could do to not cry out ‘no’ when this Court asked me if I was guilty.”
    • “In truth, I never lied.”

Not to mention, Flynn’s sworn declaration is internally inconsistent. [Update: a few more of the amicus briefs have been approved, including one from former prosecutors.]

It’s also worth noting that the Bill Barnett 302, which included about a page worth of paragraphs that were “pending unsealing by the court” that have yet to be unsealed. Some of those must pertain to things Flynn claimed in his declaration. (Flynn’s defense, but not Judge Sullivan, has an unredacted copy.)

Finally, yesterday, DOJ either posted or updated a job description that could be Brandon Van Grack’s job leading DOJ’s more focused FARA practice, which Van Grack got moved to after the Mueller investigation (though it could also be a more junior position reporting to Van Grack).

The attorney for this position will focus on administering and enforcing FARA, with at least 50% of the attorney’s time devoted to FARA matters. The attorney’s FARA responsibilities will include preparing for and leading civil litigation, managing criminal investigations, conducting inspections, and drafting advisory opinions.

When DOJ tried to blow up Flynn’s prosecution, Van Grack withdrew from the case but did not quit, though the frothy right claimed he had been ousted. Just in the last while, Bruce Ohr was finally ousted from the office for a trumped up complaint that he shared intelligence on Russian threats, as he had done for years. Van Grack hasn’t filed anything in PACER since DOJ moved to withdraw the prosecution. That said, DOJ has repeatedly said DOJ did not violate Brady.

I don’t really know what to make of all this. But I thought I’d note what I’m seeing in the bottom of my tea cup.

“That’s Rudy.” Trump Proves, Yet Again, That He Would Just Ignore a Defensive Briefing

For years, the frothy right has wailed that candidate Donald Trump should have been given a defensive briefing back in July 2016, rather than have the FBI open an investigation to figure out which member(s) of his campaign had gotten advance notice that the Russians were planning on dropping emails to help Trump win. Never mind that his top advisor in the briefing where that would have occurred was secretly working for the Turkish government at the time.

The complaint has always rung hollow given that, after President Obama warned Trump against hiring Mike Flynn (the aforementioned secret agent for Turkey), Trump went ahead and hired him anyway.

Today, however, we have further proof that Trump would have done nothing if he had gotten a defensive briefing rather than have the FBI investigate whether — as turned out to be true, in every single case — Flynn and Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos and Carter Page were trying to cash in on their ties to Trump with foreign governments.

Yesterday, the WaPo reported that Trump’s national security advisor warned Trump that Russia was feeding Trump bullshit though Rudy.

U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, according to four former officials familiar with the matter.

The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine, where he was gathering information that he thought would expose corrupt acts by former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The intelligence raised concerns that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information and conversations.

The warnings to the White House, which have not previously been reported, led national security adviser Robert O’Brien to caution Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia, one of the former officials said.

The message was, “Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine,” this person said. Officials wanted “to protect the president from coming out and saying something stupid,” particularly since he was facing impeachment over his own efforts to strong-arm Ukraine’s president into investigating the Bidens.

But O’Brien emerged from the meeting uncertain whether he had gotten through to the president. Trump had “shrugged his shoulders” at O’Brien’s warning, the former official said, and dismissed concern about his lawyer’s activities by saying, “That’s Rudy.”

The WaPo goes on to reveal that Bill Barr and Pat Cipollone — who helped Trump survive impeachment for asking for this help — along with Chris Wray all understood that Rudy was being targeted by Russia.

Several senior administration officials “all had a common understanding” that Giuliani was being targeted by the Russians, said the former official who recounted O’Brien’s intervention. That group included Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and White Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Today, the NYT matched the WaPo story, albeit with one of their fewer than WaPo’s sources pushing back somewhat.

The agencies imparted the warning months before disclosing publicly in August that Moscow was trying to interfere in the election by taking aim at Mr. Biden’s campaign, the officials said. Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have promoted unsubstantiated claims about Mr. Biden that have aligned with Russian disinformation efforts, and Mr. Giuliani has met with a Ukrainian lawmaker whom American officials believe is a Russian agent.

Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, presented the warning about Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Trump in December. Two former officials gave conflicting accounts about its nature. One said the report was presented to Mr. Trump as unverified and vague, but another said the intelligence agencies had developed solid and credible information that Mr. Giuliani was being “worked over” by Russian operatives.

Mr. Trump shrugged it off, officials said, but the first former official cautioned that his reaction could have been colored in part by other information given to him not long before that appeared to back some of Mr. Giuliani’s claims about Ukraine.

Both stories, however, agree that Trump blew off this warning.

So in 2016, the FBI investigated and Trump wailed and cried and said he wished he had gotten a defensive briefing.

Last December, he got a defensive briefing, and he just let his attorney continue to mainline him Russian disinformation.

And along the way, Billy Barr seems to have sidelined a tip (and possibly tried to squelch others) — in the form of the whistleblower complaint that launched impeachment — that might get Rudy investigated for serving as such a willing agent of Russian intelligence.

No Honor Among Troll Faces: The Latest Lawfare against Prigozhin’s Trolls

Yesterday, Treasury sanctioned four people for election interference. Rudy Giuliani associate Andreii Derkach has gotten most of the attention. But Treasury also sanctioned three people associated with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s troll operation.

Today, Treasury also designated three IRA actors pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended by E.O. 13757, and E.O. 13848 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRA, an entity designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, and E.O. 13848. Russian nationals Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev, and Darya Aslanova, as employees of the IRA, supported the IRA’s cryptocurrency accounts. The IRA uses cryptocurrency to fund activities in furtherance of their ongoing malign influence operations around the world.

The identifying information announcement provides not just passport and date of birth information (which is normal), but for two of the sanctioned individuals, it includes 17 and 6 crypto-currency addresses, respectively.

ANDREYEV, Anton Nikolaeyvich (Cyrillic: АНДРЕЕВ, Антон Николаевич), 9 3 Bloshevikov Prospect Apt 35, Saint Petersburg, Russia; DOB 03 Mar 1985; POB Saint Petersburg, Russia; nationality Russia; Email Address [email protected]; Gender Male;

Digital Currency Address – XBT 1Fz29BQp82pE3vXXcsZoMNQ3KSHfMzfMe3;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1AeSq93WDNdLoEJ92sex7T8xQZoYYm8BtS;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1AoxtfiBQ22DvbhqAN9Ctb8sULMRhrdwTr;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 18Qj1THHuETfYhuRDZycXJbWwDMGw73Poa;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1MnbhWe5wr7Ut45ReyQsm96PwnM9jD7KaH;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DYFJ6CuBvrxyoQSuBzVsNcetY9tvdsrag;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 15Pt4NwZaUmMUwS2bQbyyncc7mzgWShtv8;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1PhqQpaGCrqSxQ6QDXcv14QCd1U98Zp34E;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 13YBQr2Cp1YY3xqq2qngaPb7ca1o4ugeq6;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1KgudqxMfYaGzqAA7MS4DcsqejtMteqhix;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1FRyL9gmFGbzfYDAB4iY9836DJe3KSnjP9;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DbShx4r8i2XesthoDBf5EkYWz5dsKEusV;

Digital Currency Address – ETH 0x8576acc5c05d6ce88f4e49bf65bdf0c62f91353c;

Phone Number 79315403678;

Digital Currency Address – LTC LWnbjLYUfqeokfbWM4FcU7uk2FP2DSxuWS;

alt. Digital Currency Address – LTC LaYUy1DGfVSuSF5KbPhbLrm8kRotqiwUJn;

Digital Currency Address – ZEC t1WSKwCDL1QYRRUrCCknEs5tDLhtGVYu9KM;

Digital Currency Address – BSV 12sjrrhoFEsedNRhtgwvvRqjFTh8fZTDX9; Passport 4005504207 (Russia) (individual) [CYBER2] [ELECTION-EO13848].

[snip]

LIFSHITS, Artem Mikhaylovich (Cyrillic: ЛИФШИЦ, Артем Михайлович), Primorsky Prospect 159, Saint Petersburg 197374, Russia; DOB 26 Dec 1992; nationality Russia; Email Address [email protected]; alt. Email Address [email protected]; Gender Male;

Digital Currency Address – XBT 12udabs2TkX7NXCSj6KpqXfakjE52ZPLhz;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DT3tenf14cxz9WFNxmYrXFbB6TFiVWA9U;

Digital Currency Address – ETH 0x901bb9583b24d97e995513c6778dc6888ab6870e;

alt. Digital Currency Address – ETH 0xa7e5d5a720f06526557c513402f2e6b5fa20b00;

Phone Number 79110354982;

Digital Currency Address – LTC Leo3j36nn1JcsUQruytQhFUdCdCH5YHMR3;

Digital Currency Address – DASH Xs3vzQmNvAxRa3Xo8XzQqUb3BMgb9EogF4; Passport 719032284 (individual) [CYBER2] [ELECTION-EO13848].

Yesterday, EDVA also announced a single criminal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against one of the sanctioned people, Artem Lifshits, who in 2017 was head of the “Translator Department [or Project],” which is what the troll project focusing on the US is called. As the excerpt above notes, Lifshits actually got fewer of his cryptocurrency accounts sanctioned than another of the targets, Anton Andreyev.

I’d like to look at how the criminal complaint complements the two other sets of charges against Prigozhin’s troll operation, the indictment against 13 of the actual trolls as well as some of the companies involved (here’s a very long post on that prosecution), and Prigozhin himself and a complaint against one of the accountants involved, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova (here’s my post on that). Along with renewing and fleshing out the case against Prigozhin, the complaint may be an effort to sow discord within Prigozhin’s operation, by alerting him that some of his employees may be helping themselves to company troll funds.

The affidavit by a Secret Service Agent supporting the complaint incorporates the other two legal actions and includes them as exhibits to this charge. It even includes a footnote explaining why DOJ dismissed the charges against Prigozhin’s shell companies.

On March 16, 2020, the United States dismissed Concord Management and Consulting LLC from the Indictment. Concord “availed itself of the Court’s jurisdiction to obtain discovery from the United States . . . while positioning itself to evade any real obligations or responsibility,” even refusing to produce a corporate representative despite “appearing” through counsel. Mot. to Dismiss Concord Defs., 2, 6, United States v. Internet Research Agency, et. al, 1:18-cr-32 (DLF) (D.D.C. Mar. 16, 2020). In light of the defendant’s conduct, the United States dismissed these parties from the Indictment, stating substantial federal interests were no longer served by continuing the proceedings against them. See id. at 9. The Indictment remains pending and active as to thirteen named individual defendants and the IRA.

After some introductory matter, the affidavit:

  • Describes the Lakhta disinformation project generally, including a brief overview of its attempts to sow discord between December 2016 through May 2018, incorporating some but not all of the examples from the Khusyaynova complaint, and adding a few new ones, including three paragraphs on use, starting in July 2019 of a cover company located in Accra, Ghana.
  • Describes how in October 2018 the Secret Service started investigating the role of cryptocurrency in the operation.
  • Explains that Lifshits served as head of the Translator Department.
  • Describes how Lifshits transferred money from a BTC account opened using the stolen identity of “T.W.” to his own personal account, the central allegation of wire fraud laid out in the indictment.

The basic proof accusing Lifshits of using T.B.’s stolen identity to open a Bitcoin account that he then used to transfer money into his own account relies on very basic metadata analysis obtained using legal process:

  • Evidence backing the selectors of Lifshits tie to his biological person and one of the cryptocurrency accounts he transferred money into (including two other Internet troll employees’ address book entries with his phone number, one of which referred to him as “Troll Face”).
  • Evidence showing Lifshits applying to Project Lakhta in July 2015 and appearing on rosters of Project Lakhta employees dated January 28, 2017 to October 26, 2017.
  • A description of finding order confirmations in the known IRA email, allforusa, from a criminal marketplace that sold fraudulent identities (this might be Richard Pinedo’s site).
  • Two paragraphs describing interviews with T.W. and another identity theft victim, T.B.,  in which they said he had never owned any cryptocurrency themselves and had not authorized anyone to do so on their behalf.
  • IP analysis showing Lifshits accessing cryptocurrency addresses (including his own) from an IRA IP address, as well as from a US-based account set up using a stolen identity but controlled by IRA.
  • IP address analysis showing him accessing the T.W. cryptocurrency account at the same time he accessed one of his own accounts, into which he transferred funds.
  • User Agent String analysis showing those accounts being accessed by the same browser.
  • IP analysis establishing venue in EDVA via some AWS servers.

In other words, the complaint, after invoking the two other legal actions against IRA and Prigozhin, finds one manager amid Prigozhin’s employees and shows some very basic metadata evidence — relying on neither intelligence nor some of the more sophisticated blockchain analysis the US government would like to hide — to accuse the manager, Lifshits, of wire fraud because of a financial transfer involving the stolen identity of an American.

There are two interesting aspects of the complaint, besides the way it slowly builds the case against Prigozhin via interlocking accusations.

First, a key passage of all this describes that Lifshits made this transfer “for personal gain.”

60. On or about December 29, 2017, LIFSHITS accessed and used the T.W. Exchange 1 Account to conduct an electronic transfer of funds from the T.W. Exchange 1 Account to his personal Exchange 3 account. This transaction is publicly viewable on the Bitcoin blockchain and USSS confirmed its existence through other investigative means.

61. On or about December 29, 2017, LIFSHITS used United States IP Address 1 at 15:35 UTC to access his Exchange 3 account. Then, three minutes later, he used the same IP address to access the T.W. Exchange 1 Account. This is on the same day that the T.W. Exchange 1 Account sent an electronic funds transfer to LIFSHITS’ Exchange 3 account.

62. With this transaction, LIFSHITS (1) intentionally and voluntarily devised or participated in a scheme to defraud — as evidenced by controlling and using a fraudulent cryptocurrency account, and (2) used interstate wire communications to further the fraud — as evidenced by the online cryptocurrency transactions.

It doesn’t say, one way or another, whether this was a sanctioned transfer of funds out of an IRA-controlled account or not. The government may have used this 34-page affidavit not only to flesh out the case against Prigozhin, but also to reveal that one of his employees is bilking him, effectively stealing trolling funds.

But the complaint also mentions a Co-Conspirator 1, who along with Lifshits bought identities using cryptocurrency.

Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the contents of the email account [email protected], which as stated above is associated with a cryptocurrency account linked to both LIFSHITS and Co-Conspirator 1. During a review of the emails, law enforcement located “Order Confirmation” emails received from an online criminal marketplace that sells fraudulent passports and similar identification documents (the “Criminal Marketplace”). These emails corresponded to purchases of United States driver licenses that reflected the real names, addresses, and dates of birth of United States identity theft victims. This type of personally identifiable information is a “means of identification” as defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028(d)(7).

It describes Co-Conspirator 1 as the sole other beneficiary of transfers out of a different IRA trolling account (though also suggests that one of the guys charged in the larger indictment might also be conducting such transfers as well).

The T.W. Exchange 1 Account reflected debits to several beneficiaries, including accounts registered to LIFSHITS and another known Project Lakhta member (“Co-Conspirator 1”). The IP activity associated with the T.W. Exchange 1 Account also matched the IP address activity of cryptocurrency accounts registered to LIFSHITS and Vladimir Venkov, who is charged in the USAO-DC Indictment.

It then introduces an account based off a different stolen identity, that of T.B., from which funds were transferred into an account controlled by the Co-Conspirator.

USSS identified a second account, which was hosted at another United States cryptocurrency exchange (“Exchange 2”). The Exchange 2 account was registered to a known Project Lakhta email account, [email protected] (hereinafter the “AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account”).7 Project Lakhta members opened the AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account using the identifiers of T.B. According to Exchange 2’s records, Project Lakhta members solely funded the AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account with an incoming credit from an account also in the name of T.B. at a United States-based financial institution. This credit was used exclusively to fund outgoing payments to a Blockchain wallet that USSS investigators determined was controlled by Co-Conspirator 1.

Now, it may be that the government only introduced Co-Conspirator 1 to establish venue in EDVA (which went through the T.B. account).

But it sure sounds like it is describing Co-Conspirator 1 as engaging in the same kind of transfers from IRA accounts into his own personal accounts that it describes Lifshits as doing.

Perhaps stealing from the troll till is considered part of their official compensation (elsewhere, the complaint cites the salary of Lifshits, so the US government may know the answer). Or perhaps these guys whose cryptocurrency addresses just got published in a US sanction announcement have been stealing from Prigozhin, in which case the US Treasury just provided Prigozhin a lot of hints about how to prove it.