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The Ineffable Boiling Frog of Trump Scandal

In the last several days, two outlets have tried — but (in my opinion) failed — to communicate the sheer scale of the President’s corruption. Today, that bastion of warmed over conventional wisdom, Axios, deemed Trump’s Russian conspiracy “the biggest political scandal in American history.”

They miss most of the key details (and treat Trump’s contacts with Russian officials as the crime, when that’s not by itself one). Even in a piece invoking the Teapot Dome Scandal, they don’t seem to see the outlines of a quid pro quo bribe, Tower and dirt for sanctions relief. There’s no mention of Paul Manafort at all, much less one describing how he shared polling data in a meeting where he also discussed sanctions relief.

And I don’t think the Mueller investigation really has delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in history (which may be a mis-citation of this Garrett Graff article).

More remarkably, the Axios founders don’t seem to be able to get their arms around where this scandal ends, in part because some of the other stuff Trump has done — monetizing the Presidency via other foreign powers or various properties — are separate from the Russian part of Trump’s scandals.

Tuesday, Greg Sargent attempted a different approach, cataloging all the things that Republicans in Congress think should not be investigated by Congress. He came up with this list:

  • Materials relating to any foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses, which might constitute violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Materials that might shed light on Trump’s negotiations over the duration of a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump concealed from the voters even as the GOP primaries were underway.
  • Materials that might show whether Trump’s lawyers had a hand in rewriting former lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress falsifying the timeline of those negotiations.
  • Materials that might illuminate more detail about Trump’s numerous efforts to obstruct the FBI/Mueller investigation.
  • Materials that would shed more light on the criminal hush-money scheme that Cohen carried out, allegedly at Trump’s direction, and on Trump’s reimbursement of those payments.

This list is based on the HJC list of document requests, and so is limited to people who’ve already (publicly) been asked for documents. But even there, it doesn’t capture why some of these things matter — again, including the appearance of a quid quo pro bribe trading the Trump Tower for sanctions relief. Nor does it incorporate the full scope of kinds of crimes listed here. This list doesn’t include the range of lies told, not just by Cohen but by Roger Stone and Don Jr and others, nor does it consider the import of Cambridge Analytica and Manafort sharing polling data with the Russians.

And, of course, because Sargent works backwards from the HJC list, he doesn’t include issues already being investigated by other committees, such as how Trump’s ICE keeps losing immigrant children, or why he forced aides to give his daughter and her husband security clearances that they clearly weren’t suited for.

I raise this not to criticize, but instead to observe that we’re at a point where journalists are struggling to communicate the full scale of Trump’s corruption, even just that corruption tied exclusively to the Russian investigation. That’s partly been a result of his media approach, treating each day as a new opportunity to replace yesterday’s spectacle with a new one. It’s partly because of the boiling frog effect: we’ve had piecemeal disclosures over two years, and few journalists have taken stock along the way to see what the actual court evidentiary record amounts to. And even there, we often forget to add in the truly breathtaking corruption of Administration aides like Scott Pruitt or Ryan Zinke, or of current Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late — I don’t pretend to be able to get my brain around anything beyond the Russian investigation, to the extent even that is doable. It seems that we need to start trying to quantify this not in terms of names or actions but instead in terms of harm to the nation.

Just as one example, even the judges in the Russian investigation have — across the board — seen Trump’s flunkies to be selling out the interest of the United States, perhaps for Trump personally, perhaps for self-dealing, perhaps for foreign associates. Whatever crimes (or not) Trump committed, because he and his flunkies refuse to put the interest of the country first, it has consequences for Americans, including the constituents of members of Congress who want to ignore all this corruption.

We’ve been boiling frogs for several years here. But it’s time to take stock on the bottom line effect that Trump’s corruption has had on the country, and holding Republican enablers accountable for that damage.

The Metadata of the HJC Requests

While the rest of us were looking at the content of the letters the House Judiciary Committee was sending out to witnesses yesterday, @zedster was looking at the metadata. The requests have dates and times reflecting three different production days: towards end of the work day on March 1 (Friday), a slew starting just after 3PM on March 3 (Sunday), with some individualized documents between then and Sunday evening, with a ton of work being done until 1:30 AM March 4 (Monday morning), and four more trickling in after that.

I think the production dates likely reflect a number of different factors.

First, the letters are boilerplate, which may explain why most of those were done first. Three things might explain a delay on any of those letters: either a late decision to include them in the request, delayed approval by SDNY or Mueller for the request, or some difficulty finding the proper addressee for the letter (usually, but not always, the person’s counsel of record). Not all of these addresses are correct: as one example, Erik Prince reportedly has gotten a new lawyer since Victoria Toensing first represented him, but has refused to tell reporters who represents him now; his letter is addressed to Toensing.

One other possible explanation for late dates on the letters is that the decision to call them came out of Michael Cohen’s testimony last week (and some of those witnesses would have had to have been approved by SDNY as well). As an example, the last document in this set is the one to Viktor Vekelsberg, which clearly relates to Michael Cohen (though interest in him may have come out of Cohen’s HPSCI testimony).

The other two late letters are Cambridge Analytica and Donald Trump Revocable Trust. Both appear to be revisions — a third revision for the former and a second for the latter.

That said, the letters completed after March 1 are interesting: Aside from some institutional letters (like FBI and GSA), they appear to be likely subjects of ongoing investigative interest, whether because of the investigation into Trump’s inauguration, Roger Stone’s prosecution, Maria Butina’s cooperation, ongoing sensitivities relating to Paul Manafort, or the National Enquirer.

Some of these topics happen to be the last topics listed on the Schedule As (I got this from Jared Kushner’s Schedule A which is one of if not the most extensive), including WikiLeaks, Manafort’s sharing of polling data (with the Ukrainian oligarchs, but no Oleg Deripaska), Michael Cohen’s Russian-related graft, and Transition graft, including with the Gulf States. There’s no separate category of documents tied to the NRA.

The Schedule As were based off boilerplate and tailored very loosely based on the recipient; this may have been an area where prosecutors weighed in. These later approvals include a slew of Cambridge Analytica people (remember, Sam Patten, who had ties to the organization, was not included in this request at all). Alexander Nix’s Schedule A is a revision. So is Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten’s. Some of the people central to any obstruction inquiry — Don McGahn, Jeff Sessions, former McGahn Chief of Staff Annie Donaldson, and Jay Sekulow — were among the last Schedule As printed out.

All of this is just reading tea leaves.

But it does seem to reflect some ongoing sensitivities (the Gulf States, Cambridge Analytica, and obstruction) that got approved last, with some areas (Oleg Deripaska) being significantly excluded.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Why Would Don McGahn (and His Lawyer) Cooperate in a Piece Claiming He Cooperated with Mueller (on Obstruction)?

As I laid out here, the latest NYT obstruct-a-palooza on Don McGahn “cooperating” with Robert Mueller spins what is probably a lawyer covering his own legal jeopardy with a claim of full cooperation.

But why did he (and his lawyer, William Burck) cooperate in it? Why spin a fanciful tale of being disloyal to your boss, even if it’s just to blame him for it before he blames you?

The most obvious answer is he’s trying to convince Mueller he’s not responsible for the legal shenanigans of (as the NYT continues to spin it) the obstruction of the investigation, or of the legal shenanigans of Trump generally.

There may well be an aspect of that, though I wouldn’t want to be (and hope I’m not) in a position where my legal jeopardy relied on how successfully I could spin Maggie and Mike, even if I were as expert at doing so as Don McGahn is.

A better answer may lie in this observation from my last post:

By far the most telling passage in this 2,225+ word story laying out Don McGahn’s “cooperation” with the Mueller inquiry is this passage:

Though he was a senior campaign aide, it is not clear whether Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned Mr. McGahn about whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia’s effort to influence the election.

Over two thousand words and over a dozen sources, and Maggie and Mike never get around to explaining whether Don McGahn has any exposure in or provided testimony for the investigation in chief, the conspiracy with Russia to win the election.

Consider: the story Maggie and Mike (and Don McGahn’s lawyer) spin is that Don McGahn let Trump bully him around on some issues in early 2017, which led to some things that might look like obstruction of justice. An unfortunate occurrence, surely. But McGahn might be forgiven for fucking things up in early January 2017. After all, he was new to the whole White House Counseling thing; he had never worked in a White House before. Beginner’s mistake(s), you might call the long list of things he fucked up at the beginning of his tenure, which Maggie and Mike nod to but don’t describe in full resplendent glory.

His relationship with the president had soured as Mr. Trump blamed him for a number of fraught moments in his first months in office, including the chaotic, failed early attempts at a ban on travelers from some majority-Muslim countries and, in particular, the existence of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

Don McGahn’s skills, it turns out, lie elsewhere.

While he has bolloxed most of the things White House Counsels are supposed to do (like keeping the White House out of legal and ethical trouble), he has had unsurpassed success at stacking the courts. I doubt there’s an ideological Republican in the country who isn’t thrilled with McGahn’s success at stacking the courts.

Update: Case in point.

Indeed (this becomes important in just a bit), McGahn’s success at stacking the courts is one of the biggest reasons why Republicans in Congress put up with the rest of Trump’s shit. Being President, for many Republicans, isn’t about governing; it’s about stacking the courts.

It turns out, though, that McGahn had another job before he became an expert court-stacker. For decades, Don McGahn has been one of the Republican party’s key campaign finance lawyers.

That’s how he grew to be close to Trump when, as Maggie and Mike describe,

McGahn joined the Trump team as an early hire said to like the candidate’s outsider position.

Don McGahn had come to prominence in the party at the NRCC and was rewarded for it with a seat on the FEC, where he made campaign finance more slushy.

But probably not slushy enough.

Here’s where Maggie and Mike’s failure to get an answer for whether longtime Republican campaign finance expert Don McGahn has been questioned about his role in the conspiracy with Russians to win the election (not to mention their failure to pin down when his third interview with Mueller’s team took place, after he happily revealed when the first two did) becomes important.

Don McGahn might be forgiven for bolloxing up the White House Counsel job. He was new at that (and he was busy, anyway, stacking the courts).

But at least three of the areas where Mueller’s team might find a conspiracy with Russia (or other foreigners) to win the election involve campaign finance issues — Don McGahn’s expertise. Those are:

  • Whether knowingly employing British Cambridge Analytica employees without getting them proper visas constitutes illegal foreign influence?
  • Whether accepting a Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton constitutes accepting a thing of value?
  • Whether the campaign was sufficiently firewalled from the  dodgy shit Roger Stone was doing (which has been a focus of the last six months of Mueller’s time)?

My wildarse guess is that campaign finance expert Don McGahn might find a way to finesse hiring foreign Cambridge Analytica employees. My wildarse guess is that campaign finance expert Don McGahn could claim ignorance about the illegal details of the Trump Tower and other foreign influence peddling meetings.

My wildarse guess is that campaign finance expert Don McGahn did not sufficiently firewall Stone off from the campaign. Especially given that he was involved in both incarnations of Stop the Steal — the effort to stamp down a convention rebellion, and the effort (which worked in parallel to a Russian one) to use claims of a “rigged” election to suppress Democratic voters. Especially given that he was loved in the Republican party for leaning towards slush over legal compliance.

Given how central campaign finance violations are in any question of a conspiracy with Russia, it is malpractice for Maggie and Mike to publish a story without determining whether — after being grilled by Mueller’s team for two days last fall about whether he fucked up White House Counseling — McGahn has more recently been grilled extensively about whether he fucked up campaign finance, the thing he got hired for in the first place. The thing he’s supposed to be an expert in.

But Maggie and Mike believe Trump is only being investigated for obstruction, so seeding a big puff piece with them is a sure bet you won’t get asked about your obviously central role (or not) in any conspiracy involving campaign finance.

That’s just part of a potential explanation for why Don McGahn (and his lawyer) would seed a big puff piece with Maggie and Mike, making it look like McGahn had cooperated a lot on something he was never an expert in — White House Counseling — but remaining utterly silent on whether he cooperated on something he is undoubtedly an expert in (even if he tends to prefer slush to law). Better to get in trouble for cooperating on the stuff Trump and his lawyers have been successfully distracting with for the last six months rather than cooperating with prosecutors on a case about conspiring with Russian spies to win an election, the stuff that will elicit cries of Treason and with it badly tarnish the Republican party.

Then there’s this, the last great court-stack. Numerous people have noted, but Maggie and Mike did not, even while noting that McGahn is in the middle of a SCOTUS fight:

Mr. McGahn is still the White House counsel, shepherding the president’s second Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, through the confirmation process.

William Burck, McGahn’s lawyer, is his partner-in-crime in his last great court-stack.

When Trump (presumably based on the advice of his chief court-stacker, Don McGahn) nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, people (including Mitch McConnell) warned him of the danger of nominating someone with such an extensive paper record. Nevertheless, Republicans started with an assumption that that record would be made public. Until July 24, when Republicans had a private meeting and realized they had to suppress Kavanaugh’s record as White House Staff Secretary.

It is not surprising then, that on July 19, 2018, while discussing preparations for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, Senator Cornyn — the Majority Whip and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee — said that the production of documents Judge Kavanaugh had “generated . . . authored…or contributed to” during his tenure as White House Staff Secretary should be produced to the Committee.  He stated that it “just seems to be common sense.”

However, less than a week later, following a White House meeting with you on the records production on July 24, the Republican position abruptly and inexplicably shifted.  Since that meeting, Senate Republicans refused to request any and all documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s three years as White House Staff Secretary, regardless of authorship.  Immediately after the meeting, Senator Cornyn described requesting any Staff Secretary records as “a bridge too far.”  Days later, Chairman Chuck Grassley submitted a records request to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and omitted any of Judge Kavanaugh’s records as Staff Secretary.

Since then, William Burck has taken time away from representing Don McGahn and Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon to personally suppress lots of Kavanaugh’s records as White House Staff Secretary. And Chuck Grassley has moved up Kavanaugh’s confirmation process to make sure that some of production being slow-rolled by Don McGahn’s lawyer will not be release before Kavanaugh gets a vote on a lifetime appointment.

There’s clearly something in Kavanaugh’s record as White House Staff Secretary that might lead Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski to vote against Kavanaugh — or make the entire nomination toxic in time for the mid-terms.

Mind you, whether Don McGahn’s failures on the topic he is supposed to be an expert on, campaign finance, contribute to getting the President’s lackeys indicted for a conspiracy may not directly relate to his last great hurrah in stacking the courts, solidifying a regressive majority on SCOTUS for a generation and with it adding someone who will suppress this investigation.

Then again it might.

Most Republicans, I suspect, will one day become willing to jettison Trump so long as they can continue stacking the courts. Trump, one day, may be expendable so long as McGahn’s expertise at stacking the court holds sway. At that level, McGahn’s political fortunes may actually conflict with Trump’s.

But not if he (and his lawyer) fuck up the last great court-stack. Not if they get blamed for failing on McGahn’s area of expertise — campaign finance — and in so doing lead to a delay in and with it the demise of the Kavanaugh confirmation.

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

 

The Crimes with which NSD Envisions Charging Those Attacking Elections

The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on how to protect our elections today. Among others, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Adam Hickey from DOJ’s National Security Division testified. He gave a list of some of the crimes he thought might be used to charge people who tampered with elections.

Foreign influence operations, though not always illegal, can implicate several U.S. Federal criminal statutes, including (but not limited to) 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy to defraud the United States); 18 U.S.C. § 951 (acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General); 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (false statements); 18 U.S.C. § 1028A (aggravated identity theft); 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (computer fraud and abuse); 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 1344 (wire fraud and bank fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1519 (destruction of evidence); 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (visa fraud); 22 U.S.C. § 618 (Foreign Agents Registration Act); and 52 U.S.C. §§ 30109, 30121 (soliciting or making foreign contributions to influence Federal elections, or donations to influence State or local elections).

In their testimony, Ken Wainstein (someone with extensive experience of national security prosecutions, but less apparent focus on the available evidence in this investigation) and Ryan Goodman (who doesn’t have the prosecutorial experience of Wainstein, but who is familiar with the public facts about the investigation) also list what crimes they think will get charged.

I find a comparison of what each raised, along with what has already been charged, to be instructive. I believe that comparison looks like this:

I’m interested, in part, because Hickey, who likely has at least a sense of the Mueller investigation (if not personal involvement), sees the case somewhat differently than two differently expert lawyers. Two charges — agent of a foreign power (basically, being a foreign spy in the US not working under official cover) and CFAA (hacking) seem obvious to both National Security Division prosecutors, but have not yet been publicly charged. Illegal foreign contributions seems obvious to those paying close attention, but also has not been charged. We might expect to see all three charges before we’re done.

Neither Wainstein nor Goodman mentioned false statements, but of course that’s what we’ve seen charged most often so far.

Then there are the two crimes Hickey mentions that the others don’t, but that have not yet been charged (both have been alleged as overt acts in the Internet Research Agency indictment): Visa fraud (alleged against the trolls who came to the US to reconnoiter in 2014) and destruction of evidence (again, alleged against IRA employees destroying evidence after Facebook’s role was discovered). Mueller also described George Papadopoulos destroying evidencec when he deleted his Facebook account, but like the Russian trolls, he didn’t get charged for it. Visa fraud, in particular, is something that multiple figures might be accused of — Alexander Torshin and others reaching out via NRA, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and even Brits who worked illegally during the election for Cambridge Analytica.

I confess I’m most interested in Hickey’s mention of destruction of evidence, though. That’s true, in part, because SDNY seems to think Michael Cohen might destroy evidence.

Hope Hicks, too, reportedly thought about hiding evidence from authorities. Then there’s the report that Mueller is checking encrypted messaging apps as people turn in phones when they arrive for interviews.

Huckey seems to think some of the people being investigated — beyond Papadopoulos and IRA troll Viktorovna Kaverzina — may have been destroying evidence.

I wonder if he has reason to suspect that.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Open Thread: Oddments Olio

A dog’s breakfast, hodgepodge, pastiche, olio — this is a catch-all post with an open thread. I have a bunch of tidbits and loose ends with no place to go, not enough on which to center posts. Make of them what you will and bring your own potpourri in comments.

Loews — No, not Lowe’s as in the big box hardware store chain. Loews Regency, as in pricey hotel in NYC where Trump’s personal attorney and likely cut-out has been staying, ostensibly because of construction at his home. Yeah, the same home which was searched this past week along with this hotel room and office.

One detail folks may have forgotten: Loews Regency is the same hotel where Felix Sater arranged a 27-JAN-2017 meeting between Michael Cohen and Ukrainian lawmaker Andrey Artemenko to discuss a plan to lift the sanctions on Russia. Totally legal one week after the inauguration, right? But why meet with the president’s personal lawyer instead of State Department employees, or wait until Rex Tillerson was confirmed on February 1?

And when was the meeting set up — did Sater take a phone call from Artemenko before the inauguration?

It wasn’t clear back in early 2017 when exactly this back-channel was first established and it’s still not clear now.

Searching Cohen’s room at the Loews seems more reasonable considering the Artemenko meeting. Has Cohen had a room or rooms in Loews Regency since inauguration day or earlier?

~ | ~

Hacka cracka lacka — Hey, remember how former CIA director John Brennan was hacked in 2015 and 2016 by a couple of “Cracka” hackers? Two dudes from North Carolina were arrested and prosecuted, sent to prison for two years for hacking senior U.S. officials.

One detail sticking in my craw has been the third party characterized as a group leader; only a teenager at the time, they were located in the U.K.

Why have so many issues related to politics and information security had links to the U.K. — like Cambridge Analytica/SCL and Brexit? Did somebody manipulate an autistic U.K. teenager into work assisting larger aims?

~ | ~

Facebook’s Chancellor — Prof. David Carroll asked a very good question: why didn’t any member of Congress on either the Senate Judiciary Committee or the House Energy & Commerce Committee ask about Facebook employee Joseph Chancellor, a psychologist who had been hired away from Cambridge Analytica. Well?

Speaking of Facebook, there are several folks who’ve been all over the this scandal, some of whom have been responsible for the public’s awareness that Facebook data had been acquired without users’ consent. Give them a follow:

Carole Cadwalladr — reporter-writer for Guardian-UK and Observer who has doggedly covered Cambridge Analytica/SCL links to Facebook user data and their impact on the Brexit referendum in June 2016. Her Guardian content here (consider throwing them a few bucks for her great work.)

Chris Wylie — Cambridge Analytica’s former director of research now whistleblower who revealed much of the workings between CA/SCL and Facebook’s ill-gotten data.

David Carroll — Associate professor of media design at the School of Art, Media, and Technology at The New School’s Parsons School of Design; he’s been chasing his personal data located in the U.K and is now suing Cambridge Analytica’s parent, SCL, for U.S. data it obtained without consent. (Read about the case and chip into the legal fund at this link.)

Also note that Verge senior writer Sarah Jeong generously tweeted all the members of Congress who’d received donations from Facebook as they questioned CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Check it out.

~ | ~

Content bias — During this week’s committee hearings with Facebook CEO, GOP members of Congress tried repeatedly to make a case that Facebook was biased against conservative content. Too bad Facebook helped get a GOP POTUS elected, shooting that narrative in the ass.

But one related thing has stuck in my craw for quite some time, and I can’t help wonder if it was yet another way in which Facebook was manipulated by a disinformation operation.

Remember back in 2016 stories reporting Facebook’s contract content editors complained that Facebook was biased against conservatives? The story first appeared in Gizmodo on May 9, then got picked up by other outlets. A political story during the campaign season usually happens the other way around — covered first in a big national outlet then picked up in lesser outlets. Why did this story happen via Gizmodo first? This would be the perfect manner in which to launder information; the point of origin is obscured by the second and third outlets to pick it up as they typically go to the biggest source to confirm their story. In this case, an outlet like NYT or WaPo would go to Facebook and put them on the spot. They wouldn’t bug Gizmodo or the leakers who went to Gizmodo.

Another important factor: Gizmodo was part of beleaguered Gawker Media, which was about to implode and bought out months later by Univision. Anybody remaining at the time this story hit was uncertain about the security of their job. Journalists would have been ripe for manipulation because they needed an attention-getting story to improve their odds for a next gig.

In fact, Gawker Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy one month after the Facebook bias story was published — on June 10, 2016. Think of this 30-day time frame as two very stressful paydays for beleaguered Gawker employees who were trying hard to keep on keeping on but probably frantically wallpapering prospective media employers with resumes.

One more important factor: the reporter who covered this story was a technology editor whose beat wasn’t politics or free speech issues. This changed the way the story was covered and rolled out; if a reporter with more savvy and experience covering politics had been approached with this particular tip, they might have known there was something more to this than poor-conservatives-being-suppressed-by-liberal-bias. A political contributor might have questioned the insistance that outlets like Breitbart and Newsmax weren’t being included alongside NYT and WaPo.

Watching GOP congresspersons repeatedly bash Zuckerberg about media bias, I could see the same deer-in-the-headlights reaction Facebook had back in 2016 when these contract editors complained about bias. There was no bias; the hearings this week and the story in 2016 were naked attempts to screw with Facebook’s algorithms so that POS outlets like Mercer-funded, Bannon-operated Breitbart and Alex Jones’ InfoWars could get the same attention as legitimate outlets like NYT and WaPo.

We’re still going to have to press Facebook and other social media outlets to address this problem. It’s just not a problem of bias but identifying legitimate reported journalism. And we all have a problem with being easily played for our lack of sufficient skepticism.

~ | ~

Go for it. What detritus have you been carrying around that doesn’t fit anywhere else? Share in comments.

The Very Globalized Forces Manipulating the Anti-Globalist President

I want to consider three stories related to the conspiracies that got Trump elected and have influenced his policy decisions.

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook privatizes intelligence sources and methods behind “democratic” elections

First, there’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Here are some of the most scandalous tidbits:

Likelihood Facebook failed to abide by a 2011 FTC consent decree and certainty that Cambridge Analytica and Facebook failed to abide by British and EU privacy law, respectively. While Facebook and other big tech companies have sometimes publicly bowed to the onerous restrictions of more repressive regimes and have secretly bowed to the invasive demands of American spies, the public efforts to rein in big tech have had limited success in Europe and virtually none in the US.

In the US in particular, weak government agencies have done little more than ask consumers to trust big tech.

As privacy advocates have long argued, big tech can’t be trusted. Nor can big tech regulate itself.

Cambridge Analytica used legally suspect means — the same kind of illegal means intelligence agencies employ — to help its customers. Channel 4 reported that Cambridge Analytica at least promised they could set honey traps and other means to compromise politicians. The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica acted as a cut-out to share hacked emails in Nigerian and a Nevis/St. Kitts elections. Thus far, the most problematic claim made about Cambridge Analytica’s activities in the US are the aforementioned illegal use of data shared for research purposes, visa fraud to allow foreign (British) citizens to work on US elections, and possibly the illegal coordination between Rebekah Mercer’s PAC with the campaign.

Internet Research Agency used the same kind of methods advertising and marketing firms use, but to create grassroots. The IRA indictment laid out how a private company in Russia used Facebook (and other tech giants’) networking and advertising services to create fake grassroots enthusiasm here in the US.

All of these means undermine the democratic process. They’re all means nation-state intelligence services use. By privatizing them, such services became available to foreign agents and oligarchical interests more easily, with easy ways (many, but not all, broadly acceptable corporate accounting methods) to hide the financial trail.

Russia buys the network behind Joseph Mifsud

Then there’s the Beeb piece advancing the story of Joseph Mifsud (ignore the repetitive annoying music and John Schindler presence). It provides details on the role played by German born Swiss financier and lawyer Stephan Roh. Roh has three ties to Mifsud. In 2014, Roe started lecturing at the London Academy of Diplomacy where Misfud worked. In the same year, he bought the Roman institution Misfud helped manage. And then, in 2016, when George Papadopoulos was being targeted, Roh was on a panel with Papadopoulos’ two handlers.

That same month, Mifsud was in Moscow on a panel run by the Kremlin-backed Valdai Club with Timofeev and the third man, Dr Stephan Roh, a German multi-millionaire.

Mifsud and Roh interlock: in 2014, Roh became a visiting lecturer at the London Academy of Diplomacy. Roh bought Link Campus University, a private institution in Rome where Mifsud was part of the management and Mifsud became a consultant at Roh’s legal firm.

The Beeb piece goes on to describe how Roh bought a British nuclear consultancy too. When the British scientist behind it balked at cozying up to Russia, he was fired, but it appears to still be used as a cut-out.

Again, none of this is new: Russia just spent a lot of money to set up some fronts. The amount of money floating around and the ability to buy into a title by buying an old castle do make it easier, however.

George Nader purchases US foreign policy for the Saudis and Emirates

Then there’s NYT’s confirmation of something that was obvious from the first reports that the FBI whisked George Nader away from Dulles Airport before he could meet Donald Trump at Mar a Lago earlier this year. Nader got an immunity deal and has been cooperating with Mueller’s team to describe how he brokered US foreign policy decisions (most notably, and anti-Qatari stance). He did so by cultivating GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, turning him into both an asset and front for foreign influence. Those activities included:

  • Securing hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for Broidy’s private security firm, Circinus, with the Saudis and Emirates, and offering several times more.
  • Working with Broidy to scuttle the nomination of Anne Patterson to DOD and to orchestrate the firing, last week, of Rex Tillerson, in both cases because they were deemed too supportive of diplomacy towards Iran.
  • Offering financial support for a $12.7 million Washington lobbying and public relations campaign, drafted by a third party, targeting both Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Paying Broidy $2.7 million to fund conferences at both Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies attacking Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood; Broidy provided a necessary American cut-out for the two think tanks because their fundraising rules prohibit donations from undemocratic regimes or foreign countries, respectively. The payment was laundered through an “Emirati-based company [Nader] controlled, GS Investments, to an obscure firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia, controlled by Mr. Broidy, Xieman International.”
  • Unsuccessfully pitching a private meeting, away from the White House, between Trump and Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
  • Obtaining a picture of Nader with Trump, effectively showing the president in the company of a foreign agent and convicted pedophile.

Effectively, Nader provides Mueller what Mueller has been getting from Rick Gates: details of how a foreign country purchased American policy support via cutouts in our easily manipulated campaign finance system.

Nader brings two more elements of what I pointed to last May: what is ultimately a Jared Kushner backed “peace” “plan” that is instead the money laundered wish of a bunch of foreign interests. While we’ve seen the Russian, Saudi, and Emirate money behind this plan, we’re still missing full details on how Mueller is obtaining the Israeli side, though I’m sure he’s getting that too.

Note, Broidy has claimed the details behind his work with Nader were hacked by Qatari hackers. That may be the case; there have also been a slew of presumably hacked documents from Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef al Otaiba, floating around. So while this is important reporting, it relies on the same kind of illicitly obtained intelligence that was used against Hillary in 2016.

Importantly, the Nader story generalizes this. Nader has worked with both the Clinton and the Dick Cheney Administrations, and the laundering of foreign funds to US think tanks has long been tolerated (in some cases, such as Brookings, the think tank doesn’t even bother with the money laundering and accepts the foreign money directly). Democrats are not immune from this kind of influence peddling, in the least. It’s just that Trump, because of his greater narcissism, his ignorance of real foreign policy doctrine, and his debt and multinational business make Trump far more vulnerable to such cultivation. Given Cheney’s ties to Halliburton and the Clinton Foundation, it’s a matter of degree and competence, not principle.

Globalism is just another word for fighting over which oligarchs will benefit from globalization

Which brings us to Trump’s claim (orchestrated by Steven Bannon, paid for by the Mercers) to oppose “globalists,” a racialized term to demonize the downsides of globalization without actually addressing the forces of globalization in an effective way. Little Trump is doing (up to and including the trade war with China he’s rolling out today) will help the white people who made him president (the demonization of immigrants will have benefits and drawbacks).

What it will do is foster greater authoritarianism in this country, making it easier both to make Trump’s white voters less secure even while channeling the resultant anger by making racism even more of an official policy.

And it will also shift somewhat which oligarchs — both traditionally well-loved ones, like the Sauds, and adversaries, like the Russians — will benefit as a result.

Importantly, it is being accomplished using the tools of globalization, from poorly overseen global tech companies, easily manipulated global finance system, and a global network of influence peddling that can also easily be bought and paid for.

The GOP PAC-thetic Effort to Disclaim Cambridge Analytica

In the wake of Friday’s news that Cambridge Analytica had not deleted psychographic data based off Facebook data, Republicans have claimed they didn’t rely on CA in 2016’s election. Major Garrett, for example, reported that, for most but not all uses, the Trump campaign replaced CA with RNC data after proving the latter more accurate.

In late September 2016, Cambridge and other data vendors were submitting bids to the Trump campaign. Then-candidate Trump’s campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the primaries and in the summer because it was never certain the Republican National Committee would be a willing, cooperative partner. Cambridge Analytica instead was a hedge against the RNC, in case it wouldn’t share its data.

The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. The Trump campaign had tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate than Cambridge Analytica’s, and when it was clear the RNC would be a willing partner, Mr. Trump’s campaign was able to rely solely on the RNC.

Cambridge Analytica data was used for some targeted digital advertising and a large TV buy, but the main source of “get out the vote” and matching digital outreach data came from the RNC.

This story is not much different from one that got told last fall, in the wake of Brad Parscale’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. After using CA data for the first month of the general, the campaign transitioned to using RNC data (for whatever reason).

But according to both Parscale and [CA Chief Product Officer] Oczkowski, the campaign didn’t use Cambridge’s trove of data, opting instead for the RNC’s data file.

“The RNC was the voter file of record for the campaign, but we were the intelligence on top of the voter file,” Oczkowski says. “Sometimes the sales pitch can be a bit inflated, and I think people can misconstrue that.”

Parscale describes the firm’s work this way: “As I’ve said multiple times over prior statements, Matt Oczkowski and his team created a daily tracker of polling, so that I could see how Trump was doing in key swing states. They provided that to me daily.” Parscale says Cambridge also helped the campaign with what he calls “persuasion online media buying. They also helped us identify potential donors. And they created a visualization tool that showed in each state which areas were most persuadable and what those voters care about.”

As I noted at the time, however, Oczkowski claimed to be unaware of what CA was doing because the PAC activities were firewalled from campaign activities.

“I had absolutely no understanding any of this was going on, and I was surprised as everybody else when I saw the story” about Nix’s approach to Assange, Oczkowski says. During the campaign, he says his team was walled off from the rest of Cambridge, because the company was also working with a Trump Super PAC. Federal regulations prevent campaigns from coordinating with Super PACs. Of the 13 Cambridge staffers who worked in Trump’s San Antonio office, only four remain at the company.

Which, of course, suggests that the interesting stuff with CA was happening at the Super PAC, which just happens to have been run by the Mercers.

Today, Daily Beast reported that a Cambridge Analytica employee, Emily Cornell, gleefully pounced on the opportunity presented by the release of more stolen Hillary emails.

Cambridge Analytica hoped to capitalize on Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton and her ally, an email written by one of its employees indicates.

Emily Cornell, the employee, sent the email on July 29, 2016. It went out to people working with Make America Number One, the pro-Trump super PAC funded by Republican super-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

After noting some of the firm’s work for the super PAC, Cornell wrote: “With her campaign getting hacked, I can only imagine what a new swatch [sic] of emails will do to her already fractured base!”

This seems to confirm two things. First, the Mercer directed efforts remained happy to exploit Russia’s theft even later in the process (remember the Alexander Nix email to Julian Assange kept Mercer in the loop). And also, the Trump campaign claim to have ditched Cambridge Analytica are only meaningful insofar as they really maintained that firewall between campaign and PAC.

Cambridge Analytica Uncovered and More to Come

A little recap of events overnight while we wait for Channel 4’s next video. Channel 4 had already posted a video on March 17 which you can see here:

Very much worth watching — listen carefully to whistleblower Chris Wylie explain what data was used and how it was used. I can’t emphasize enough the problem of non-consensual use; if you didn’t explicitly consent but a friend did, they still swept up your data

David Carroll of Parsons School of Design (@profcarroll) offered a short and sweet synopsis last evening of the fallout after UK’s Channel 4 aired the first video of Cambridge Analytica Uncovered.

Facebook CTO Alex Stamos had a disagreement with management about the company’s handling of crisis; first reports said he had resigned. Stamos tweeted later, explaining:

“Despite the rumors, I’m still fully engaged with my work at Facebook. It’s true that my role did change. I’m currently spending more time exploring emerging security risks and working on election security.”

Other reports say Stamos is leaving in August. Both could be true: his job has changed and he’s eventually leaving.

I’m betting we will hear from him before Congress soon, whatever the truth.

Speaking of Congress, Sen. Ron Wyden has asked Mark Zuckerberg to provide a lot of information pronto to staffer Chris Sogohian. This ought to be a lot of fun.

A Facebook whistleblower has now come forward; Sandy Parkilas said covert harvesting of users’ data happened frequently, and Facebook could have done something about it.

Perhaps we ought to talk about nationalization of a citizens’ database?

Another Shoe Dropped: Cambridge Analytica Used Its Own Kompromat

I confess, I did NOT see this coming, a perfect example of blindness based in preconceived notions about technology companies.

UK’s Channel 4 just aired a report in which Cambridge Analytica executives were secretly filmed discussing the creation and use of compromising material in campaigns. Some of the acts described violate UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Watch:

Last evening there had been teasers revealing Cambridge Analytica had used actual Facebook users’ account information while demonstrating their psychographic profiling product, without masking the users’ personal information. This is ugly on its own, violating users’ privacy without permission.

But the creation and use of kompromat…wow.

This is an open thread. Have at it.

Why Do You Send Your Digital Guy to Meet with the Russian Ambassador?

The HPSCI Democrats have released the report they should have had ready to go last night: their 21-page report on all the thing the HPSCI Russian investigation didn’t cover but should have. It’s an interesting list (though it seriously lets the GOP off the hook for treating this investigation as an obstructive lark). I’ll likely reflect on what kind of mirror it holds up to the Republican sense of which witnesses they had to vet for Trump.

For now, I want to point at an interesting little detail. In the section describing why HPSCI should know more about the Trump campaign’s digital operations, the report reveals that Jared Kushner sent the Trump campaign Assistant Director of Data Analysis, Avi Berkowitz, to go meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak a month after the election, around the same time Russia was floating back channels so banks could bail out Kushner’s failing family real estate empire.

Trump Campaign Digital Operation: The Committee ought to interview all relevant persons involved or associated with the Trump campaign’s digital operation to determine whether the campaign coordinated in any way with Russia in its digital program. The Committee will not be able to fully evaluate the campaign’s digital operation without speaking to a broader crosssection of individuals who can provide greater insight into the digital operation’s day-to-day activities or its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. The Committee also must interview individuals from other companies who conducted technology-related work on behalf of the Trump campaign or on behalf of other entities being funded through independent expenditures to gain a full picture of whether there was any coordination between Russia’s extensive social media efforts on Trump’s behalf and the campaign itself.

For example, Avraham (Avi) Berkowitz, served as Assistant Director of Data Analytics on the Trump Campaign. He was also an associate of Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale. The Committee has reason to believe that Mr. Kushner may have dispatched Mr. Berkowitz to meet with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December 2016. Theresa Hong, who served as Digital Content Director for the Trump campaign, should also be asked to testify. Ms. Hong has spoken to the press about the campaign’s digital operation and her team’s work alongside Cambridge Analytica.

That very same month, I asked whether dark marketing had a role in all the mobs seemingly providing pressure in support of Trump at key moments.

That Berkowitz made that visit did get reported last spring. But not with the emphasis that Berkowitz was so central to the campaign’s digital organization.

Maybe (as someone suggested to me on Twitter) Jared was just sending Berkowitz to retrieve the thumb drives they had shared during the campaign?