Wednesday, February 21, 2018

No. 255: Mueller's Grand Jury Hands Up an Indictment Against the Russians—A Major Development in the Investigation

On February 16, 2018, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III of the U.S. Department of Justice filed a District of Columbia federal grand jury indictment of three Russian entities and 13 Russian individuals. I think the indictment should be widely read. (See USA v. Internet Research Agency, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, Case No. 1:18-cr-32.)

The Judge
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich. President Trump nominated her in June 2017, and the Senate confirmed her in November 2017 by a vote of 93 to 4.

The Attorneys
The government attorneys are Jeannie Sclafani Rhee of the special counsel's office, Lawrence Rush Atkinson of the special counsel's office, and Ryan Kao Dickey of the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The names of the defendants' attorneys are not yet known.

The Charges and the Defendants
The indictment includes eight counts: one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and six counts of aggravated identity theft. The government makes different numbers of charges against the various defendants, and seeks forfeiture against some of the defendants. The defendants are Internet Research Agency LLC (it has five other names), Concord Management and Consulting LLC, Concord Gathering, and 13 individuals. The names and aliases of the individual defendants are shown in the court docket, which is part of the complimentary package offered at the end of this post. Here is the first paragraph of the indictment:
The United States of America, through its departments and agencies, regulates the activities of foreign individuals and entities in and affecting the United States in order to prevent, disclose, and counteract improper foreign influence on U.S. elections and on the U.S. political system. U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General. And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government. Various federal agencies, including the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of State, are charged with enforcing these laws.
Structure of the Indictment
A major section of the indictment addresses the Count 1 conspiracy charge. The section identifies the defendants, lists the federal regulatory agencies, explains the object of the conspiracy, describes the manner and means of the conspiracy, explains the use of U.S. social media platforms, talks about the use of U.S. computer infrastructure, describes the use of stolen U.S. identities, explains actions targeting the 2016 U.S. presidential election, describes political advertisements (with 13 examples), explains the staging of political rallies in the U.S., describes the destruction of evidence, and lists overt acts.

Another section of the indictment addresses Counts 2 and 3. The section explains the object of the conspiracy, describes the manner and means of the conspiracy, and includes 23 examples of identify theft. The final section of the indictment describes the forfeiture allegation.

General Observations
I think the filing of this indictment is the most important development to date in the investigation. It may be difficult or impossible to bring the alleged wrongdoers into a U.S. courtroom, but the indictment sends a strong message. The alleged wrongdoers may hesitate to travel out of Russia because they may find themselves in countries that have extradition agreements with the U.S. In addition, I think the indictment strengthens the special counsel's political position, making it more difficult to remove him. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, not Special Counsel Mueller, conducted the press conference at which the indictment was announced.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 47-page PDF consisting of the court docket (10 pages) and the indictment (37 pages). Email and ask for the February 2018 package about Special Counsel Mueller's charges against Russian entities and individuals.