Sheila Markin is a former Assistant US Attorney. She helps people to understand in plain English what is going on in US politics today. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post!
Twelve Russian enemy agents disguised as Americans (using false online American identities), surreptitiously entered the Democratic Headquarters armed with weapons, bombs and burglary tools. They attacked on three fronts: the DNC, the DCCC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters. They entered unseen with their military gear working as a Russian special ops team (GRU) even in the middle of the day, entering and leaving at will. They could do that because they were invisible. They employed weapons of war that created mayhem without firing a physical shot. Instead, they used new cyber weaponry: screenshots, keylogs, spearphising, and spoofing. No one saw them physically break in, plant the bombs (malware), steal the documents (hacking) and cover their tracks (deleting their traces, paying for the entire military action using untraceable cryptocurrency). It was only later that the FBI discovered the intrusion, but by then it was too late. The enemy agents had compressed the stolen documents (2.5 gigabytes), moved them through “X-Tunnel” using encrypted channels, and were disseminating them to Wikileaks by way of two phony platforms: pretending to be a lone Romanian hacker on one (Guccifer2.0) and a group of American “Hacktivists” on the other (DCLeaks.com). Documents were released strategically in a series of staged bombing raids (leaks) calculated to inflict the greatest damage on their enemy, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, with the express purpose of helping Donald Trump become the next president of the United States.
This is the story we learned from Robert Mueller’s remarkably specific, masterful indictment from Friday, July 13, 2018.
On Friday the 13th the DC Grand Jury in the Mueller investigation issued an indictment minutely detailing a cyberattack by Putin. Putin commanded twelve Russian military agents to engage in this cyberattack on the American presidential election in 2016. Their roles and other identifying details about these named individuals being charged appear in the indictment.
This indictment is part two of a three part reveal.
Part one was the Russians use of social media to get Americans to fight with each other. Part two is the cyberattack on the Democrats and on our democracy. Part three will predictably reveal the Americans who assisted, worked with, aided and abetted the Russian attack on our democracy.
As a former Assistant US Attorney, it is interesting for me to read this indictment from the perspective of understanding not only what is written in this indictment, but what is not written. We can learn a lot by looking at what is included that sheds light on the current and coming factual information, and we can also learn from the comments of Rod Rosenstein. In short, this indictment gives us some interesting bread crumbs to follow to anticipate the coming attractions.
Let’s start with what is written or included that is informative. July 27th is a date that is singled out in the indictment.
“22. The Conspirators spearphised individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign throughout the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party 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.
Why is this important?
If we overlay the actions of candidate Donald Trump with the actions of these Russian operatives, we can see a connection between what Trump is saying and what the Russians are doing. July 27th was the day that Trump, in plain view of everyone, speaking from a podium in Florida, said, “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30 thousand (missing Clinton) emails. I am sure you will be mightily rewarded.” Immediately after that, in fact that very evening on that very day, the Russian operatives did Trump’s bidding. They dug into Clinton’s personal email account for the first time. Was Trump issuing a command to the Russian special ops team? Did he do it in a way that would give him maximum plausible deniability, namely in full public view? The question is not answered. Yet.
Why would Mueller put this particlar information in the indictment? I think it’s a warning shot over the bow of Trump’s boat. Mueller is warning Trump there is apparent coordination here. He knows that the press is going to piece together and share the significance of this date with the public. Although this indictment does not yet explicitly tell us there was direct participation by Trump himself in the conspiracy, it could be hinting at more to come.
What else can we glean from what is IN the indictment? We learn that June 8, 2016 is an important day. It was a busy day for the Russian special ops team. They created three platforms that were staging grounds for the coming assault.
“On June 8, 2016 the Conspirators launched the public website dcleaks.com, which they used to release stolen emails.”
“On or about June 8, 2016 and at approximately the same time that the dcleaks.com website was launched, the conspirators created a DC Leaks Facebook page using a preexisting social media account under the fictitious name ‘Alice Donovan.’”
“On or about June 8, 2016, the Conspirators created the Twitter account @dcleaks.”
Why is June 8th important? Again, if you overlay the actions of the Trump campaign with the information from this indictment, the answer is revealed. June 9, 2016, was the date of the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a bunch of Russians who came to visit the campaign to talk about, wink wink, Russian adoptions. We know from excellent reporting that precedes this indictment, that the topic really discussed was a sweet little deal, a quid pro quo that went like this: “Hows about youse guys help us Russians get rid of those lousy sanctions dragging down our economy, put on us by Obama, and in exchange we will help you get some dirt on Hillary Clinton which might just help get Trump elected?” The Facebook page, Twitter account and website for DCLeaks.com had been freshly created the day before. They were locked and loaded with data, ready to fire at the Democrats and Clinton. We also know Trump Jr.’s reaction to the offer. He was delighted. Bring it on! “If it’s what I think it is, I love it!” he said.
Later in June, Trump, the candidate, asks Wikileaks for more ammo. “Give us more”, he says, not once but many times. Trump praised Wikileaks over and over again during the campaign. “I love Wikileaks,” he said. He couldn’t get enough of those wonderful leaks of stolen, hacked material that were bombing Clinton and the Democrats. Had Putin given Trump the power to trigger releases of those bombs in plain view in his very public campaign exhortations?
And they were damaging. The indictment exposes an email conversation that shows the planning by Russians to get “Bernie Bros” fighting with the Hillary supporters at the Democratic Convention:
“On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 (Wikileaks), sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 (the Russian special ops team pretending to be a lone Romanian hacker) to “[s]end 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.” Also “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next two days prefable [preferably] because the DNC [national convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” Also- “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary…so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”
The Russians and probably some Americans who were in on this conspiracy understood and reveled in how destructive it was for Clinton that Bernie’s supporters continued to fight with Clinton supporters. They detonated their email bombs strategically to increase the fighting.
When the Access Hollywood tape came out and Trump almost gave up the campaign, more destructive email bombs were strategically dropped to distract the public. They did enough damage to keep Trump in the race.
What else can we glean from what is IN the indictment that tells us what may be coming? There are individual people, Americans, who are called out but not yet named. We learn about a candidate for the U.S. Congress sending a request for stolen documents to the Russians via Guccifer 2.0. The indictment says the hacked docs were sent to him. That guy is in a world of trouble right now.
We learn that Guccifer 2.0 also transferred 2.5 G of stolen data to a registered state lobbyist and an online source of political news. The data included private, personal information from more than 2,000 Democratic donors. That lobbyist better get himself a lawyer.
We learn that a reporter also received stolen documents having to do with Black Lives Matter. Another person who needs a lawyer.
We learn of a relationship between Guccifer 2.0 and Roger Stone (not identified in the indictment, but his emails are quoted in the indictment). He better lawyer up too.
What is Mueller telling us by identifying these people and by the specificity of this indictment? I think Mueller is saying that he knows the gritty details of what happened here and if people want to get on the right side of history, now is the time to have their lawyers make a call to the FBI or DOJ and start that conversation.
We also get some predictive bread crumb hints about the future from Rod Rosenstein at the time of his announcement about the indictment. He urges Americans “not to think politically” but instead “think patriotically”.
Why does he warn us that we will need to do that?
Because, I believe, Act Three is going to be indictments of mostly Republicans connected with the Trump campaign or embedded inside the Trump campaign who are guilty of aiding and abetting, conspiring with the Russians to cyberattack our country. The American actors who are most likely to be indicted include Roger Stone, Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner but there could be others.
How can we predict this?
It is very likely that Russians needed help to target and direct their weaponry (social media and leaked documents) to deliver the greatest damage to Democrats and Clinton specifically. Brad Pascale, a Cambridge Analytica support person, worked hand in glove with the Trump Campaign, specifically Jared Kushner, to manage the Trump campaign’s use of social media and the Internet interface with voters. Pascale, Kushner and others working with them were in the best position to angle the Russian weaponry in just the right micro-targeted places for the most effective damage to Clinton in key states. The Russians needed American guidance to know where to aim. They seem to have gotten that.
Trump and the Trumpists will use this new indictment with its potential implications, to rev up their base and push out their continuing narrative that the Democrats and the “Deep State” are out to get Trump. They will double down on their calls of “witch hunt”. They will shout, “If you want Trump to avoid impeachment, you Republicans better get off your couches and vote in November!”
Here’s the thing, though. Republicans are in the minority. They currently make up only about 25.6% to 27% of the electorate depending on the poll. Their numbers have been shrinking since Trump was elected. The majority of the American electorate are Independents (43%) and Democrats (29%). Together Independents and Democrats make up about 72% of the electorate. We could have an election that flips the House and maybe even the Senate. But we have to vote in large numbers this mid-term election, which is something we haven’t done in the past. If the majority of voters who do not approve of Trump don’t get off their couches and vote for Democrats this November, Putin’s victory will be complete. The Russian dictator will have every right to pose on the cyber version of a naval destroyer and hang up a banner reading: “Mission Accomplished” with Trump by his side on a leash for their big photo op.
If you like this post I hope you will share it so others can enjoy it too. Thanks! –Sheila