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Mueller indicts some Russians; clears Trump campaign of collusion (detailed analysis of latest indictment)

Indictment describes botched and amateur attempt to use social media, but no one in the Trump Campaign was involved

Alexander Mercouris

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A recurring pattern of the Russiagate investigation is that whenever pressure increases on the FBI and on Special Counsel Mueller an indictment appears.

This happened in October when following the FBI’s admission that the Trump Dossier – the keystone in the “evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia – could not be verified and the Wall Street Journal called for Special Counsel Mueller to resign, indictments against Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos appeared.

It happened again in December when growing demands from Congress – from Senator Lindsey Graham in particular – for another Special Counsel to be appointed were followed by the indictment of Michael Flynn.

It has now happened again.

Hot on the heels of the publication of the GOP memorandum, which catalogued a succession of breaches of due process by the Justice Department and the FBI in seeking surveillance warrants against Carter Page, we have a new indictment, this time against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities.

In every case the indictment is received with rapture by the Russiagate conspiracy theorists.

In every case the indictment appears to be intended to give the impression that progress in the Russiagate investigation is being made, presumably so as to justify keeping Special Counsel Mueller in his job.

In every case it turns out that the indictment is a damp squib, taking the whole Russiagate conspiracy theory no further forward.

The latest indictment against 13 Russian citizens and three Russian entities is a case in point.

The first thing to say about this indictment is that it is entirely declamatory.

There is no possibility that any of the Russians named in the indictment will ever be extradited to the US to stand trial there.  Special Counsel Mueller cannot therefore obtain convictions against these people, which begs the question of why an indictment was issued at all.

The short answer is that the indictment is intended to give credence to the claim of ‘Russian meddling’ in the US election, which has been made both privately and publicly ever since campaigning in the US began in 2015.

Presumably, by giving that claim credence, more reasons can now be offered for keeping Special Counsel Mueller in his job.

The second thing to say about the indictment is that as even Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has admitted, it makes no claim that any US citizen or any member of the Trump campaign in any way colluded with Russia or with any of the persons named in the indictment either before or after the election.

Rosenstein was very clear about this in the press conference he held directly following the publication of the indictment

Now, there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election…..

QUESTION: On page 4 of the indictment, paragraph 6, it specifically talks about the Trump campaign, saying that defendants communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

My question is, later in the indictment, campaign officials are referenced, not by their name; by “campaign official 1” or “2” or “3.” Were campaign officials cooperative, or were they duped? What is their relationship with this?

ROSENSTEIN: Again, there’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge. And the nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on a virtual private network here in the United States so, if anybody traced it back to that first jump, they appeared to be Americans.

President Trump is treating this admission as further confirmation that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, and he is right.

The third thing to say about the indictment – and a point which has been almost universally overlooked in all the feverish commentary about it – is that it makes no claim that the Russian government was in any way involved in any of the activities of the persons indicted.

Nowhere in the indictment is the Russian government or any official of the Russian government or any agency of the Russian government mentioned at all.  Nor at any point in the indictment is it suggested that any of the persons indicted were employed by the Russian government or were acting under its instructions or on its behalf.

Again Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s press conference is most revealing about this, with him speaking of the persons named in the indictment as if they were private persons

The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 presidential election.

The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.

According to the allegations in the indictment, 12 of the individual defendants worked, at various times, for a company called Internet Research Agency, LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg.

The other individual defendant, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, funded the conspiracy through companies known as Concord Management and Consulting, LLC; Concord Catering; and many affiliates and subsidiaries. The conspiracy was part of a larger operation called Project Lakhta. Project Lakhta included multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation, and others targeting foreign audiences in multiple countries.

Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of people in its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas, to technical and administrative support personnel, with an annual budget of millions of dollars.

Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged into departments, including graphics, search engine optimization, information technology and finance departments.

In 2014, the company established a translator project focused on the United States. In July of 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project. Two of the defendants allegedly traveled to the United States in 2014 to collect intelligence for their American influence operations.

Note that there is nothing here that ties any of the individuals or entities named by Rosenstein to the Russian government.

The arch conspirator is said to be a Russian businessman called Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is alleged to have masterminded and funded the whole project.

Prigozhin has in fact long been identified in Russia as the owner of the notorious Internet Research Agency, LLC, the supposed Russian “troll farm” operating out of a nondescript building in St. Petersburg (shown in caption photograph).

It has moreover often been suggested in Russia that Internet Research Agency, LLC, is Prigozhin’s own personal project.

Certainly no public information linking the Internet Research Agency, LLC, to the Russian government or to any Russian state institution has ever come to light.

Perhaps Rosenstein and Mueller have information that Prigozhin was indeed acting at the behest and on behalf of the Russian government.  Perhaps they may have some reason for not disclosing the fact in their indictment.

However, for what it’s worth, the indictment lends support to the theory that the Internet Research Agency, LLC, is indeed Prigozhin’s own personal project, and that the Russian government is not involved in it.

I would add that the indictment shows that US intelligence has successfully hacked the Internet Research Agency, LCC, a fact which by the way suggests that its internal security systems are very weak.  The result is that US intelligence is very well informed about its structure, funding, personnel and activities.

That suggests that if there really was some connection between the Internet Research Agency, LLC, and the Russian government the US authorities would be well informed about it.

The fact that neither the indictment nor Rosenstein in his press conference had anything to say about such a connection rather suggests that no evidence for a connection has been discovered, probably because it does not exist.

I would add – though this will be fiercely denied by some people – that it would be a grave mistake to think that it is impossible for an agency like the Internet Research Agency, LLC, to be set up in Russia on someone’s private initiative.  On the contrary, those genuinely familiar with the country know that such things go on there all the time.

The fourth thing to say about the indictment is that it centres exclusively on the social media activities about which so much has been said in the last few months as the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia has failed to appear.

I have said very little about this aspect of the Russiagate affair up to now because I have felt that this aspect of the affair was not in any way important.

This is because the social media activities of which the Internet Research Agency, LLC, and its employees have been accused of have looked both astonishingly incoherent (witness that the indictment says that they were promoting both pro- and anti-Trump rallies on the same day) and quantitatively insignificant, making their impact on the election inconsequential.

The indictment gives no reason to change that view.

The highest number of followers of any of the bogus social media accounts that were set up is alleged by the indictment to have been in the hundreds of thousands, whereas social media activity on any given day runs into the tens of millions.

The social media advertisements mentioned in the indictment appear to have been par for the course during the election, and to have attracted no special interest.

The indictment fails to give numbers for any of the rallies which the persons who have been indicted allegedly tried to organise via social media; that suggests that the number of persons who attended these rallies was insignificant.

The whole project seems to have cost around $1.2 million a month, spent it appears mostly on salaries in Russia, a trivial amount compared to the $2.4 billion spent in the 2016 US Presidential election as a whole, of which $768 million was spent by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and $398 million by Donald Trump’s.

That even some of those involved were not taking the project wholly seriously is shown by this frivolous episode solemnly recorded in paragraphs 12 (a) and (b) of the indictment

a.PRIGOZHIN approved and supported the ORGANIZATION’s operations, and Defendants and their co-conspirators were aware of PRIGOZHIN’s role.

b.For example, on or about May 29, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through an ORGANIZATION-controlled social media account, arranged for a real U.S. person to stand in front of the White House in the District of Columbia under false pretenses and hold a sign that read “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss.” Defendants and their co-conspirators informed the real U.S. person that the sign was for someone who “is a leader here and our boss…our funder.” PRIGOZHIN’s Russian passport identifies his date of birth as June 1, 1961.

This silly stunt provides more reason for thinking Prigozhin was the author of the whole project.

I do not wish to trivialise what happened.

Assuming that the claims made in the indictment are true – as I believe they are – then multiple serious crimes were committed.

These included cruel deceptions of innocent people, as well as cases of identity theft.  The latter especially is a very serious crime, the impact or seriousness of which should not be minimised.

However I cannot believe that any of this activity – which looks like a botched and amateur attempt by Prigozhin to copy some of the highly professional ‘colour revolution’ activities carried out around the world by various US and Western NGOs – had any conceivable bearing on the outcome of the US election.

No less a person than Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has moreover said as much

There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election……

QUESTION: Jack, is there concern that this — the (ph) indictment undermines the outcome of the election?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, haven’t I (ph) identified for you the allegations in the indictment? There’s no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election.

In summary, the latest indictment to have come from Special Counsel Mueller’s team, far from causing problems for President Trump, actually helps him.

In the one part of the Russiagate conspiracy theory in which some evidence of Russian activity exists – the part relating to social media – it turns out that President Trump’s campaign was not involved, and those members of his campaign who got drawn into the activities of Prigozhin and his people were completely innocent dupes.

As for the activity itself, the indictment shows that it was carried out on far too small a scale and in far too amateur and disorganised a way for it to have had any impact on the election, and the US authorities do not claim that it did.

It is also my personal view that what we are looking at is a private project cooked up by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who appears to fancy himself a sort of Russian anti-Soros.

If I am right about that then it is clear that Prigozhin has neither the high level backing nor the skill to play that role successfully, and his clumsy attempts to do so have instead simply caused Russia embarrassment and trouble.

I accept that the latter view will be disputed by many – though the evidence in my opinion supports it – but even if I am wrong about that, it does not detract from the fundamental fact that no evidence of collusion between anyone in the Trump campaign and Russia appears in the latest indictment, and that the activities catalogued in the indictment can have had no effect on the outcome of the election, and the US authorities do not say that they did.

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Aristotle
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Aristotle

Dear Alex Excellent article and analysis as usual. Thank you. 🙂 Just a pet peeve if mine that I’d like to bring to your attention: You wrote “Special Counsel Mueller cannot therefore obtain convictions against these people, which begs the question of why an indictment was issued at all.” In future perhaps you could consider using the more correct phrase “which raises the question”. See: Begging the question https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question To beg the question is to assume the truth of the conclusion of an argument in the premises in order for the conclusion to follow. It is a type of circular… Read more »

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Red Ryder

One must understand that the American mindset about Russia and Russians is that all 145,000,000 Russians are at once Putin’s pawns doing his ex-KGB work and simultaneously masses of pro-Western captives held in autocratic, criminal imprisonment by Putin and his cronies. Once you have absorbed that nonsense you can believe anything the Russophobes, neocons, Khazarian hordes say or contrive about “Russians”. And if you don’t believe the lies, you are one of the threats against the US Government. Drooling McMaster announced this morning that this Mueller carny show proves the great threat to US goals to bring happiness, joy and… Read more »

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Peace on Korean Peninsula within reach, if only Trump can remove Pompeo & Bolton (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss the results of the Putin-Kim summit in Vladivostok, Russia, aimed at boosting bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, as well as working to contribute to a final peace settlement on the Korean peninsula.

Putin’s meeting with Kim may prove to be a pivotal diplomatic moment, as North Korea continues to work towards normalizing ties with the U.S. amidst ongoing denuclearization talks with the Trump White House.

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Via the BBC…

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un needs international security guarantees if he is to end his nuclear programme.

Such guarantees would need to be offered within a multinational framework, he added, following talks near Vladivostok in Russia’s far east.

Mr Kim praised the summit as a “very meaningful one-on-one exchange”.

Mr Putin said North Korea’s leader was “fairly open” and had “talked freely on all issues that were on the agenda”.

The meeting followed the breakdown of talks between the US and North Korea in February, when Mr Kim met US President Donald Trump in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Those talks reportedly stalled over North Korea’s demand for full economic sanctions relief in return for some denuclearisation commitments – a deal the US was not willing to make.

Speaking after the talks on Thursday, Mr Putin said he wanted to see full denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

But he said this could only be achieved through respect for international law.

“We need to restore the power of international law, to return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” he said.

Mr Kim greeted Russian officials warmly when he arrived in Russia on Wednesday.

The North Korean leader was entertained by a brass band in Vladivostok before he got inside a car flanked by bodyguards, who – in now familiar scenes – jogged alongside the vehicle as it departed.

What do we know about the summit?

According to the Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin believes the six-party talks on North Korea, which are currently stalled, are the only efficient way of addressing the issue of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.

Those talks, which began in 2003, involve the two Koreas as well as China, Japan, Russia and the US.

“There are no other efficient international mechanisms at the moment,” Mr Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“But, on the other hand, efforts are being made by other countries. Here all efforts merit support as long as they really aim at de-nuclearisation and resolving the problem of the two Koreas.”

What do both sides want?

This visit is being widely viewed as an opportunity for North Korea to show it has powerful allies following the breakdown of the talks with the US in February.

The country has blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the collapse of the Hanoi summit. Earlier this month North Korea demanded that Mr Pompeo be removed from nuclear talks, accusing him of “talking nonsense” and asking for someone “more careful” to replace him.

The summit is also an opportunity for Pyongyang to show that its economic future does not depend solely on the US. Mr Kim may try to put pressure on Moscow to ease sanctions.

Analysts say the summit is an opportunity for Russia to show that it is an important player on the Korean peninsula.

President Putin has been eager to meet the North Korean leader for quite some time. Yet amid the two Trump-Kim summits, the Kremlin has been somewhat sidelined.

Russia, like the US and China, is uncomfortable with North Korea being a nuclear state.

How close are Russia and North Korea?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union (of which Russia is the main successor state) maintained close military and trade links with its communist ally, North Korea, for ideological and strategic reasons.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, trade links with post-communist Russia shrank and North Korea leaned towards China as its main ally.

Under President Putin, Russia recovered economically and in 2014 he wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt in a major goodwill gesture.

While it is arguable how much leverage Russia has with the North today, the communist state still regards it as one of the least hostile foreign powers.

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Putin meets Kim for the first time (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at the historic meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

The meeting marks the first ever summit between the two leaders.

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Follow The Duran Audio Podcast on Soundcloud.

Via RT…

Leaders of Russia and North Korea sat down for a historic summit in Vladivostok, expressing hope it will revive the peace process in the Korean Peninsula and talks on normalizing relations with the US.

The summit on Russky Island, just off Vladivostok, started a little late because President Vladimir Putin’s flight was delayed. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had made the trip by train, arriving on Wednesday.

In brief public remarks before the talks, the two leaders expressed hope the summit will help move forward the reconciliation process in the Korean Peninsula. Putin welcomed Kim’s contributions to “normalizing relations” with the US and opening a dialogue with South Korea.

Kim said he hoped the Vladivostok summit would be a “milestone” in the talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but also build upon “traditionally friendly ties” between Russia and North Korea.

The North Korean leader also made a point of thanking Putin for flying all the way to Vladivostok for the meeting. The Far East Russian city is only 129 kilometers from the border with North Korea.

The historic summit takes place less than two months after Kim’s second summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi fell apart without a breakthrough on denuclearization. The US rejected North Korea’s request for partial sanctions relief in return for moves to dismantle nuclear and missile programs; Washington insists on full disarmament before any sanctions are removed.

Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the main subject of the Kim-Putin summit, but there will also be talks about bilateral relations, trade, and humanitarian aid. The first one-on-one meeting is scheduled to last about an hour, followed by further consultations involving other government officials.

Following the summit, Putin is scheduled to visit China.

 

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Kim And Putin: Changing The State Of The Board In Korea

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


Today is a big day for Korea. The first face-to-face summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un takes place.

At the same time the 2nd annual Belt and Road Forum kicks off in Beijing.

This meeting between Putin and Kim has been in the works for a while but rumors of it only surfaced last week. But don’t let the idea that this was put together at the last minute fool you.

It wasn’t.

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

I know that sounds bold. But hear me out.

And while no one seems to think this meeting is important or that anything of substance will come from it I do. It is exactly the kind of surprise that Putin loves to spring on the world without notice and by doing so change the board state of geopolitics.

  • Russia’s entrance into Syria in 2015, two days after Putin’s historic speech at the U.N. General Assembly
  • 2018’s State of the Union address where he announced hypersonic missiles, embarrassing the U.S. Militiary-Industrial Complex which accelerated the Bolton Doctrine of subjugating the world
  • Flying 2 TU-160 nuclear-armed bombers to Venezuela, creating panic in D.C. leading to the ham-fisted regime change operations there.
  • Nationalization of Yukos.
  • The operation to secure Crimea from U.S. invasion by marines aboard the U.S.S Donald Cook during the Ukrainian uprising against Viktor Yanukovich.

Both Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping are angry at the breakdown of the talks in Hanoi back in February. It was clear that everyone expected that meeting to be a rubber stamp on a deal already agreed to by all parties involved.

In fact the two meetings between Kim and Trump were only possible because Trump convinced them of his sincerity to resolve the ‘denuclearization’ of North Korea which would clear a path to rapid reunification.

It’s why they went along with the U.S.’s increased sanctions on North Korea as administered through the U.N. in 2017.

That John Bolton and Mike Pompeo destroyed those talks and Trump was unwilling or unable (who cares at this point, frankly, useless piece of crap that he is) to stop them embarrassed and betrayed them.

They are now done with Trump.

He’ll get nothing from either of them or Kim until Trump can prove he’s in charge of his administration, which he, clearly, is not.

And they will be moving forward with their own agenda for security and Asian economic integration. So I don’t think the timing of this meeting with that of the Belt and Road Forum is an accident.

And that means moving forward on solving the Korea problem without Trump.

It is clear from the rhetoric of Putin’s top diplomat, the irreplaceable Sergei Lavrov, that Russia’s patience is over. They are no longer interested in what Trump wants and they will now treat the U.S. as a threat, having upped their military stance towards the U.S. to that of “Threat.”

If Bolton wants anything from Russia at this point he best be prepared to start a war or piss off.

This is also why Russia took the gloves off with Ukraine in the run up to the Presidential elections, cutting off energy and machinery exports with Ukraine.

To put paid Putin’s growing impatience with U.S. policies, he just issued the order to allow residents of Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to apply for Russian passports.

This will send Bolton into apoplexy. Angela Merkel of Germany will be none too pleased either. Putin is now playing hardball after years of unfailing politeness.

It’s also why Lavrov finalized arms and port deals all over the Middle East in recent weeks, including those with Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and India.

Bolton, Pompeo and Pence are ideologues. Trump is a typical Baby Boomer, who lives in a bubble of his own design and believes in an America that never existed.

None of them truly understand the fires they are stoking and simply believe in the Manifest Destiny of the U.S. to rule the world over a dim and barbaric world.

Putin, Xi, Rouhani in Iran and Kim in North Korea are pragmatic men. They understand the realities they live in. This is why I see Putin willing tomorrow to sit down with Kim and flaunt the U.N. sanctions and begin the investment process into North Korea that should have begun last year.

Putin would not be making these moves if he didn’t feel that Bolton was all bark and no bite when it came to actual war with Russia. He also knows that Germany needs him more than he needs Germany so despite the feet-dragging and rhetoric Nordstream 2 will go forward.

Trade is expanding between them despite the continued sanctions.

Putin may be willing to cut a deal with President-elect Zelensky on gas transit later in the year but only if the shelling of the LPR and DPR stops and he guarantees no more incidents in the Sea of Azov. This would also mollify Merkel a bit and make it easier for her politically to get Nordstream 2 over the finish line.

There are moments in history when people go too far. Bolton and Pompeo went too far in Hanoi. He will pay the price now. Putin and Kim will likely agree to something in Vladivostok that no one is expecting and won’t look like much at first.

But the reality is this summit itself marks a turning point in this story that will end with the U.S. being, in Trump’s transactional parlance, a “price taker” since it has so thoroughly failed at being a “price maker.”

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