Mueller’s Real Target in the Roger Stone Indictment

It was probably not Stone himself, but rather his electronic devices.

.. the true target of Friday’s F.B.I. actions was not Mr. Stone himself, but his electronic devices.

Mr. Stone’s early-morning arrest at his Florida home unsurprisingly dominated coverage, but reports also noted that federal agents were “seen carting hard drives and other evidence from Mr. Stone’s apartment in Harlem, and his recording studio in South Florida was also raided.” The F.B.I., in other words, was executing search warrants, not just arrest warrants. Even the timing and manner of Mr. Stone’s arrest — at the absolute earliest moment allowed under federal rules of criminal procedure without persuading a judge to authorize an exceptional nighttime raid — suggests a concern with preventing destruction of evidence: Otherwise it would make little sense to send a dozen agents to arrest a man in his 60s before sunrise.

..the document places great emphasis on Mr. Stone’s denial that he had any written communications with two associates — associates with whom he had, in fact, regularly exchanged emails and text messages. That’s precisely the sort of behavior one might focus on in seeking to convince a recalcitrant judge that an investigative target could not be trusted to turn over documents in response to a subpoena, requiring the more intrusive step of seizing Mr. Stone’s devices directly.
..Mr. Stone made a habit of moving sensitive conversations to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp — meaning that, unlike ordinary emails, the messages could not be obtained directly from the service provider.
.. The clear implication is that any truly incriminating communications would have been conducted in encrypted form — and thus could be obtained only directly from Mr. Stone’s own phones and laptops. And while Mr. Stone likely has limited value as a cooperating witness — it’s hard to put someone on the stand after charging them with lying to obstruct justice — the charges against him provide leverage in the event his cooperation is needed to unlock those devices by supplying a cryptographic passphrase.

Of course, Mr. Mueller is likely interested in his communications with Trump campaign officials, but the detailed charges filed against the Russian hackers alleged to have broken into the Democratic National Committee’s servers also show the special counsel’s keen interest in Mr. Stone’s communications with the hacker “Guccifer 2.0,” an identity said to have been used as a front for the Russian intruders. By Mr. Stone’s own admission, he had a brief exchange with “Guccifer” via private Twitter messages. On Mr. Stone’s account, Guccifer enthusiastically offered his assistance — at the same time we now know Mr. Stone was vigorously pursuing advance knowledge of what other embarrassing material stolen from Mr. Trump’s opponents might soon be released — and Mr. Stone failed to even dignify the offer with a reply. With no easy way of getting hold of “Guccifer’s” cellphone, searching Mr. Stone’s devices might be the only reliable way for the special counsel to discover whether the conversation in fact continued on a more “secure line.”

.. Yet if Mr. Mueller is indeed less interested in Mr. Stone than the potential evidence on his phones and computers, the conventional wisdom that the special counsel probe is wrapping up — and could issue a final report as soon as next month — seems awfully implausible. Digital forensics takes time, and a single device could easily hold many thousands of messages to sift through. And if this really is the first time Mr. Mueller’s office is seeing the most sensitive communications from a key figure like Mr. Stone, it’s likely they’ll come away with new leads to follow and new questions to pose to other witnesses.

We may ultimately look back on Mr. Stone’s arrest not as the beginning of the special counsel’s endgame, but the point when the investigation began to really heat up.

Why Some U.S. Ex-Spies Don’t Buy the Russia Story

Evidence that undermines the “election hack” narrative should get more attention.

The VIPS theory relies on forensic findings by independent researchers who go by the pseudonyms “Forensicator” and “Adam Carter.” The former found that 1,976 MB of Guccifer’s files were copied from a DNC server on July 5 in just 87 seconds, implying a transfer rate of 22.6 megabytes per second — or, converted to a measure most people use, about 180 megabits per second, a speed not commonly available from U.S. internet providers.

.. However, as Forensicator has pointed out, the files could have been copied to a thumb drive — something only an insider could have done — at about that speed.

.. Adam Carter, the pseudonym for the other analyst, showed that the content of the Guccifer files was at some point cut and pasted into Microsoft Word templates that used the Russian language.

.. VIPS includes former National Security Agency staffers with considerable technical expertise, such as William Binney, the agency’s former technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis, and Edward Loomis Jr., former technical director for the office of signals processing, as well as other ex-intelligence officers with impressive credentials. That doesn’t, of course, mean the group is right when it finds the expert analysis by Forensicator and Carter persuasive. Another former intelligence professional who has examined it, Scott Ritter, has pointed out that these findings don’t necessarily refute that Guccifer’s material constitute the spoils of a hack.

.. Having been burned so badly on the Iraq intelligence claims in 2003, you would think major U.S. media would apply more journalistic skepticism and rigor here, even if, to the broader public, Russia is a faraway power to which it’s easy to ascribe pretty much any nefarious activity. Instead, these outlets seem more intent on noting Putin’s bare-chested physique and accusing him of further meddling on social networks

At least six people close to Trump almost certainly knew about offers from Russians of dirt on Clinton

Roger Stone, means that at least six members of Trump’s broader team knew about offers of dirt from Russians during that campaign — and, depending on how that information was shared, as many as 10 may have, including Trump.

.. Papadopoulos sent an email to Trump adviser Stephen Miller the day after Mifsud reached out to him, telling Miller he had some “interesting messages” coming in from Moscow.

.. Trump’s argument has long been that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. That claim increasingly depends on how one defines “collusion.”

President Trump, if You’re Innocent, Why Act So Guilty?

4. Trump picked people with ties to Russia. He named as a foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who was investigated by the F.B.I. as far back as 2013 for possible ties to Russian intelligence

To run his campaign, Trump selected Paul Manafort, who had long experience working for Russian interests and once wrote a memo offering a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

Trump’s aides also tweaked the Republican Party platform in a way that would please Moscow.

6. Trump aides secretly met with Russians. In June 2016, Russia offered the Trump campaign “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.” Instead of calling the F.B.I., Donald Trump Jr. responded, “I love it,”

.. 7. A Trump ally secretly communicated with a Russian mouthpiece. In August 2016, Trump ally Roger Stone communicated with Guccifer 2.0, believed to be an outlet for Russian military intelligence. Separately, Stone tweeted that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in a barrel”; seven weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails Russia had hacked from John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

.. 8. … more secret contacts. WikiLeaks, presumably representing Russian interests, engaged in secret correspondence with Donald Trump Jr.

.. 9. Kushner met a Putin ally. Jared Kushner met in December 2016 with a Russian, Sergey Gorkov, who is close to Putin. Kushner also privately asked the Russians about using Russian equipment to establish a secret communications channel to the Kremlin.

.. 10. Trump aides falsely denied contacts. Campaign officials denied innumerable times that there had been any contact with Russia. “Of course not,” said Mike Pence shortly before the inauguration. “Why would there be any contacts?”

.. 11. Russia is still at it. Russian bots are joining Trump supporters in tweeting hashtags like #MAGA and #FullOfSchiff. These same Russian bots are promoting Fox News links that disparage the Russia investigation.

.. 12. This is not normal!

Actually, I doubt that there was anything so straightforward as a secret quid pro quo. Indeed, some of these links are so blatant that they seem confusingly exculpatory: Why would anybody conspiring with Putin raise suspicions by publicly praising him?

.. Frankly, it’s suspicious that Trump is throwing up so much dust and trying so hard to delegitimize the investigation.

He is not acting innocent.☐

Roger Stone to Tell House Panel He Pulled No Treasonous ‘Trick’

.. the suggestion that Mr. Stone knew in advance, or predicted, that John D. Podesta, the campaign chairman of the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, would be hacked or his emails released. Not long before Mr. Podesta’s emails were released last fall, Mr. Stone wrote on Twitter that “it will soon” be the chairman’s “time in the barrel.”

His prepared remarks, however, said that Mr. Stone was merely referring to his expectation that Mr. Podesta’s business connections to Ukraine would soon come to light, based in part on opposition research.

.. Mr. Stone is also expected to tell the House panel that he was never in direct communication with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, and therefore did not know in advance about emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee during the campaign. Rather, according to Mr. Stone’s prepared remarks, he learned about them on Twitter and later asked a journalist who knew Mr. Assange to confirm the report.

.. The statement does not dispute that Mr. Stone communicated with Guccifer 2.0, an online persona who American officials believe was a front in the Russian hacking efforts. But it does say he believed that the interactions were entirely “benign,” and it casts doubt on American intelligence concluding that the online account was a Russian intelligence front.

Trump’s Moral Holiday

The Florida-based Republican, Aaron Nevins, received and published Russian-hacked material—and in return, advised the hackers how to release their material to increase its damage to Democratic candidates. Nevins was not himself a high-ranking person in the Republican world. But the information Nevins obtained from Guccifer 2.0 was used by other Republican campaigns, including the national Republican congressional effort and Paul Ryan’s own super PAC. The earlier claim that Republicans were purely passive and unwitting beneficiaries of Russian espionage in the 2016 election has now been pierced.

In at least one instance, the cooperation was active, conscious, and initiated on the American side, not the Russian: collusion, in a word.

.. At the time, Kushner had already spent months trying to arrange fresh financing for a troubled building his family owns, 666 Fifth Avenue.

After one of those meetings, Kislyak arranged a meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, the powerful chief executive of a major Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, also known as VEB.

The U.S. had imposed financial sanctions on VEB because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military incursions in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. (During this period the Russians were also meeting with Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser.)

VEB has close ties to the Kremlin, and Gorkov attended a training academy for members of Russia’s security and intelligence services. A Trump spokeswoman has described Kushner’s meetings with the Russians as routine, which they may have been given his role at the time as Trump’s liaison to foreign powers.

But given the significance of 666 Fifth Avenue to Kushner and his family’s fortunes, it’s also possible that he saw the Russians as potential investors.

.. A remarkable number of those talkers condoned the attack, either outright or by pointing to other bad things that have happened elsewhere on earth at various points in the past. Rush Limbaugh went furthest, theatrically condemning the attack—but denigrating the reporter as a “smug and arrogant” Millennial “pajama boy” (a hugely derisive term in the conservative political lexicon) and praising Gianforte as “manly and studly.” (It’s hard to miss in some of the commentary from Trump’s elderly base a nostalgic yearning for lost physical prowess—and intense resentment of the vitality of younger generations with different views.)

.. Half a century ago, conservative commentators often blamed the riots of the 1960s on the “moral holiday” declared by permissive authorities. Leaders who might have delegitimized violence instead acquiesced in it, thus inviting more of it. For many conservatives, May 25 was a moral holiday of their own.

.. These four events each represent one of the great themes of the Trump era:

  1. The anti-alliance pro-Russia tilt of administration policy
  2. Collusion with hostile foreign nations for domestic political advantage
  3. Use of political power for personal financial advantage
  4. The breakdown of inhibitions and the weakening of sanctions against political violence.

.. But Greg Gianforte is headed to Congress. Jared Kushner and Donald Trump will soon return to the West Wing. There, they’ll continue to deploy the powers of the presidency to protect themselves. They’ll leverage dark and dangerous forces in American society to help them. Someday, maybe, they will cease to get away with it. But not yet.

 

Trump Adviser Had Twitter Contact With Figure Tied to Russians

Roger J. Stone Jr., an off-and-on adviser to President Trump for decades, has acknowledged that he had contact on Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, the mysterious online figure that is believed to be a front for Russian intelligence officials.

.. But Mr. Stone insisted in an interview that the contact had been brief and involved nothing more than the exchange of a few direct messages, well after the party committee had been hacked. “Even if he is a Russian agent, my cursory exchange with him happens after he releases the D.N.C. stuff,” Mr. Stone said on Saturday. “There’s only one exchange with him. I had no further exchanges.”

.. He denied any knowledge of what the hackers were up to before their attacks. “This is a witch hunt,” Mr. Stone said. “It’s the worst form of McCarthyism. Seems as if you’re not for nuclear war with the Russians over Syria, then you must be a traitor.”

.. During the campaign, Guccifer 2.0 used social media to invite individual reporters and Republican operatives to request specific caches of documents.