Why does the Russian embassy want to visit accused hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin so very badly, lawyers ask. Good question.
Russian national Yevgeniy Nikulin was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with the 2012 hack of LinkedIn and Dropbox. Bloomberg reports Nikulin is now "of great interest" in the U.S. probe of Russian attacks on U.S. elections. Nikulin's lawyers say their client hasn't cooperated with them, and is behaving strangely, as are representatives of Russia's government.
Nikulin's story got weirder Friday when a federal judge questioned why the accused Russian hacker's lawyers, who asked he be evaluated for mental illness, selected a shrink in San Francisco "with a troubled past at California's medical board."
And Nikulin's defense team — led by a New York-based attorney seasoned in representing Russians and Eastern Europeans charged with serious crimes in the U.S. — say Russian officials have shown unusually strong interest in his case, arranging at least once to visit him in jail when the attorneys weren't present.
The lead attorney, Arkady Bukh, said he remains concerned, maybe "paranoid," over Nikulin's safety after a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned earlier this year in England with a nerve agent.
"They are very active, by far more active than any other case," Bukh said of Russian embassy officials. "Now it's less frequent, but earlier in the case they were calling almost every day. I have no duties to them. They're not my client."
Bukh said Nikulin probably didn't cooperate when officials from the Russian consulate visited him at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of San Francisco. Representatives of the Russian Embassy in Washington didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nikulin is accused by the U.S. of hacking LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012, one of the largest data breaches in the country's history when some 117 million login codes were stolen. His extradition to the U.S. from the Czech Republic in March heightened diplomatic tensions with Russia, which has been accused by American intelligence officials of hacking the Democratic National Committee's email server while interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
@Emptywheel wrote a relevant analysis from April that's worth revisiting:
The report that Michael Cohen was tracked traveling from Germany to Czech Republic in 2016 has raised questions about whether both Cohen and Nikulin were in Prague at the same time, Mohammed Atta-like.
• Nikulin was suddenly extradited from Prague some weeks ago
• His (Russian-provided) lawyer says he'll entertain a plea deal
• All of which provides a good opportunity to lay out what role he may have (or may be said to have) played in the DNC hack-and-leak.
And finally, a creepy bit of color.
Bloomberg notes that Federal marshals said when Nikulin first arrived in San Francisco, he "physically confronted guards and tried to escape from custody — and he was shackled for his next court appearance."
Ever since, his attorneys have said, he's been unwilling to work with them. Valery Nechay, a lawyer helping Bukh, said Nikulin often "just stares off blankly or starts laughing at very serious moments."