Justice Department Prosecuting Russian Interference

A pleasant surprise.

In a shocking development, the Justice Department has issued an indictment against a Russian agent fomenting anti-Biden propaganda that President Trump has gleefully spread.

AP BREAKING (“US charges Russian with plot to create election distrust“):

The Trump administration has charged a Russian national in a sweeping plot to create distrust in the American political process.

The Justice Department charges were announced Thursday along with sanctions against four people, including a Ukraine lawmaker, accused of election interference

This was an update to an earlier report:

The Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on a Russian-linked Ukrainian lawmaker for interfering in the U.S. presidential election by releasing edited audio recordings designed to denigrate Democrat Joe Biden. Those recordings have been promoted by President Donald Trump.

The action by the Treasury Department is the second time in as many months that the administration has called out Andrii Derkach by name. U.S. intelligence officials said in a statement last month that Derkach’s disclosure of the recordings, which capture conversations between Biden and Ukraine’s then-president, were part of a broader Russian effort to disparage Biden before the Nov. 3 election.

The administration’s move was especially notable because the statement announcing it said Derkach’s recordings advance anti-Biden claims that rely on “false and unsubstantiated narratives.” Trump has promoted those recordings by retweeting posts that include them.

“Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voting populace, prominent U.S. persons, and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims,” the Treasury Department said in designating Derkach and three other Russia-linked individuals under an executive order designed to target election interference.

Derkach is a graduate of a Russian spy academy who, the Treasury Department says, maintains close ties to Russian intelligence services.

In a normal world, the Justice and Treasury Departments teaming up to go after hostile country intelligence officials interfering in American elections would be expected. After all, these agencies serve the American people. But in a world where the Justice Department is run as a personal law firm of the sitting President, it’s very much Man Bites Dog.

More background:

“Andrii Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns and uphold the integrity of our election system.”

In May, Derkach released audio recordings of purported conversations between Biden, while vice president, and Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko. The release was intended to promote a baseless narrative that Biden had demanded the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor because the prosecutor was investigating a gas company in Ukraine where Biden’s son Hunter held a board seat.

Biden was representing the official position of the Obama administration and many Western allies in seeking the removal of the prosecutor who was perceived as soft on corruption.

The other three people who were sanctioned are connected to the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that U.S. officials have said interfered in the 2016 election by sowing discord and spreading misinformation through bogus social media accounts.

But those officials are part of a “Deep State” spreading “fake news,” according to the President.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Joe Biden, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I expect with in a week I will be reading how Mnuchin is resigning so he can spend more time with his family and a number of longtime DOJ lawyers have been reassigned to an immigration court in Alaska.

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  2. Scott says:

    Although it is not mentioned here but there’s more:

    Treasury sanctions Ukrainian lawmaker who met with Giuliani to smear Biden

    Derkach, who was previously identified as a malign actor by the intelligence community, met with President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine in December, as Giuliani mounted an effort to obtain derogatory information on Biden’s relationships in Ukraine.

    Democrats have raised alarms about evidence that Derkach has disseminated packets of anti-Biden information to Republican lawmakers investigating Biden’s role in Ukraine, worrying that he was seeding disinformation into ongoing congressional probes.

    The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), has been investigating Hunter Biden’s work on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Though Johnson has sharply denied the suggestion that Derkach has supplied the committee with any information, Democrats have accused him of amplifying discredited allegations that have originated from pro-Russia factions in Ukraine.

    Derkach has also promoted leaked audio recordings of Biden’s conversations with Ukrainian leaders when he was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic and anti-corruption efforts in the country. Trump has amplified awareness of the tapes on his Twitter feed, promoting coverage of them by pro-Trump TV station OANN, which has dedicated significant airtime to the leaked tapes.

    So the question remains is whether Giuliani and Sen Johnson “Useful Idiots” or “Fellow Travelers”.

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  3. Kathy says:

    This gives rise to two thoughts:

    1) What’s in it for Trump?

    2) Trump and Barr were left out of the loop.

    3
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    I don’t buy it. Sorry, I just don’t. This is timed to make the administration look as if they’re doing something. The indictment will be dropped.

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  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It will be suspended or abandoned very soon, I suspect.

    4
  6. gVOR08 says:

    I hope the Treasury action reflects a judgement by Mnuchin that his Trump gravy train is about to derail. The only other explanations I can come up with are that Mnuchin has some integrity (yeah, right) or Derkach is on the outs with some Russian oligarch that has suck with Putin, Mnuchin, and Trump.

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  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I understand your feelings, but you have to remember that this is not an administration that has everything buttoned down and under control. This operation is run by the guy who called Bob Woodward repeatedly to talk more about how badly he screwed things up with the coronavirus. And he doesn’t like people telling him he’s wrong about stuff.

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  8. inhumans99 says:

    I get that folks are being dismissive of this news given that it is the Trump admin we are talking about but I feel the damage has been done to anyone who was “investigating” Biden/Hunter Biden. Any info used in a report against Biden that can be traced back to the Ukrainian working for Russia severely weakens the impact the report will have as a weapon against Biden/Democrats.

    It does not matter if Trump pardons the guy and hugs him on the White House lawn for a photo op, the general public has become aware that this Ukrainian was not acting in good faith when providing information to the congressional committee looking into ways to weaponize any data they received against Biden. The base/Fox News viewers may not admit it out loud but even they know this means any report released by Sen Johnson in the near future will not have the impact it would have if this guy was not sanctioned by the Treasury department.

    I say we should enjoy what little good news comes our way…and this is definitely good news.

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  9. Grewgills says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I think that’s part of it.
    I hadn’t heard anything about this particular bit of raff^qery until this story came out. I suspect that it hadn’t gotten as much traction as they had hoped and this is pulling the whole Biden’s and Ukraine back to the front pages and there will be a lot of yes, buts.
    Nothing will come of it for the bad actors, Trump will get a fig leaf to deny he isn’t cracking down on foreign interference, and he gets the Biden ‘scandal’ back on page one for a few days.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @inhumans99:

    Any info used in a report against Biden that can be traced back to the Ukrainian working for Russia severely weakens the impact the report will have as a weapon against Biden/Democrats.

    Or, in the alternative, that the JKBs of the world will ignore the “working for Russia” part of the story and say “See?!? I I KNEW those Bidens were crooks all along.”