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The Year Long Trump Flunky Effort to Free Julian Assange

The NYT has an unbelievable story about how Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to try to get Julian Assange turned over. I say it’s unbelievable because it is 28 paragraphs long, yet it never once explains whether Assange would be turned over to the US for prosecution or for a golf retirement. Instead, the story stops short multiple times of what it implies: that Manafort was there as part of paying off Trump’s part of a deal, but the effort stopped as soon as Mueller was appointed.

Within a couple of days of Mr. Manafort’s final meeting in Quito, Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as the special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters, and it quickly became clear that Mr. Manafort was a primary target. His talks with Ecuador ended without any deals.

The story itself — which given that it stopped once Mueller was appointed must be a limited hangout revealing that Manafort tried to free Assange, complete with participation from the spox that Manafort unbelievably continues to employ from his bankrupt jail cell — doesn’t surprise me at all.

After all, the people involved in the election conspiracy made multiple efforts to free Assange.

WikiLeaks kicked off the effort at least by December, when they sent a DM to Don Jr suggesting Trump should make him Australian Ambassador to the US.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Weeks later, Hannity would go to the Embassy to interview Assange. Assange fed him the alternate view of how he obtained the DNC emails, a story that would be critical to Trump’s success at putting the election year heist behind him, if it were successful. Trump and Hannity pushed the line that the hackers were not GRU, but some 400 pound guy in someone’s basement.

Then the effort actually shifted to Democrats and DOJ. Starting in February through May 2017, Oleg Deripaska and Julian Assange broker Adam Waldman tried to convince Bruce Ohr or Mark Warner to bring Assange to the US, using the threat of the Vault 7 files as leverage. In February, Jim Comey told DOJ to halt that effort. But Waldman continued negotiations, offering to throw testimony from Deripaska in as well. He even used testimony from Christopher Steele as leverage.

This effort has been consistently spun by the Mark Meadows/Devin Nunes/Jim Jordan crowd — feeding right wing propagandists like John Solomon — as an attempt to obstruct a beneficial counterintelligence discussion. It’s a testament to the extent to which GOP “investigations” have been an effort to spin an attempt to coerce freedom for Assange.

Shortly after this effort failed, Manafort picked it up, as laid out by the NYT. That continued until Mueller got hired.

There may have been a break (or maybe I’m missing the next step). But by the summer, Dana Rohrabacher and Chuck Johnson got in the act, with Rohrabacher going to the Embassy to learn the alternate story, which he offered to share with Trump.

Next up was Bill Binney, whom Trump started pushing Mike Pompeo to meet with, to hear Binney’s alternative story.

At around the same time, WikiLeaks released the single Vault 8 file they would release, followed shortly by Assange publicly re-upping his offer to set up a whistleblower hotel in DC.

Those events contributed to a crackdown on Assange and may have led to the jailing of accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte.

In December, Ecuador and Russia started working on a plan to sneak Assange out of the Embassy.

A few weeks later, Roger Stone got into the act, telling Randy Credico he was close to winning Assange a pardon.

These efforts have all fizzled, and I suspect as Mueller put together more information on Trump’s conspiracy with Russia, not only did the hopes of telling an alternative theory fade, but so did the possibility that a Trump pardon for Assange would look like anything other than a payoff for help getting elected. In June, the government finally got around to charging Schulte for Vault 7. But during the entire time he was in jail, he was apparently still attempting to leak information, which the government therefore obtained on video.

Ecuador’s increasing crackdown on Assange has paralleled the Schulte prosecution, with new restrictions, perhaps designed to provide the excuse to boot Assange from the Embassy, going into effect on December 1.

Don’t get me wrong: if I were Assange I’d use any means I could to obtain safe passage.

Indeed, this series of negotiations — and the players involved — may be far, far more damning for those close to Trump. Sean Hannity, Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort, Chuck Johnson, Dana Rohrabacher, Roger Stone, and Don Jr, may all worked to find a way to free Assange, all in the wake of Assange playing a key role in getting Trump elected. And they were conducting these negotiations even as WikiLeaks was burning the CIA’s hacking tools.

It’s Not Hannity’s Pee Tape that Matters

Late afternoon on Sunday, Margaret Sullivan wrote a column arguing that Donald Trump might survive his own Saturday Night Massacre of firing Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller. The reason Trump might survive where Nixon didn’t, she argues, is Sean Hannity.

Nixon didn’t have Fox News in his corner.

President Trump does — and that might make all the difference if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein or even special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The pro-Trump media, led by Fox, would give cover, and huge swaths of Americans would be encouraged to believe that the action was not only justified but absolutely necessary.

You can see it coming.

Night after night — for many months — Trump’s sycophant-in-chief, Sean Hannity, has been softening the ground. And his message is sinking in.

In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, three of four Republicans said they believed the Justice Department and the FBI are actively working to undermine Trump.

“Hannity has been poisoning the well for Mueller’s ‘deeply corrupt’ investigation and laying the groundwork to support the president if he seeks an authoritarian recourse,” wrote Matthew Gertz, of the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America. That was back in October.

Six months, five convictions and more than a dozen indictments later, that poison has done its job.

Less than 24 hours later, Michael Cohen’s lawyer revealed the name of the third client to whom Cohen claimed to have provided legal advice he wanted to protect under attorney-client privilege, a person who — Cohen had claimed in a brief Sunday, hadn’t wanted his name disclosed. “The client’s name that is involved is Sean Hannity.

In response to the ensuing uproar over learning he was the hidden Client 3, Hannity offered a series of contradictory statements, presumably designed to tamp down any speculation that Cohen had negotiated a hush payment for the star, but which only served to make Cohen’s legal claims more specious.

Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.

I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.

In response to some wild speculation, let me make clear that I did not ask Michael Cohen to bring this proceeding on my behalf, I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.

As I joked, Hannity said he had eight lawyers. I wonder which three different lawyers wrote these statements, and whether one of them was the other lawyer he shares with Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow.

So Cohen advised Hannity “almost exclusively about real estate,” which in this crowd sometimes means money laundering, and not about buying off Playboy bunnies.

But what are the other conversations about?

Hannity has played even more of a role in protecting Trump than Sullivan makes out. It’s not just that he fed the uproar over Trump’s lawyer being raided. But he did an interview with Julian Assange in January 2017 that helped seed the narrative that Russia didn’t hand the DNC files to Wikileaks. More grotesquely, Hannity fed the conspiracy theories about Seth Rich (I hope the multiple entities that are suing Hannity over that will demand discovery on any claimed privileged conversations about the topic with Trump’s lawyer).

Sure, the matters on which Cohen purportedly gave legal advice to Hannity might be about buying a condo.

But given the effort Cohen made to protect those conversations from the eyes of the FBI, they also might involve coordination on some of the more insidious pushback on the Russian story.

The Timing of Mark Warner’s PseudoScandal Texts

By now, you’ve heard about Fox News’ scoop that Mark Warner made efforts last year to obtain testimony from two key figures in the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election via DC fixer Adam Waldman: Christopher Steele and Oleg Deripaska. (In my opinion, the news buried at the bottom of the story that Deripaska agreed to provide testimony if he could get immunity, but did not get it, is far more interesting than the rest of this, but I’m not a Fox News editor.)

“We have so much to discuss u need to be careful but we can help our country,” Warner texted the lobbyist, Adam Waldman, on March 22, 2017.

“I’m in,” Waldman, whose firm has ties to Hillary Clinton, texted back to Warner.

The story also includes this paragraph, which also has gotten less attention.

Warner began texting with Waldman in February 2017 about the possibility of helping to broker a deal with the Justice Department to get the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to potentially face criminal charges. That went nowhere, though a Warner aide told Fox News that the senator shared his previously undisclosed private conversations about WikiLeaks with the FBI.

Interestingly, the Fox story relies on texts that Warner and Richard Burr jointly requested in June (targeting Waldman’s phone, not Warner’s, apparently), and then turned over to the committee in October. I look forward to seeing how the notoriously anti-leak Burr deals with the apparent leak of committee sensitive materials to the right wing press.

Even while the story links to texts from SSCI, it comes a week after a woman duped the famously paranoid Julian Assange into exchanging texts with her fake Sean Hannity account promising news on Mark Warner.

[Dell] Gilliam, a technical writer from Texas, was bored with the flu when she created @SeanHannity__ early Saturday morning. The Fox News host’s real account was temporarily deleted after cryptically tweeting the phrase “Form Submission 1649 | #Hannity” on Friday night. Twitter said the account had been “briefly compromised,” according to a statement provided to The Daily Beast, and was back up on Sunday morning.

[snip]

Just minutes after @SeanHannity disappeared, several accounts quickly sprung up posing as the real Hannity, shouting from Twitter exile. None were as successful as Gilliam’s @SeanHannity__ account, which has since amassed over 24,000 followers.

Gilliam then used her newfound prominence to direct message Assange as Hannity within hours.

“I can’t believe this is happening. I mean… I can. It’s crazy. Nothing can be put past people,” Gilliam, posing as Hannity, wrote to Assange. “I’m exhausted from the whole night. What about you, though? You doing ok?”

“I’m happy as long as there is a fight!” Assange responded.

Gilliam reassured Assange that she, or Hannity, was also “definitely up for a fight” and set up a call for 9:30 a.m. Eastern, about six hours later.

“You can send me messages on other channels,” said Assange, the second reference to “other channels” he made since their conversation began.

“Have some news about Warner.”

With that in mind, I want to look at the timing of some security issues last year.

While the texts turned over to Congress date to February 14, the conversation pertaining to Steele started around March 22. That puts it not long after news of a massive hack involving T-Mobile, first reported March 16.

An unusual amount of highly suspicious cellphone activity in the Washington, D.C., region is fueling concerns that a rogue entity is surveying the communications of numerous individuals, likely including U.S. government officials and foreign diplomats, according to documents viewed by the Washington Free Beacon and conversations with security insiders.

A large spike in suspicious activity on a major U.S. cellular carrier has raised red flags in the Department of Homeland Security and prompted concerns that cellphones in the region are being tracked. Such activity could allow pernicious actors to clone devices and other mobile equipment used by civilians and government insiders, according to information obtained by the Free Beacon.

It remains unclear who is behind the attacks, but the sophistication and amount of time indicates it could be a foreign nation, sources said.

I would hope to hell that former cell company mogul and current Ranking Member on the Senate Intelligence Committee running an important counterintelligence investigation Mark Warner would be aware of the security problems with mobile phones. But what do I know? [Update: Not much. Looking more closely it looks like he was using Signal.] In the last several months we’ve learned that FBI’s investigators discuss the even more sensitive aspects of the more important side of counterintelligence investigation on SMS texts on their Samsung cell phones.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But who knows what Waldman (who apparently chats a lot with spies, mobbed up Russian oligarchs, and — as Mike Pompeo deemed Wikileaks — non-state hostile intelligence services) knows about cell phone security?

In any case, the day before that was reported publicly, Ron Wyden and Ted Lieu sent a letter to John Kelly (who, as a reminder, in spite of or because he ran DHS for a while, had his own cell phone compromised), stating in part,

We are also concerned that the government has not adequately considered the counterintelligence threat posed by SS7-enabled surveillance.

[snip]

What resources has DHS allocated to identifying and addressing SS7-related threats? Are these resources sufficient to protect U.S. government officials and the private sector.

If the government started considering such issues in March, they might have gotten around to discovering what kinds of problems were created by the T-Mobile hack in June, when Warner and Burr moved to get the texts for SSCI.

In any case, at around that point in time, APT 28 (one of the entities blamed for hacking the DNC the previous year) started a phishing campaign targeting the Senate’s email server.

Beginning in June 2017, phishing sites were set up mimicking the ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) of the U.S. Senate. By looking at the digital fingerprints of these phishing sites and comparing them with a large data set that spans almost five years, we can uniquely relate them to a couple of Pawn Storm incidents in 2016 and 2017. The real ADFS server of the U.S. Senate is not reachable on the open internet, however phishing of users’ credentials on an ADFS server that is behind a firewall still makes sense. In case an actor already has a foothold in an organization after compromising one user account, credential phishing could help him get closer to high profile users of interest.

Reporting at the time suggested this was an effort in advance of the 2018 election (which aside from minimizing the damage Russia might do in the interim, ignores the fact that staffers are ostensibly prohibited from using Senate resources for election related activities). But it always seemed to me it would more profitably target policy.

Or, maybe the only reasonable work Congress is doing to investigate the Russians?

Whether there’s a connection between these two compromises last year or not, and Julian Assange, and this Mark Warner story, it’s clear that DC remains ill-prepared to address the counterintelligence problems they’re faced with.

The Nameless Non-Agents Arranging Rohrabacher’s Trump Meeting

Sean Hannnity, who himself met with Julian Assange early this year, then went on to champion the Seth Rich hoax, had Dana Rohrabacher on to push Rohrabacher’s efforts to broker a pardon for Assange in exchange for an alternative source for Wikileaks. When asked if he had a specific message for the president, Rohrabacher dodged, saying only, “We discussed what I would tell the president.”

But the funniest dodge came when Hannity asked Rohrabacher about meeting with the president. The congressman answered,

It is my understanding from other parties who are trying to arrange the rendezvous that a rendezvous with myself and the President is being arranged for me to give him the firsthand information from [Assange]

Not only do these other parties not have names, but ultimately, this meeting “is being arranged” like a loveless marriage.

You’d almost think Rohrabacher recognizes the legal problems here.

One wonders whether those nameless non-agents do?

Dana Rohrabacher Brokering Deal for Man Publishing a CIA Exploit Every Week

Yesterday, right wing hack Charles Johnson brokered a three hour meeting between Dana Rohrabacher and Julian Assange. At the meeting, Assange apparently explained his proof that Russia was not behind the hack of the DNC. In a statement, Rohrabacher promises to deliver what he learned directly to President Trump.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday told Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that Russia was not behind leaks of emails during last year’s presidential election campaign that damaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and exposed the inner workings of the Democratic National Committee.

The California congressman spent some three hours with the Australian-born fugitive, now living under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in the British capital.

Assange’s claim contradicts the widely accepted assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that the thousands of leaked emails, which indicated the Democratic National Committee rigged the nomination process against Sen. Bernie Sanders in favor of Clinton, were the result of hacking by the Russian government or persons connected to the Kremlin.

Assange, said Rohrabacher, “emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved in the hacking or disclosure of those emails.” Rohrabacher, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, is the only U.S. congressman to have visited the controversial figure.

The conversation ranged over many topics, said Rohrabacher, including the status of Wikileaks, which Assange maintains is vital to keeping Americans informed on matters hidden by their traditional media. The congressman plans to divulge more of what he found directly to President Trump.

I’m utterly fascinated that Assange has taken this step, and by the timing of it.

It comes not long after Rod Wheeler’s lawsuit alleging that Fox News and the White House worked together to invent a story that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks. Both that story and this one have been promoted aggressively by Sean Hannity.

It comes in the wake of the VIPS letter that — as I’ve begun to show — in no way proves what it claims to prove about the DNC hack.

It comes just after a very long profile by the New Yorker’s Raffi Khatchadourian, who has previously written more sympathetic pieces about Assange. I have a few quibbles with the logic behind a few of the arguments Khatchadourian makes, but he makes a case — doing analysis on what documents got released where that no one else has yet publicly done (and about which numerous people have made erroneous claims in the past) — that Assange’s claims he wasn’t working with Russia no longer hold up.

But his protestations that there were no connections between his publications and Russia were untenable.

[snip]

Whatever one thinks of Assange’s election disclosures, accepting his contention that they shared no ties with the two Russian fronts requires willful blindness. Guccifer 2.0’s handlers predicted the WikiLeaks D.N.C. release. They demonstrated inside knowledge that Assange was struggling to get it out on time. And they proved, incontrovertibly, that they had privileged access to D.N.C. documents that appeared nowhere else publicly, other than in WikiLeaks publications. The twenty thousand or so D.N.C. e-mails that WikiLeaks published were extracted from ten compromised e-mail accounts, and all but one of the people who used those accounts worked in just two departments: finance and strategic communications. (The single exception belonged to a researcher who worked extensively with communications.) All the D.N.C. documents that Guccifer 2.0 released appeared to come from those same two departments.

The Podesta e-mails only make the connections between WikiLeaks and Russia appear stronger. Nearly half of the first forty documents that Guccifer 2.0 published can be found as attachments among the Podesta e-mails that WikiLeaks later published.

The Assange-Rohrabacher meeting also follows a NYT story revealing that the author of a piece of malware named in the IC’s first Joint Analysis Report of the DNC hack, Profexor, has been cooperating with the FBI. The derivative reports on this have overstated the connection Profexor might have to the DNC hack (as opposed to APT 28, presumed to be associated with Russia’s military intelligence GRU).

A member of Ukraine’s Parliament with close ties to the security services, Anton Gerashchenko, said that the interaction was online or by phone and that the Ukrainian programmer had been paid to write customized malware without knowing its purpose, only later learning it was used in Russian hacking.

Mr. Gerashchenko described the author only in broad strokes, to protect his safety, as a young man from a provincial Ukrainian city. He confirmed that the author turned himself in to the police and was cooperating as a witness in the D.N.C. investigation. “He was a freelancer and now he is a valuable witness,” Mr. Gerashchenko said.

It is not clear whether the specific malware the programmer created was used to hack the D.N.C. servers, but it was identified in other Russian hacking efforts in the United States.

But Profexor presumably is describing to the FBI how he came to sell customized access to his tool to hackers working for Russia and who those hackers were.

In other words, this bid by Assange to send information to Trump via someone protected by the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause, but who is also suspected — even by his Republican colleagues! — of being on Russia’s payroll, comes at a very interesting time, as outlets present more evidence undermining Assange’s claims to have no tie to Russia.

Coming as it does as other evidence is coming to light, this effort is a bit of a Hail Mary by Assange: as soon as Trump publicizes his claims (which he’ll probably do during tomorrow’s shit-and-tweet) and they get publicly discredited, Assange (and Trump) will have little else to fall back on. They will have exposed their own claims, and provided the material others can use to attack Trump’s attempts to rebut the Russia hack claims. Perhaps Assange’s claims will be hard to rebut; but by making them public, finally, they will be revealed such that they can be rebutted.

I’m just as interested in the reporting on this, though, which was first pushed out through right wing outlets Daily Caller and John Solomon.

The story is presented exclusively in terms of Assange’s role in the DNC hack, which is admittedly the area where Assange’s interests and Trump’s coincide.

Yet not even the neutral LAT’s coverage of the meeting, which even quotes CIA Director and former Wikileaks fan Mike Pompeo,mentions the more immediate reason why Assange might need a deal from the United States. Virtually every week since March, Wikileaks has released a CIA exploit. While some of those exploits were interesting and the individual exploits are surely useful for security firms, at this point the Vault 7 project looks less like transparency and more like an organized effort to burn the CIA. Which makes it utterly remarkable a sitting member of Congress is going to go to the president to lobby him to make a deal with Assange, to say nothing of Assange’s argument that Wikileaks should get a White House press pass as part of the deal.

Dana Rohrabacher is perhaps even as we speak lobbying to help a guy who has published a CIA hack of the week. And that part of the meeting is barely getting notice.

Sean Hannity Cries Himself A River

There has been a lot of upheaval at Fox News lately. Gretchen Carlson went nuclear on Ailes and the misogynistic rapey culture that Fox cultivated over decades, and nothing has been the same there since.

That is a good thing. It may have been a limited, even if loud start, but Carlson initiated ripples in the Murdoch empire that could not be easily contained, even with the ample crisis suppression talents of hired liar Ted Wells and his firm, Paul Weiss. The once closed barn door was open, and all horses and carts were suddenly out.

The Murdoch cabal, give them an iota of credit, realized the situation….kind of, and cut bait with Ailes in record speed for a bigly man that supposedly was untouchable and was a bff of Trump.

Probably motivated by Rupert’s sons, James and Lachlan, but still correct, even if horribly behind the curve of human decency and sexual harassment law. But so much has happened since Gretchen Carlson cooked the supposed golden goose, Roger Ailes, that common lore held responsible for all the Fox News golden eggs.

Whatever the impetus, Roger Ailes was summarily dismissed when obviously necessary. The Murdochs and Fox News probably thought that might contain the exposure of their decades long belligerent misogyny. But, no, then came the claims against Bill O’Reilly. An odious asshole every bit as despicable as Ailes. And one known as exactly that since the Andrea Makris out of court settlement over O’Reilly’s loofah phone fetishes back in 2004.

Instead, Fox not only kept O’Reilly until they could no longer, they kept Ailes Number Two, Bill Schein and attendant protective underlings in place. Until they no longer could. That started today with Schein’s ouster. And Hannity is floating like an overboard deck chair in the seas away from the Titanic, away from the mothership. (Killer graphic by the one and only Darth – click to enlarge!). But the suddenly disposable Sean Hannity deck chair is drifting away from the ignorant and misogynistic shipwreck he helped perpetuate all these years.

In any normal corporation, especially such a public facing one like Fox News, they would have culled the problems out immediately after the Ailes embarrassment. But not Fox. Oh no. Instead, Fox and Fox News allowed O’Reilly and Sean Hannity to bellow with umbrage about the public admissions of their owners of misogyny and bigotry. Fox, as a company, had not learned their lesson going back to Andrea Makris in 2004, nor insured that their precious bought and paid for “talent” did.

But now the Murdoch sons, James and Lachlan, are protecting the family name by cleaning up their father’s idiocy at warp speed in a way that the gel headed sons in the Trump family can only dream of. Today, the Murdochs the younger have outed Bill Schein. Via Digby, a quote from Andrew Kirell at Daily Beast:

Sean Hannity is looking to leave Fox News, according to sources, following the resignation of Fox News co-president Bill Shine officially on Monday.

Schein was Hannity’s long-time ally whom he personally recommended the network hire two decades ago to produce Hannity & Colmes.

So, cry me a river Sean Hannity you stuporous dolt. In recent days, Hannity warned it would be the “total end” of Fox News should Shine leave, and he rallied conservative activists to back him up.

Initially, insiders said, Hannity’s army of lawyers had hoped to discuss with Fox ways of protecting his 8-year-old primetime show, amid fears that Lachlan and James Murdoch—fresh off the ousting of Bill O’Reilly—were looking to push the network away from hard-right politics.

Yeah, good riddance. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya, Sean. Go fuck yourself in hell.

[Okay, went with that version of Cry Me a River because it is sooo much better audio and video production wise than the one from Mad Dogs and Englishmen (with Leon Russell, of course) that I really envisioned.]