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Legal Analysis: Russian National Charged with Interfering in 2018 Midterm Elections

Richard Newman

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On October 19, 2018, the U.S. Justice Department announced that a criminal complaint had been unsealed, charging a Russian national for her alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system and the 2018 midterm elections.

According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg, Russia served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering. Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and Ukraine, among others.

Khusyaynova allegedly managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence activities directed at the United States. The financial documents she controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and “promoting news postings on social networks.”

Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only a portion of these funds were directed at the United States. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million.

The alleged conspiracy, in which Khusyaynova is alleged to have played a central financial management role, sought to conduct what it called internally “information warfare against the United States.” This effort was not only designed to spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal requirements.

The conspirators allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin. They used social media platforms to create thousands of social media and email accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons, and used them to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S. audiences. These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens of thousands of followers.

The conspiracy allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March and the NFL national anthem debate. Members of the conspiracy allegedly took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina and concert attendees in Las Vegas; the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and associated violence; police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration.

The conspirators’ alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view. Rather, the allegedly wrote on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives. Members of the conspiracy were purportedly directed, among other things, to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” The actors also allegedly developed playbooks and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news outlets to use and how to frame divisive messages.

“Today’s charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Our nation is built upon a hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so. Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable.”

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities, and that we will not stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our government. I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their determined work on this case.”

“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates,” said Director Wray. “We take all threats to our democracy very seriously, and we’re committed to working with our partners to identify and stop these unlawful influence operations. Together, we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process.”

The criminal complaint does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had any effect on the outcome of an election. The complaint also does not allege that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.

The investigative team received exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Richard B. Newman is an FTC defense lawyer at Hinch Newman LLP focusing on advertising and digital media matters. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

These materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice, nor do they create a lawyer-client relationship. No person should act or rely on any information in this article without seeking the advice of an attorney. Information on previous case results does not guarantee a similar future result. Hinch Newman LLP | 40 Wall St., 35thFloor, New York, NY 10005 | (212) 756-8777

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Crime

Brooklyn District Attorney Drops Charges Against Mother Who Had Child Ripped Away by Police

Polipace Staff

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A video showing NYPD officers violently removing a woman’s one-year-old child from her arms has sparked national outrage — even after NYPD and the Brooklyn DA informed us that they would be not pursuing charges. Additionally, NYPD Commissioner O’Neill has informed the public he is personally looking into the case..

Nyesha Ferguos posted the video to her Facebook page on Friday. It shows 23-year-old Jazmine Headly clinging to her son, Damone, and telling officers they are hurting him as they attempt to yank the child away from her. One officer waves a yellow stun gun at the outraged crowd, which includes children, several of whom are filming on their cell phones.

Headley had reportedly been waiting four hours at a Brooklyn Human Resources Administration (HRA) office to receive daycare reimbursement.
As the office was crowded and there were no seats available, she sat with Damone on the floor.

When she refused to stand, security called the police. The situation quickly escalated. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told CBS2 News that “a Taser was used” and that HRA peace officers tried to remove Headley because of what they described as “disorderly conduct towards others and for obstructing the hallway.”

Witnesses disputed this account, saying that there was not enough seating and that security was unnecessarily antagonistic. Ferguson, who posted the video, told the New York Times about her experiences at HRA offices, saying “They’re always rude. They think that people that are poor don’t have nothing, so you can treat them any kind of way.”
Headley was charged with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and trespassing and taken to Rikers Island. On Tuesday morning Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez dropped those charges and released a statement saying, in part, “It is clear to me that this incident should have been handled differently. An HRA officer escalated the situation as Ms. Headley was about to leave the premises, creating an awful scenario of a baby being torn from his mother,”
A GoFundMe page has been set up by the Brooklyn Defenders Service  to offset the costs of childcare.
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Crime

Did Alexander Acosta Allow Famous Pedophiles to Go Free?

Polipace Staff

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Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta is under fire again for a plea deal for sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 2008, when Acosta was U.S. attorney in Miami.

Acosta was reportedly under consideration to become attorney general, CNN reported earlier this month. Matthew Whitaker has been serving as acting AG, appointed by President Donald Trump after Jeff Sessions was fired Nov. 7.

However, because of a Miami Herald report on the plea deal, he is now out of the running for the post.

Epstein – a multimillionaire financier who counted Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, among his friends – was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls as far back as 2001 in what the Herald classified in its expose as a “large, cult-like network.”

Sources close to the president told the Herald Acosta is out of the running for the AG position.

Acosta approved a non-prosecution agreement for Epstein, which allowed him to serve only 18 months in prison.

Epstein pleaded guilty to two state charges of prostitution solicitation. The terms of the deal prevent him and his associates from facing federal charges, the Miami Herald said, which could have sent him to jail for life. He was required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to dozens of victims.

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Crime

Trump Signals He Will Support Marijuana Legalization

Polipace Staff

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Following the forced resignation of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, stock in marijuana rebounded. And now, President Donald Trump says it is likely the psychedelic herb will be decriminalized during his term in office.

The LA Times reports that President declared that he would “likely” support a congressional effort to end the federal ban on pot. The move would signify a significant change in the legal cannabis industry, as well as end the threat of a Justice Department crackdown.

A bill to decriminalize the herb is presently being pushed by a bipartisan coalition. It would allow for states to go forward with the legalization process without the threat of federal prosecution.

Trump made his comments to a group of reporters before boarding a helicopter to attend the G-7 Summit on Friday. He expressed support for the bill, which was proposed by the bipartisan group the day before.

“I support Sen. Gardner,” Trump said, referencing one of the bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). “I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

So far, Washington D.C. and nine US states have legalized the legal consumption of marijuana for adults. Additionally, 20 US states permit marijuana for medical use.

Once cannabis is decriminalized at a federal level, many of the restrictions and roadblocks preventing established businesses from conducting affairs in states where it is legal will disappear. For instance, as Gardner explained at a recent news conference, “If you are in the marijuana business … you can’t get a bank loan or set up a bank account because of concern over the conflict between state and federal law.”

“We need to fix this. It is time we take this industry out of the shadows, bring these dollars out of the shadows,” he concluded.

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