Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant for records
of “inauthentic” Facebook accounts
It’s bad news for Russian election interference
Mueller may be looking to charge specific foreign
entities with a crime
FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search
warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut
down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts
purchased during the 2016 election.
Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for
the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s
election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from
President Donald Trump’s campaign team.
“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the
Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa,
a former FBI counterintelligence agent.
Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School,
explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to
prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been
committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information
being sought will provide evidence of that crime.
Mueller would not have sought a warrant targeting Facebook
as a company, Rangappa noted. Rather, he would have been
interested in learning more about specific accounts.
“The key here, though, is that Mueller clearly already has
enough information on these accounts — and their link to a
potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give
up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great
deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election
It also means that Mueller is no longer looking
at Russia’s election interference from a strict
counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may
be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign
entities with a crime.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, now
a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, said that the
revelation Mueller obtained a search warrant for Facebook
content “may be the biggest news in the case since the
The FBI conducted a predawn
July raid on the home of Trump’s former campaign
chairman, Paul Manafort, in late July. The bureau is
investigating Manafort’s financial history and overseas
business dealings as part of its probe into possible collusion
between the campaign and Moscow.
The Facebook warrant “means that Mueller has concluded that
specific foreign individuals committed a crime by making a
‘contribution’ in connection with an election,” Mariotti
wrote on Saturday.
“It also means that he has evidence of that crime that
convinced a federal magistrate judge of two things: first,
that there was good reason to believe that the foreign individual
committed the crime. Second, that evidence of the crime
existed on Facebook.”
That has implications for Trump and his associates, too,
“It is a crime to know that a crime is taking place and to
help it succeed. That’s aiding and abetting. If any Trump
associate knew about the foreign contributions that Mueller’s
search warrant focused on and helped that effort in a tangible
way, they could be charged.”
Congressional intelligence committees are homing in on the
campaign’s data operation as a potential trove of incriminating
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member
of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC earlier
this month that he wants to know how sophisticated the
Russian-bought ads were — in terms of their content and targets —
to determine whether they had any help from the Trump campaign.
The House Intelligence Committee also wants to
interview the digital director for Trump’s campaign, Brad
Parscale, who worked closely with Trump’s son-in-law Jared
Kushner was put in charge of the campaign’s entire data
operation and is
scrutinized by the FBI over his contacts with Russia’s
ambassador and the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank in
Facebook said in its initial statement that about
25% of the ads purchased by Russians during the election “were
geographically targeted,” and many analysts have found it
difficult to believe that foreign entities would have had
the kind of granular knowledge of American politics necessary to
target specific demographics and voting precincts.
In a post-election interview,
Kushner told Forbes that
he had been keenly interested in Facebook’s “micro-targeting”
capabilities from early on.
“I called somebody who works for one of the technology
companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on
how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner said.
“We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my
friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital
marketers in the world,” Kushner said. “
And I asked them how to scale this stuff . . . We basically
had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating
in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started
really from scratch,” he added.