Friday, March 30, 2018
Thursday, March 29, 2018
This May Be The Best Single Paragraph Of Political Journalism Anyone Ever Wrote
I surely am not the only jounalist to wish Hunter S. Thompson was still alive to cover the Madness of King Donald.
Dr. Thompson was the progenitor of Gonzo journalism, typically first-person narratives written without even a veneer of objectivity, and most famously was the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Don't even think of seeing the movie starring Johnny Depp; read the damned book, okay?)
One of the doctor's lesser known works is Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail ’72, an evisceration of the political system that excreted a presidential campaign climaxing most definitely in the non-sexual sense with the spectacle of Richard Nixon clocking George McGovern to win reelection.
Dr. Thompson's description of McGovern's maneuverings at the Miami convention to deny Hubert Humphrey the Democratic nomination is priceless, and despite the author's disavowal of objectivity is first-rate journalism. The book also featured the debut of the first-generation fax machine, which the doctor dubbed "the mojo wire" and used to transmit his reliably indecipherable if brilliant prose to Rolling Stone magazine on -- and often after -- deadline.
I met Dr. Thompson twice, once in Aspen, Colorado in the summer of 1974 when he was running for Pitkin County sheriff on the Freak Ticket, and again a few years later in the Florida Keys. He had already proven himself to be incapable of sustaining his brilliance. Being a gun nut, drug abuser and consumer of massive quantities of hard liquor had pretty much put him on the suicide track, although it would be a fair number of years before he blew out what was left of his brains, appropriately at the height of the Bush years, in 2005.
Anyhow, I agree with the incomparable Charles Pierce of Esquire magazine that this excerpt from Campaign Trail '72 might be the best single paragraph of political journalism anyone ever wrote:
"This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say I — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. George McGovern, for all his mistakes . . . understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for. Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?"
Eerily prescient or what?
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Once A Bit Player, Many Russia Scandal Roads Now Seem To Lead To Rick Gates
|EVAN VUCCI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
Seeming bit players in the Russia scandal drama have had a way of becoming more important than the campaign coffee boy roles in which the White House portrays them when they become snared in Robert Mueller's net. In that respect and because of his Kremlin contacts, George Papadopoulos has gone from being a nobody to the somebody who jump started the very FBI investigation that preceded the special prosecutor's, while Rick Gates has gone from being Paul Manafort's lackey to a key player on whom many scandal roads seem to converge. And both, of course, are cooperating government witnesses.
Gates, long in the shadow of Manafort -- Trump campaign manager, shill for foreign dictators and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian political party, money launderer, all-around grifter and not cooperating witness -- was hiding in plain sight.
Once Gates agreed to cooperate with Mueller, Manafort was effectively doomed, and his former right-hand man will be the star witness against him at trial.
But as the trickle of connections between key scandal players and entities has become a veritable flood, alt-right guru Steve Bannon and the Cambridge Analytica mafiosi being prime examples, Gates has emerged as someone who may be able to speak authoritatively to Mueller not just about Manafort, but the inner workings and possible ties to Russia's cyberespionage of the 2016 election of the Trump campaign, inaugural organizing committee, presidential administration, wealthy influence-peddling donors and Republican National Committee (RNC).
Quite an armful for a mere coffee boy, wouldn't you say?
"I think he can fill in an awful lot of blanks," says John Dean, the former Richard Nixon White House counsel who flipped in 1973 to become a star prosecution witness against the president.
"He saw everything," says a Republican consultant who worked with Gates during the campaign. The consultant tells Politico that Gates is one of the "top five" insiders whom Mueller could have tapped into as a cooperating witness, and his plea has triggered palpable alarm in a White House where Trump is down to a single, ill-equipped lawyer to spare his neck from Mueller's ever tightening noose.
These connections have been made most thoroughly -- and perhaps over made in some instances -- by freelance journalist Seth Abramson in casting his beady investigator's eye on the Russia scandal roadmap.
Abramson's connections and those noted by others:
Gates was in the email loop with Papadopoulos in his efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.
As Trump's deputy campaign manager, Gates worked behind the scenes to run the campaign's outreach to the RNC.
Trump campaign aides used the RNC to facilitate Russia contacts and craft a convention platform friendly to Vladimir Putin.
After Manafort was fired as campaign manager, Gates was effectively running the campaign for several months.
Trump not only declined to fire Gates although he was as compromised as Manafort, he gave Gates a critical role as deputy manager.
Along with Manafort, Gates was in contact during the campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has Russian intelligence ties.
Gates worked with cooperating witness Michael Flynn and was seen at Trump Tower in the days before the election.
Gates was given another critical role in running day-to-day operations of the inaugural committee, which had numerous contacts with Russians.
Mega-donor Tom Barrack, who is close to Trump, hired Gates as an adviser and they visited Trump in the White House.
Gates was in contact with other elite campaign contributors who expected to use their access to a President Trump as a marketing tool.
Among those contributors is Elliott Broidy, who became RNC deputy finance manager and is an agent for a Kremlin-connected bank.
Broidy, a defense contractor, is in on a scheme to sell nuclear reactors to Middle Eastern countries built by Russia.
Russia is prevented from doing that because it would need U.S. technology unavailable because of Obama era economic sanctions.
The scandal is shot through with numerous efforts involving Gates, other Trump associates and Russians to get Trump to lift sanctions.
The Kilimnik link, reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, is the most pungent of Gate's possible connections because it draws the most direct line between the campaign and Russia's intelligence services.
Prosecutors made the allegation in a new court filing without naming Kilimnik, but there is no doubt that is the individual to whom they refer. Kilimnik was the longtime Russian manager of the Kiev office of the Manafort-Gates lobbying firm. In addition to the Gates contacts alluded to in the court filing, Manafort is known to have met with Kilimnik twice during the campaign, once in May 2016 and again in August 2016 about two weeks before he was forced out as Trump's campaign chairman because of bad publicity over his Russia ties.
During the August meeting, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed the ongoing campaign, including the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails which had been released by WikiLeaks in July and were widely suspected to be the work of Russia.
The new information concerning Gates came in a court filing related to the upcoming sentencing of London attorney Alex van der Zwaan, whose firm worked with Manafort when he served a political consultant in Ukraine. Van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of a prominent Russian-Ukrainian banker, pleaded guilty last month to lying about his contacts with Gates and Kilimnik.
Randall Eliason, a white-collar crime and constitutional law expert, writes in the WaPo that Trump, who has lost most of his lawyers, is in big trouble.
"What do you do if you want to gird for war but all of your potential generals are running from the battlefield?" Eliason asks. "That appears to be the situation right now with President Trump's legal team. And whether he realizes it or not, that is placing him in perhaps the greatest legal jeopardy of his presidency."
One and one does not necessarily add up to two in the labyrinthine world of the Russia scandal. It can add up to three, and Abramson and the media posse sometimes end up chasing their tails. Me, too.
But that world is nothing if not incestuous -- crooks flock together like birds of a feather, or something -- and Gates's connections are too key and too many to not take very seriously. Which Mueller most certainly does.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
(UPDATED) Shootout At The Not OK Corral: What Happens If Trump Fires Mueller?
I have long believed that Donald Trump would not fire Robert Mueller despite his on-again, off-again threats to do so because saner heads would warn him that the collateral damage would be great. But most of the saner heads have left the building, including much of his legal team, and the president's behavior has become so maniacal as he starts a trade war, threatens a hot war, undermines the FBI and reaches out to Fox News for fresh West Wing blood to suck on, that I am no longer so sure. Which begs a very big question: What happens to the special prosecutor's wide-ranging investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and the collusion of the Trump campaign and candidate himself if he gets the ax?
Here are some things to consider:
By law Trump cannot fire Mueller and it would fall to a Justice Department subaltern, so the question becomes who would pull the trigger?
A new acting attorney general is the best guess since AG Jeff Sessions has recused himself and, it is my belief, would resign if Mueller is summarily dismissed, as most certainly would Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the first place and has shown flashes of independence in defending the special prosecutor's work.
It would fall to the new AG to decide how vigorously -- or even whether -- to continue the Russia investigation, and whether to appoint a new special counsel. In any event, a Mueller successor would do Trump's bidding.
The Republican congressional majority will stay on the right side of Trump and the wrong side of history, so who will push back if Mueller goes?
You can't turn around in this mess without bumping into Watergate analogies, but 1974 was then and 2018 is now, and while Richard Nixon faced congressional fortitude and a public outcry, today most GOP congressfolk and many senators are abject cowards and Trump doesn't give a damn about what people beyond his base think.
Technically, congressional oversight (such as it is) related to the scandal would remain. State prosecutions, which are immune to Trump's near absolute right to pardon perps for federal crimes, would proceed.
But without the full force of a federal investigation, isn't it likely that all of Mueller's work -- including those 19 indictments -- will come to naught?
Hypothetically, yes. But there two very big wildcards, one of which is the 435 House seats being contested in the 2018 midterm elections. That will have a clarifying effect on some Republicans, who already are in an uphill fight to keep control of the House and would find it difficult to campaign on all of Trump's accomplishments (sic) when they are constantly on the defensive.
Democratic candidates, with the wind of public opinion at their backs, would have a potent weapon in crying obstruction, corruption and cover-up, further hurting GOP chances to hold onto the lower chamber.
The other wildcard is little talked about. Could Mueller seek a court injunction that would stop Trump in his tracks?
Yes, at least temporarily while a federal judge decides the issue on its merits, chief among them being whether granting the special prosecutor injunctive relief would serve the public interest. With the lower layers of the federal judiciary being friendly to Mueller, it is probable he would get relief, dragging the matter out as appeals are filed.
The public-interest argument is Mueller's hole card, and despite the conservative bent of the Supreme Court, there is a decent chance that the special prosecutor would prevail there.
Mueller might prevail there because the Supreme Court, despite a mixed record under Chief Justice John Roberts, has tended to uphold precedent and Trump's claim that Mueller is a rogue prosecutor won't float.
Still, there is a great deal of uncertainty about firing a special counsel for the simple reason it just doesn't come up very often. As in only once, when Nixon fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the 1974 Saturday Night Massacre.
But there are five certainties.
First, Trump has yet again been his own worst enemy in driving off his more competent defense attorneys by refusing to follow their advice and going on the attack against Mueller, while his solicitations to the best and brightest of the white-collar criminal bar to defend him are being rejected.
Second, no big law firm wants to represent a deadbeat like Trump for a reason that is not immediately obvious: Powerful female partners would strenuously object because of Trump's multiple extramarital affairs and sexual assaults and harassment.
Third, Mueller's 19 indictments and any others he may issue before he is fired aren't going to be wiped out. Neither are the plea deals he has extracted from Flynn, Gates and Papadopoulos. Yes, Trump can pardon, but Mueller's work product otherwise will survive.
Fourth, Mueller is a very smart dude, and there is no question he has conducted his investigation from the outset with the knowledge the president might force the Justice Department to fire him. Does he have some tricks up his prosecutorial sleeve? You bet he does.
Finally, no matter what happens at the Not OK Corral (how about Scott Pruitt for attorney general?), if Trump does fire Mueller, the political crisis the president unleashes will be uncontainable, and a depleted defense team comprised of people sympathetic to his worst instincts will only make matters worse.
Trump has met his match in Mueller.
Mueller is a Marine combat veteran who earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam while Trump repeatedly ducked the draft. Mueller has kept his head down and his opinions to himself during a long and distinguished career in service to America while Trump has been a loose and litigious cannon and everything is always about himself.
Trump got away with firing another senior law enforcement official -- FBI Director James Comey -- and while it might not happen overnight, firing Mueller "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency," in the words of the famously two-faced Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
But Graham is right. Because while Mueller's future may seem to be in Trump's small hands, his own future hinges on what he does.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline on the Russia scandal
and related developments.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
How Three . . . No, Four Women Have Made Donald Trump's Life 'A Living Hell'
|CBS NEWS-60 MINUTES VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
A porn star, Playboy playmate and reality TV show contestant have succeeded in doing what no one else has -- silencing Donald Trump -- to which we can add a fourth woman, the First Lady.
We know that because Trump, who spouts opinions about anything and everything, whether on Twitter or in off-the-cuff comments, has uncharacteristically lost his voice as he suffers through what one White House insider calls "a living hell." No liar! liar! schoolboy taunts or smarmy smackdown nicknames as Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and Summer Zervos have gone very public in suing for the right to tell their own stories.
And we know, based on accounts of the latter stages of Trump's presidential campaign after the Access Hollywood pussy-grabbing tape went viral, that accusations of sexual infidelities -- whether they be affairs in the cases of Daniels and McDougal or a sexual assault allegation in the case of Zervos -- prompted Trump to press staffers to refresh his memory. Did they occur in the early stage of his third marriage and birth of son Barron? Because if so, he was concerned about "pissing off Melania."
We can only guess what the First Lady's reaction was to Daniels' 60 Minutes TV interview on Sunday night, but being pissed off may be the least of it.
When the White House press corps has yelled questions at Trump about Daniels, he puts on a stone face. Publicly, the White House strategy has been to stress that it has previously addressed the matter and has nothing to add, and move on to the next question, although Trump has been anything but passive on the legal front.
USA Today found that Trump and his businesses have been in involved in more than 4,000 lawsuits over the last three decades in federal and state courts in skirmishing over everything from his golf courses to his tax bills to Trump University, and to fight Daniels, he has hired Charles Harder, known for representing Hulk Hogan in the sex-tape lawsuit that decimated Gawker, and Brent Blakely, who represented Paris Hilton in a trademark lawsuit against Hallmark.
They have filed a countersuit against Daniels over her nondisclosure agreement with Trump personal macho man lawyer Michael Cohen and her own lawsuit to get out of that agreement, which she amended on Monday to include an allegation that Cohen defamed her by insinuating that she lied about her affair with Trump. Cohen had paid Daniels $130,000 through a Delaware shell company two weeks days before the election, and he and Trump seek $20 million in damages, or $1 million per violation of the agreement. And counting.
If the hush money can be considered a direct campaign contribution, which many experts do, it blew out the $2,700 individual legal limit. The payment has become the subject of complaints to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission, while Cohen may end up losing his law license because of ethical lapses. (Recall that John Edwards was indicted for a not dissimilar situation.)
Trump has expressed concern to friends about how the Daniels scandal is affecting his poll numbers, while the president "said he thought that much of the Stormy Daniels stuff was a political hoax," according to friend and Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy.
Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti responded sarcastically on Twitter by comparing her claims to other "hoaxes" such as the moon landing.
In these three women, Trump has been confronted if not confounded by opponents who have figured out that the most effective way to deal with him is on his own terms -- they won't be intimidated into silence -- and so far Daniels and Avenatti have outmaneuvered Trump and Cohen on the legal and public relations fronts.
This invites the possibility that even more women will want to tell their stories under oath. And while not exactly a chapter in the evolving #MeToo movement, the scandal is taking on additional resonance because of it.
Let's put the White House insider's "living hell" comment in context.
Trump's anguish, if it is to be believed, is not over his serial adulteries or sexual assaults. His supporters could care less about his zipper problem. It is not guilt over using intimidation as a weapon. Or his elaborate system of paying off people to keep them quiet is collapsing. It is that Stormy, Karen and Summer are public reminders of his self unawareness and profound infatuation with himself, which always has been at the expense of the women he encounters, and in three instances has married.
Take his boundary-obliterating fascination with daughter Ivanka.
There was his infamous pre-presidential declaration on The View that were Ivanka not his child, "perhaps I'd be dating her." Or telling Rolling Stone that "Yeah, she's really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren't happily married and, ya know, her father. Hot, voluptuous, a great beauty [with] the best body." Or a line reportedly deleted from a Washington Post story: " 'Can I ask you something?' Trump asked someone I know, about his then-13-year-old kid, 'Is it wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife?' "
Trump's revolting commentaries about his daughter extended to comparing her to women who say they've slept with him.
"He was like, 'Wow, you– you are special. You remind me of my daughter.'" Daniels says during the 60 Minutes interview. "You know– he was like, 'You’re smart and beautiful, and a woman to be reckoned with, and I like you. I like you.' " McDougal has a similar recollection.
Alas, there has only been one true love in Trumps life. Himself.
For a president who measures the importance of every event by its television ratings, the 60 Minutes interview with Daniels must have been a blow because it drew 22 million viewers, its biggest audience in a decade. While there were few new revelations, the porn star did confirm that she and not Trump was the adult in the bedroom.
Daniels told CNN correspondent and 60 Minutes host Anderson Cooper that she was threatened in 2011 for attempting to tell her story publicly and accepted the $130,000 from Cohen to remain silent because she was scared for her family.
The incident occurred shortly after she first tried to sell her story to InTouch, a tabloid magazine, Daniels said. She was in a Las Vegas parking lot and was taking her infant daughter out of the car to go to a fitness class when someone approached her. (The magazine had initially decided not to run the interview with her after it said Cohen had threatened to sue, but finally published it after The Wall Street Journal reported on his payment in January and the hush agreement began unraveling.)
"I was taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the back seat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out. A guy walked up on me and said to me, 'Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,' " Daniels said. "And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, 'That’s a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom.' And then he was gone."
She said she didn't know the man and did not go to the police after the threat, but when, years later, a lawyer came to her with an offer brokered by Cohen in the final days of the presidential campaign, she took it because, "I was concerned for my family and their safety."
Daniels said she remained fearful over the years, and after The Journal reported on the payment, she signed what she now describes as a false statement denying the affair under pressure from her former lawyer and business manager. "They made it sound like I had no choice," she said. "The exact sentence used was, 'They can make your life hell in many different ways.' "
"They being . . . ," Cooper said.
"I'm not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen," Daniels replied.
(Cohen has denied threatening Daniels, but has a long history of using strong-arm tactics.)
McDougal sued last week to break free of a confidentiality agreement that was struck in the months before the election, for which she was paid $150,000 by David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer, who is a close friend of Trump and bought her story in order to not to publish it, but to bury it.
Both McDougal and Daniels say their relationships with Trump began in 2006 and ended in 2007.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Daniels described meeting Trump at his Lake Tahoe hotel room for dinner in 2006 during a celebrity golf tournament weekend. When she asked about Melania — to whom he had been married less than two years, and with whom he had a four-month-old son -- he did not want to talk about it, Daniels said.
"He brushed it aside and said, 'Oh yeah, yeah, you know, don't worry about that. We don't even — we have separate rooms and stuff.' "
They spent several hours together, and he told her that he wanted to get her onto The Apprentice, his reality television show, Daniels said. Then she went to the bathroom, and when she returned, Trump was sitting on the bed and he showed her a magazine cover featuring his photograph.
" 'Does this — does this normally work for you?' " she said she asked. "And he looked very taken — taken back, like, he didn't really understand what I was saying. Like, I was — does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?
"And I'll never forget the look on his face. He was like . . . "
"What — what was his look?" Cooper asked.
"Just, I don't think anyone's ever spoken to him like that, especially, you know, a young woman who looked like me. And I said, you know, 'Give me that,' and I just remember him going, 'You wouldn’t.'
" 'Hand it over.' And — so he did, and I was like, turn around, drop 'em."
"I was like,'‘Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it,' " Daniels said. "So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little — you know, had underwear on and stuff, and I just gave him a couple of swats."
"I realized exactly what I'd gotten myself into. And I was like, 'Ugh, here we go,' " she said, explaining that she was not attracted to the future president but had gotten herself into a "bad situation." She said she didn’t want to have sex with him but considered the intercourse consensual. It also was unprotected.
Trump called her frequently over the next year, and she saw him a few times, but they never again had sex, she said. He continued to say he wanted to get her a spot on The Apprentice.
In July 2007, about a year after they met, he asked her to meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel to discuss a development related to the show, she said.
They spent four hours together, with Trump touching her leg and talking about "how great it was the last time," Daniels said. When she asked about the development, he said he would let her know the following week, but then reneged on his promise.
Asked by Cooper why she was taking the legally risky route of sitting for a nationally televised interview, she said matter-of-factly, "I was perfectly fine saying nothing at all, but I'm not OK with being made out to be a liar."
The lawsuit Daniels filed to void the nondisclosure agreement, refers to "certain still images and/or text messages which were authored by or relate to" Trump, but it is unclear whether they exist.
"My attorney has recommended that I don't discuss those things," Daniels said.
In a separate interview, Cooper said to Avenatti, "You could just be bluffing."
"You should ask some of the other people in my career when they've bet on me bluffing," Avenatti replied.
Beyond Cooper going down in history as the first television anchor to interview a woman about what it was like to give a future president of the United States a spanking, the 60 Minutes interview was something of a national event with viewing parties and "Dark and Stormy" cocktail specials at bars.
Trump and his wife were 1,000 miles apart as Daniels told her story.
Shortly before the interview aired on Sunday, Trump flew back to Washington from a weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, where he had dined with Cohen on Saturday night. Melania refused to play the role of the dutiful wife at his beleaguered side and remained in Florida for what a White House spokeswoman euphemistically called a "spring break."
Friday, March 23, 2018
(UPDATED) How Cambridge Analytica Helped Trump Steal The 2016 Election
The jury finally came in this week on Cambridge Analytica, and it was guilty as charged: Grand theft on a mindboggling scale as it was revealed the psychometric warfare trailblazer had worked hand-in-glove with the Trump campaign to run a secret operation targeting unsuspecting voters. Only one piece of this desecration of the bedrock of American democracy now remains missing: To what extent did this tandem work with Russian trolls to steal the 2016 election and put Trump in the White House?
It was a marriage made in evildoer heaven. A sleazy company founded by alt-right hero Steve Bannon and bankrolled by a hedge-fund billionaire teamed with a campaign digital operation led by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, perhaps the dirtiest of the Trump insiders, and directed by computer guru Brad Parscale (photo, above).
Operating out of a modernistic building in San Antonio, the team may have worked with the hackers and Internet trolls who were the foot soldiers in Vladimir Putin's cyber war against Hillary Clinton, helping them pinpoint where to target Facebook ads and email bot barrages with fake news stories, as well as set up phony Facebook and Twitter accounts to further disseminate anti-Clinton propaganda.
Their primary targets were voters who were soft on Clinton and might vote for a third-party candidate. And in an especially devious move, blacks who had enthusiastically supported Barack Obama but might be discouraged to stay home.
These voters most notably were in three nominally blue swing states where the team found unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton. It was there that they unleashed fussilades of fake news and anti-Clinton hashtags that repeatedly linked back to DCLeaks, a website run by Russian intelligence that posted emails Russian hackers had stolen from the Clinton campaign.
These fake stories included Clinton's role in a pedophile ring being run out of a Washington pizzeria, that the Google search engine was suppressing anti-Clinton news, that Clinton and Barack Obama were founders of the Islamic State, and that Clinton would start World War III over Syria.
Blacks were targeted with so-called dark posts reminding them about Clinton's infamous 1990s comment about young blacks being "super predators," while blacks in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood were bombarded with messages linking the Clinton Foundation to post-earthquake problems in Haiti.
Because Russian hackers would not have known what voters to target in which states, there can be only one source for their cyber onslaught: The Cambridge Analytica-Trump campaign digital team alliance.
Trump was aware of the fake-news operation.
As the presidential race heated up over the summer of 2016 and polls showed Trump trailing Clinton, he shamelessly promoted several of the more explosive fake-news stories in sync with the hackers and trolls. These included the phony Google search engine, Clinton-Obama-ISIS and World War III stories.
A key -- if not the key -- to Trump's shocking victory may have been Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three nominally blue swing states where the team spotted unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton and inundated voters in targeted election districts with fake news.
Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million cast in those states and with them ceded 46 precious Electoral College votes to Trump. This gave him 34 more electoral votes than the 270 needed to be elected, although he fell nearly 3 million votes short in the popular vote.
Without the secret voter targeting, Clinton would have won the Electoral College outright by a 275-248 electoral vote margin presuming -- and it is a safe bet -- that a had mere 5,353 Trump voters in Michigan gone for her instead, as well as 22,147 in Pennsylvania and 11,375 in Wisconsin.
|CHANNEL 4 NEWS|
The shadowy world of Cambridge Analytica was blown wide open earlier this week when Britain's Channel 4 News aired an explosive exposé showing CEO Alexander Nix talking on hidden camera to someone he thought was a potential political client about entrapping opponents by sending "very beautiful Ukrainian girls" to their homes, offering bribes while secretly filming them and putting the footage online, as well as using fake IDs and bogus websites.
The blockbuster followed stories in The New York Times and The Observer of London on the unashamedly exploitive tactics of the high tech trickster.
Cambridge Analytica grew out of a meeting at the Manhattan apartment of Rebekah Mercer in the fall of 2013 in which her father Robert Mercer, like her a right-wing megadonor and with Bannon a co-founder of Breitbart News, funded its creation with $10 million. (Other reports say $15 million.) Also present were Bannon and political data expert Christopher Wylie.
Wylie has become a latter-day whistleblower because of feelings of guilt for having helped develop an advanced form of political targeting for people whose politics are the opposite of his own, something he calls "Steve Bannon's psychological warfare mindfuck tool"
That occurred in 2014 with the assistance of Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American professor at Cambridge University, who was hired by Cambridge Analytica for $800,000. Kogan then approached Facebook with the cover story that he was developing a personality quiz and an app called thisisyourdigitallife which was downloaded by a test population of 270,000 Facebook users.
In reality -- and in perhaps the greatest example of data rape to date -- Kogan and Cambridge Analytica vacuumed up the profiles of 50 million Facebook users and when belatedly discovered by Mark Zuckerberg's geniuses at Facebook lied about destroying the data.
(Parscale, meanwhile, was designing websites for Trump family interests, including the Trump Winery and Eric Trump Foundation. In 2015, he designed Trump's exploratory campaign website and then his official campaign website before Kushner designated him in 2016 to direct the campaign's digital operations.)
Later in 2014, Cambridge Analytica assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to Republican candidates in the 2014 midterm elections although one of the firm's attorneys warned that it was violating U.S. laws limiting foreign involvement in elections. Bannon. meanwhile, supervised tests of the potency of anti-establishment messages. They included "drain the swamp" and "deep state," which would become Trump mantras the following year after he announced his improbable candidacy.
The firm's mission, in the words of a former employee, became fighting "a culture war in America" by using psychological profiling to target voters with propaganda and win elections.
Cambridge Analytica's first big electoral success was working for Leave.EU, Nigel Farage's Brexit campaign group, which was the major force behind the historic June 2016 referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.
For the 2016 U.S. election, it eventually created about 30 million voter profiles out of a base of 230 million profiles.
Beginning in 2015, Cambridge Analytica worked for Ted Cruz, whom Bannon backed and Mercer supported with over $40 million in contributions in the Republican presidential primary race. Nix has boasted that its data -- ironically -- helped the Texas senator beat Trump in the Iowa primary.
When Trump became the nominee, Cambridge Analytica pitched its services to Parscale and on June 23, 2016 signed a contract under which it was to be paid $6 million by the Trump campaign to team with it. By that time, Bannon had become Trump's chief strategist, a role he reprised in the White House until he went rogue and lost the financial backing of Robert and Rebekah Mercer.
"We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in President-elect Donald Trump's extraordinary win," Nix chortled the day after the election.
Never one to miss an opportunity to dig a bigger hole for himself, Trump weighed into the controversy on Thursday, tweeting "Remember when they were saying, during the campaign, that Donald Trump is giving great speeches and drawing big crowds, but he is spending much less money and not using social media as well as Crooked Hillary's large and highly sophisticated staff? Well, not saying that anymore!"
|BRYAN BEDDER / GETTY-CONCORDIA SUMMIT|
The first part of the Channel 4 exposé has gotten all the attention because of Nix's seamy sales pitch, but there was a second part in which the Cambridge Analytica CEO says that he has met Trump "many times" and boasted about the firm's role in the election. One of those times might have been a secret meeting at Trump's golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland.
"We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting," Nix says. "We ran all the digital campaign, the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy."
Also caught on the Channel 4 undercover camera were Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica's political division, and Mark Taylor, the firm's chief data officer, both of whom appear to suggest that the firm coordinated its activities with outside political groups such as super PACs and used proxy organizations, which might be campaign finance law violations.
Turnbull explained that the firm "puts information into the bloodstream of the Internet" and then watches it spread. He claims credit for a notorious "Crooked Hillary" ad put out by a pro-Trump, Mercer-backed super PAC called Make America Number 1.
"We made hundreds of different kinds of creative, and we put it online," Turnbull says.
"Donald Trump lost the popular vote by three million votes, but won the Electoral College vote," says Taylor. "That's down to the data and the research. If you did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on Election Day, that's how he won the election."
Clinton herself is interviewed in the second part.
"The real question is how did the Russians know how to target their messages so precisely," she says. "If they were getting advice from, lets say Cambridge Analytica, or someone else, about, 'O.K., here are the 12 voters in this town in Wisconsin, that's whose Facebook pages you need to be on to send these messages' -- that indeed would be very disturbing."
The Russian connection is strengthened if not necessarily proven by Cambridge University prof Kogan, who before hiring himself out to Cambridge Analytica performed a research project for the Russian government. Cambridge Analytica itself gave a briefing on American elections to top executives of Russian oil giant Lukoil, many of whom have close ties to Putin. And whistleblower Wylie suspects -- although cannot prove -- that data collected and used by Cambridge Analytica may have fallen into Russian hands.
Then there is the indictment of 13 Russians and a St. Petersburg-based troll farm that targeted American voters with Facebook messages by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and intriguing but unconfirmed reports that Cambridge Analytica was sent data targeting and propaganda messages through SVB, one of two Russian banks that inexplicably were linked to a computer server in Trump Tower.
Cambridge Analytica's offerings were candy for other conservatives.
The super PAC run by John Bolton, Trump's replacement for the sacked H. R. McMaster and his third national security adviser in 14 months in office, was one of Cambridge Analytica's earliest customers and has paid it $1.1 million since 2014 for "research," according to the Center for Public Integrity's review of campaign finance records. That included developing psychological profiles of voters with data harvested from tens of millions of Facebook users, or "behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging," as one of Bolton's contracts with the firm puts it.
"The Bolton PAC was obsessed with how America was becoming limp wristed and spineless and it wanted research and messaging for national security issues," Wylie said. "That really meant making people more militaristic in their worldview. That's what they said they wanted, anyway."
It is possible that Cambridge Analytica's psychographic profile is overrated, and Parscale has slammed the firm on Twitter for taking credit for Trump's victory.
And while I personally believe that Facebook is a cancer and Zuckerberg's non-apology on Wednesday about protecting Facebook data was pathetic, some of the criticism pertaining to it does have the feel of blaming the messenger. After all, Clinton ran a lousy campaign while Trump's success has long been based on cheating. And while he cheated again in grabbing the biggest prize of all, a goodly number of the 62 million people who voted for him didn't have to be brainwashed, although many people in the news media seemed to be because of the slavish and uncritical coverage Trump received.
Cambridge Analytica's parent company -- defense contractor Strategic Communications Laboratories Group -- made its nut by selling disinformation campaigns that it boasts help foment coups. It is under scrutiny for its role in elections in Kenya and Nigeria and other nations we once called Third World countries, which it used as test beds because they lacked he legal ad technical infrastructure to fend off the strategies eventually employed in the U.K. and U.S.
SLC Group also has won contracts with the U.S. State Department and has tried to interest the Defense Department in buying its services.
"It's insane," Wylie said. "The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It's like Nixon on steroids."
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