A FARA Tale Involving a Goose and a Gander

In her retroactive FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) filing, Christina Pushaw spelled out work she performed.

In July, the FBI raided Uhuru House, in St. Petersburg, Fl.  That’s about 250 miles away from me in Hollywood.

FARA filing by Christina Pushaw, who worked for Ron DeSantis. Art by DonkeyHotey
Christina Pushaw served as press secretary for Ron DeSantis. Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr.com

The raid occurred after a federal indictment was unsealed.  In a statement, a high-ranking Justice Department official said Aleksandr Ionov, a Russian national, “orchestrated a brazen influence campaign, turning U.S. political groups and U.S. citizens into instruments of the Russian government.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, added, “The Department of Justice will not allow Russia to unlawfully sow division and spread misinformation inside the United States.”

Raids also in Atlanta, Sacramento and St. Louis

Other groups in Atlanta and Sacramento were also caught up in the probe.  What’s more, Omali Yeshitela, the chairman of a socialist organization, said the Uhuru House in St. Louis was searched.

But the big charge, to this legal layman’s eyes, appears to be that the Russian national, working with the FSB, and possibly American citizens who already agreed with him, failed to register with the federal government as foreign agents representing Russia.  That’s a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act which the government alleges was part of a “conspiracy” that harmed our country.

I view it as being the most significant charge because it is not unlawful for Americans to disagree with their government, run for office and take positions that may not inspire many voters.  Alleged failure to register as a foreign agent, though, lets prosecutors neatly link American critics to a conspiracy.

More Indictments Expected

But that is not the end of the story.  At a press conference after the three-hour search and seizure operation, federal officials said the investigation was ongoing and more indictments were expected.  Unfortunately, though, the prosecutor and FBI agent who spoke refused to answer press questions.

That is standard practice, I suppose.  But it is unacceptable, especially considering the heated political climate in our country.  We need more information, not less.

More importantly, though, we need to protect the First Amendment rights of American citizens possibly ensnared in this investigation.  And based on what I’ve read, some of the American citizens apparently linked to the “conspiracy” already had well-established disagreements with the U.S. government.

American Dissidents Oppose American Domestic and Foreign Policy

Here is an example, as reported by WFLA-TV.  The TV station gave airtime to a St. Petersburg woman who was not named in the indictment.  But she may have been referred to anonymously as a local political candidate who got Russian support.

While federal officials did not name the 2017 candidate, the bio page for Akilé Anai, director of agitation and propaganda for the African People’s Socialist Party, said she ran for St. Petersburg City Council in 2017 on a platform of reparations. Anai also confirmed her candidacy in 2019 to reporters in a press conference responding to the FBI allegations.

“When asked directly if she took funds from Russians, Anai said she would not answer the question. However, she said her group would ally with any one who would oppose U.S. imperialism and colonialism.

“’I detest the U.S. government, and what it does to African people on a daily basis,’ Anai said.”

Ironically, I suspect the federal investigation has given her more publicity than her ill-fated campaigns.  For instance, I couldn’t find anything about her at the Ballotpedia general election pages for 2017 and 2019.  Here and here.

Omali Yeshitela: U.S. Native, Longtime American Critic

I also wanted to learn something about another American who was born in St. Petersburg but now lives in Missouri.  A website called Blackpast gave me important information. This other American has rebelled against our system for decades, something that is not a crime in the United States.  I found the Blackpast website because the federal indictment calls Omali Yeshitela a co-conspirator in the Russian plot, according to WFLA-TV.  Yeshitela says the Uhuru House in St. Louis was searched.

The raids and indictment caught my attention because there is so much controversy these days about other countries sticking their nose in our business.  So, on the surface, it is easy to give the feds props for protecting “our interests.”

But.  And this is a big but.  It is also in our interests to honor our traditions of freedom enshrined in the First Amendment.

 For me, anyway, the devotion to freedom means we must demand that American dissidents receive equal treatment under our laws.  I call them dissidents because they sharply criticize the American government for a host of reasons that deal with domestic and international policy.  Some may even call their positions “woke.”

Christina Pushaw Allowed to Make Retroactive FARA Filing

And that brings me to Christina Pushaw, who until recently served as press secretary for my governor, Ron DeSantis.  Pushaw, talented, intelligent and extremely verbal, now serves in a top position in the governor’s reelection effort.

Recently, though, she made news when the Department of Justice wrote to tell her she probably needed to retroactively register as a foreign agent.  Pushaw did so immediately, with the help of a former top-flight federal prosecutor now working as an attorney in Washington, D.C.  In her retroactive FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) filing, Pushaw spelled out work she performed for the former president of Georgia who is more recently involved in Ukrainian politics.

I think the government did the right thing by respecting the Free Speech rights of Pushaw and giving her the opportunity to retroactively register.

Therefore, since equal protection under the law is important in our nation, I call upon our leaders to treat the American dissidents the same way.  They have a First Amendment right to criticize the government, run for office, and meet with people of their choice.

If campaign finance laws were broken, fine, prosecute those crimes.  But don’t turn this into a criminal conspiracy when it is clear the American dissidents have been conspiring for years to radically change the direction of our nation.

Treat Goose and Gander the Same Way

Of course, it is also possible the Americans failed to register as foreign agents working to spread “Russian” information.  So, give them the chance to register retroactively.  This way they won’t be indirectly punished for taking their Free Speech rights seriously.

Finally, I call upon Michael Sherwin, the former federal prosecutor who represented Christina Pushaw, to look into this ongoing investigation.  I hope he will make sure American citizens are not punished — directly or indirectly — for believing in the words found in our First Amendment.

Sherwin is an important American attorney, which is why I emailed him at his law firm.  I will update this article if I hear back from him.

However, his silence is not sinister.  Sherwin is an American free to speak and remain silent.

Steve Schneider