Robert Mueller’s team announced their first relevant indictment today. It involved thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities. Read it.
1. Two of the indicted entities, Concord Management and Concord Catering, are already under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department. They were placed under sanctions in 2014 by Executive Order 13661. And they continued to operate with impunity.
2. As far as I can tell, there are no arrests associated with this indictment.
3. Despite extensive references to violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, none of the charges brought against any of the the persons or entities involves FARA. This shows you just how little legal bite FARA has.
4. The indictment shows that preparation for the 2016 operation began in 2013 and was fairly advanced by 2014.
5. The group pursued an “anyone but Hillary” strategy, supporting Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jill Stein.
They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.
Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on “politics in the USA” and to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump- we support them).”
On or about November 3, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased an advertisement to promote a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Instagram account “Blacktivist” that read in part: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”
6. There is no evidence in the indictment that any U.S. person they contacted realized their real identity, including members of the Trump campaign.
Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.
7. The indictment alleges the group, using false identities, tried to contact members of the Trump campaign. There is no evidence they did…but that doesn’t mean they didn’t.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said they misrepresented themselves as Americans when contacting the Trump campaign. https://t.co/BoXuwlVgu8 pic.twitter.com/tP1THeZJrg
— VICE News (@vicenews) February 16, 2018
8. The group helped underwrite, through unwitting U.S. persons, the Florida Goes Trump rallies.
9. After the election, the group paid for pro- and anti-Trump rallies.
57. After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For example, in or around November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally in New York through one ORGANIZATION-controlled group designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through another ORGANIZATION-controlled group, organized a rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President” held on or about November 12, 2016. Similarly, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally entitled “Charlotte Against Trump” in Charlotte, North Carolina, held on or about November 19, 2016.
10. The indictment gives the distinct impression that all of these entities were under surveillance for some time. It quotes from emails from one of the indicted persons and a family member and between others and unnamed U.S. persons to get information and to help organize rallies. In short, all of this stuff has been known to the FBI for a year. If true, this means the FBI sat by why it was going on.
11. They were so sophisticated they hadn’t heard of the term “purple state” until about 2015:
In order to collect additional intelligence, Defendants and their co-conspirators posed as U.S. persons and contacted U.S. political and social activists. For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts.
The project began in 2013 as a way of attempting to cause confusion in the U.S. presidential campaign. Mission accomplished. This indictment is a nothingburger. It tells us damned little we didn’t know from press accounts and there are no arrests on the horizon. Two of the three entities were already sanctioned so indicting them does nothing. There is absolutely nothing in here that even hints that the Russians involved in this had any help from anyone in the U.S. Maybe that indictment is coming but there is not a hint of it here.
This interference is exactly what Comey described around September 2016 when he said the object of the Russians was to create division. There is no evidence presented here that there was any greater goal than creating turmoil.
The interference seems aimed at bolstering what all of us thought were the LEAST LIKELY candidates in the primary: Trump, Sanders, Stein. The Russians attacked Cruz and Rubio and other GOP candidates as well as Clinton. After the election they helped organize anti-Trump rallies.
More importantly, there is no evidence here that there was any coherent strategy–or that they really knew what they were doing–beyond garden variety trolling.
I’m not authority on campaign finance law, but I’ve never heard of anyone, foreign or domestic, indicted for creating Facebook posts and tweets supportive of a candidate.
Claims like this:
Dear @realDonaldTrump: The DOJ indicted 13 Russian nationals at the Internet Research Agency for violating federal criminal law to help your campaign and hurt other campaigns.
Still think this Russia thing is a hoax and a witch hunt? Because a lot of witches just got indicted. https://t.co/qQXOS8c7ci
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) February 16, 2018
As we process 37-page federal indictment against 13 Russian nationals for interfering with U.S. election, remember that Trump views it as "a hoax" made up by Democrats. He has not acted to safeguard US democracy from future foreign intrusions.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) February 16, 2018
are fatuous nonsense. If anything this indictment makes Trump’s case that his campaign did not cooperate with Russia.
I’d be perfectly happy packing these people off to Gitmo but I have say that I find it is pretty underwhelming. At no stage, thus far, is it an investigation that merited the appointment of a special counsel.