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Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Feds Indict Russian Agent -- Organized Kauai Council Junket to Russia
By News Release @ 11:41 PM :: 2681 Views :: Kauai County, Law Enforcement, GMOs

Kauai Council News: Only Felicia Cowden was Craven Enough to Accept Putin Junket

SA: … Branson was charged by federal criminal complaint Tuesday for allegedly failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, conspiring to commit visa fraud and lying to FBI agents. Kauai County Council member Felicia Cowden is listed in the charging documents as “Councilmember-1.”

According to the Justice Department and documents obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, at Branson’s request Cowden invited Gov. David Ige, former Pacific Missile Range Facility commander Capt. Vincent Johnson, former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawa­kami and Senate President Ron Kouchi to meetings with Branson and Russian Federation officials to discuss retaining the name of the fort.

Those officials included Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Embassy Minister Sergey Koshelev, according to the correspondence.

Cowden also forwarded Ige, Kouchi, Kawakami and DLNR officials invitations from Branson to travel to Vologda, Russia, for a conference in 2019. They all declined. Cowden and three others from Hawaii accepted the all-expenses-paid trip.

Branson had been tapped by Russian President Vladimir Putin and top Kremlin officials to push pro-Russian policies and messages while building relationships with county, state and federal government officials and others, according to the complaint.

“At the direction of the Russian government, she led a years-long campaign to identify the next generation of American leaders, cultivate information channels, and shape U.S. policy in favor of Russian objectives,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll, in a statement announcing the charges.

read .. Cowden uniquely craven

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Cowden Ethics Violation for Work with Russia Agent

CB: … Kauai County Councilwoman Felicia Cowden, who attended the trip, was fined $500 by the Kauai Board of Ethics in January 2021 after she acknowledged that she made multiple ethics violations unintentionally in connection to the Russia trip.

The complaint against Cowden alleges that she used her status as a member of the County Council to secure a spot on the excursion. It also faults her for using a letterhead that identifies her as a council member to write to Gov. David Ige and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz urging them to attend the Russia conference, which “gave the impression attendance at the conference was being promoted by the Kauai County Council.”…

read … Secret Agent’s Indictment Amplifies Demand To Rename Kauai’s Russian Fort

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Woman charged with illegally acting as Russian agent lobbied Kauai politicians

Star-Advertiser March 8, 2022 (excerpt)

… On Dec. 17, 2018, (indicted Russian agent) Elena Branson emailed a member of the Kauai County Council, identified in the complaint as “Councilmember-1” that read in part “the Russian community in the Hawaiian Islands, Russians in Kauai and Russian Community of the US … are extremely concerned about the renaming of the Russian Fort Elizabeth to ‘Pa’ula’ula,” according to the complaint.

The Star-Advertiser is able to identify “Councilmember-1” from Kauai and Russian news media reports from 2019 as Felicia Cowden, the current chair of the Kauai County Council’s Public Safety & Human Services Committee. She was elected to the council in 2018.

She authored an opinion piece in The Garden Island newspaper on Jun. 17, 2019 titled, “From Russia with Love” that included the sub-headline, “The Kauai delegation to Russia was enriching and successful.”

Cowden did not immediately return Star-Advertiser messages seeking comment.

According to court documents, about 42 minutes before Branson emailed Cowden on Dec. 17, 2018, Branson received a call from a phone number subscribed to in the name of a Russian diplomat in the United States. The call lasted about 31 minutes and ended 11 minutes before Branson e-mailed Cowden.

Three days later, Cowden allegedly emailed an official at the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, copying Branson and others, and wrote, in part, “Constituents of our Kaua’i Russian community have approached me along with the Chair of the Russian Community Council of the USA, here from New York, about their concerns that the reflection of Russia’s political history with Kaua’i and King Kamualii is at risk of being erased,” according to the complaint.

Cowden wrote that Branson and other Russian representatives “shared with me the documents from” the Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov.

About 30 minutes after Cowden sent that email Branson got a call from a Russian diplomat in the U.S. that lasted about 18 minutes, according to court documents.

On Feb. 7, 2019, Cowden allegedly forwarded Branson an email she sent to a staff member of the Hawaii Congressional delegation to check if the Congressperson was in Hawaii and able to meet with “an extraordinary group of people regarding Russian diplomacy,” including Branson, and “two diplomats from the Russian embassy in Washington D.C.,” according to court documents.

The next day, another Russian diplomat emailed Cowden, copying Branson and others, attaching letters from Antonov to the U.S. addressed to to various Hawaii elected officials. Antonov wanted to “express my concern over possible renaming of the Russian Fort Elizabeth” and that “the initiative is aimed at rewriting history of not only Russia, but also the U.S.,” according to the complaint.

Then on Apr. 9, 2019, Branson wrote in a message to a fellow Russian that “she expected to bring a delegation from Hawaii to Vologda, Russia, and that the delegation was working on the Fort Elizabeth renaming project.

Branson needed to bring them to Russia to promote “friendliness” and for a “show,” and that she would need funding to pay for their food, hotel, and expenses, according to the complaint.

On May 22, 2019, Branson emailed Cowden and others a Word document titled “ITINERARY TRIP TO RUSSIA.”

The attached document included an itinerary for a trip to Russia from May 30 to June 6, 2019, which included a visit to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister, according to the court filing.

On May 30, 2019, Cowden checked in to a Moscow hotel, along with other individuals from Hawaii copied on the email sent by Branson. Cowden’s “home address” was listed in hotel records as “Russian Federation RU,” according to the charges.

FBI agents interviewed Cowden in September 2020 and she allegedly told them Branson came to her office in December 2018 with letters from the Russian government for various Hawaii politicians she wanted delivered.

Branson allegedly told Cowden she believed that the Russian government was being “treated rudely” through the proposed name change at Fort Elizabeth and then encouraged her to run for higher office, according to the filing. She also told FBI agents about her trip to Russia and Branson’s work to set up meetings in Russia with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department for External Economic and International Relations of the city of Moscow.

Cowden appears to have signed a “thank you” card to Branson “for welcoming the people from Kauai.”

Within that card was a handwritten two-sided Post-it note, shown on the left side of the image. In that note, Councilmember-1 appears to have written, “I am not coming or communicating because I am being watched. It feels wrong for me to be involved that way” and, on the back of the note, “It is on the American side,” according to the federal charging document.

The Garden Island newspaper reported Cowden did take the trip and was required to provide the council with a written disclosure regarding the possibility of a conflict of interest in accepting a donation from the Russian Center of New York in the amount of $2,000-$3,000 for “travel-related expenses.”…

read … Woman charged with illegally acting as Russian agent lobbied Kauai politicians

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Dual U.S. / Russian National Charged With Acting Illegally As A Russian Agent In The United States

Elena Branson Allegedly Willfully Evaded FARA Registration for Nearly a Decade, Working to Advance the Interests of the Russian Government While Receiving Tasking and Funding from High-Level Russian Officials

News Release from US Department of Justice, March 8, 2022

(Scroll down for Hawaii-related details highlighted.)

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Matthew G. Olsen, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the filing of a Complaint charging ELENA BRANSON, a dual Russian and U.S. citizen, with acting and conspiring to act in the United States illegally as an agent of the Russian government, willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), as well as conspiring to commit visa fraud and making false statements to the FBI.  As alleged, beginning in at least 2011, BRANSON worked on behalf of the Russian government and Russian officials to advance Russian interests in the United States, including by coordinating meetings for Russian officials to lobby U.S. political officials and businesspersons, and by operating organizations in the United States for the purpose of publicly promoting Russian government policies, and BRANSON never notified the Attorney General as she was required to, including by registering under FARA.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Elena Branson, a dual U.S. / Russian national, actively subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States in order to promote Russian policies and ideology.  The Russian government at its highest levels, up to and including President Vladimir Putin, have made known that aggressive propaganda and recruitment of the Russian diaspora around the world is a Russian priority.  In connection with this pursuit, Branson is alleged to have corresponded with Putin himself and met with a high-ranking Russia minister before founding a Russian propaganda center here in New York City, the Russian Center New York.  Branson’s promotional outreach, including an ‘I Love Russia’ campaign aimed at American youths, exemplifies her attempts to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote its interests in the United States.  All the while, Branson knew she was supposed to register as an agent of the Russian government but chose not to do so and, instead, instructed others regarding how to illegally avoid the same.  Particularly given current global events, the need to detect and hinder attempts at foreign influence is of critical importance, and the Southern District of New York is proud to do its part in the fight against tyranny.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said: “As alleged, Branson engaged in a wide-ranging influence and lobbying scheme with funding and direction from the Russian government – all while deliberately leaving the American people in the dark. The Department will continue to expose these serious crimes and shine a light on foreign malign influence.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “As alleged, Branson worked as an illegal agent of the Russian government in circumvention of FARA requirements. At the direction of the Russian government, she led a years long campaign to identify the next generation of American leaders, cultivate information channels, and shape US policy in favor of Russian objectives.  This case highlights the breadth of Russia's relentless intelligence and malign influence activities targeting the United States. The FBI will continue to be just as aggressive in uncovering and dismantling these Russian government networks who seek to harm our national security.”

According to the allegations contained in the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court[1]:

The Russian government has sought to spread Russian propaganda and to use Russian citizens in the United States and elsewhere to make connections with U.S. community leaders, politicians, and businesspersons, in order to advance Russian government objectives.  Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, have made public statements acknowledging this foreign policy strategy of the Russian government. 

As part of that Russian government effort, beginning in at least approximately 2011, BRANSON, a native of Russia, acted illegally as an agent of the Russian government while living in the United States, by not registering pursuant to FARA or otherwise notifying the Attorney General as required by a separate statute. Among other things, in or about 2012, after receiving approval from the highest levels of the Russian government, BRANSON incorporated an organization headquartered in Manhattan, New York, named the Russian Center New York (“RCNY”).  BRANSON sent correspondence to then-Prime Minister Putin and met with a high-ranking Russian government Minister in connection with the initiation of her activities for the Russian government in the United States.  BRANSON received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government for the RCNY and has used the RCNY to host events and engage in public messaging at the direction of the Russian government and Russian officials.  BRANSON was directed to, among other things, host events designed to consolidate the Russian-speaking youth community in the United States.  For example, BRANSON and the RCNY hosted an annual youth forum, funded in part by an entity controlled by the Government of Moscow. Throughout her work as a Russian agent in the United States, BRANSON received funding and direction from the Russian government, including from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and received tasking from high-level Russian government officials and Russian government-run organizations. At the same time, however, BRANSON actively sought to hide that the Russian government was providing her with tasking and funding her activity and she instructed her co-conspirators to do the same. She also cautioned others against using language in describing their activities that would draw attention to FARA registration obligations for herself and the organizations.

As alleged, in or about 2019, BRANSON coordinated through the RCNY a campaign to lobby Hawaiian officials not to change the name of a fort located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which is the last remaining formerly Russian fort in the Hawaiian islands and is significant to the Russian government.  Among other things, BRANSON provided Hawaiian officials with messages from Russian government officials and organized a trip to Moscow for Hawaiian officials responsible for the potential name change to meet with high-ranking Russian government personnel. 

In addition to the RCNY, BRANSON has served as a Chairperson of the Russian Community Council of the USA (“KSORS”), which is funded at least in part by various Russian government-run entities.  Among other things, KSORS has coordinated an “I Love Russia” campaign in the United States and organized youth forums focused on the promotion of Russian history and culture to American youths.  BRANSON used the KSORS website to promote messages from the Russian Embassy and organized KSORS events approved by the Russian Ambassador to the United States.  When BRANSON sought financial support from a Government of Moscow official for the KSORS website, BRANSON reported that the purpose of the KSORS website was to spread information “about the activities of organizations created by Russian compatriots to form a positive image of Russia and Moscow among Americans.” 

According to the Complaint, BRANSON’s work on behalf of the Russian government also included arranging meetings for herself and other Russian officials with U.S. Government officials and executives at businesses based in the United States.  For example, in March 2016, BRANSON worked to arrange meetings for the head of the Department of Foreign Economic Activity and International Relations for the Government of Moscow with, among others, a then-New York State Senator and the management of certain U.S. companies.

BRANSON also participated in a scheme to obtain fraudulent visas for Russian officials and their associates, by providing information about RCNY events to those individuals for using as false pretenses to obtain visas to enter the United States. 

The FBI interviewed BRANSON on September 29, 2020.  During this interview, among other things, BRANSON falsely claimed that she had never been asked by Russian officials to coordinate any meetings between U.S. business leaders or politicians and officials from the Government of Moscow.  BRANSON subsequently left the United States for Russia.  On or about October 15, 2021, during an interview on a Russian government-controlled television station, BRANSON stated that she had left the United States because she thought it was likely that she would be arrested. 

*                      *                     *

BRANSON, 61, is charged with (1) conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; (2) acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison; (3) conspiring to evade FARA registration, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; (4) willfully failing to register under FARA, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; (5) conspiring to commit visa fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and (6) making false statements to the FBI, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  The maximum statutory penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by a judge.

BRANSON left the United States for Russia in 2020 and remains at large.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and its New York Field Office, Counterintelligence Division, and thanked the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, for their assistance.

The case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Richman is in charge of the case, with assistance from Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

The charges in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the Complaint, and the description of the Complaint set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

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2022: Accused Russian agent who lobbied lawmakers only donated to one politician: Tulsi Gabbard

2019: After Lying About it, Anti-GMO Kauai Councilmember Cowden Accepts Russia Junket from Putin

As Explained: Anti-GMO? -- Regressive Left Just as Russian as Trump

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