Wired: Indicting 12 Russian Hackers Could be Mueller’s Biggest Move Yet

The same unit, according to public reports, has been involved in attacks on

  • French president Emmanuel Macron,
  • NATO,
  • the German Parliament,
  • Georgia,

and other government targets across Europe.

.. Each of Mueller’s indictments, as they have come down, have demonstrated the incredible wealth of knowledge amassed by US intelligence and his team of investigators, and Friday was no exception. The indictment includes the specific allegations that between 4:19 and 4:56 pm on June 15, 2016, the defendants used their Moscow-based server to search for the same English words and phrases that Guccifer 2.0 used in “his” first blog post, where “he” claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker and claimed to be solely responsible for the attacks on Democratic targets.

.. It doesn’t rule out that future indictments might focus on the criminal behavior of Americans corresponding with the GRU or the IRA—nor would Americans necessarily have to know they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers to be guilty of various crimes.

.. the charging documents include intriguing breadcrumbs. The indictment references at one point that Guccifer 2.0 communicated with an unnamed US congressional candidate and, especially intriguingly, that the GRU for the first time began an attack on Hillary Clinton’s personal emails just hours after Trump publicly asked Russia for help in finding them.

.. one of the early tips to the US government that launched the FBI investigation eventually known by the codename CROSSFIRE HURRICANE: Trump aide George Papadopoulos telling an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, weeks before the GRU attacks became public. The charges against the GRU make clear that its effort began at least by March 2016. Papadopoulos, arrested last summer and already cooperating with Mueller’s team, might very have provided more information about where his information came from—and who, in addition to the Australians, he told.
Thus far, Mueller’s probe has focused on five distinct areas of interest:

1. An investigation into money laundering and past business dealings with Russia by people like former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
2. The active information influence operations by Russian trolls and bots on social media, involving the Russian Internet Research Agency
3. The active cyber penetrations and operations against the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton campaign leader John Podesta
4. Contacts with Russian officials by Trump campaign officials during the course of the 2016 election and the transition, like George Papadopoulos and former national security advisor Michael Flynn
5. Obstruction of justice, whether the President or those around him sought to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference

.. What Mueller hasn’t done—yet—is show how these individual pieces come together. What level of coordination was there between the Internet Research Agency and the GRU or FSB? What ties, if any, exist between the business dealings of Manafort, Gates, and the Russian efforts to influence the election?

How coordinated were unexplained oddities, like the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians, and the Russian government efforts by the IRA, GRU, and FSB?

.. He knows far, far more than the public does. There was little sign in Friday’s indictment that any of it came from the cooperation and plea agreements he’s made with figures like Flynn, Gates, and Papadopoulos—meaning that their information, presumably critical enough to Mueller that he was willing to trade it for lighter sentencing, still hasn’t seen the light of day.

‘Delegitimizing’ Mueller? Don’t Blame the Nunes Memo

The FBI and Justice Department hyped Trump–Russia collusion. Rod Rosenstein can right that wrong.

.. The most bitter dispute over the Nunes memo involves Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. This might seem odd since the memo, published last week by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Devin Nunes (R. Calif.), does not address the Mueller investigation. Rather, it homes in on potential abuses of foreign-intelligence-collection authorities by Obama-era Justice Department and FBI officials, said to have occurred many months before Mueller was appointed.

.. Nevertheless, it is simply a fact that many ardent supporters of President Trump claim the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation is destroyed by revelations in the Nunes memo — particularly, the improper use of the unverified Steele dossier to obtain a FISA-court warrant to spy on Carter Page, who had been a Trump campaign adviser. The idea is that without the Steele dossier, there would be no Trump-Russia narrative, and thus no collusion investigation — which is how Trump supporters perceive the Mueller probe.

.. Trump critics see the Mueller investigation as the path to impeachment, and thus anathematize Chairman Nunes as a Trumpist hack bent on razing the FBI

.. The Mueller investigation is supposed to be a counterintelligence probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Getting to the bottom of Russia’s perfidy is a goal every American should support

.. Yet the FBI and the Justice Department went out of their way, and outside their own policy, to frame the Russia investigation within an innuendo-laden narrative of Trump collusion. They did so by selectively broadcasting investigative information that is supposed to be confidential and non-public.

.. Thus the bleating about how Republican worries over FISA abuse are just a smokescreen for discrediting Mueller’s investigation. But they did the same thing: exploiting concerns about Russian interference in our election process as camouflage for a campaign to delegitimize Trump’s presidency.

.. From a law-enforcement perspective, the government should speak publicly about an investigation only in court, when it formally charges a person with a crime, and when that person thus enjoys all the due-process protections our system affords. Prior to that point, confirming an investigation would stigmatize a suspect who has not been charged and is presumed innocent; while denying that an investigation is ongoing would create a need to confirm or deny in every case.

.. From a counterintelligence perspective, the wisdom of the no-comment policy is even more obvious. Intelligence work is classified. The point is not to prosecute crimes; it is to derive information about foreign governments and actors who threaten American interests.

.. The FBI and Justice Department should always resist acknowledging that an investigation is under way. Even when the fact of an investigation is unavoidably public (because, for example, people find out a search warrant has been executed, or someone has been subpoenaed to the grand jury), the no-comment rule enables prosecutors and investigators to decline to answer questions about their work.

.. The real problem with Director Comey’s announcement involves what he said next. The counterintelligence investigation, he elaborated,

includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. [Emphases added.]

None of this should have been said.

.. There was still no reason to broadcast these suspicions. The public announcement created the perception that the bureau strongly suspected that a nefarious, overarching Trump–Russia conspiracy was afoot.

.. This would have been indefensible under any circumstances, but the lapse is especially glaring given that Director Comey was privately telling President Trump and congressional leaders that Trump himself was not a suspect. Why gratuitously say something that could only lead people to believe he was?

.. Moreover, there was no reason for Comey to publicly mention “an assessment of whether any crimes were committed” in the context of a counterintelligence, rather than criminal, investigation.

.. The stunning announcement conflated two things it has always been important to keep discrete:

  1. the counterintelligence investigation of the threat Russia, with its advanced cyber capabilities and anti-American intentions, clearly poses to our electoral system; and
  2. the dubious Trump–Russia collusion angle. For much of the public, they became one and the same.

.. Ordinarily, prosecutors are not assigned to intelligence cases because intelligence work is not prosecution — it is the work of trained analysts assessing threats, not lawyers proving statutory offenses

.. the deputy attorney general did not undertake his own description; he instead adopted as his own Comey’s description of the probe in the March 20 House testimony — i.e., the portrayal of the probe that emphasized Trump–Russia collusion.

.. Only a week before appointing Mueller, Rosenstein had authored a memorandum arguing that Comey should be removed as FBI director for failing to adhere to traditional Justice Department policies and norms. In particular, Rosenstein scolded Comey for publicly revealing derogatory investigative information about people who have not been formally charged with crimes.

.. Comey’s defensive claims that he had tried merely “to say what is true,” and to protect the FBI from charges that it had “concealed” from the public important information about a politically fraught investigation.

.. there is no basis in the regulations for the assignment of a special counsel to a counterintelligence investigation.

.. his task was to describe the factual basis for a criminal probe and the crimes that he was giving Mueller jurisdiction to investigate. The Comey testimony that he adopted had done neither of these things — it floated speculation

.. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein could do a great service by amending his special-counsel appointment to make clear that

(a) Mueller is to investigate Russia’s actions to interfere in our election;

(b) the previous statements about possible Trump campaign “coordination” with the Russian government were unnecessary and are withdrawn; and

(c) President Trump is not personally suspected of wrongdoing

.. Rosenstein should relieve the president of the burden of this suspicion if that can be done honestly.

.. If Rosenstein did that, Mueller’s investigation would have the public support it should have

The Memo and the Mueller Probe

If the investigation arose from partisan opposition research, what specific crime is he looking into?

The Steele dossier is 35 pages of opposition research on Donald Trump, described by former FBI Director James Comey as “salacious and unverified.” It was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent who had a luminous dislike for Mr. Trump and was also an informant for the FBI.

.. the FBI’s only objection to the House memo at the time of its release was that it was incomplete, not that it disclosed sources and methods.

.. How does possible misconduct by senior FBI officials, which is certainly bad enough, intersect with the Mueller investigation? As follows: The Justice Department regulation that authorizes the appointment of special counsels requires a determination that a “criminal investigation” is warranted, and that there is a conflict or other good reason that prevents ordinary Justice Department staff from conducting it.

.. The letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing Mr. Mueller says he is to “conduct the investigation confirmed by then-Director James Comey before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017,” which covers “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” and any matters that may arise “directly” from that investigation.

.. “links” or “coordination”—or “collusion,” a word that does not appear in the letter of appointment but has been used as a synonym for coordination—does not define or constitute a crime.

.. By contrast, the Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater investigations, whatever you think of how they were conducted, identified specific crimes. The public knew what was being investigated.

.. none of the charges Mr. Mueller has brought thus far involved “coordination” or “collusion” with the Russians.

.. the public should get access to a carefully redacted copy of the FISA application and renewals, so we can see whether officials behaved unlawfully by misleading a court; and Mr. Mueller’s mandate should be defined in a way that conforms with the legal standard of his office