February 17, 2018

Internet Research Agency, butt-hurt #Hillbots
the #FirstAmendment and Russophobia

A few thoughts, based on the federal indictment (also here) and expanded from Twitter, even as places like the Bezos Post glad-hand special counsel Robert Mueller. (For thumbnails on the 13 indictees, go here.)

I waited until today to blog, because I wanted to see how many MSMers, and Hillbots on Twitter, etc., claimed this meant there was a "there" there not only on Putin Did It but Putin-Trump collusion.

And Tweeterers? Never assume that just because someone disagrees with you, he/she/it/they are on the "other side." Once again, Idries Shah:

“To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.” 
Also, never assume, let alone be presumptuous enough to assume, that just because a person is on a third or fourth side of an issue that they don't understand the issue.

First, Internet Research Agency allegedly started work "in or around 2014" or "beginning as early as 2014." That's before Trump announced his candidacy. That right there undercuts the collusion angle, which Mueller's indictment never hints at anyway. Sorry, Hillbots. Ron Chusid at Liberal Values Blog largely agrees.

Second, §4-6 of "Introduction" focus on social media hucksterism discussed elsewhere. Nothing illegal about this that I know of unless Mueller has unplayed cards, or unless he's throwing a broad dragnet on what counts as a campaign endorsement ad. I think he is, and that's where my First Amendment concerns start. I'm sure I'm in a minority of Americans there.

Third, §7 of "Introduction" appears to claim illegal campaign contributions by foreign nationals. None of the spoof FB groups donated money OR "a thing of value" to Trump campaign, AFAIK. Telling people there's a pro-Trump group holding a rally, and buying an ad to tell them that? NOT a political endorsement ad in my book. More 1A concerns; more of me being in a minority.

Fourth, §12b of "Defendants" claims one used "false pretenses" to stand in front of the White House with a sign. WHAT? Is there a Federal Department of White House Standing In Front Of that one must register with, a la Monty Python?

Fifth, per the "Federal Regulatory Agencies" section and my points 2-3, we're coming close to criminalizing everyday lying when it's connected to politics. The FEC may adopt new standards for online political ad identification, but it hasn't yet, other than requiring explicit identifications on Facebook political ads, and besides, we don't have ex post facto laws. If, per §48 of "defendants," what expressly counts as advertising for the election of a candidate today is involved, that's one thing. But, this was posted way below the talk about fake social media groups.

Usually, on an indictment, you lead with your best punch. That makes this look weak for that reason, too.

Also, can advocating AGAINST a candidate be construed as a call to vote FOR another? I did my #DuopolyExit long ago, and would have voted for Jill Stein no matter what. This charge seems weak on those grounds as well.

Sixth, if there was actual identity theft? Stuff like fake driver's licenses is state-level crime. Were it not for points 1-5 above, it would not be Eff Bee Eye purview. (Wiki explains what types of identity theft in the US is considered federal; fake DLs count as federal if used to commit another crime. That then said, most of what I've noted above, and do more below, is not IMO a crime.)

And, that all said, the ID thefts, if real, were certainly stupid. And illegal at some level of government, of course.

As for Richard Pinedo? Likely nothing more than the bagman/middleman/cut-out for purchasing false IDs. Likely NOT a separate activity, as, from what I see here, he'd done similar work, shady if not illegal, but at least some of it illegal, for other folks going back to 2012.

Seventh, §43 of "Defendants" claims that they "engaged in operations to ... support Bernie Sanders" as well as Trump. And even Jill Stein! So, we got butt-hurt #Hillbots inside #MuellerTime? (The indictment doesn't say what "support" involves.

Related to this is bad optics. Mueller's already had to remove people from his team for this. I'm talking Peter Strzok, of course.

Whoever on Mueller's team, if not the man himself editing if not writing, presented this indictment to the grand jury for approval should be taken out and flogged.

Eighth, from what I see above, civil liberties orgs like the ACLU and CCR should be squawking loudly. This all comes off as #FirstAmendment-chilling. And foreign nationals are entitled to most constitutional protections not restricted to citizens.


Updates beyond original Twitter thread.

The "Destruction of Evidence" on §58 ff is also thin soup. Deleting an email account because of a media story long before any criminal probe started is destruction of evidence?

Buying ads for promoting a pro-Trump rally is certainly not direct endorsement of a candidate in my book. It's also getting close to violating the spirit of the freedom of assembly clause of the First Amendment.

The section seven of my comments? If we extend that, then theoretically no foreign national could ever buy a Facebook (or newspaper) ad that says: "I like President Trump." Or anything like that.

Surely somebody besides me is seeing First Amendment concerns?

The Russkies should have gotten 10 real American friends of Pinedo and given them earnest money to open bank accounts with threats of omerta action if they asked questions, rather than going down the road of ID fraud.

That said, if the Concord groups actually purchased the ads, and they're American citizens, even if cutouts, there again, Mueller's dragnet may be too wide. The indictment says "defendants and their co-conspirators."

A New York Times guest columnist goes so far as to speculate the Russians WANTED to get caught as part of sowing problems. I think that's a step too far, but the fact that somebody thinks that proves that they are still sowing problems. Or that many Americans are self-sowing.

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