A Dramatic Reading Of The Mueller Report

If you want to see it go here, the goddamned autoplay is making everyone mental.- John Cole








The Mueller Report Book Club – II. Russian “Active Measures” Social Media Campaign

(pp 14-35)

Much of this chapter is redacted under “Harm to Ongoing Matter,” (HOM) presumably referring to the court case against 13 employees of the Internet Research Agency (IRA). A few redactions are labeled “Personal Privacy” (PP) and “Investigative Technique,” (IT) and there seems no need to try to decipher them.

The unredacted part of the chapter is a story that has appeared in the news many times. I’ll outline it and provide a few juicy quotes.

The IRA is funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and companies he controlled, including Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering. It conducted social media operations in the United States with objectives of sowing discord and later electing Donald Trump president, starting in at least 2014. By February 2016, the IRA was supporting Trump against Clinton. Proghozin was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in December 2016.

The operations included running accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, holding rallies, and buying advertisements. The accounts looked like they belonged to individuals, groups, and activists of various sorts – rightwing, black, political, and religious. The IRA also ran a bot network on Twitter to amplify their messages. By the end of the 2016 election, they had reached millions of people.

(testimony of Colin Stretch, General Counsel of Facebook) (“We estimate that roughly 29 million people were served content in their News Feeds directly from the IRA’s 80,000 posts over the two years. Posts from these Pages were also shared, liked, and followed by people on Facebook, and, as a result, three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation. Our best estimate is that approximately 126 million people may have been served content from a Page associated with the IRA at some point during the two-year period.”). The Facebook representative also testified that Facebook had identified 170 Instagram accounts that posted approximately 120,000 pieces of content during that time. Facebook did not offer an estimate of the audience reached via Instagram. (Footnote 6, p. 15)

The chapter contains numerous specific examples of tweets and other social media from the IRA, including @TEN_ GOP, which pretended to be “the informal voice of the Tennessee GOP,” and “Miners for Trump,” which held rallies in Pennsylvania.

“Main idea: Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them)”

The IRA recruited Americans across the political spectrum to help spread its message. This section, starting on page 31, also contains both HOM and PP redactions. Members of the Trump campaign shared or retweeted IRA matter. Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Michael T. Flynn all retweeted IRA tweets against Hillary Clinton.

IRA employees also tried to contact Trump campaign members directly, representing themselves as US persons. The IRA’s contacts included requests for signs and other materials for rallies and requests to promote the rallies and help coordinate Iogistics. Some campaign volunteers agreed to provide the requested support (for example, agreeing to set aside a number of signs), the investigation has not identified evidence that any Trump campaign official understood the requests were coming from foreign nationals.

A name that may be worth keeping in the back of your mind is “Project Lakhta,” which is mentioned as a larger project that includes the IRA operations. The rest of that paragraph is redacted.

 








The Mueller Report Book Club – The Special Counsel’s Investigation

(pp 11-13)

This section lays the basis for and scope of the investigation. It first cites Rod Rosenstein’s Appointment Order. (The report uses more capitalization than I usually do. It is helpful in pointing to specific documents.) The subjects of investigation are:

(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

The last covers “federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.” It also covers similar crimes committed during the FBI’s investigation that was wrapped into the Special Counsel’s investigation.

Later memos confirmed that the investigation includes

  • allegations that three Trump campaign officials – Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos – “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election”
  • Manafort’s crime arising from payments he received from the Ukrainian government
  • Manafort’s crimes arising from his receipt of loans from a bank whose CEO was then seeking a position in the Trump Administration
  • allegations that Papadopoulos committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent of the Israeli government
  • four sets of allegations involving Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump
  • the “pertinent activities” of Michael Cohen, Richard Gates, Roger Stone, and two names redacted for personal privacy (PP) reasons
  • leads related to Cohen’ s establishment and use of Essential Consultants LLC to, among other things, receive funds from Russian-backed entities
  • individuals who might be working with people being investigated
  • allegations that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions made false statements to the United States Senate.

That’s a big investigation. Mueller inherited parts of this from the ongoing FBI investigation. It speaks to Mueller’s care that he confirmed with the Acting Attorney General that the bulleted points were indeed to be investigated. Two district court cases have confirmed the office’s authority to investigate these matters.

The Special Counsel’s office operated like a US Attorney’s office. The Office made its own judgements about what to investigate within the stated parameters and, for example, didn’t chase down every news item about a Russian contact with the campaign.

“Certain proceedings associated with the Office’s work” continue and have been transferred to the Department of Justice and the FBI.

The Special Counsel’s team at its max:

  • 19 attorneys – five of whom joined the Office from private practice and 14 on detail or assigned from other Department of Justice components
  • a filter team of Department lawyers and FBI personnel who screened materials for privileged information before turning those materials over to investigators
  • three paralegals on detail from the Department’s Antitrust Division
  • an administrative staff of nine responsible for budget, finance, purchasing, human resources, records, facilities, security, information technology, and administrative support.

They worked alongside approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, a paralegal, and professional staff assigned by the FBI to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation.

The Office

  • issued more than 2,800 grand jury subpoenas
  • executed nearly 500 search-and-seizure warrants
  • obtained more than 230 orders for communications records
  • obtained almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers
  • made 13 requests to foreign governments
  • and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses, including almost 80 before a grand jury.

The FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but rather reviewed the results of the investigation and sent written summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Not all of that information is included in this report.

This ends the preliminary materials in the report. They are important because they tell us some things about what Mueller thinks is important (that Russia interfered in the 2016 election) and how he went about the investigation.

Articles of interest:

Just Security: Unfinished Business: What Mueller Didn’t Cover, But Congress Can

Washington Post: Was Mueller’s dodge on obstruction a blunder — or brilliant?

 








House Intelligence Committee Hearing on the Mueller Report and Counterintelligence

The House Intelligence Committee is holding a hearing this morning on the Mueller Report and its counterintelligence implications. I just noticed that C-Span was not airing it until a few minutes ago. And the cable news networks don’t appear to be broadcasting it either. I’m not sure if this is a result of the snooze fest that was Monday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller Report or because they were expecting to cover several hours of hearings by the House Oversight Committee culminating in a contempt vote for both Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross. That vote has been postponed until, at least, this afternoon. So for those interested, here’s the live feed of the ongoing House Intelligence Committee on the Mueller Report and its counterintelligence implications.

Open thread!








The Mueller Report Book Club – Executive Summary to Volume I

Pages 4-10 (pages are those in the original report.)

The executive summary has four subsections:

  • Russian Social Media Campaign
  • Russian Hacking Operations
  • Russian Contacts With The Campaign
  • The Special Counsel’s Charging Decisions

 

Russian Social Media Campaign

The Internet Research Agency (IRA) carried out the earliest Russian interference operations identified by the investigation-a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States.

The report calls the IRA operations “the earliest,” which implies there were other organizations involved. The first two paragraphs contain redactions, “Harm to Ongoing Matter” (which I will refer to as HOM from now on). This could be the Roger Stone prosecution or the FBI counterintelligence investigation, which continues.

My reading of Rod Rosenstein’s charge to the Special Counsel was that the investigation was to be primarily into the Russian interference, and I assumed it would be comprehensive. But timing is everything, and the investigation ended when it did. On balance, getting the information out sooner and having the FBI continue the counterintelligence investigation is probably a good decision, although it is possible that Donald Trump’s naming of William Barr as Attorney General cut the investigation short.

Counterintelligence investigators tend to be extremely secretive, which I disagree with on the whole. More about that as we hit more redactions.

The IRA itself called its operations information warfare. It began operations before the presidential campaign, as early as 2014, and favored Trump and disparaged Clinton.

The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons conspired or coordinated with the IRA. Section II of this report details the Office’s investigation of the Russian social media campaign.

 

Russian Hacking Operations

The Russian intelligence service known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) carried out the hacking operations. The hacking began in March 2016 into Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The material was disseminated through fictional “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” along with Wikileaks. WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from John Podesta on October 7, 2016, less than one hour after a U.S. media outlet released the “grab her by the pussy” video. The Trump campaign displayed interest.

A couple of redactions here (Harm to Ongoing Matter, HOM) look like they have to do with the Roger Stone prosecution.

 

Russian Contacts With The Campaign

The Russian government felt that a Trump win would benefit it, and members of the Trump campaign expected to benefit electorally from the Russian actions, but

the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

The Russian contacts consisted of

  • business connections,
  • offers of assistance to the Campaign,
  • invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person,
  • invitations for Campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and
  • policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations.

This section then gives a summary timeline of Russian contacts which you might want to mark to check back on sequences of events. I’m not going to summarize the timeline, as the events will be treated in detail later in the report.

Worth emphasizing:

On January 6, 2017, members of the intelligence community briefed President-Elect Trump on a joint assessment-drafted and coordinated among the Central Intelligence Agency, FBI, and National Security Agency – that concluded with high confidence that Russia had intervened in the election through a variety of means to assist Trump’s candidacy and harm Clinton’s. A declassified version of the assessment was publicly released that same day.

In January and February 2017, three Congressional committees announced investigations into Russian interference. In May, Trump fired James Comey, and the Special Counsel was appointed.

This timeline implies that the report covers only the period up to the appointment of the Special Counsel. The January 2017 briefing and DNI report make it impossible for Trump to claim he knows nothing about Russian interference, but he does anyway.

 

The Special Counsel’s Charging Decisions

The charging decisions have three main components:

First, the report concludes that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – the  social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations – violated  U.S. criminal law. Therefore, individuals and entities involved in the social media campaign were charged with participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and related counts of identity theft.

Second, although the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges, three in particular:

  • The evidence was not sufficient to charge any campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government;
  • Evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks’ s releases of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation.
  • Evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election

Third, several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) and to Congress about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Some of those lies were charged as violations of the federal false statements statute, including by Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Michael Cohen. A redaction (HOM) in the series naming those charged may refer to Roger Stone. The US District Court also found that Paul Manafort lied to the SCO and the grand jury.

A few other points:

Interactions between Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Trump Campaign officials both at Trump’s April 2016 foreign policy speech and during the week of the Republican National Convention were brief, public, and non-substantive.

The investigation did not establish that the efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing assistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia.

The investigation was limited in a number of ways – by individuals invoking their fifth-amendment rights, by lies, and by materials and witnesses being outside the United States. Also, some witnesses deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using encrypted applications that do not provide for long-term retention of records.

There are gaps in the record, which is part of the reason that conclusions could not be drawn about some of the potential crimes.