PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Rhode Islander recently released from prison has been identified as the previously unidentified congressional candidate who received hacked information from Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign.
Documents newly posted to the Federal Election Commission website show Republican H. Russell Taub acknowledged sending a Twitter message to the account “Guccifer 2.0” seeking assistance in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic Congressman David Cicilline that year.
Robert S. Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, identified Guccifer 2.0 as a handle used by Russian operatives associated with the GRU, a Russian spy agency, to distribute hacked material on prominent Democrats. Mueller’s team later revealed in an indictment that an unnamed candidate for Congress had sought assistance from Guccifer, but did not identify the individual as Taub.
Taub, 33, previously pleaded guilty in 2019 to charges that he misused more than $1 million in political donations. He was sentenced to three years in prison and was released last month, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
The new documents show Taub has signed an enforcement document with the FEC, known as a conciliation agreement, acknowledging that he contacted Guccifer seeking help. The commission declined to levy a civil penalty against Taub, citing the fact that he is “currently obligated to pay substantial restitution” from his other federal fundraising prosecution “and has limited or no assets.”
According to a summary of the investigation compiled by Commissioners Shana Broussard and Ellen Weintraub, the FEC “obtained records of a Twitter message exchange from August 2016 in which Taub asked an account operated by Guccifer 2.0 for a list of Republican donors in order to defeat his opponent, explaining ‘if I had the resources I can win.'”
FEC investigators found that Guccifer 2.0 replied to Taub, “it seems i have a dossier on cicilline . . . I can send u a dossier via email.”
Two days after that exchange, Guccifer 2.0 used the encrypted messaging service ProtonMail to send Taub 10 documents, including “three professionally produced opposition research reports, polling data, news articles, and one of Cicilline’s U.S. House of Representatives Financial Disclosure Statements,” according to the FEC’s agreement with Taub.
The FEC documents don’t cite the specific source of the information related to Cicilline that the Russian operatives had obtained. But one of the GRU’s hacking targets was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which assists House Democrats with election activities.
“This was a clear-cut solicitation and receipt of a foreign national contribution by a federal candidate,” Broussard and Weintraub concluded. “Taub first asked Guccifer 2.0 for a donor list, a valuable campaign asset. In return, he received a trove of materials akin to opposition research – materials which typically come with a high price tag.”
Cicilline beat Taub with 64% of the vote.
Taub’s attorneys and a spokesperson for Cicilline did not immediately respond to requests for comment. His case was part of a larger FEC investigation into Russian election interference in 2016, including whether the Trump campaign sought and received assistance. But the commission either voted to dismiss the other allegations or didn’t have the votes to move forward on them.
A spokesperson for the FEC declined to comment beyond the case documents.
The identity of the unnamed congressional candidate who sought the stolen documents has been a subject of press speculation since Mueller’s team first referenced the individual in 2018, with “60 Minutes” filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the name the following year.
R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki said Taub’s candidacy predated her tenure, though she knew of him at the time, but condemned the activities laid out by Mueller and the FEC.
“That’s just a no-no,” she said. “You have to steer clear of any impropriety, and that’s not what Republicans stand for. We’re supposed to be the party that follows the law, and anybody that doesn’t should be prosecuted or held civilly liable for any wrongdoing. I have no tolerance for people that do stuff like that.”
In a 2019 interview, R.I. Republican National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick distanced local GOP leaders from Taub. “He talked a big game,” she said. “He was the kind of person who would drop names a lot, he would talk about places he’d been, events he’d gone to. … That was impressive to some people.”
Broussard and Weintraub argued that while Taub will not be paying a civil penalty, it was important for the FEC to reveal his identity in the wake of Mueller’s investigation. “The public finally knows that the ‘unknown congressional candidate’ is H. Russell Taub,” they wrote.
Taub’s agreement with the FEC shows that if the agency discovered evidence that he was not in financial hardship as he indicated, he would owe an immediate civil penalty of $31,000.
Seth Magaziner, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, called on two of his Republican opponents — Allan Fung and Robert Lancia — to return donations they previously received from Taub, arguing they should have done so in the wake of his 2019 guilty plea.
In response, Fung said he would donate $1,025 he received from Taub in 2014 and 2018 to the Special Olympics “so that it helps local children succeed.” Board of Elections records show Lancia received $525 from Taub, and his campaign said he would donate the money to Shriners Children’s Hospital or a cancer charity.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
Anita Baffoni contributed to this report.