Former high-level officials submit 'unusual' Russia brief in lawsuit against Trump and Roger Stone

  • Fourteen former national security, intelligence, and foreign policy officials recently co-wrote an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit brought against President Donald Trump and Roger Stone, his longtime adviser.
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former NSA Director Michael Hayden were among the signatories.
  • The brief explained how the Kremlin uses local actors to help amplify the scope and impact of its influence operations, such as the one it carried out on the US election in 2016.


Fourteen former national security, intelligence, and foreign policy officials who have served at senior levels in Republican and Democratic administrations recently co-wrote an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit brought against President Donald Trump's campaign and Roger Stone, Trump's longtime confidant.

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Political advisor Roger Stone poses for a portrait following an interview in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Attorney Roy Cohn (c.) with Roger Stone (l.) and Mark Fleischman (r.). (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016 in New York City. Potential members of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet have been meeting with him and his transition team over the last few weeks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater are young political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo By Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Roger Stone, Ex-Donald Trump Advisor, talks with Jonathan Alter during an episode of Alter Family Politics on SiriusXM at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 18: Political operative Roger Stone attends rally on the first day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in downtown Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The convention runs through July 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
HILTON HOTEL MIDTOWN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2016/07/16: Roger Stone attends Donald Trump introduction to Governor Mike Pence as running for vice president at Hilton hotel Midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 19: Roger Stone attends Roger Stone Exclusive Photo Session on August 19, 1987 at Alan Flusser Boutique in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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The lawsuit was filed in July by three private citizens whose personal information was stolen in hacks of the Democratic National Committee and published by WikiLeaks. The plaintiffs have argued that the Trump campaign, Stone, "and those they conspired with arranged for the hacked information to be provided to WikiLeaks."

The Trump campaign and Stone have filed motions to dismiss the complaint. The plaintiffs responded to those motions on December 1. They laid out, among other things, a "motive to collaborate" between the campaign and Russia and points of contact during the election.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former NSA Director Michael Hayden and 11 other former officials filed the amicus brief on December 8. Among the other officials were former Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines, former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell.

The brief was submitted in support of neither party, and the former officials emphasized in the document that they could not disclose classified information. But their message was clear: The Kremlin uses local actors to help amplify the scope and impact of its influence operations, such as the one it carried out on the US election in 2016.

The cut-outs can range from "the unwitting accomplice who is manipulated to act in what he believes is his best interest, to the ideological or economic ally who broadly shares Russian interests, to the knowing agent of influence who is recruited or coerced to directly advance Russian operations and objectives," the former officials wrote.

Cut-outs can be anyone, they explained, from journalists and academics to "prominent pro-Russian businessmen."

These local actors help the Kremlin further its foreign influence operations and "active measures" campaigns, they wrote. Those operations often involve the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories and cyberattacks — all in an attempt to "undermine confidence in democratic leaders and institutions" and "discredit candidates for office perceived as hostile to the Kremlin."

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U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Kevin Downing (C), attorney for President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort departs U.S. District Court after a hearing in the first charges stemming from a special counsel investigation of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort (L) leaves U.S. Federal Court after being arraigned on twelve federal charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
Former Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort (L) leaves U.S. Federal Court after being arraigned on twelve federal charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, one focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort departs U.S. District Court after a hearing in the first charges stemming from a special counsel investigation of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort uses a sun visor to block the view of photographers as departs U.S. District Court after a hearing in the first charges stemming from a special counsel investigation of possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 2: Ex Trump campaign official Paul Manafort, center, departs U.S. District Court with his attorney Kevin Downing, left, on November, 02, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, walks out of the U.S. Courthouse after a bond hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. Manafort, 68, an international political consultant, was accused along with his right-hand man, Rick Gates, of lying to U.S. authorities about their work in Ukraine, laundering millions of dollars, and hiding offshore accounts. Both pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Former Donald Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse on Thursday November 02, 2017 in Washington, DC. Manafort faces several charges. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his wife Kathleen arrive at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse for a bail hearing November 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. Manafort and his former business partner Richard Gates both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: Kevin Downing, attorney of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, arrives at a U.S. District Court House November 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. Manafort and his associate Rick Gates are scheduled to be back in court for a bond hearing this morning after they pleaded not guilty on October 30 to charges in a 12-count indictment, ranging from money laundering to acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine's former pro-Russian government. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, right, arrives to the U.S. Courthouse for a bond hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. Manafort, 68, an international political consultant, was accused along with his right-hand man, Rick Gates, of lying to U.S. authorities about their work in Ukraine, laundering millions of dollars, and hiding offshore accounts. Both pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 6: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse after a court hearing on the terms of his bail and house arrest on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Court Building for a hearing November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and former business partner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: Kevin Downing, who is an attorney for Paul Manafort exits the William B. Bryant Annex United States Courthouse after Manfort was indicted on several charges on Monday October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gets into his car after leaving federal court, October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for US President Donald Trump, leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House after being charged October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of conspiracy and money laundering after the Justice Department unveiled the first indictments in the probe into Russian election interference. Manafort, 68, and business partner Rick Gates, 45, both entered not guilty pleas in a Washington court after being read charges that they hid millions of dollars they earned working for former Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow political party. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, right, exits the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The federal investigation into whether President Trump's campaign colluded with Russia took a major turn Monday as authorities charged three people a former campaign chief, his business associate and an ex-policy adviser -- with crimes including money laundering, lying to the FBI and conspiracy. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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This type of brief is 'certainly unusual'

It is "certainly unusual" for a group of such high-profile former officials to write and submit a brief to a district court, said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

But it is a way for the former officials to "draw attention" to a particular issue that they believe is important for the public to understand, Mariotti said, even if the point they make "doesn’t really move us far down the road to establishing a conspiracy."

Michael Carpenter, who served as former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia and helped write the brief, said the goal was "to inform the court, and by extension the American public, about the subversive character of Russian 'active measures' campaigns."

"One of the key points we make," Carpenter said on Thursday, "is that active measures campaigns are almost always carried out using local actors, who enable Kremlin agents to get closer to their target and gather information on how best to achieve their desired goal (for example, establishing a corrupt relationship that can be later exploited for purposes of blackmail or manipulation)."

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a top Trump campaign surrogate, pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI agents about the nature of his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak last December. A young campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty in October to a similar charge.

Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort's longtime associate Rick Gates, meanwhile, were indicted in October on charges that included money laundering, tax fraud, and failure to register as a foreign agent.

Much of Manafort and Gates' money, the government contended in court filings, came from Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs.

Read the full brief below:

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