Washington, National Security – The battle is on, and the Democrats have finally managed to heap up whatever evidence they could find in support of their acclaimed hypothesis of Trump being elected as a result of collusion with Wikileaks and the Kremlin. The DNC filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, Russia and Wikileaks on Friday, demanding compensation in an ‘amount to be determined,’ which the Washington Post claims to be sums reaching several millions, despite the lawsuit not mentioning specifics. This speculation is, however, understandable, considering the scope of the lawsuit. Both president Trump and Wikileaks have acknowledged the lawsuit, and stated their objections on Twitter. Both seemed to be in the mood to counter-sue the DNC.
The introduction in the DNC lawsuit is sourceless, despite a ton of extravagant claims being purported, but the sources referred to in the General Allegations part seem to be satisfactory for a reasonably based story – not to mention the extent of evidence required for a lawsuit on such a scale.
What were the allegations? There are three main themes discussed in this document: Trump’s and Trump Associates’ preexisting relationships with Moscow; the plan to bolster Trump and denigrate Hillary; and the conspiracy to disseminate DNC information to weaken the party and its candidate.
Trump and Trump associates’ preexisting relations with Russia and Russian oligarchs provided fertile grounds for Russia-Trump conspiracy
Trump’s Business Connections to Russia
- 1980s: Trump was paid by the Soviet Union to visit Moscow to discuss a potential development program.
- 1990s: Negotiated with Russian officials over real estate developments in Moscow.
- 2003: Multiple estate deals with the Bayrock group, a group of Soviet emigrés, who ‘reportedly’ had ties with the Russian government and organized crime.
- 2004: Negotiated potential real estate development with Deputy Mayor of Moscow.
- 2005: Partnered with Russian-Canadian businessmen to develop real estate in Toronto.
- 2006: Contracted with the Russian Standard Corporation, who owns the Miss Russia beauty pageant, to allow the winner to enter Trump’s Miss Universe pageant.
- 2008: Sold a Palm Beach, Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch with a profit of $54 million.
- 2013: Established business relationship with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov, a close ally of Putin, to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia and work on plans to develop a Trump-branded project in Moscow.
- 2016: Continued efforts to develop real estate in Russia.
- ‘And throughout this 30-year history, Trump sought out wealthy Russian buyers for his condominiums in the United States and abroad.’
- Eric Trump: ‘Substantial funding’ to Trump’s golf courses come from Russian investors.
Manafort and Gate’s Ukrainian Connections
- 2004-2015: Advisor for Russian-allied former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and both his party and its successor.
- 2012: ‘Allegedly’ helped the party funnel more than $2.2 million to two prominent Washington lobbying firms.
- Daughter: ‘The money we have is blood money.’
- June 2017: Denied ever working for the Ukrainian government, but eventually registered as a foreign agent and reported $17.1 million received from Yanukovich’s party between 2012 and 2014.
- October 2017-: Indicted on over 12 counts.
- Possibly in up to $17 million in debt to Putin-tied oligarch Oleg Deripaska before joining the Trump campaign.
- Both Manifort and Gates kept close relations with a Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian soldier believed to be an agent of the GRU, whom the FBI believes to have had communications with Russian intelligence at the time of the 2016 presidential election.
The Common Plan: Bolster Trump and denigrate the Democratic Party nominee
- December 2011: Largest protest in Russia since the fall of the U.S.S.R. Protesting Putin winning the election as rigged and a fraud. Putin laid the blame on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he claimed had ordered ‘the opposition movement into action.’
- Trump’s support for Putin and Russia.
- Putin ‘doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia (2007).’
- ‘I really like Vladimir Putin and respect him. He does his work well. Much better than our Bush (2008).’
- Annexation of Crimea was ‘so smart … And he [Putin] really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit (2014).’
- Called NATO obsolete
- Argued that U.S. shouldn’t counteract Russia’s attempt to become a global power
- Opposed sanctions on Russia for annexation of Crimea. ‘The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard would rather be with Russia than where they were.’
- ‘Thus, the Trump Campaign, Trump Associates, and Russia shared the common purpose of undermining Secretary Clinton’s candidacy, undermining the DNC and the Democratic Party, and promoting Trump, whose presidency was expected to benefit Russia’s political and financial interests, and in turn, benefit Trump’s financial interests.’
- Assange and Wikileaks also shared that purpose. ‘Assange had a long of history conflicts with Secretary Clinton, and Assange publicalt stated that his policy disagreements with Clinton would maker her presidency far more problematic than a Trump presidency.’
The conspiracy to disseminate stolen DNC data to aid Trump
- Referring to ‘The IC Report’ of January 2017, wherein the intelligence community is cited to have concluded that Putin ordered an influence on the U.S. presidential election to ‘undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.’
- May 2016: GRU having exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC and relayed the information from it and senior Democratic officials to Wikileaks.
- June 16, 2015: Trump announces his candidacy for President of the United States.
- July 2015: Russian intelligence gained access to DNC network and maintained the access until June 2016. Data was disseminated, made it highly difficult for the DNC to communicate with and persuade voters, raise funds for its organization and support its campaigns.
- Late 2015-Summer 2016: European intelligence agencies reported suspicious communications between members of the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives.
- October 2015: Trump Organization secured a letter of intent to licsense Trump’s name for a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump signed. The deal was destroyed by Russian émigré Felix Sater, who had been a longtime business associate of the Trump Organization. The project was planned to be funded by the Russian bank Vneshtorgbank (VTB), against which the United States Treasury has leveled sanctions.
- Email by Mr. Sater to Cohen on November 3, 2015:
Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity and greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.
- Papadopoulus: Admitted to have ‘repeatedly sought to use the professor’s ( Joseph Mifsund) Russian connections in an effort to arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian government officials.’ Spoke extensively about the Russians’ intel on Clinton. Mailed Trump Campaign official on April 27, 2016: ‘Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.’ In May 2016 he told an Australian diplomat that Russia had politically damaging information on Secretary Clinton, who in turn reported about it to U.S. authorities, which launched the FBI counterintelligence investigation. Continued communications with Russian nationals and informaing the Trump Campaign officials at least until mid-august 2016. He pleaded guily to lying about the communications in October 2017.
- April 18, 2016: New cyberattack against DNC by GRU agents.
- April 28, 2016: IT staff in DNC detected and confirmed that unauthorized users had access to the DNC network. They contacted a cybersecurity technology firm known as ‘CrowdStrike’, who performed a forensic analysis of DNC’s computer network and servers, and set up a monitoring system for the ongoing attack, and to alert the DNC of future attacks. DNC had to decommission over 140 servers, remove and install all software, including the operating systems, for more than 180 computers, and rebuild at least 11 servers due to the cyberattack.
- The forensic analysis by CrowdStrike and the U.S. Government both concluded that the computer system was hacked by two Russian state-sponsored adversaries, who both had nexus to Russia’s intelligence services. The IC report concluded that one of them acted as an agent for the GRU, while the other was an ‘operative of or associated with Russian intelligence.’
- Communication between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on June 3, 2016:
Good Morning. Emin [Agalarov] just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras [Agalarov] this morning and their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.
- Trump, Jr., 17 minutes later: ‘Thanks Rob [Goldstone] I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I [will] just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.’
- June 9, 2016: Meeting between Trump, Manafort, Jared Kushner and Trump Jr. of the Trump Campaign, and Rob Goldstone, Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Agalarov business associate Irakyl Kaveladze, lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and a translator, representing Russia’s interests. [Toronto political professor Savi Gunitsky: ‘where is the quid pro quo in that?’]
- June 14: DNC publically announced that its systems had been hacked by Russian intelligence agencies.
- June 15: GRU Operative #1 claimed responsibility for the hack and leaked an opposition research report on Trump written by the DNC in December 2015. It also announced it had provided Wikileaks with DNC documents.
- June 21: GRU Operative #1 released DNC research on Republican candidates and Secretary Clinton.
- July 6: Released DNC’s ‘counter-convention’ to the convention by the RNC.
- July 18: Members of Trump campaign objected to RNC’s proposal for the US to provide lethal arms to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia.
- July 22: WikiLeaks released first major tranch of DNC emails and documents stolen by Russian intelligence agents. Trump responded to event by saying, ‘Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing … I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens.’ Release of DNC documents by WikiLeaks and GRU Operative #1 continued until November 2016.
- Roger Stone
- Longtime friend and political advisor of Trump.
- Began revealing that he was in contact with Assange, WikiLeaks and GRU Operative #1 in the spring of 2016.
- September 20: WikiLeaks provided Trump, Jr. with a password to an anti-Trump PAC website and asked him to have his father retweet a link to a WikiLeaks website containing stolen Democratic documents. Trump tweeted fifteen minutes later, ‘Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by Wikileaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!’
- October 2, 2016: Mr. Stone on Twitter: ‘Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks.’
- October 7: Hollywood Access clip was released elsewhere. One hour after, WikiLeaks published 2,000 emails of Podesta, and continued sharing them nearly daily until November 9, 2017.
- Trump tweeted plenty of times in support of the release of the DNC documents by WikiLeaks between July and November.
- November 6, 2016: Wikileaks published ‘DNC Leak 2’, which included internal discussions about DNC’s strategy and communications efforts.
- November 8, 2016: Trump won the election. Moscow allegedly reacted with jubilation.
Response to DNC’s Lawsuit
This seems to have the potential to be daring against the Trump campaign if true, so what does the opposition have to say in response? WikiLeaks tweeted on Saturday a link to an article by Mike Masnick of TechDirt, which said the lawsuit was ‘full of legally nutty arguments.’ What was so wrong with the lawsuit? He does concede that ‘there’s little doubt at this point that the Russians were behind the hack and leak of the documents, and that Wikileaks published them. Similarly there’s little doubt that the Trump campaign was happy about these things, and that a few Trump-connected people had some contacts with some Russians. Does that add up to a conspiracy?’ His article is mainly concerned about the legal arguments, whether the claims add up to the descriptions in the laws, and the adequacy of the legal arguments. The critique is structured based on which laws the claims are directed to: DMCA, CFAA, SCA and Trade Secrets Act.
The DMCA concerns copyright. It is argued that §1201 in this law is being misused as a ‘mini-CFAA’ (about which will be mentioned later), and that Russia’s hacking into the DNC has nothing to do with copyright. He argues that if this would become precedented, ‘nearly any computer break-in to copy content would also lead to DMCA claims,’ which he opines to just be silly.
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
This act is claimed to have been quite frequently been abused as something to use against anyone who does something on a computer that one dislikes, and was written in response to the movie ‘War Games,’ to target ‘hacking.’ He admits that hacking is what’s actually concerned here, and ‘that this may be one case where the CFAA claims are legit.’ Still, he goes on to say that
So, I’m actually fine with those claims. Other than the fact that they’re useless. It’s not like the Russian Federation or the GRU is going to show up in court to defend this. And they’re certainly not going to agree to discovery. I doubt they’ll acknowledge the lawsuit at all, frankly. So…
WikiLeaks and Assange would not be targeted under this law, as they only disseminated information they had received from those who hacked and stole it. The point Masnick seems to be making here is that neither the Russian Federation nor the GRU will ever admit to be behind it, and will likely not recognize the lawsuit as legitimate at all.
Stored Communications Act
Masnick argues that the claims appealing to this act only seem as repetitive with the CFAA as those regarding the DCMA. He writes ironically that ‘instead of just unauthorized access, it’s now unauthorized access … to communcations.’ He also repeats that this still doesn’t affect WikiLeaks or Assange.
Trade Secrets Act
He argues that this is where matters become a bit more problematic, and WikiLeaks and Assange is involved in the claim. The DNC lawsuit said that
‘Defendants Russia, the GRU, GRU Operative #1, WikiLeaks, and Assange disclosed Plaintiff’s trade secrets without consent, on multiple dates, discussed herein, knowing or having reason to know that trade secrets were acquired by improper means.’
Masnick strongly objected to this, claiming that ‘if that violates the law, then the law is unconstitutional,’ referring to the freedom and regularity of the press to share trade secrets acquired through questionable means by others and later handed to the press. He goes on to assert that it would raise serious First Amendment issues for the press. He also turned this around on those strongly oppositional to Trump, illustrating that
‘I mean, what’s to stop President Trump from using the very same argument against the press for revealing, say, his tax returns? Or reports about business deals gone bad, or the details of secretive contracts? These could all be considered “trade secrets” and if the press can’t publish them that would be a huge, huge problem.’
Reactions on Social Media
Chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner Byron York asked on Twitter: ‘Does this mean the defendants will get access to the DNC servers?
This has been echoed by several others, including a Michelle Mortensen, who similarly proposed the DNC and the Clinton Campaign to turn the rest of their emails, texts and phone logs over in the counterlawsuit.
Bill Mitchell, host of YourVoice America, questioned the effectiveness of the lawsuit, tweeting that
In another tweet he also predicted that ‘80% of the country’ would laugh at the DNC for the lawsuit while the rest will be pandered to by the Democrats.
There are people on the other side, however, who have a bit more positive attitude to the lawsuit.
A tweet by @olgaNYC1211, for instance, received 1,300 retweets and 3,600 likes for opining that it was ‘Strategically smart [by the DNC] to force the evidence that the govt has to come out.’
Some even more popular favorable tweets was those of @ProudResister, who received about 3,500 retweets and 9,000 likes for both tweets in favor, one saying ‘It’s about damn time,’ and the other, ‘I’m one proud Democrat today.’
The political advisor of Hillary Clinton, Adam Parkhomenko, was also quick to respond on the issue:
There’s a ton of questions which can be asked about this issue. Here is a few I consider the the most essential, with an attempt to find an answer.
Q: What is true and what is not regarding the hypothesis of collusion between the Russian government, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks?
A: If we trust and follow the viewpoint of Mr. Masnick – which we maybe should and maybe not – we could be fine with accepting the conception that Russia was behind the hacking and dissemination of the DNC, WikiLeaks publishing the information, and the Trump Campaign accepting whatever help they could receive, and rather object to the choice of laws being appealed to. This is only a conception, however, and conceptions don’t always go hand-in-hand with the truth. We could also have either the conception that everything the DNC says is true, or everything they say is false, but those would obviously be generalizations. If we want the truth, we have to dig into the sources (some of which cost money to read), or wait until the lawsuit (and counterlawsuits) are completed, if they are going to occur at all. It is also worth checking out the investigation by the Republicans of the House Intelligence Committee, which lasted 14 months without finding any evidence. How did the Democrats find so much while the Republicans find nothing? It’s clear that there could be a bit of bias here, but the extent of it would be unbelievable. Whom should we assume to be the least biased in such a case?
Q: Will Russia or WikiLeaks take responsibility for their influence in the election?
A: Likely not. As Masnick said, most of the claims doesn’t include Assange or Wikileaks, and even those that do are unlikely to go through due to the issue of press freedom. The Russian government is a more relevant part in this case, but the problem is whether they think they actually need to come up and meet in the lawsuit. After all, the state has the monopoly of violence to force its own citizens to follow the law of the land, but what about other states? Perhaps even the International Court of Justice – which judges cases between states – will get involved in judging the case if taken far enough, but as the lawsuit is now, the defendants seem rather undisturbed. WikiLeaks is also prepared to countersue the DNC by showing how they rigged the primary election in 2016. The battle that DNC has started will most likely become brutal if continuing.
Q: Will the Trump Campaign take responsibility for their influence in encouraging a foreign government and hacking organizations to illegally obtain and leak documents by its opposition?
A: The Trump Campaign is obviously more vulnerable to the consequences of breaking a law in the United States than the Russian government and WikiLeaks would, but they still seem confident to be in the right in this case. Trump also proposed to countersue the DNC, but here ‘for the DNC Server that they refused to give to the FBI, the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.’ Trump will in other words be a tough opponent for the Democrats, and will likely not go down easily.
Q: Has Russia gained anything yet by Trump’s presidency?
A: It’s difficult to say exactly, and under what frame of reference. The main theme underlying the DNC’s account of the story is that it is all a conspiracy meant to undermine the American democracy. Toronto political professor Seva Gunitsky, who has grown up in Russia and followed the development of Trump’s relation with Russia for about a decade, thinks rather that ‘To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.’ Under that account, Trump may not be acting as ‘Russia’s puppet’, as several Democrats have accused him of being. Russia was, for instance, not very pleased when Trump cooperated with Macron and May to strike a chemical weapons facility in Syria. And metal manifacturers in Russia are estimated to lose up to $3 billion under Trump’s tariffs. In that sense Trump is only a burden for them as well as for the rest of the world, but does it benefit politicians in the Kremlin regarding their positions in power? However, Trump again refused to initiate sanctions against Russia on Monday, contradicting U.N. Ambassador Nikki R. Haley’s announcement of it being a consequence for Russian companies assisting Syria’s chemical weapons program, so there could be a lead there, but exactly to where is rather uncertain.