Russia's RT America registers with DOJ as a foreign agent

Posted at 7:40 PM, Nov 13, 2017

The production company behind the American version of the Russian state-funded network RT has officially filed as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice.

T&R Productions LLC formally registered on November 10 as an agent of ANO TV-Novosti, described in the forms as a non-governmental organization "under Russian Federation law," which has principal "responsibility for creating a TV network that will be competitive with other TV networks operating around the world." The DOJ identified ANO TV-Novosti as the "Russian government entity responsible for the worldwide broadcasts of the RT Network"

In its announcement, the DOJ said T&R Productions LLC "has operated studios for RT, hired and paid all U.S.-based RT employees, and produced English-language programming for RT, which is both shown on cable networks across the United States and available on RT's website."

The DOJ announced the registration and published the forms on Monday. The National Security Division's FARA Registration Unit is reviewing T&R's filings for sufficiency, the DOJ said.

"Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals," Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente said in a statement on Monday. "The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing FARA and expects compliance with the law by all entities engaged in specified activities on behalf of any foreign principal, regardless of its nationality."

The filing comes after weeks of public pronouncements and increasing tension between Russia and the U.S. over media outlets in the two countries. RT said after initially skipping its October deadline to register under FARA, they were forced to file or their employees could face imprisonment and have their assets seized. While this is technically true under the law, harsh enforcements under Foreign Agents Registration Act are rare, experts say.

The DOJ's registration request has prompted Russian officials to retaliate by threatening to enforce harsher restrictions against American news organizations operating in Russia, especially government-funded outlets such as Radio Free Europe and its television sister network Current Time.

The filing was made under news director Mikhail Solodovnikov, a former reporter for a Russian TV outlet who said in the forms that he is a U.S. citizen by marriage. He listed his salary as $670,000 a year. He is the sole member and owner over the LLC and produces the various shows for ANO TV-Novosti, according to the filing.

Solodovnikov disputed the need for the FARA registration in the filing.

"The production of shows remains under the independent editorial control of registrant," he wrote. "Registrant respectfully disagrees that FARA should apply."

T&R confirms in the paperwork that ANO TV-Novosti is financed by a foreign entity, but the production company also said on the forms that it was not "sufficiently aware" of who controls or funds the NGO.

In the filing, Solodovnikov wrote that he does not see RT as political actors, saying that the "primary purpose of T&R Productions LLC is to produce news, talk show, and entertainment programs that are designed merely to inform, not influence. Programs produced cover a broad range of news and talk show topics, reflect balance regarding commentary, and are not aimed to primarily benefit any foreign government or political party."

RT was singled out in a January intelligence community report for the impact it may have had on the 2016 U.S. election. The report said RT "conducts strategic messaging for [the] Russian government" and "seeks to influence politics, [and] fuel discontent in the U.S." The report also mentioned a separate Russian-government-controlled website Sputnik as "another government-funded outlet producing pro-Kremlin radio and online content."

Federal investigators are also reportedly looking into whether Russian government-funded outlets such as RT and Sputnik were part of Russia's influence campaign aimed at the 2016 presidential election. Yahoo News has separately reported that the FBI interviewed a former Sputnik correspondent about his work at the website.

Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin said they'd take a "tit for tat" measure against American outlets in Russia in retaliation for the pressure on RT. Last week Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that new action against American outlets would come this week.