On its face, this bit of news may seem like a natural progression in the ongoing investigation of links to Russia by Donald Trump and his cronies. But it could be another major breakthrough in the probe, spelling more trouble for Trump and the people closest to him during last year’s campaign.
On Friday night, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller detailed records relating to thousands of ads linked to a Russian troll farm that ran in targeted districts in the United States between 2015 and 2017. The ads included pro–Trump memes that were part of a broad Russian propaganda campaign that Facebook finally admitted to last week. They were put out by a troll factory called the “Internet Research Agency,” based in St. Petersburg, Russia. Trump himself retweeted at least one of these memes.
The big news here is that the only way Facebook would have handed over such information is if Mueller had a warrant from a judge to obtain it. That was confirmed on Saturday by CNN, which noted that Facebook had not turned over such information to congressional intelligence committees. But, according to the report, Mueller’s team did obtain that warrant.
Business Insider then connected the dots:
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.
On the surface, this places in legal jeopardy anyone in Russia who bought these ads. But, as has been pointed out before, the political propaganda was targeted sophisticatedly in the U.S., and many believe that someone on the ground here had to have been helping the Russian trolls find their marks. If that someone is linked in any way to Trump or his campaign, that spells big trouble.
In its story, Business Insider pointed out something that merits repeating: One of the people most lauded after Trump’s surprising electoral victory was his son–in–law, Jared Kushner. In a December 2016 profile in Forbes, Kushner is described as the “most compelling figure in this intrigue.”
“It’s hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared’s role in the campaign,” Trump supporter and Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel told the magazine at the time. “If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer.”
Forbes notes that Kushner ran a “secret data operation” and “tipped the states that swung the election.”
If this reporting is accurate, Kushner has reason to be very concerned. As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told Business Insider, “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.”