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— Before November 2016 —
January 2016 and After: Former MSNBC Pundit Now Providing Pro-Trump Propaganda for Russia
Former radio host and MSNBC pundit Ed Schultz lands a new show on Russia's international propaganda network RT America.
When Schultz was on MSNBC, the self-described "prairie populist" routinely praised Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and lambasted Republicans. Donald Trump was a special target of Schultz's ire, being repeatedly labeled a "racist" by Schultz over his "birther" conspiracy promotion, and accusing Trump of "embarrassing himself" for considering a presidential run. Vladimir Putin was also mercilessly skewered, with Schultz mocking Republicans' "love affair" with the Russian autocrat. In 2013, he said, "They hate Obama so much they will even embrace the head of the KGB … 'Putie' is their new hero!" He repeatedly blasted Putin for his "nasty human rights record" and accused Putin of "crippling" Russia. Now, Schultz's shows contain markedly different content. Schultz no longer praises Democrats; instead, he discusses how the US is failing in the Middle East, how it wastes money on its "bloated" defense budget, and the futility of NATO. He no longer criticizes Putin. Even Trump gets better treatment: Schultz says Trump "has tapped into an anger among working people," is "talking about things the people care about," and "would easily be able to function" as president. Schultz, like other American hosts on Russian networks such as RT and Sputnik, are toeing the Kremlin line, providing their audiences with the propaganda the Kremlin has approved for dissemination. Politico writes in April 2016: "Tune in to Ed Schultz and his colleagues these days and you'll find a presidential race featuring Hillary Clinton as a malevolent warmonger, Bernie Sanders as an insurgent hero – and Donald Trump as a foreign policy savant." (Politico)
June 30, 2016: Fox News Pundit Says Putin Has to Release Clinton Emails
Referring to a Daily Caller story headlined, "State Department Won't Release Clinton Foundation Emails for 27 Months," Fox News pundit Monica Crowley posts on Twitter, "I guess Putin is going to have to do it."
Trump will choose Crowley to become his administration's deputy national security advisor for the National Security Council, but Crowley will withdraw her nomination after the press reports of her extensive plagiarism in her books and other published materials. (Monica Crowley, CNN)
August 24, 2016 and After: Media Reports Macedonian Pro-Trump, Fake News Sites Overwhelming US Social Media
Over 140 fake news sites are being run from a single small town in Macedonia, all dedicated to feeding Trump supporters false news stories, media sources report. Many of the stories are having a serious impact on US voters.
One such site is WorldPoliticus.com, which recently declared, "This is the news of the millennium!" The story cited unnamed FBI sources claiming that Hillary Clinton would be indicted shortly after the election for crimes related to her private email server. The headline: "Your Prayers Have Been Answered." The story is, of course, entirely false, but it generated over 140,000 shares, reactions and comments on Facebook. Buzzfeed says the small town of Veles (population 45,000) "has experienced a digital gold rush" after launching the sites. The domains sound American – WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com, among others. With very few exceptions, they publish aggressive, pro-Trump and anti-Clinton content aimed at American conservatives. One of the first fake news sites, Daily Interesting Things, posted a story in February 2016 about Trump slapping a man during a rally for disagreeing with him. The incident never happened, but the teenager who runs the site – who plagiarized it from an American right-wing blog – made over $150 from it in Google ad revenue. He quit high school and began running the site full time. Between August and November, the site owner earned some $16,000 from his two fake news sites; the average monthly income in Veles is $371. "We can't make money here with a real job," he tells a Wired News reporter. "This Google AdSense work is not a real job." The Macedonians running the sites say they have no real interest in American politics; the sites are simply to generate revenue. Some of them tell Buzzfeed that they quickly learned that to make money, they needed to generate Facebook views. And the best way to do that, Buzzfeed writes, "is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters." The Macedonian fake news sites are having a disproportionate effect on the US election. One college student in Veles who manages one of the sites says, "Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false, and misleading but the rationale is that 'if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then use it'." Some of the sites have associated Facebook pages with hundreds of thousands of followers. A 17-year old Veles webmaster who runs a site with four friends says: "I started the site for a easy way to make money. In Macedonia the economy is very weak and teenagers are not allowed to work, so we need to find creative ways to make some money. I'm a musician but I can't afford music gear. Here in Macedonia the revenue from a small site is enough to afford many things." After the election, a BBC reporter interviews a 19-year old site owner who tells the reporter while flashing an expensive designer watch: "The Americans loved our stories and we make money from them. Who cares if they are true or false?" Asked if he worries that his posts may have influenced the election, he laughs and responds: "Teenagers in our city don't care how Americans vote. They are only satisfied that they make money and can buy expensive clothes and drinks!" Many of the post are aggregated or entirely plagiarized from conspiracy-theory and right-wing sites in the US such as Breitbart and NationalReport.com. The standard procedure, according to Buzzfeed's sources, is for "[t]he Macedonians see a story elsewhere, write a sensationalized headline, and quickly post it to their site. Then they share it on Facebook to try and generate traffic. The more people who click through from Facebook, the more money they earn from ads on their website." They say they tried to do the same with pro-Sanders or left-leaning content, but made little money. "People in America prefer to read news about Trump," says the 16-year-old who operates BVANews.com. Another tells the Wired reporter: "Bernie Sanders supporters are among the smartest people I've seen. They don't believe anything. The post must have proof for them to believe it." The most successful post found by Buzzfeed was from ConservativeState.com that announced: ""Hillary Clinton In 2013: 'I Would Like To See People Like Donald Trump Run For Office; They’re Honest And Can’t Be Bought.'" The story, which is entirely false, comes from an American site, TheRightists.com, which freely admits it posts fake content. The story garnered nearly half a million responses on Facebook in a single week. Other fake stories that generated huge responses claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, and that Trump's running mate Mike Pence called Michelle Obama the "most vulgar first lady we've ever had." Now the market is becoming saturated, say the Veles webmasters, but even so, some site owners can earn $5,000 per month or even more. Some, like the teenager who runs BVANews.com, say they also have non-political sites that earn revenue. He says that he expects most of his ad revenues will drop after the election: "If Trump loses I plan to redirect my site to sports. It means that there will be no more politics [worth covering]." On November 24, Google suspends the ads from many of the sites, and the Veles webmasters turn their attention to other things. One teen tells the Wired reporter that during the time he was cranking out fake news stories, he cared nothing about the possible impact on the election. Now, he is not so sure. "Some crazy man has won the election," he says. "Maybe the guy will start World War III." He says he will not produce any more fake news, and says he is disenchanted with the entire thing: "The media is washing our brains, and the people are following like sheep." (Guardian, Buzzfeed, BBC, Wired News)
October 31, 2016 and After: New York Times Misleads Readers, Says FBI Finds No Links Between Russia and Trump
The New York Times indirectly defends the Trump campaign against allegations of collusion with Russia, claiming that the FBI, in its investigation of Russia's sabotage of the US presidential election, has found no indications whatsoever of financial connections between Trump or his advisors and Russian financial figures, no indications that Trump officials had any knowledge of Russia's hacking of Democratic compuer networks, and no indication of inappropriate connections between the Trump Organization and Russia's Alfa Bank.
The story may be an attempt to deflect the thrust of an October 31 article by David Corn about the Steele dossier. In January 2017, the Times will admit to having a copy of the same dossier. but not only did they fail to report on it, today's report actively contradicts the content of that dossier. Instead, the Times reports: "Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, FBI and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump." That conclusion is demonstrably false, and the information from the dossier flatly contradicts that conclusion. Instead, the Times report goes to great lengths to paint the issue as an attempt by the Clinton campaign to deflect false charges of her improper use of a private email server, a controversy recently reignited by FBI Director James Comey. (Comey made statements that led Republicans to falsely claim the FBI was reopening the Clinton investigation; Comey refused to confirm that the FBI is investigating Russia's election sabotage.) The article also falsely claims that the evidence showing Russia hacked Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's emails in an attempt to sway voters into supporting Trump is just sour grapes from the Clinton campaign. The Times report twists reality by claiming that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort has had no dealings of note with Russians or Russian sympathizers in his extensive involvement in Ukrainian affairs, as well as with other former Soviet client states, at least as far as the FBI has determined. In January, Times public editor Liz Spayd writes: "Conversations over what to publish were prolonged and lively, involving Washington and New York, and often including the executive editor, Dean Baquet. If the allegations were true, it was a huge story. If false, they could damage The Times 's reputation. With doubts about the material and with the FBI discouraging publication, editors decided to hold their fire. But was that the right decision? Was there a way to write about some of these allegations using sound journalistic principles but still surfacing the investigation and important leads? Eventually, The Times did just that, but only after other news outlets had gone first. I have spoken privately with several journalists involved in the reporting last fall, and I believe a strong case can be made that The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had." Spayd acknowledges that the Times knew the dossier was being taken very seriously by the FBI, and knew that the FBI's public refusal to acknowledge its investigation, and its public refusal to acknowledge the evidence showing Russia's intervention in the election was to improve Trump's chances of winning, were belied by the FBI's private actions. But, Spayd writes, Baquet made the final choice to withhold information from the public, and as of January 2017, he still stands by that choice. A former Washington reporter who writes under the moniker "Kat68" for the Daily Kos writes in January 2017: "In effect, the paper promising 'all the news that's fit to print,' the same newspaper that ran an entire front page on a bogus 're-investigation' of Clinton’s e-mails, opted to use its considerable influence to shut down any further investigation into Trump's ties to Putin. … So, basically, the NYT, in addition to the FBI, found Hillary's e-mails more of front page interest … and less a legal liability … than the explosive story of a Russian-owned President." (New York Times, New York Times, Daily Kos)
November 2, 2016: Fox News Groundlessly Asserts Clinton to be Indicted, WikiLeaks Documents at Heart of Indictment
Fox News anchor Bret Baier tells his listeners that according to two anonymous sources within the FBI, the agency is preparing a widespread indictment of Hillary Clinton over her alleged misdeeds in regards to the Clinton Foundation, and some of the evidence being compiled for that indictment has come from hacked files provided by WikiLeaks.
According to Baier, the "expansive" investigation has been going on for over a year; the FBI has found classified emails sent by Clinton from her "secret server" on former Congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop computer (Clinton aide Huma Abedin is Weiner's wife); that an indictment is going forward "barring some obstruction in some way" from the Justice Department, and there is a "99%" possibility Clinton's private server "was hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies, and that information have been taken from it." One of Baier's FBI sources tells him "there is an avalanche of new information coming every day," much of it from WikiLeaks. None of Baier's reporting is verified. Nothing will be made public, including the so-called "avalanche of new information" from WikiLeaks, and no indictments will be handed down. (Real Clear Politics)
November 4, 2016: Reporter Details How Russian Hacks against Democrats Work
Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald explains how deeply Russian hackers have penetrated US governmental and private computer networks, and how those hackers disseminate their information into America's political discourse. Russia has penetrated American computer networks far more extensively than has been publicly revealed, Eichenwald writes, "although most of it has been targeted either at government departments or nongovernment organizations connected to the Democratic Party."
The White House, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and particularly the State Department have all been extensively breached. Eichenwald notes that the State Department breaches began in 2014, a year after Hillary Clinton left the department, "which means that if she had used its unclassified email system rather than her private server – a decision that has dogged her throughout the campaign – any of her emails on the government system could have been obtained by Russian hackers." Nongovernmental organizations, mostly with ties to the Democratic Party, have also been breached. Clinton campaign computers, the Democratic National Committee computer network, and the Brooking Institution have all been targeted. When information is obtained that Moscow wants to use (and misuse) to influence American public opinion or government officials, the information is selected, curated, sometimes altered, and then disseminated through what intelligence experts call a "pipeline." The pipeline can involve multiple individuals who feed it to one another before it is finally made available to the public. Eichenwald writes, "[D]ocuments in the United States intended to disrupt the American election are distributed through WikiLeaks. However, there are so many layers of individuals between the hackers and that organization there is a strong possibility that WikiLeaks does not know with certainty the ultimate source of these records; throughout 2016, the site has been posting emails from various Democratic Party organizations that were originally obtained through Russian hacking." Once those documents and materials are disseminated, then an army of propagandists around the world begin promoting them on social media, in comments sections of news and other websites, Facebook, Reddit and other online locations, "hoping to generate negative news stories that undermine Democratic officials, particularly Clinton." (Newsweek)
November 6, 2016: Russian Propaganda Effective in Turning Voters Away from Clinton
Researchers have proven that Russian propaganda experts have successfully inundated American social media with false stories, fake user accounts, and other methods "to savage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and assist her perceived pro-Russian counterpart, Republican nominee Donald Trump," according to the Washington Post.
The methods include writing fake news stories and then using botnets and paid human "trolls" to spread them on Facebook, Twitter and other venues. Three of the most successful stories claimed that Clinton suffered from a debilitating and possibly fatal illness, that Clinton was owned by secret global financial interests, and that she was bent on starting a war with Russia. The experts, Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, and J.M. Berger, write: "During the Cold War, gray measures used semi-covert Communist parties, friendship societies, and non-governmental organizations to engage in party-to-party and people-to-people campaigns. Today, gray measures on social media include conspiracy websites, data dump websites, and seemingly credible news aggregators that amplify disinformation and misinformation." The experts point to an array of mostly right-wing propaganda sites such as InfoWars and ZeroHedge to begin spreading the propaganda, "along with a host of lesser-known sites that repeat and repackage the same basic content for both right- and left-wing consumers." The Russians target both left and right in their stories, sometimes posting the same stories on sites with different political orientations. Russian-controlled or -aligned data dump sites such as WikiLeaks and DC Leaks claim to be independently exposing corruption and promoting transparency when in reality they are working to spread Russian propaganda for purposes that align with Russian interests. Many of the propaganda sites may not know that they are participants in Russian agitprop, and have issued strong denials of being such. Some sites get financial support. Weisburd, Watts and Berger write: "Sincere conspiracy theorists can get vacuumed up into the social networks that promote this material. In at least one case, a site described by its creator as parody was thoroughly adopted by Russian influence operators online and turned into an unironic component of their promoted content stream, at least as far as the network’s targeted 'news' consumers are concerned." A nonpartisan research team, PropOrNot, has determined that such "fake news" propaganda reached some 15 million Americans during the course of the election, distributed knowingly or unknowingly by over 200 websites that consistently featured Russian-generated propaganda. The team's studies show that even serious efforts to debunk propaganda often fail: in one instance, the Daily Beast wrote a story debunking a propaganda piece that grossly exaggerated Clinton's pneumonia in September. The real story garnered about 1,700 Facebook users, but the propaganda story reached over 90,000 Facebook users and was viewed over 8 million times. Weisburd, Watts and Berger warn: "Trump isn't the end of Russia’s information war against America. They are just getting started." (Washington Post, War on the Rocks, Salon)
November 11, 2016: Trump Calls Bigoted Radio Host to Thank Him for Support
One of the first calls Donald Trump makes after winning the presidential election is to outspoken bigot and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, host of InfoWars and The Alex Jones Show. Jones later tells the New York Times that Trump thanks him for his support.
The Times notes that "Jones, who has been repeatedly denounced in the mainstream news media, will remain someone whose support Mr. Trump wants." Jones says, "He was just thanking me for fighting so hard for Americans, and for Americanism, and thanking my listeners and supporters and to let me know that he was working really hard around the clock" during the call. Jones says he advised Trump to keep his promises to "go after the corruption in the government, and at least remove a lot of the establishment." Trump transition team officials refuse to confirm or deny that the call took place. Trump has repeatedly given interviews to Jones both before and during the campaign. Aside from his open and virulent bigotry and misogyny, Jones is a leading proponent of the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a "false flag" hoax by the government, and has accused the government of manipulating the weather. Like Trump, Jones is a virulent opponent of immigration, and like Trump, he has been a vocal proponent of the roundly debunked "birther" theory regarding President Obama's citizenship. Trump advisor Roger Stone says of Jones, "I think he's emerged as the single most powerful voice on the right. … Elitists may laugh at his politics, [but] Alex Jones is reaching millions of people, and they are the foot soldiers in the Trump revolution." Jones says Trump intends to appear on his radio show in the next few weeks. Jones says that outside of his warnings about eliminating corruption in the government, he intends to press Trump to reopen the investigations into Hillary Clinton. (New York Times)
explains why a special prosecutor is needed to examine the Trump-Russia connections.
December 12, 2016: Former Intelligence Sources Dispute Hacking Claims
An article in the web-based Consortium News by the group "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" claims that no evidence exists of any attempts by Russia to either hack the Democratic Party or interfere with the election, calling the allegations "hysteria" based on "circumstantial evidence."
Members of the group include Larry Johnson, a CIA agent from 1985-1989 who has worked closely with the extremist group headed by Lyndon LaRouche and makes regular appearances on the Russian propaganda outlet RT. Johnson was a primary source for a recent article in the pro-Trump tabloid National Enquirer that falsely claimed to have proof former President Obama had wiretapped Trump before the election. Other members include former NSA official William Binney, former intelligence officer and another Enquirer source; US senator Mike Gravel; former Army and CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern, another regular guest on RT; former CIA official Elizabeth Murray; and former NSA analyst Kirk Wiebe. The article claims: "We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child's play to dismiss them." They produce no evidence that bolsters their dismissal of the claims of hacking, and rest their claims of "leaks" on the fact that the NSA has not publicly identified the hackers. "The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for US intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like 'our best guess' or 'our opinion' or 'our estimate' etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been 'hacked' cannot be traced across the network. Given NSA's extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked." The emails, they conclude, were leaked by someone inside the DNC or someone with access to NSA information. (Consortium News)
December 17, 2016: Far-Right Fake News Site Impacted Election, Report Says
The New York Times analyzes a far-right website, the Patriot News Agency, that suddenly appeared on the social media scene in July 2016, shortly after Donald Trump became the inevitable Republican presidential candidate.
While the site sported a patriotic logo and the motto "Built by patriots, for patriots," it was not operated by Americans, but instead by an extremist activist in Britain, James Dowson. Dowson has close ideological and financial ties to Russia. At the time of its launch, PNA featured a link to VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. Dowson himself is a far-right white nationalist who hates immigrants and has publicly called for Trump to move the US closer to Russia. The Times writes: "His dabbling in the American presidential election adds an ideological element that has been largely missing from the still-emerging landscape of websites and Facebook pages that bombarded American voters with misinformation and propaganda. Far from the much-reported Macedonian teenagers running fake news factories solely for profit, Mr. Dowson made it his mission, according to messages posted on one of his sites, to 'spread devastating anti-Clinton, pro-Trump memes and sound bites into sections of the population too disillusioned with politics to have taken any notice of conventional campaigning.'" Dowson created a huge number of fake news stories and memes, mostly denigrating Clinton, for his site, and pumped them into American social media via Facebook and other venues. He recently said: "Simple truth is that after 40 years of the right having no voice because the media was owned by the enemy, we were FORCED to become incredibly good at alternative media in a way the left simply can't grasp or handle. Bottom line is: BREXIT, TRUMP and much more to follow." The Times notes how influential fake news stories, such as the hoax that claimed Pope Francis endorsed Trump, were during the election and during the Brexit campaign in the UK. Dowson also circulated stories created by Russian propaganda sites, such as the anti-Clinton conspiracy site that labeled her a systematic murderer for political gain. Another site, Just Trump It, is a product of the International Russian Conservative Forum. Dowson spoke at one of that organization's annual meetings in St. Petersburg, where he derided President Obama and most American males as "feminized men," denied any connections to Russia, and accused criticis of trying to claim conservatives were Russian dupes. Alina Polyakova of the nonpartisan Atlantic Council says that the stories and memes from the far right "seep into the mainstream. They may have been extreme or fringe at one point in time, but they have been incredibly influential in shaping people's views about key geopolitical events in a very specific direction." Russia is very good at manipulating public opinion in the US and elsewhere through the use of social media-based propaganda, Polyakova says. In 2015, Dowson told the gathering in Russia: "We have the ability to take a video from today and put it in half of every single household in the United States of America, where these people can for the first time learn the truth, because their own media tell lies, they tell lies about Russia. We have to use popular culture to reach into the living rooms of the youth of America, of Britain, France, Germany, and bring them in. Then we can get them the message." (New York Times)
shows how prostitutes and hidden hotel cameras are part of Russia's methods to gain compromising information on foreign visitors.
— February 2017 —
February 14, 2017: Right-Wing Media Ignores Russia Connections, Focuses on Washington Leaks
Piggybacking on Donald Trump's tweets about illicit leaks from Washington about the issue of his administration's collusion with Russia, right-wing media outlets double down with outraged editorials and news stories filled with conspiracy theories and false "facts."
Breitbart News says it believes there may be "sleeper cells" in the White House left over from the Obama administration, apparently responsible for the leaks that Trump regularly decries, and Fox News says that Trump and the GOP are hunting for "moles" in the Executive Branch. Writing for Breitbart, Joe Pollock argues that the real worry in Washington is not the Flynn resignation or the larger issue of Trump-Russia collusion. Instead, "the more serious question is whether our nation's intelligence services were involved in what amounts to political espionage against the newly-elected government." Pollock goes so far as to speculate that the US sanctions against Russia were created by Obama "to expose which strings Russia might try to pull to relieve them. … Flynn, with a prior relationship with the Russian government, may have been a natural, innocuous point of contact." David French, writing for the National Review, accuses the purported leakers of "helping build and sustain an atmosphere of national anxiety and even (in some quarters) outright hysteria." French says they should either speak on the record or be quiet. (Guardian, Breitbart, Fox News, National Review)
looks at the ties between Trump, Putin and Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.
February 24, 2017: White House Recruits Congressmen, Intelligence Community Members to Counterattack Media Stories of Trump-Russia Connections
The White House has enlisted senior members of Congress and the intelligence committee to defend the administration, and attack the media, in an effort to counter media reports about Trump and his colleagues' ties to Russia, according to the Washington Post.
They made frequent phone calls to reporters last week in an orchestrated attempt to challenge those media reports. The Post reports, "The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia." The White House acknowledges asking FBI officials to speak out against the Trump-Russia reporting. The FBI refused to participate in the White House's plan. One of the most prominent officials to speak out, and one of the few who would publicly identify himself, is House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-NC). Nunes and the others derided the reports, but refused to answer substantive questions about the issue. The Post reports that it did not publish the information Nunes and others attempted to provide it. Another official who approached reporters on the White House's behalf was Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. White House press secretary Sean Spicer admits that administration officials successfully recruited those officials to speak out, but says the entire scheme was entirely proper: "When informed by the FBI that [the Russia-related reporting] was false, we told reporters who else they should contact to corroborate the FBI's version of the story," Spicer says. The FBI did not claim that the reports were false. The Post reports: "The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of US spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous." Burr admits to making off-the-record statements to reporters, saying that he "had conversations about" Russia-related news reports with the White House and engaged with news organizations to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged "repeated" or "constant" contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives. "I'’ve had those conversations," he says, and says the contacts were appropriate since "I felt I had something to share that didn't breach my responsibilities to the committee in an ongoing investigation." White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus caused controversy when he told a number of television news hosts that he had been authorized "by the top levels of the intelligence community" to denounce reports on Trump campaign contacts with Russia as false. Priebus called the reports "overstated" and "complete garbage." White House officials claim that Priebus's comments had been approved by FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) contacted CIA Director Mike Pompeo and his colleague Burr to express what he calls his "grave concerns about what this means for the independence" of the investigation. "I am consulting with members of the Intelligence Committee to determine an appropriate course of action so we can ensure that the American people get the thorough, impartial investigation that they deserve, free from White House interference," he says. Ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee says if the White House "contrived to have intelligence officials contradict unfavorable news reports, this represents a new and even more grave threat to the independence of the intelligence community." (Washington Post)
On February 24, press secretary Sean Spicer holds an off-camera press "gaggle" with what he calls an "expanded pool" of media organization – a pool that excludes representatives from CNN, the New York Times and others for what apparently is reporting that the White House finds unacceptable. On February 26, Isenstadt and Annie Karni publish a piece about Spicer's attempt to identify people on his staff who may be leaking to the press, writing in part: "Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room. Upon entering Spicer's office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as 'an emergency meeting,' staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a 'phone check,' to prove they had nothing to hide." The White House responds by calling a reporter for the Washington Examiner and falsely claiming that during his investigation for the Spicer report, Isenstadt laughed at the death of a Navy SEAL. (Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple notes that the headline of the Examiner piece reads, "Claim: Reporter laughs at Trump aide's emotion over SEAL death," and adds: "Note the wording – with its 'claim' construction, the Washington Examiner is placing no institutional credibility in the story that follows. Rather, it's signaling that it'll be carrying the water for a media-hating White House." Wemple calls the story "[s]cattered and poorly executed" in its attempt to twist ana anonymous claim by a White House official. As the Politico report reads: "Within the communications office, the mood has grown tense. During a recent staff meeting, Spicer harshly criticized some of the work deputy communications director Jessica Ditto had done, causing her to cry, according to two people familiar with the incident." Spicer denied making Ditto cry; the Examiner reports: "'The only time Jessica recalls almost getting emotional is when we had to relay the information on the death of Chief Ryan Owens,' Spicer said, referring to the Navy SEAL killed recently in action in Yemen." According to the source, Isenstadt "laughed inappropriately" while discussing Ditto's reaction. Politico spokesman Brad Dayspring defends Isenstadt from the accusation, and Politico editor Carrie Budoff Brown calls the report a "false story" about Isenstadt. Wemple concludes, "Since Spicer apparently has a thing for investigating leaks, however, we call upon him to investigate this one." (Washington Post, Raw Story, Politico via Internet Archive)
February 24, 2017: White House Bans News Outlets Reporting on Russia-Trump Connections from Press Events
The White House is banning several news outlets from press functions. Fortune's David Z. Morris writes: "The barred outlets have uniformly been key players in investigating ties between the Trump administration and Russian leadership, or in framing the issue as dire for the administration's legitimacy."
The outlets excluded from the latest press function, an off-camera press "gaggle," are CNN, Buzzfeed, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Hill, the Daily Mail, the BBC, and the New York Times. Reporters call the mass banning "unprecedented." CNN was among the first press outlets to report on the Steele dossier, and Buzzfeed was the first to publish the dossier in full. CNN reported that US intelligence had verified some material from the document. Britain's Guardian has called the Russia issue a "crisis of legitimacy" for Trump, and has recently called the press bans another attempt by the White House to distract from the latest Russia-Trump news revelations. The BBC called the Russia-Trump issue the "one controversy [that] has clung to the Trump train like glue." Politico recently reported on possible blackmail attempts against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, stemming from his ties to a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. The Washington Post did not have a reporter at the latest event, but, Morris writes, "they might not have been welcome anyway," as the Post has been prominent in its Russia-Trump coverage. Instead of the mainstream media outlets banned from the events, right-wing conspiracy outlets such as Breitbart News, the Washington Times, and One America News Network have been asked to take their places. One America recently posted the lie that Ukraine's Crimea "has always been part of Russia," and opined that "there is no reason for there to be a bad relationship between the United States and Russia." At least two news outlets, Time and the Associated Press refused to attend because other outlets had been blocked. (Fortune)
February 26, 2017: NBC Host: When Russia-Trump News Breaks, Trump Attacks News Media
NBC host Chuck Todd says on the Sunday news talk show "Meet the Press" that when news stories break concerning Trump and his officials' ties to Russia, "press bashing, which is always part of the president's arsenal, seems to escalate."
Todd goes on: "It's a tactic with a pattern. The president's attacks on the media repeatedly have directly followed reporting on Russia. On January 5th, NBC News reported on the intelligence community's report on Russian influence in the election. On January 6th, President-elect Trump tweeted, 'I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.' On February 13th, 14th, and 15th, news outlets reported on Mr. Trump's ties to Russia. On February 16th, President Trump spent much of a 77-minute news conference attacking the press." During that conference, Trump declared any Russia-Trump reporting "fake news" and claimed the leaks of "classified information" were the only real story. When the press reported that the White House had recruited the FBI and Republican lawmakers to attack the media over a recent Russia-Trump revelation, Trump again attacked the press, saying: "I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake." (Media Matters)
Copyright laws preclude this site reproducing those charts. The charts show how Trump is tied to Vladimir Putin through a number of administration and political colleagues, including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, and Michael Flynn; business colleagues such as Felix Sater, Sergei Millian, Dmitri Firtash, and Fedor Emelianenko; and members of his own family. (Newsweek)
March 6, 2017: Russian-American Activist Calls Trump-Russia Connections "Conspiracy Theory"
Russian-American author and activist Masha Gessen, an outspoken critic of both Putin and Trump, writes a lengthy column for the New York Review of Books attempting to debunk the "conspiracy theory" that Russia attempted to undermine the US presidential election.
"Russia has served as a crutch for the American imagination," Gessen writes. "It is used to explain how Trump could have happened to us, and it is also called upon to give us hope. When the Russian conspiracy behind Trump is finally fully exposed, our national nightmare will be over." She dismisses the reams of evidence that has been collected by journalists, intelligence agencies and interested citizens, and says that Democrats are using the theory to conceal their own failure to mount a stronger, more populist presidential candidate. Nothing that any intelligence source says can be trusted, she writes, and indeed, none of that information should even be considered. "Given that the story has been driven by the intelligence community and the media, it is perhaps unsurprising that each subsequent revelation creates the sense of pieces falling into place," she writes. "It builds like an old-fashioned television series, dispensed in weekly episodes with no binge-watching allowed. What remains from the earliest installments is not so much information as mood." Actual evidence of collusion with the Russian agenda such as the Trump campaign's insistence that the GOP platform soften its stance on Ukraine, she says, are far less meaningful than they might appear. The numerous meetings with Russian officials by members of the Trump campaign and, later, the Trump administration, were overblown by the media. She calls the December 2016 report confirming Russian interference in the campaign "laughable and "an an exercise in conspiracy thinking," though she cites no reasons why the report should be dismissed. Even the hacks against the Democratic Party are largely irrelevant, she writes, because, she claims, the entire Russian cyberstrategy towards its opponents has been "a colossal waste of money and human resources …" "The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him," Gessen writes. "If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community – setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome." More likely, Trump will survive the attempts to connect him to Russia. She predicts as time goes on, Trump will appoint more and more anti-Russian hardliners to his administration, and he will end up mounting what she will consider to be a somewhat satisfactory opposition to the Putin regime. (New York Review of Books, University of North Carolina)
March 7, 2017: Kremlin Withdrawing Media Support for Trump
Vanity Fair columnist Peter Savodnik writes that in recent weeks, the Kremlin has precipitously scaled back its once-effusive praise for Donald Trump. Until recently, Kremlin pronouncements have lauded Trump's wealth, his business acumen, his supposed toughness, and his affinity for Vladimir Putin.
"The same things that titillated Trump's base titillated producers and pundits in Moscow: the manliness, the bravado, the unflinching, unthinking patriotism, the faith in all things phallic," Savodnik writes. "[T]o the Russian media, Trump was a known quantity, and he was portrayed the same way Russian leaders are often portrayed: of noble heart, surrounded by lackeys and opportunists." In part, the lavish praise heaped upon Trump by the Kremlin and its puppets in the Russian media is because the Kremlin anticipated that the newly ensconsced Trump administration would quickly end the US sanctions imposed on Russia and recognize Russia as something of an ally and an equal on the geopolitical stage. (In June, the press will learn that the Trump White House tried and failed to secretly end US sanctions.) "The new president could give the Russians what they really craved, which no one else could deliver no matter how much they tried, which was respect," Savodnik writes. In early February, the praise for Trump in the Russian media began to diminish, and careful criticism began to be seen in the headlines. The Moscow tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda called Trump's position on NATO – an organization which he derided and insulted during the campaign, to the glee of the Kremlin – "contradictory. Russia's Interfax quoted a leading Russian think-tank as saying "mutual trust" between Russia and the United States had been "completely lost." Duma deputy Alexey Pushkov, a Putin crony, wrote on Twitter, "It looks like Trump didn't expect such a powerful opposition to his decisions and plans." Now Russian news organs such as RIA Novosti portray Trump as beleagured by his political enemies, implying weakness on Trump's part. And lasts week, former Putin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying that the Russian media had been "overly optimistic" about Trump, and has now assumed a more "pragmatic" approach. Savodnik notes that of course, press coverage is tightly managed by the Kremlin. It isn't certain why Putin and his officials decided to change course regarding Trump, but it is likely, Savodnik writes, that they are in part worried about some of the recent events in the administration. Defense Secretary James Mattis is hostile towards Russia, while Trump ally Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, has been marginalized. One of the Kremlin's best friends in the administration, Michael Flynn, was recently fired, replaced by another anti-Russia official, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. New CIA director Mike Pompeo lambasted Russia in his confirmation hearings. And another potential ally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recently recused himself from any investigation into Russia-Trump ties. The Russians, Savodnik writes, may be learning what some American conservatives have already learned: Trump is the herald of something dark and terrible happening in America, something that "will spill over, across the oceans and continents, and it will upset, upend, discombobulate everything everywhere. An infant is now the most powerful person on Earth, and he is loved and worshipped by millions, and they think he will save them, that he is He, that the end is near, and so is the beginning. Until a few minutes ago, the Kremlin higher-ups were laughing. Now, like everyone else who hasn't been swindled, they wait." (Vanity Fair)
examines the new facts that show the infamous Trump-Russia dossier may be more factual than was first assumed.
March 7-9, 2017: Fox News, Limbaugh, Others Promote False Conspiracy Theory that CIA, Not Russia, Hacked DNC
A thoroughly false and groundless conspiracy theory alleging that the CIA, and not Russia, hacked the DNC makes it to Fox News within 48 hours of its appearance online. Fox News host Sean Hannity proclaims the theory on his weeknight show.
The theory's genesis is in a WikiLeaks dump of documents, which the organization calls "Vault 7," purporting to be classified CIA materials describing the agency's extensive cybersecurity and hacking capabilities. WikiLeaks first promoted the theory on its Twitter account, saying that the CIA could, if it desired, hack computers and leave behind false evidence that would lead security specialists to believe others performed the hacks. Within minutes, conservatives on Twitter begin swapping conspiracy theories that "prove" the CIA hacked the DNC and released the private emails obtained from Democratic Party computers. The Russians were obviously "framed," as some Twitter users declare. The online news and opinion outlet The Intercept quickly released a report that shows the CIA program, named UMBRAGE, is primarily a tool used for writing code, and does not contain any abilities to create a "false flag" operation. The conspiracy ignores that report and presses on, gathering in prominent social media supporters of Trump, including radio host Bill Mitchell and pundit Ann Coulter. Mitchell posts: "Russia said they hacked nothing. Assange said Russia didn't provide the emails. Now we learn CIA can make a hack 'look' like Russia." Coulter posts: "Wikileaks docs show CIA hacking can leave Russian fingerprints. Say … you'd don't think …" Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh spreads the rumor on his show, using it to further his claim that neither Trump nor his campaign have any connections to Russia, and saying: "The CIA has the ability to hack anybody they want and make it look like the Russians are doing it or make it look like the ChiComs are doing it or make it look like the Israelis are doing it. … They have the ability to mask and mock various other state actors and make it look like – so I think because of everything that we're learning here, the danger that Donald Trump has faced ever since he won the election is greater than we've ever known. And it is obvious to me that this whole business – well, I say obvious, I'm leaning toward being near certain that this entire pretext of Trump working with the Russians to affect the outcome of the election, folks, it is so ridiculous." Russian propaganda sites like Sputnik quickly pick up and promote the conspiracy, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says his country did not get involved in the US election, noting that "the CIA could get access to such 'fingerprints' and then use them." Hannity leaps into the issue, promoting it on both his radio show and then on Twitter. He tells his radio audience: "The CIA, according to these WikiLeaks leaks, uses stolen malware to attribute cyberattacks to nations like Russia. In other words, what they're saying is the CIA can actually blame Russia for an attack on an American, because they'll put their fingerprints all over the attack. Meanwhile it came from within. … Well, did that happen in this case or do you think Hannity's really paranoid right now, losing his you-know-what? Maybe I'm not so paranoid." That evening, Hannity ignored Fox News's own reporting that Russia hacked the DNC and aired the conspiracy on his evening show, citing a report from Breitbart News as "proof." His guests, including former NSA official William Binney, agree. Former Army Colonel Anthony Schaffer, a torture advocate and long-time conspiracist, goes further, claiming that he has unnamed sources who have described the details of how it was done to it: "Sean, we did it. Not me, but our guys, former members of NSA, retired intelligence officers used these tools to break in there and get the information out. That's what the Democrats don't want to talk about because it doesn't fit their narrative," Schaffer claims. He admits he has no proof of his claim. Mitchell continues to back the groundless theory, and Hannity mocks Twitter users who call him a conspiracy theorist. Errata Security CEO Robert Graham says the WikiLeaks theory is nonsense: "Elsewhere they talk about obscuring attacks so you can't see where it's coming from, but there's no concrete plan to do a false flag operation. They're not trying to say 'We're going to make this look like Russia.'" In February, Hannity used a conspiracy theory promoted by far-right conspiracy blog Gateway Pundit to accuse Senator John McCain (R-AZ) of taking campaign donations from Russians. The story, which claimed "Reddit users" as its source, had been debunked in July 2016. Hannity apologized to McCain. (Business Insider, Think Progress, The Intercept)
Boot notes that Donald Trump has unleashed another barrage of Twitter-based attacks on, among other targets, the New York Times, former President Obama, and actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but has said nothing about WikiLeaks's recent release of potentially damaging information about the CIA's classified cybersecurity tools. Boot asks: "Did the president not notice that the intelligence community he commands has just suffered a devastating breach of security? Or did he simply not feel compelled to comment? Actually there is a third, even more discomfiting, possibility: Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks' latest revelations." Boot references Trump's recent "wild-eyed accusations" that Obama had ordered the intelligence community to spy on him, and has ignored rebuttals from both the FBI and the former Director of National Intelligence to keep insisting that his "irresponsible allegation" is real. Boot then observes: "Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks dumped a massive database pertaining to CIA hacking and wiretapping just three days after Trump made wiretapping a major political issue? Perhaps so. But there is cause for suspicion." It is well known that Trump considers the US intelligence community to be his enemies, and supporters of his political rival Hillary Clinton, Boot writes. Now WikiLeaks has released a spate of information about the CIA that right-wing news outlets like Breitbart are trumpting as "proof" that the CIA, and not Russia, could have hacked the DNC emails. Boot writes that after the intelligence community found that Putin helped Trump win the election, Trump launched a full-scale "vendetta against it." Trump falsely accused the intelligence community of being behind the leak of the Steele dossier. Trump, Boot writes, consistently portrays himself as an innocent victim of a dark, complex "deep state" conspiracy to undermine and negate him. Now, in Trump's conspiracy world, he is "a victim of a 'false flag' operation wherein CIA hackers broke into the DNC and blamed the Russians." Boot reminds the reader that Trump has embraced a number of similarly "nutty" conspiracy theories, such as the 9/11 "truther" assertions, the "false flag" Sandy Hook stories, and Trump's own insistence that Obama is not an American. Boot writes, "Other WikiLeaks revelations – for instance, that the CIA can use Samsung smart TVs as listening devices – lend further credence to Trump’s charge that he was secretly wiretapped." The WikiLeaks information dump about the CIA also deflected media attention from Attorney General Jeff Sessons's decision to recuse himself from any further "Kremlingate" investigations, as Boot labels it. "Last week it was Trump on the defensive. Now it's his nemeses in the US intelligence community who are answering embarrassing questions about how this leak could have occurred and the contents of the leaked information." Boot concludes that no solid evidence of Trump's collusion with WikiLeaks exists, but he notes that the history of WikiLeaks's collusion with Russia is well known, and that the agendas of both the White House and the Kremlin are quite similar. "Both Putin and Trump want to discredit the US intelligence community because they see it as an obstacle to their power." (Foreign Policy)
March 9, 2017: NY Times Op-Ed Wants "Dots" "Connected" in Trump-Russia Speculation
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes an op-ed laying out the "dots" that need to be connected in order to prove the suspicions swirling around the globe that Donald Trump and his aides colluded with Russia to sabotage the US election.
He notes, "There are a lot of dots here, and the challenge is how to connect them. Be careful: Democrats should avoid descending into the kind of conspiratorial mind-set that led some Republicans to assume Hillary Clinton was a criminal about to be indicted or to conjure sex slaves belonging to her in a Washington pizza restaurant. Coincidences happen, and I think there has been too much focus on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, not enough on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager." He then lists "10 crucial dots." To begin, Trump and his officials "have repeatedly and falsely denied ties to Russia, as many as twenty times. So far, at least six high-level Trump officials have had contact with senior Russian officials. There seems to be no obvious reason for the contacts. When Vice President Pence was asked about contacts between Trump campaign aides and Kremlin officials, he answered: "Of course not. Why would there be?" But reasons for those contacts do exist. Kristof wants more examination into the "unexplained communcations between a Trump Organization computer server and Russia's Alfa Bank, which has ties to President Vladimir Putin." So far, no explanation, innocent or otherwise, for those communications exists. Questions remain about the "repeated" and "constant" contacts between Trump officials and Russian intelligence, as reported by several American media outlets, as do questions about what Kristof describes as the "intercepts of communications involving Russian officials, and by the British and Dutch governments monitoring meetings in Europe between Russians and members of the Trump team." Obviously, more information is needed about the now-infamous Trump-Russia dossier that allege Russia has compromising information about Trump from 2013, and that Trump officials colluded with the Kremlin to throw the election. A Russian source is quoted in the dossier as saying that a deal had been arranged "with the full knowledge and support of Trump" and that in exchange for Russian help, "the Trump team agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue." Another obvious avenue of further exploration is Trump's "bewilderingly benign view of Russia" and the number of Russian-friendly officials he has appointed to his cabinet and to other high positions. Trump aide and informal advisor Roger Stone appeared to have had advance knowledge of the WikiLeaks disclosures of Clinton campaign emails. Kristof would like less attention focused on Sessions, and more on former campaign manager Manafort, "whom investigators have focused on because of his longstanding ties to Russia." Kristof wants a thorough examination of Trump's financial ties to Russia, beginning with Trump's tax returns. His final point: "Even many Republicans acknowledge, as President George W. Bush put it, 'We all need answers.' The House and Senate Intelligence Committees mostly operate behind closed doors, while we yearn for transparency. What is desperately needed is an independent inquiry modeled on the 9/11 Commission." He concludes that he believes no evidence exists of "a clear-cut quid pro quo between Trump and Putin to cooperate in stealing the election, but rather something more ambiguous and less transactional – partly because Putin intended to wound Clinton and didn't imagine that Trump could actually win. Yet I wouldn't be surprised if the Trump team engaged in secret contacts and surreptitious messages, and had advance knowledge of Russia's efforts to attack the American political process. And that would be a momentous scandal." Kristof cites "Trump's furious denunciations of the press and of Barack Obama, to the point that he sometimes seems unhinged" as circumstantial evidence that the investigations will turn up something telling: "Journalists have learned that when a leader goes berserk and unleashes tirades and threats at investigators, that's when you’re getting close." Law professor Ryan Goodman of Just Security writes what he calls "a supplement" to Kristof's editorial. He generally agrees, with some caveats, and also agrees with Kristof's call for an independent inquiry. Goodman notes that while Trump has appointed a large number of top officials friendly with Russia, he has appointed some who do not, from Pence to Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA head Mike Pompeo, Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland, and others. "Those dots do not neatly align with the others," Goodman writes. "It requires, at least, a more complicated explanation." He gives a general warning not to ignore information that does not fit into a given theory, citing a Times story showing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has deep ties to Russian oligarchs, may not be as friendly to Russian interests as it might appear. He also warns that as of yet, no hard evidence of collusion between Trump's team and Russia actually exists. On the other hand, Goodman says Kristof underestimates the overlapping interests between Trump and Putin. He believes there was exactly "a clear-cut quid pro quo" between Trump and Putin. Putin and his top officials clearly preferred Trump as president over Clinton; indeed, one of the goals of the Russian campaign was the defeat of Clinton. Goodman also believes that the two shared another goal: "undermining confidence in the election process as a whole." Putin wanted to sow doubt among the American electorate about the integrity of the election process, and that coincided perfectly with Trump repeatedly insisting that the election was "rigged," and his refusal to say he would accept the results if he lost. "There was a stage in which Mr. Trump thought he might win," Goodman writes, "and there were long stretches in which he seemed dead set on undermining the public confidence in the election results." Any investigation of the Trump-Russia connection may be hampererd by the fact that the FBI and the Justice Department did not fully engage in the current investigation until the Trump team took control of the White House. Goodman notes that Kristof does not discuss the repeated acknowledgements by Russian officials that they had indeed talked to Trump officials during the campaign. Kristof also skates over the Trump campaign's insistence to tone down the Republican convention platform's position on the Russian occupation of Crimea. Goodman concludes that "we should not be looking for a specific smoking gun, and that the quid pro quo transaction between Trump's circle and Russia was largely conducted out in the open. Both sides knew what the other wanted and, to some extent, what each side was capable of, and engaged in efforts to help one another. Kristof might not disagree with this point, but we should not lose sight of it as congressional and media inquires continue to focus, in more granular detail, on all the available dots." (New York Times, Just Security)
examines the signs that Russia has an undue influence in the Trump administration.
March 10, 2017: Rachel Maddow on MSNBC
explores the connections between Trump, Michael Flynn and Russia.
March 10, 2017: Rachel Maddow on MSNBC
says Pence's explanation of the Flynn resignation is impossible to believe.
March 12, 2017: Fox News Potential Beneficiary of Bharara Firing
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the firing of US Attorney Preet Bharara may be Fox News, which in recent months has been pushed by its owner Rupert Murdoch to become much more openly Trump-friendly.
Murdoch has always "used his media properties to advance the prospects of politicians whose policies help his business interests," according to New York Magazine journalist Gabriel Sherman. Murdoch bypassed other choices to install a loudly pro-Trump anchor, Tucker Carlson, to replace Megyn Kelly as the 9pm weeknight news host. And some Fox News staffers are privately complaining that segments now have to fit a "pro-Trump" narrative. In return, Trump has lavished Twitter praise on Fox News, and has asked Murdoch to submit names for the new FCC commissioner. But the firing of Bharara may provide even more benefits for Murdoch. Bharara's Southern District of New York office is in the middle of a large-scale investigation of Fox News, including, Sherman writes, "whether Fox News executives broke laws by allegedly obtaining journalists’ phone records or committed mail and wire fraud by hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment." Some witnesses have been offered immunity to testify before a federal grand jury. It is likely that Trump fired Bharara in part to hobble the investigation, speculation that gained ground when Trump abruptly fired Bharara and demanded the resignation of 45 other US Attorneys less than a day after Fox host Sean Hannity demanded that Trump "purge" the Justice Department of Obama appointees. Fox News consider the investigation "political" because Bharara was appointed to his position by Obama. Murdoch is likely pleased that one of the possible replacements for Bharara is reportedly lawyer Marc Mukasey, who is former Fox News chief Roger Ailes's personal lawyer. (Mukasey has refused to say whether he would recuse himself from the investigation if he becomes US Attorney for the Southern District.) (New York Magazine)
March 17, 2017: Former MP Recommends Questions for House Investigation
Former British Conservative MP Louse Mensch, now a journalist and blogger, writes an op-ed for the New York Times giving the House Intelligence Committee some suggestions as to how to proceed in its investigation of the Trump-Russia connection and the Russian sabotage of the election.
After giving a lengthy list of witnesses the committee should consider having testify, she gives some suggestions as to questions that should be asked. Mensch writes in part:
Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media, posted an anti-Semitic meme about Hillary Clinton from Trump's account during the election. "That meme appeared to have come from an automated account on a Russian-controlled network of malware-infected computers, or botnet. What knowledge did you have of the existence of a network of fake Twitter profiles that supported your campaign and were partisans of Russia?"
For former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, she recommends asking: "You have said that the Trump campaign approved your July visit to give a speech in Moscow. Provide the committee with a full list of everyone you spoke to during that trip and describe precisely what was discussed. Were sanctions ever a topic?" She also recommends asking about Page's July conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, how he learned that former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson would be chosen as Secretary of State (Page told a Moscow audience about Tillerson before that choice was publicly announced). She recommends finding out more about how Page was recruited for the Trump campaign. She poses the following for Page: "Did you at any time discuss leaking, hacking, WikiLeaks, the release of emails phished from the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, or any other information not publicly available on Mrs. Clinton, or any person related to her campaign, with any Russian national, in the United States or elsewhere?" And she recommends prying information about the Russian oil giant Rosneft's recent sale of 19.5% of its assets.
For Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she recommends a similar line of questioning about his conversations with Kislyak and other Russians during the campaign, and recommends asking, "Did you ever discuss a shift in policy on Ukraine to be exchanged for the lifting of sanctions?" She recommends asking Sessions, who served as national security advisor for the campaign, if he recruited Page for the team, and if not why he considered Page a suitable choice. She recommends asking about any criminal activity by himself or anyone during the campaign. She also recommends: "Did you have any knowledge during the campaign of serving FBI agents and police officers whom Rudy Giuliani, Erik Prince and [Michael] Flynn claimed were leaking information to them? Did you advise anybody involved that this was against the law? If not, why not? Did you know Mr. Flynn was lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his calls to Russia? Did you know Mr. Flynn misled Vice President Pence on the matter of his son’s security clearance?" She recommends asking if Sessions knows anything about any of Trump's family members or legal representatives, specifically Michael Cohen, leaving the country to meet with Russians. "Do you have knowledge of whether Mr. Cohen, or any Trump associate, directly or through shell companies, made payments either to hackers or to internet companies that ran a botnet of fake accounts and websites on behalf of Russia?"
One subject Mensch recommends asking about in detail is Trump's false allegation that President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. She writes that if Trump's tweet is a lie, "Mr. Trump is guilty of a slur. If, however, the president tweeted real news, he revealed the existence of intercepts that cover members of his team in a continuing investigation. That would be obstruction of justice, potentially an impeachable offense." She recommends carefully questioning Sessions about the issue, avoiding any mention of a FISA warrant or a national security investigation. She concludes: "The president's unwillingness to answer questions about contacts between his campaign team and Russian officials, and the pattern of contradictory and misleading statements on those contacts, are toxic. Never in American history has a president been suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election. The founders provided three equal branches of government to protect the republic. The American people now depend on the House committee to do its job and uncover the truth." (New York Times)
March 20, 2017: Fox News Claims DNC Behind Manafort Leaks
In a rather amazing attempt to rewrite current events and recent history, Fox News precedes the confirmation that the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign by reporting that information about former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was leaked by Democratic National Committee officials.
The report, based on "multiple" and largely anonymous sources, is written by Chris Wallace, considered one of the more reality-based correspondents in Fox News's employ. According to Wallace and his sources, DNC officials leaked information to the press about Manafort's illegal payment scheme with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Wallace's reporting attempts to rewrite history by alleging that former Democratic consultant Alexandra Chalupa illegally and clandestinely received compromising information about Manafort from Ukrainian sources. The Wallace reporting stems from legal and aboveboard information shared by Ukrainian Embassy staffers in Washington with Chalupa. The public knowledge of Chalupa's discussions with Ukrainian Embassy staffers was sourced from emails illegally hacked from DNC computers by Russian operatives and leaked to the public by WikiLeaks. One source who identifies himself to Wallace is Ukraine expert Adrian Karatnycky of the nonpartisan Atlantic Council, who says: "Ali Chalupa naturally was interested on behalf of the DNC to paint Mr. Manafort in the most negative light possible. … There was a financial ledger book under investigation by the Ukrainians. Shedding light on that would have been in Chalupa's playbook. She was pointing media where there was smoke in the middle of a campaign. And indeed there was a media firestorm that led to Manafort's resignation in the middle of the campaign." Like many Trump apologists and pro-Russian Ukrainians, Karatnycky casts aspersions on the legitimacy of the ledger. Other sources flesh out Wallace's story. Former Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon, who took part in the campaign's rewriting of the GOP campaign platform to favor Russian interests in Ukraine, tells Wallace that the entire Manafort story is Democratically-generated disinformation. "From the media and bloggers, to the leakers in the intelligence community, it's incredible to see how many people are contributing to a false narrative, whether intentional or not." And an anoymous American political consultant working in Ukraine tells Wallace: "This would almost make Joe McCarthy blush what's going on in Washington. All this leaking … Are we witnessing a coup d'etat by the intelligence services?" The source notes that other American political operatives, including Sanders campaign chair Tad Devine, have worked in Ukraine. Similar charges against the DNC will be leveled by the Trump White House in July. (Fox News)
March 23, 2017: FBI Probing Possible Collusion between Russia, White Supremacist News Sites
The FBI is "uncovering evidence of treason" among white-supremacist and so-called "alt-right" news sites such as Breitbart News, InfoWars and others, according to Richard Painter, the senior ethics lawyer for then-President George W. Bush.
The FBI is probing Breitbart News, InfoWars, and two Russian propaganda outlets, RT News and Sputnik News, to determine whether they colluded with Russian operatives to promulgate stories favoring Donald Trump during the presidential election, particularly during times when his campaign appeared to be floundering. Sources tell McClatchy News that online "bots" created millions of social media posts linking to articles on the sites, many of which were totally false, and many others containing mixtures of fact and lies. McClatchy writes: "Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as 'bots,' to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said." The bots produced millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on the above-named news sites as well as to Democratic emails and communications posted on WikiLeaks. The FBI's Counterintelligence Division is leading this aspect of the investigation, which is a part of a larger investigation the FBI is running into Russia's interference with the 2016 election. The FBI is trying to determine whether the people running the websites were complicit with the Russians managing the bots, or whether the Russian operatives were controlling the bots, and influencing the sites' publishing decisions, without the knowledge of the site operators. Painter links to the McClatchy article on Twitter and notes: "FBI uncovering evidence of treason. There is no other word for it." A former US intelligence official says, "This may be one of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence." Oxford University professor Philip Howard has conducted an intensive study of the bot attacks, and determined that the attacks were coordinated with times during the Trump campaign where he was dropping in the polls. Howard says that while bots were also active in creating Clinton-friendly story promotions, the number of bots active on Trump's behalf far outnumbered the ones working to benefit Clinton. One notable example, he says, is a heavy bot storm of links to false stories accusing Clinton of being involved in a child sex-trafficking ring. Howard goes on to say that Americans who call themselves "patriotic programmers" also activated bots to aid Trump. In interviews with Howard, they described coding the computer commands in their spare time. Russia also employed hundreds of "trolls," computer operatives pretending to be Trump supporters who posted stories or comments on the internet complimentary to Trump or disparaging to Clinton. The Russian "trolls" most likely worked out of a facility in St. Petersburg. "Russian bots and internet trolls sought to propagate stories underground," says former senior Pentagon official and Russia expert Mike Carpenter. "Those stories got amplified by fringe elements of our media like Breitbart. They very carefully timed release of information to shift the news cycle away from stories that clearly hurt Mr. Trump, such as his inappropriate conduct over the years." Breitbart editor Steve Bannon now works as Trump's chief strategic advisor, and avowed white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka, the site's former national security editor, is now Trump's chief counterterrorism advisor. Breitbart is partially owned by New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who was Trump's chief financial supporter during his campaign. InfoWars is owned and operated by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a Trump supporter who has hosted Trump on his radio show numerous times. McClatchy writes: "During the 2016 campaign, InfoWars.com was a loyal Trump public relations tool. Trump was on Jones’ show and praised his reporting." Clinton campaign chair John Podesta says: "The full impact of the bots was subterranean and corrosive. The distribution channels were being flooded with this information. … We perhaps underestimated the strategy of pushing fake news out through social media and how it impacted the race." Former DNC interim director Donna Brazile says that neither the party committee nor the Clinton campaign had used bots to widen the reach of their anti-Trump messages. Spokespersons for the named news sites deny any collusion with Russia, and Sputnik News, which is directly controlled by the Kremlin, says in a statement, "Sputnik has nothing to do with bots and will take whatever legal action may be necessary to protect its reputation from defamation caused by anyone arguing to the contrary." Jones says: "I'm not gonna sit here and say, 'I'm not a Russian stooge,' because it's a [expletive] lie," denying any contact with the Kremlin operatives about bots. He says the issue stems from "this whole ridiculous narrative of the bitching left." Jones proudly admits he has appeared on RT News "probably 100 times or more. There's my Russian connection." (McClatchy DC, Independent, Richard W. Painter, Daily Kos)
March 24, 2017: Mensch: "I Sense Panic at the White House"
British independent journalist, author and former MP Louise Mensch discusses her work investigating the Trump administration's ties to Russia. She appears on an episode of the HBO news and comedy show Real Time with Bill Maher.
She says her first priority is to work to get House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) removed, because he has demonstrated he is actively colluding with the White House to undermine his committee's investigation into the Trump-Russia connections. She adds that while committee Democrats are doing a good job so far, they need to strongly push for Nunes's removal: "You've got to say, 'He's got to go now!' I don't care if he's your mate. I don't care if he's your buddy. He's got to go." Mensch says she believes "we are a lot further down the line to the end of this than most people think" in the Russia investigation, adding: "I sense panic at the White House. I sense an absolute whiff of panic." (Raw Story)
March 24, 2017: Right-Wing Media Uses Nunes Claims to Proclaim Trump "Vindicated"
The impact of House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes's claims that Donald Trump and/or his associates were "incidentally" recorded as part of a US intelligence surveillance operation against foreign nationals has led multiple right-wing media sources to falsely proclaim that Nunes's claims prove Trump's groundless accusations that President Obama wiretapped him during the presidential campaign.
This may well have been the intent behind Nunes's otherwise-inexplicable actions. Nunes noted that the surveillance was legal, and had nothing to do with the FBI's ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia. Nor was the surveillance aimed at Trump. And, Nunes's office later confirms, Nunes doesn't know for sure whether any information on Trump or his staffers was actually collected. However, some right-wing news outlets say differently. Breitbart News, who has numerous former employees in the Trump administration, proclaims inaccurately that Nunes's "report" "vindicates" Trump's claims. The story leads: "[Nunes] announced on Wednesday that he had learned that members of President Donald Trump's transition team had been under surveillance by the Obama administration, that individual names had been 'unmasked' by the intelligence community, and that those names had been leaked to the media. Nunes's information – which he said he would deliver to the White House later – vindicates the bulk of Trump's claims earlier this month." None of this is true. Fox News sends out a "breaking news" alert that reads: "SURVEILLANCE CONFIRMED." The Daily Wire blog proclaims, "Yes, Trump Is 100% Vindicated On Wiretapping." (Warning: the Daily Wire blog article is almost inaccessible due to ads and adware, and is filled with a truly remarkable amount of complete fabrications and hyperbolic accusations.) The Gateway Pundit blog announces that "TRUMP WAS RIGHT." As with the Breitbart announcement, none of these are accurate. On Fox, Sean Hannity proclaims that he and Trump were both "right," while his fellow pundit Bill O'Reilly says Nunes's claims prove Trump "might not have been far off." Talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh demonstrates an unusual understanding of time and space by saying that Nunes's claims are "what Trump meant" with the wiretapping claims he made 18 days beforehand, and some 16 days before Nunes himself learned about the supposed surveillance. O'Reilly's guest Congressman Peter King (R-NY) agrees, telling O'Reilly he would be "99-and-a-half percent accurate and probably 100 percent" right in claiming Obama conducted surveillance on Trump. Following the right-wing media's lead, the National Republican Congressional Committee sends out a fundraising email titled, "Confirmed: Obama spied on Trump." Trump claimed he was "wire tapped" by Obama in October 2016, but Nunes says the intelligence reports he references were from November 2016 through January 2017. He has repeatedly said that he doesn't know if the communications supposedly intercepted came from Trump Tower. The surveillance he references came from intelligence sources legally mandated by a FISA court warrant, not from Obama. Trump himself proclaims in an interview, "So that means I'm right." Congressional member Jim Himes (D-CT) says: "The reality is in has nothing to do with the outrageous claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But it gives them just the thinnest thread now to say, 'I'm partially vindicated' and in the spirit of muddying the waters, I guess this is going to make Donald Trump and his people sleep a little better tonight." (Talking Points Memo, Breitbart News, Daily Wire, Gateway Pundit)
The Enquirer is, of course, a spectacularly unreliable source of news. But, as John Aravosis of AmericaBlog writes, its reliability is not the point. "The National Enquirer has an umbilical cord tethered to Team Trump, and only writes what Trump wants them to write. So the big question this morning is why Team Trump wants to smear Michael Flynn. The head of the Enquirer, David Pecker, is a longtime friend and ally of Trump. Since Trump's primary run, Pecker and the Enquirer have consistently touted Trump's candidacy and promoted his presidency. "The Enquirer only runs stories that help Trump," Aravosis writes. "And there is no way the Enquirer would run this story unless Team Trump thought this story helped Trump." The question is why. Moreover, the Enquirer claims as its sources "top White House officials" that tell its "reporters" Flynn is a Russian agent. Apparently, Aravosis notes, the Trump team now considers Flynn a liability, possibly because Flynn may turn state's evidence or that further damaging information about Flynn is yet to come to light. So the White House is distancing itself from Flynn by smearing his reputation through one of its most reliable propaganda organs, the Enquirer. Aravosis goes one step further and speculates: "One more possibility: It wasn't Trump, it was someone in the White House who turned on Flynn and asked the Enquirer to do this. We know Trump considers the Enquirer a reputable news source. If you wanted to convince Trump that Flynn is bad news, you'd go throw a disreputable news source that Trump respects, like the Enquirer, Breitbart or Fox. But this story is even too incendiary for Fox. So you go to the Enquirer. What if Bannon or some other senior official decided that Trump's defense of Flynn was damaging Trump? You hand the Enquirer a story they can't refuse, and hope that it sways Trump." Aravosis concludes: "This is a very strange and very important story. The fact that it's the Enquirer doesn’t make this story meaningless, it makes this story huge." (National Enquirer, AmericaBlog)
March 24, 2017: Notorious Russian "Troll Factory" Rebranded as "Legitimate" Media Producer
The infamous St. Petersburg "troll factory," which was so successful in influencing the US presidential election as well as other European elections and political issues, is rebranding itself as an emerging media conglomerate.
The center of this media operation is called the Federal News Agency, or FAN. It occupies office space in a building just blocks from its original location. FAN consists of 16 websites that produce "legitimate" news and analysis with a strong pro-Russian slant. The sites collectively employ over 200 full-time journalists and editors. It is unclear how the conglomerate is funded, but rumor identifies Russian oligarch Yevgeni Prigozhin, nicknamed "Putin's Cook," as one of its main sponsors. The sites produce reams of stories praising Putin, characterizing Ukraine as a failed Nazi state, and attacking the US. The sites also turn out story after story claiming that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the US presidential election. FAN manages at least one popular pro-Trump, anti-Clinton Facebook site called Secured Borders (later closed). (Moscow Times)
March 25, 2017: Nunes's District Newspaper Lambasts Performance, Calls for Special Prosecutor
The Fresno Bee publishes an editorial lambasting House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) for his conduct regarding the Trump-Russia investigation, and calls for a special commission to investigate the allegations.
The Bee is one of the major newspapers in Nunes's home district. The editorial calls Nunes's behavior "bizarre and inept," and cites Senator John McCain (R-AZ) as agreeing with their position. The editorial quotes McCain as saying, "It's a bizarre situation, and what I think, the reason why I'm calling for this select committee or a special committee, is, I think that this back-and-forth and what the American people have found out so far that no longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone." The editorial says that special commission needs an independent prosecutor to head it. "Given the emotional reaction of Democrats to Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump in the election, Nunes had to know that he would be under intense scrutiny as chair of the investigation and that both his and the Intelligence committee's credibility would be at stake," the Bee writes. "Nothing he did last week served the nation’s best interests. First, with millions of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, wanting the committee to provide clarity on Russia's involvement in the election and whether members of Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians to weaken Clinton's prospects, Nunes tried to steer the committee’s focus to identifying leakers of information embarrassing to President Trump. It is an old trick in Washington, DC, and one that rarely, if ever, works. Just ask Richard Nixon. Then, Nunes – a Trump transition team member – betrayed the Constitution and its separation of powers by running like an errand boy to the White House to share with Trump classified information that he had received." The editorial says Nunes has violated the longstanding tradition of being bipartisan, and its mission to put the nation's safety above political concerns. " And Intelligence committee chairs, be they Republican or Democrat, long have honored that charge," the editorial writes, until now. The editorial labels Nunes as "subserviant" to Trump, and ends with a reiteration of its call for both a "bipartisan special select committee – as was done with Benghazi – and a special prosecutor." (Fresno Bee)
March 27, 2017: Nunes Using National Enquirer as Source Material?
Huffington Post contributor Terry Connelly speculates that House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) may have gotten the bulk of his March 22 claims about the "abuse of powers" by the US intelligence community from the National Enquirer.
Connelly writes: "[A]ll the essential elements of Nunes's story had already appeared in the National Enquirer edition of March 27 – available on the grocery store newsstand as early as March 20 – two whole days before Nunes held his initial press conferences." The tabloid claims to have "132 pages of spy transcripts" where "US spies tell all." The primary source for the article appears to be Larry C. Johnson, a CIA employee from 1985-1989 who now traffics in far-right conspiracy theories, appears as a paid guest on Russian propaganda network RT, and feeds information to fellow conspiracy mavens such as Andrew Napolitano of Fox News. (Johnson is also popular among some elements of the far left, who continue to cite him as a reliable source.) Johnson told the Enquirer: "Efforts to obtain a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant were initiated by political operatives in the Justice Department, and not by the FBI, all the way up to the attorney general or deputy attorney. … They were not initiated because of possible criminal activity, but requested by officials acting on political motivations." NSA employee William Binney also tells the tabloid, in its words, "how the Obama administration turned the NSA's Stellar Wind program against Trump for political sabotage! … He told us Trump's phones ARE tapped and that 'transcripts exist of the intercepted calls!'" The tabloid says that unnamed "spy sources" claimed to have shown its "reporters" 132 pages of transcripts "outlining the contents of calls made from numbers inside Trump Tower in NYC to other unspecified numbers. What's more, and as The ENQUIRER can now relate, those calls were mundane and innocuous." Connelly wonders if either Binney or Johnson were Nunes's sources (a speculation later determined to be groundless). The publisher of the Enquirer, David Packer, is a longtime friend and promoter of Trump, and his tabloid has become, in the words of Politico's Jack Shafer, Trump's "mouthpiece," reliably attacking both Republican and Democratic opponents of Trump. (Huffington Post, Mediaite, Politico)
March 30, 2017: Reporter: Nunes's Actions a "Tragedy"
Veteran national security reporter Eli Lake of Bloomberg News writes an op-ed calling the House Intelligence Committee investigation of the Trump-Russia connections a "tragedy," and cites chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) as the cause.
Lake opens by noting that on March 27, Nunes lied to him, telling him that he had met with intelligence officials at the White House who provided him with the information he needed to claim that Trump and/or his campaign aides had been the targets of "inadvertent collection" during a legal surveillance operation against foreign nationals. It is now known that Nunes met with White House officials, and not intelligence agents. Lake writes, "This distinction is important because it raises questions about the independence of the congressional investigation Nunes is leading, which may lead to officials at the White House." Nunes is trying, and apparently deliberately failing, to lead his committee's Trump-Russia investigation. He is also conducting his own investigation into whether then-President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump and his transition team. Nunes has deliberately lied to Lake and the entire American population by falsely claiming he told the White House about the intelligence information in question, when he actually received that information from White House sources. "[T]his was a show," Lake writes. "The sources named by the [New York] Times work for the president. They are political appointees. It strains credulity to think that Trump would need Nunes to tell him about intelligence reports discovered by people who work in the White House." There seems to be more lies in play, as Lake notes: another administration official has told him that one of Nunes's sources, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, accidentally stumbled across the intelligence reports "while working on a review of recent Justice Department rules that made it easier for intelligence officials to share the identities of US persons swept up in surveillance. He turned them over to White House lawyers," presumably including Nunes's other source, Michael Ellis. This is also false. Lake writes: "The fact that a serious investigation is being undermined by Nunes's ever-changing story is a tragedy." "Incidental collection" is a real and serious issue; Congressional members, leaders of American Jewish groups, and foreign leaders have all been caught up in such "collection" during US surveillance operations. But the issue has been undermined by the actions of Nunes and the White House, Lake concludes. "By misrepresenting how he obtained information worthy of investigation he has handed his opposition the means to discredit it. That's rough justice for Nunes, and a tragedy for the country." (Bloomberg News)
interviews former FBI official Clint Watts after his Senate Intelligence Committee testimony.
— April 2017 —
April 14, 2017: Bush Speechwriter: Trump Officials "Terrified" Because They Lack Knowledge of How Deep Russia Ties Are
Atlantic editor David Frum, a former Bush administration speechwriter, and former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein say that CIA Director Mike Pompeo's claim that WikiLeaks is a "hostile intelligence service" just adds to the questions of Russian involvement with the Trump administration.
Bernstein says that Pompeo is denigrating WikiLeaks now "[b]ecause it is true and because we are in the midst of the huge series investigations of the whole question of what Russia did in our election campaign to interfere with the democratic system. Part of the story are the Wikileaks disclosures that were aimed to destabilize us. Wikileaks was used, knowingly or unknowingly, by the Russians." Bernstein continues: "Trump is part of right now trying to impede what we need to know about Russian did and collusion among people around him in the effort to destabilize our election campaign. … Trump knows a good deal that he’s not revealing. We are going to find out a lot in the coming weeks and months about the cover-up. There is really disturbing information that the president of the United States is trying to impede knowledge of what happened here of an attempt of a foreign hostile power to destabilize the electoral process." Frum then notes: "I think it is impossible that the president does not know what he is covering up. He knows there is a bad smell around Paul Manafort and he knows the Ukrainian ledger showed millions of dollars in payments to Paul Manafort from the pro-Russian dictator to Ukraine. It's now confirmed that that is real. We know the large sums did flow to Manafort. But exactly what the context was, it is very possible that other people in Trump world are terrified of what the information might possibly be. They don't know the magnitude of the problem. It may be terrible, it may not be terrible, but they are trying to seal and control the story whose magnitude they themselves don't know." (Raw Story)
April 26, 2017: Albanian Fake News Site Owner Closes Sites
Albanian IT expert Hysen Alimi closes down his network of at least seven pro-Sanders websites that he maintained throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Alimi's sites pushed pro-Sanders and anti-Clinton stories throughout the election, successfully salting American social media with his content.
The anti-Clinton material he promoted was almost all fake news, and often quite virulent. Alimi created a site called "Bernie Sanders Lovers" for Facebook, which falsely claims it is based in Burlington, Vermont. As of July 2017, that Facebook group is still open and has over 88,000 followers, though Alimi says he has since turned the site over to Sanders volunteers and no longer controls it. Alimi's network of sites, which went online after Sanders had already effectively lost the primary election to Clinton, was designed to alienate Sanders supporters from supporting Clinton. Almost all of Alimi's content was sourced from other websites, many of which were Russian-promoted fake news outlets. Alimi heavily promoted the dangerously false news that Clinton was the head of a pedophilia ring centered around a pizza restaurant in Washington, that her advisor Huma Abedin had ties to ISIS, and other such inflammatory propaganda. Sanders online campaign coordinator John Mattes says the sites "raise serious questions" about whether Alimi and others were directly and knowingly coordinating their efforts with Russian propagandists working with the Kremlin. Mattes notes that Alimi's sites went live in March 2016, about the same time that the Russian fake-news operation went into high gear. Alimi, however, claims his sites were designed to be "serious" reporting, and claims he is a sincere Sanders supporter. Alimi, who speaks poor English, tells a reporter in his native Albanian: "Not a single article is written by us. I am not to blame; people who have worked with me on the websites have not written any articles. We only tried to be a serious newspaper. … The idea came up with one friend, when we were following the US elections and the movement of Bernie Sanders. The page has been operating since March 2016. We have never been an official page of Bernie Sanders. Everyone has the right to open his own fan page to give his opinions but not to make fake news." Mattes is beyond skeptical. "How did he set up the sites if he barely reads English? How did he know what to copy every day? And who fed him copy?" Alimi denies any connections to Russia: "I really feel bad I am being accused of having a connection to Russia. I feel very bad some people have said we are writing fake news, that we are working for Russia and so on. It is true that people have only been focusing on us, but all the news [on our sites] has not been written by us. We asked by email if we could republish the articles. Most said yes. Our goal was to make a serious newspaper, and if you see one story written by us you are free to judge us. Look at what sort of news other pages publish. We have nothing to do with fake news." He then admits that at least one of his sites began by trafficking in fake news, but says with others of his sites, "we check first if news is real then post." He says he never made a great deal of money from the sites: "It was not a big sum of money. It was not a full-time job, and we didn't have a lot of likes. Other pages had more likes; we didn't make fake news like the others, to get more web visitors like the Macedonians." He wants to set up an online news site in the US, but admits he lacks the funding and the English-language skills. Aidan King, who ran a pro-Sanders Reddit page in 2013 and later worked for the Sanders campaign, says he noticed a shift in tone on many pro-Sanders Facebook pages after the primary: "I've gone back and forth on it. I wouldn't feel comfortable saying with any authority it's a coordinated effort by trolls, but also wouldn't feel confident saying it was exclusively pissed-off Bernie supporters." (Huffington Post)
Rather writes in part: "Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn." The firing goes past "partisan politics" and "ideological leanings," he writes, and says that the firing undermines "[t]he independence of our law enforcement," which is, he writes, "at the bedrock of our democracy." The firing adds even more importance to the question of how deeply Trump and his associates were involved with the Russians who sabotaged the presidential election. "What were those connections? What did Mr. Trump know about them and when did he know it? How can the President explain the serious allegations against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? And what is President Trump hiding in this regard?"he asks. "It's imperative that the nation – We The People – get answers to those questions. It will take time, but the process must start now." Rather says that the Watergate scandal, which was the last time a sitting president fired prosecutors who were investigating him, was far less grave than the current situation. "We are talking about the very security of the United States and the sanctity of our republic." He concludes: "We need a special prosecutor. We need an independent investigation. There is, obviously, much we don't know about what has just happened, why it happened and why now. Just as obviously there is much more, so much more that we need know. We need to damn the lies and expose the truth." (Dan Rather)
May 12, 2017: AP Falsely Implies Trump Has No Russia-Sourced Income
The Associated Press issues the following post on Twitter: "BREAKING: Trump lawyer: Tax returns from past 10 years show no 'income of any type from Russian sources,' with few exceptions." Daily Kos senior writer Mark Sumner demonstrates that this AP tweet is extraordinarily misleading.
The only thing that was released was a letter from Trump's lawyer. Trump has still to release a single tax return. The letter claims that the Trump organization has not had any Russian income since 2005. That, as Sumner shows, is a lie. (NBC News's Bradd Jaffy is more circumspect, posting on Twitter: "Here is the letter from Trump's lawyers about Russian investments. It is impossible to verify without Trump releasing his tax returns.") The public knows about over $100 million in income, including a $95 million home sold to a Russian oligarch for more than twice what its market value was. Other income was not directly identified as "Russian" and therefore was not added, Sumner notes. The claim includes nothing about the millions Trump made via his association with Bayrock, the Russian-aligned company whose headquarters are in Trump Tower. Sumner concludes: "So, the breaking news that Trump's taxes show he hasn't received Russian money? 1. It's not his taxes. 2. It's not news. 3. It shows that $100 million is just the start of Trump's connection to Russian sources." (Associated Press, Bradd Jaffy, Daily Kos)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned reporters the day after the appointment: "You've got a special counsel who has prosecutorial powers now, and I think we in Congress have to be very careful not to interfere. Public access to this is probably going to be very limited now. It's going to really limit what the public will know about this." Congressional witnesses testifying before Congress have cited Mueller's appointment as an excuse to refuse to answer the most basic of questions. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in a Congressional briefing last week, refused to comment on almost any aspect of the investigation, even though the discussion did not involve classified material. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said after the briefing, "Basically any question of any substance, it was, 'I can't comment because it may be the subject of an investigation by Mueller'." Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said of the Rosenstein briefing that "the most frequent answer I heard to questions from members of either party was 'I cannot answer that question.' He declined to answer any question concerning his personal conduct, motivation, or the circumstances of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, indicating that even this could be within the scope of the Mueller investigation." Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight says: "Congress shouldn't roll over. Whatever Mueller does, it's going to be focused on whether laws were broken or whether there was any criminal activity, but there could easily be noncriminal activity that the public needs to know about." Mueller's investigation is limited to criminal acts; Congress can investigate acts of collusion with Russia that might not technically break the law. Or, as Schwellenbach says, "there may not be enough evidence, or it may not be easy to establish criminal intent" for Mueller's investigation. Meanwhile, Trump and other White House officials have requested that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers "push back against the FBI investigation," indicating that the administration does not intend to cooperate with Mueller's investigation. (Washington Post via the American Constitution Society)
May 26-31, 2017: Former Sputnik Journalist Details Methods of Propaganda Dissemination
Andrew Feinberg, a former journalist for the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik, resigns from that publication and gives an interview to Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) about why he left. In short, he became disillusioned with the site's overt thrust towards disseminating false propaganda.
Feinberg makes several posts on Twitter after he leaves, including: "Seems [Sputnik] isn't happy with real journalists. They'd rather have ACTUAL propagandists operate anonymously." Nimmo notes that Sputnik was founded in December 2013 by the Kremlin, and is funded by Russian government funds. The presidential decree establishing its parent company, Rossiya Segodnya, says that Sputnik's purpose is "reporting the state policy of the Russian Federation, and public life in the Russian Federation, abroad." Sputnik is nominally independent from the other main Russian international propaganda outlet, RT,, but the two share the same editor-in-chief and many of the same writers. Nimmo writes, "As such, the two outlets are best viewed as complementary agencies with a common agenda and editorial stance." In an email to the DFR lab, the Sputnik press office states: "Sputnik's motto is 'Telling the untold.' This has been an enormous amount of work to see through as of recently, that we would eagerly leave to robustly financed and highly professional mainstream media, would they only give us a chance to provide the full picture, including Russia's narrative, for the sake of broad press freedom. It is almost medieval to suggest that a media outlet that does not solely and blindly follow the Western discourse is being accused of heresy." Feinberg joined Sputnik in December 2016, fully aware of its existence as a government-owned media outlet, but tells Nimmo: "When I took the job at Sputnik, I was fully aware it was state owned. I didn't think that in itself was a problem as long as there was the editorial independence I was promised, but things quickly started taking a different turn." Within weeks, Feinberg began to learn that the reality of Sputnik was anything but editorial independence. Feinberg recalls that he asked, during a March 10 White House briefing, if Trump would use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, and if not, was the administration concerned about not antagonizing Russia. He recalls, "When I got out of the briefing I was told that I shouldn’t ask questions when they didn’t know what they were going to be, ostensibly so that people could transcribe them." Sputnik denies attempting to pre-clear journalists' questions and headlines, and only discuss job assignments as a matter of routine. But Feinberg gives Nimmo a screenshot of an email exchange with a Sputnik editor from March 13 that confirms questions asked on the record should "never be a surprise … If you don't have questions from us, please email your questions in the morning for consideration, in descending order of importance. We do it in this way to ensure we are on the same page regarding the question we ask on the record." Feinberg says the content of his individual stories was also the subject of pre-clearance. "They have to approve the headline and the slant before you write the story," he tells Nimmo. "No one really has an assigned beat. Even when you're watching something online, the pool reporters can come in and pitch a headline first and then they get to write the story." Feinberg came to believe that what Nimmo terms the "editorial micromanagement" of Sputnik is its way of controlling reporters, telling Nimmo: "I've never had that degree of heavy-handed editorial interference. It's all couched with excuses and logic that seem reasonable if you're a wire with limited resources, but at the same time, that culture is targeted to massage a certain sort of reporting." (Former RT writers Liz Wahl and Sarah Firth have made similar claims for that propaganda outlet. Wahl announced her reasons for leaving RT on the air in 2014, saying: "I cannot be part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth and that is why, after this newscast, I'm resigning." Wahl said in a later interview that her questions as an interviewer were set by her editors and in at least one instance were "dictated" to her.) Feinberg goes on to say that Sputnik's method of covering issues important to Russia is highly slanted. He remembers writing about the "referendum" conducted in the Crimean region of Ukraine after the Russian military occupation of that area; Feinberg was not allowed to mention that voters had to pass tanks and armed soldiers to get to the polls. "I couldn't put that in, it wouldn't have made it past the first edit, but leaving that out is to ignore reality." He says that Sputnik's coverage of other issues of importance to the Putin government is equally slanted and distorted: "You learn very quickly that you have to put the Russian perspective, and the most absurd version of it," he says. "That's what they want. There's no opportunity to do real journalism." Feinberg chose to leave Sputnik after the news outlet began echoing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory so popular on the American right. According to the conspiracy, Rich, a low-level Democratic Party staffer, was murdered in 2016 because he leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The claim was debunked within hours of its appearance in the American media, and police have repeatedly confirmed that Rich was killed while being mugged. Sputnik ignored the facts and the protests from Rich's family, and even ignored Fox News's tardy retraction of its story promoting the conspiracy. Feinberg says: "The Seth Rich story was one of the things which led to my no longer being there. Sputnik's purpose in pursuing the Rich narrative was to obfuscate and be able to say, 'If he did it, there was no Russian hacking. Russia, what's that?" Wahl wrote similarly about RT in 2014: "My experience as an RT reporter and anchor was that RT's main goal is not to to seek truth and report it. Rather, the aim is to create confusion and sow distrust in Western governments and institutions by reporting anything which seems to discredit the West, and ignoring anything which is to its credit." Feinberg says Sputnik, far from being an independent news and opinion outlet as it claims to be, is completely controlled by politicians in the Kremlin. "I think the information warfare is there, but it’s done by people much higher up the chain. I was at the end of a very long chain of command. Among the editorial team, the two Russians were very much in charge." He also believes that Sputnik's coverage on social media is amplified by "botnets," networks of fake accounts used to repost articles, to give them more publicity. Feinberg tells Nimmo: "Do I think there was collusion between the Sputnik reports and the botnets? I think whatever coordination is done there happens in Moscow." Sputnik, of course, claims that Feinberg's accusation are lies, and that he left because he was unable to provide "the same level of professional journalism and the amount of exclusive stories that our clients and readers are looking for." Nimmo concludes: "Feinberg's account of the months he spent at Sputnik is consistent with the accounts of other whistleblowers who have departed the Kremlin-funded, English-language media. It describes a world in which journalistic independence is subordinated to editorial control, local bureaus are subordinated to central command, and journalistic standards are subordinated to an overall political narrative. This behavior is not consistent with an independent news outlet, such as Sputnik claims to be. However, it is consistent with a centrally-managed government communications service, in which key messages and narratives are distributed from the center to regional hubs for amplification." (Medium, Andrew Feinberg)
June 25, 2017: Pro-Trump Lobbying Group Airs Ad Falsely Smearing Mueller
The pro-Trump lobbying organization Great America Alliance airs an attack ad on national television smearing Robert Mueller, who heads the investigation into the Trump-Russia allegations. The ad is narrated by Tomi Lahren, a combative, 24-year old conservative commentator who is a senior advisor to the organization.
Lahren has made something of a name for herself: she stirred a firestorm of controversy after posting on Twitter that the Black Lives Matter movement is the "new KKK" and defending herself by deleting the statement, admitting she is not a journalist, and deriding those who criticize her for not allowing her to have "her opinions;" and humiliating herself during a talk show appearance by trying to attack the Affordable Care Act while admitting she only has health care because of the ACA. In the ad, Lahren says, "Only in Washington could a rigged game like this be called independent." She falsely charges that Mueller has accepted money from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and does not inform the viewers of the ad that Mueller is a registered Republican. (Los Angeles Times, Raw Story, Crooks and Liars)
June 27-28, 2017: Reporter Calls Out White House Official for "Bullying" Media, Attacking First Amendment
Playboy reporter Brian Karem snaps back at White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders after she engages in a long tirade about the Trump-Russia scandal being "fake news," and berating the media for reporting on the story. Karem says: "You're inflaming everybody, right here, right now with those words. Any one of us [reporters] are replaceable, and any one of us, if we don't get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel, or not read us. You have been elected to serve for four years at least – there;s no option other than that!"
Sanders tries to interrupt, but Karem continues: "We're here to ask you questions, and you're here to provide the answers. And what you just did is inflammatory! And there are people all over the country who look at it and say, 'See, once again the president is right and everybody else out here is fake media.' And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job." Instead of acknowledging the nature of her remarks, Sanders responds by saying it is the "dishonesty" of the news media that has "inflamed" Americans about the issue. The next day, Karem appears on MSNBC's Morning Joe to discuss the interaction. "We are bullied and browbeaten [by Sanders and other White House officials] every day, and I pretty much have had enough of it," he says. "There's really only two ways to deal with a bully – turn them into your friend, [but] I don't think that's a possibility, or let them know exactly what's up, and you're not going to take the bullying anymore. We can't take the bullying anymore. It's undermining the Fourth Estate, it's undermining the First Amendment." Karem says that Trump and his administration's constant assaults on the media are in essence attacks on democracy: "The reporters I know in that room – even Breitbart, those people are responsible – for the government to sit there and undermine, essentially, what is an essential checks and balances in the system, it's bit disheartening. It's unnerving. I can't take it anymore, it's nuts. … What it speaks to is dissolving the independent media, and that's what – it's trying to co-opt the media, make us, if we don't print what they want or broadcast what they like, we're automatically fake media." Karem notes that Sanders engages in "fake news" of her own, citing a video she shows during the same press briefing: "What was funny, Sarah sat there and asked to us look at a video, and she wasn't even sure the video was vetted and was factual – but if factual, man, it was bad. So you're promoting, in essence, false media, and accusing the rest of us of being false media." Host Joe Scarborough says that the media attacks are part of a premeditated strategy, and Karem agrees. "It's one of the few strategies I've seen from this White House, and it has been ongoing," he says. "Look, I don't lump everybody in with that. They've done some things that are incredibly open – adding Skype to their press briefings, bringing in members of the Cabinet for briefings – but at the same time when the president of the United States, even [today], is tweeting out 'fake media,' and telling us we're the enemy of the people. He's inflaming the very people who got him in office. He's speaking to his base, and he's trying to undermine the very essence of what we do, and that's not good for this republic, it's not good for this country. It's anathema, it's got to be stopped and we have to stand up to it." (Raw Story, Raw Story, screen capture image of Brian Karem from Raw Story)
July 9, 2017: Marshall: Trump Jr. Story Aimed at Trying to Downplay "Something Much More Damaging"
Veteran political reporter Josh Marshall shares his initial thoughts on the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. hosted a meeting with a Russian lawyer who was to provide him with damaging material about Hillary Clinton from Russian governmental sources.
Marshall believes that, based on the early reports, the biggest element of the story aside from the actual proof of collusion is the story's sources – "three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it," according to the New York Times, which broke the story. Such highly placed people rarely share "highly damaging stories and volunteering new information which makes them catastrophically damaging," Marshall writes. The only reason for such astonishing leaks is, he writes, to "either to get ahead of something much more damaging or get a first crack at shaping the public understanding of something much more damaging. There's really no other explanation. We don't know yet what drove them to volunteer such highly damaging information. Five of them did it. It wasn't a matter of one person going rogue." Marshall also wants to know what, if any, information was actually provided to Trump Jr. or the campaign officials during the meeting. Marshall calls Trump Jr.'s initial explanation of the meeting – the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, didn't provide the information she promised, and instead bored the participants with her talk about Russian adoptions and repeal of the Magnitsky Act – "damning in itself and absurd on its face." His statement confirms, Marshall writes, "that he was there for information that would help the campaign. Once that didn't pan out, he concluded the meeting was a bust." The supposed Veselnitskaya claim that Russia was funding the Clinton campaign is, he continues, "preposterous," especially in light of the reports about Russian hacks of the DNC less than a week later. Marshall is skeptical that Donald Trump himself knew nothing of the meeting, but, as he writes, Trump Jr. and the other senior White House officials "know it's bad and want to insulate the President." He finally notes that "May, June and July 2016 are critical months in the Russia story." So many critical events took place during that time, including the suggestion that "a top Trump associate was offered caches of email in the months or weeks just prior to the first Wikileaks release on July 22nd, 2016. This story sounds quite similar, or at least the opening gambit to such an offer." Marshall concludes: "We have a growing number of stories like these, each seemingly damning but which we are told are mere coincidences and misunderstandings with no connection to any of the other stories. It's just not credible. (Talking Points Memo)
July 10, 2017: Fox Analyst: Trump Jr. Victim of "Bait and Switch" by Russian Lawyer
Fox News anchor Brit Hume comes to the defense of Donald Trump Jr., who in June 2016 met with a Russian lawyer after being promised a trove of damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
Hume, who is a veteran political analyst but who is not a lawyer, tells his viewers flatly that what Trump Jr. did does not constitute collusion. "Put yourself into the position of a reader or viewer at home, reading and hearing about the story, and thinking, 'Oh, boy, this could be something'," he says. "Come to find out, and this is undisputed, the meeting was largely about adoption – Russian adoption, which is certainly an innocent purpose, and that looks like a bait and switch on the information about Hillary Clinton, because none was provided. … You look at that and think, what is the fuss about? The media can go on and on about this and trumpet it and say it's evidence of collusion, but when you think about it, any reason a person looks at it, it isn't." (Raw Story)
Walsh, a prominent Trump defender who helped launch the Breitbart News site Big Journalism, calls the meeting and the reporting surrounding it "a big yawn." Walsh mocks the "breathless tones" of the New York Times articles detailing the meeting, and says "a rational response" to the news is "who wouldn't?," "So what?" and something "unprintable." Walsh dismisses the entire body of reporting on the Russia-Trump collusion issue as nothing more than "a resentful smear cooked up in the immediate aftermath of Clinton’s stunning defeat last fall" by something he calls "the 'Russia collusion' factory." Walsh writes: "No campaign in its right mind would turn down an offer of information on their opponent. That is what opposition research is all about. You can bet Hillary wouldn't have hung up on the person who claimed to have dirt on The Donald. After all, the Clinton campaign lobbied the comedian Tom Arnold two days before the election to release potentially embarrassing footage from Trump's TV show, 'The Apprentice.' Arnold declined." Walsh is apparently unaware of, or doesn't care about, the fact that accepting "opposition research" from a foreign entity who has openly announced its intentions of influencing the American election process is a crime. Walsh concludes by calling those who are interested in determining the truth behind the Russia-Trump collusion allegations "rubes and suckers" who "won't stop believing that Trump somehow cheated his way into the White House" and "refuse to accept the results of the 2016 election." Trump Jr. quickly reposts the story on Twitter. (New York Post, Donald Trump Jr.)
July 11, 2017: CNN Analyst: Trump Jr. Emails "Evidence of Willingness to Commit Collusion"
CNN's Jake Tapper tells host Kate Bolduan that the email exchange between Donald Trump Jr. and publicist Rob Goldstone regarding receiving "incriminating" information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government is evidence of the Trump campaign's willingness to collude with Russia to sabotage the US presidential campaign.
Tapper calls the email exchange "incredible," and says: "Again, this unquestionably depicts somebody saying the Russian government wants to help the Trump campaign with documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump Jr. saying, 'I love it' and setting up a meeting to do so. … It's a staggering turn of events, and it's rather momentous. This can't just be, this can't be dismissed as people out to get Donald J. Trump Jr. or fake news. This is evidence of willingness to commit collusion. That's what this is on its face. Now, maybe there's an explanation for it, and if that's true, we can talk about that, and we'll report it." (Mediaite)
July 11, 2017: Op-Ed Blasts Defenders of Trump Jr's Meeting with Russian Lawyer
Bloomberg News contributor Megan McArdle writes a blistering op-ed damning Republicans for not stepping up to criticize the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and two campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising to provide "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. knew that the information was part of a Russian government operation to help his father win the presidency, McArdle observes, and notes how thrilled Trump Jr. appeared at the prospect of receiving such information from a Russian governmental source. Whether the conduct of Trump Jr. and his campaign colleagues, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, was illegal or not, McArdle refuses to say, noting that she is not a lawyer. But, she goes on, "[w]hat they did is so obviously wrong that a 10-year-old child would know better. … Donald Trump is an American. He is an American who ran for office under a slogan of patriotic pride and love of country. People who love their country do not help rival powers intervene in their country's elections, even if that intervention might have the lovely side effect of getting them elected. Countries gonna country, and spies gonna spy. But Americans running for American office must pick sides: the will of American voters or the influence of a foreign power. Hint: You choose your fellow Americans." As for Trump Jr., she writes, "[a] decent person would not give an audience to a foreign power promising to help tear down the opposition. A decent person certainly would not contemplate and suggest timing of any document release – which moves this revelation beyond merely 'taking a meeting you shouldn't have' and into the territory of 'a presidential campaign actively coordinating with foreign agents'." Some Trump supporters are remaining quiet on the issue, she notes, while others are resorting to trotting out rhetorical questions about old Clinton or Obama non-scandals as an attempt to derail the conversation about the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia. Some of them, however, are claiming that the meeting was merely politics, and not collusion. Clinton would have done the same, they insist. McArdle bites back: "Here's the reality: Once you are given the details of a Russian attempt to change the outcome of an American election, there is only one patriotic thing you can do, and that is to get on the phone to the FBI and say 'I have some very disturbing news.' End of story." The Trump officials, including Trump's eldest son, failed to do that, regardless of the claims now being made by Trump supporters. (Bloomberg News)
After a year of denials and demands from Trump and his supporters to "lock up" Hillary Clinton and shut down "fake news," Kristof observes, "[W]hat was fake wasn't the news but the Trump denials, that the truly scandalous emails were in the Trumps' own servers and that the person who may have committed a felony is actually Donald J. Trump Jr." Kristof says the focus should be as much on Donald Trump and Jared Kushner as it is on Trump's son, and the investigation into Russia-Trump should try to find connections between the June 2016 meeting and Kushner's December 2016 atttempts to set up a secret communication channel with the Kremlin. Kristof reminds readers that in 1960, when the Kremlin offered to support the Kennedy candidacy, the Kennedy campaign shot down the attempt. And in 2000, when the Gore campaign received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it contacted the FBI. In contrast, the Trump campaign eagerly accepted the offer of help from the Russians, and eagerly used any and all materials the Russians could give them to help damage the Clinton candidacy. The timeline of events, and the statements and actions of Trump and his campaign officials, prove what they did and disprove their denials. (New York Times)
He titles his column "The New Climate of Treason," a quote from a book about the famous Russian spy ring inside the top echelons of the British government. "I found myself thinking about that book's title while watching the conservative movement react to news that yes, the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian agents, and was willing, indeed eager, to engage in collusion," he writes. With few exceptions, he notes, conservatives have either tried to redefine collusion as no big deal – a "nothingburger" seems to be a favorite appellation – or something to celebrate. It wasn't collusion, they argue, if the election wasn't actually impacted by the collusion. "By that standard, of course, Kim Philby did nothing wrong, since the West ended up winning the Cold War," he writes. (Philby was a senior British officials who functioned as a Russian spy, and fled to Russia after finally being exposed.) "Others are basically saying that cooperating with a foreign dictator is no big deal if it protects us against real threats, like universal health care," Krugman continues. He notes that for decades, conservatives have made great political gains by attacking the patriotism of their Democratic enemies, but now, he writes, "After all the flag-waving, all the attacks on Democrats' patriotism, essentially the whole GOP turns out to be OK with the moral equivalent of treason if it benefits their side in domestic politics." Krugman struggles for an answer. Is their committment to their ideological goals – massive tax cuts for the wealthy, the decimation of the public health care, other items on their agenda? Krugman argues that many conservatives feel that they are literally at war for control of American society, and that whatever acts need to be undertaken, however illegal or morally reprehensible, are acceptable if they help ensure the defeat of their liberal enemies. The Republican party and the conservative movement that controls it has been radicalized, he argues, from the top down, and for decades have polluted the nation's political discourse with ugly, personal, and often entirely wrong attacks on the character, patriotism and humanity of their enemies. Conservatives who rely on Fox News, talk radio and right-wing social media experience an entirely different paradigm of news and cultural presentation than the rest of the natin. "So what had been real but not extreme differences became extreme differences in political outlook," he says. Republicans not comfortable with the new reality, he continues, have been coopted, marginalized or purged from the party. "There once were Republicans who would have reacted with horror to Trump's embrace of Putin, but they've left the scene, or are no longer considered Republicans," he writes. He concludes: "This has troubling implications for both the short and the long run. In the short run, it probably means that no matter how bad the Trump revelations get, most Republicans, both in the base and in Congress, will stick with him – because taking him down would be a victory for liberals, who are worse than anything." The end result could be a nation not only politically and socially divided, but physically divided as well, just as Yugoslavia fractured into multiple nation-states. (New York Times)
July 17, 2017: Wall Street Journal Advises "Radical Transparency" for White House
The right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial board issues a blistering condemnation of the Trump administration's widespread collusion with Russia, and its systematic response of lying, stonewalling and withholding evidence when questions about that collusion are raised. The editorial says that "Trump and his family are repeating the mistakes that doomed" Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency.
The Journal uses as its springboard "the fiasco over Don Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with Russians peddling dirt on Mrs. Clinton." The meeting itself was highly improper, the editorial claims, and the White House response to it was worse. "Even if the ultimate truth of this tale is merely that Don Jr. is a political dunce who took a meeting that went nowhere – the best case – the Trumps made it appear as if they have something to hide," the editorial observes. The Trumps and their associates seem not to understand that they cannot hide the truth forever. Calling every new story "fake news" will not continue to work, the editorial continues. The editorial advocates that the White House, and Trump himself, adopt a different strategy in answering the charges: "radical transparency." It advises: "Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr. Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations. That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway. Then release it all to the public." The short-term political damage will be nothing to the long-term benefits of such a policy. "If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it. Americans will give Mr. Trump credit for trusting their ability to make a fair judgment. Pre-emptive disclosure is the only chance to contain the political harm from future revelations." If they fail to adopt this policy, the editorial warns, Republican lawmakers will inevitably begin to distance themselves from Trump in an attempt to save themselves. If the Democrats win Congress in 2018, the investigations will be relentless. "Impeachment will be a constant undercurrent if not an active threat. His supporters will become demoralized," the editorial predicts. It also predicts that "Trump will probably ignore this advice," as he tends to ignore most advice. But he will do so at his own political and personal peril, it concludes. (Wall Street Journal)
July 20, 2017: Former Bush Official: Trump Has "Surrender"ed to Putin
Michael Gerson, a neoconservative opinion writer for the Washington Post and a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, writes a column for the Post excoriating Donald Trump for "surrender[ing]" to Vladimir Putin in their recent G20 meeting.
Gerson cites two major areas in which Trump gave in to Putin: Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election, and Russia's maneuverings in Syria and the Middle East. Trump, Gerson writes, "acts precisely as though he has been bought and sold by a strategic rival." He says that Trump's eager agreement to cut off military aid to Syrian rebels amounts to "concessions without reciprocations," and, in light of the agreement being made against the advice of his entire State Department, seems more like "payoff than outreach." Gerson snarls: "If this is what Trump's version of 'winning' looks like, what might further victory entail? The re-creation of the Warsaw Pact? The reversion of Alaska to Russian control?" Trump has completely subverted America's foreign policy to "Russia's interests and worldview," Gerson writes, and hypothesizes that Trump's reasons, such as they may be, likely come from his almost fawning admiration of Putin and his sympathy with European white nationalism. Gerson predicts catastrophe in the Middle East and greater alienation between Trump and some Republican allies, and concludes: "It now seems that the Russians – by meddling in a presidential election and by playing down such aggression – have achieved an intelligence coup beyond the dreams of the Soviet era. The result is an America strategically and morally disarmed." (Washington Post)
October 30, 2017: Fox News Host Says Mueller Indictments Unsealed to Distract Viewers from His Lies about Clinton, Mueller
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity says that the indictments against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were unsealed today for a very simple reason: to draw attention away from his show, and the farrago of lies and unfounded allegations he has been unleashing against Hillary Clinton. "Don't think this is a coincidence," he orders his viewers.
"Last week right here on this program, we had stunning revelation after revelation, day after day, about Hillary Clinton, Uranium One, the fake news dossier." Hannity says that Robert Mueller chose to make the indictments public today because Hannity has exposed Mueller's complicity in Clinton's "crimes." With a straight face and a total lack of evidence, Hannity tells his viewers that "Mueller is clearly complicit in the Uranium One scandal. Remember, he was the FBI director. The FBI informant had all the evidence of bribes and kickbacks and money laundering and he did nothing. So now they need to change the narrative after a very bad week and distract the country from their evidence and their involvement in possible collusion." Everything Hannity is telling his audience are outright and disproven lies. The Steele dossier is proving to be far more reliable than originally thought, with little of its content standing as disproven and many of its fundamental allegations proven as factual. The Uranium One allegations, recently resurrected by Trump and right-wing conspiracy theorists to distract from the Trump-Russia investigation, falsely claim that Clinton as Secretary of State approved the purchase of a Canadian company, Uranium One, by a firm owned by the Russian government in return for covert donations to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton had nothing to do with approving the Uranium One deal, and the donations to the Clinton Foundation were made before Clinton took over as Secretary of State. At the time of the deal, then-FBI Director Mueller was overseeing his agency's investigation into a trucking company that was making kickbacks to Russian officials. Somehow, that FBI investigation has been twisted into "evidence" of Mueller's "complicity" in the Uranium One deal. Hannity says: "Tonight we have a major crisis in this country. Does America have equal justice under the law? It appears tonight the answer is no." (Think Progress)
November 3, 2017: Social Media "Bot" Attacks Inundate Virginia Voters Days Before the Election; Attacks Focused on Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate
Fake Twitter accounts – "bots" – are swarming to attack Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, a Democrat, days before the November 7 governor's election, according to a report commissioned by Northam allies. It is unsure who or what is orchestrating the bot attacks.
The attacks follow an ad by the Latino Victory Fund, which depicts a child having a nightmare about being chased by a supporter of challenger Ed Gillespie (R-VA) in a pickup truck bearing the Confederate flag. The bots, and Gillespie's campaign, label the ad racially offensive. The LVF quickly pulls the ad. On Twitter, a host of "bots" assisted by Republican political operatives launch what seems to be an orchestrated attack on Northam over the ad. Tim Chambers, a senior official at Dewey Square Group, which researched the Twitter attack, says, "Highly scripted, highly robotic accounts are being used to boost this message into the Twitter conversation." The "bot" attacks may reach almost 700,000 Twitter users, the report says. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) says the attacks mirror past "bot" attempts to "manipulate" political discourrse on social media. Warner's spokesperson Kevin Hall says: "What we saw during the 2016 presidential campaign was a consistent and coordinated effort by trolls and bots to ‘flood the zone’ to manipulate the conversation on social media. Twitter's anonymity, reach and speed make it the perfect platform for spreading fake information and hyper partisan content." Northam's campaign Twitter account has been followed by over 400 suspicious Twitter accounts in recent days, many of them posting mostly in Turkish or Eastern European languages. The National Education Association, who paid for the report, says in a statement: "NEA has followed the race very closely and has commissioned research reports on a variety of topics, including the role of social media in amplifying messages about issues in the election. One of those reports disclosed significant information about the use of automated bots to create an echo chamber of anti-public education and anti-social justice attacks." (Politico)