A day after the Special Counsel looking into Russian interference in the 2016 elections returned a new series of indictments against specific Russian intelligence agents, and just before his first summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump on Saturday blamed the Obama Administration for not doing enough to stop Russia’s cyber meddling during his bid for the White House two years ago.
“The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration,” the President tweeted from Scotland, where he is spending the weekend at his Turnberry golf resort.
“Why didn’t Obama do something about it? Because he thought Crooked Hillary Clinton would win, that’s why,” the President added.
In his tweets about the indictments the past two days, Mr. Trump made no mention of his Monday summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland with the Russian leader, and gave no indication whether or not the issue of election interference would be on their agenda.
As for the indictments handed down on Friday by a federal grand jury, what exactly did we learn from the details, and what trails might they point to in terms of further investigation?
Let’s take a look:
1. A highly detailed trail of Russian intelligence involvement. For those who have complained about the lack of actual evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, this latest indictment showed just how much specific and highly detailed information is in the hands of federal investigators and U.S. Intelligence. The indictment not only names those Russian Intelligence (GRU) agents who were at the keyboard, but details how the information was gained by the GRU, and then ultimately spread into the public domain by a third party. “This is jaw-droppingly impressive forensic work,” said Thomas Rid, a Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Rid’s bottom line – the indictment was “historically unprecedented in scope, detail, and likely impact.” The former U.S. Ambassador to Russia under President Obama had this to say:
2. Guccifer 2.0 was not some Romanian hacker. The latest indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller spells out what many experts had long figured about the persona of “Guccifer 2.0,” who handed out information from certain hacks of the DNC – that it was actually a Russian intelligence agent, posing as someone who wasn’t working for Moscow. Thomas Rid says, “the indictment doesn’t just show Guccifer 2 was managed by a specific GRU unit — it *reconstructs the internet searches made while some GRU officer was drafting the first post as Guccifer 2*.” It is obvious from the level of detail in the indictment that U.S. Intelligence and law enforcement have a lot of communications from inside the GRU on Guccifer 2.0, and how that group made contacts with certain U.S. persons, including one who was “in regular contact with the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.” At this point, there is no evidence any of those people in the U.S. who contacted Guccifer 2.0 knew who they were dealing with, but the indictment makes the case that the false Romanian cover was just a way for Moscow to deny Russian responsibility.
3. Candidate for Congress asks for help from Russian intelligence. Whether or not you knew that Guccifer 2.0 wasn’t really from Romania, the indictment makes clear that at least one person running for the Congress in 2016 – that person was not identified by name or party – got in touch with Guccifer 2.0, and asked for help against their opponent. “On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress,” the indictment states. “The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.” It would seem to make sense that since the Russians had information from inside the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the recipient of that information would have been a Republican – but that’s not fully detailed. It raises some interesting questions. Who was that candidate? Did that person get elected? Is he/she serving in the Congress right now? Is that person involved in questioning the Russia investigation?
4. Mueller: GRU responsible for the Podesta hack. In the emails leaked out by Wikileaks from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta before the 2016 elections, was the actual spear phishing email that was used to get Podesta to change his email password. The indictment says that Russian Intelligence agents – using the ID “john356gh” – put together a fake link in an email for Podesta, which did not go to Google, but instead to “GRU-created website.” That email was sent to Podesta on March 19, 2016, and around March 21, 2016, the indictment says two specific agents “stole the contents of (Podesta’s) email account, which consisted of over 50,000 emails.” The indictment says the same ‘john356gh’ account was used “to mask additional links included in spear phishing emails sent to numerous individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign,” all from the email, “firstname.lastname@example.org.” This was not a 400 pound guy sitting in his bedroom.
5. “Organization 1” is clearly Wikileaks. The latest indictment also further cements the evidence that Wikileaks worked with Russian intelligence operatives, helping them to release emails from top Clinton aide John Podesta, as well as others within the Democratic National Committee. The indictment does not specifically name “Wikileaks,” but instead refers to it as “Organization 1” – while detailing how that group released information on Podesta, and others. “In order to expand their interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Conspirators transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and the chairman of the Clinton Campaign to Organization 1.” The indictment says the GRU at one point sent a file with emails that was titled, “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.” Since the indictment was issued on Friday, Wikileaks made no denial – instead posting a video on Twitter showing President Trump talking about Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign.
6. Mueller indicates Russian obtained Clinton campaign ‘analytics.’ One of the more interesting pieces of information in this new indictment is the revelation that Russian agents hacked into the cloud system used by the Hillary Clinton campaign, which “contained test applications related to the DNC’s analytics.” The term analytics would refer to voter data and other election information used by the campaign, as officials try to figure out what voter groups, or what areas to target in a campaign – in some cases, a road map for what the campaign might have been doing. The indictment does not indicate what was done with the information taken from the DNC computers – but it raises some interesting ‘what if’ type of questions on how that could have been put to use before Election Day.
7. Russian Intel targeted county election websites. Tucked into Friday’s indictment is also a charge that Russian Intelligence probed not just the computers of state election boards, but also down to the county level, checking on websites in Florida, Georgia, and Iowa. Florida was also targeted in a different way, as the GRU allegedly sent ‘over 100 spear phishing emails to organizations and personnel involved in elections in numerous Florida counties.’ Those emails, according to the charges, contained malware embedded into an attached Word document. The indictment did not indicate what the Russian units were after at the county level – but a typical Supervisor of Elections would have a lot of voter information in their computer systems, and also would be on the front lines of vote tabulation on Election night.
8. The person “in regular contact” with Trump Campaign. As mentioned above, the indictment says that members of Russian intelligence – under the cover of Guccifer 2.0 – exchanged messages with someone “who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.” The quick assumption of those following this story was that is Roger Stone, the one-time foreign policy adviser to the campaign, who was pushed aside before the elections in 2016, but has talked in the past about being in touch with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. At first, Stone rejected the assertion that the indictment might be referring to him and contacts with Wikileaks, but a few hours later on CNN, Stone acknowledged that was a possibility.