In failed bid to unseat Cicilline, Republican candidate sought help from Russian intelligence

https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/2022/02/21/rhode-island-republican-candidate-h-russell-taub-sought-russian-assistance-2016-election-cicilline/6881067001/

PROVIDENCE — H. Russell Taub, the onetime Republican congressional candidate who was imprisoned for defrauding political donors three years ago, illegally sought help from Russian intelligence in his failed bid to unseat U.S. Rep. David Cicilline in 2016, the Federal Election Commission has found. 

A few months before the November 2016 general election, Taub sent a direct message to a Twitter account known to be used by the GRU, Russia’s main intelligence agency, according to a recently released FEC filing. In the message to Guccifer 2.0, Taub asked for a list of Republican donors, saying, “I could use your help to defeat cicilline.” Taub provided an email address and later received a dossier that included opposition research reports, polling data and other information about his incumbent Democratic opponent in the 1st Congressional District race. 

Taub, 33, violated federal campaign law “by knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving a prohibited in-kind foreign national contribution in the form of opposition research related to the candidate’s opponent,” the FEC concluded.  

Taub admitted wrongdoing as part of a settlement agreement with the FEC, but he was excused from paying a $31,000 fine due to “financial hardship” and the restitution he must pay for his previous conviction. If he’s found to have misrepresented his finances, the fine will be reinstated. 

In 2019, after pleading guilty to wire fraud and campaign-finance violations, Taub was sentenced to three years in federal prison and ordered to repay $1.1 million that he took through unregistered political action committees. Taub admitted to raising $1.6 million in donations and using more than $1 million of the money on cigars, meals, clothes, airfare, strip clubs and escorts, among other personal uses.  

The investigation came after a Washington ethics watchdog filed a complaint against Taub with the FEC, alleging his Keeping America in Republican Control Political Action Committee was a “scam” violating campaign-finance reporting requirements. 

Taub formed the PAC but never legally registered it. After finding a wealthy couple from Ohio receptive to his appeals for money, he formed the “Keeping Ohio in Republican Control” PAC to solicit more money from them. 

Federal investigators did not initially name the couple, but, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, an FEC document later identified them as Karen Buchwald Wright, the CEO of Ariel Corporation, a maker of gas compressors, and her husband, Thomas Rastin, a vice-president in the Ohio-based company. They gave $1.275 million to Taub’s PACs. 

The recent FEC filing mentions Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The investigation determined that “[the GRU] hacked the computers and email accounts of various organizations related to the 2016 U.S. election, including the [Democratic National Committee] and [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee], and disseminated stolen materials through fictitious online personas, including Guccifer 2.0,” the filing said. 

The documents sent to Taub from Guccifer 2.0 were “apparently stolen from the GRU’s various election-related hacking targets,” the FEC said. 

Federal law prohibits any “foreign national” from directly or indirectly making a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a federal, state or local election. It also prohibits any person from knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving any such contribution or donation from a foreign national. 

According to prison records, Taub was released on Jan. 13. A lawyer representing him in the FEC case, and Cicilline’s office, did not respond to requests for comment on the settlement.

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