Russian Military Intelligence Officials Indicted for 2016 Election Hacks

A federal grand jury indicted a dozen members of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff – the military intelligence agency more colloquially known as the GRU – on eleven counts in connection with the hacking and publication of Democratic Party and campaign organization emails during the 2016 election. Just Security has a good recap of the six major takeaways from today’s indictment, which is well worth reading. I would also recommend listening to the newest episode of the Lawfare Podcast which focuses entirely on various aspects of the indictment.

This is the latest in a series of indictments produced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in the 17 months or so since he was appointed to the post.  This makes a total of 191 charges against 35 defendants, according to CNN’s Marshall Cohen. Previous indictments focused on Paul Manafort’s shady foreign business dealings, as well as guilty pleas from members of the Trump campaign’s inner circle, and an indictment of Russian individuals and agencies who were behind the social media effort during the election.

Journalists and observers who have been following the special counsel’s work had expected charges in connection with the hacks.  Why is this one so important? This indictment goes to the heart of the crimes that were committed during the 2016 election.  Remember, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and several senior staffers lost their jobs because of these emails.  Subsequent batches of hacked emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account upended the final month of the presidential race. This operation had an impact in real time, and is at the heart of the collusion accusations.

The timing for the announcement was probably not a coincidence.  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was holding a press conference announcing the indictment at the same time that President Donald Trump and his wife were meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, just days before a scheduled summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. An anonymous White House official told Politico, “It’s a big FU from Mueller.”

The emerging Democratic position in the wake of the indictment was to call for the President to cancel his meeting with Putin next week. Some Democrats have even gone so far as saying that President Trump should demand the extradition of the indicted Russians, and in the likely event that Putin declines, to use that as an excuse to cancel the summit.

There are a few things still missing or outstanding from the latest indictment, which could turn up later in a superseding indictment or a separate indictment altogether. First, as Lawfare points out, is the thorny issue of what – if any – First Amendment protections WikiLeaks might have as a publisher when considering charges against the organization and its leader Julian Assange. This current indictment did not even address that question, but did make a few passing references to WikiLeaks as “Organization 1” as a recipient of hacked materials from Guccifer 2.0 – an online alter ego for the GRU, according to the indictment.

Assange insists WikiLeaks is a journalistic enterprise, but its actions in this episode suggest otherwise.  According to the indictment, WikiLeaks sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 on June 22, 2016 reading, “Send 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.” A subsequent message from WikiLeaks reads, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against  hillary. . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.” In other words – they wanted to meddle and create controversy during the election to help Donald Trump win.  If Mueller subpoenaed Twitter to get access to all of the direct messages in the WikiLeaks Twitter account, assume he has more of these messages in which Assange or his subordinates reveal their true intentions.

Second, it should be noted Mueller has probably reached a tipping point where, unless there are more unforeseen names and charges pending, the only logical place left for him to go in this investigation is to start naming and indicting American collaborators. The unidentified American in the indictment who was in contact with Guccifer 2.0 is Roger Stone, who may still be at risk of greater legal jeopardy down the line. Buried at the bottom of page 15 is this tantalizing allegation which pretty much fits the criteria for collusion that journalists have been looking for:

One former Democratic House member from Nebraska went public on Facebook and announced that the Russians hacked his campaign’s emails in the 2016 cycle.  It’s not clear if he was the victim in the instance named in the indictment.

The big guessing game among political and congressional journalists for the next several days will be to try and figure out the identity of the campaign that solicited and received stolen emails from Guccifer 2.0. If this person is an elected state or federal official, he or she will be under tremendous political pressure to resign.  He or she may also face legal jeopardy, depending on what (if any) additional facts emerge.

Beyond the references to Stone and the unidentified congressional candidate, the big question is what happens if Mueller indicts a major figure who is close to the president – for example, Jared Kushner or Don Jr.

Third, is Vladimir Putin an unindicted co-conspirator? This may be a question for Mueller himself once he finishes his investigation, but it will be interesting to see if he takes a play from the Department of Justice’s past and slaps that dubious label on the Russian leader and implicate him directly in the hacks.

Fourth, what is the status of the obstruction of justice probe in connection with the firing of FBI Director James Comey? Rudy Giuliani has repeatedly moved the goal posts to set the criteria to grant a presidential interview, most recently arguing that they won’t allow it unless Mueller presents evidence that the President committed a crime. Mueller could get a subpoena to compel the President’s testimony, which would eventually lead to a protracted legal battle in which Mueller would likely prevail because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Jones.  If the case ever went that far, and an appeals court or the Supreme Court ruled in Mueller’s favor, that would create a permanent, binding legal precedent against the executive branch. The other question about the obstruction of justice investigation would be if and when Mueller would submit a final report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and if that report were to become a public document. As the calendar gets closer to Election Day, Mueller may wind up postponing any subpoena or report until after the elections.

Watch this space.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Tennessee Law Revoking Driver’s Licenses

Tennessee was one of approximately 40 states with laws under which drivers could lose their licenses if they were too poor to pay court costs or traffic fines. Judge Aleta Trauger struck down Tennessee’s law earlier this week, noting in her ruling:

“The damage that the lack of a driver’s license does to one’s employment prospects is just the beginning. Being unable to drive is the equivalent of a recurring tax or penalty on engaging in the wholly lawful ordinary activities of life—a tax or penalty that someone who committed the same traffic violation, but was able to pay her initial traffic debt, would never be obligated to pay.”

“As a general proposition, the cities, towns, and communities of Tennessee are pervasively structured around the use of motor vehicles. Anyone who doubts that premise is welcome to attempt to run a day’s worth of errands in a rural Tennessee county with no car and very little money… Nashville is a city where motor vehicle travel is, for the vast majority of the population, an essential part of ordinary life, particularly for anyone seeking to maintain or build economic self-sufficiency. All of these facts, together, leave very little room for doubt regarding the plaintiffs’ assertion that an indigent person who loses her driver’s license is only going to be made less likely to be able to meet the ordinary expenses of life, let alone pay hundreds of dollars in traffic debt.”

This ruling could have an impact on voter turnout in the midterm elections, where Tennessee has an open U.S. Senate race and an open governor’s race on the ballot. According to the Secretary of State’s office, “all voters must present a federal or Tennessee state ID,” which includes driver’s licenses. According to the New York Times, more than 100,000 Tennesseeans could get their licenses reinstated. Judge Trauger is also presiding over a separate lawsuit arguing that unpaid traffic fines have cost almost 250,000 Tennessee residents their licenses. The Times article also notes:

According to evidence presented in the Tennessee case, 93.4 percent of workers who reside in the state drive to work.

The state revoked 146,211 driver’s licenses for failure to pay court debts between July 2012 and June 2016. Only about 7 percent of those people were able to get their licenses reinstated in that same period.

Tennessee Democratic legislators had previously introduced bills on this subject.  A state Democratic Party official said, “We believe this is a major positive development because being poor is not a crime, and this is a huge burden lifted from many Tennesseans. Not having a valid photo ID is also a barrier to voting, so this could potentially have a positive impact on voter turnout among this group.”

The ruling could create a voter demographic that neither political party had previously accounted for, which could make the difference in a close race.  For comparison, during the last open Senate race in a mid-term election cycle in 2006, Bob Corker was elected to his first term in office by a margin of almost 50,000 votes.

Where Democrats Stand On the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination

Here is a running list of where Democrats stand on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the aftermath of last night’s announcement.

* Up for re-election in 2016

+ Considering 2020 presidential run

# Member of Senate Judiciary Committee

 

SENATE

Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.) – UNDECIDED*

Michael Bennett (Colo.) – UNDECIDED

Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) – AGAINST#

Cory Booker (N.J.) – AGAINST+#

Sherrod Brown (Ohio) – UNDECIDED*

Maria Cantwell (Wash.) – UNDECIDED*

Ben Cardin (Md.) – UNDECIDED*

Tom Carper (Del.) – AGAINST*

Bob Casey (Penn.) – AGAINST*

Chris Coons (Del.) – UNDECIDED#

Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) – UNDECIDED

Joe Donnelly (Ind.) – UNDECIDED*

Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) – UNDECIDED

Dick Durbin (Ill.) – UNDECIDED#

Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) – UNDECIDED*

Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) – AGAINST+

Kamala Harris (Calif.) – AGAINST+#

Maggie Hassan (N.H.) – UNDECIDED

Martin Heinrich (N.M.) – AGAINST

Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) – UNDECIDED*

Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) – UNDECIDED#

Doug Jones (Ala.) – UNDECIDED

Tim Kaine (Va.) – UNDECIDED*

Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) – UNDECIDED*#

Patrick Leahy (Vt.) – UNDECIDED#

Joe Manchin (W.Va.) – UNDECIDED*

Ed Markey (Mass.) – AGAINST

Claire McCaskill (Mo.) – UNDECIDED*

Bob Menendez (N.J.) – AGAINST*

Jeff Merkley (Ore.) – AGAINST+

Chris Murphy (Conn. ) – AGAINST*

Patty Murray (Wash.) – AGAINST

Bill Nelson (Fla.) – UNDECIDED*

Gary Peters (Mich.) – UNDECIDED

Jack Reed (R.I.) – AGAINST

Brian Schatz (Hawaii) – UNDECIDED

Charles Schumer (N.Y.) – AGAINST

Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) – UNDECIDED

Tina Smith (Minn.) – UNDECIDED*

Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) – UNDECIDED

Jon Tester (Mont.) – UNDECIDED

Tom Udall (N.M.) – AGAINST

Chris Van Hollen (Md.) – UNDECIDED

Mark Warner (Va.) – UNDECIDED

Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) – AGAINST+

Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) – UNDECIDED*#

Ron Wyden (Ore.) – AGAINST

Angus King (I – Maine) – UNDECIDED*

Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.) – AGAINST+

It should be noted that the four red state Senate Democrats (Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Doug Jones, and Joe Manchin) who were invited to attend last night’s announcement declined the invitation, as did the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

DEMOCRATIC SENATE CANDIDATES

Phil Bredesen (Tenn.) – UNDECIDED*

Jacky Rosen (Nev.) – UNDECIDED*

Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) – UNDECIDED*

Jenny Wilson (Utah) – UNDECIDED*

OTHERS

Steve Bullock – UNDECIDED+

Andrew Cuomo – UNDECIDED+

Jay Inslee – UNDECIDED+

Terry McAuliffe – AGAINST+

 

A Tale of Two Montana Democrats

President Donald Trump and his son traveled to Great Falls, Montana today for a political rally to support Republican candidate Matt Rosendale, who is trying to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester in November.   It’s worth noting the differing responses from Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock, the state’s top Democrats.

Here’s Tester:

And here is the email sent out from Bullock’s Big Sky Values PAC. (In fairness, Bullock was just elected to a second term a year and a half ago, and is term-limited for 2020)

Follow Buzzfeed reporter Anne Helen Petersen for tweets and dispatches from the ground.

Nebraska Group Claims It Has Enough Signatures for Medicaid Expansion

Nebraska voters will decide whether or not to expand Medicaid in the state, after the organization behind the effort claimed it had enough signatures to put the question on the November ballot.

Insure the Good Life announced it had collected more than 135,000 signatures in its efforts, far more than the 84,268 required by today’s deadline.  In order to qualify, the group had to collect signatures from a minimum of 7 percent of the state’s more than 1.2 million registered voters. Those signatures were turned over to the office of  Secretary of State John Gale this afternoon, but verification could take as long as 50 days, according to an announcement sent out from Gale’s office.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the state’s Medicaid plan would be expand eligibility to cover “certain adults” between the ages of 19 and 64 whose incomes are 138 percent below the federal poverty level. According to the Associated Press, Medicaid expansion would provide health care to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act.

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion during the 2017 election, becoming the first state to do so. A similar initiative is pending for the November election ballot in Idaho and another has already been certified and will appear on the ballot in Utah.

Poll: Half of Americans Think President Trump is Racist

Highlights of a Quinnipiac University poll released July 3:

  • Trump approval/disapproval: 40-55
  • Trump approval/disapproval among Republicans: 86-11
  • Trump approval/disapproval among Democrats: 95-3
  • Trump approval/disapproval among men: 57-40
  • Trump approval/disapproval among women: 39-57
  • Trump approval/disapproval among whites: 47-50
  • Trump approval/disapproval among blacks: 6-92
  • Trump approval/disapproval among Hispanics: 33-64
  • Is Trump honest, yes/no: 38-58
  • Does Trump care about average Americans, yes/no: 43-55
  • Does Trump provide moral leadership, yes/no: 36-62
  • Trump handling of economy, approval/disapproval: 50-45
  • Trump handling of foreign policy, approval/disapproval: 43-53
  • Trump handling of immigration, approval/disapproval: 39-58
  • Trump handling of trade, approval/disapproval: 38-55
  • Trump handling of race relations, approval/disapproval: 36-58
  • Trump handling of taxes, approval/disapproval: 43-51
  • Trump handling of health care, approval/disapproval: 37-55
  • Trump handling of children separated from parents, approval/disapproval: 36-60
  • Does administration have responsibility to reunite families, yes/no: 83-12
  • Is policy of separating children a human rights violation, yes/no: 60-36
  • Trump uniting/dividing the country: 36-58
  • Do you think Trump is racist, yes/no: 49-47

These aren’t the complete results, but in general they do put his approval ratings on various issues in negative territory.  What should keep his political advisers up at night is that these are his numbers in a time when the stock market is at a record high and there is little, if anything, that can be done to further stimulate the economy in the event of a downturn or recession. If he had plans to run during midterms on his handling of tax cuts, foreign policy, and immigration, these numbers should make him think twice, although voters give him a small majority of approval on his handling of North Korea and his meeting with Vladimir Putin.  What this poll does not take into account are recent intelligence reports that North Korea shows no indication of denuclearizing.

What is also jarring is the clear public opposition to his family separation policy.  Clear and decisive majorities feel the administration has committed human rights violations and that the administration has a responsibility to reunite the families that have been separated.

In essence – the president has been very fortunate that so far in his presidency, he hasn’t faced a real crisis that has tested his administration. The bad news is that if that does happen at some point, his polls have nowhere else to go but down.

Indiana Attorney General Accused of Inappropriately Touching Women

Curtis Hill, the top law enforcement officer in the state of Indiana, was accused of touching four different women inappropriately at a party at the end of the recent legislative session, according to a report first obtained by the Indianapolis Star. The allegations were recounted in a confidential eight-page memo dated June 18, prepared by the law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister on behalf of state legislative leaders.

The alleged incidents happened during the early hours of March 15, at a party at a bar near downtown Indianapolis. The women accusing Hill include a lawmaker and three legislative employees.  Republican leaders in the state assembly announced they were launching an investigation into the leak of the report.

“No one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I commend House and Senate leaders for their immediate and formal follow up to the allegations presented to them,” Governor Eric Holcomb (R-Ind.) said in a statement. He declined further comment until after he had “reviewed the facts in detail.” Indiana Republican Party chairman Kyle Hupfer praised the way the state legislature handled the investigation in a statement and added, “As the Republican Party, we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and that’s the standard to which we all should adhere. Actions like these alleged have no place in public life or anywhere else.”

Two state Democratic leaders, Senator Tim Lanane and Indiana Democratic Party chairman John Zody, have called for Hill’s resignation.

Hill, a Republican, denied the allegations.  He is not up for re-election until 2020.

UPDATE: Statement from Washington DC AG Karl Racine and Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum, co-chairs of the Democratic Attorneys General Association:

“The Democratic Attorneys General Association abhors any and all forms of unwanted physical contact, period. We commend these strong women for standing up. State Attorneys General are the chief law officers of our states, and as such we have a solemn duty to demonstrate the highest standards of behavior and accountability. We trust this commitment is shared by all our colleagues, no matter their party affiliation. We encourage a continued, thorough, and transparent investigation into the Indiana Attorney General’s conduct.”

Three Virginia Republican Leaders Resign, As Party Remains Divided Over Its Senate Nominee

Tucked in this Washington Post story is an ominous detail that does not bode well for the Virginia Republicans: State party chairman John Whitbeck and Kevin Gentry, a member of the executive committee resigned from their posts, as did Davis Rennolds, chairman of the Richmond Republican Party.  Most of the other Republicans quoted in the article threw Corey Stewart under the bus.

This is not a good sign four months before Election Day, especially from a party that has not won a statewide race since 2009.

NARAL Pro-Choice America Endorses Fred Hubbell for Governor of Iowa

NARAL Pro-Choice American president Ilyse Hogue endorsed Democrat Fred Hubbell for next November’s election, calling him “the champion we need in the Iowa Governor’s Mansion.” With Republicans in control of the governor and both chambers of the state legislature, the Hawkeye State has become a flashpoint in the legal and political battle over abortion rights.

Iowa state law currently prohibits abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Incument Republican governor Kim Reynolds, whom Hubbell is hoping to defeat in the election, signed Senate File 359 into law last May. Known as the heartbeat bill because it would ban abortions once a heartbeat has been detected after about six weeks of pregnancy, it is considered one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

According to NPR, critics of the new law say it will prohibit abortions before some women might even know they are pregnant.   Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union both already announced their intentions to sue Governor Reynolds and the state.  The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

A recent court decision does not bode well for the future of the heartbeat law. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 5-2 last Friday that women had a right to an abortion under the state’s constitution, striking down a 2017 law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.   “Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world,” Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote in the majority opinion. “Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty. We therefore hold, under the Iowa Constitution, that implicit in the concept of ordered liberty is the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”

“Women deserve equal access to quality, affordable health care, and as governor, I am committed to making that a reality,” Hubbell said.

Supreme Court Politics and the 2018 Election Map

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire four months before the election is the best thing that could have happened to Republicans, conventional wisdom says.  It is difficult to disagree with that logic, but it is also necessary to keep in mind the counterargument – which is that enthusiasm cuts both ways. (To be fair, the more adequate word for Democrats still reeling from the announcement isn’t enthusiasm, but fear.)

Historically, Republican voters have been more motivated to go to the polls because of the issue of judicial nominations than Democrats.  Exit polls from the 2016 election confirm this view. According to CNN, 56 percent of Trump voters said Supreme Court appointments were the most important factor in their decision. Evidence strongly suggests that filling Supreme Court vacancies was a big reason for Donald Trump’s win. Though the stakes for filling any court vacancy are always high, they aren’t as high or urgent from the Republican perspective this time around. Why? Two years ago, the presidency was up for grabs and, with it, the next two or more court vacancies, including the seat held by Scalia which could have altered the court’s majority if Hillary Clinton had won.  Now, Donald Trump is in the middle of his first term, with a Republican-controlled Senate. It may gin up enthusiasm among some Republican voters, but it doesn’t have the same existential sense of urgency that Democrats are now feeling.

“Misery motivates, not utopia,” Karl Marx once wrote. That principle, combined with lingering anger over the Senate Republican blockade of Merrick Garland and the recent string of losses in Supreme Court decisions during the week leading up to the Kennedy retirement, strongly suggest that Democratic candidates and their allies aren’t going to treat this Supreme Court vacancy like any other opening in the past.

State Democratic parties and candidates are fundraising off the Kennedy retirement, some on the specific message of running as a defender of abortion rights. Others have spoken more generally about the urgency of electing Democratic governors and legislators to have as a check on any sweeping future rulings from the Supreme Court on issues like abortion, voting rights, gun control, campaign finance, or redistricting. However, the initial messaging from Democrats and various interest groups on the actual Supreme Court vacancy itself is all over the map, depending on who you ask.  Their options to block a nominee are nonexistent after Senate Republicans abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees for the Neil Gorsuch vote. Their only chance at blocking a nominee is the slim chance that minority leader Charles Schumer can hold all 49 Democrats and is somehow able to get two Republicans to join them in voting against.

Just as there will be enormous pressure on a handful of red state Democrats who are running for reelection this cycle (specifically Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly, who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch last year), there will also be enormous pressure on Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are the only pro-choice Republicans in their party’s Senate caucus. Collins and Murkowski have the benefit of not running for reelection in this hyperpartisan political environment, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be feeling pressure. As Republican pro-choice women in the Senate who have a vote in judicial nominations, do they want their legacies to be defined by potentially casting the deciding vote to seat a Supreme Court justice who might one day vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

It is also necessary to look beyond Murkowski and Collins for potential pressure points. Even though they aren’t on the ballot this year, the governors of Alaska and Maine are, as is Maine’s independent senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats. Voters in both states won’t be able to vote against Murkowski or Collins in this cycle, so they may opt to flex their political muscles by voting for (or against) the candidates who are on the ballot in November.

While Senate Democrats have a terrible electoral map to defend this year, when it comes to governors and state legislatures, the map becomes almost the inverse, meaning that they will have ample pickup opportunities in down ballot races.  Democrats have shown more interest and energy in down ballot state legislative races in the first eighteen months of the Trump presidency, and have already demonstrated some success in special elections – the DLCC has flipped 44 Republican-held seats to the Democrats, in addition to a Wisconsin state supreme court seat, a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, and stunning off-year results up and down the ballot in Virginia. If Democrats can harness this anxiety about the court and turn it into votes in November, that could drive them to some surprise victories.

Democrats might not be able to stop Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee, but they can put themselves in a better political position for the second half of his term: retaking the House or Senate will give them subpoena power and the ability to launch investigations, as well as control of nominations to the upper chamber; control of governor’s mansions, state offices and state legislatures will give them control of state voting rights as well as drawing the congressional maps for the next round of redistricting after 2020.

As painful as losing cases at the Supreme Court will be, the Democrats’ best hope for now is that they can use the court as an issue to play the long game: rebuild their bench in state and federal offices, gain congressional majorities, and eventually win the presidency.