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Paul Erickson has worn many hats during his decades as a GOP political operative: national treasurer of the College Republicans; executive producer of Jack Abramoff’s anti-communist film “Red Scorpion”; lobbyist for Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko; political director of Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign.

A federal grand jury indictment brought Tuesday added another title to that long, unorthodox list: the alleged conduit between what investigators call an “illegal agent of the Russian Federation” and top Republican officials in Washington, D.C.

Erickson is not identified by name in the indictment against Mariia Butina, the Russian national arrested for allegedly conducting “a Russian influence operation” against the United States. But his background and political activities align closely with those of the individual listed in an FBI agent’s detailed affidavit as “U.S. Person 1.”

That person is described as a “United States citizen and an American political operative.” Between 2013 and 2017, according to both court documents and reporting on Erickson, he allegedly helped broker contacts between U.S. conservatives involved with the National Rifle Association, Butina and Russian politician Alexander Torshin.

As Erickson put it in one May 2016 email to a Trump campaign adviser first reported by the New York Times: “Happenstance and the [sometimes] international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin.”

The email offering to broker such a meeting between the likely GOP nominee and Putin had the subject line “Kremlin Connection.”

Erickson has not been charged with any crimes or spoken publicly about Butina’s arrest. He did not immediately respond to TPM’s Tuesday Facebook message seeking comment.

But the affidavit, which has the most information on Erickson’s activities, is a reminder that he is the alleged nexus of Butina’s web of GOP connections—and of just how much the FBI apparently knows about their communications.

As Erickson’s name popped up in news reports over the past two years, acquaintances said they weren’t particularly surprised to find him caught up in the Russia quagmire. Erickson has for decades positioned himself as a shadowy “’secret master of the political universe’” who feeds off of access to D.C.’s most powerful, as conservative commentator Ralph Benko put it.

Erickson’s ventures have varied between the legitimate and the bizarre, according to a stellar February profile of the Vermillion native in South Dakota’s Rapid City Journal.

Erickson, who graduated from Yale and University of Virginia Law School, first linked up with now-disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff during their time in the College Republicans. He spent the 1980s and 1990s alternating between working on GOP political campaigns, including Buchanan’s unsuccessful attempt to primary George H.W. Bush, and teaming up with Abramoff on ventures like 1989’s anti-communist action movie “Red Scorpion.”

One bizarre stint was serving as a media adviser for John Wayne Bobbitt, the Virginia man whose wife, Lorena, chopped his penis off with a carving knife. Per contemporaneous news reports, Erickson booked Bobbitt on an international “Love Hurts” tour to help him raise funds. The tour involved media hits on outlets like “The Howard Stern Show” and selling autographed steak knives.

Another curious interlude involved accepting a $30,000 contract with Abramoff in 1994 to try to convince the U.S. government to allow Mobutu Sese Seko, the brutal and corrupt dictator of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to enter the country.

This unusual resume and willingness to go to bat for controversial foreign figures may have made Erickson a great fit to connect Butina to Americans willing to hear a new tune about U.S.-Russia relations.

According to the affidavit, the duo first crossed paths in Moscow in 2013, and subsequently worked together “for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.”

A March 2015 email from Butina to Erickson included in the charging document lays out her goal: “to build konstruktivnyh [sic] relations” between the U.S. and Russia, through the “[central place and influence” that the NRA plays in the Republican Party. She requested a budget of $125,000 to attend conservative conferences to make these connections, per the charging document.

Erickson allegedly replied with an email titled “Potential American Contacts” that included a list of media, political, and corporate contacts who could help Butina achieve these ends, according to the affidavit. In a subsequent email, subject line “Your Plan Forward,” he said Butina had already laid the “groundwork” needed to get meetings with people who could actually influence American attitudes about Russia going forward.

In March and September 2016, according to the charging document, Erickson allegedly emailed with Butina about which American individuals should attend the “friendship and dialogue dinners” on behalf of Russia that Butina hosted in Washington, D.C. and New York.

The affidavit also cites an October 2016 email in which Erickson himself seems surprised by his role in brokering these back-channel negotiations, allegedly telling an acquaintance he was working on “securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key POLITICAL PARTY 1 leaders through, of all conduits, the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION].”

Whether Erickson has been interviewed by federal or congressional investigators is not yet known. An attorney for Butina has denied that she is a Russian agent and said she has offered cooperation to the FBI in addition to voluntarily sitting for an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In February, the Rapid City Journal asked Erickson about the Trump-Russia investigation and his 2016 “Kremlin Connection” email to the Trump campaign. All he said in response was: “Not all reports from the East are accurate.”

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Two days after her arrest for allegedly acting as “an agent of a foreign government,” Russian national Mariia Butina was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington DC on similar charges.

Butina was charged with one count of engaging in conspiracy against the U.S. and another of failing to register as an agent of Russia.

Butina allegedly spent years forging connections with top conservative officials, including many associated with a “gun rights organization,” “for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation,” according to the indictment. Though the indictment does not name the gun organization or the Russian government official who Butina worked under, corroborating details identify them as the National Rifle Association and former Russian Central Bank official Alexander Torshin, respectively.

Per the indictment, Butina allegedly lied on the F-1 student visa application that allowed her to come to the U.S. for graduate school in 2016. She said she had terminated her employment for Torshin, but was instead acting under his “direction and control,” the indictment alleged.

GOP operative Paul Erickson, identified in the indictment only as “U.S. Person 1,” allegedly helped the duo connect with influential conservatives involved with the NRA, National Prayer Breakfast, and 2016 Republican presidential campaigns, according to the indictment.

Butina engaged in all of this activity between 2015 and 2017 without ever informing the U.S. Attorney General that “she would and did act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government,” according to the indictment. Meanwhile, she reported her activities back to Torshin via email, Twitter direct message and “other means,” per the filing.

Butina is being held without bond in a D.C. jail, and is due in court Wednesday for a hearing before D.C. District Judge Deborah Robinson.

Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, has said she did not work as a covert Russian agent. Instead, he said in a Monday statement, she was a high-performing grad student at American University who openly sought to improve U.S.-Russia relations.
Read the indictment below.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller revealed in court filings Tuesday that he is seeking immunity for five potential witnesses in next week’s criminal trial of Paul Manafort.

The court filing was a request by Mueller that he be allowed to keep secret, for now, the identity of the five possible witnesses, unless and until they are called to testify publicly at the trial.

“The five individuals identified in the motions at issue are third parties who have not been charged in this matter, and who have not been identified publicly with the case,” Mueller said in the court document. “Disclosing the motions would reveal those individuals’ involvement in the investigation and the trial, thereby creating the risk of their undue harassment. Such concern potentially would be heightened by the additional revelation that they have invoked their privilege against self-incrimination and may be granted immunity from the use against them of any compelled testimony.”

He also raised the concern that “the witnesses’ invocation of their privilege against self-incrimination and the Court’s subsequent grant of immunity could lead to reputational harm for the witnesses.”

Manafort faces trial in Virginia, where the former Trump campaign chairman has been charged with bank fraud and tax fraud. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis has scheduled the trial to begin on July 25.

“The government recognizes that if any of the five individuals are called to testify, their identity and receipt of use immunity likely will become public, and thus the concerns raised in this motion no longer would apply,” Mueller said. “Accordingly, in order to narrowly tailor its request, the government proposes that the information remain sealed unless and until the individuals testify in this case.”

Mueller said that while he is seeking to file the motions for immunity for the judge’s eyes only, any corresponding orders handed down by the judge would be provided to defense counsel by prosecutors ahead of the trial.

Read the filing below:

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The Russian woman who was charged Monday for acting as an agent of the Russian government is actually just a high-performing graduate student, according to her  American attorney.

“Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” Robert N. Driscoll said in a lengthy statement issued late Monday. “She is a Russian national in the United States on a student visa who recently graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. with a Masters Degree in International Relations and 4.0 grade point average.”

Butina, 29, was arrested by the FBI on Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.” The criminal complaint and accompanying affidavit allege that she spent years cultivating ties to high-level Republicans, using connections she forged through associates of the National Rifle Association.

Allegedly acting on the orders of Alexander Torshin, a high-level Russian politician and lifelong NRA member, Butina also sought a “back channel” meeting between Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election, the New York Times reported last year.

Butina is being held without bond ahead of her Wednesday hearing in a Washington, D.C. federal court.

According to Driscoll, the FBI’s allegations are “overblown.” All Butina wanted, per his statement, was to “promote a better relationship between the two nations”—a goal she sought to achieve through “open and public networking,” rather than “covert propaganda.”

Driscoll said Butina has been “cooperating with various government entities for months,” voluntarily sitting for an eight-hour closed-door testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said she was rebuffed when she offered interviews to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Butina’s case is being handled by the Justice Department’s National Security Division rather than the special counsel. According to the Washington Post, “the investigative work began before [Mueller] was appointed” and continues to be handled by FBI agents and prosecutors outside of his office.

Butina will have some high-powered assistance mounting her defense. Driscoll served as former deputy assistant attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, and as chief of staff of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. A member of the Federalist Society and regular contributor to the National Review, the conservative attorney now leads the Washington D.C. office of the law firm McGlinchey Stafford.

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Russian gun activist Mariia Butina was arrested on Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government” over her alleged effort to promote Russia’s interests by establishing relationships with political figures in the U.S.

Though the affidavit made public on Monday does not name the National Rifle Association (NRA), it appears that references to “Gun Rights Organization” in the document refer to the NRA.

Indeed, photos found on Butina’s Facebook page and elsewhere show that she mixed and mingled with NRA leaders and American politicians. Check out the photo opportunities Butina managed below:

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A Russian woman with close ties to the National Rifle Association was arrested Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday.

Mariia Butina is accused of acting as an unregistered agent on Russia’s behalf between 2015 and 2017, in collaboration with “others known and unknown, including an official of the Russian Federation,” according to the complaint.

The case is being handled by the Justice Department’s National Security Division, not by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team probing Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

Butina is a former assistant of Alexander Torshin, a top official at the Russian Central Bank who has reportedly been under investigation by the FBI for allegedly channeling money to the NRA to benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. The pair have been under scrutiny by journalists and investigators for months, thanks to a bombshell January report in McClatchy that first revealed the FBI’s financial probe.

Butina and Torshin have close ties to the NRA, which is not referred to by name in the criminal complaint or the supporting affidavit but as a “Gun Rights Organization.”

The NRA did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Per the affidavit, Butina’s work allegedly involved “advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation” by forging ties to “U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including the NRA.

Butina and Torshin both ran The Right To Bear Arms, a group that fashioned itself as a Russian version of the NRA and supported handgun legalization in their home country. As TPM has documented and the new criminal filings lay out, they used that group to establish close ties with Republican officials in the U.S., inviting them to summits in Moscow. As previously reported, one December 2015 trip to Russia funded by the the Right to Bear Arms was attended by former NRA president David Keene, former Wisconsin sheriff and Fox News regular David Clarke, and NRA member and GOP operative Paul Erickson.

Erickson’s background aligns with the description of “U.S. Person 1” in the indictment—”a United States citizen and an American political operative” who helped connect Butina to other influential Republicans.

Emails obtained by the FBI allegedly show that Butina, Erickson, and Torshin—who is not named in the filing but matches the description of “the Russian official”—corresponded regularly about how to “plan and develop the contours of the influence operation.” The trio allegedly recognized the importance of the NRA in shaping conservative political opinion in the U.S. and how the organization could be used to soften the GOP’s view towards Russia, according to the affidavit.

In a March 2015 email to Erickson, Butina allegedly wrote that the Republicans would likely win the 2016 election, so it was an opportune moment “to build konstruktivnyh [sic] relations” and that [c]entral place and influence in the [POLITICAL Party 1] plays the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION]. The [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION [is] the largest sponsor of the elections to the US congress, as well as a sponsor of The CPAC conference and other events,” according to the affidavit.

Erickson allegedly responded by sending Butina a long list of “potential media, business, and political contacts,” according to the affidavit.

In another remarkable exchange alleged in the affidavit, this one from October 2016, Erickson told an acquaintance he was working on “securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key POLITICAL PARTY 1 leaders through, of all conduits, the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION].”

In the months in between, as the filing alleged, she and Torshin made a number of trips to the U.S., including pilgrimages to the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast and 2016 NRA convention. At the latter, Torshin met with Donald Trump Jr., according to The New York Times.

Butina officially entered the U.S. on a student visa in August 2016 to enroll in graduate studies at American University, the affidavit alleged. Earlier that year, she and Erickson incorporated a company in South Dakota, called Bridges LLC, that Erickson claimed was used to pay for her tuition, according to previous reporting.

That is an “unusual way to use an LLC,” McClatchy noted in its initial story on what it said was a FBI investigation into Torshin allegedly illegally funneling money to the NRA’s lobbying arm. But the complaint and affidavit against Butina make no mention of any possible campaign finance violations or any criminal wrongdoing by Torshin, who was hit with sanctions and barred from traveling to the country by the U.S. Treasury Department this April.

Butina allegedly continued her political work on behalf of Russia through the fall of 2016, according to the FBI affidavit. In Twitter direct messages cited in court filings, she allegedly chatted with Torshin about whether she should serve as a U.S. election observer from Russia and, after Trump officially won the election in November, allegedly asked Torshin for “further orders.”

The Justice Department announced that Butina made her initial appearance at the U.S. District for the District of Columbia on Monday, and is being held pending her next hearing on Wednesday.

The influence operation that she allegedly helped carry out is one of the “low-cost, relatively low-risk, and deniable” ways Russia tries to influence U.S. politics, according to the affidavit.

Her arrest comes just days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democratic targets during the 2016 election.

At a Monday press conference, President Trump and President Vladimir Putin heaped praise on each other and again denied that Russia improperly interfered in the U.S. campaign.

Read the full affidavit below.

This post has been updated.

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A federal grand jury on Friday handed down an indictment in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation that provided new details about Russia hackers’ attempted, and in at least one case, successful infiltration of state and local election systems.

According to the indictment, the personal information of approximately 500,000 voters was stolen in a July 2016 hack, led by a Russian military officer, of an unnamed state’s board of elections website. That is more than double what was previously reported about a hack that began in June 2016 of the Illinois’ voter registration database, where officials said that fewer than 200,000 voter files were infiltrated. The indictment did not say specifically if the hack involved Illinois, but a statement from the state’s board of elections Friday said that was “likely” the attack Mueller was referring to.

The board of elections had previously notified 76,000 voters whose registration data may have been viewed, the statement said, and there have been no cases of suspicious activity with that data reported.

“The figure 500,000 referred to in the indictment may have been arrived at using a different methodology prescribed under federal criminal code,” the statement said. “As part of our review of the indictment, we will be contacting federal law enforcement to obtain more information on the number referenced in the indictment.”

Anatoliy Kovalev, a Russian military officer who worked in a GRU building, allegedly led the cyberattacks on U.S. election administrators, with Aleksandr Osadchuk, a Russian military colonel who headed one of the units of hackers named in the indictment.

[ Who’s who: Decoding the unnamed entities in Mueller’s Russian hacking indictment (Prime access) » ]

“The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Mueller said.

The operation allegedy included researching the websites of state boards of election, secretaries of states and other election-related websites for vulnerabilities.

The Department of Homeland Security last year informed 21 states that their elections systems had been among those targeted by the Russians, many in so-called “scans” — a fairly common tactic seeking to identify the vulnerabilities in a website. However, details about the particular intrusion attempts still remain murky.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a press conference Friday unveiling the charges said that the indictment contained no allegations that vote totals were changed or that election results were affected.

Mueller in his indictment provided details on the attempted intrusions in just a handful of states. He said that county election websites in Georgia, Iowa and Florida were searched for vulnerabilities by the Russian hackers in or around October 28.

Georgia was not one of the 21 states DHS last year informed of being a target of the hackers.

Kovalev and his co-conspirators — some known, and some unknown to the grand jury, the indictment said — used some of the infrastructure they used to hack the state board of elections to hack the computers of a U.S. company, known as Vendor 1, that “supplied software used to verify voter registration information for the 2016 U.S. elections.”

They then used an email account “designed to look like a Vendor 1 email address to send over 100 spearphishing emails to organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties,” according to the indictment.

“The spearphishing emails contained malware that the Conspirators embedded into Word documents bearing Vendor 1’s logo,” Mueller said.

The details of the attack on the vendor align with a top secret National Security Agency report obtained by the Intercept last year about a spearphishing attack on a election vendor. The NSA report did not refer to the vendor by name, but The Intercept identified the company as the Florida-based VR Systems. (VR Systems has denied the breach).

The spokeswoman, Sarah Revell, in response to TPM’s inquiry about the details in Mueller’s indictment Friday, said in a statement:

“To be clear, the 2016 elections in Florida was not hacked in any way. As we have stated multiple times, the Department of State was notified by the Department of Homeland Security in September 2017 that Florida was unsuccessfully targeted by hackers in 2016. This attempt was not in any way successful and Florida’s online elections databases and voting systems remained secure.”

Revell added: “The Department is focused on the continued security and integrity of Florida’s elections in 2018 and beyond.”

Asked about the spearphishing emails, she said that it was “widely reported in 2017 that some Florida counties were targeted by a phishing email and we are aware of those reports.”

“Our understanding is that security protocols for phishing emails were followed by all counties. To our knowledge, no evidence exists that any unauthorized access occurred nor were any potential hacking attempts successful,” she said.

It’s not clear yet how much overlap there is between the evidence gatheredDd by Mueller that was unveiled Friday and the probe into election meddling by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which previewed some of its Russian cyber-intrusion findings in May.

The Senate Intel summary released in May said that in at least six states, Russia’s attempts to hack election administrators went beyond the scans for vulnerabilities. A majority of those attempts, according to the committee, were “Structure Query Language (SQL)” injections, a tactic that Illinois officials previously had said was used on their elections system.

“In a small number of states, Russian-affiliated cyber actors were able to gain
access to restricted elements of election infrastructure. In a small number of
states, these cyber actors were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data,” the committee said.

 

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A grand jury indictment stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe accuses 12 Russian intelligence officers of planning and carrying out the hacks into several Democratic campaign organizations in the 2016 election.

The Russian nationals listed in the indictment worked in two units of the Russian intelligence agency known as GRU to release stolen documents from the Democratic groups, according to the indictment.

Read the allegations made in the indictment about the the 12 officers:

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Trump pal Roger Stone on Friday brushed off the interactions he had with Russian intelligence officers posing as a hacker during the 2016 election, which were detailed in a newly filed indictment brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller’s indictment, which lays out charges against 12 Russian operatives who hacked Democratic targets, does not mention Stone by name. But it quotes conversations he has previously admitted to having with “Guccifer 2.0.” – a fake identity created by Russian intelligence.

“As I testified before the House intelligence committee under oath, my 24-word exchange with someone on Twitter claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 is benign based on its content, context, and timing,” Stone said in a statement to the Daily Beast. “This exchange is entirely public and provides no evidence of collaboration or collusion with Guccifer 2.0 or anyone else in the alleged hacking of the DNC emails, as well as taking place many weeks after the events described in today’s indictment.”

The indictment notes that “Guccifer 2.0” interacted with an individual “who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump” in August 2016, offering assistance.

Stone posted his private Twitter exchange with Guccifer on his personal website last March, after their communications were revealed by the website The Smoking Gun.

According to the new indictment, Stone was one of several U.S. persons to solicit or receive information from this front for Russian intelligence during the election.

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A congressional candidate requested and received documents allegedly stolen from Democratic Party entities by Russian intelligence operatives during the 2016 election, a federal indictment filed Friday alleged.

The indictment brought by special counsel Robert Mueller alleges that the unidentified candidate made the electronic request on Aug. 15, 2016, and in return received “stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.”

This gob-smacking detail was one of many in the 29-page indictment, which alleged that the Russian military intelligence agency or GRU engaged in “large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The 12 Russians indicted allegedly hacked the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and email accounts of Hillary Clinton campaign officials, and publicly disseminated the stolen information. They concealed their tracks by inventing fake personas including “Guccifer 2.0,” a rogue Romanian hacker who claimed to be behind the hacks, prosecutors alleged.

[ Who’s who: Decoding the unnamed entities in Mueller’s Russian hacking indictment (Prime access) » ]

Mueller charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S., aggravated identity theft and other charges.

As the indictment makes clear, the stolen information was eagerly received by some U.S. citizens.

The congressional candidate reached out to “Guccifer 2.0” asking for leaks about the candidate’s opponent.

The indictment also mentions “Guccifer 2.0” sending documents to a “then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news” and to a reporter in August of 2016.

The lobbyist received 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the DCCC, according to the indictment, including “donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,0000 Democratic donors.”

The details about this interaction align with the account of Aaron Nevins, a Florida-based Republican political operative who admitted to asking “Guccifer 2.0” for any stolen documents relevant to his state. Nevins told the Wall Street Journal that he received details about the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote strategy in Florida and other swing state, and posted it on his blog, HelloFLA.com, under a pseudonym.

“Guccifer 2.0” subsequently flagged the blog post to Trump ally Roger Stone, who said he did not share the stolen data with anyone.

The indictment notes that on August 15, “Guccifer 2.0” wrote to someone “who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump” thanking him “for writing back” and asking if the documents were interesting.

Two days later, the Russians asked if they could help the individual, saying “it would be a great pleasure to me.”

“Guccifer 2.0” followed up on September 9, referring to a stolen document about the Democrats’ turnout model and asking for the person’s opinion. The individual replied, “[p]retty standard.”

The reporter, who is also unidentified in the indictment, apparently received documents about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The individual “responded by discussing when to release the documents and offering to write an article about their release,” according to Mueller’s team.

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