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Renato Mariotti @renato_mariotti
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THREAD: What does today's indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian entities by Mueller tell us?
1/ Today the Justice Department announced that Mueller obtained an indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian entities. You should read it yourself:…
2/ This is an unprecedented indictment. I'm not aware of another case charging foreign agents with interfering in an election. One of the first things you should notice is that the interference itself is *not* charged as a crime.
3/ It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to a U.S. election, but the indictment charges three other crimes. First, a conspiracy to defraud the United States by undermining the ability of the federal government to disclose foreign involvement in our elections.
4/ For that conspiracy, the crime is hiding the foreign involvement from the federal government, not the foreign involvement itself. The second crime is fraud--using false names to open accounts to send money in and out of the United States to fund their operation.
5/ The third crime is aggravated identity theft--using the identities of Americans in connection with the fraud involving the accounts with false names. Why charge these crimes? It's less aggressive than charging the Russians with "contributions" in connection with the election.
6/ Fraud and identity theft are commonly charged, and there is no novel legal defense that could be brought against those claims. But the decision to charge these crimes has important implications for whether and how Americans can be charged in connection with these crimes.
7/ The Russians charged in this indictment will likely never be brought to the U.S., but an American could be charged if (1) the American knew of the criminal activity and helped it succeed ("aiding and abetting") or (2) agreed to be part of the criminal activity ("conspiracy").
8/ Because of the particular crimes Mueller chose to charge, an American would have had to know about the efforts by the Russian to hide their activities--not just the influence operation itself--to be criminally liable. Did any Americans help the Russians hide their operation?
9/ As I'm writing this thread, Mueller announced another charge--a single identity fraud count by a Florida man who appears to be cooperating. Is this the first American charged with helping the Russians commit a crime? We'll need to look at his plea agreement to be sure.
10/ Back when the Facebook search warrant was announced in September, I said that for the first time, it was possible for a Russian and an American to be charged in the same indictment:
11/ In the months to come, this aspect of the Mueller investigation--the Russian influence piece--could be the most explosive. Did anyone in the Trump Campaign know what the Russians were doing and help the Russians succeed? Today's indictment leaves open that possibility.
12/ In this particular indictment, no American was charged, and the only Americans mentioned had no knowledge of the underlying activity. It remains to be seen whether there is more to come. A superseding indictment could add new charges and/or new defendants.
13/ As it stands, the most important impact of this current indictment could be political. Based on this indictment, the Russians had a clear preference as to candidates and took serious steps to help those candidates. The Russians also tried to suppress votes.
14/ Will this indictment create a nonpartisan consensus for Russian sanctions, or the need to protect our elections from foreign influence? That could be its lasting impact if Americans aren't charged down the line. /end
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