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Robert Mueller obtains warrant targeting Facebook accounts in Russia collusion investigation

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Special counsel Robert Mueller obtained a warrant to search for records of about 500 "inauthentic" Facebook accounts that may have been responsible for Russian ad buys on the social networking site during the 2016 presidential election, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. It is illegal for a foreign national to purchase campaign ads either for or against a candidate in a United States election.

As a result of the warrant, Facebook provided evidence to Mueller and his team of investigators that indicated Russia-linked ad purchases during the election.

The evidence is said to contain details about the accounts that purchased the ads, as well as the method in which they were served to American consumers, according to CNN.

What does this mean?

The new information provided to Mueller by Facebook could turn the Russian collusion investigation in a different direction, possibly providing concrete evidence that Russia illegally interfered with the 2016 United States presidential election by illegally purchasing pro-Trump ads on Facebook.

Asha Rangappa, former FBI counterintelligence agent and current associate dean at Yale Law school, on Twitter broke it down in a simplistic way.

She explained that in order for Mueller and his team to have obtained a warrant to procure possible evidence from Facebook, a prosecutor must provide concrete information to a judge that there is reasonable belief that a crime has been committed, and that Facebook was in possession of evidence pertaining to that crime.

This warrant was obtained by Mueller, which would indicate that a judge believed there is evidence enough to investigate a valid allegation that a crime has been committed.

Rangappa, saying that it was "big news" that a warrant had been obtained, explained, "... Remember that to get a search warrant, you have to prove to a judge that you believe that a crime has committed, and that the info you seek will provide evidence of that crime."

While Rangappa is correct in a broad sense, prosecutors simply have to prove that there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have occurred. Some criminal defense attorneys will attest that warrant applications are almost never denied.

She later added that "it's important to clarify here that Mueller would have been seeking a warrant on specific accounts," and added that Facebook as a business entity "would not itself be a target."

"Mueller could have issued a subpoena to FB for records on specific accounts, but this would not have been helpful for two reasons," Rangappa continued. "First, under a subpoena Mueller would have gotten records on the account, not content (posts, anything written on Messenger, etc)."

She added, "Second, Facebook has a policy that it will only turn over the most limited account records (like subscriber info) w/o a search warrant."

In her Twitter thread, Rangappa noted, "They [sic] key here, though, is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime [t]o justify forcing FB to give up the info."

Why does this matter?

It would seem that special counsel Mueller could be closing in on charging specific people and/or entities for the Facebook ad buy, which could further unfurl the motives of others possibly involved in the case.

Indeed, if President Donald Trump or any of his associates knew that the Russian ad buy was taking place, it could be considered aiding and abetting a crime — a very tangible charge — as well as conspiracy to commit a crime.

According to 52 U.S. Code § 30121:

Prohibited

It shall be unlawful for —

 a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make —

 a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;

 a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or

 an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or

 a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.

"Foreign national" defined

As used in this section, the term “foreign national” means —

 a foreign principal, as such term is defined by section 611(b) of Title 22, except that the term “foreign national” shall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States;  or

 an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 1101(a)(22) of Title 8) and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined by section 1101(a)(20) of Title 8.

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