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Yes, Collusion. Now, what? | Jennifer Taub

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A blog on business law, politics, and white collar crime

February 1, 2019

Yes, Collusion. Now, what?

With the grand jury indictment of Roger Stone last week, Robert Mueller introduced compelling new plot points in the immersive real-life thriller we formally refer to as the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Through this latest speaking indictment, Mueller reported that he has found what Rod Rosenstein appointed him to look for –– “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Plus, he added Stone to a growing list of Trump associates who interfered with the investigation, through lies, witness tampering, or obstruction.

 

Quite simply. Yes, Collusion. Yes, a cover-up.

 

The most salient revelation in the Stone indictment is the human communication chain connecting the Russian military intelligence officials (who were indicted in July 2018, for the DNC and Hillary Clinton email hacking conspiracy) right up to MAGA headquarters in Trump Tower, and quite likely to Trump himself.

 

Let’s take it link by link.

 

The first link in that chain is the Russian military intelligence officials. On June 14, 2016, news of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hacking was made public. In response, the hackers immediately created a fake persona called “Guccifer 2.0” they held out to be a lone Romanian. The grand jury charged these Russian officials in July 2018 with several criminal counts including the felony Conspiracy to Commit and Offense against the United States (to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), the object of which was to stage the release of emails and documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign.

 

The second link is WikiLeaks and its chief, Julian Assange who resides in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. According to the July indictment, Assange private messaged Guccifer 2.0 requesting them to send “any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” They had further communications in which WikiLeaks sought information to help discourage Bernie Sanders supporters from backing Clinton. WikiLeaks wrote in early July 2016, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the [Democratic National Convention] s approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” After many failed attempts that began in late June, finally by July 14, the Russian conspirators through Guccifer 2.0 sent WikiLeaks an email with an archive of stolen DNC documents attached.  On July 22, WikiLeaks released them.

 

The third link in the chain is a double one. Meaning there are two intermediaries that Mueller has reported from WikiLeaks to Stone. One is a yet-to-be-identified London-based Trump supporter who was associated by the Stone indictment with Jerome Corsi. The other third link is radio host, Randy Credico.

 

The fourth link in the chain is Roger Stone. On July 25, he sent a direct message to Corsi that said, “Get to [Assange] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [WikiLeaks] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.”  Corsi forwarded that email to the London-based Trump supporter. The Stone indictment also alleges that Corsi passed back to Stone information he’d obtained from Assange. He messaged Stone, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.” Corsi added, “time to let more than [John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chair] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC.” In August, Stone began publicly stating that he had been in contact with Assange both directly and through an intermediary.

Stone is also linked to Assange through Credico. Credico texted Stone in late August, informing him, “[Assange] has kryptonite on Hillary.” In September, Stone asked Credico to communicate several messages to Assange. Credico obliged, passing it along through an attorney who knew Assange, and bccd Stone. On the next day, October 1, Credico texted Stone, “big news Wednesday . .now pretend u don’t know me . . Hillary’s campaign will die this week.” Stone wrote to a Trump supporter, “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.” Sure enough, on October 7, the payload landed. That morning, the Obama administration announced its belief that the Russian government hacked, stole and released emails from the Democratic National Committee and others and they “are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” That afternoon, the Access Hollywood video is released. It captured Trump on a hot mic discussing sexually assaulting women, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Within hours, WikiLeaks released the first tranche of emails stolen from the Clinton campaign. By November 6, it would release 50,000 stolen documents.

 

The fifth link is the senior Trump campaign official who according to the impactful paragraph 12 of the Stone indictment, “was directed” to contact Stone. The paragraph states, “After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by [Wikileaks], a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information [Wikileaks] had regarding the Clinton Campaign.” We don’t know who that person is yet. And we don’t know exactly when or how this direction was communicated. The Stone indictment implies that the initial “Get to Assange” message from Stone to Corsi on July 25 was in response to contact from that Trump campaign official, and not a freelance endeavor. It’s notable, that “Shortly after [WikiLeak’s] release, an associate of the high-ranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to Stone that read ‘well done.’”

We don’t even need a sixth link to demonstrate that Mueller found what he was looking for. However, the sixth link is the person (or persons) referenced in paragraph 12, who apparently has enough power to “direct” a senior Trump Campaign official to contact Stone about WikiLeaks. It’s also curious that Mueller did not name this person via a descriptor. Some speculate, without evidence, that this director could be a Trump family member, or Trump himself. Further, there’s plenty of data points from Trump’s own Twitter feed and speeches to suggest he was fully informed, if not directing the coordination. On July 23, 2016, the very day after WikiLeaks published the DNC stolen emails, Trump tweeted about WikiLeaks for the first time. “Leaked e-mails of DNC show plans to destroy Bernie Sanders. Mock his heritage and much more. On-line from Wikileakes, really vicious. RIGGED.” Later that day he tweeted, “The Wikileaks e-mail release today was so bad to Sanders that it will make it impossible for him to support her, unless he is a fraud!”

 

Then, on July 26, the day after Roger Stone first reached out to Corsi to try to get to Assange, Trump tweeted, “In order to try and deflect the horror and stupidity of the Wikileakes disaster, the Dems said maybe it is Russia dealing with Trump. Crazy!” The next morning, on July 27, he tweeted, “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI.”  That night, in a speech he said, “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!” Perhaps the message was received. The Stone indictment notes, “[T]he [Russian] Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a thirdparty provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.”

 

Okay, so there was collusion. Then why didn’t the grand jury charge Stone with Conspiracy? It’s possible that the grand jury does not have sufficient evidence of one of the elements, like an agreement. However, it could be a legal strategy. As former federal prosecutor, Joyce Vance tweeted “Why didn’t Mueller charge Stone with conspiracy? The rules in federal cases require that prosecutors provide defendants with broad discovery. By indicting Stone on a fairly narrow set of charges, Mueller limits what has to be disclosed & can protect ongoing investigation.”

 

So, what kind of conspiracy could this be? It might that Stone was part of that Conspiracy described in the July indictment. Or, perhaps this could be a conspiracy to violate federal election campaign law by taking or soliciting something of value from a foreign national. Another conspiracy charge could be Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. This is a standalone crime and was used in two separate Mueller indictments. It was used in the February “Internet Services Agency” indictment against thirteen Russian nationals and three entities. There, the grand jury alleged “Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”The Trump team is already rehearsing complex defenses to some of these theories. We can see in the Concord Management case an attempt to discredit the use of “Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.” Thus, the strength of a third potential Conspiracy charge. As Benjamin Wittes posited in December, perhaps “obstruction is the collusion.” The grand jury could charge Stone and others down the chain in the campaign itself with Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice.

 

And there’s still more to come. Missing from the Mueller grand jury indictments thus far is any mention of efforts by Trump himself to interfere with the Russia investigation, from the firing of James Comey to Twitter-based witness intimidation to disappearing translator notes. Further, Mueller has been notably silent on the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting in Manhattan between Manafort, Don Jr., and Kushner met in Trump Tower and a group including a Kremlin-linked lawyer and a Russian American with an alleged expertise in cyberattacks. And, of course outside Mueller’s realm, we must remember Trump was implicated by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York in several campaign finance offenses stemming from the pre-election hush-money payoffs to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.

 

The bottom line, as I concluded in a tweet thread this weekend, entitled “We Have Seen the Mueller Report –– And It’s Spectacular,” the special counsel investigation has already delivered the evidence we need to take action to remove from office a corruptly compromised president who, in the word of veteran reporter Carl Bernstein, “helped Putin destabilize the United States.”

 

 

 

 

 

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