This Sounds Very Big To Me

[ed.note: As noted in my editor’s note on the post above, CNN subsequently corrected this story. The correction – dating the email to September 14th, rather than September 4th dramatically changed what the email meant. See the editor’s note above for more detail. But the upshot is that this seems to have been simply an email from a supporter flagging public Wikileaks documents rather than an approach from a secret source. I’m leaving the post below in place. But read it with this in mind.]

This morning CNN released yet another story in the Russia investigation, noting that on September 4th 2016 Donald Trump, Jr., Donald Trump himself and others in the Trump inner circle got an email with an encryption key and a link to download what CNN called “hacked Wikileaks documents.” It was unclear from the story whether this was a real offer of hacked documents or simply a prank. Seemingly, it was unclear to investigators too. There was also no clear evidence either way whether any of the recipients acted on it, in other words, whether they tried or succeeded in downloading the documents.

Just after that things became considerably more interesting. Andrew Kaczynski, now of CNN but formerly of Buzzfeed, said on Twitter that the approach described in the CNN story sounded very like the outreach he got from “DC Leaks” a short time later in September 2016.

DC Leaks is widely believed to have been the creation of Russian intelligence. DC Leaks was tied to the fictive personality “Guccifer 2.0” who reached out to a number of journalists and at least a handful of political operatives in the fall of 2016. DC Leaks appears to have been stood up by Russian intelligence operatives as an alternative source of distribution before Wikileaks became the preferred method of distributing the stolen documents. But it was kept open as another way of distributing documents. Kaczynski’s team, then at Buzzfeed, was one of a handful of journalistic outlets who were approached. The fact that it sounds like the same MO to him is highly significant in my mind.

One big question I have is whether the email specifically referenced “Wikileaks hacked documents” or whether that’s a shorthand for the kind of documents we now associate with Wikileaks.

We’re digging into find more details and we’ll report back to you as we find them.