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How the Concord Management Prosecution Fell Apart

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

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

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

The IRA indictment intersects with a number of important policy discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going to legal war with a shell company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government intended to try this case with unclassified information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

The government resorts to CIPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other cases of interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yevgeniy Prigozhin Wins His Asymmetric Legal War against DOJ

DOJ just moved to dismiss the indictment against Concord Management, the Yevgeniy Prigozhin company that funded his IRA troll effort; but they’re only moving to dismiss one charge, not the charges against human beings who can be made to show up in court.

The motion cites what I pointed out from the start: Prigozhin was just engaged in lawfare to collect information without having to share any of its own.

As this case has proceeded, however, it has become increasingly apparent to the government that Concord seeks to selectively enjoy the benefits of the American criminal process without subjecting itself to the concomitant obligations.

Concord has been eager and aggressive in using the judicial system to gather information about how the United States detects and prevents foreign election interference. Concord filed numerous motions to dismiss, motions for bills of particulars, motions to conduct discovery of prosecutorial decision-making, motions seeking grand jury materials, and motions to compel other discovery. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 11, 36, 46, 78, 93, 104, 181, 229, 241, 251, 256, 257, 264. Concord also received substantial discovery and engaged in extensive litigation aimed at housing that discovery in Russia. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 27, 37, 39, 77, 121, 187. But Concord has failed to protect at least some of that discovery from improper use. See ECF No. 94, at 8-11; Classified Addendum. And Concord has been reticent, to say the least, to comply with obligations that cannot simply be handled by American counsel. Thus, when the government sought to serve trial subpoenas on Concord through its counsel in this case, Concord claimed that service was a legal impossibility and argued that because it is a foreign corporation, the Court lacks jurisdiction to require Concord to produce records located abroad. See ECF Nos. 287, 311; 12/12/2019 Tr. 50- 55. Concord even asserted that to serve a subpoena on its counsel created an unconstitutional conflict of interest because Concord would be better off if the attorneys never transmit the subpoenas to Concord. See ECF Nos. 287, 311; 1/24/2020 Tr. 22-23. When Concord ultimately produced records, the government believes that it concealed responsive documents pertinent to the upcoming trial. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 361, 362, 377, 378. Indeed, the Court ordered Concord to show cause regarding its compliance and to produce a corporate representative. 2/27/20 Minute Order. In response, Concord initially did not even so much as assert that it had complied with the Court’s order, and Concord made no effort to make available a representative. See ECF Nos. 364, 367. Throughout this case, although Concord has “appeared” through counsel, counsel has always been explicit that they were not a representative of the company. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 287; 3/2/2020 Tr. 5-6. Ultimately, when the Court required that Concord submit an affidavit regarding its response to the subpoena, Prigozhin, the thrice-sanctioned Russian oligarch who has declined to subject himself to the Court’s jurisdiction, filed a purportedly “sworn” declaration. See ECF No. 376-1. That declaration, the government has reason to believe, contains false and misleading statements—it is evidently calculated to conceal facts that are relevant to this case and that a typical defendant would be required to reveal or else face sanctions. See ECF Nos. 377, 378; Classified Addendum.

In addition, a classification determination has been made on the proof needed for the case, which would weaken their case.

Upon careful consideration of all of the circumstances, and particularly in light of recent events and a change in the balance of the government’s proof due to a classification determination, as well as other facts described in more detail in a classified addendum to this motion, the government has concluded that further proceedings as to Concord, a Russian company with no presence in the United States and no exposure to meaningful punishment in the event of a conviction, promotes neither the interests of justice nor the nation’s security.

[snip]

Moreover, as described in greater detail in the classified addendum to this motion, a classification determination bearing on the evidence the government properly gathered during the investigation, limits the unclassified proof now available to the government at trial.

There’s a subtext here about Dabney Friedrich’s willingness to let Prigozhin dick with the courts by defying a subpoena from her court. But whatever the underlying classified facts, Prigozhin played chicken with the US court system and won.

This will likely serve as a key lesson for DOJ going forward about the potential blowback when indicting foreign companies along with the foreign officers deemed responsible for a hack. And Russia — and certain Russian troll apologists I know — will certainly crow about this decision.

Update: Friedrich has dismissed the indictment (again, just the one charge against Concord), presumably without even reading the classified supplement.

MINUTE ORDER. Before the Court is the government’s [381] Motion to Dismiss Count One of the Indictment with prejudice as to Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering (the “Concord Defendants”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a). The government’s motion is GRANTED. Accordingly, Count One of the [1] Indictment and [247] Superseding Indictment is dismissed with prejudice as to the Concord Defendants. So Ordered by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on March 16, 2020. (lcdlf2)

The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

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

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

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

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

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

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

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

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

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

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

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

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

The response matters

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

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

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

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

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

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Trolls Recoil from Sunlight

The other day, I noted that the government had turned the table on Concord Consulting, the Yevgeniy Prigozhin company that funded his troll operation, by asking for some pre-trial subpoenas. The reception of that motion by one of our new guests suggested that the trolls were not responding kindly to treatment to their own medicine.

Concord’s response did not disappoint.

The trollish Eric Dubelier complained that if he had to comply with this subpoena, he risks breaking Russian law.

Here, if the Court were to issue the government’s requested subpoena, Concord would be able to demonstrate that the request would cause Concord to violate Russian law on Russian soil— a result that is improper under controlling law. See In re Sealed Case, 825 F.2d at 498 (party challenging subpoena on basis that it would require the party to violate foreign law bears burden of making such a showing) (per curiam). Specifically, if Concord, individuals acting on its behalf, undersigned counsel, or its Russian counsel were to produce the information requested in the government’s proposed subpoena to the government pursuant only to a U.S. subpoena,2 they would likely be subject to legal jeopardy in Russia under criminal and other laws.

Treason, hacking, anti-sanction laws — Concord lists a parade of legal jeopardy with complying with this subpoena.

Dubelier even complains that complying with the parts of the subpoena asking for information on co-defendants charged with identity theft in the US might fall afoul of Russian privacy law.

The materials requested in items 6, 7, 8 and 9 also include documents that, if they exist, would constitute and/or contain personal data that, if Concord had such data, Concord would be generally forbidden by law from producing to the U.S. government or any third-party without each individual’s consent under Article 7 of Russian Federal Law 152-FZ, “On Personal Data,” paragraph 1 of Article 3 of which defines the term “personal data” broadly as “any information relating to an individual who is directly or indirectly identified or identifiable[.]”

I won’t take time to wade through his citations. Some (about the propriety of the subpoena, for example) are bullshit. Others pose interesting questions about the intersection of corporate persons and international law similar to others already raised by this prosecution.

But Concord’s response to some of its own medicine sure has produced an amusing response on the part of the trolls.

Update: Here’s the government’s reply, which lays out details of how it knows Concord has the subpoenaed materials. It also notes that Concord chose to mount a defense, and therefore should not now be able to hide behind its foreign status.

Additionally, Concord voluntarily chose to appear in this case. And, as the Court well knows, Concord has obtained substantial discovery and continues to seek additional information about how the United States detected its activities and detects and responds to related activities more generally. Foreign entities should not lightly be permitted to come to U.S. courts while shielding themselves from the same obligations that would apply to American defendants. Cf. In re Grand Jury Proceedings Bank of Nova Scotia, 740 F.2d 817, 828 (11th Cir. 1984) (explaining that where a bank “voluntarily elected” to do business abroad, it “accepted the incidental risk of occasional inconsistent governmental actions” and “cannot expect to avail itself of the benefits of doing business here without accepting the concomitant obligations”).

[snip]

Concord next contends (Doc. 273, at 13-16) that because it is a foreign corporation located abroad, it cannot be issued a subpoena to produce documents in connection with this case. In particular, Concord urges that its trial counsel “has no authority to accept” a trial subpoena (id. at 14) and that the Court, in any event, lacks personal jurisdiction over Concord and therefore cannot order it to produce records (id. at 14-16). Concord ignores the critical fact that it is properly a party in this case. The Court therefore can issue orders to Concord concerning this case. That includes a trial subpoena—an order to produce records that are relevant to and admissible in the case.

[snip]

In fact, after Concord initially disputed whether it had been properly served with a summons in this case, the Court confirmed that defense counsel was authorized “to enter a voluntary appearance in this matter and to subject [Concord] to the jurisdiction of this Court.” 5/9/18 Tr. 4-5. The Court clarified that Concord understood “that by doing so, it must also comply In fact, after Concord initially disputed whether it had been properly served with a summons in this case, the Court confirmed that defense counsel was authorized “to enter a voluntary appearance in this matter and to subject [Concord] to the jurisdiction of this Court.” 5/9/18 Tr. 4-5. The Court clarified that Concord understood “that by doing so, it must also comply with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the rules of this Court, and with the orders of this Court,” and defense counsel agreed. Id. at 5. A trial subpoena is an order of this Court issued in this case pursuant to the Federal Criminal Rules. Yet Concord (through that same counsel) now suggests that the Court has no authority to issue such an order to Concord. Indeed, this raises the question whether Concord believes that the Court has personal jurisdiction with respect to other orders issues in this case, such as the protective order governing the extensive discovery provided to the defense, or the Court’s scheduling order requiring Concord to provide the government with trial exhibits.

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.