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That Peter Strzok 302 Probably Comes from the Obstruction Case File

I’d like to provide a plausible explanation for questions about an FBI 302 released yesterday as part of the Mike Flynn sentencing.

As a reminder, after Flynn pled guilty, his case ultimately got assigned to Emmet Sullivan, who is laudably insistent on making sure defendants get any possible exonerating evidence, even if they’ve already pled guilty. On his orders, the government would have provided him everything early in 2018.

In Flynn’s sentencing memo submitted earlier this week, his lawyers quoted from an Andrew McCabe memo written the day of his interview and a 302 that they described to be dated August 22, 2017, a full 7 months after his interview. In predictable response, Sullivan instructed the government to provide that McCabe memo and the 302 cited by Flynn’s lawyers.

When the government submitted those two documents yesterday, they raised still more questions, because it became clear the 302 (which is what FBI calls their interview reports) in question was of an interview of Strzok conducted on July 19, 2017, drafted on July 20, and finalized on August 22. The 302 described that Strzok was the lead interviewer in Flynn’s interview, whereas his interviewing partner wrote up the 302.

This has raised questions about why we only got the Strzok 302, and not the original one cited by Strzok.

While I don’t have a full explanation, certain things are missing from the discussion.

Folks are misunderstanding what the 302 represents. It is not the 302 reporting the Flynn interview. Rather, it is a 302 “collect[ing] certain information regarding Strzok’s involvement in various aspects of what has become the Special Counsel’s investigation,” which he described to one Senior Assistant Special Counsel and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, presumably one assigned to SCO. The 302 notes that Strzok wasn’t just involved in the investigation of Mike Flynn. While it redacts the names, it also lists the other parts of the investigation he oversaw.

We know he was involved in the Papadopoulos investigation, and it appears likely he was involved in the Page investigation, as well. Both this passage and the next one describes the people at DOJ that Strzok interacted with in these investigations, which is further evidence the purpose of this 302 is not to capture the interview, but instead to capture details about internal workings surrounding the investigation itself.

The part of this 302 that is unredacted makes up maybe a third of the substance of the 302, and it appears between almost full page redactions before and after the part describing the Flynn interview. Again, the other stuff must be as pertinent to the purpose of this 302 as the Flynn interview itself.

had thought the interview might be an effort by SCO to capture Strzok’s institutional knowledge in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Lisa Page as a way to prepare some other FBI Agent to be able to testify at trial. But the timing appears wrong. DOJ’s IG first informed Mueller about the texts on July 27, and he was removed from the team the next day (though not processed out of that clearance, according to this report, until August 11).

Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in late July 2016. 197 Page also worked on the Russia investigation, and told us that she served the same liaison function as she did in the Midyear investigation. Both Page and Strzok accepted invitations to work on the Special Counsel staff in 2017. Page told the OIG that she accepted a 45-day temporary duty assignment but returned to work in the Deputy Director’s office at the FBI on or around July 15, 2017. Strzok was removed from the Special Counsel’s investigation on approximately July 28, 2017, and returned to the FBI in another position, after the OIG informed the DAG and Special Counsel of the text messages discussed in this report on July 27, 2017. [my emphasis]

But the interview does line up temporally with other known events: Around the time Strzok was interviewed, both Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates were interviewed in the obstruction case, interviews that would also result in 302s summarizing the interview. Jim Comey had already turned over his memos on meetings with Trump by that point; eventually he would be interviewed by Mueller as well, though it’s not clear when that interview (and correlating 302) was.

Yates and Comey are both among the people the 302 explicitly describes Strzok interacting with.

In other words, it seems likely that this 302 was designed to capture what Strzok knew about the internal workings of DOJ and FBI surrounding the Mike Flynn interview, and likely was focused on explaining the significance of Flynn’s lies and subsequent firing to the obstruction case. That is, this would have served to turn what Strzok learned as investigator into information Strzok had to offer as a witness, in the same way that Mueller would have had to turn what Comey and Rosenstein knew as supervisors into information relevant to their role as witnesses. It probably had the unintended benefit of capturing what Strzok knew about key parts of the investigation before he was indelibly tainted by the discovery of his text messages.

If this is the explanation, it raises questions about why we only got this 302, and not the original one.

There’s a very likely answer to that: that original 302 presumably didn’t include this detail, at least not in the easily quotable form that would serve Flynn’s political purposes.

Flynn has, as far as we know, gotten everything. His lawyers chose which of those documents to quote. And Judge Sullivan only ordered the government to produce these two (though invited them to submit anything else they wanted to, an invitation they did not take up).

But there’s another piece of evidence that there’s far less to this 302 than some are suggesting: because Republicans in Congress chased down this detail over the last year, and in their most recent incarnation of drumming up conspiracies about Flynn, in questioning Jim Comey just a week ago, Trey Gowdy did not focus on the question of the 302s produced, but instead tried to suggest that Flynn didn’t mean to lie.

Note that, contrary to what right wingers have suggested, Comey did not say anything inconsistent with the Strzok interview 302; rather, he said he wasn’t sure where his knowledge came from.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question. [my emphasis]

What may best explains this exchange is that, when it happened, Comey had never seen the Strzok 302, he had just seen the original one, but Gowdy had seen both. That would be consistent with Andrew McCabe’s testimony to HPSCI, which acknowledged that the Agents didn’t detect deception but knew Flynn’s statements did not match the FISA transcript.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

Gowdy may be suggesting that the original 302 was unfair because it did not admit how well Flynn snookered the FBI’s top Counterintelligence Agent. But that detail may not be something Comey is even aware  of, because it only got written down after he had been fired. That would explain why Flynn wouldn’t want that original one disclosed, because it might make clear that the FBI immediately recognized his claims to be false, even if they didn’t know (before doing the requisite follow-up) why he lied.

One thing we do know: there are two (related) criminal investigations that have come out of Mike Flynn’s interview. The first, into his lies, and the second, into Trump’s efforts to keep him on in spite of his lies by firing the FBI Director.

While we can’t say for sure (and Mueller’s office would not comment in response to my questions when I asked if something like this explained the 302), one possible explanation for why we’re seeing just this 302 is it’s the only one that makes Flynn look good.

Update: As JL notes, the Mueller filing makes it clear that the 302 is neither from the Flynn investigation nor from an investigation into Strzok’s conduct.

Strzok was interviewed on July 19, 2017, in relation to other matters, not as part of the investigation of the defendant or any investigation of Strzok’s conduct.

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

On Emmet Sullivan’s Order for Mike Flynn’s 302s: Be Careful What You Ask For

In his sentencing memorandum, Mike Flynn waved the following in front of Judge Emmet Sullivan, like a red cape before a bull.

There are, at the same time, some additional facts regarding the circumstances of the FBI interview of General Flynn on January 24, 2017, that are relevant to the Court’s consideration of a just punishment.

At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing.20 General Flynn had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security. He and Mr. McCabe briefly discussed a security training session the FBI had recently conducted at the White House before Mr. McCabe, by his own account, stated that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with General Flynn to talk about his communications with Russian representatives.21

Mr. McCabe’s account states: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [General Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”22

Less than two hours later, at 2:15 p.m., FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and a second FBI agent arrived at the White House to interview General Flynn.23 By the agents’ account, General Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered to give the agents “a little tour” of the area around his West Wing office. 24 The agents did not provide General Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 before, during, or after the interview. Prior to the FBI’s interview of General Flynn, Mr. McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” one of the agents reported.25 Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”26 One of the agents reported that General Flynn was “unguarded” during the interview and “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”27

He cited a memo that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote the day of Flynn’s interview and the interview report (called a “302”) that fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok had a hand in writing up in August 2017, some seven months after the interview.

In response, the judge in his case, Emmet Sullivan, issued an order asking not just for those two documents, but any documents related to the matters Flynn writes up, to be filed by tomorrow, along with the government’s reply to his memorandum.

And so it is that on the one year anniversary of the order Sullivan issued to ensure that Flynn got any exculpatory information relating to his plea, that the hopes among the frothy right that Flynn’s prosecution (including for lying about his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey) will be delegitimized and with it everything that happened subsequent to Flynn’s plea might be answered.

Or maybe not.

For those unfamiliar with his background, back in the waning years of the Bush Administration, Sullivan presided over the Ted Stevens’ prosecution. After Stevens was convicted, DOJ started ‘fessing up to a bunch of improprieties, which led Sullivan (on newly confirmed Eric Holder’s recommendation) to throw out the conviction. Sullivan demanded a report on the improprieties, which ended up being a scathing indictment of DOJ’s actions (that nevertheless didn’t lead to real consequences for those involved). Since that time, Sullivan has been wary of DOJ’s claims, which has led him to do things like routinely issue the order he did with Flynn’s case, making sure that defendants get any exculpatory evidence they should get.

Regardless of how this request works out, you should applaud Sullivan’s diligence. He’s one of just a few judges who approaches the government with the skepticism they deserve. And to the extent that problems with our criminal justice system only get noticed when famous people go through it, it’s important that this one be treated with such diligence.

Still, those problems include both abuse, like we saw in the Stevens case, and special treatment, like David Petraeus got, and it’s actually unclear whether Sullivan’s request will uncover one or the other (or neither). I say that for several reasons.

First, because the public evidence suggests that — if anything — Obama’s appointees demanded FBI proceed cautiously in their investigation of Trump’s people, delaying what in any other case would have been routine early collection. When FBI discovered Flynn making suspicious comments to Sergei Kislyak, concerns about how to proceed went all the way up to Obama.

Moreover, contrary to most reporting on this interview, the FBI’s suspicions about Flynn did not arise exclusively from his calls to Kislyak. The interview happened after a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn had been open for months, as laid out by the House Intelligence Committee Russia report.

Director Comey testified that he authorized the closure of the CI investigation into general Flynn by late December 2016; however, the investigation was kept open due to the public discrepancy surrounding General Flynn’s communications with Ambassador Kislyak. [redacted] Deputy Director McCabe stated that, “we really had not substantiated anything particularly significant against General Flynn,” but did not recall that a closure of the CI investigation was imminent.

If McCabe believed the CI investigation into Flynn had produced mostly fluff, it might explain why he would approach setting up an interview with him with less than the rigor that he might have (as arguably happened with Hillary in the analogous situation). He didn’t expect there to be a there there, but then there was (remember, Jim Comey has repeatedly said that the one thing that might have led the Hillary investigation to continue past her interview as if they caught her lying; the difference is that Flynn told obvious lies whereas Hillary did not).

Finally, there’s one other, major reason to think this ploy may not work out the way Flynn might like. That’s because the frothy right, its enablers in Congress, and the White House itself has pursued this line for most of a year. Particularly in the wake of Flynn’s cooperation agreement, claiming that Flynn was just confused or forgetful when he spoke to the FBI has been central to Trump’s serial cover stories for why he fired Flynn.

So Republicans hoping to find the smoking gun have looked and looked and looked and looked and looked at the circumstances of Mike Flynn’s interview. Already by March of last year, they had resorted only to misstating Comey’s testimony about what happened in the HPSCI report.

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

Nothing in the report — which now includes a section substantially declassified to reveal more purportedly incriminating details about Flynn — suggests real impropriety with his interview.

Even in that very same paragraph, they quote McCabe (the guy who wrote up a memo that same day, which is probably what Sally Yates relied on when she suggested to the White House they needed to fire Flynn) stating very clearly that the FBI agents recognized that Flynn had lied.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

The degree to which, after looking and looking and looking and looking for some smoking gun relating to the Flynn interview but finding very little is perhaps best indicated by where that search has gotten after looking and looking and looking and looking — as most recently exhibited in Jim Comey’s questioning from a week ago, by the Republicans’ best prosecutor, Trey Gowdy. After (apparently) hoping to catch Comey lying about what investigators thought when the lifetime intelligence officer managed to lie without any tells but instead leading him through a very cogent explanation of it, Gowdy then resorts to sophistry about what day of the week it is.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Then Gowdy tries a new tack: suggesting that Flynn should have gotten the agents’ finding that he lied without any physical tells provided as some kind of Brady evidence.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question.

I mean, maybe there are some irregularities explaining why it took seven months to write up Flynn’s 302 and how information about the interview was shared within DOJ in the interim; if there is I’d like to know what those are. But what everyone seems to agree is that there was no dispute, from the very beginning, that Flynn lied.

And Flynn’s statement actually makes things worse for himself (and, importantly, for one of the White House cover stories that his firing was immediately precipitated by Don McGahn confronting him with the transcript of his conversation with Kislyak). Flynn’s own sentencing memo makes it clear the FBI Agents were quoting directly from the transcript about what he said.

FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”

So Flynn would have known, way back when the White House was trying to find excuses to keep him on, precisely what he had been caught saying.

Finally, remember two more details. While we can’t read it, Sullivan (and Flynn’s team) know what’s behind this redaction:

That means Sullivan knows, even if we don’t, why Mueller thinks it so important that Flynn lied, and so may have a very different understanding about the import of those lies.

Finally, note that along with requiring the government to turn over all the filings relating to his interview (not just the two Flynn selectively quoted from), Sullivan also instructed the government to file their reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo by the same time.

DOJ has never had the opportunity to write its own explanation for what happened with Flynn’s interview. By inviting a reply specifically in the context of this Flynn claim, Sullivan has given DOJ the opportunity to do just that, finally.

DOJ may have a very interesting explanation for why they approached a counterintelligence interview with a guy they might have considered one of them with jocularity.

Sure, there may yet be damning details. As I’ve said, I really look forward to learning why it took seven months to formally memorialize this interview.

But the GOP has been looking for a smoking gun for a year and have not apparently found one. It’s quite possible we’ll learn something else tomorrow, that Mike Flynn actually got special treatment that none of us would get if we were suspected of being recruited by Russian intelligence.

At the very least, Sullivan’s order may result in documentation that reveals just how shoddy all the claims irregularity surrounding Flynn’s interview have been all this time.

Update: Elevating this from pinc’s comment. If DOJ chooses to tell a story that at all resembles Greg Miller’s account of the meeting (including that Flynn specifically said he didn’t want to have a lawyer of any type present), then this could spectacularly backfire.

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

Frothy Republicans Confuse Oleg Deripaska and Donald Trump

A letter from Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler to Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte answers two questions I’ve had since John Solomon and the rest of the propaganda mill started reporting on Christopher Steele’s communications with Bruce Ohr.

First, the communications that frothy right propagandists all seem to have, have not been officially released. Indeed, Cummings and Nadler complain that in the questioning of Ohr last week, Democrats weren’t even shown the communications that all the frothy right seems to have.

These documents were not included in the 800,000 pages of documents the Justice Department produced to our Committee during this investigation. During Mr. Ohr’s interview, the Republican Members never introduced these documents into the official record, never marked them as exhibits, never explained how they obtained them, and never provided copies to Democratic staff participating in the interview.

More hilariously, the letter reveals that Republicans read a reference Steele made to “our favorite business tycoon” and assumed — premised on the notion that everything Steele was doing at the time had to have been a conspiracy against Trump — that that must be a reference to Trump.

First, by cherry-picking portions of these documents out of context–and withholding the full set of documents–Republican Members are creating a highly misleading narrative with factually inaccurate interpretations and conjecture. For example, Republican Members read aloud a portion of one email in which Mr. Steele wrote to Mr. Ohr, “There is something I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favorite business tycoon.” When Republican Members accused Mr. Ohr of discussing President Donald Trump with Mr. Steele, Mr. Orh explained that the Republican interpretation was false–and that the “business tycoon ” they were referring to was actually Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Cummings and Nadler point out that that interpretation has leaked to frothy right propagandists.

[S]elect portions of some of these same documents have no been leaked to the press to create similarly false and misleading narratives. For example, on August 7, 2018, John Solomon wrote in The Hill that he was given some of “Ohr’s own notes, emails and text messages.” In his piece, Mr. Solomon quoted the same email in which Mr. Ohr and Mr. Steele discussed “our favorite business tycoon.” Then, like the Republican Members, Mr. Solomon asserted inaccurately that this statement was “an apparent reference to Trump.”

Here’s how Solomon spun it.

Some of the more tantalizing Ohr contacts occurred in the days when Steele made his first contacts with the FBI in summer 2016 about the Russia matter.

“There is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele wrote Ohr on July 1, 2016, in an apparent reference to Trump.

That overture came just four days before Steele walked into the FBI office in Rome with still-unproven allegations that Trump had an improper relationship with Russia, including possible efforts to hijack the presidential election.

And how Byron York repeated that “reasonable” supposition.

On March 17, Steele wrote a brief note asking if Ohr had any update on plans to visit Europe “in the near term where we could meet up.” Ohr said he did not and asked if Steele would like to set up a call. It is not clear whether a call took place.

There are no emails for more than three months after March 17. Then, on July 1, came the first apparent reference to Donald Trump, then preparing to accept the Republican nomination for president. “I am seeing [redacted] in London next week to discuss ongoing business,” Steele wrote to Ohr, “but there is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele said he had planned to come to the U.S. soon, but now it looked like it would not be until August. He needed to talk in the next few days, he said, and suggested getting together by Skype before he left on holiday. Ohr suggested talking on July 7. Steele agreed.

Ohr’s phone log for July 7 notes, “Call with Chris Steele” from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. eastern time.

(A caution here: It is possible the “favourite business tycoon” could be Deripaska, or perhaps even someone else, and not Trump. But no one referred to Deripaska in that way anywhere else in the communications. Also, Steele made it clear the “tycoon” subject was separate from other business. And July 1 was just before Steele met with the FBI with the first installment of the Trump dossier. So it appears reasonable, given Steele’s well-known obsession with Trump, and unless information emerges otherwise, to see the “favourite business tycoon” as Trump.)

Followed, marginally more critically, by Chuck Ross.

On July 1, 2016, Steele reached out to Ohr in hopes of discussing “our favourite business tycoon!” It is unclear if Steele was referring to Deripaska or Donald Trump. Steele met with Ohr and his wife, a Russia expert named Nellie Ohr, on July 30, 2016, at a Washington, D.C., hotel.

When I wrote this up, I noted the problematic assumption.

But in their effort to make everything an expert on Russian organized crime touched into a conspiracy against Donald Trump, the frothy right has just confused Trump and a mobbed up Russian oligarch.

I mean, there’s a clear difference. Deripaska really is as rich as he claims.

Devin Nunes Confirms Classified Information that “Henry Greenberg” Wasn’t Working for the FBI, and Other Tales of the Half-Wit Running our Intelligence Oversight

As I’ve been chronicling, Devin Nunes continues his effort to invent some reason to fire Rod Rosenstein. As part of his last extortion attempt, Nunes demanded information he thought would reveal that “Henry Greenberg,” a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, was secretly working for the FBI.

How did you use our nation’s counterintelligence capabilities. These are capabilities used to track terrorists and other bad guys around the globe. How did you weaponize that against a political campaign, against the Trump campaign, where ultimately it ended up in Carter Page having a FISA warrant put against him which allowed the government to go in and grab all of his emails and phone calls. So that’s primarily what we’ve been investigating for many many months. I will tell you that Chairman Gowdy was very very clear with the Department of Justice and FBI and said that if there was any vectoring of any informants or spies or whatever you want to call them into the Trump campaign before the investigation began, we better know about it by Sunday, meaning today. He was very very clear about that. And as you probably know there’s breaking news this morning that now you have a couple Trump campaign people who are saying that they were, that they’ve amended their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, they sent in both Friday night and this morning, amendments to their testimony saying that in fact they feel like somebody, they’re not claiming that it was the FBI, but someone ran informants or spies into them to try to get information and offer up Russian dirt to the Trump campaign. Now this would have been in May of 2016. Which is obviously months before this counterintelligence investigation was opened by the FBI into the Trump campaign.

[snip]

If I were them I would pick up the phone and let us know what this is about, this story that broke in the Washington Post, this morning, just hours ago. They probably ought to tell us whether or not they were involved in that or else they have a major major problem on their hands.

Last Friday, DOJ and FBI had provided most of the documents requested, pending a few technical issues and a review by Dan Coats of some intelligence equities. Included among those was a classified letter telling Nunes whether FBI used informants against the Trump campaign.

On June 22, 2018, the FBI submitted a classified letter to the Committee responding to the Chairman’s question regarding whether, in connection with the investigation into Russian activities surrounding the 2016 Presidential election, the FBI utilized confidential human sources prior to the issuance of the Electronic Communication (EC) initiating that investigation.

That answer clearly didn’t feed Nunes’ Witch Hunt conspiracies, so he’s reformulating his request, apparently certain that if he keeps trying he’ll discover the vast (yet totally ineffective) Deep State plot to undermine the Trump campaign. He’s asking for contacts not just between informants, but also undercover agents or confidential human sources who interacted with any of 14 Trump campaign associates.

The new request seeks information not only on “FBI informants,” but also on “undercover agents, and/or confidential human sources” who interacted with former Trump associates before July 31, 2016 — the start of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The list of Trump associates Nunes indicated he’s interested in includes: Michael Caputo, Sam Clovis, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Corey Lewandowski, Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, Sam Nunberg, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Walid Phares, Joseph Schmitz, Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr.

It’s a really awesome request. Aside from confirming the content of that classified letter (among other things, that “Henry Greenberg” wasn’t our intelligence asset when Roger Stone entertained offers of Hillary dirt), Nunes has given us a list of campaign associates who should be criminally investigated:

  • Michael Caputo
  • Sam Clovis
  • Michael Cohen
  • Michael Flynn
  • Corey Lewandowski
  • Stephen Miller
  • Peter Navarro
  • Sam Nunberg
  • George Papadopoulos
  • Carter Page
  • Walid Phares
  • Joseph Schmitz
  • Roger Stone
  • Donald Trump Jr.

Notably, a number of these people — Caputo, Cohen, Lewandowski, Miller, Stone, and Navarro — aren’t on the list of document requests Mueller had submitted to the White House by January. Perhaps for the first three plus Stone, that’s because they never worked in the White House (and in the case of Caputo and Stone, pretended not to work for the campaign so as to give the campaign plausible deniability from the rat-fucking).

Nevertheless, their inclusion here seems to confirm that Nunes believes they are targets or at least subjects of Mueller’s investigation. Of those not on Mueller’s January list, we know that Stone and Cohen are in deep shit, so maybe the others are too!

Thanks Devin! Let’s hope leaking that classified information doesn’t get you in trouble with your colleagues, though.

A pity for the guy running our intelligence oversight that he can’t figure out that a number of these targets came from Rick Gates flipping, and not informants planted way back in May 2016.

In Attempt to Learn How Much Mueller Knows about Roger Stone’s “Collusion,” Devin Nunes Blames FBI for Stone and Michael Caputo’s Perjury to HPSCI

On Thursday, in the wake of the release of the DOJ IG Report showing that Jim Comey hurt Hillary Clinton with his intervention after the end of the email server investigation, the Gang of Eight met with Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray to discuss the House Intelligence Committee demand for documents allegedly investigating FISA abuse.

On Thursday night, Rudy Giuliani (whose receipt of leaks from the NY FBI field office received no attention in the IG Report) appeared on Sean Hannity and argued that the Mueller investigation (which removed Strzok once his inappropriate texts were revealed) should be suspended immediately and instead investigated by those very same NY FBI agents.

Every FBI agent should demand that that man be fired and tomorrow Mueller should suspend his investigation and he should go see Rod Rosenstein who created him and the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General Sessions who should now step up big time to save his Department should suspend that investigation.  Throw out all the people is that have been involved in the phony Trump investigation and bring in honest FBI agents from the New York office who I can trust implicitly and they should turn their attention to Comey, Strzok, Page.

[snip]

Who are we providing them to? People who have already concluded to frame Donald Trump, agents who started a phony Russia investigation. That’s the whole core of this. That’s why the investigation should be suspended. And I am talking for myself now, not the president. But I believe he would agree with this. A very serious investigation has to be done of the FBI agents at the very top by FBI agents who are honest in order to prosecute them…

Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions have a chance to redeem themselves and that chance comes about tomorrow. It doesn’t go beyond tomorrow. Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought in, impartial people to investigate these people like Peter Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.

On Friday, in the wake of the Thursday Gang of Eight meeting, Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes, Trey Gowdy, and Bob Goodlatte had a meeting with Wray and Rosenstein to demand documents on their investigation into alleged FISA abuse.

Also on Friday, Roger Stone appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show to comment on the IG Report. He made no comment about the story he was seeding with the WaPo, spinning that the Russian he reached out to learn about dirt on Hillary Clinton, whom he didn’t mention when the House Intelligence Committee asked him about contacts with Russians, was actually an FBI spy. In its story this morning, the WaPo didn’t point out all the reasons why it’s almost certain that “Henry Greenberg” was not operating under the control of the FBI; as a result, the WaPo gave the informant story credibility it shouldn’t have.

Today, Devin Nunes went on Fox to report on the Friday meeting. In three segments (one, two, three), Maria Bartiromo treated the Friday meeting as breaking news. Nunes said that their subpoenas “will be complied with” or the House would take other measures. When Bartiromo asked Nunes specifically what he was looking for, he didn’t respond. Instead, he posed the quest this way.

How did you use our nation’s counterintelligence capabilities. These are capabilities used to track terrorists and other bad guys around the globe. How did you weaponize that against a political campaign, against the Trump campaign, where ultimately it ended up in Carter Page having a FISA warrant put against him which allowed the government to go in and grab all of his emails and phone calls. So that’s primarily what we’ve been investigating for many many months. I will tell you that Chairman Gowdy was very very clear with the Department of Justice and FBI and said that if there was any vectoring of any informants or spies or whatever you want to call them into the Trump campaign before the investigation began, we better know about it by Sunday, meaning today. He was very very clear about that. And as you probably know there’s breaking news this morning that now you have a couple Trump campaign people who are saying that they were, that they’ve amended their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, they sent in both Friday night and this morning, amendments to their testimony saying that in fact they feel like somebody, they’re not claiming that it was the FBI, but someone ran informants or spies into them to try to get information and offer up Russian dirt to the Trump campaign. Now this would have been in May of 2016. Which is obviously months before this counterintelligence investigation was opened by the FBI into the Trump campaign.

[snip]

If I were them I would pick up the phone and let us know what this is about, this story that broke in the Washington Post, this morning, just hours ago. They probably ought to tell us whether or not they were involved in that or else they have a major major problem on their hands.

[snip]

We should have been told about this about eight months ago. In compliance with the subpoena that we issued last August.But for sure a couple months ago, when we began to ask, we asked questions about, we had a subpoena, and we wanted to figure out what they were doing before and af, right before and right after the opening of the counterintelligence investigation. So we asked for specific information and documents. As you know, that’s what we’ve been fighting over for the last couple months now. And on Friday night it culminated with us telling them because they have swore up and down that they have given us everything that’s pertinent to our investigation after the investigation was open. And they have claimed that there is nothing else that exists before that date. Now, this Washington Post story, I don’t know that they’re claiming for sure that this was an FBI spy or informant, you know, I have no idea whether it is or not, but it has all the makings of the looks of some type of spy or informant. And that would be a major problem because that is not something that has ever been brought to us, and it would be totally out of bounds.

In an appearance providing extensive details about past classified requests and meetings with DOJ (including the one on Friday), Nunes also accuses Rosenstein of leaking by telling the press that Nunes hasn’t read the documents they’ve been demanding but which DOJ has already turned over.

At midnight, just a week ago, the Department of Justice put out something on Republicans saying that we had not read documents that the Department of Justice had provided for us to read. Now, that is a major leak, of a classified meeting, that also happens to be false because they knew that we ran out of time and didn’t have time to actually read these documents, but they did that to embarrass the Speaker of the House and myself and Chairman Gowdy who were given access to those documents but not given time to read those documents. That came from the top of the Department of Justice. Why are those people still working at the Department of Justice. They are leaking.

[snip]

Here’s the bottom line. Mr. Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, and Director Wray have to decide whether or not they want to be part of the cleanup crew or they want to be part of the cover-up crew.

Then Nunes ends by saying he will move towards impeaching Rosenstein and Wray this week, based off a claim that the FBI is withholding details about that contact with “Greenberg,” the one both Stone and Caputo lied to his own committee to cover up.

Nunes: There”s going to be hell to pay by Wednesday morning.

[snip]

This is going to go from myself and just a few committee chairmen to all the members of the House of Representatives who are going to begin to take action against the Department of Justice and FBI.

Bartiromo: Taking action meaning contempt of Congress?

Nunes: Well that’s just one of the options. That’s just one of many options. But I can tell you that it’s not gonna be pretty.

Bartiromo: Are you going to force the resignation of Rod Rosenstein?

Nunes: We can’t force the resignation, but we can hold in contempt, we can pass sense of Congress resolutions, we can impeach, and look, I think we’re getting close to there.

So let’s unpack what’s going on here, aside from a really well orchestrated campaign that has been in the works since January.

First, note how Nunes twists the meaning of counterintelligence here? When discussing why the FBI obtained a FISA order on Carter Page, whom FBI suspected was a willing Russian asset going back to 2013 and whom FBI had questioned the same month Trump added him to the campaign, as part of those ongoing concerns, Nunes suggests FISA orders are only used on terrorists and international bad guys, not people who’ve been suspected of being Russian assets for years. But later in the appearance, he treats the formal start of the counterintelligence investigation into Russians infiltrating Trump’s campaign — the counterintelligence investigation (he is now using counterintelligence in its traditional sense) — as if any investigation of Page or Manafort on their own right before that would be corrupt.

Then Nunes moves to suggest that a Russian contact that Mueller may have only discovered after he obtained a warrant for Stone’s phone on March 9 — a contact that both Caputo and Stone lied to the committee about — is something the FBI has been hiding, not Caputo and Stone.

In an appearance providing a slew of non-public information about a long series of contacts, Nunes accuses Rosenstein for once doing the same thing, with the important difference that Rosenstein was correcting the false claims that Nunes was presenting to the press.

And out of all that — out of Nunes’ willingness to blame the FBI for Stone and Caputo’s lies to his own committee — Nunes is going to bring an impeachment case against Rosenstein and Wray.

Obviously, there’s an easy way for Rosenstein and Wray to defuse this, in more of the bend don’t break approach they’ve been using with these extortionists. They could explain what I have surmised: that the materials about the contact with “Greenberg” that Stone and Caputo lied to him about actually came pursuant to a grand jury search warrant based on information Rick Gates provided in February and March. This is probably a grand jury search warrant (or one similar) that Paul Manafort already tried to, but failed, to get unsealed. As far as we know, Rosenstein and Wray haven’t provided any grand jury material to HPSCI.

Of course, providing the background to this question would require providing more details about what Mueller does and doesn’t know about Roger Stone’s efforts to conspire with Russians during the election.

That’s the hostage situation that Nunes is creating here: Impeachment or details about what Mueller knows of Roger Stone’s conspiracy with Russians to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GOP PAC-thetic Effort to Disclaim Cambridge Analytica

In the wake of Friday’s news that Cambridge Analytica had not deleted psychographic data based off Facebook data, Republicans have claimed they didn’t rely on CA in 2016’s election. Major Garrett, for example, reported that, for most but not all uses, the Trump campaign replaced CA with RNC data after proving the latter more accurate.

In late September 2016, Cambridge and other data vendors were submitting bids to the Trump campaign. Then-candidate Trump’s campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the primaries and in the summer because it was never certain the Republican National Committee would be a willing, cooperative partner. Cambridge Analytica instead was a hedge against the RNC, in case it wouldn’t share its data.

The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. The Trump campaign had tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate than Cambridge Analytica’s, and when it was clear the RNC would be a willing partner, Mr. Trump’s campaign was able to rely solely on the RNC.

Cambridge Analytica data was used for some targeted digital advertising and a large TV buy, but the main source of “get out the vote” and matching digital outreach data came from the RNC.

This story is not much different from one that got told last fall, in the wake of Brad Parscale’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. After using CA data for the first month of the general, the campaign transitioned to using RNC data (for whatever reason).

But according to both Parscale and [CA Chief Product Officer] Oczkowski, the campaign didn’t use Cambridge’s trove of data, opting instead for the RNC’s data file.

“The RNC was the voter file of record for the campaign, but we were the intelligence on top of the voter file,” Oczkowski says. “Sometimes the sales pitch can be a bit inflated, and I think people can misconstrue that.”

Parscale describes the firm’s work this way: “As I’ve said multiple times over prior statements, Matt Oczkowski and his team created a daily tracker of polling, so that I could see how Trump was doing in key swing states. They provided that to me daily.” Parscale says Cambridge also helped the campaign with what he calls “persuasion online media buying. They also helped us identify potential donors. And they created a visualization tool that showed in each state which areas were most persuadable and what those voters care about.”

As I noted at the time, however, Oczkowski claimed to be unaware of what CA was doing because the PAC activities were firewalled from campaign activities.

“I had absolutely no understanding any of this was going on, and I was surprised as everybody else when I saw the story” about Nix’s approach to Assange, Oczkowski says. During the campaign, he says his team was walled off from the rest of Cambridge, because the company was also working with a Trump Super PAC. Federal regulations prevent campaigns from coordinating with Super PACs. Of the 13 Cambridge staffers who worked in Trump’s San Antonio office, only four remain at the company.

Which, of course, suggests that the interesting stuff with CA was happening at the Super PAC, which just happens to have been run by the Mercers.

Today, Daily Beast reported that a Cambridge Analytica employee, Emily Cornell, gleefully pounced on the opportunity presented by the release of more stolen Hillary emails.

Cambridge Analytica hoped to capitalize on Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton and her ally, an email written by one of its employees indicates.

Emily Cornell, the employee, sent the email on July 29, 2016. It went out to people working with Make America Number One, the pro-Trump super PAC funded by Republican super-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

After noting some of the firm’s work for the super PAC, Cornell wrote: “With her campaign getting hacked, I can only imagine what a new swatch [sic] of emails will do to her already fractured base!”

This seems to confirm two things. First, the Mercer directed efforts remained happy to exploit Russia’s theft even later in the process (remember the Alexander Nix email to Julian Assange kept Mercer in the loop). And also, the Trump campaign claim to have ditched Cambridge Analytica are only meaningful insofar as they really maintained that firewall between campaign and PAC.

Duty of Candor: The Timing of the Sessions News

Since Jeff Sessions fired Andy McCabe Friday night and Trump started ratcheting up his attacks on Robert Mueller, few Republicans have vocally supported Mueller (Jeff Flake, Trey Gowdy, and John McCain are exceptions; all are retiring).

There was, however, this story, reporting that three sources say Jeff Sessions was not as dismissive of George Papadopoulos’ plan to reach out to Russians as JD Gordon has claimed.

Three people who attended the March campaign meeting told Reuters they gave their version of events to FBI agents or congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the accounts they provided to Reuters differed in certain respects, all three, who declined to be identified, said Sessions had expressed no objections to Papadopoulos’ idea.

One person said Sessions was courteous to Papadopoulos and said something to the effect of “okay, interesting.”

The other two recalled a similar response.

“It was almost like, ‘Well, thank you and let’s move on to the next person,’” one said.

As the story notes, this conflicts with Jeff Sessions’ November 14 sworn testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

So in the wake of the Attorney General firing McCabe for violating his duty of candor, three current or former Trump associates leaked that he lied to the House.

The thing is, there can’t be that many people who these sources could be. I’m not sure the annotations from Seth Abramson (above) are all correct, but here’s what it looks like.

Sessions and Gordon are on the record stating Sessions pushed back. Trump hasn’t testified yet.

One may well be Papadopoulos.

That leaves, starting with Abramson’s guesses (here’s a later list of Trump’s national security advisors, which should round out Abramson’s):

  • Joseph Schmitz, who left his job as DOD IG amid some scandal
  • Bert Mizusawa, who is running for VA Senate and presumably wants some national help, but he is himself a lawyer
  • Jim Hoskins, who’s career military (including a lot of time working in intelligence)
  • Walid Phares, appears to still be pitching Trump’s foreign policy adventurism
  • Gary Harrell, who is career special operations
  • Charles Kubic, who even contemporaneously was raising legal concerns about such outreach (and who would be a likely candidate to have been interviewed by Mueller since he showed up in email chains raising such concerns)
  • James Carafano may be the balding man in the foreground (though he’s not in Trump’s list of advisors) — he’s still running interference for Trump’s crazy foreign policy
  • Sam Clovis, who is not identifiable in the picture, raised concerns about legal issues and NATO concerns, but elsewhere was clearly involved in the effort to reach out to Russia, even per Carter Page; he’s in the news because of the potential conflict Joe Di Genova’s reported representation of Trump poses
  • Keith Kellogg is another possible candidate; he remains part of Trump’s foreign policy team and has been interviewed
  • James Woolsey is another candidate — we know he has spoken with Mueller and has been critical of the tension between the White House, Congress, and FBI of late
  • Stephen Miller was at the meeting and interviewed with Mueller last year; I would think he would be a Sessions loyalist, though

I raise all this because, while Republicans in Congress are largely dodging the issue of protecting Mueller from Trump, some people closer to the investigation are calling Sessions on his hypocrisy. That might be far more dangerous to the Trump administration in the near term.

The Trump Toadies Who Are Worried about Being Unmasked

Last week, Zoe Tillman noted this FOIA lawsuit from attorney Gene Schaerr, working on behalf of someone who wants to remain anonymous “at present,” suing to obtain records on the unmasking of Trump campaign and transition officials. The thing is, Shaerr isn’t just asking for unmasking records generally.

The odd collection of people being FOIAed

He’s asking for unmasking records pertaining to a really curious group of people:

  1. Steve Bannon
  2. Rep. Lou Barletta
  3. Rep. Marsha Blackburn
  4. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
  5. Rep. Chris Collins
  6. Rep. Tom Marino
  7. Rebekah Mercer
  8. Steven Mnuchin
  9. Rep. Devin Nunes
  10. Reince Priebus
  11. Anthony Scaramucci
  12. Peter Thiel
  13. Donald Trump Jr.
  14. Eric Trump
  15. Ivanka Trump
  16. Jared Kushner
  17. Rep. Sean Duffy
  18. Rep. Trey Gowdy
  19. Rep. Dennis Ross
  20. Pastor Darrell C. Scott
  21. Kiron Skinner

Some of these would be obvious, of course: Trump’s spawn, Bannon, Priebus, and Mnuchin. I’m really interested to see Rebekah Mercer (especially given the more we learn on Cambridge Analytica). Mooch is there. The litigious Peter Thiel is there (making him at least a reasonable candidate to be paying for this lawsuit, except for reasons I lay out below).

Mike Flynn, the one person we know to have been unmasked, is not in there (which is particularly odd given all the efforts to find some way to unring Flynn’s guilty plea, though that came after this FOIA was filed).

Then there are the eight members of Congress (in addition to the corrupt FL AG, Pam Bondi, who helped Trump out of a legal pinch in FL after Trump gave her a donation).

Lou Barletta, who’s a loud opponent of “illegal immigration,” a member of the Homeland Security Committee, and who, not long after this FOIA was first filed, prepared a challenge to PA’s Bob Casey in the Senate last year.

Marsha Blackburn, who works on a number of data issues in Congress, and is running to replace Bob Corker as TN Senator. Blackburn worked closely with Tom Marino to shield pharma and pill mills from DEA reach.

Chris Collins from upstate NY. His most interesting committee assignment is on Energy and Commerce, though he has worked on broadband issues.

Tom Marino, former US Attorney for Pennsyltucky who is on the Judiciary Committee. Trump tried to make him the Drug Czar, until it became clear he had pushed through a bill that hurt DEA’s ability to combat the opioid epidemic.

Devin Nunes, whose efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation have been epic, and who first manufactured the unmasking scandal. He’d be a great candidate to be Schaerr’s client, except he would probably just leak this information, which he has already seen.

Sean Duffy, a WI congressman who is chair of the investigations subcommittee of the Financial Services committee, and has been an opponent of CFPB.

Trey Gowdy took over as Chair of the Oversight Committee last year and also serves on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Because of those appointments, even without being designated by Devin Nunes to take the lead on the Mueller pushback, he would have already had the most visibility on the Mueller investigation. But because Nunes put him in charge of actually looking at the intelligence, he is the single Republican who has seen the bulk of the Mueller investigative materials. During Nunes week, he announces his retirement suddenly, and has warned about the seriousness of the Mueller investigation, and he just gave a crazy interview to Fox News (which I’ll return to).

Dennis Ross, from FL, serves on the Financial Services committee.

On top of the Republicans, the list includes two of the few African Americans (with David Clarke, Omarosa, and Tim Scott) who supported Trump.  Darrell Scott was head of a Michael Cohen invented diversity group hastily put together in April 2016. Kiron Skinner is a legit scholar of Reagan who teaches at Carnegie Mellon and has a bunch of other appointments.

As I said, aside from the big obvious players, this list is a curious collection. Of note, however, four people on it should have a sound understanding of how NSA spying and FISA work: Thiel, Nunes, Gowdy, and Marino. But (again aside from the big players), the international ties of most of these people (Thiel and Skinner are big exceptions) are not readily apparent.

The whack understanding of FISA laid out on the complaint

I’m interested in the FISA knowledge of some people named in this list because of the crazy depiction of FISA that the complaint lays out.

The complaint highlights two departments of NSA, claiming they’re the ones that deal with improper use of intelligence (but does not include the Inspector General).

On information and belief, at least two departments within the NSA handle complaints regarding the improper use of intelligence. These departments are known publicly by the codes “S12,” a code name apparently referring to the agency’s Information Sharing Services authority, and “SV,” a code name apparently referring to the agency’s Oversight and Compliance authority.

As part of the FOIA to NSA, Schaerr asked for anything submitted to these departments.

All reports made to S12 and SV regarding improper dissemination of any individual listed in Question 2, above. See National Security Agency, United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, § 7.5 (January 25, 2011).

That’s an oddly specific request, unless whoever is behind this request knows there are reports there.

That might suggest Nunes, Gowdy, or Marino is behind the request. But then consider how unbelievably wrong the complaint gets FISA.

After introducing FISA, it turns exclusively to Section 702, which is odd because the unmasking pseudo-scandal has thus far been based off the unmasking of individual orders.

Plaintiff’s requests in this case concern the Defendants’ use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).1 Section 702 of FISA (“Section 702”) empowers the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to jointly authorize “the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.” 50 U.S.C. § 1881a(a) (emphasis added). Section 702 expressly forbids use of this surveillance process to target persons who are either “United States persons” or located “inside the United States.” Id. at 1881a(b).

The complaint then makes three utterly false statements about how labor is divided between the FBI, NSA, and CIA.

14. The FBI collects data on outgoing communications, i.e., from persons in the United States to persons outside the United States.

15. The NSA collects data on incoming communications, i.e., from persons outside the United States to persons inside the United States.

16. The CIA, like the FBI and NSA, analyzes the information that comes from the FBI’s and NSA’s data collection. Unlike the other agencies, the CIA uses the information to engage in international intelligence operations.

The FBI collects on domestic targets, which can include incoming and outgoing comms, plus anything domestic (such as Sergey Kislyak’s calls across town to Mike Flynn; update — the December 29 calls would have been from DC to Dominican Republic, where Flynn was vacationing). The NSA likewise collects incoming and outgoing comms, as well as stuff that takes place entirely overseas (though very little of the latter is done under 702). Both the other agencies, in addition to CIA, use FISA information to engage in international intelligence operations.

The complaint then claims, in contradiction to a bunch of public information, that minimization equates to completely anonymizing US person data.

Section 702 also requires that foreign intelligence surveillance be conducted consistently with “minimization procedures.” Id. § 1881a(e)(1). These procedures are designed to “minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons,” but in a manner still “consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information.” Id. § 1801(h)(1). As relevant here, minimization procedures must be designed to ensure the anonymity of United States persons who may be incidentally surveilled. Id. § 1801(h)(1), (2).

This comment comes immediately after a paragraph on finished intelligence reports, so this may be an incorrect statement of what masking is.

It then makes a claim about how data gets circulated that entirely ignores the sharing of raw data under 702, and further makes claims relying on this article that aren’t actually supported by the article (admittedly, the article doesn’t describe the sharing of raw data, but its focus in primarily on traditional FISA).

Generally, original raw intelligence is not circulated to other agencies; instead, intelligence reports are created and circulated internally. See, e.g., Gregory Korte, What is ‘unmasking?’ How intelligence agencies treat U.S. citizens, USA Today, (Apr. 4, 2017; 2:14 p.m.), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/ 2017/04/04/ what-unmasking-how-intelligence-agencies-treat-us-citizens/100026368. In the process of summarizing the intelligence, agencies exclude the names of U.S. citizens from the reports, referring to them instead with identifiers like “U.S. Person 1.” Id.

The complaint then describes what sounds like a muddle of upstream collection and back door searches, but gets both wrong.

The NSA also has the ability to search the internet data it collects by entering the name of an individual into a database search tool. This process is known as “upstreaming” and has the effect of creating additional raw intelligence that may contain the names of American persons. Such intelligence is also subject to the usual masking requirements and procedures.

This is wrong because upstream collection uses selectors, not names, whereas back door searches, which can use a name, are done by all three agencies. Such intelligence would not necessarily be masked at FBI if it made it into an investigative report.

The complaint then points to that godawful Circa report that itself muddles the difference between 702 and 704/705b to claim that they were upstream violations during the campaign cycle.

News reports—as well as a declassified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion—also note that some Americans had their names upstreamed, in violation of internal policies, during the 2016 election cycle, which the opinion described as a “serious Fourth Amendment issue.” See Declassified FISC Court opinion at 19-20, available at http://bit.ly/FISCopApril2017; Circa News, Obama intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on Americans for years, May 23, 2017), https://www.circa.com/story/2017/05/23/politics/obama-intel-agencysecretly-conducted-illegal-searches-on-americans-for-years.

The violations in question, while serious, actually involve back door searches on upstream collection, and to the extent the searches were done on 704/705b targets, would only have happened were there an individualized FISA order against one of the named people (in fact, NSA’s back door searches on US persons are generally limited to people with individualized orders, those who may be targets of a foreign power, or urgent searches following a terrorist attack or similar situation).

In short, it’s a remarkable garble of how FISA really works. That doesn’t exclude Nunes’ involvement (I would hope both Marino and Gowdy have a better understanding of FISA than this, but don’t guarantee it). But it seems to be an attempt to declassify stuff it knows about, even while it exhibits a remarkable misunderstanding of what it’s talking about.

So why are all these Trump toadies worried about being unmasked

All of which brings me to the puzzle: what the hell is his anonymous client up to? Why is the client concerned about this specific selection of transition officials, but not (say) Mike Flynn?

Update: Laura Rozen notes that this list is the list provided here, except with this chunk taken out, and with some weird alpha order going on.

 

What Did Mueller Achieve with the Internet Research Agency Indictment?

Back during Nunes Week, Trey Gowdy described the importance of Robert Mueller’s investigation by stating that we were only seeing half of what he was doing. The other half of his work, Gowdy said, was the counterintelligence side, the investigation into what Russia did to the US in 2016.

Friday, Rod Rosenstein rolled out the first glimpse of the other half of that investigation, an indictment of 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory. The indictment accuses IRA of 8 crimes: criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.

In the wake of that indictment, the court unsealed a February 7  plea agreement with Californian Richard Pinedo, for identity theft (basically, selling bank account numbers; the information doesn’t identify the users who purchased the bank account numbers as IRA personnel who used them to set up “American” identities, but that is clearly what happened).

The 13 Russians charged in the IRA indictment — which include Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the close Putin associate who owns the company, those in charge of the operation (which was not limited to US targeting), down to a few of the analysts who did the troll work — will never be extradited to the US, though the most senior among them will surely be sanctioned. Nor will Putin in any way retaliate against them — they were doing work he approved of! Further, by criminalizing “information warfare” (as the Russians admitted they were engaged in, and as we do too, under the same name) we risk our own information warriors being indicted in other countries.

So what purpose did the indictment serve? Here are some thoughts:

Creating a paper trail

Rosenstein and Chris Wray have both said they believe investigators should speak through indictments and other official documents, not through Comeyesque press conferences. Here we have an indictment that serves as a record of what Mueller’s team has found.

We would probably have gotten it in any case, as Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has emphasized bringing more cybersecurity related indictments.

But that we did get it addresses one of the questions we’ve gotten about the Mueller investigation: whether we’ll get to read a report of what he has found.

To the extent that something is indictable, even if that indictment would name Russians or others located overseas, I guess we should expect more of the same.

Establishing bipartisan credibility for the larger investigation

The reason I keep pointing to Gowdy’s statements in support of the investigation in the last several weeks is because his actions seem to reflect one of the most partisan Republicans reacting soberly to an attack on the country, rather than just one party.

And while the details of the indictment — most notably that the trolls affirmatively supported Bernie Sanders as well as Trump — have resurfaced the old primary recriminations, for the most part, the indictment has provided a way for people from both parties to agree to the reality of the attack. Trump said Mueller did a good job with the indictment (admittedly, he may be currying favor). Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster responded to the indictment by declaring the evidence that Russia interfered in the election “incontrovertible.” This indictment offers a way for even self-interested Republicans to start acknowledging the reality of what happened.

The indictment also gave Rod Rosenstein an opportunity to own this investigation with a press conference announcing it. None of the prosecutors tied to the case appeared (since I track these things, know that Jeannie Rhee, Rush Atkinson, and Ryan Dickey are on the docket), just Rosenstein. Hopefully, tying him to this non-offensive indictment will make it harder to fire Rosenstein, and thereby further protect Mueller.

Reiterating the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States

The most interesting of the three crimes charged in the IRA indictment is the first, the conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictment describes the conspiracy this way:

U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General. And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government.

Effectively, Mueller is saying that it’s not illegal, per se, to engage in political trolling (AKA information warfare), but it is if you don’t but are legally obliged to register before you do so. That’s an important distinction, because much of what these trolls did is accepted behavior in American politics — all sides did this in 2016, including people employed by campaigns and others expressing their own political opinions. Trolling (AKA information warfare) only becomes illegal when you don’t carry out the required transparency or reporting before you do so.

The charge of a conspiracy to defraud the United States has a very important parallel elsewhere in this investigation, in the first charge in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment. The indictment explains,

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

The Manafort indictment then argues that by hiding that the lobbying work they were doing was on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions they, “knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.” I’ll have more to say about this parallel in coming days, but suffice it to say that Mueller is alleging that Manafort is the mirror image of the troll farm, engaging in politics while hiding on whose behalf he’s doing it (he was arguably doing the same in Ukraine). [Update: see this post for more on how this might work.]

In both cases, the indictments substantiate the conspiracy by naming a variety of crimes, like money laundering and identity theft.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this structure going forward (and suspect it’s something the numerous appellate specialists on Mueller’s team have been spending a lot of time thinking about).

Laying out how Americans might be involved with or without “colluding”

Much has been made of Rosenstein’s line, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” I don’t read too much into that. Rather, I think Rosenstein included it because the indictment does explicitly and implicitly describe actions many Americans and possible Americans took that were part of this conspiracy. That includes:

Illegal compensated acvitities

  • Richard Pinedo: Selling Russian trolls (and others) bank account numbers they can use to conduct identity fraud
  • Unknown persons: Providing social security numbers and fake US drivers licenses of Americans
  • Unknown persons: Selling stolen credit card information

Presumptively legal compensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Renting servers in the US to run VPNs to hide their foreign location
  • Yahoo, Gmail, Paypal: Providing email and PayPal accounts the Russians used as the basis for social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Providing those social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Selling advertisements on social media
  • Unknown Trump associates: Paying for IRA rally expenses
  • Paid providers: Building a cage, acquiring a costume, and posing as Hillary in prison stunt at a FL event
  • Unknown US person: Providing posters for a Support Hillary, Save American Muslims rally
  • Unknown American: Holding a sign in front of the White House on May 29, 2016

Uncompensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Interacting with Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva when they traveled to the US sometime between June 4 and June 26, 2014 to conduct reconnaissance and another co-conspirator that November
  • Members of the media: Accepting tips and promoting IRA events
  • A member of a real TX-based Tea Party organization: Advising the conspirators to focus on the purple states “like Colorado, Virginia & Florida”
  • Unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump: Distributing IRA materials through existing channels of those groups
  • Administrators of large social media groups focused on U.S. politics: Promoting IRA events
  • Trump volunteer: Providing signs for the March for Trump event and otherwise recruiting for it
  • A Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county: Advising on more locations and logistics for the Florida Trump event
  • Campaign Officials 1, 2, and 3: discussing the Florida events

Later the indictment describes a database of 100 real US persons whom the trolls treated as recruiting targets, complete with profiling.

On or about August 24, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators updated an internal ORGANIZATION list of over 100 real U.S. persons contacted through ORGANIZATION-controlled false U.S. persona accounts and tracked to monitor recruitment efforts and requests. The list included contact information for the U.S. persons, a summary of their political views, and activities they had been asked to perform by Defendants and their co-conspirators.

Here’s the important thing about all this. While Pinedo pled guilty and faces 12-18 months even with his cooperation agreement (and even there, while the information makes it clear he knew he was dealing with foreigners, his lawyer has made it clear he didn’t know who or what he was dealing with), there are only two other known illegal roles in this conspiracy, and there’s no reason those roles would have had to be carried out by Americans. Perhaps Mueller has others cooperating, perhaps those other criminals are unknown. But as for the rest, they are (as Rosenstein made clear) not guilty of any kind of conspiracy with Russia.

DOJ just rolled out an indictment in which probably 20 Americans can recognize themselves (many of whom were likely interviewed), about as many as all the Trump officials named in one or another plea agreement so far. Yet, as far as Mueller knows, none of these people did anything but conduct business or engage in sincerely held politics. They almost certainly had far less reason to be suspicious of the trolls they were being used by than Facebook and Twitter. Those actions have been tainted now through no fault of their own.

Which is something to remember: I’ve seen Hillary supporters, in the same breath, criticize Bernie or Jill Stein supporters because their preferred candidate was treated favorably by the trolls, yet in the same breath suggesting the black and Muslim activists targeted are innocent victims.

Obviously, Hillary and her supporters are victims. But everyone is, even the Trump volunteers. Because to the extent they had honestly held beliefs, the Russian operation tainted those beliefs, it diminished the weight of their honestly held beliefs. They were used by Russian trolls, most of them without the same profit motive that led Facebook and Twitter to allow themselves to be used. And we should remember that.

Hinting at what the US has

There are, however, a few tactical things this indictment does, starting with hinting at what other evidence the US has. This indictment was relatively easy, in that Adrian Chen (in a June 2015 article that still gets too little attention), Facebook and (to a lesser extent) other social media outlets, the Daily Beast, and SSCI generally have already laid out what IRA did. The indictment slaps some criminal charges on fraudulent behavior that enabled it, and without showing much about any additional evidence Mueller collected, you’ve got a showy indictment.

There are two hints, however, of the additional evidence used (which, given that the named conspirators will never face trial, will never need to be disclosed or explained). First, in a passage about how IRA started to cover their tracks after Mueller started focusing on this activity, there’s the reference to Irina Kaverzina.

On or about September 13, 2017, KAVERZINA wrote in an email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

Kaverzina was just a low-level troll and this may be nothing more than Section 702 collected email off GMail or Yahoo, or it may be a more formal intercept. But Mueller obtained communications from at least one of the indictees. Emails from more senior people, such as Prigozhin or his more senior managers (or the IT guys buying server space in the US) would be more interesting.

Plus, Mueller likely obtained cooperation from one IRA employee, the unnamed person who traveled to Atlanta in November 2014 for reconnaissance. Had that person not cooperated, he or she would have been named in the indictment.

Nevertheless establishing the political stakes

I said above that none of the hundred-plus Americans who were unknowingly used by trolls should be considered anything but victims. Their chosen political views, loathsome or not, have now been tainted, and not because of anything they’ve done except perhaps show too much trust or credulity.

But there are hints that Mueller is using this indictment to set up a more important point.

For example, the indictment (perhaps because of Mueller’s mandate) focuses on political activities supporting or opposing one or another 2016 candidate. Even where topics (immigration, Muslim religion, race) are not necessarily tied to the election, they’re presented here as such. Unless Facebook’s public reports are wrong, this is a very different emphasis than what Facebook has said the IRA focused on. Which is to say that Mueller’s team are focusing on a subset of the known IRA trolling, the subset that involves the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary.

And there are several events, in particular, that may one day serve as details in a larger conspiracy. Most interesting, for the timing and location, are the twin anti-Hillary and pro-Trump events in NYC in June and July 2016.

In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

a. In or around June through July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to promote the “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to send individualized messages to real U.S. persons to request that they participate in and help organize the rally. To assist their efforts, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through false U.S. personas, offered money to certain U.S. persons to cover rally expenses.

c. On or about June 5, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while posing as a U.S. grassroots activist, used the account @March_for_Trump to contact a volunteer for the Trump Campaign in New York. The volunteer agreed to provide signs for the “March for Trump” rally.

[snip]

On or about July 23, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send out press releases to over thirty media outlets promoting the “Down With Hillary” rally at Trump Tower in New York City.

The description of a IRA-organized event at Trump Tower the day after WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails, in particular, suggests the possibility of a great deal of coordination, coordination with people in the US.

Similarly, the extended descriptions of events in Florida may also take on added relevance in the future, particularly coming as they did in tandem with Guccifer 2.0’s release of DCCC data targeting FL. (And this, in turn, should focus even more attention on the FL congressmen like Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis who’re leading the pushback on Mueller’s investigation.)

Using the term “co-conspirator” 119 times

Perhaps most interesting, given the tiny nods to what other intelligence Mueller might have, are the 119 uses of the word “co-conspirators.” Almost all of these uses seem to necessarily mean unnamed IRA employees working from the same St. Petersburg location described as trolling. Several times the co-conspirators are clearly described as located in Russia. So it may be that all references to co-conspirators here are just a way to refer to the 70 other people involved in this operation at IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Other uses of “co-conspirator” involve wider knowledge, perhaps an outsider’s knowledge of a go-between role Prigozhin might have had.

But others are things that might have involved a stateside co-conspirator, such as the mention of co-conspirators helping to set up the May 29, 2016 Prigozhin birthday tribute in front of the White House, co-conspirators tracking US social media use, co-conspirators engaged in identity theft, co-conspirators promoting claims of voter fraud, co-conspirators destroying data. Several of those things (such as tracking US social media use or claiming Hillary was going to steal the election) are things we know Trump associates were also doing. Others might be facilitated by someone stateside. So those uses of the term could be people not employed by IRA.

Which is to say, this indictment might be (probably is) intended to address just the activities of those employed by IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Update: added the public indictment part.