How long will the investigation into the 2016 cyber intrusion into the Democratic National Committee servers remain open and ongoing? Perhaps forever. Because that’s how long the Department of Justice needs to thwart Congressional oversight of the embarrassing details of the dubious origins of the investigation. See the way DOJ cited the “ongoing” nature of the investigation to block Congressional Oversight here, here, here, and here to name just a few examples.
When Congress has successfully pried information from DOJ, it has discovered DOJ sometimes redacted or withheld information to shield DOJ from embarrassment — not to protect the integrity of any investigation. For example: here, here, and here. So long as the Russia investigation remains “ongoing and open,” DOJ remains shielded from publicly answering questions such as, “What was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s role in the Comey firing?” or “Did Rosenstein improperly authorize defective requests for surveillance of Trump associate Carter Page?”
Like Leonard Shelby in “Memento,” Rosenstein and others embarrassed by DOJ’s actions may derive raison d’être, if not safety, from the never-ending nature of the investigation. And like Leonard Shelby’s investigative file, the Russia investigation has become a puzzle that is designed to never be solved. Because to do so would end the “ongoing investigation” excuse that keeps the cause of DOJ’s embarrassment under wraps.
The key to understanding all of this starts with Perkins Coie, a law firm hired by Hillary Clinton and the DNC.
According to the DNC, the Russians broke into their servers in April 2016. Let’s remember a critical point I recently made in the Federalist: After more than 800 days (longer than the entire Nixon-Watergate ordeal) Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his law enforcement team have yet to examine the scene of this crime (the DNC server). Nor has Mueller interviewed Julian Assange, the first person known to be in possession of the emails taken from the DNC server.
Not only has the FBI failed to examine the scene of the crime, it likely never will in any meaningful way. As illustrated below, the cyber security firm the DNC and Clinton used to investigate the 2016 data breach may have hopelessly tainted the evidence before law enforcement could verify its claims of Russian hacking. And this cyber security firm trampled over this evidence without following its own recommendations for assessing the identity of a cyber intruder.
In short: The public is left with the opinion of a vendor hired by a law firm determined to defeat Donald Trump and a procured conclusion that just happens to serve that end.
On May 5, 2016, Perkins Coie, the seemingly omnipresent law firm representing Clinton during the election, hired private cyber security firm CrowdStrike to assess the April 2016 data breach of DNC servers. The Washington Post ran this scoop on June 14, 2018, one day before Guccifer 2.0 took credit for the hack with a credible sample of the stolen information. As noted in Scott Ritter’s exhaustive and detailed account of the CrowdStrike mitigation efforts, Crowdstrike set to the task of evicting the software used for the hack, before The Washington Post was allowed to run the story.
It then went to work restructuring, and rebuilding the DNC’s entire data management system. Ritter reported, “Over the course of two days, from June 10–12, CrowdStrike stealthily replaced the DNC’s software, moving carefully to avoid detection.” Thus, even if the FBI examined the same server today, it’s difficult to imagine that CrowdStrike left intact any admissible evidence of the intrusion.
Crowdstrike now invites future customers to avoid the DNC’s mistake. It recently wrote that paid vendors should not be solely relied upon to assess a cyber intrusion. Reliable third-party testing of a suspected intrusion, “should be public, consistent and independent. If these conditions are not met, the results of the test may be skewed,” CrowdStrike urged, adding: “This public, independent and objective validation ensures you as a decision-maker are not ‘drinking a vendor’s KoolAid.’”
The “KoolAid” procured by Perkins Coie ran the risk of having a distinct Russian flavor. Proving a Russian hack of the DNC server dovetailed nicely with the other project Perkins Coie had already started: in April of 2016, it hired Fusion GPS to prove a Trump-Russia connection. Indeed, “At first the DNC tried to get the FBI to make the attribution call [blaming the Russians], figuring that it would garner more attention coming from the US government.”
This is exactly the kind of public, third-party assessment of an intrusion that CrowdStrike now says is essential to a creditable assessment of a hacker. “But when the FBI wanted full access to the DNC server so that it could conduct a full forensic investigation, the DNC balked. Instead … the DNC and CrowdStrike devised a strategy to take the case to the public themselves.”
The FBI relied upon the Crowdstrike analysis to join in public accusations without ever obtaining an arrest, indictment, or conviction. In a court of law, even CrowdStrike would be forced to admit that the absence of a third party review of their findings “skews” their results to the “KoolAid” for which their paymaster Perkins Coie and Hillary Clinton so desperately thirsted: A Russian culprit to pair with Fusion GPS’s accusations of Trump-Russia collusion.
After CrowdStrike’s purge of the hostile code from the DNC server, the evidence is likely now gone forever. Mueller cannot prosecute any hacker or conclude his investigation without making the embarrassing admission that the FBI never examined the server. No matter how many agents or lawyers Mueller hires, Humpty Dumpty will never be put back together again.
Working backwards from Guccifer 2.0’s posts, cyber intelligence investigators have posited that Guccifer 2.0 must be a Russian because one of his posts appeared to originate from inside of Russia. This information led cyber security professionals to hypothesize the identity of Guccifer 2.0 as a particular Russian intelligence officer and, accordingly, the DNC has named a John Doe figure to this effect in its lawsuit. This information was turned over to the Special Counsel yet the individual has never been indicted. This in spite of the fact that residency in Russia is no barrier to a Mueller indictment.
Perkins Coie’s two subcontractors (Fusion GPS and Crowdstrike) began singing off the same sheet of music when on July 26, 2016, Fusion GPS’s subcontractor Christopher Steele issued a report claiming the Kremlin was behind the April 2016 hacking of the DNC server. It is worth remembering that until October 2017, Perkins Coie never disclosed it was paying both Fusion GPS and CrowdStrike. To an outside observer, it might have appeared that both Fusion GPS and CrowdStrike were independently verifying each other rather than executing orders from a common paying client.
The influences of Perkins Coie and its subcontractor Fusion GPS found their way into several corners of the Russia story. For example, its subcontractor Fusion GPS even successfully employed the wife of Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official to work on Fusion’s anti-Trump dossier. While employed as a senior DOJ attorney, Ohr secretly met with Perkins Coie’s subcontractors during the critical November 2016 timeframe. Fusion GPS successfully positioned its subcontractor Steele as an informant for the FBI, until the FBI fired Steele for moonlighting as a media source. Fusion GPS paid at least three journalists to help research “Russia” issues.
The identity of these reporters remains shielded, so there is no way to know whether any of these journalists might have also written stories pushing the Russia collusion theory. Perkins Coie makes an excellent career destination for DOJ attorneys. Perkins Coie salted the media with quotes helpful to the Mueller investigation. And as pointed out by Mark Penn in the Hill, the DOJ appears to have given Perkins Coie a pass for exactly the same type of campaign “money laundering” that led to Trump’s private lawyer having his office searched and legal files seized.
When Republican Rep. Jim Jordan’s pressure on Rosenstein became almost unbearable, a conveniently-timed and well-coordinated revelation against Jordan emerged from a Perkins Coie-led investigation to completely smother news of the DOJ missing the July 6 deadline that Congress imposed for documents relating to the origins of the Trump-Russia-collusion investigation.
With the Mueller investigation paralyzed by the FBI’s early missteps, the Special Counsel is left to simulate progress by charging unrelated offenses of unregistered lobbying, tax evasion, and something to do with Russians setting up fake twitter accounts. Investigators have netted a few charges of lying to the FBI and still pray for an obstruction of justice charge against Trump. Is it possible to obstruct a stationary object?
In any case, Rosenstein will need to wear comfortable running shoes to prosecute an obstruction charge related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Because as an indispensable witness to the firing, he will be forced to sprint back-and-forth between the lectern and the witness stand to both prosecute and testify on the matter.
To paraphrase Mitch McDeere in the movie “The Firm,” the Russia investigation is like a ship carrying a cargo that will never reach any port. For McDeere, keeping secrets kept him safe. Countless times Rosenstein responded to Congress, “I’m sorry I can’t answer that question because of the ongoing nature of the investigation.”
So long as the USS Mueller remains at sea, we may never know how far Perkins Coie’s tentacles reach into the government and the media. And we won’t find out what’s really going on with the DOJ’s FISA applications. After all this time, has the USS Mueller moved any closer to answering the question, “What is it that Donald Trump supposedly did to collude with the Russians?” Even Trump opponents have cause to be upset, as the investigation into Trump appears stalled indefinitely.
So long as Captain Rosenstein keeps his vessel at sea, basic questions of public integrity will remain unanswered.