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DOJ Flips the Lawfare on Its Head in Russian Troll Case

In part because Judge Dabney Friedrich has only recently attempted to impose some control on the case, the prosecution against the Russian troll company Concord Management waddles slowly towards a scheduled trial date of April 6, 2020. As it has throughout this process, Concord continues to make trollish arguments to gum up the prosecution. Of particular note, it continues its efforts to use the prosecution to obtain as much information as it can, including information about intelligence the government has on Concord as well as on the victims.

Don’t get me wrong. That is their right, and one of the dangers of indicting corporate entities for this kind of crime.

But the government just gave Concord a bit of its own medicine. On Tuesday, it moved to obtain an early trial subpoena to serve on Concord. It seeks information on Concord’s communications with the Internet Research Agency, other shell companies, and a list of co-conspirators. Perhaps most concerning, for Concord’s sometime owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin, it asks for his calendar from January 2014 through February 2018, a calendar that — if it’s accurate — likely includes Vladimir Putin.

Calendar entries for Yevgeniy Prigozhin for the time period January 1, 2014 to February 1, 2018.

The motion uses precisely the legal fact that allowed Concord to respond to this indictment with no risk to any biological person against it, arguing that because it is a corporation it has no Fifth Amendment privilege.

Moreover, even though it is a defendant, Concord cannot avoid responding to a trial subpoena requesting the production of records under the Fifth Amendment because corporations have no privilege against self-incrimination. Braswell v. United States, 487 U.S. 99, 102 (1988).

Understand, the government almost certainly has versions of all the things it asks for on the list. But assuming Friedrich approves the subpoena, Concord will be required to submit its own version of these documents, which the government might be able to prove to be false (adding to Concord’s legal jeopardy and putting Concord’s American lawyers on the hook). It’s also likely the government is forcing Concord to do its own parallel construction.

It’s a subtle move, but one that may shift how this proceeds going forward.

Questions for Robert Mueller (and His Prosecutors) that Go Beyond the Show

I generally loathe the questions that people are drafting for Robert Mueller’s July 17 testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, largely because those questions are designed for a circus and not to learn information that’s useful for understanding the Mueller investigation. Here are the questions I’d ask instead (I’ll update these before Mueller testifies).

  1. Can you describe how you chose which “links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to focus your investigation on?
  2. The warrants released in Michael Cohen’s case and other public materials show that your grand jury conducted investigations of people before Rod Rosenstein formally expanded the scope to include them in October 2017. Can you explain the relationship between investigative steps and the Rosenstein scope memos?
  3. Lisa Page has explained that in its initial phase, the investigation into Trump’s aides was separate from the larger investigation(s) into Russian interference. But ultimately, your office indicted Russians in both the trolling and the hack-and-leak conspiracies. How and when did those parts of DOJ’s investigation get integrated under SCO?
  4. An FD-302 memorializing a July 19, 2017 interview with Peter Strzok was released as part of Mike Flynn’s sentencing. Can you describe what the purpose of this interview was? How did the disclosure of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page affect the recording (or perceived credibility) of this interview? Strzok was interviewed before that disclosure, but the 302 was not finalized until he had been removed from your team. Did his removal cause any delay in finalizing this 302?
  5. At the beginning of the investigation, your team investigated the criminal conduct of subjects unrelated to ties with Russia (for example, Paul Manafort’s ties with Ukraine, Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey). Did the approach of the investigation change later in the process to immediately refer such issues to other offices (for example, Michael Cohen’s hush payments and graft)? If the approach changed, did your team or Rod Rosenstein drive this change? Is the Mystery Appellant related to a country other than Russia?
  6. Did your integration of other prosecutors (generally from DC USAO) into your prosecution teams stem from a resourcing issue or a desire to ensure continuity? What was the role of the three prosecutors who were just detailees to your team?
  7. Your report describes how FBI personnel shared foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information with the rest of FBI. For more than a year, FBI agents were embedded with your team for this purpose. Were these agents focused just on Russian activities, or did their focus include the actions of other countries and Americans? If their focus included Americans, did it include Trump associates? Did it include Trump himself?
  8. Can you describe the relationship between your GRU indictment and the WDPA one focused on the WADA hacks, and the relationship between your IRA indictment and the complaint against a Yevgeniy Prigozhin employee in EDVA? Can you describe the relationship between the Maria Butina prosecution and your investigation?
  9. Do you regret charging Concord Management in the IRA indictment? Do you have any insight on how indictments against Russian and other state targets should best be used?
  10. In discussions of Paul Manafort’s plea deal that took place as part of his breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann revealed that prosecutors didn’t vet his testimony as they would other cooperators. What led to this lack of vetting? Did the timing of the election and the potential impact Manafort’s DC trial might have play into the decision?
  11. What communication did you receive from whom in response to the BuzzFeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s false testimony? How big an impact did that communication have on the decision to issue a correction?
  12. Did Matt Whitaker prevent you from describing Donald Trump specifically in Roger Stone’s indictment? Did you receive any feedback — from Whitaker or anyone else — for including a description of Trump in the Michael Cohen plea?
  13. Did Whitaker, Bill Barr, or Rosenstein weigh in on whether Trump should or could be subpoenaed? If so what did they say? Did any of the three impose time constraints that would have prevented you from subpoenaing the President?
  14. Multiple public reports describe Trump allies (possibly including Mike Flynn or his son) expressing certainty that Barr would shut down your investigation once he was confirmed. Did this happen? Can you describe what happened at the March 5, 2019 meeting where Barr was first briefed? Was that meeting really the first time you informed Rosenstein you would not make a determination on obstruction?
  15. You “ended” your investigation on March 22, at a time when at least two subpoena fights (Andrew Miller and Mystery Appellant) were ongoing. You finally resigned just minutes before Andrew Miller agreed to cooperate on May 29. Were these subpoenas for information critical to your investigation?
  16. If Don Jr told you he would invoke the Fifth if subpoenaed by the grand jury, would that fact be protected by grand jury secrecy? Are you aware of evidence you received involving the President’s son that would lead him to be less willing to testify to your prosecutors than to congressional committees? Can congressional committees obtain that information?
  17. Emin Agalarov canceled a concert tour to avoid subpoena in your investigation. Can you explain efforts to obtain testimony from this key player in the June 9 meeting? What other people did you try to obtain testimony from regarding the June 9 meeting?
  18. Did your investigation consider policy actions taken while Trump was President, such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Russian sanctions or his half-hearted efforts to comply with Congressional mandates to impose new ones?
  19. Can you describe how you treated actions authorized by Article II authority — such as the conduct of foreign policy, including sanctions, and the awarding of pardons — in your considerations of any criminal actions by the President?
  20. The President did not answer any questions about sanctions, even the one regarding discussions during the period of the election. Do you have unanswered questions about the role of sanctions relief and the Russian interference effort?
  21. Your report doesn’t include several of the most alarming interactions between Trump and Russia. It mentions how he told Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak he had fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but did not mention that he shared classified Israeli intelligence at the meeting. Your report doesn’t mention the conversations Trump had with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, including one pertaining to “adoptions,” while he was working on the June 9 meeting. The report doesn’t mention the Helsinki meeting. Did your investigation consider these interactions with Russia? If not, are you aware of another part of the government that did scrutinize these events?
  22. Why did you include Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about the June 9 meeting when it didn’t fit your team’s own terms for obstructive acts?
  23. You generally do not name the Trump lawyers who had discussions, including about pardons, with subjects of the investigation. How many different lawyers are described in your report to have had such discussions?
  24. You asked — but the President provided only a partial answer — whether he had considered issuing a pardon for Julian Assange prior to the inauguration. Did you investigate the public efforts — including by Roger Stone — to pardon Assange during Trump’s Administration?
  25. The cooperation addendum in Mike Flynn’s case reveals that he participated in discussions about reaching out to WikiLeaks in the wake of the October 7 Podesta releases. But that does not appear in the unredacted parts of your report. Is the entire scope of the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the Roger Stone indictment?
  26. Hope Hicks has claimed to be unaware of a strategy to coordinate the WikiLeaks releases, yet even the unredacted parts of the report make it clear there was a concerted effort to optimize the releases. Is this a difference in vocabulary? Does it reflect unreliability on the part of Hicks’ testimony? Or did discussions of WikiLeaks remain partially segregated from the communications staff of the campaign?
  27. How many witnesses confirmed knowing of conversations between Roger Stone and Donald Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming releases?
  28. The President’s answers regarding the Trump Tower Moscow match the false story for which Michael Cohen pled guilty, meaning the President, in his sworn answers, provided responses you have determined was a false story. After Cohen pled guilty, the President and his lawyer made public claims that are wholly inconsistent with his sworn written answer to you. You offered him an opportunity to clean up his sworn answer, but he did not. Do you consider the President’s current answer on this topic to be a lie?
  29. Did Trump Organization provide all the emails pertaining to the Trump Tower Moscow deal before you subpoenaed the organization in early 2018? Did they provide those emails in response to that subpoena?
  30. In his answers to your questions, President Trump claimed that you received “an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation … inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.” But the footnotes to your discussion of that exchange describe no email. Did your team receive any email? Does the public record — showing that Trump never signed the declination letter to that investigation — show that Trump did not decline that invitation?

As I disclosed last 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. 

Roger Stone Adopts the Russian Troll Evidence-Phishing Technique

Roger Stone submitted two motions in his defense today. The first, opposing a gag in the case, is rigorous and will make for an interesting legal battle (until such time as Stone violates the protective order in the case, in which case it’ll become a no-brainer; here’s the government’s motion supporting a limited gag). The second, objecting to the designation of Stone’s case as “related to” the GRU indictment, is a frivolous attempt to force evidence into the public realm, similar to the way Yevgeniy Prigozhin is using a defense of Concord Management in an attempt to obtain the intelligence that went into that investigation.

As I noted in this post, the local DC rules deem a case to be related in three cases, the third of which says that cases are related if they arise from a common wiretap, search warrant, or the same alleged criminal event.

A related case for the purpose of this Rule means as follows:

(1) Criminal cases are deemed related when

(i) a superseding indictment has been filed, or

(ii) more than one indictment is filed or pending against the same defendant or defendants, or

(iii) prosecution against different defendants arises from a common wiretap, search warrant, or activities which are a part of the same alleged criminal event or transaction. A case is considered pending until a defendant has been sentenced.

With his filing, Stone includes the form prosecutors used to lay out why his case related to that of the GRU officers who hacked the election.

The form makes it clear that the cases are related both because there’s a common search warrant and because both cases arise from “activities which are part of the same alleged criminal event or transaction.” Not only that, it explains why that’s the case:

In particular, certain evidence that is relevant to this case was derived from search warrants executed in Netyksho et al., and the alleged obstructive conduct in this cases arises from claimed and then disputed advance knowledge about the dissemination of stolen document during the 2016 presidential campaign that forms, in part, the basis for the criminal charges against Netkysho et al.

Stone’s lawyers don’t mention that explanation at all in their motion. Instead, they argue (fairly, as far as this cynical move goes) that because they need to object to the designation within 10 days but they haven’t obtained discovery yet to understand this, they need to register this objection now. Rather than asking for that an explanation or due consideration of the explanation included on the form, though, they instead demand all the evidence and reasoning used to support the designation.

At first blush and without the benefit of discovery, there is nothing about these cases that suggests they are suitably related, other than they are both brought by the Office of Special Counsel. The notice served on defense counsel requires an objection to the designation be filed within ten days of the arraignment. As a result of this constraint of a timely objection, the government should be required to disclose all evidence and reasoning used to support its requested designation since the goal of the local rule is to safeguard the honor of the district court and protect the rights of defendants like Roger Stone. [my emphasis]

The motion then goes on to make a series of contradictory claims. For example, he claims,

Defendant Stone has been charged with lying to Congress and witness tampering under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1505, 1001, 1512(b)(1), 2. There is no mention of hacking, stealing, or involvement with Russia or the Netyksho defendants

Just a few paragraphs before he cites his own indictment mentioning that very same hack.

The indictment in the Stone case alleges that the servers of the Democratic National Committee were hacked by unspecified “Russian government actors”

Ultimately, he gets around to admitting it is the same alleged hack.

There is not one single fact alleged in either indictment about the facts in the other indictment, other than that the Russians stole emails that Stone, a year later, allegedly lied to Congress about regarding his failed efforts to find out about them. Thus not a single one of the three criteria exists that is necessary for relatedness to be found.

Similarly, he notes how the GRU indictment describes him,

The Office of Special Counsel further alleged that “on or about August 15, 2016, the [Russian defendants] posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, ‘thank u for writing back…do u find anyt[h]ing interesting the docs I posted? … The person responded, ‘[p]retty standard’.”

Just a few paragraphs before he cites similar language from his own indictment.

It also claims that Defendant Stone was a political consultant employed by the Trump campaign until August 2015 (Id. ¶ 4), and that “[d]uring the summer of 2016. . .[he] spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.”

Most interesting is the way Stone acknowledges that the GRU indictment alleges that Guccifer 2.0 sent 20,000 emails to WikiLeaks,

Later, it was also alleged that some 20,000 stolen emails were transmitted by Guccifer 2.0 to “Organization 1.”

Just a few paragraphs before he admits his own indictment describes him bragging about communicating with WikiLeaks.

The indictment further alleges that Defendant Stone was “claiming both publicly and privately to have communicated with Organization 1″ (Id. ¶ 6),

That said, Stone doesn’t consider the commonality of WikiLeaks’ actions in this motion, which is probably the point.

Understand, Stone is trying to figure out several things with his demand to receive the evidence underlying it immediately. He’s trying to figure out what search warrants targeting him, going back almost a year, look like. He’s trying to figure out whether the communications between whoever his intermediary to WikiLeaks was got picked up discussing his outreach and if so in what granularity. He’s trying to figure out what kind of evidence Mueller has to indict WikiLeaks (which Stone would surely use, as he already has, to make a First Amendment defense of WikiLeaks’ role in the operation). And he’s trying to figure out whether Mueller has the good to name him as a co-conspirator, a move that might or might not go through WikiLeaks alone (though not exclusively — as I note, he discusses analytics with Guccifer 2.0 at a time when GRU was actively stealing the Democrats’ analytics).

In any case, Stone likely already has some of this information; it’s likely that the various conspiracies he’s at risk for being charged with were on his search warrant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty interested in why these cases are deemed related and (just as an example) the GRU indictment was not deemed related to George Papadopoulos’ case, which was still pending at the time of the indictment (the answer is probably that none of the Papadopoulos investigation implicated WikiLeaks directly).

But once the government claimed there were common search warrants, plural, used in both these cases, it became really easy to make sense of why: WikiLeaks, the Guccifer Twitter account, and Stone’s own warrants would be common to both of the indictments.

Roger Stone was, thus far, just charged with false statements. But it’s clear the government is still entertaining other charges against him and others. So Stone is using this related designation as a way to fish for how close any further charges might be.

As I disclosed last 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. 

A Focus on Florida: What Happened to the Three Campaign Officials Chatting with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Trolls?

I want to go back to something I’ve been uniquely obsessed about for almost an entire year. As I’ve noted, the Internet Research Agency indictment describes the IRA trolls interacting with three Trump campaign officials that it describes in the manner used with possible co-conspirators.

74. On or about August 15, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county. The activist identified two additional sites in Florida for possible rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators subsequently used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional rally in Florida.

75. On or about August 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the ORGANIZATION-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

77. On or about August 18, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent money via interstate wire to another real U.S. person recruited by the ORGANIZATION, using one of their false U.S. personas, to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.

78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain donaldtrump.com. On or about the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

79. On or about August 19, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account sent another message to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 3”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations. On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

Since this indictment was rolled out last February, no one has identified these three Trump campaign officials nor what they did in response to dangles from Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

That said, contrary to the assumption made when a DC-based team of US Attorneys joined the IRA prosecution team, DOJ’s investigation on this front has continued. Not only was IRA accountant Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova charged in EDVA last September (the complaint was unsealed in October, during a pre-election disinformation campaign involving IRA trolls), but in August, Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson was still pursuing investigative action in the IRA case (this means it’s possible that the involvement of a DC prosecutor in Roger Stone’s prosecution serves largely to keep the Mueller team targeting him focused on other aspects of their investigation of him).

In any case, since the mention of three different campaign officials interacting with Prigozhin’s trolls, we’ve gotten a number of other reasons to be interested in what happened in Florida in 2016.

Obviously, there’s Roger Stone. The actions laid out in his existing indictment largely take place in DC and NY, but we know Mueller has pursued (and continues to pursue, with Andrew Miller) testimony from aides working for Stone elsewhere, including in Florida. We know in May 2016, for example, Stone met in Florida with a Russian using the name Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. In principle, his denials on that should be taken no more seriously than his denials pertaining to WikiLeaks, but he was willing to correct his testimony on that point, unlike his testimony on WikiLeaks.

And there are other connections in Florida of interest. In a piece adding to stuff we already knew about Sergei Millian (which bizarrely remains silent about Ivan Timofeev and Oleg Deripaska’s ties to him, or his promise to build a Trump Tower), the WaPo describes how Millian worked with a Florida-based Russian named Mikhail Morgulis to build support in Florida.

As he was working to build a relationship with Papadopoulos in 2016, Millian also offered to serve as a conduit to the Trump campaign for a Belarusan author in Florida with connections to the Russian government, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

The author, Mikhail Morgulis, who said he never ended up hearing from anyone in the campaign, later claimed that he rallied Russian Americans to back Trump.

[snip]

Morgulis took credit in interviews with Russian media for helping to elect Trump by organizing Russian-speaking voters.

“I personally visited 11 cities in Florida, where I said that if you want our new president to be a homosexual . . . vote for Hillary,” he said a July 2017 interview with the Russian government-funded outlet Sputnik, touting a false claim popular among some conservative conspiracy theorists. In the interview, he also said he had briefly met both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Then consider this detail from BuzzFeed’s report on what Suspicious Activity Reports say about Rinat Akhmetshin’s finances. Rather than getting paid by Lanny Wiles — as had previously been portrayed — Akhmetshin was in fact paying Wiles.

Akhmetshin continued receiving checks and wires from Wiles Consulting, a Florida-based company controlled by Lanny Wiles, a longtime Republican operator. Those payments, which began in January 2016, extended to April 2017, and totaled $72,500.

Investigators at Akhmetshin’s bank said the direction of the payments — from Wiles to Akhmetshin — contrasted with how their working relationship had been portrayed publicly. Investigators, citing unspecified public information, said Wiles claimed he was paid by Akhmetshin to work on the Magnitsky lobbying issue, not the other way around. The investigators did not cite their source, but a 2016 Politico article quoted Wiles saying he had been paid by Akhmetshin. Investigators at Bank of America did find that the foundation had issued checks to Wiles, but the amount is unclear. Wiles, whose wife was the chair of Trump’s Florida campaign, did not return messages seeking comment.

In the same Politico article, Wiles said he didn’t want to register as a foreign agent, but that Akhmetshin had told him it wouldn’t be necessary, as he would be working for BakerHostetler.

In the wake of the Natalia Veselnitskaya indictment in December, the government will have an easy time arguing that Akhmetshin and Wiles’ lobbying will easily be demonstrated to be work on behalf of Russia.

As noted, Wiles’ wife, Susie, was Trump’s Florida campaign chair, and the woman who got Veselnitskaya a seat in a hearing on Magnitsky sanctions.

Update: The Wiles’ daughter, Caroline Wiles, quit her White House job as director of scheduling after it became clear she’d fail a background check. (h/t LR)

Among those who won’t be working at the White House was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign director and former campaign manager for Governor Rick Scott. Wiles, who resigned Friday before the background check was completed, was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.

There seems to be a lot more that happened with Trump’s campaign in Florida in 2016 than we currently know about. Including the three campaign officials mentioned in the still active investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

As I disclosed last 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. 

The Disinformation Campaign Targeting Mueller and the Delayed Briefing to SSCI on Russian Election Interference

A lot of people are reporting and misreporting details from this Mueller filing revealing that it had been the target of disinformation efforts starting in October.

1000 non-sensitive files leaked along with the file structure Mueller provided it with

To substantiate an argument that Concord Management should not be able to share with Yevgeniy Prigozhin the sensitive discovery that the government has shared with their trollish lawyers, Mueller revealed that on October 22, someone posted 1000 files turned over in discovery along with a bunch of other crap, partially nested within the file structure of the files turned over in discovery.

On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!”1 The tweet also included a link to a webpage located on an online file-sharing portal. This webpage contained file folders with names and folder structures that are unique to the names and structures of materials (including tracking numbers assigned by the Special Counsel’s Office) produced by the government in discovery.2 The FBI’s initial review of the over 300,000 files from the website has found that the unique “hashtag” values of over 1,000 files on the website matched the hashtag values of files produced in discovery.3 Furthermore, the FBI’s ongoing review has found no evidence that U.S. government servers, including servers used by the Special Counsel’s Office, fell victim to any computer intrusion involving the discovery files.

1 On that same date, a reporter contacted the Special Counsel’s Office to advise that the reporter had received a direct message on Twitter from an individual who stated that they had received discovery material by hacking into a Russian legal company that had obtained discovery material from Reed Smith. The individual further stated that he or she was able to view and download the files from the Russian legal company’s database through a remote server.

2 For example, the file-sharing website contains a folder labeled “001-W773.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “Yahoo.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “return.” Within the “return” folder were several folders with the names of email addresses. In discovery in this case, the government produced a zip file named “Yahoo 773.” Within that zip file were search warrant returns for Yahoo email accounts. The names of the email accounts contained in that zip file were identical to the names of the email address folders within the “return” subfolder on the webpage. The webpage contained numerous other examples of similarities between the structure of the discovery and the names and structures of the file folders on the webpage. The file names and structure of the material produced by the government in discovery are not a matter of public record. At the same time, some folders contained within the Redstone Hacking release have naming conventions that do not appear in the government’s discovery production but appear to have been applied in the course of uploading the government’s production. For example, the “001- W773” folder appears within a folder labeled “REL001,” which is not a folder found within the government’s production. The naming convention of folder “REL001” suggests that the contents of the folder came from a production managed on Relativity, a software platform for managing document review. Neither the Special Counsel’s Office nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office used Relativity to produce discovery in this case. [my emphasis]

It sounds like Mueller’s office found out about it when being contacted by the journalist who had been alerted to the content on Twitter.

But before Mueller asked Concord’s trollish lawyers about it, the defense attorneys — citing media contacts they themselves had received — contacted prosecutors to offer a bullshit excuse about where the files came from.

On October 23, 2018, the day after the tweet quoted above, defense counsel contacted the government to advise that defense counsel had received media inquiries from journalists claiming they had been offered “hacked discovery materials from our case.” Defense counsel advised that the vendor hired by the defense reported no unauthorized access to the non-sensitive discovery. Defense counsel concluded, “I think it is a scam peddling the stuff that was hacked and dumped many years ago by Shaltai Boltai,” referencing a purported hack of Concord’s computer systems that occurred in approximately 2014. That hypothesis is not consistent with the fact that actual discovery materials from this case existed on the site, and that many of the file names and file structures on the webpage reflected file names and file structures from the discovery production in this case.

Without any hint of accusation against the defense attorneys (though this motion is accompanied by an ex parte one, so who knows if they offered further explanation there), Mueller notes any sharing of this information for disinformation purposes would violate the protective order in the case.

As stated previously, these facts establish a use of the non-sensitive discovery in this case in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the protective order. The order states that discovery may be used by defense counsel “solely in connection with the defense of this criminal case, and for no other purpose, and in connection with no other proceeding, without further order of this Court,” Dkt. No. 42-1, ¶ 1, and that “authorized persons shall not copy or reproduce the materials except in order to provide copies of the materials for use in connection with this case by defense counsel and authorized persons,” id. ¶ 3. The use of the file names and file structure of the discovery to create a webpage intended to discredit the investigation in this case described above shows that the discovery was reproduced for a purpose other than the defense of the case.

Update: Thursday evening, Mueller submitted another version of this clarifying that the @HackingRedstone tweets alerting journalists to the document dump were DMs, and so not public (or visible to the defense). The first public tweet publicizing the dump came on October 30, so even closer to the election.

Shortly after the government filed, defense counsel drew the government’s attention to the following sentence, which appears on page nine of the filing: “On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: ‘We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!’” Defense counsel pointed out that this sentence could be read to suggest that the Twitter account broadcast a publicly-available “tweet” on October 22. In fact, the Twitter account @HackingRedstone began sending multiple private direct messages to members of the media promoting a link to the online file-sharing webpage using Twitter on October 22. The content of those direct messages was consistent with, but more expansive than, the quoted tweet to the general public, which was issued on October 30. By separate filing, the government will move to file under seal the text of the direct messages. The online file sharing webpage was publicly accessible at least starting on October 22.

I’m not sure it makes the defense response any more or less suspect. But it does tie the disinformation even more closely with the election.

The Mueller disinformation was part of a month-long election season campaign

This thread, from one of the journalists who was offered the information, put it all in context back on November 7, the day after the election.

The thread shows how the release of the Mueller-related files was part of a month-long effort to seed a claim that the Internet Research Agency had succeeded in affecting the election.

Update: This story provides more background.

Other signs of the ongoing investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls

Given how the Mueller disinformation functioned as part of that month-long, election oriented campaign, I’m more interested in this passage from the Mueller investigation than that the investigation had been targeted. Mueller argues that they shouldn’t have to share the sensitive discovery with Yevgeniy Prigozhin because the sensitive discovery mentions uncharged individuals who are still trying to fuck with our elections.

First, the sensitive discovery identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.

To be sure, we knew the investigation into Prigozhin’s trolls was ongoing. On October 19, just days before these files got dropped, DOJ unsealed an EDVA complaint, which had been filed under seal on September 28, against Prigozhin’s accountant, Alekseevna Khusyaynova. Along with showing Prigozhin’s trolls responding to the original Internet Research Agency indictment last February, it showed IRA’s ongoing troll efforts through at least June of last year.

Then, in December, Concord insinuated that Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson had obtained information via the firewall counsel and taken an investigative step on that information back on August 30.

On August 23, 2018, in connection with a request (“Concord’s Request”) made pursuant to the Protective Order entered by the Court, Dkt. No. 42-1, Concord provided confidential information to Firewall Counsel. The Court was made aware of the nature of this information in the sealed portion of Concord’s Motion for Leave to Respond to the Government’s Supplemental Briefing Relating to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, filed on October 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 70-4 (Concord’s “Motion for Leave”). Seven days after Concord’s Request, on August 30, 2018, Assistant Special Counsel L. Rush Atkinson took investigative action on the exact same information Concord provided to Firewall Counsel. Undersigned counsel learned about this on October 4, 2018, based on discovery provided by the Special Counsel’s Office. Immediately upon identifying this remarkable coincidence, on October 5, 2018, undersigned counsel requested an explanation from the Special Counsel’s Office, copying Firewall Counsel on the e-mail.

[snip]

Having received no further explanation or information from the government, undersigned counsel raised this issue with the Court in a filing made on October 22, 2018 in connection with the then-pending Motion to Dismiss. In response to questions from the Court, Firewall Counsel denied having any communication with the Special Counsel’s Office.

This was a bid to obtain live grand jury investigative information, one that failed earlier this month after Mueller explained under seal how his prosecutors had obtained this information and Dabney Friedrich denied the request.

What this filing, in conjunction with Josh Russell’s explanatory Twitter thread, reveals is that the Mueller disinformation effort was part of a disinformation campaign targeted at the election.

Dan Coats doesn’t want to share the report on Russian election tampering with SSCI

And I find that interesting because of a disturbing exchange in a very disturbing Global Threats hearing the other day. After getting both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray to offer excuses for White House decisions to given security risks like Jared Kushner security clearance, Martin Heinrich then asked Coats why ODNI had not shared the report on election tampering even with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Heinrich: Director Coats, I want to come back to you for a moment. Your office issued a statement recently announcing that you had submitted the intelligence community’s report assessing the threats to the 2018 mid-term elections to the President and to appropriate Executive Agencies. Our committee has not seen this report. And despite committee requests following the election that the ODNI brief the committee on any identified threats, it took ODNI two months to get a simple oral briefing and no written assessment has yet been provided. Can you explain to me why we haven’t been kept more fully and currently informed about those Russian activities in the 2018–

Chairman Richard Burr interrupts to say that, in fact, he and Vice Chair Mark Warner have seen the report.

Burr: Before you respond, let me just acknowledge to the members that the Vice Chairman and I have both been briefed on the report and it’s my understanding that the report at some point will be available.

Coats then gives a lame excuse about the deadlines, 45 days, then 45 days.

Coats: The process that we’re going through are two 45 day periods, one for the IC to assess whether there was anything that resulted in a change of the vote or anything with machines, uh, what the influence efforts were and so forth. So we collected all of that, and the second 45 days — which we then provided to the Chairman and Vice Chairman. And the second 45 days is with DHS looking, and DOJ, looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take. We’re waiting for that final information to come in.

After Coats dodges his question about sharing the report with the Committee, Heinrich then turns to Burr to figure out when they’re going to get the information. Burr at least hints that the Executive might try to withhold this report, but it hasn’t gotten to that yet.

Heinrich: So the rest of us can look forward — so the rest of us can then look forward to reading the report?

Coats: I think we will be informing the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of that, of their decisions.

Heinrich: That’s not what I asked. Will the rest of the Committee have access to that report, Mr. Chairman?

[pause]

Heinrich: Chairman Burr?

Burr; Well, let me say to members we’re sort of in unchartered ground. But I make the same commitment I always do, that anything that the Vice Chairman and myself are exposed to, we’ll make every request to open the aperture so that all members will be able to read I think it’s vitally important, especially on this one, we’re not to a point where we’ve been denied or we’re not to a point that negotiations need to start. So it’s my hope that, once the final 45-day window is up that is a report that will be made available, probably to members only.

Coming as it did in a hearing where it became clear that Trump’s spooks are helpless in keeping Trump from pursuing policies that damage the country, this exchange got very little attention. But it should!

The Executive Branch by law has to report certain things to the Intelligence Committees. This report was mandated by Executive Order under threat of legislation mandating it.

And while Coats’ comment about DOJ, “looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take,” suggests part of the sensitivity about this report stems from a delay to provide DOJ time to decide whether they’ll take prosecutorial action against what they saw in the election, the suggestion that only members of the committee (not staffers and not other members of Congress) will ever get the final report, as well as the suggestion that Coats might even fight that, put this report on a level of sensitivity that matches covert actions, the most sensitive information that get shared with Congress.

Maybe the Russians did have an effect on the election?

In any case, going back to the Mueller disinformation effort, that feels like very familiar dick-wagging, an effort to make key entities in the US feel vulnerable to Russian compromise. Mueller sounds pretty sure it was not a successful compromise (that is, the data came from Concord’s lawyers, not Mueller).

But if the disinformation was part an effort to boast that Putin’s allies had successfully tampered with the vote — particularly if Russia really succeeded in doing so — it might explain why this report is being treated with the sensitivity of the torture or illegal spying program.

Update: I’ve corrected this to note that in the end the Intelligence Authorization did not mandate this report, as was originally intended; Trump staved that requirement off with an Executive Order. Still, that still makes this look like an attempt to avoid admitting to Congress that your buddy Putin continues to tamper in US elections.

As I disclosed last 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. 

Will the Press Recognize They Also Deserve a Scolding for Parroting Eric Dubelier’s Nude Selfie Stunt?

According to Google, there are almost 4 million results for a search on “nude selfie Mueller.” All the top results report on a recent filing from Concord Management objecting to Robert Mueller’s request to submit an ex parte filing explaining why Concord should not be able to share the unclassified but sensitive information obtained in discovery with their boss, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. None of the reports I read considered why and how Mueller’s team would have obtained a nude selfie along with the rest of the vast amounts of social media data it obtained as part of its effort to investigate how trolls paid by Prigozhin operated (one explanation might be that Prigozhin employees sent a nude selfie of themselves via a US-based provider which then got turned over as part of a content request, which contributed to the process of identifying the employees).

In other words, rather than reporting on the mention of the nude selfie as part of covering a legal case, the press instead treated it largely as Concord lawyer Eric Dubelier presumably intended, as a means of making and calling attention to a legally frivolous but politically damning insinuation about Mueller’s investigation. Tellingly, the coverage of the nude selfie claim came only after Dubelier included it in the short response filing rather than the legally more interesting initial request to amend the protective order, which complained that Mueller had turned over “irrelevant data ranging from promotional emails for airlines to personal correspondence, even including personal naked selfie photographs” (which also provides context that might explain why the selfie(s) was discoverable).

All that is useful background, in my opinion, to reports from the hearing that Judge Dabney Friedrich scheduled for today on Friday, before she permitted Mueller to submit a related filing under seal today.

By all appearances, Friedrich brought Concord’s lawyers in (when effectively all she did was schedule a follow-up hearing for March and — apparently — review Mueller’s claims about grand jury proceedings separately) to yell at them for their trollish filings.

A judge publicly slammed the defense lawyers for a Russian company criminally charged by special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing the firm’s attorneys of submitting unprofessional and inappropriate court filings attacking Mueller’s office and of unwisely peppering legal briefs with jarring quotes taken from movies like Animal House.

“I’ll say it plain and simple: knock it off,” U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich told lawyers for the Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, at a brief court hearing in Washington Monday morning.

[snip]

A stern-faced Friedrich, the newest of President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the district court in Washington, made clear Monday that she was not amused by what she called the “clever quotes.” She also chastised Dubelier for ad hominem attacks on Mueller’s attorneys and other prosecutors in the case.

“I found your recent filings, in particular your reply brief filed Friday, unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective,” the judge said. She suggested the submissions were an effort to bully her into granting pending defense motions to give the owners and officers of Concord greater access to materials Mueller’s office has turned over to permit the defense to prepare for trial.

Here’s the filing from Friday that appears to have caused her to finally lose patience with Dubelier’s stunts.

The issues presented by the Concord case — particularly the question about whether Prigozhin, who made himself a Director after Concord got indicted (a parallel move to one he appears to have made to set up a Facebook lawsuit), can obtain discovery without showing up in the US to get it — are legally interesting and potentially important as precedents.

But even the legal press that knows better — and especially the political journalists covering the Mueller investigation as part of their White House coverage — are playing willing tools for Dubelier’s trolling.

As I disclosed last 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. 

Someone Has Already Been Charged for Most of the Actions the Steele Dossier Attributes to Michael Cohen

Because of a McClatchy story claiming two new details corroborating a Steele dossier claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with people serving the interests of Putin’s Administration, people have gotten themselves into a tizzy again about what a smoking gun it would be if the allegations in the Steele dossier were proven true.

It’s an utterly bizarre tizzy, both because the allegations in the Steele dossier not only don’t match some more damning allegations Cohen has already pled guilty to, but because Mueller has already charged other people for some of the allegations about Cohen made in the dossier. In other words, the McClatchy story has people excited about the wrong allegations, rather than focusing on the damning things Cohen (and others) have already been charged with.

Indeed, most functional allegations made in the Steele dossier have already been publicly explained in either court filings or sworn testimony. That doesn’t rule out that Cohen had a role in some of them, however. Indeed, one detail from Cohen’s SDNY plea — that among the things Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for in January 2017 was a $50,000 payment to a tech services company — actually could confirm a detail made in the dossier. But generally, Mueller and other entities have already explained away many of the allegations made against Cohen in the dossier.

I’ve put the substantive claims the Steele dossier made about Cohen below. I’ll take each and show public reporting that explains who did something attributed to Cohen in the dossier.

Cohen met with Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials

The central allegation involving Cohen is that he met with people from Putin’s Presidential Administration’s legal department or, in a later version, someone acting on their behalf.

By the time that allegedly happened in August or maybe September, however, Cohen had already established a paper trail with someone more central than some anonymous lawyers. Cohen’s Mueller plea describes Cohen receiving an email on January 20, 2016 from Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant and shortly thereafter calling her. Somehow Mueller knows that the assistant “asked detailed questions and took notes.” The day after Cohen spoke with the personal assistant, someone from Putin’s office called Felix Sater.

Given that Cohen made reservations to travel to St. Petersburg (for a possible meeting directly with Putin) on June 9, then canceled those reservations on June 14 (after Russia’s role in the DNC hack was made public), those communications about a Trump Tower deal surely tie to the hack-and-leak operation.

It’s certainly possible that, later in the summer (or in the fall, during Cohen’s known trips to London), Cohen would attempt to reschedule that meeting, though the purpose was originally and probably would remain more central to a quid pro quo trading a Trump Tower and election assistance for sanctions relief and policy considerations. But having already exchanged easily collectable communications directly with Peskov’s office (whom the dossier calls “the main protagonist” in the operation), it’s not clear how helpful using Rossotrudnichestvo would be to hide the Trump role. Furthermore, there are other known cut-outs for related matters, including Steele dossier source Sergei Millian and the Agalrovs.

Cohen aimed to contain the Paul Manafort scandal

The three Cohen reports in October all claim that Cohen got involved to tamp down scandals connecting Trump to Russia. That’s not, at all, far-fetched. After all, Cohen was Trump’s fixer and he told a bunch of lies to Congress in an effort to hide Trump’s Moscow Project.

That said, a filing explaining why Mueller might have to mention the Trump campaign in Manafort’s aborted DC trial and a filing in Alex Van der Zwaan’s prosecution show that Manafort and Rick Gates themselves — with the direct involvement of Oleg Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik — worked to contain this scandal.

As Mueller laid out in numerous ways, the Manafort-Gates-Kilimnik team went on a crime spree in the fall trying to cover up their past activities with Russian-backed oligarchs.

Indeed, that a claim that Cohen managed this pushback (and its timing) appeared in the dossier is particularly tantalizing for two reasons. First, one of the things Manafort reportedly lied about after agreeing to cooperate with Mueller pertained a boat trip he took with Tom Barrack; Mueller seems to know that Kilimnik joined the two men. If that happened, then it would show that someone did indeed hold a meeting in August to contain the damage of Manafort’s burgeoning scandals, but that meeting would have been between a key Trump funder, Manafort himself, and someone suspected of ongoing ties with GRU, the agency that conducted the DNC hack.

More intriguing still, as I noted above, Kilimnik was Manafort’s go-between with Oleg Deripaska. That’s interesting because in 2016, Christopher Steele was attempting to convince DOJ’s Bruce Ohr that Deripaska could be a useful source on Russian organized crime. If Steele thought Deripaska would be a useful source for DOJ, he may well have been relying on Deripaska himself. If so, the report that Cohen (who in fact did have communications with Peskov!) was containing the damage of Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs might be an attempt to distract from the way that a Russian oligarch was actually working through his handler, Kilimnik, to minimize that damage himself.

Cohen aimed to contain the Carter Page scandal

It likewise seems unlikely that Cohen was the one to try to contain the Carter Page scandal. While he shouldn’t be relied on for anything, several claims in Page’s testimony to HPSCI provide an alternate explanation about who was containing the scandal tied to him.

Page denied ever speaking to Cohen.

But he did describe Keith Kellogg discussing the allegations with him. And he did describe Steve Bannon, both by himself and with the assistance of Trump’s election lawfirm, Jones Day, trying to minimize the Page scandal.

That’s consistent with a number of on-the-record claims from the campaign in the days following Page’s resignation in September. Which is to say, minimizing the Page scandal fell to the campaign itself.

The people who carried out the information operation had been paid by Russia and Trump

The three initial reports on Cohen came, in suspiciously quick succession, in October, after the number of reporters briefed on the Steele dossier started to expand.

The one other report implicating Cohen was the December 13 report, based on intelligence Steele claimed he obtained for “free.”

The report is most notable for the legal battle it caused. The allegations most clearly resemble what Adrian Chen had identified and attributed to the Internet Research Agency year earlier and there had been extensive reporting on it all through the campaign. But instead of blaming Internet Research Agency, the report blames all that on Webzilla. And Webzilla’s owner, Aleksei Gubarev was sufficiently comfortable facing the prospect of discovery to sue BuzzFeed right away (though he lost his lawsuit a few weeks back).

There’s another reference in the report to a long debunked claim made by the Russians — that a Romanian hacker was involved, presumably an allusion to Guccifer 2.0’s half-hearted claim to be Romanian.

Still, much of that last report instead presented the most inflammatory claim in the entire dossier: that Trump’s campaign had helped pay for the information operation targeting Hillary.

On its face, that claim makes zero sense. The scenario as a whole assumes that the hack was done by independent hackers coerced to work for the FSB — perhaps people like Yevgeniy Nikulin, who had already been arrested in Prague by this point. As far as Mueller has shown publicly, however, the information operation was instead done by two entities: Russians in the employ of Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency and officers in the employ of Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU. In indictments of both conspirators, Mueller provided details about how the money was handled.

So we’ve already got explanations for how the information operation was funded: by Prigozhin and the Russian state, using a range of money laundering techniques to hide Russia’s role. We even have evidence that — contrary to the claim about information warriors’ loyalty to Sergei Ivanov — Prighozhin’s employees even sucked up to him in one of their dry runs getting Americans to perform IRL actions.

Cohen arranged deniable cash payments to hackers working in Europe against the Clinton campaign

As noted, the December report involving Cohen made the most incendiary claim of all: that the Trump organization planned to pay for some of the hackers that targeted Hillary.

In spite of the fact that Mueller has already explained how the two main groups of participants in the information operation got funded, this allegation gets more interesting given details laid out in Cohen’s SDNY plea. Several of his SDNY crimes, after all, involving making deniable payments, in that case to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

That shows Cohen’s modus operandi for paying off Trump’s illicit debts. Mind you, it shows that he didn’t use cash. He laundered the funds using more sophisticated money laundering. But it does show that Cohen was the guy who did that kind of thing.

Which makes this detail included — but not explained — in the same plea document intriguing.

Cohen paid some tech company $50,000 in connection with the campaign.

That’s not a whole lot of money, in any case. And if it went to pay off part of the information operation, it would have to have involved some part of the operation not yet publicly identified. Even the one known instance of Trump supporters reaching out to hackers in Europe — Peter Smith’s reported consultation of Weev — is known to have been paid for by other means (in that case, Smith’s own fundraising).

Still, it’s certainly possible that that $50,000 went to some still unidentified entity that played a role in the information operation that, for some reason, didn’t get paid for by Putin’s cronies or the Russian state.

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.


18 October

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN. [redacted line]

19 October

1. Speaking in confidence to a longstanding compatriot friend in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANNAFORT as campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that MANNAFORT had led for the TRUMP side.

2. According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been to “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven”

3. Things had become even “hotter” since August on the TRUMP-Russia track. According to the Kremlin insider, this had meant that direct contact between the TRUMP team and Russia had been farmed out by the Kremlin to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. COHEN however continued to lead for the TRUMP team.

[snip]

The Kremlin insider was unsure of the identities of the PA officials with whom COHEN met secretly in August, or the exact date/s and locations of the meeting/s. There were significant internal security barriers being erected in the PA as the TRUMP issue became more controversial and damaging. However s/he continued to try to obtain these.

20 October

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/3 and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Company Comment

We reported previously, in our Company Intelligence Report 2016/135 of 19 October 2016 from the same source, that COHEN met officials from the PA Legal Department clandestinely in an EU country in August 2016. This was in order to clean up the mess left behind by western media revelations of TRUMP ex-campaign manager corrupt relationship with the former pro-Russian YANUKOVYCH regime in Ukraine and TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016. According to the Kremlin advisor, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for COHEN in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally “soft” EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.

13 December

1. We reported previously (2016/135 and /136) on secret meeting/s held in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2016 between then Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s representative, Michael COHEN and his interlocutors from the Kremlin working under cover of Russian ‘NGO’ Rossotrudnichestvo.

2. [two lines redacted] provided further details of these meeting/s and associated anti- CLINTON/Democratic Party operations. COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted] the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

3. [redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAROV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation. In Prague, COHEN agreed contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the Operation, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary CLINTON won the presidency. It was important in this event that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that cyber and other operators were stood down/able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces. (We reported earlier that the involvement of political operatives Paul MANAFORT and Carter PAGE in the secret TRUMP-Kremlin liaison had been exposed in the media in the run-up to Prague and that damage limitation of these also was discussed by COHEN with the Kremlin representatives).

In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various “Romanian hackers” (presumably based in their homeland or neighboring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should “lay low”. On payments, IVANOV’s associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimately loyalty lay with IVANOV, as Head of the PA and thus ultimately responsible for the operation, and his designator successor/s after he was dismissed by president PUTIN in connection with the anti-CLINTON operation in mid August.

Putin’s Chef, Evgeniy Prigozhin, Says He Needs Discovery So He Can Figure Out if He’s Putin’s Boss or His Chef

Among the more trollish arguments in Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s latest troll argument in defense of his troll attack on the 2016 election is that Prigozhin has to get all the discovery turned over to Concord’s lawyers because only he can tell whether he’s Putin’s boss, or his chef.

[T]he documents that the government appears to contend are statements of Concord under Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(C)(i) and (ii) are primarily in Russian. While defense counsel has engaged translators to begin its review of the discovery materials, the only way to get fully accurate translations and prepare for trial is to speak to the individuals who allegedly wrote the documents. See United States v. Archbold-Manner, 577 F. Supp. 2d 291, 292-93 (D.D.C. 2008) (noting the need for translations of voluminous foreign language discovery in ruling relating to Speedy Trial Act). This is particularly true with respect to Russian, which is highly dissimilar to English and literal translations of words often result in lost meaning or context. See, e.g., https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/sls/c78549.htm (Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute School of Language Studies identifying Russian as a Category III Language “with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English”). Again, by way of example, certain allegedly sensitive documents contain the Russian word “шеф.” This word can be translated into the English words “chief,” “boss” or “chef”—a distinction that is critically important since international media often refers to Mr. Prigozhin as “Putin’s Chef.”

Each logical step in this paragraph is nonsense, because it’s clear the documents in question are getting translated by people who do not suffer from the “significant linguistic and cultural differences” cited by the State Department in an off-point citation. Ultimately, this argument amounts to Prigozhin claiming that only he knows whether — all this time! — has has actually been Putin’s boss, not his chef, as usually claimed.

That said, the argument is telling, because it suggests that Prigozhin has to get discovery because documents turned over in discovery directly implicate his relationship with Putin.

“The Russian national who controls the Defendant but has not personally appeared”

The main gist of this filing, however, is an attempt to revisit an earlier order in this case and force the government (the troll lawyers pretend this case is being exclusively prosecuted by Mueller and not also by lawyers from two other DOJ components) to turn over 3 million pages in discovery to Prigozhin, even though he hasn’t appeared before the court personally.

Since the entry of the Protective Order, the Special Counsel has produced nearly 4 million documents, 3.2 million of which it has designated as “sensitive.” The Special Counsel has not explained to defense counsel the reason for the designation of any particular document or category of documents, nor has he explained why—with non-classified material—defense counsel should not have access to his secret communications with the Court.

Remember, Prigozhin made himself General Manager of Concord Management after it got indicted in the same indictment in which he got indicted so he could insist that he get this discovery in his corporate form, even while dodging prosecution in his natural form (it’s sort of the reverse effect of the Trump Organization consubstantiation that is going to get Trump in trouble). As a result, Concord argues (for the second time) that Prigozhin must get discovery because he is the defendant, and not a co-defendant currently avoiding any court appearance.

Undersigned counsel has been unable to identify a single reported case where a corporate defendant was prohibited from viewing discovery,

[snip]

Second, co-defendant Mr. Prigozhin is the only person directly affiliated with Concord identified in the Indictment. As such, Concord cannot be expected to make informed decisions regarding its defense or meaningfully confer with its counsel unless it—and specifically Mr. Prigozhin—understands the evidence the Special Counsel intends to use against it at trial. Maury, 695 F.3d at 248 (recognizing that “[a]n organization has no self-knowledge of its own Undersigned counsel has been unable to identify a single reported case where a corporate defendant was prohibited from viewing discovery,

Yet the troll lawyers don’t address the issue that proved key the last time: that this an attempt for Prigozhin, who because he has not made an appearance is not bound by the protective order, to obtain discovery as a defendant without risking his neck. Indeed, it turns that scenario on its head, searching for instances where corporations have been denied discovery as opposed to where indicted co-conspirators obtain discovery without showing up in court first.

In a related filing, the government calls Prigozhin “the Russian national who controls the Defendant but has not personally appeared” and cite national security concerns about “certain facts regarding Prigozhin and other Russian nationals associated with him.” Perhaps the government needs to present details to Friedrich about just what Putin’s chef has cooked up for him.

The troll lawyers also don’t address the terms of the discovery order. Prigozhin has a means of getting the discovery he wants: he only needs to come to the United States and enter into the protective order to do that. Indeed, two of the cases Concord cites seem to support the existing protective order, which requires those who access this information to be bound by the court before they do so and prohibits discovery from being removed from the US.

United States v. Carriles, 654 F. Supp. 2d 557, 562, 570 (W.D. Tex. 2009) (rejecting the government’s proposed protective order related to sensitive but unclassified discovery which would have prevented defendant from disseminating any sensitive discovery material to prospective witnesses without first obtaining court approval, and instead allowing defendant to disclose materials necessary for trial preparation after obtaining a memorandum of understanding related to the protective order); Darden, 2017 WL 3700340, at *3 (rejecting the government’s proposed protective order that prohibited the defendants from reviewing discovery materials unless in the presence of counsel and adopting a less restrictive protective order which specified precisely which discovery materials defense counsel could review with the defendants but could not provide or leave with the defendants).

Admittedly, Judge Dabney Friedrich invited Concord to return to these issues (albeit at a slightly later stage than where we’re at). But Concord doesn’t even address that there are means for Prigozhin to access materials under the existing protective order.

There are two more interesting sub-arguments here.

Concord argues that because the US government has charged accountant Elena Khusyaynova — but not in this case — the ongoing investigation is done

First, Concord uses the fact that Eastern District of VA charged Concord accountant in a parallel case, the “ongoing investigation” the government cited to justify its secrecy has ended.

Nevertheless, the Special Counsel has publicly invoked—in the Protective Order itself and its briefing—both an “ongoing investigation” and “sensitive investigatory techniques” as grounds for preventing disclosure, neither of which should apply here.

Undersigned counsel must assume for now that the “ongoing investigation” referred to in the Protective Order is related to the criminal complaint recently unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia. Ex. A. Because this complaint is now unsealed, and the ongoing investigation has been publicly revealed, there is no further need to protect this investigation from disclosure.

It later says that some of the documents cited in the affidavit submitted in Elena Khusyaynova’s case are “the very same documents” turned over in discovery here.

Relatedly, the government itself has described some of the “sensitive” discovery in great detail in public filings, yet has made no effort to subsequently re-categorize those very same documents as no longer sensitive. For example, in an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed under seal on September 28, 2018 in the Eastern District of Virginia and unsealed on October 19, 2018, an FBI Special Agent described “detailed financial documents that tracked itemized Project Lakhta expenses” allegedly transmitted between an employee of Concord and an employee of its co-defendant, Internet Research Agency. See Ex. A, Criminal Compl., United States v. Elena Khusyaynova, 1:18-mj-464 (E.D. Va.) (filed Sept. 28, 2018; unsealed Oct. 19, 2018) (“the Holt Affidavit”). The Holt Affidavit goes on to state that “[b]etween at least January 2016 and July 2018, these documents were updated and provided to Concord on approximately a monthly basis,” and provides “illustrative examples” of these documents, including identifying the individual who sent the document (the defendant identified in the complaint); describing the date on which the documents were allegedly sent and the approximate dollar value contained in the document; and even quoting from the documents. Id. ¶ 21. To the extent that these very same documents are among those designated by the Special Counsel as “sensitive,” it is impossible to understand why they cannot be shared with Concord in order to defend itself against criminal charges in this case. [my emphasis]

The argument that any investigation into Concord is complete is undermined by the other motion Concord submitted the same day they submitted this motion. It complains that Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson somehow took investigative action on information a week after Concord provided  the same information to the Firewall Counsel, on August 30.

On August 23, 2018, in connection with a request (“Concord’s Request”) made pursuant to the Protective Order entered by the Court, Dkt. No. 42-1, Concord provided confidential information to Firewall Counsel. The Court was made aware of the nature of this information in the sealed portion of Concord’s Motion for Leave to Respond to the Government’s Supplemental Briefing Relating to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, filed on October 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 70-4 (Concord’s “Motion for Leave”). Seven days after Concord’s Request, on August 30, 2018, Assistant Special Counsel L. Rush Atkinson took investigative action on the exact same information Concord provided to Firewall Counsel. Undersigned counsel learned about this on October 4, 2018, based on discovery provided by the Special Counsel’s Office. Immediately upon identifying this remarkable coincidence, on October 5, 2018, undersigned counsel requested an explanation from the Special Counsel’s Office, copying Firewall Counsel on the e-mail. The Special Counsel’s Office responded to the email on October 7, 2018, but did not explain how it obtained the confidential information, stating instead that the trial team was unaware that undersigned counsel was in communication with Firewall Counsel and that “[n]o criminal process that has been turned over in discovery is derived from [those] communications.”

Having received no further explanation or information from the government, undersigned counsel raised this issue with the Court in a filing made on October 22, 2018 in connection with the then-pending Motion to Dismiss. In response to questions from the Court, Firewall Counsel denied having any communication with the Special Counsel’s Office.

In a footnote, Concord makes the kind of vague claim I expect to be corrected by Mueller, suggesting that its one request to Firewall Counsel hasn’t gotten a response.

Concord initially requested authorization from the Court pursuant to the Protective Order to disclose a small number of specifically identified allegedly sensitive documents to particular Russian individuals, but to date the Court had not required the Firewall Counsel to respond to that request in writing.

While it’s certainly possible Atkinson’s investigative action fed into the September 28 charges against Khusyaynova, one way or another, it suggests the parts of the Concord investigation under Mueller also remain ongoing.

Interestingly, Atkinson wasn’t on October 23 and  November 27 filings in this case, though he was on yesterday’s brief; during October and November, however, Atkinson was dealing with red-blooded American trolls like Jerome Corsi.

In any case, the complaint about Atkinson feels like a parallel construction issue to me. After all, Concord surely remains under close surveillance by the US government, and so long as Progozhin does not have a lawyer who files an appearance for him personally in this matter, he likely remains a legitimate surveillance target. So Atkinson might have means to obtain such information independent of the Firewall Counsel.

Reverse engineering the parallel construction on 3 million documents

Indeed, that’s what this entire thing feels like: an attempt to obtain the non-classified discovery from US providers to reverse engineer it to understand what surveillance the underlying investigation is conducting. As Concord describes, its lawyers are seeing millions of documents obtained via subpoena.

The Special Counsel has explicitly acknowledged that none of the discovery is classified. Moreover, the allegedly “sensitive” discovery appears to have been collected exclusively through the use of criminal subpoenas, search warrants, and orders issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703, as opposed to any classified collection method.

It then goes on to suggest that what US tech companies turn over in response to legal process is all laid out in public. It also helpfully names a bunch of providers from which discovery has been provided: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Instagram, WhatsApp, Paypal, and Verizon.

With respect to “sensitive investigatory techniques,” the discovery produced to date comes from legal process issued to various companies, including email providers, internet service providers, financial institutions, and other sources. See Government’s Mot. For a Protective Order Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(d)(1) at 2, Dkt. 24. But any person anywhere in the world connected to the Internet already knows that law enforcement agencies can and do gather evidence from these types of companies through legal process in criminal matters, and specifically what can be gathered through those various processes is widely known and is not in need of protection. For example, Google explains in detail on its website precisely what information it will disclose in response to legal process in the form of a subpoena, court order, or search warrant. See https://support.google.com/transparencyreport/answer/ 7381738?hl=en. Google specifically publicizes that in response to a subpoena for Gmail data, it can be compelled to disclose subscriber registration information (e.g., name, account creation information, associated email addresses, phone number), and sign-in IP addresses and associated time stamps. Id. In response to a court order for Gmail data, Google may provide “non-content information (such as non-content email header information)” and in response to a search warrant Google can be compelled to produce email content, in addition to the data produced in response to a subpoena or court order. Id. Facebook publishes similar information, explaining that in response to a subpoena, it may disclose “basic subscriber records,” which may include name, length of service, credit card information, email addresses, and recent login/logout IP addresses. See https://www.facebook.com/safety/groups/law/guidelines/. In response to a court order, Facebook may disclose message headers and IP addresses, as well as basic subscriber records. Id. In response to a search warrant, Facebook may disclose stored contents of the account, including messages, photos, videos, timeline posts, and location information. Id.

Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Instagram, and WhatsApp, all publish similarly detailed information about the types of data available to law enforcement through subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants. See https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-lawenforcement-support (explanation from Twitter that obtaining non-public information requires valid legal process like a subpoena, court order, or other legal process and that requests for the contents of communications require a valid search warrant or equivalent); https:// www.apple.com/privacy/government-information-requests/ (explanation from Apple, Inc. of what government and law enforcement agencies can obtain through legal process); https:// www.microsoft.com/en-us/corporate-responsibility/lerr (explanation from Microsoft that a subpoena is required for non-content data, and a warrant or court order is required for content data); https://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0geK.OJvA5cPPUAkCJXNyoA;_ylu= X3oDMTEyaDM4Z2dkBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ4NTNfMQRzZWMDc3I-/RV=2/ RE=1544498442/RO=10/RU=https%3a%2f%2fwww.eff.org%2ffiles%2ffilenode%2fsocial_net work%2fyahoo_sn_leg-doj.pdf/RK=2/RS=sXU4pB1SMj3WwjZBx3ltlU4S6v w- (explanation from Yahoo of precisely what data may be disclosed in response to a subpoena, 2703(d) order, or Search Warrant); https://faq.whatsapp.com/en/android/26000050/?category=5245250 (explanation from WhatsApp detailing what information is available through various forms of legal process); https://help.instagram.com/494561080557017 (explanation from Instagram describing the information it will disclose in response to subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders). Financial institutions and internet service providers also openly describe what information is available to law enforcement through various legal process. See, e.g., https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/law-enforcement (explanation from PayPal describing the type of data it collects and when that data is made available to law enforcement as required by law); https://www.verizon.com/about/portal/transparency-report/faqs/ (explanation from Verizon of the types of information it is required to disclose when properly requested by law enforcement or court order).

Thus, if it is the so-called “manner of collection” of the discovery that the Special Counsel seeks to protect—that is, the fact that law enforcement agencies can collect a certain type of data—that fact is widely known and does not justify the burdens the Protective Order imposes on Concord’s right to present a defense.3

Concord goes on to dismiss the concerns of exposing “witnesses.”

3 To the extent that the government argues that limiting access to discovery will ensure the safety of witnesses, there is no valid basis for such argument. Specifically, even in cases where there is such a risk (and undersigned counsel knows of no such risk here), there must be more than “broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning.” Johnson, 314 F. Supp. 3d at 251. In those instances, courts are still willing to allow a defendant to review the evidence, subject to certain parameters. See, e.g., id., at 254 (requiring government redaction of discovery materials); Darden, 2017 WL 3700340, at *3 (adopting less-restrictive measure to ensure witness safety). If the government has a legitimate concern about witness safety, the burden is on it to specifically articulate the concern, identify precisely the documents that would lead to the identification of a witness, and redact that information or propose an alternative means of restricting disclosure.

The FBI hides a great deal of detail about precisely what it can obtain from providers by deeming service providers witnesses, and this feels like the same.

Still, even the public record in past dockets reveals that discovery from providers can be vastly more extensive than the public imagines.

Which is, I imagine, what Concord is trying to provide Putin’s chef.

The troll lawyers implicitly troll Judge Freidrich’s past rulings

Don’t get me wrong. What kind of protective order Friedrich sustains against Concord so long as it insists co-defendant Prigozhin is the only one at Concord who can handle that discovery is an interesting legal question.

That said, Concord’s signature style might start wearing on Friedrich’s patience given claims that seemingly defy her decision on the last major challenge to the Mueller prosecution.

In this first-of-its-kind prosecution of a make-believe crime, the Office of Special Counsel maintains that it can unilaterally—and for secret reasons disclosed only to the Court— categorize millions of pages of non-classified documents as “sensitive,” and prohibit defense counsel from sharing this information with Defendant Concord for purposes of preparing for trial. This, apparently only because the Defendant and its officers and employees are Russian as opposed to American. The Special Counsel’s unique argument appears rooted in the maxim, “Happy the short-sighted who see no further than what they can touch.”1

Maillart, Ella K., The Cruel Way (1947).

Friedrich has already ruled that this is not a made-up crime.

In Concord’s view, that omission is dispositive: the indictment cannot accuse Concord of conspiring to obstruct lawful government functions “without any identified or recognized statutory offense” because a conspiracy conviction cannot be “based strictly on lawful conduct” even if that conduct is “concealed from the government.” Id. (emphasis omitted).

Concord is correct that the indictment must identify the lawful government functions at issue with some specificity. And it does. See Indictment ¶¶ 9, 25–27. A defraud-clause conspiracy need not, however, allege an agreement to violate some statutory or regulatory provision independent of § 371. 3

[Citations of 5 cases demonstrating the point]

Put simply, conspiracies to defraud the government by interfering with its agencies’ lawful functions are illegal because § 371 makes them illegal, not because they happen to overlap with substantive prohibitions found in other statutes.

Similarly, as part of a complaint that the prosecutors haven’t had to bear any burden of this protective order, Concord says they should have to redact Personally Identifiable Information rather than deeming materials including it “sensitive.”

But rather than impose on the government the burden of identifying the materials that actually contain PII, so that the specific documents or information can be redacted or restricted, the Special Counsel has used the Protective Order to designate the entirety of various data productions to completely restrict Concord’s ability to view the vast majority of discovery regardless of whether specific documents contain PII.

This is another issue that Friedrich has already ruled against the defense on, ruling against their request to make Mueller strip the PII.

Friedrich already seemed predisposed to honor the government’s security concerns, which they just teed up again. If she feels like she’s the one being trolled, as opposed to Democratic voters or Special Counsel lawyers, she may not look too kindly on this request.

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. 

Yevgeniy Prigozhin Continues to Troll Both Online and in the Courts

xkcd comic used under Creative Commons license — available online at https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/free_speech.png

The trolls are engaging in lawfare again.

For some time, I’ve been fascinated by the way, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election tampering, Russians have engaged in lawfare to score political points against the US. There were the multiple lawsuits pertaining to the Steele dossier. There was Concord Management’s unexpected defense in the Internet Research Agency indictment. Last week, Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls struck again, this time suing Facebook for deleting the account of Federal Agency of News on April 3, 2018.

I’m a bit mystified by this suit. It may be a moonshot bid to learn more about Mueller’s investigation and insinuate that Facebook is an agent of the US government. More likely, it may be as much about pressuring Facebook in Russia as it is about winning reinstatement on Facebook.

Another Prigozhin attempt to use lawfare to embarrass the US government (and their willing partner Facebook!)

As with Concord’s defense, Prigozhin has hired legit American lawyers for the lawfare. But unlike Concord’s defense, it’s not clear how seriously to take this effort. The suit complains, in significant part, that Facebook has deprived FAN of its First Amendment rights.

FAN’s publications and posts on Facebook were the exercise of its constitutionally protected freedom of speech to inform the general public of historical and current events in politics, entertainment and other areas of public interest.

Facebook violated FAN’s First Amendment rights by deleting the contents of FAN’s Facebook Page and blocking FAN’s access to its Facebook account.

Facebook took action against FAN in an effort to silence and deter FAN’s free speech.

Facebook violated FAN’s First Amendment rights solely on account of its and its members’ national origin.

As xkcd famously explained once, that’s not the way the First Amendment works. It only prevents the government from limiting speech. Facebook is a private company, and it can boot whatever users it sees fit. But FAN may be trying to do two things. First, by treating Facebook’s terms of service as a contract, it claims it fulfilled its side of the relationship, but Facebook nevertheless deleted its account.

FAN complied with the terms of the Contract by properly registering with Facebook, paying any fees that were due and complying with all applicable terms of service.

At no time did FAN violate the terms of the contract.

Despite its contractual obligation to provide FAN with access to Facebook. Facebook breached the contract by removing FAN’s Facebook account and blocking FAN’s content without a legitimate reason.

Then, by tying Facebook’s efforts to crack down on Russian trolls to US government efforts to respond to Russia’s 2016 operation, I suspect it is trying to argue that Facebook deleted FAN’s account as an agent of the US government, thereby amounting to a First Amendment violation. The very first section of the complaint’s Background description details, “Facebook and the United States Government Target Russian Websites.” Among other details to substantiate that effort, it cites:

  • The January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment that described “a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence” funding the Internet Research Agency
  • Former Facebook CISO Alex Stamos’ statements, which went overboard in trying to assure people they were hunting down all Russian influence operations, “even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort”
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s comments that Facebook was “actively working with the U.S. government on its ongoing investigations into Russian interference”

As the lawsuit lays out, when Facebook removed FAN’s account in April, both Stamos and Zuck said they were doing so solely because FAN was controlled by the Internet Research Association.

All that said, it’s still highly unlikely this will work. I’m not sure if any of the CA-specific complaints will either, but like I said, this is a moonshot.

Prigozhin’s corporate laundromat

To make the argument at all, of course, FAN has to dismiss the presumed and explicit reasons Facebook banned them, starting with the accusation that they’re tied to IRA. In part, that involves claiming that IRA was disbanded in 2016.

Upon information and belief, the IRA was liquidated on or about December 28, 2016.

It also describes the new digs FAN got in 2015, after cohabiting with IRA for a year.

At the time of FAN’s incorporation and until in or about the middle of 2015, FAN and the IRA were located in the same building at 55A Savushkina Street, Saint Petersburg, the Russian Federation, 197183.

In or about the beginning of 2015, FAN searched for new premises that would be more convenient for its business with regard to a larger space for the office premises. On July 1, 2015, FAN moved to a business center at 23J Krasnogvardeiskiy Lane, Saint Petersburg, 197342.

But it also involves denying claims made in the complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova that was filed in September but not unsealed until October, events that post-dated Facebook’s banning of FAN by over five months. In that complaint, FBI Agent David Holt had alleged that FAN was one of the entities that helped obscure Project Lakhta’s disinformation efforts.

Beginning in or around mid-2014 and continuing to the present, Project Lakhta obscured its conduct by operating through a number of Russian entities, including Internet Research Agency LLC (“IRA”), Internet Research LLC, MediaSintez LLC, GlavSet LLC, MixInfo LLC, Azimut LLC, NovInfo LLC, Nevskiy News LLC (a/k/a “NevNov”), Economy Today LLC, National News LLC, Federal News Agency LLC (a/k/a “FAN”), and International News Agency (a/k/a “MAN”).

The complaint claims FAN has nothing to do with these efforts, in part by denying (correctly, by all public accounts) that Lakhta is a legal entity.

FAN has no knowledge of “Project Lakhta”. There is no known business or other organization in the Russian Federation that operates under such name. To the extent it is some sort of informal organization, FAN is unaware of its membership, goals or methods of operation.

FAN is not an entity within “Project Lakhta” and has no relationship with “Project Lakhta”, the IRA or GlavSet. To the contrary, FAN is a news gathering and dissemination organization. In that capacity, FAN gathers news from conventional sources and adheres to journalistic standards in its operations.

Denying any tie to IRA and Lakhta, however, also involves making claims about Khusyaynova that directly conflict with the claims in the complaint. Khusyaynova, the lawsuit claims, is FAN’s accountant, but that’s the only place she works.

Ms. Khusyaynova has been FAN’s chief accountant since at least August 2, 2016. As such, Ms. Khusyaynova has been involved in FAN’s day-to-day accounting operations, including the purchase of office equipment and furniture and payments for advertising or other business contracts as assigned by Mr. Zubarev in his capacity as the General Director of FAN.

As the Chief Accountant, Ms. Khusyaynova’s duties are akin to those of a bookkeeper in the United States. She is not an officer of FAN, does not exercise discretionary authority over the editorial content of FAN’s publications and is not aware of what stories are going to be published or not published.

To the best of FAN’s knowledge, Ms. Khusyaynova’s sole employment is with FAN. In fact, she has explicitly stated that FAN is her sole employer and that she does not provide any services to any other entity and denies any involvement with “Project Lakhta”.

FAN has no reason to believe that Ms. Khusyaynova or any of its employees were providing services to another entity, much less to an entity under the umbrella of “Project Lakhta”.

And it’s not just Khusyaynova about whom FAN must make claims that dispute those made by the US government. The complaint does the same of Aleksandra Yurievna Krylova, who was accused in the IRA indictment of planning and carrying out an intelligence gathering trip to the US in 2014.

Defendant ALEKSANDRA YURYEVNA KRYLOVA (Крылова Александра Юрьевна) worked for the ORGANIZATION from at least in or around September 2013 to at least in or around November 2014. By approximately April 2014, KRYLOVA served as director and was the ORGANIZATION’s third-highest ranking employee. In 2014, KRYLOVA traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the ORGANIZATION’s operations.

[snip]

Only KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA received visas, and from approximately June 4, 2014 through June 26, 2014, KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA traveled in and around the United States, including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York to gather intelligence. After the trip, KRYLOVA and BURCHIK exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip.

Here, the lawsuit has a bit more difficulty just dismissing ties. It admits that Krylova was the founder and first director of FAN, but in that passage of the lawsuit declines to mention when that was.

The founder and first General Director of FAN was Aleksandra Yurievna Krylova. The Special Counsel has alleged that Krylova was an employee of the IRA from in or around September 2013 to in or around November 2014. FAN has no knowledge of this allegation and therefore does not know if it is accurate or not.

But as the lawsuit admits elsewhere, FAN was incorporated on May 22, 2014.

On May 22, 2014, FAN was incorporated in order to satisfy public needs of Russian and foreign legal entities and individuals by way of gathering, transmitting and supplying domestic and international news reports and other publications of public interest.

So at the time Krylova traveled to the US (while hiding her true purpose, thereby committing visa fraud), she had just recently formed FAN.

All this is no big deal, the lawsuit suggests, because FAN doesn’t know anything about it and besides it has been a long time.

Anna Vitalyevna Botneva succeeded Krylova as General Director of FAN, on November 17, 2014, and on December 24, 2014, Krylova sold 100% of the company’s shares to Botneva.

[snip]

At the time of Ms. Krylova’s indictment, she had no connection with FAN for more than three years.

At the time of Krylova’s indictment, of course, she also had had no connection with IRA for the same length of time.

FAN is silent about how long Botneva ran the show and how long she remained the sole shareholder. What it does make clear is that Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev — the guy who’s being fronted as a plaintiff and the one who presumably would be asked to claim to have ignorance of IRA’s ties to FAN and Khusyaynova’s day job — became the sole shareholder last year.

Since August 2, 2016, Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev has been the General Director of FAN, and since April 5, 2017, he has been the sole shareholder of the company.

In preparation of the Concord Management challenge of the IRA indictment, Prigozhin got himself named the director, which would give him the opportunity to claim to need to review discovery. This feels like the opposite: the creation of a figurehead who can claim to be dumb and dissociated from Prigozhin’s other efforts.

I highly doubt this well get very far (in part, because FAN would have to provide better proof than it has provided that these things are true).

A set-up to claim Facebook is conducting influence operations in Russia

Which finally brings us to where I think this is going. A First Amendment claim here in the US is unlikely to get anywhere, though it does give Russian propagandists an opportunity to claim Russia is being deplatformed by American social media along with the Nazis and terrorists.

But how Russia will use this argument within Russia is another matter. The lawsuit describes its injury, in part, in terms of a loss of access in Russia.

As of October 2018, FAN is ranked among the Top 35 most visited websites in Russia by LiveInternet, one of the largest Russian internet blogging platforms; among the Top 20 by Mail.ru, a Russian internet company which reaches approximately 86% of Russian internet users per month; and among the Top 25 by Rambler, a Russian search engine and one of the biggest Russian web portals.

Many of FAN’s subscribers are also Facebook users who for at least the past four years were able to access FAN through Facebook and who did, in fact, access FAN through Facebook.

That is, FAN is making an argument that it has lost Russian readers, not just American ones, because of Facebook’s actions.

And, in the last line of the introduction, the lawsuit uses language that (I could imagine) Russia might use in the future to accuse Facebook of conducting its own influence operations.

Facebook seeks to dictate news content based upon its own political view point thereby attempting to influence the public media coverage of internal political events in the Russian Federation.

After laying out a claim that Facebook was acting as an agent of the US government in cutting off trolls, it ends with a suggestion that Facebook’s real goal here is to influence “internal political events” within Russia.

That, I suspect, is the real purpose of this effort, setting up a future attack against Facebook operating in Russia.

Trump Appointee Dabney Friedrich Continues to Trounce the Trolls’ Hopes of Discrediting Mueller

Dabney Friedrich, the Trump appointee presiding over the Concord Management challenge to its indictment, just released her opinion rejecting their attempt to argue they can’t be indicted for conspiring to illegally tamper in our elections. The indictment effectively argued that Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls deceptive tactics — including not just failing to register as foreigners trying to influence US politics, but also social media users hiding they were foreign — prevented the US government from ensuring foreigners don’t participate in our elections.

The key passage in the opinion is this one, which upholds the government’s contention that it doesn’t have to prove that Concord broke the underlying laws protecting elections. It only has to prove that Concord conspired to undermine lawful government functions.

Concord is correct that the indictment must identify the lawful government functions at issue with some specificity. And it does. See Indictment ¶¶ 9, 25–27. A defraud-clause conspiracy need not, however, allege an agreement to violate some statutory or regulatory provision independent of § 371.

With this passage, a Trump judge affirms the underlying theory behind all of Mueller’s interlocking conspiracies.

But I think what Friedrich did with Concord’s claim that, because trolling on social media involves First Amendment concerns, the bar for willingness is raised higher is as important. She dismissed this claim by treating Concord’s trolling as fraud, not just lying.

Concord’s remaining argument—that the indictment implicates protected speech—fares no better. There is no doubt that speech is of “primary importance . . . to the integrity of the election process,” Citizens United, 558 U.S. 310, 334 (2010), or that political speech “occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values,” Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty. and Mun. Emps., Counsel 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2476 (2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, the indictment does not focus on the defendants’ speech, or its content, but on a course of deceptive conduct. See, e.g., Indictment ¶¶ 4–7, 30, 32, 36, 39, 41, 43, 48, 51. Although the Supreme Court made clear in United States v. Alvarez that “false statements” are not automatically unprotected, 567 U.S. 709, 717–22 (2012) (plurality opinion), it distinguished such statements from “fraud,” which involves “legally cognizable harm,” id. at 719, and remains one of the few historical categories of unprotected speech, id. at 717. Indeed, the Court approved of statutes prohibiting false statements to government officials, perjury, impersonating an officer, and pretending to speak on behalf of the government because such statutes “implicate fraud or speech integral to criminal conduct.” Id. at 721. Consistent with these principles, the Fifth Circuit in United States v. Daly rejected a claim that a conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding and impairing the lawful functions of the IRS implicated the First Amendment. 756 F.2d 1076, 1082 (5th Cir. 1985).

The same is true here. The conspiracy to defraud does not implicate the First Amendment merely because it involved deceptive statements like claiming to represent U.S. entities, claiming to be U.S. persons, and providing false statements on visa applications. 9

9 Even if the indictment did implicate protected speech, the United States’ “compelling interest . . . in limiting the participation of foreign citizens in activities of American democratic self-government, and in thereby preventing foreign influence over the U.S. political process,” Bluman, 800 F. Supp. 2d at 288, might well sustain the charge against Concord.

Friedrich puts the government on notice that it will have to prove Concord knew it was interfering with government functions (which will be much easier with evidence laid out in the Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova complaint, at least going forward).

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

But it’s not clear Concord will sustain this legal challenge that long.

While regulation of elections for Americans is less onerous than it is for foreigners, the notion that trolling is fraud may be useful for other kinds of people tampering in elections.