Today, Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s team of attorneys filed an indictment against twelve Russian nationals in a US District Court. This is the Special Counsel’s third indictment with Russian defendants; because Russia does not extradite its nationals to the US, it’s vanishingly unlikely any of these folks will see the inside of a jail cell or even a courtroom.
You’ll remember that in February 2018, the Special Counsel indicted three Russian companies and thirteen Russian nationals for “violating U.S. criminal laws in order to interfere with U.S. elections and political processes.” Today’s indictment is different because these defendants weren’t stirring up Twitter drama and committing a little light wire fraud. The July 2018 defendants are all members of Russian military intelligence services with the GRU. The indictment provides their names, ranks, workplace locations, and a couple of fun surprises.
Things that jumped out at me
The Russians spearphished dozens of Clinton campaign staffers starting in March 2016 and continuing through July 2016. (¶21) The story of how John Podesta’s emails were hacked has been fairly widely reported for a while now. But what hasn’t been widely reported, and what’s the first big bombshell in this indictment, is that on the night of July 27, 2016, the Russians attempted for the first time to spearfish email accounts at Clinton’s personal email provider. (¶22) Up until July 27, the Russians were hacking into DCCC and DNC work email accounts. But July 27 was the day of Candidate Trump’s ”Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you find those 30,000 emails” press conference. You should be losing your mind over this.
Katy Tur, NBC’s reporter embedded with the Trump campaign at that press conference, remembered that line today:
Trump and his campaign tried to claim he was kidding. He was not. At that same press conference, minutes later, I asked if it gave him “pause” to ask a foreign government to hack into the emails of any American citizen. He said no and then accused me of trying to “save” Clinton.
Joking or not (hint: he wasn’t), Trump made a request to Russian military intelligence officers, who did their best to fulfill that request hours later. That’s absolutely flabbergasting, and it’s going to get worse before we’re done here.
But first, the indictment takes a little detour where the theme seems to be “hey did you know the FBI is pretty good at this espionage thing, too?” The indictment lays out the damn search terms and browsing history of one of the defendants, a GRU spy named Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov. There’s regular creepy, there’s Facebook creepy, and then there’s FBI creepy. This isn’t some boring forensic analysis of the DNC’s servers where you read out what some log files said; the FBI knows what he did last summer. (¶23)
Whatever magicks the FBI used, they also did the boring forensic analysis; the indictment describes how the Russians hacked into the DCCC’s network and used that network to get into the DNC’s network. (¶26) By April 2016, there were keyloggers installed on DCCC desktops, and the Russians were in full-on “harvest passwords and documents” mode. By June, the Russians owned 33 DNC computers and the DNC’s mail server, from which they grabbed something like fifty thousand emails. (¶29) Then the indictment returns to Yermakov’s reading habits: he spent a good amount of time looking up PowerShell commands to run on Exchange to speed up the stealing of emails.
Phase Two: The Leaking
Paragraph 35 is where we start talking about what happened to these stolen documents. There’s been public reporting speculating this for a long time, but the indictment flat-out states that DC Leaks was a Russian intelligence operation and Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence operation. The FBI has receipts, email addresses, IP addresses, bitcoin wallet addresses, and probably more than they admit here.
For my money, this next bit isn’t a huge bombshell, but it’s jaw-dropping in its own right; on June 15, 2016, the Russian spies logged into their Moscow-based server, and between 4:19 PM and 4:56 PM searched their cache of stolen DCCC/DNC emails for certain words and phrases. (¶41) Here’s a sampling:
- “Some hundreds of sheets”
- Illuminati [ed: LMAO]
- “Company’s competence”
Let’s just pause for a second. The indictment is careful to note in previous paragraphs that the email hacking was staged through servers based in Arizona and Illinois that the GRU rented to cover its tracks. All the hacked emails were sent back to Russia via VPNs paid for in bitcoins. That’s a fairly standard hacker move to cover your tracks, though it doesn’t appear to have fooled the FBI here.
But when the indictment says “Moscow-based”, Mueller’s folks are flexing like crazy. This wasn’t the FBI showing up at a server farm in Arizona with a warrant, grabbing a server, and then going through the logs at their leisure back in the field office. This is something else entirely. I’m dying to know how the FBI got their hands on this specific bit of evidence.
So now that the Russians have inspected their loot, they want to get it to the public. The indictment kinda drops this bit and skates right on by, but the FBI knows who got documents from the Russian spies. Paragraph 43 mentions—but doesn’t name—three folks: a candidate for Congress, a lobbyist, and a reporter. The reporter is almost certainly Lee Stranahan, a Sputnik reporter who worked for Breitbart while he was begging Russian spies for stolen documents. The lobbyist is a guy named Aaron Nevins, who bragged about his misadventure to the Wall Street Journal in May 2017. I imagine in the next couple of days, we’ll find out who the Congressional candidate was.
And there’s one more guy mentioned here.
Roger Stone Is In Trouble
The indictment describes an American “in regular contact with senior Trump campaign officials” who is almost certainly Roger Stone, Candidate Trump’s oldest and closest political advisor, as being in touch with the Russian spies. How do we know it’s Stone? For the dumbest reason possible: Roger Stone posted screenshots of his direct messages with Guccifer 2.0 on his blog, and those messages match today’s indictment word-for-word.
Welp. That’s a big ol’ own goal, Rog.
But it gets even dumber, because when CNN called Stone to point out “hey man, it’s pretty weird how you showed up in this indictment right” Stone denied it was him and tossed in this gem for good measure:
“My contact with the campaign in 2016 was Donald Trump. I was not in regular contact with campaign officials.”
I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I’m not going to do better than the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell:
This is an amazing Roger Stone quote. It was already a stretch to claim that Manafort was a minor player in the Trump campaign. Now apparently Trump himself wasn’t part of the Trump campaign either! Also seems to follow the standard Trump scandal script: deny one alleged crime while possibly suggesting a much bigger one (“oh Russian hackers weren’t using me as a conduit to talk to Trump campaign officials, they were using me as a conduit to talk to Trump!”)
Two own goals, then.
Like I said, I’m dying to know what the FBI knows about some of these things, and how they know it. That includes a bit in ¶47 that quotes from conversations between the Russian spies and Wikileaks; I don’t know how they got those messages, or the search logs, or that one spy’s browser history. If Bob Mueller knows this much about what Russian spies were doing, imagine how much he knows about what certain Americans were doing.
But really, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Russia-Stone connection all day. These things have been publicly reported already, but seeing it laid out like this is staggering. Let’s imagine the innocent explanation for the facts alleged in this indictment:
It’s Summer 2016, a few weeks after the infamous Trump Tower Meeting where top Trump Campaign officials accidentally chatted with a bunch of Russians—who might be spies—about getting damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Some different Russians, who are definitely spies, are chatting with Roger Stone about a slew of hacked emails that could devastate the Clinton campaign. Stone, a veteran of Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign who literally has a tattoo of Tricky Dick, does not have any ideas for the Russians and definitely doesn’t suggest where they could look for incriminating Clinton emails because stealing campaign materials is bad. The next time Stone chats with Donald Trump (the Only Senior Trump Campaign Official he knows) the two do not discuss the mysterious strangers chatting about Clinton’s emails. Later, at a press conference on July 27, 2016, Trump coincidentally blurts out a joke about a hypothetical Russian intelligence operation that he definitely doesn’t know about, and hours later Russian spies—who don’t really follow politics and haven’t heard Trump “joke” about looking for Hillary’s other emails—spontaneously move to a new phase of spearphishing for Clinton staffers’ person email accounts. The following week, Stone publicly repudiates his earlier assertions that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian hacker for no reason whatsoever.
…totally innocent, right?