Before filing criminal charges in 2014, then Maryland’s chief federal prosecutor, current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s office failed to interview an undercover informant involved in the FBI’s Russian nuclear bribery case, reported the Hill.
The prosecutors painted the informant as a “victim” of the Russian corruption scheme, and did not allow a grand jury to hear from the informant, or even review his collection of documents until months later.
“The decisions backfired after prosecutors conducted more extensive debriefings of William Campbell in 2015, learning much more about the extent of his undercover activities and the transactions he engaged in while under the FBI’s direction, the officials said.”
As a result, the prosecution was forced to remove the informant as their main witness against Vadim Mikerin, a Russian uranium industry executive. The Justice Department began briefing Congress about the incidents that occurred in the case, even stating that Russian state-owned Rosatom engaged in criminal activity even prior to the Obama administration making decisions that benefitted the company.
However, in light of new information, prosecutors are facing some criticism in regards to the way they portrayed the informant without even talking to them. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor commented on the issue saying it was concerning that the prosecutors never actually talked to the informant.
“‘I’ve never heard of such a case unless the victim is dead. I’ve never heard of prosecutors making a major case and not talking to the victim before you made it, especially when he was available to them through the FBI,’ Dershowitz said.
‘It is negligence, and I’m sure there will be internal issues with the Justice Department and U.S. attorney for making such an obvious mistake,’ he said.”
Prosecutors first interviewed the informant after they had already filed a criminal complaint against Mikerin in July 2014. William Campbell, the informant, only got one debriefing, but it wasn’t until after files were charged. However, that debriefing was never brought before a grand jury.
Campbell was interviewed more extensively in early 2015, revealing more information about the transactions he conducted under the FBI’s supervision. They also learned about the nature of his counterintelligence efforts.
“‘Based on what was learned, we decided to change the theory of the case. … A plea deal became our goal so we wouldn’t have to litigate or make an issue of some of the stuff he had done for [counterintelligence] purposes,’ a source directly familiar with the case said.
Campbell’s lawyer, Victoria Toensing, confirmed the Justice officials’ account. ‘The first time Mr. Campbell was interviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s office was after the criminal complaint was filed, and he was never brought before the grand jury before the indictment,’ she told The Hill.”
Officials knew that Campbell was involved with an FBI- authorized bribery scheme. However, they declined to say why they portrayed Campbell as a victim of the scheme. However, they did say that they decided to pivot the case from extortion to money laundering.
“One source familiar with the case said extortion felt like a weaker charge when Campbell was acting with the FBI’s blessing and that the evidence of money laundering that Campbell documented through secret accounts in Latvia and Cyprus was irrefutable.”
Campbell now suffers from Leukemia, but also had a run-in with cancer in the middle of the investigation when doctors found a lesion on his brain. Campbell was able to escape the scare with only minor memory issues.
However, Campbell used an extensive note-taking system to document his time undercover to ensure that facts would not become hazy. Those files were not reviewed until 2015, well after charges were filed.
“The documentation shows Campbell’s work had exposed wide-ranging details about Russia’s nuclear activities across the globe, including efforts to corner the global uranium market, assist Iranian nuclear ambitions and to criminally compromise a U.S. trucking firm that transported Russia’s nuclear fuel, they said.”
The investigation was not originally intended to be a criminal case. However, the investigation and Campbell’s work from 2006 to 2013 were categorized under the FBI’s counterintelligence arm and Justice’s national security division.
“Justice officials originally hoped they simply could use the threat of criminal prosecution to “flip” Mikerin as a cooperating asset, but their confrontation with him at an office building in 2014 failed to persuade him to cooperate, sources said.”
Using information from the FBI counterintelligence files and Campbell’s interviews done by an Energy Department investigative agent, prosecutors assembled charges and an indictment.
Mikerin, an icon in the Russian nuclear industry and top executive of state-controlled Rosatom, was sent to Washington in 2010 to oversee a plan to grow uranium sales inside the United States. Mikerin was charged in 2014 with felony conspiracy to “intefere with interstate commerce through extortion.”
“Court documents alleged Mikerin was part of a larger racketeering scheme that also involved bribery, kickbacks and money laundering and that he demanded $50,000 in regular kickbacks from Campbell starting in November 2009 in order for Campbell to keep his consulting work for the Russians.”
Campbell came forward with the reports of Mikerin’s wrongdoings. Campbell has been under the FBI’s control since 2006 and was rewarded a $51,000 check in 2016 for his work.
Mikerin pleaded guilty to the money laundering charge and was sentenced to 48 months in prison.
Congress is now investigating the entire Russian nuclear bribery case as a result of Campbell’s work. Multiple committees are demanding to know if the Obama administration was told about Mikerin’s criminal activity before the administration made decisions that would positively impact Rosatom.
Congressional briefings are set to start this week, including the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Yahoo and Reuters have been suggesting that Campbell’s credibility is in question because of his three misdemeanor alcohol arrests.
“For instance, they said prosecutors had no concerns about Campbell’s three misdemeanor alcohol arrests and that the FBI held the informant in enough esteem to pay him the check after the case ended. And after prosecutors completed three debriefings with Campbell, they approved the payment in 2015 of the last of his expenses as an undercover.”
Prosecutors were not questioning the legitimacy of Campbell’s claims but were interested in the events surrounding Campbell’s undercover work.