Russia's Election Manipulation

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Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. – Ian Fleming
Coincidence takes a lot of planning. – Malcolm Nance
from The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance

April 12, 1982: Soviet Intelligence Launches Operation to Harm Reagan Presidential Campaign

KGB head Yuri Andropov orders his intelligence agents to carry out "active measures" against the re-election campaign of US President Ronald Reagan. "Active measures" does not mean standard espionage, which involves collecting foreign secrets, but instead aim to actually influence events, in this case attempting to undermine the US election by using forgeries, front groups, and many other techniques honed during the Cold War.

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The Kremlin considers Reagan a major threat to its own militaristic agenda. According to information provided by a KGB defector, Soviet intelligence will try to infiltrate the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic National Committees, popularize the slogan "Reagan Means War!," and label Reagan as a corrupt servant of the military-industrial complex. The effort will fail, as Reagan will win the election in a landslide. This is not the first time Soviet intelligence, or its American counterparts, have tried to influence opinion and events in the other country. Soviet agents have spread rumors that US government assassins killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr; the AIDS virus was created at a US biowarfare lab in Maryland; and supported insurgent leftist organizations. The CIA has tried to overthrow Soviet-backed regimes in Iran, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, Chile, and Panama, and tried to influence elections with money, propaganda and sometimes violence in Italy, Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, and Nicaragua. Russia will promise to end its "active measures" campaigns against the US after the fall of the Soviet Union, but when the KGB station chief in New York, Sergey Tretyakov, will defect in 2000, he will reveal that the "active measures" campaigns never stopped. He will write in 2008: "Nothing has changed. Russia is doing everything it can today to embarrass the US." (New Yorker)

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FancyBear graphic

1996-Present: Russia Conducts Intensive Cyberwarfare against US

In 1996, the Pentagon detects a large volume of computer network breaches, which it determines originates from Russia. It becomes evident that Russian hackers, working for the Russian government, are attempting to gather intelligence, beginning with the first successful Russian hack of US Navy computers that reveals military-hardware designs, maps of military installations, and troop configurations. The FBI code-names the hacking campaign MOONLIGHT MAZE.

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By 1998, Russian hackers have seized control of foreign computers and used them to stage large-scale breaches. A single hack allowed the Russian cyber attackers to steal several gigabytes of data from a US Navy computer in a single session, a feat that was repeated time and time again. As their expertise grew, Russian hackers even accessed satellites to cover their tracks. The operation will continue into 2017 and beyond, with two organizations, the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and the GRU (Russia's military intelligence agency) leading the hacks. It was not unheard of during the Cold War for both the US and the USSR to covertly and (usually) subtly interfere with foreign elections. But 2016 will mark a turning point for Russia – the first time it, or any nation, uses its sophisticated cyber attack skills to interfere with an election. The target of the interference is, of course, the US presidential election. The new level of attacks combined cyber espionage with an older tactic – in the words of computer security expert and author Thomas Rid, "a poisonous cocktail of fact and fabrication that the Russians call kompromat, for 'compromising material'." In 1999, the government of Boris Yeltsin used anonymous websites to tar opposition candidates, including the mayor of Moscow. In 2009, the Russians triggered the resignation of a senior British diplomat stationed in Moscow by releasing a video of the diplomat having sex with two blond women in a brothel. In February 2014, the Kremlin secretly recorded a private conversation between Victoria Nuland, the US's senior diplomat for Europe, and the US ambassador to the Ukraine, where a frustrated Nuland snapped, "Fuck the EU" (European Union). Shortly thereafter, a senior Russian official released a recording of Nuland's phone call, triggering an angry response by the US State Department and causing a brief chill in US-EU relations. This is a well-known tactic in Moscow called the "weaponized leak."

Russian Interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election

In May 2016, the Democratic National Committee discovers, via its hired experts from CrowdStrike, a major breach in its servers. CrowdStrike quickly learns that the hacks are the work of two Russian hacking groups, COZY BEAR (an FSB group) and FANCY BEAR (a GRU group). Apparently both groups are working independently of one another. Shortly thereafter, an obscure website called DCLeaks begins posting information hacked from the private conversations of former NATO Supreme Commander Philip Breedlove. On June 14, CrowdStrike publicly identifies both COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR, and affirms its belief that the two groups are responsible for hacking the DNC. The day after, an anonymous hacker identifying himself as "Guccifer 2.0" claimed sole responsibility for the DNC hacks, and reveals that he is working with the "whistleblowing" organization WikiLeaks. It doesn't take long for Guccifer 2.0 to accidentally reveal himself as a construct. Rid writes: "As soon as Guccifer's files hit the open Internet, an army of investigators – including old-school hackers, former spooks, security consultants, and journalists – descended on the hastily leaked data. Informal, self-organized groups of sleuths discussed their discoveries over encrypted messaging apps such as Signal. Many of the self-appointed analysts had never met in person, and sometimes they didn't know one another's real names, but they were united in their curiosity and outrage. The result was an unprecedented open-source counterintelligence operation: Never in history was intelligence analysis done so fast, so publicly, and by so many." Hours after the first Guccifer 2.0 release (of a relatively minor opposition research file about Donald Trump), former British intelligence analyst Matt Tait, who posts on Twitter using the handle "PwnAllTheThings," notices that the files the "lone hacker" released had been modified on a computer using Russian-language settings by someone using the handle "Feliks Dzerzhinsky," the name of the founder of the Soviet secret police. Dzerzhinsky's statue one towered in front of KGB headquarters. Aided by a second Guccifer 2.0 release on June 21, others find that the "lone hacker" used malware also used to break into the German parliament's computer network in 2015 – a breach later determined by German intelligence to have been carried out by FANCY BEAR. More connections lead researchers at ThreatConnect to tie Guccifer 2.0 directly to DCLeaks. Probably the worst error – FANCY BEAR's "gravest mistake," as Rid writes – was using "shortened URLs" provided by Bitly. The idea is to fool users into clicking the shortened links, and thus provide access to the FANCY BEAR hackers. To manage the thousands of short URLs they created, the hackers use an automated system but forgot to set two of their Bitly accounts to "private." It doesn't take long for another security firm, SecureWorks, to learn more about FANCY BEAR's targets in other countries, and link them to more recent attacks on Powell, Breedlove, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, and the DNC. Rid and other experts believe the "Guccifer 2.0" construct was hastily devised, either by FANCY BEAR or by Russian government officials, to throw the public off the scent and cover the GRU's tracks. Both "Guccifer 2.0" and DCLeaks go quiet at the end of June. But as it turns out, the American media isn't much interested in the evidence of Russian hacking.

US Media Loves "Kompromat" Released by Hackers

When WikiLeaks publishes their huge collection of illegally hacked emails from the DNC on July 22, the American press spends very little time on the source of the documents, and almost all of its coverage on the apparent tensions between the Clinton and Sanders primary campaigns – and the evident dislike of the Sanders campaign by some DNC staffers. Almost immediately, as Rid writes, "the Russian kompromat campaign took its first trophy: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, resigned from the organization." But Clinton surges back in the polls, fueled in part by a series of egregious gaffes and offensive statements by Trump, and some media pundits begin to speculate that the only way the Trump campaign can regain ground is by another damaging leak. The Clinton campaign carries on, privately fearful that WikiLeaks will make good on its threat to release more damaging information. Moreover, the files that WikiLeaks has recently released have been scrubbed of most of the incriminating metadata, making it harder to prove the Russian connection. Rid writes: "The operators behind Guccifer and DCLeaks also appear to have recognized that American journalists were desperate for scoops, no matter their source. The Russians began to act like a PR agency, providing access to reporters at Politico, The Intercept, and BuzzFeed. Journalists were eager to help." When Twitter suspends the @DCLeaks account, an outcry from Trump supporters and angry right-wing news figures pushes Twitter to hastily reinstate the account. WikiLeaks, of course, is the most effective outlet to lead the American media to publicize the Clinton campaign's alleged wrongdoings and sow chaos in the presidential election – chaos that directly benefits Donald Trump. In August, a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers publishes "cyberweapons" hacked from the NSA, and holds an online auction for a second group of tools. The material is real, though the auction is not. Rid speculates that the publication of the first batch of NSA cyberwarfare software and the fake auction, taken together, is a message to American intelligence officials, perhaps saying that while you may have determined who we are, we have access to you, too. Rid writes: "Like a severed ear in an envelope, the announcement told the Americans: Don't mess with us." Multiple data dumps from WikiLeaks take place during August and September, some obviously timed to bolster the flagging campaign of Donald Trump. For his part, though Trump is briefed on the Russian hacks, he continues to cite the material, and tells one crowd, "I love WikiLeaks!" (Esquire, New Yorker, New York Times, SecureList, image of FANCY BEAR from CrowdStrike)

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Free societies are often split because people have their own views, and that's what former Soviet and current Russian intelligence tries to take advantage of. … The goal is to deepen the splits. – Former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, quoted by New Yorker

April-May 2007: Russians Take Down Estonian Computers in Coordinated Cyberattack

Estonia's public and governmental computer networks are taken down almost completely by a coordinated Russian cyberattack. The Russia "distributed denial of service" (DDOS) attack brings down news sites, bank sites, and Estonian governmental sites. Estonia is one of the most "wired" nations in the world.

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The country drew Russian ire over its plans to move a World War II-era statue of a Soviet solider out of the center of Tallinn, the Estonian capital, over citizen complaints that the statue is a symbol of the postwar Soviet occupation of the small Baltic nation. The announcement sparks riots among Estonia's ethnic Russian minority; the Putin government issues multiple warnings that moving the statue would not only be a historical offense, but it would be "disastrous for Estonians." When the statue is moved on April 27 (it is installed in a military cemetery in the suburbs), rioting briefly breaks out among some ethnic Russian Estonians. Participants in Russian chat rooms immediately begin posting instructions on how to become a "script kiddie," or amateur hacker. The DDOS attacks paralyze Estonia's computer networks for two weeks; the attacks are fluid and responsive, showing that the attackers are sophisticated enough to know how to evade countermeasures. On May 10, the same day the hackers launch an intensive new onslaught on the already-besieged Estonian computer networks, Putin says at an event memorializing the Soviet fallen during World War II, "Those who are trying today to … desecrate memorials to war heroes are insulting their own people, sowing discord and new distrust between states and people." The Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, later states that he believes the attacks were coordinated between Russian governmental officials and organized crime leaders. "I call it a public-private partnership," he will say with some sarcasm. "It was a state actor that paid mafiosos." The New Yorker will later observe that the attack "was a landmark event: a state-backed cyberattack for political purposes." Michael Sulmeyer, a former Obama administration official in charge of cyber policy, later says: "What Estonia showed was that Russia was going to react in a new but aggressive way to perceived political slights. What was the offending act? The Estonians moved a statue." After the attacks cease in mid-May, Estonia's speaker of its Parliament, Ene Ergma, tells a reporter: "Estonia is a NATO country. Attacking us is one way of checking NATO's defenses. They could examine the alliance's readiness under the cover of the statue protest." In 2009, a small group of pro-Russian activists associated with the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi will claim responsibility for the DDOS attacks, a claim Estonian officials will find credible, though still asserting Moscow's overall responsibility. The attacks will prompt NATO to establish its cyber defense research center in Tallinn in 2008 and enhance its cyberwarfare capabilities. Estonia will call upon the European Union to make cyber attacks a criminal offense. (New Yorker, Associated Press, Wired)

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2008: Russians Hack Non-Internet Military Network

Russian hackers successfully breach a classified Pentagon network that is not connected to the public Internet.

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They do so by supplying thousands of inexpensive flash drives to retail kiosks near NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, with the assumption that at least one American will buy one and insert it into a secure computer. When that happens, the Russians obtain access. (New Yorker)

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July 20 - August 12, 2008: Russians Coordinate Cyberattacks with Military Invasion of Georgia

As Russia prepares to invade Georgia over a dispute with that nation's territory of South Ossetia, Russian hackers begin launching a series of crippling cyberattacks on Georgian computer networks.

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On the day that Russian tanks and planes cross the border, hackers break into 54 Georgian governmental websites, stealing military information and immobilizing Georgia's Internet. The attacks make it difficult for Georgian military commanders to communicate with troops on the ground, and restrict citizens' ability to find out what is happening in their country. In 2017, Michael Sulmeyer, who will be the Obama administration's Pentagon advisor on cyber affairs, will say that the Georgia cyberwarfare campaign is "one of the first times you've seen conventional ground operations married with cyber activity. It showed not just an understanding that these techniques could be useful in combined ops but that the Russians were willing to do them. These guys implemented." The actual conflict takes place between August 7-12, and is coordinated by waves of Russian cyberattacks against a variety of Georgian targets, including media, communications and transportation companies as well as military and governmental targets. Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for the American cybersecurity firm SecureWorks, says his firm believes some of the attacks were coordinated by a Russian criminal organization called the Russian Business Network (RBN). "The attackers are using the same tools and the same attack commands that have been used by the R.B.N. and in some cases the attacks are being launched from computers they are known to control," he says. It is unclear what connection RBN has to the Kremlin. Computer network expert Bill Woodcock later says that cyberattacks "costs about 4 cents per machine. You could fund an entire cyberwarfare campaign for the cost of replacing a tank tread, so you would be foolish not to." Kremlin and Russian military planners will consider Georgia a failure in the area of international propaganda; although Russia's military prevails during the five-day conflict, the narrative that plays out on the global stage is considered a "total defeat in the information space," according to retired Russian General Pavel Zolotarev. Western media emphasizes the Russian attacks on Georgian targets, painting Russia as the aggressors, Zolotarev will note. Russian officials will begin to study how to manipulate foreign media sources to wage what they call "information war." They will use their newfound expertise in successful media campaigns over their military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. (New Yorker, New York Times)

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2009-2010: FBI Monitors, Disrupts Spy Ring Designed to Procure Information, Influence with Clinton and State Department

The FBI monitors and then disrupts a Russian operation to obtain access to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her husband, and members of their inner circle. Some of the actions undertaken by the operation are covert and illegal: in one instance, a female Russian spy posing as New Jersey accountant "Cynthia Murphy" uses that false identity to get a position with a major Democratic donor in hopes of gaining intelligence on the State Department. The FBI learns of her actions, arrests her, and has her deported.

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Other actions are legal and aboveboard: in one instance, a subsidiary of Russia's state-controlled nuclear energy company Rosatom hires a Washington company to lobby the White House. That firm is providing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in pro bono support of the Clinton Global Initiative, and the firm legally helps Rosatom work with federal officials to obtain billions in US commercial nuclear contracts, including the purchase of Canadian company Uranium One, which controls 20% of American strategic uranium reserves. In 2010, a Kremlin-linked bank, Renaissance Capital, gives Bill Clinton $500,000 for a speech, weeks after Hillary Clinton helps arrange for American business leaders to journey to Moscow to support Russian efforts to construct a computing business hub similar to Silicon Valley. There is no evidence whatsoever of illegal or unethical actions by the Clintons or their associates. But, as a source tells The Hill in October 2017, "There is not one shred of doubt from the evidence that we had that the Russians had set their sights on Hillary Clinton's circle, because she was the quarterback of the Obama-Russian reset strategy and the assumed successor to Obama as president." An October 2009 communication intercepted by the FBI documents Russian handlers instructing two Russian agents to gather secret information about the State Department. The message reads in part: "Send more info on current international affairs vital for R[ussia], highlight US approach. … Try to single out tidbits unknown publicly but revealed in private by sources closer to State department, government, major think tanks." FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi will say, "In the end, some of this just comes down to what it always does in Washington: donations, lobbying, contracts and influence – even for Russia."

Sleeper Cell

Figliuzzi plays an integral part in breaking up the Russian spy ring that includes sleeper agents such as Murphy and celebrated Russian spy "Anna Chapman." That ring spends a "great deal of time collecting information and passing it on" to their handlers in Russia's SVR, FBI records will show. "Murphy" writes her handlers in February 2009 announcing her new position with Morea Financial Services, a New York firm who has as a client venture capitalist Alan Patricof. Patricof is active in Democratic fundraising and has a close relationship with Hillary Clinton, serving as the finance chairman for her Senate bid. One document shows a Russian handler saying, "Maybe he [Patricof] can provide Murphy with remarks re US foreign policy, roumors [sic] about White House internal kitchen, invite her to major venues." In 2010, her handlers urge her to take a job with a lobbying firm because, an affidavit later reads, "this position would expose her to prospective contacts and potential sources in US government." Figliuzzi later says he believes "Murphy" wouldn't risk taking a job with State for fear her cover would be blown. Instead, she aims for a private sector job where, Figliuzzi will say, "she could get next to people who had the jobs who could get the information she wanted from State." That same year, Patricof alerts the State Department to his suspicions that he has been targeted by Russian spies. He also informs Clinton aide Huma Abedin of his suspicions, says he wants her to have a heads-up before the story breaks in the media. Clinton's office later issues a statement saying that there is "no reason to think the Secretary was a target of this spy ring." The statement is incorrect. On June 27, 2010, fearing that "Chapman" might flee the country and "Murphy" was getting too close to posing a security risk for Clinton, the FBI arrests all ten spies in the ring (and another one in Cyprus, hours before he can flee to Budapest) and expels them all. Figliuzzi will later say: "In regards to the woman known as Cynthia Murphy, she was getting close to Alan, and the lobbying job. And we thought this was too close to Hillary Clinton. So when you have the totality of the circumstance, and we were confident we had the whole cell identified, we decided it was time to shut down their operations." "Murphy" and her husband "Richard" raise two children in a quintessentially American suburb in New Jersey; the children, aged 7 and 11, are unaware of their parents' function as Russian spies. Their home is actually owned by the "Moscow Center," an intelligence arm of the Russian government. Some officials say that "Murphy" and her cohorts are specifically told not to try to access classified information. One official says: "They were here under deep cover, as a network in case Russian intelligence ever needed anything. The idea was that they would become so Americanized that no one can ever find any connection between them and Russia." One of their neighbors says, "The tragedy is what's going to happen with [their] kids." (In 2012, the British tabloid Daily Mail writes a story whose headline implies "Murphy" and possibly "Chapman" attempted to seduce Patricof, a headline that the story itself denies.)

Uranium One

The US government approves a deal to allow Rosatom to buy Uranium One. The State Department is one of over a dozen federal agencies to sign off on the deal, and a Clinton deputy is handling the issue for the department. The Rosatom/Uranium One deal will later be twisted by right-wing conspiracy theorists and the Trump White House to falsely claim that Clinton was involved in some sort of nefarious criminal deal to sell uranium to Russia.

Skolkovo

Hillary Clinton is working with Russian and American business leaders to support Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's idea of creating a new high-tech business and government hub outside Moscow called Skolkovo, a project designed to be similar to the US's Silicon Valley. Clinton says: "We have 40,000 Russians living in Silicon Valley in California. We would be thrilled if 40,000 Russians were working in whatever the Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley is, providing global economic competition, taking the internet and technology to the next level." Renaissance Capital, the bank that pays Bill Clinton $500,00 for a speech, is working to promote the Uranium One deal. The former president considers meeting with two Russians involved in the nuclear and Skolkovo deals, though he does not follow through. Clinton spokesperson Angel Urena later says he never discussed any of those issues with the State Department, and the speech fee never impacted his wife's decision-making on the deals.

TENEX/TENAM

Another Russian firm, TENEX, uses legal means to sell uranium recycled from old Soviet-era warheads to the US, as it has done for years under another deal that is now coming to a close. TENEX and its American subsidiary TENAM is suspected of engaging in a large-scale bribery and kickback scheme. TENEX director Vadim Mikerin, a Russian financier and an American trucking executive will all be charged as a result of the investigation. The TENEX investigation uncovers the Russian attempt to procure information about, and hopefully win influence with, Clinton and the State Department. Victoria Toensing, the lawyer for an FBI informant who provides information about the bribery scheme, later tells The Hill: "I can confirm that my client while working undercover for the FBI and in the employ of the Russian energy firm TENEX witnessed numerous, detailed conversations in which Russian actors described their efforts to lobby, influence or ingratiate themselves with the Clintons in hopes of winning favorable uranium decisions from the Obama administration. Unfortunately, he cannot at the present time disclose the specifics of that evidence he reported to the agents in real time because of an NDA he signed with the bureau. But we are working with Congress to find a means in the future for him to transmit the important information he possesses." Public records show TENEX hires two Washington consulting (lobbying) firms to help it land contracts from the federal government. One of those firm also provides pro bono support for the Clinton Global Initiative. (The Hill, Washington Post, Newsweek, BuzzFeed, Politico, Daily Mail)

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— 2011 —

photo illustration of Vladimir Putin

2011 - Present: Putin Launches Massive, Multifaceted Cyberwarfare Operation Against US

The Putin administration is rocked by protests in over 70 cities throughout Russia. The uprising is organized on social media by popular blogger Alexei Navalny, who uses his blog and his Twitter and Facebook accounts to whip up and organize protests.

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Putin fights back with his own social media counterattack. When bloggers try to organize nationwide protests on Twitter using the hashtag #Triumfalnaya, pro-Kremlin botnets overrun the hashtag with anti-protest messages and nonsense tweets, making it impossible for Putin's opponents to organize effectively. Putin blames Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, falsely claiming she ran a massive influence campaign against his country, accusing her of sending "a signal" to protesters, and slamming the US State Department for supposedly helping fuel the protests. The State Department says it has funded pro-democracy organizations, but had no influence on protesters, a denial later affirmed by Obama officials. After Putin's re-election, he tasks his head of military intelligence, Igor Sergun, for tailoring a new and massive cyberoperation against America's democratic system, specifically targeting the US electoral system. Russian intelligence agencies fund massive "troll farms," botnet spamming operations, and fake news outlets as part of a widening focus on psychological operations designed to manipulate American voters on social media. One Russian programmer, who worked with social media researchers in the US for ten years, returns to Moscow and joins the effort, bringing a wealth of algorithms developed for such influence operations. After testing the cyberweapons in Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet client states, Putin turns the cyberweapons on the United States, targeting voters and Congress members alike, and ramping up their attacks after the 2014 US sanctions against Russia were implemented. As Time writes in March 2017, "Moscow's agents broadcast material on social media and watched how targets responded in an attempt to find those who might support their cause …" A senior intelligence official says, "The Russians started using it on [Capitol] Hill with staffers to see who is more susceptible to continue this program [and] to see who would be more favorable to what they want to do." When infamous pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli falsely posts that Clinton suffers from Parkinson's disease in August 2016, Russian social media programs push the claim to millions of viewers. The claim takes on additional life when she faints from exhaustion and pneumonia at a September 2016 event. Other stories find a home in social media thanks to Russian influence mechanisms, including tales that Pope Francis has endorsed Trump, that Clinton had a DNC staffer murdered, and that Clinton and her aides ran a child pedophile out of a Washington pizza parlor. (Time, photo illustration from RedState)

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— 2012 —

2012: FBI Warns Republican Lawmaker that Russia Trying to Recruit Him as Intelligence Asset

The FBI warns Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that he is being targeted for recruitment by Russian intelligence agents. Rohrabacher has long been a vocal defender of Moscow, and a harsh opponent of US sanctions against Russia.

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FBI agents tell Rohrabacher, in a secure room in the Capitol Building, that Russian agents are attempting to recruit him as an "agent of influence," someone they can use to influence Washington policy decisions. In May 2017, when the New York Times reveals the warning, Rohrabacher will say that his meeting with the FBI involved his contact with a member of the Russian Foreign Ministry, whom he had met with during one of his trips to Moscow. "They were telling me he had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence," Rohrabacher will recall, and will say that Moscow "looked at me as someone who could be influenced." Law enforcement officials do not believe that Rohrabacher is a willing agent of Russia, but may be being used as an unwitting asset in Russia's attempts to gain influence in Washington. Representative C.A. Ruppersberger (D-MD) will recall reminding Rohrabacher "that Russia is our adversary." Rohrabacher will say he needs no reminders. "Any time you meet a Russian member of their Foreign Ministry or the Russian government, you assume those people have something to do with Russian intelligence," he says. In April 2016, Rohrabacher will meet with a number of Russian officials in Moscow a year earlier, and will be given documentation about the crusade to repeal the Magnitsky Act. In June 2016, Republican leaders will "joke" that they believe both Rohrabacher and Donald Trump are being paid by Russia. (New York Times)

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April 17, 2012: Assange Begins Talk Show on Russian Propaganda Network

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange unveils a new talk show, hosted on Russia's English-language propaganda television and Internet outlet RT.

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His first guest is Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Assange lives in the south of England, avoiding an extradition order by Sweden to answer charges of sex crimes. Assange says the theme of his half-hour show is "the world tomorrow." RT is "like the Voice of America, only with more money and a zesty anti-American slant," according to the New York Times. "Basically, it's an improbable platform for a man who poses as a radical left-wing whistleblower and free-speech frondeur battling the superpowers that be. The show is unlikely to win high ratings or change many minds, but it may serve Mr. Assange's other agenda: damage control." Assange says he chose RT because it has more penetration in the US than Al Jazeera, and because other outlets wanted nothing to do with him. He predicts that mainstream outlets such as the Times will dismiss him as "an enemy combatant and traitor getting into bed with the Kremlin." Assange has already filmed twelve episodes; the others will be aired on a weekly basis. In a press release, Assange has said his guests include "politicians, revolutionaries, intellectuals, artists and visionaries." The aim of his show, he wrotes, is "to capture and present some of this revolutionary spirit to a global audience. My own work with WikiLeaks hasn't exactly made my life easier, but it has given us a platform to broadcast world-shifting ideas." RT says Assange has editorial control of his show. (New York Times, The Next Web)

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— 2013 —

Cambridge Analytica logo

January 2013: Private "PsyOps" Firm Begins Working for Right-Wing Political Concerns; Will Become Critically Involved in Trump and Brexit Campaigns

A young American postgraduate student meets with the head of London's SCL Elections, Alexander Nix. She was once an intern at the firm. According to a former employee: "She said, 'You really need to get into data.' She really drummed it home to Alexander. And she mentioned to him a firm that belonged to someone she knew about through her father."

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The student is the daughter of Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, a major investor in Facebook, and a vocal supporter of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential candidacy. Thiel also owns Palantir, a private data-mining and surveillance firm that works with contacts all over the globe, including the US's NSA and Britain's GCHQ. At this time, the former employee will tell Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr, "That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump. It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm." Cadwalladr asks if he meant to use the term, and he responds: "Totally. That's what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It's what they mean by winning 'hearts and minds.' We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don't have many rules." The intern will go on to say: "It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. You were working with the president of Kenya or Ghana or wherever. It's not like election campaigns in the west. You got to do all sorts of crazy shit." Cadwalladr will write that the SCL/Cambridge Analytica story "is one of the most profoundly unsettling of our time. What's clear is that the power and dominance of the Silicon Valley – Google and Facebook and a small handful of others – are at the center of the global tectonic shift we are currently witnessing." The firm goes on to be bought out by American hedge fund billionaire and far-right funder Robert Mercer and renamed Cambridge Analytica. Its controversial data mining and microtargeting strategies will have an enormous impact on both the Trump presidential campaign and the "Brexit" campaign in the UK. Mercer is close friends with neo-Nazi British politician Nigel Farange, a key player in the Brexit movement; Mercer will direct Cambridge Analytica to help the Brexit "Leave" campaign. Cadwalladr's source, the former Cambridge Analytica intern, will say that he feels scarred by his time with the company: "It's almost like post-traumatic shock," he will say. "It was so &hellip' messed up. It happened so fast. I just woke up one morning and found we'd turned into the Republican fascist party. I still can't get my head around it." Miller will tell Cadwalladr that Cambridge Analytica is "not a political consultancy. You have to understand this is not a normal company in any way. I don't think Mercer even cares if it ever makes any money. It's the product of a billionaire spending huge amounts of money to build his own experimental science lab, to test what works, to find tiny slivers of influence that can tip an election. Robert Mercer did not invest in this firm until it ran a bunch of pilots – controlled trials. This is one of the smartest computer scientists in the world. He is not going to splash $15m on bullshit." And New York University professor Tamsin Shaw will give a broader context: "The capacity for this science to be used to manipulate emotions is very well established. This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can't even see, don't even realize is happening to them. It's about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling. We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government. That's a very worrying situation." It should be noted that Cambridge Analytica is suing the Guardian over its reporting on its firm. (Guardian, image from Cubic Garden)

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[W[hat is happening in America and what is happening in Britain are entwined. Brexit and Trump are entwined. The Trump administration's links to Russia and Britain are entwined. And Cambridge Analytica is one point of focus through which we can see all these relationships in play; it also reveals the elephant in the room as we hurtle into a general election: Britain tying its future to an America that is being remade – in a radical and alarming way – by Trump. … This is not just a story about social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. Us. — Carole Cadwalladr

February 2013: "Gerasimov Doctrine" Calls for "Permanently Operating" State of "Non-Linear War" Against Targeted Nations

Valery Gerasimov, the Russian chief of general staff, publishes an article in the Military-Industrial Courier entitled "The Value of Science in Prediction." The article deliniates and urges the adoption of a Western strategy that involves military, technological, media, political and intelligence tactics that will destabilize enemies at minimal cost.

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The strategy becomes known as "hybrid war," an adaptation of a term already in use for generations, and more specifically is now called the "Gerasimov doctrine." Gerasimov says that future wars will be fought with a four-to-one ratio of nonmilitary to military measures. The nonmilitary measures should be used to craft the politcal and social landscape of the enemy through subversion, espionage, propaganda, and cyberattacks. The essay cites the violence and anarchy that erupted in Libya and Syria as proof that, when faced with the proper combination of pressure and interference, a "perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months, and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war." This will become typical of 21st century warfare, Gerasimov writes. "The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness." Retired Russian General Pavel Zolotarev later notes that when Gerasimov's essay is published, the Kremlin "had come to the conclusion, having analyzed the actions of Western countries in the post-Soviet space – first of all the United States – that manipulation in the information sphere is a very effective tool." Previously, Russia had to use what Zolotarev will call "grandfather-style methods: scatter leaflets, throw around some printed materials, manipulate the radio or television. But, all of a sudden, new means have appeared." Douglas Farah, president of IBI Consultants and an expert in Latin American affairs, will later say that the Gerasimov Doctrine "blur[s] the lines between war and peace," and will quote Gerasimov as writing that "nonmilitary means of achieving military and strategic goals has grown and, in many cases, exceeded the power of weapons in their effectiveness." Gerasimov calls for "a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state." Farah will note the doctrine's use in Russia's attempts to gain a presence in Latin America, noting that absent the use of military force, Russia tries to shape and control "the narrative in public opinion, diplomatic outreach, military sales, intelligence operations, and strategic offerings of intelligence and military technology." Farah notes that Russian government-controlled non-military operations almost always make use of the "strong criminal presence" in and outside the targeted nations. Farah will say that the nexus among organized crime, business and government "is used to further the goals of the Russian state without the state being visible, as well as provide significant revenues to criminal groups that also have deep ties into the Russian state establishment, both civilian and military." Russian expert Mark Galeotti later writes that he prefers the term "non-linear war" and will note that Gerasimov's predecessor, Nikolai Makarov, deserves as much or more credit for envisioning and developing the techniques that Gerasimov cites. (New YorkerThe Cipher Brief, In Moscow's Shadows which includes a translation of Gerasimov's article)

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March 15-18, 2013: "Guccifer" Hacker Releases Illegally Obtained Emails from Clinton Advisor

A shadowy hacker calling himself "Guccifer" releases confidential, illegaly obtained emails from the account of former White House aide and longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal. Guccifer sends them to a disparate number of congressional aides, political figures and journalists around the world.

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The four memos Guccifer sent (of a selection of hundreds he was able to access) were obtained about a week ago by the hacker, who has successfully obtained personal emails and communications from European and American celebrities and political figures, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and friends and family members of former President George W. Bush. The Blumenthal emails contain discussions about developments in Libya, including the controversial September 11, 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi. One of the emails, marked "Confidential," was sent to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the day after the attacks. Others were about a variety of foreign policy and intelligence matters. The emails were sent to a private Clinton email account, "clintonemail.com," and not to Clinton's governmental email account; this is the first time the public learns that Clinton used a private as well as governmental email account. "Guccifer" hacked Blumenthal's email account, searched for information pertaining to Clinton, and segregated attachments such as Word files that Blumenthal had included in his communications. The hacker chose not to distribute those attachments, possibly to help keep his identity hidden, as the documents could contain metadata that security experts could use to identify and locate "Guccifer." Instead, he copied the texts from the Blumenthal emails and pasted them into separate new files with pink backgrounds and "Comic Sans" fonts, took screenshots of the documents, and sent them to selected journalists and governmental officials around the world. The emails were sent from the hacked AOL account of the wife of a Hollywood actor, again in an apparent effort to conceal "Guccifer's" identity. IP addresses connected to "Guccifer" connect him to servers inside Russia, though it is well established that hackers try to obscure their trail by using proxy servers, IP spoofing, and anonymizing software such as Tor. Interestingly, while most of the journalists he chose to receive his emails were American, he also sent them to about two dozen Russian journalists at Pravda, the Moscow Times, the St. Petersburg Times, and the RT news channel. In previously released email "screeds," as The Smoking Gun reports, he "seems to subscribe to dark conspiracies involving the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations, and attendees of Bohemian Grove retreats. "[T]he evil is leading this fucked up world!!!!!! i tell you this the world of tomorrow will be a world free of illuminati or will be no more," he has written. Michael Sutton of the cybersecurity firm Zscaler tells USA Today reporter Byron Acohido: "Guccifer is employing basic, but effective tactics. Rather than going after his ultimate targets directly, he is instead focusing on family and friends and compromising their public email accounts. This is the same technique that he employed when revealing personal communications to Bush family members last month. Such accounts can often be accessed by resetting passwords that require little more than answering a few personal questions – not a big challenge when the target is a celebrity." Sutton says it is difficult to ascertain "Guccifer's" actual motivations for hacking and releasing the information. "While the memos to Secretary Clinton may have detailed sensitive information, the Bush family communications were largely personal photos and general commentary," he notes. He concludes that governmental officials such as Powell, and private citizens communicating with governmental figures such as Clinton, should not rely on insecurer public email platforms such as AOL: "While a former White House aide should know better than to send the Secretary of State confidential communication from a public webmail account, this sort of thing happens all the time." RT, the English-language propaganda outlet for the Kremlin, is one of several outlets to publish the hacked documents in full. (USA Today, Smoking Gun, Smoking Gun, Washington Times, RT, Ars Technica)

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May 27, 2013: Trump Spends $1 Million Researching Potential Presidential Bid

Real estate oligarch ant reality-show host Donald Trump has spent over $1 million on electoral research, and is actively considering a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

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He has been an increasingly frequent speaker at Republican events, and recently spoke to a crowd at the Oakland County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in Novi, Michigan. He told attendees: "Everybody tells me, 'Please run for president. Please run for president.' I would be much happier if a great and competent person came along. I'd be happy if President Obama did a great job. I'm a Republican, but before anything, I love this country. I would love to see somebody come in who is going to be great." Trump considered challenging Obama in 2012, but instead launched a racist campaign to slander Obama as not being a real American citizen. Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen tells reporters that the electoral research has determined Trump's standing in each state: "The electoral research was commissioned. We did not spend $1 million on this research for it just to sit on my bookshelf. At this point Mr. Trump has not made any decision on a political run, but what I would say is that he is exactly what this country needs. The turnout at these political speeches indicates his following remains very strong and is growing." Cohen notes that if Trump does choose to run for president, "[h]e would be required to turn over control of his company either to one or all of his children or to a trust." Former law professor Seth Abramson later writes that previously, Trump "teased presidential runs either to boost his business standing or because he was serious about the possibility." The same conditions apparently apply to Trump's current interest in a presidential run, Abramson later writes: "So either Trump was keen to suddenly raise his business profile in May 2013 or he was engaging in a long prelude to a presidential run." (New York Post, Seth Abramson)

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Mid-2013: Cambridge Analytica Compiles "Criminal" Database for Police

The data mining and psyops/propaganda firm Cambridge Analytica carries out a scheme in Trinidad. Whereas the firm had previously engaged in contracts and operations to sway elections on behalf of ruling parties of various nations, in this case the firm is working on behalf of Trinidad's national security council.

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The firm uses citizens' browsing history and recorded phone conversations to construct a national police database, with scores for each citizen on their potential to commit crime. In 2017, a former employee will say: "The plan put to the minister was Minority Report. It was pre-crime. And the fact that Cambridge Analytica is now working inside the Pentagon is, I think, absolutely terrifying." As in Trinidad, private firms in the US have few laws limiting the amount of data they can collect on individuals. (Guardian)

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November 21, 2013 and After: Ukrainian Protests, Ouster of Yanukovych Sparks Increase in Russian Aggression Towards West

The so-callled "Euromaidan" protests in Kiev's Maidan Square begin, continuing for months and resulting in the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who will flee to Moscow in February 2014.

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Artist Maryna Sochenko, who memorializes the protests with her sketches and renderings, later says the protesters should have been more aggressive: "I think we shouldn't have sung so long on the square, but we should have gone and thrown them out of their offices, ushered in some new people. We should have made a real revolution." Obama administration foreign advisor Benjamin Rhodes later says that the Maidan Square protests sparked a major change in Russia's approach to the West, accelerating Putin's aggressiveness towards any foreign opposition. He will say: "When the history books are written, it will be said that a couple of weeks on the Maidan is where this went from being a Cold War-style competition to a much bigger deal. Putin's unwillingness to abide by any norms began at that point. It went from provocative to disrespectful of any international boundary." Putin blames the US and other Western nations for encouraging the Ukrainian resistance. (Guardian, New Yorker)

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— 2014 —

2014: Academic Apparently Becomes Russian Intelligence Asset

Shadowy academic Joseph Mifsud, who has left two jobs at universities to escape accusations of financial improprieties, is struggling to establish himself in London after becoming director of the obscure London Academy of Diplomacy, a for-profit continuing education program. "I remember him as a snake-oil salesman," says former Maltese government official Manuel Delia, who has known him since the 1990s, when Mifsud, a native Maltese, was administering a scholarship program. He has little interest or expertise in Russia. However, a visit from a young Russian intern changes that.

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The intern is 24-year old Natalia Kutepova-Jamrom. She brings an unusually impressive resume, claiming to speak four different languages and a career as a legislative aide in the Russian government. Kutepova-Jamrom introduces Mifsud to a group of senior Russian officials, diplomats and scholars. Despite his total lack of qualifications, she arranges for him to join the prestigious Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow think tank closely aligned with Vladimir Putin. James Sherr, the former head of the Russian studies program at Chatham House in London and a member of Valdai for years, later says it is "very strange" for someone like Mifsud to be invited to join the institution. It "might suggest he does have connections," Sherr will add. Shortly thereafter, Mifsud becomes a popular pundit for state-run news outlets in Russia, lavishing praise on Putin and Russia. He speaks at the Valdai conference this year, condemning the US sanctions against Russia. "Global security and economy needs partners, and who is better in this than the Russian Federation," he says. He forges a relationshio with Ivan Timofeev, a program director for Valdai. In April 2016, Mifsud will introduce Timofeev to young Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, who will work with both Mifsud and Timofeev to facilitate a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian government officials. Timofeev will refer repeatedly to his contacts in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Papadopoulos will meet an official from that agency who also helps him in his attempts to set up a meeting. (New York Times)

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2014-2016: Obama Administration Warned about Russian Attempts to Disrupt US Political System

The Obama administration receives multiple warnings from national security officials that Moscow is intensifying its intelligence operations and building what they call disinformation networks, to be used to disrupt Western political systems, including the US's own system. Ultimately, it chooses to take no actions until well after the November 2016 elections.

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In the spring of 2014, the administration receives a report quoting a reliable Russian source; the source says that the Kremlin is constructing a disinformation apparatus designed to sabotage and disrupt Western democracies. The Russian source tells US officials in Moscow: "You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe … and in the US, Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments and militaries in all of these places." The report is circulated throughout the National Security Council, the State Department, and the US intelligence community, included in a larger assessment of Russian intentions regarding Ukraine. The report does not include any explicit warnings about a threat to US elections. However, some US officials in Moscow worry that officials in Washington are too quick to dismiss the possibility that the Kremlin could have any real impact on US systems. "Even if the Russians and Putin had these ambitions, they were doubtful of their capacity to execute them," one Obama White House official later says. Ned Price, who serves as spokesperson for the National Security Council, later says that the administration did not ignore warnings about Russia's ability to interfere in US politics or more general warnings about Russian cyberespionage. "The Obama administration was nothing but proactive in responding to Russian aggression in all of its forms, especially as Moscow became more brazen with and following its military moves against Ukraine beginning in 2014," Price says. However, other Obama-era officials will not echo Price's position. After the election, CIA Director John Brennan, who will resign his position when Donald Trump takes office, will say: "People have criticized us &hellip' for not coming out more forcefully and saying it. There was no playbook for this." However, other national security officials will say that the Obama administration is too cautious about acting overtly against the Russian incursions, and to let the Russians know that the US is aware of its attempts to subvert American democracy. One intelligence official later says they "had a list of things they could never get the signoffs on. The truth is, nobody wanted to piss off the Russians." Several strategies proposed, but not followed, include closing two Russian dachas in Maryland and New York, which are almost certainly Russian; expelling diplomats; and engaging in counterintelligence operations designed to alert the Russians that the US is fighting back against any attempts to interfere in the election. Officials in various departments – the NSC, Defense, and State Departments – point the blame at each other for the failure to adequately respond. An NSC official later says: "The frustrations [about lack of forceful action] are justified and, frankly, were shared by the White House. … The options were being discussed. They weren't being implemented." An Obama administration official later says: "The reports from sources deep inside the Russian government were alarming. We started getting stuff in April, May [of 2014, after the Russian invasion of Crimea] that was extraordinary about the extent of the threat and the capacities the Russians were building." Another Obama official later recalls, "We were worried [Putin] would try to test us." An intelligence official says, "It just seemed like it was difficult, especially after the Crimea and the Ukraine … there still wasn't a willingness to more heartily engage in the effort." A former intelligence official will later say that at the time he advised White House officials, "The longer we don’t push back, the harder they push." Even when the hacked DNC emails are released, the Obama administration chooses to do nothing until December 2016, long after the damage has been done. A former National Security Council official will later say: "Any of these actions risked a Russian reciprocation. We were kind of caught in a catch-22." A Trump administration official will later say: "They were warned. They underestimated it until it was too late. They just didn't know how to deal with the bad guys." (Politico)

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March 2014: Trump Calls for US Sanctions Against Russia

In a series of interviews, reality TV host Donald Trump identifies Russia as the United States's "biggest problem" and greatest geopolitical adversary. The comments come in the weeks after Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region, in interviews given to NBC's Today show and Fox News's Fox and Friends.

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He suggests imposing economic sanctions on Russia in response to the Crimean invasion, and says he agrees with 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who called Russia the US's top "geopolitical foe." On Fox, Trump says: "Well, Mitt was right, and he was also right when he mentioned in one of the debates about Russia, and he said, 'Russia's our biggest problem, and Russia is, you know, really something.' He said it's a hell of a problem, and everybody laughed at him, including certain media, by the way. They laughed. It turned out that he's absolutely right. You look at what Russia's doing with Iran, how they controlled the situation, and Syria, and virtually every other place that … We were thrown out of every place. I'm not saying we should be there. We should rebuild our own schools and our own bridges and highways and everything else. To be scoffed at and thrown around the way we're being thrown around is absolutely unthinkable." In another Fox and Friends interview, Trump reiterates his support for Romney's positions, and attacks President Obama for being too soft on Russia. On NBC, Trump says: "We should definitely do sanctions. And we have to show some strength. I mean, Putin has eaten Obama's lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time. And I just hope that Obama, who's not looking too good, doesn't do something very foolish and very stupid to show his manhood. I just hope that doesn't happen." (CNN)

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October 28, 2014: Russian Hackers Penetrate White House Computers

Hackers believed to work for the Russian government have breached the unclassified White House computer network over the past weeks, according to White House officials. They say the hackers did no damage, and they believe the classified network remains secure.

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Russian government hackers have been identified by multiple private security firms as targeting NATO, the Ukrainian government, and US defense contractors. An official says the intrusion is not surprising: "On a regular basis, there are bad actors out there who are attempting to achieve intrusions into our system. This is a constant battle for the government and our sensitive government computer systems, so it's always a concern for us that individuals are trying to compromise systems and get access to our networks." Russian intelligence agents are thought to have been behind a massive breach of the US military's classified networks, a breach that was discovered in 2008. The hackers are later identified as COZY BEAR, also known as "the Dukes," a group affiliated with the FSB and directed by senior officials in the Russian government. This may be one of the operations being conducted by the Kremlin that are described by one Russian defense official as "disrupting the information networks of the probable enemy." Information security and cybercrime expert Oleg Demidov will recall: "At the time, this idea was met with laughter. But this was something real, these units were indeed formed, and staffed by graduates of the country's leading technical universities." Members of COZY BEAR and other Russian-directed hacking groups have been recruited via social-media ads for the "Research Squadron of the Russian Federation." The ads show a soldier putting down a rifle and turning to a keyboard, accompanied by a heavy-metal soundtrack. (Washington Post, New Yorker)

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November 2014: Russian Hackers Unusually Aggressive and Overt in State Department Breach, Say Experts

Top US cyber experts engage in a 24-hour "pitched battle" with Russian hackers who breached the unclassified State Department computer system, hackers who, according to a 2017 report by the Washington Post, "displayed an unprecedented level of aggression that experts warn is likely to be turned against the private sector."

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The attackers are later identified as the Russian hacking group labeled APT 29, and nicknamed COZY BEAR or The Dukes. The primary defense is provided by NSA computer experts, who find themselves destroying the hackers' link between their command and control center and the malware in the State Department system only to find the Russians almost instantly creating new links. NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett recalls, "It was hand-to-hand combat." He calls the aggressive behavior by the Russian hackers "a new level of interaction between a cyber attacker and a defender." The NSA, Ledgett will say, is able to monitor the hackers' tools and tactics. "So we were able to see them teeing up new things to do. That's a really useful capability to have." The State Department shuts down its unclassified email system over a weekend, ostensibly for routine maintenance but in reality to attempt to remove the hackers without instantly alerting them that they had blown their cover. The NSA learned of COZY BEAR's access from a Western intelligence agency. That agency's hackers have not only managed to hack the Russians' computers, but have gained access to the surveillance cameras in their workspace. They are able to physically watch the hackers as they attacked the US computers, and have their faces on record. A former senior administration official later tells the Post: "They're sending a message that we have capabilities and that you are not the only player in town." Another official will say that the operation is designed primarily to test the US response capabilities: "If they can test you in an unclassified network, they can start to test you in a classified network. They want to see, is the US government willing to escalate against us? It's all tactics and looking at responses – not just of an organization. It's what is the US government willing to do?" (Washington Post)

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Russia fully understood the potential of the internet age to mold perceptions and create its own reality, and information warfare is a central tenet of Russian political, diplomatic, and military operations. The internet age has just sped up the time that propaganda – both innocent and malicious – can infect the global information flow and corrupt whatever target Vladimir Putin desires. — from The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance

— 2015 —

January 25, 2015: Browder: Putin Runs Russia like Organized Crime Syndicate

Former US billionaire William "Bill" Browder, who made a fortune in Russia before running afoul of the Putin regime and fleeing the country in 2005, says Vladimir Putin runs the country like an organized crime syndicate. He also says Putin had his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, arrested on trumped-up charges after Magnitsky discovered evidence of a massive fraud, theft and money-laundering scheme arranged by Putin, and had Magnitsky beaten to death while in jail.

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THIS STORY IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT. (Guardian)

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Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear as teddies

Summer 2015: Russian Hackers Breach DNC Servers

A Russian hacking group dubbed COZY BEAR (also COZY DUKE or Advanced Persistent Threat 29) infiltrates the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer network and begins gathering information from personal and organizational emails.

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The COZY BEAR hacking group is thought to work for the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian secret police agency formerly known as the KGB. It is only after another Russian hacking group, FANCY BEAR, breaches the DNC servers a year later that two private American cybersecurity firms, CyberStike and ThreatConnect, will detect the intrusions. Cyberwarfare expert and former intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance will later write that by this time, the NSA is sure the FSB and other Russian organizations are "probing around the seams of the elections." The NSA would be the principal agency to alert the FBI if it detects any indications of a cyber attack on the DNC. Nance will write, "Apparently they passed on some kind of warning – also known as a tipper. The Bureau did give the DNC a hint but did not provide information as to the direction or severity of the threat because doing so would have identified the source, which could have only been tracked to its origin by the NSA." (Glomar Disclosure, ThreatConnect, USA Today, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance, photo illustration from World in War)

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Summer 2015: Congressional Leaders Learn of Russian Cyberattacks on Democrats, Forbidden to Reveal Knowledge

Top Republican and Democratic Congressional members are briefed that Russian hackers are attacking the Democratic Party. However, the lawmakers are unable to warn party officials due to secrecy concerns.

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The leaders, the so-called "Gang of Eight" – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY, House Speaker John Boehner (R-NC), Senate and House Intelligence Committee chairs Richard Burr (R-NC) and Devin Nunes (R-CA), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and the ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) – are brought into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for the briefing. They learn that US intelligence agencies are monitoring the hacking. In August 2016, after Reuters breaks the story of the briefing, Pelosi calls the hacking an "electronic Watergate" and confirms that Russian government agents are responsible for the hacks. DNC officials will not learn of the hacking until March 2016, and then were not told that Russians were behind the hacks. The first hacking attempts to be documented are "spearphishing" efforts, when fake emails are sent to attempt to gain users' passwords to their private email accounts. (Reuters)

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photo of Yahoo notification

Early May 2015: DNC Personal Email, Blog Hacked

DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa gets an alarming notification on her personal Yahoo account, reading: "Important action required. We strongly suspect that your account has been the target of state-sponsored actors." Chalupa had been hired to prepare opposition research files on Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Chalupa alerts DNC communications director Luis Miranda, writing on May 3: "Since I started digging into Manafort, these messages have been a daily occurrence on my Yahoo account despite changing my password often."

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Chalupa will tell reporter Michael Isikoff in July 2016: "I was freaked out. … This is really scary." Chalupa is in contact with a number of sources in Kiev, Ukraine, including several investigative journalists, who had been providing her with information about Manafort's political and business dealings in that country and Russia. Her message to Miranda will be made public in July 2016 as part of a 20,000-email "dump" performed by WikiLeaks just days before the Democratic National Convention. Chalupa's email account is a personal one, not a governmental account. The DNC takes Chalupa's concerns seriously, and immediately conclude that the likely source of the intrusion was hackers employed by the Russian government. Chalupa is ordered to cease her research into Manafort. Yahoo's chief information security officer Bob Lord will later say: "Rest assured we only send these notifications of suspected attacks by state-sponsored actors when we have a high degree of confidence." Manafort will say that the charges of Russian hacking are "absurd" and "crazy," and will accuse the Clinton campaign of attempting to use the accusations as a distraction from "what's in those emails." Three weeks after his response, Manafort will resign as campaign chairman after evidence surfaces that he was paid over $12 million by Ukrainian government officials with deep ties to the Russian government. As for his denials, multiple government and private security experts will trace back the hacks to two Russian computer intrusion teams, one working for the FSB (formerly the KGB), and the other for the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. Later analysis will show that DNC senior staff members and Clinton campaign staffers alike are being hacked. John McCarthy, a DNC consultant who will later join the Clinton campaign, sends an email to Chalupa from his personal GMail account that will be publicly leaked by WikiLeaks. The leaked email contains McCarthy's personal cellphone number. Just before Chalupa sends her email to Miranda, DNC staffer Rachel Palermo notifies colleagues by email that its rapid-response blog, "Factivists," has been "compromised." She writes: "We have been compromised! But it's all ok." Palermo says that to "prevent future issues," the blog password will be changed "every few weeks." She includes a new password for the blog in the email, which, ironically, may have been obtained by the hackers. (Yahoo! News, Daily Beast)

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Intelligence professionals weren't actually mad at the Russians for digitally breaking into the DNC. "That's a valid intelligence target," one cybersecurity analyst and Defense Intelligence Agency veteran told me. But usually they hoard stolen data, not spill it out onto the Internet. Suddenly, it looked like the bears had changed their game. – Spencer Ackerman, from The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance

June 2015: Russians Begin Giving Info to WikiLeaks

Russian intelligence begins feeding WikiLeaks, the "whistleblowing" site founded and led by Julian Assange, hacked documents obtained from Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry.

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A group called "WikiSaudiLeaks," likely a front for the Russian FANCY BEAR hacking group, claims that "WikiLeaks have been given access to some part of these documents." The hacked information, dubbed the "Saudi Cables" by the Western media, shows Saudi princes buying influence and monitoring dissidents. Security expert and author Thomas Rid will write, "They became a major news story, proving that the old methods worked even better in the twenty-first century." The Russian hackers and their partners at WikiLeaks will shortly gain access to servers owned by US politicials and political groups, and use that information to interfere with and manipulate the US presidential election. (Esquire)

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June 2015: Russian Hackers Attack Pentagon Email Servers

Russian hackers breach an unclassified Pentagon email system used by employees of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to US military officials. This is one of the most recent in a blizzard of attacks on American government computer networks sponsored by the Russian government.

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The intrusion was detected around July 25, and the Pentagon disabled the email system upon discovery. The network is still offline. The Pentagon disclosed the attack shortly after it happened, but only in recent days have military officials determined that the attack was launched from Russia. Officials compare it to attacks launched against the White House and State Department in the fall of 2014, again by Russian state-sponsored computer hackers. More recently, massively destructive attacks have breached databases maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, but those attacks were likely launched by Chinese government hackers, officials say. The Obama administration has refrained from publicly accusing either Russia or China of launching cyberattacks against American governmental networks. Russia denies any responsibility for any of the hacks. But Russia is suspected of cyberattacks against other governments' networks, including a major breach of computers used by Germany's lower house of Parliament. Other Russian attacks have been launched against Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Georgia. (Washington Post)

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August 31, 2015: Security Expert Concludes WikiLeaks a Russian "Cut-Out"

Security expert John Schindler, a former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer and current War College professor and author, writes on his personal blog that evidence clearly shows the "whistleblower" or "hacktivist" group WikiLeaks is little more than a "cut-out" working for the Russian government.

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Schindler says it became evident in 2013, when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange coordinated Moscow's invitation to offer refuge to American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden after Snowden provided classified intelligence leaks to WikiLeaks for public dissemination, even talking Snowden out of his original plan to seek refuge in Latin America. Assange has for years hosted a regular show on RT, the Russian propaganda broadcast network. Assange, currently hiding from Swedish extradition in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, has requested security protection from the FSB, the Russian secret police. More circumstantially, WikiLeaks has exposed classified secrets from a number of countries, but never Russia; and Assange and his WikiLeaks cohorts have espoused "unmistakably pro-Russian positions on a host of controversial issues." Schindler concludes, "WikiLeaks should be treated as the front and cut-out for Russian intelligence that it has become …" (The XX Committee)

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Fall 2015: British Intelligence Alerts US to DNC Hacks

British intelligence provides what the Guardian later calls "a vital tipoff" to the White House that Russian hackers are successfully hacking the Democratic National Committee's computer network.

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Apparently, British intelligence officials initially learned of the breach when voice intercepts, computer traffic or intelligence assets found the content of hacked DNC emails being transmitted to Moscow. The FBI is alerted to the hacks. An American cybersecurity expert later explains, "The British picked it up, and we may have had it at about the same time." In 2017, FBI Director James Comey will testify that he and the bureau became aware of the hacking at about this time, though he will not mention any tips from British intelligence. (Guardian, New York Times, New York Times)

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September-November 2015: DNC Learns from FBI that Russians Hacking Computers, Fails to Properly Respond

FBI agent Adrian Hawkins calls the DNC to inform the committee that their computer network may have been hacked by a Russian group known as "the Dukes." The agent is referring to a shadowy group of hackers working for the Russian government also called COZY BEAR.

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The FBI knows this group well, having spent years trying, with limited success, to keep them out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The agent speaks with tech-support contractor Yared Tamene, who jots down the information, does a Google search for "the Dukes," and runs a basic check for evidence of hacking. But Tamene is no expert in cyberattacks. Tamene, who apparently does not understand exactly what Hawkins is claiming, fails to do a serious work-up on the intrusion, in part because he is not sure Hawkins is an actual FBI agent. He later writes in an internal memo, "I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call." Another internal memo from Tamene reads in part: "The FBI thinks the DNC has at least one compromised computer on its network and the FBI wanted to know if the DNC is aware, and if so, what the DNC is doing about it. [T]he Special Agent told me to look for a specific type of malware dubbed 'Dukes' by the US intelligence community and in cybersecurity circles." Hawkins does not personally visit the office, which is only a few blocks from FBI headquarters, nor does he email the DNC, in part because he does not want his emails to be intercepted by COZY BEAR and thus alert the hackers. When Hawkins calls to follow up, Tamene does not return his calls, "as I had nothing to report," he writes. One of Hawkins's follow-ups, in November, warns that a DNC computer is "calling home, where home meant Russia," Tamene writes, indicating that a DNC computer is uploading information to Moscow. "SA Hawkins added that the FBI thinks that this calling home behavior could be the result of a state-sponsored attack." For his part, Hawkins is also busy investigating the Sanders campaign, which had improperly breached Clinton's campaign data. Neither DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz nor her chief executive Amy Dacey are ever briefed about Hawkins's warnings. Shawn Henry of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike later says he cannot imagine why Hawkins fails to pay a personal visit to the DNC, or at the very least, why the FBI did not have a more senior official call the organization. "This is not a mom-and-pop delicatessen or a local library," Henry will say. "This is a critical piece of the US infrastructure because it relates to our electoral process, our elected officials, our legislative process, our executive process. To me it is a high-level, serious issue, and if after a couple of months you don't see any results, somebody ought to raise that to a higher level." The DNC fails to mount a full-on defense of its computer system. The New York Times later writes that the DNC's response is made up of "a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack." Whatever chance the DNC had to halt the Russian intrusion in its early onset will soon be gone. DNC technology director Andrew Brown later recalls that during his planning for the election cycle, he was always aware of the possibility of his computers being breached. But the DNC always lacked the budget to protect its computers. "There was never enough money to do everything we needed to do," he later says. The DNC email spam-filtering system is obsolete and easily subverted. Tamene and his team will not meet with the FBI until March 2016, when they confirm that Hawkins is actually an FBI agent. An August 2016 news report by Reuters, sourced anonymously (likely from three Congressional and/or DNC members), contradicts the December 2016 Times report by claiming that no one from the FBI contacted the DNC to report the hacks until months had passed. That report will read in part: "The lack of full disclosure by the FBI prevented DNC staffers from taking steps that could have reduced the number of confidential emails and documents stolen, one of the sources said. Instead, Russian hackers whom security experts believe are affiliated with the Russian government continued to have access to Democratic Party computers for months during a crucial phase in the US presidential campaign. … When DNC staffers requested further information from the FBI to help them track the incursion, they said the agency declined to provide it. In the months that followed, FBI officials spoke with DNC staffers on several other occasions but did not mention the suspicion of Russian involvement in an attack, sources said. The DNC's information technology team did not realize the seriousness of the incursion until late March, the sources said. It was unclear what prompted the IT team's realization." Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, who publishes her work under the pseudonym "emptywheel," will write that both the Reuters and Times accounts have some issues. It is obvious, she will write, that Tamene wrote his memo sometime in April 2016 or afterward, in part to protect himself from possible accusations of negligence. And had he done a Google search for "dukes malware" after September 17, 2015, he should have found an article by F-Secure Labs discussing "the Dukes" in detail. She concludes that it is hard to determine how much responsibility for the failure to respond lies with Tamene and the DNC, and how much with the FBI. (New York Times, SOURCE, Reuters, Emptywheel, CNBC, New Yorker)

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The Russians have used social media driven information campaigns to discredit the US for years. Facebook and Twitter remain littered with pro-Russian, Western looking accounts and supporting automated bots designed to undermine the credibility of the US government. — Former FBI cybersecurity expert Clint Watts, October 2015, quoted during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings from March 2017

October 2015: Serious Security Flaws in DNC Computers Detected

The InfoSec Institute, an information security training center, conducts a test hack of the Democratic National Committee's computer networks, using a procedure known as "advanced penetrative testing."

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The tests reveal that the DNC servers have tremendous security flaws which would allow breaches similar to the ones perpetuated by Chinese hackers on the Obama and McCain networks in 2008. (The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process. … I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. — Trump business partner Felix Sater, November 2015

December 2015 and Beyond: Russian "Trolls" Flood Social Media with Fake Pro-Trump, Anti-Clinton Propaganda

The Internet Research Agency is a secretive, online Russian propaganda operation that was formerly housed in a St. Petersburg office building. The IRA produces blog posts, comments, infographics, "memes," and viral videos that push the Kremlin's various political and social agendas on both the Russian and English-language Internet.

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The IRA includes a well-established "troll farm," comprised of what Adrian Chen of the New Yorker will call "armies of sock-puppet social-media accounts [created] in order to create the illusion of a rabid grass-roots movement." "Trolling" is a particularly effective tool used by Russian officials to control a formerly freewheeling Internet culture in Russia that culminated in the 2011 mass protests against Vladimir Putin organized via social media. Chen will write, "It is used by Kremlin apparatchiks at every level of government in Russia; wherever politics are discussed online, one can expect a flood of comments from paid trolls." Chen quickly learned that pro-Kremlin "trolling" has little real impact on public opinion. Far more effective is the deliberate flooding of fake content over social media platform designed to spread "doubt and paranoia" and discredit "the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space." Opposition activist Leonid Volkov will tell Chen, "The point is to spoil [social media-based discourse], to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won't want to touch it." Towards the end of 2015, IRA trolls begin flooding American social media with retweets and reposts of right-wing conspiracy stories and memes, complete with battalions of supportive comments by fellow trolls. Their fake accounts label themselves as conservative American voters who, as time goes on, begin portraying themselves more and more frequently as Trump supporters. Chen will recall the rather "hapless" attempts by IRA trolls to smear Obama on social media, but they have improved their approach in recent years. Chen will write, somewhat sardonically, "Exposure to even small amounts of Russian politics can induce severe bouts of paranoia and conspiracy-minded thinking, and it seemed logical to me that this new pro-Trump bent might well be an attempt by the agency to undermine the US by helping to elect a racist reality-show star as our Commander-in-Chief." Chen will write that the "love affair" between Putin and Trump is overblown in the US media, and that Putin's "affection" for Trump is likely borne more from his deep-seated loathing for Hillary Clinton. (New Yorker)

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— January 2016 —

Early to Mid-2016: Russia Begins Hacking US Presidential Campaign

Russian officials, at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, begin a clandestine effort to interfere with the American presidential elections, using cyberwarfare and propaganda in their attempt to bolster the candidacy of Republican Donald Trump.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov oversees the efforts, which are similar to efforts previously launched to impact elections in Estonia, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, among other nations. By late July, however, some Russian officials believe Peskov's efforts are going too far. Putin's chief of staff Sergei Ivanov is furious with Peskov's failed efforts to use hacks and disinformation to interfere in a failed coup attempt in Turkey. Ivanov and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev begin to sound concerns that Russia's role in the election is beginning to draw scrutiny from Western journalists, especially their efforts to sow discord between supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her former primary opponent Bernie Sanders. Putin, though, continues to back the interference, and both he and Ivanov are pleased at the effects, particularly the discord being fomented among Democratic voters. (Newsweek)

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— February 2016 —

February 4-5, 2016: Russian Official: Kremlin Working On New Cyberwarfare Strategies to Use against US

Senior Russian cyber official and Kremlin advisor Andrey Krutskikh tells a security conference in Moscow, "Infoforum 2016," that his country is working on new strategies for the "information arena" that would be equivalent to testing a nuclear bomb and would "allow us to talk to the Americans as equals."

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The speech is reported by the Washington Post in January 2017 and independently confirmed by McClatchy News shortly thereafter. In January 2017, Post reporter David Ignatius will write, "Krutskikh's comments are important because they may help explain the radical strategic doctrine that underlies Russia's hacking and attempted manipulation of the 2016 presidential campaign in America, as well as Russian political subversion in Europe." Krutskikh tells his audience: "You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President Harry] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing. … I'm warning you: We are at the verge of having 'something' in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals." Russia must have an equally strong hand as the United States in this new area of cyberwarfare, he says. If Russia is weak, "it must behave hypocritically and search for compromises. But once it becomes strong, it will dictate to the Western partners [the United States and its allies] from the position of power." A senior Obama administration official will tell Ignatius: "They think of information space as a domain of warfare. In the US, we tend to have a binary view of conflict – we're at peace or at war. The Russian doctrine is more of a continuum. You can be at different levels of conflict, along a sliding scale." The Russian hacking and sabotage of the presidential campaign, he says, is an example of their use of new tools in this continuum of conflict: "Certainly, I believe the Russians are working to increase their capabilities in cyberspace, because they've realized they can use cyberspace to pursue their foreign policy goals." The Russians believe that the US is pushing just as aggressively in the information space, the official says, noting, "Things we perceive as free speech, they perceive as aggressive behavior from the West." According to Krutskikh, Vladimir Putin believes the US attacked first in the information war, and it is now retaliating. The official adds: "The Russians are particularly advanced – in technology, organization and doctrine. They're at the head of the pack. But there will be others." Lauren Goodrich, a senior Eurasia analyst at the intelligence firm Stratfor, says: "Russia has again figured out from its old Soviet playbook that its greatest weapon in the world is information. Its information and disinformation campaigns have skyrocketed." (Washington Post, McClatchy DC)

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— March 2016 —

Around March 6, 2016: Former Intern Joins Trump Foreign Policy Team, Told Policy Focus Will be Warmer Relations with Russia

George Papadopoulos, a former intern and researcher with the right-wing Hudson Institute who has virtually no real foreign policy experience, agrees to join the Trump campaign team as a foreign policy advisor. He is recommended for the position by senior campaign advisor Sam Clovis. He currently lives in London. Clovis, identified in court documents as his "campaign supervisor," alerts him that one of the biggest thrusts of Trump's foreign policy is to create a new, friendlier relationship with Russia. In 2017, Papadopoulos will be charged with crimes by the Mueller investigation, and will begin cooperating with it. (Department of Justice, Washington Post, Washington Post, Newsweek, Politico, , Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, Michelle Jones)


George Papadopoulos

March-September 2016: Trump Aide Tries to Set Up Meetings with Russian Officials

Newly named Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos engages in a months-long attempt to schedule meetings between campaign team members and Russian government officials. Three days after Trump names Papadopoulos as one of his foreign policy advisors, Papadopoulos, a former intern and researcher with the right-wing Hudson Institute who has virtually no real foreign policy experience, sends an email to seven campaign officials titled: "Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin."

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Court documents revealed in October 2017 show that the email is the result of several weeks' worth of contacts between Papadopoulos and at least three Russian contacts, including an official with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The email offers to set up "a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump," adding that his Russian contacts welcome the opportunity. He fails to explain clearly why campaign officials should meet with Russian officials. One of the senior policy advisors Papadopoulos includes in his email exchanges is Stephen Miller, a fact which is not publicly revealed until November 2017. Some campaign officials are not receptive to Papadopoulos's overtures. Campaign co-chair Sam Clovis writes that he believes the campaign should consult with NATO allies before making any plans to meet with the Russians; retired Admiral Charles Kubic mentions possible legal concerns, including the worry that the campaign may violate the US sanctions against Russia and/or the Logan Act, which makes it illegal for US citizens to engage in unauthorized negotiation with foreign governments. Papadopoulos, a recent college graduate and former aide to the Ben Carson presidential campaign who bills himself as an "energy consultant," continues sending emails, at least a half-dozen between March and September, with at least one going to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in April claiming that he is receiving "a lot of calls over the past month" asking for a meeting with Russia. On April 27, he writes that "Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is right." Papadopoulos repeatedly insists that Trump himself, or senior campaign officials, meet with Russian officials. On May 4, Papadopoulos forwards Lewandowski and others a note he receives from the Kremlin-funded Russian International Affairs Council, where senior RIAC official Ivan Timofeev tells Papadopoulos that Russian foreign ministry officials are receptive to a Trump visit to Moscow, and requests a formal letter from the campaign and the Kremlin outlining the meeting. Clovis responds, "There are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen." It is unclear whether Lewandowski responds. (Timofeev later tells an online Russian news site that he did correspond with Papadopoulos: "At some point, he started asking whether it would be possible to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin or some other high-ranking Russian politicians. Our conversations made it clear that George was not well acquainted with the Russian foreign political landscape. You obviously can't just go and set up a meeting with the president, for instance. Things just aren't done that way.") Several weeks later, Papadopoulos forwards the same note to new campaign chair Paul Manafort, writing, "Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss." Manafort forwards the email to his lobbying associate Rick Gates, saying, "We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips." Gates assigns the rejection to a lower-level official. In August 2017, Manafort will say through spokesperson Jason Maloni that the emails provide "concrete evidence that the Russia collusion narrative is fake news. … Mr. Manafort's swift action reflects the attitude of the campaign – any invitation by Russia, directly or indirectly, would be rejected outright." Timofeev will verify the outreach to the Trump campaign; the RIAC is led by a number of Putin cronies, including the chairs of Alfa Bank and Sberbank, two of Russia's largest financial institutions. Timofeev will say he was open to meeting with other campaigns as well, but both Clinton and Obama campaign officials will say they were never contacted by the RIAC.

Press Learns of Papadopoulos's Attempts at Outreach in August 2017

The press learns of the attempts by Papadopoulos to pressure the campaign to meet with Russians in August 2017, when the Trump campaign will turn over some 20,000 pages of documentation to Congressional committees investigating charges of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos is not a prominent member of the campaign staff, and while he claims to be acting as an intermediary for the Russian government, it is be initially unclear what his status actually is. Government documents later show he is an official member of the foreign policy advisory team.

Will Plead Guilty, Cooperate with Investigation

In July 2017, Papadopoulos will be arrested by the FBI in conjunction with the Mueller investigation. He will plead guilty to charges surrounding his activities, and will begin cooperating with the investigation.

Press Will Note Other Russian Contacts by Campaign Officials

The Washington Post later points out, "[T]he internal resistance to Papadopoulos's requests is at odds with other overtures Trump allies were making toward Russia at the time, mostly at a more senior level of the campaign." Three months after Papadopoulos begins pressuring the campaign to meet with Russian officials, and one month after rejecting one of Papadopolous's requests, Manafort and other campaign officials meet with a delegation of Russians to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton. In July 2016, senior foreign policy advisor Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and two other campaign officials will meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. That same month, foreign policy advisor Carter Page will speak at a Russian university in Moscow. Page is, unbeknownst to the campaign, under surveillance for acting as a foreign agent for Russia. The Post notes, "To experts in Russian intelligence gathering, the Papadopoulos chain offers further evidence that Russians were looking for entry points and playing upon connections with lower-level aides to penetrate the 2016 campaign." Former CIA veteran and Russia expert Steven Hall says: "The bottom line is that there's no doubt in my mind that the Russian government was casting a wide net when they were looking at the American election. I think they were doing very basic intelligence work: Who's out there? Who's willing to play ball? And how can we use them?" Page says the Papadopoulos emails prove that the Russian communications were inconsequential: "The entirely benign offer from a volunteer member of the Trump movement is infinitely less relevant than the real collusion in the 2016 election," he says. Page received some of the emails sent by Papadopoulos. He adds that "the real scandal lies among Clinton and Obama associates who fed false evidence" to investigators that he says make up the rationale for the federal warrant concerning him. Page provides no evidence of the "false evidence" claim.

Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory about Outreach Efforts

After the news of Papadopoulos's attempts to set up meetings with Russian officials breaks in August 2017, the right-wing Daily Caller will speculate, with no solid evidence, that Papadopoulos is a plant with plans to "set up" the campaign. Papadopoulos may have been in contact with Sergei Millian, an alleged source for the Steele dossier. Based on that, the Caller asks, without answering: "Was he attempting to infiltrate the Trump campaign? Was he trying to advance his own personal business interests? Or was the campaign volunteer making an entrepreneurial move to win favor with senior Trump team officials?" It also speculates, without evidence, that Papadopoulos may have been a source for the dossier. The Caller does not ask if it is possible Papadopoulos was sincere in characterizing himself as an "intermediary" for Russian interests, and is sincerely trying to set up meetings with Russian officials to solicit the assistance of the Kremlin to aid the Trump campaign. (Department of Justice, Washington Post, Washington Post, Newsweek, Daily Caller, New York Times, New York Times, photo from National Herald)

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March 10 - April 7, 2016: FANCY BEAR Targets 109 Clinton Staffers, Clinton Herself

According to March 2017 testimony by espionage expert Thomas Rid, Russian hackers known as FANCY BEAR, working for the GRU, target at least 109 full-time Clinton campaign staffers, attempting to hack their emails. "These are only full-time core staffers, not volunteers – these are not even counted here," Rid will testify. Clinton's own personal email account is also targeted at least twice, but, Rid will testify, "the data showed she did not fall for the trick and didn't actually reveal her password."

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The "trick" used by FANCY BEAR is a well-known hacking method called "spearphishing," where a hacker sends the target an email designed to look like an official communication from his or her email provider. Typically, the fake email claims that some nefarious entity has attempted to hack the email account, and recommends that the user click a link to reset the password. Instead of correcting the "problem" and restoring the security of the account, the email account is now open for the hackers to examine, copy from and manipulate. The trick was depressingly successful, with most campaign staffers falling for it. One staffer, Jay Sullivan, was targeted at least 14 times beginning on March 19. DNC staffers are also targeted in almost the exact same time period, between March 15 and April 11. Rid will note that a week after the hacks, the Russian construct site DC Leaks will be registered, "getting ready to spread data publicly. The overlap between individuals hacked by GRU and leaked on DCLeaks is nearly perfect." (Senate Intelligence Committee, CSPAN, Mother Jones, KnowBe4)

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A photo of Trump's national security team from March 30, 2016

March 14-April 11, 2016: Trump Foreign Policy Advisor Meets with Russian Professor, Tells Campaign He Can Facilitate Meeting between Putin and Trump

George Papadopoulos, a former intern and researcher with the right-wing Hudson Institute who recently joined the Trump campaign team as a foreign policy advisor, meets with a Russian professor while traveling in Italy. The professor, who like Papadopoulos lives in London, is initially uninterested in the young intern, but quickly perks up when he learns Papadopoulos has joined the Trump campaign team. Papadopoulos is interested in the professor's claimed "substantial connections to Russian government officials," according to court documents filed in 2017.

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The Washington Post later identifies the professor as Joseph Mifsud, the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy. In August 2017, Mifsud will tell the Post that he has had "absolutely no contact with the Russian government" and will claim his only ties to Russia are through academic links. Papadopolous tells his superiors that the Russians want "to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump." He gets a reply from senior campaign official Sam Clovis, who says he will "work it through the campaign" and for Papadopolous to hold off on making any commitments. Clovis adds, "Great work." On March 24, Papadopoulos meets with the professor in London, where he is introduced to a Russian woman that the professor claims is a niece to Vladimir Putin. (She is later identified as 30-year old Olga Polonskaya, the former manager of a wine distribution company. She is not related to Putin. Mifsud, in a nearly fact-free interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica in late 2017, will say that Polonskaya is "a simple student, very beautiful." Polonskaya's brother Sergei Vinogradov will say that she understood relatively little of the conversation between Mifsud and Papadopoulos because of her poor English, and will say: "It's totally ridiculous. She's not interested in politics. She can barely tell the difference between Lenin and Stalin." Vinogradov is lying.) The professor says she has deep ties to a number of senior Kremlin officials. The professor also introduces him to the Russian Ambassador to the UK. Papadopoulos soon informs "Campaign Supervisor," who is likely Clovis, that he has made contact with the professor, the Russian Ambassador, and "Putin's niece," and that he now has "connections" which he can use to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump. In a campaign national security meeting on March 31, in which Trump takes part, Papadopoulos introduces himself to the other advisors and tells them about his intention to set up a Putin-Trump meeting. (In a photo of the meeting, Papadopoulos is seated two seats to the left of Sessions.) He sends multiple emails over the next week promising to facilitate the meeting. On April 11, Polonskaya tells Papadopoulos via email that she "would be very pleased to support your initiatives between our two countries," and Papadopoulos responds with an inquiry about setting up a "possible foreign policy trip to Russia." The professor responds, saying that such a trip "has already been agreed" (implying that his contacts in the Kremlin have approved of such a meeting), and says he is flying to Moscow on the 18th to meet with the Valdai, a pro-Putin group, and the Russian parliament. (Mifsud attends a meeting of the Valdai Club on April 19.) Polonskaya replies that she has "alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request," and adds, "As mentioned, we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced." (In October 2017, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will say that she is "not sure that the president recalls specific details of the meeting," calls it "brief," and says Papadopoulos's role with the campaign was "extremely limited.") In 2017, Papadopoulos will be charged with crimes by the Mueller investigation, and will begin cooperating with it. (Department of Justice, Washington Post, Washington Post, Washington Post, Newsweek, , Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, New York Times, Michelle Jones, photo of Trump's National Security team taken on March 30, 2016 from Trump's Twitter account. Papadopoulos is two seats to the left of Jeff Sessions, who is speaking.)

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Mid-March to Mid-May 2016: FBI Warns Clinton Campaign of Hacking Attempt

The FBI warns the Clinton campaign that it has been targeted by a cyberattack. In July, sources will tell reporter Michael Isikoff that FBI agents request that the campaign turn over internal computer logs and personal email addresses of senior campaign officials, a request the campaign denies as being too broad and intrusive.

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The sources will say the agents provide the campaign no specific information about the breach, and will say the campaign is aware of attempts to breach its servers and has taken its own action against the attacks. Clinton is currently the subject of an aggressive and highly politicized investigation by the FBI into allegations that she had exposed national security secrets by using a private computer server at her New York home. The press is currently reporting that the investigation may have expanded to include dealings with the Clinton Foundation. The campaign fears that the materials requested by the FBI may be used in its investigation, though the agents deny any such motivation. In June, the cybersecurity firm SecureWorks will report that the hacks were real, and likely the work of Russian hackers working on behalf of the Kremlin. SecureWorks will write: "The targets were similar to a 2015 … campaign – individuals in Russia and the former Soviet states, current and former military and government personnel in the U.S. and Europe, individuals working in the defense and government supply chain, and authors and journalists – but also included email accounts linked to the November 2016 United States presidential election. Specific targets include staff working for or associated with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), including individuals managing Clinton's communications, travel, campaign finances, and advising her on policy." Around the same time, the cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect will write that the attacks documented by SecureWorks "are consistent with" attacks leveled at the DNC by a Russian hacking group nicknamed FANCY BEAR. (Yahoo! News, SecureWorks, ThreatConnect)

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Gmail notification to John Podesta

March 19, 2016: Fake Gmail Message Gives Russian Hackers Access to Clinton Campaign Emails

Aides for Clinton campaign chairperson John Podesta receive an email purporting to be from Google and warning him to change his password. The email is actually a fake that allowed the senders to hack into his Gmail account.

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After receiving an incorrect assurance from IT employee Charles Delavan that the link is "legitimate," a Podesta aide clicks the link embedded in the email, unknowingly giving the hackers the access they need. Delevan later says he meant to type that the email was "illegitimate," and was distressed to later learn that his typo led Podesta's aide to give access to the hackers. The fake Google domain in the link matches the one used by the Russian hacker group FANCY BEAR has used in a number of other cyberattacks against other US and European targets. Many believe FANCY BEAR is affiliated with Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU. Tom Finney of cybersecurity firm SecureWorks later confirms, "The Google-spoofing domain [used against Podesta] is one we observed used by FANCY BEAR." The New Yorker later observes that while Podesta and the DNC are "[t]ied into politics at the highest level, they [a]re nonetheless unprotected by the defenses afforded to sensitive government institutions." Podesta does not bother "to use the most elementary sort of defense, two-step verification, for his e-mail account." Podesta later admits, "The honest answer is that my team and I were over-reliant on the fact that we were pretty careful about what we click on." (Vice, Politico, New Yorker, image from the New York Times)

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March 22, 2016: Russian Hackers Gain Access to Clinton Campaign Staffer's Email

William Rinehart, a staffer on the Clinton presidential campaign, receives an email before dawn purporting to be from Google. "Someone has your password," the email's subject line reads. "Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account," the message says, and adds that the intrusion apparently came from an IP address in Ukraine.

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The message advises him to "change your password immediately," and provides a convenient red button entitled "CHANGE PASSWORD." Rinehart clicks the box, changes his password, and by doing so, unknowingly gives access to his campaign Gmail account to Russian hackers – the button actually leads to a Russian email account hosted on Yandex.com and contained a phony shortened URL link which went to a domain in Mali. Rinehart will later recall that he is currently in Hawaii, and sees the email during a 4 am message check. He will describe himself as half asleep when he clicked the button and changed his password. He will be contacted in August by a journalist for The Smoking Gun, who will ask him to find the email, which had never been deleted. Experts from the security firm SecureWorks will use the email, and its full headers, to determine the source of the hack. Rinehart is one of scoress of Clinton campaign staffers and DNC employees to fall prey to the "spearphishing" attacks. (The Smoking Gun, New York Times)

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March 24, 2016: Russian Governmental Media Promoting Trump, Attacking Clinton

Reuters examines why the Russian government is so strongly pro-Donald Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton. As reporter Andrew Osborn explains the dominant viewpoint in the Kremlin: "Donald Trump is a brave pro-Putin political maverick who would end US foreign wars and perhaps lift sanctions on Moscow. Hillary Clinton, however, is a warmonger beholden to the military-industrial complex."

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Russian state TV, which promotes the Kremlin's views, is clear in its promotion of the Trump presidential candidacy. Putin and Trump have exchanged compliments; the heads of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee says Trump should have won the 2015 "Man of the Year" award in the US; and Russia's premier television news show "Vesti Nedeli" has claimed that the GOP and Democratic elites are working together to stop a possible Trump candidacy because of Trump's pro-Russia stance. Host Dmitry Kiselyov told viewers: "Trump doesn't suit the Republican party. They usually divide up the state budget [among themselves] by frightening people about Russia. But Trump is ready to find a common language with Putin. That's why they don't need Trump and even regard him as dangerous." Russian state TV news is usually strongly anti-American, but its staunch support of Trump is at odds with its usual stance. The Kremlin's English-language TV news channel RT claims not to back any US candidates, but has joined its colleagues in backing Trump. Peter Lavelle, the host of RT's "CrossTalk," recently said the American political establishment is trying to stop Trump, who he says has the backing of the majority of Americans. "Can America's elections be truly called democratic if the political establishment aligns itself against the popular will?" he recently asked. "As things stand now millions of voters could be disenfranchised."

Trump, Allies Support of Putin, Russia

One of Trump's earliest American supporters is retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a strong proponent of improved relations with Russia. Flynn has praised Putin's "strong leadership" and supported Russian air strikes in Syria after the Obama administration condemned Russia's actions. When a British judge found that Putin had "probably" authorized the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, Trump sprang to Putin's defense, saying he saw "no evidence" of Putin's involvement and adding: "First of all, he says he didn't do it. Many people say it wasn't him. So who knows who did it?" Trump has taken Russia's side in the NATO debate, saying that the US should reduce its funding for NATO.

Experts Weigh In

Some experts believe the Kremlin supports Trump because they believe that, if he becomes president, he will leave Russia alone. Political analyst Konstantin von Eggert, who believes the Obama administration has not taken a hard enough line with Russia, says: "The Kremlin can't believe its luck. President Obama and [Secretary of State] John Kerry were a dream team for them, but now they have an even better option; someone who thinks that America should have nothing to do with the rest of the world." US-Russia foreign relations expert Victoria Zhuravleva agrees: "For the last two years all we heard from Western newspapers and TV was very critical of Russia. So when you hear something that is not so critical and even more friendly towards your country it's like: 'Thank God, There's one person we can talk to: Donald Trump.'" Both Trump and Putin are "open-minded, pragmatic, and say what they think," she says.

Strong Dislike for Clinton

Clinton is another story entirely. A Russian official says flatly: "We really don't want Hillary. She's no friend of Russia's." Russian state television has already begun attacking her over her promise to declassify UFO files, for her alleged misdeeds surrounding her use of a private email server, and for her supposed poor response to the 2012 attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Russian bloggers working on behalf of the Kremlin say they are eager to begin agitating for Trump and against Clinton. One, Konstantin Rykov, recently told his followers on social media: "Trump is the first member of the American elite in 20 years who compliments Russia. Trump will smash America as we know it, we've got nothing to lose. Do we want the grandmother Hillary? No. Maybe it's time to help the old brigand." (Reuters)

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— April 2016 —

April 2016: Joint Task Force Created to Investigate Claims of Russian Money Being Funneled into Trump Campaign

CIA director John Brennan is given an audio recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin being funneled into the Trump campaign. The recording comes from the intelligence service of an unnamed Baltic nation. Brennan will later come into possession of other information from a dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele containing compromising financial and sexual information about Trump. Since the CIA cannot operate domestically, Brennan creates a joint counterintelligence task force to investigate the claims.

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The task force includes six US agencies or governmental departments, including the FBI, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. A lawyer familiar with the case will later tell Wood that three Trump associates are the subject of the inquiry, but, the lawyer will tell Wood, "it's clear this is about Trump." All three will deny any wrongdoing to Wood, as will one of the banks; the second bank will refuse to comment on Wood's inquiry. The official purpose of the task force is to examine Russian attempts to influence the presidential election, including whether Kremlin money is helping Trump's campaign. Investigators believe a legitimate system for paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay email hackers in the US, or to provide money to intermediaries who then paid the hackers. The task force will become keenly interested in the DNC hacks that transformed the presidential campaign with the release of hacked material in July as well as the Podesta email hacks later in the election season. Among those being investigated are a small number of Americans affiliated with either Trump's campaign or his business empire, as well as a larger number of people from Russia and other former Soviet states with similar connections. (Guardian, BBC, McClatchy)

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April-May 2016: Russian Hackers Breach DNC, Other Political Organizations

A Russian hacking group dubbed FANCY BEAR (also Sofacy or APT 28) breaches the computer network of the Democratic National Committee. FANCY BEAR is apparently a computer hacking group that works for the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

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One of the targets of the intrusion is the DNC's opposition research on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Shortly after the breach, the FBI informs the DNC of the hacks. DNC consultant Michael Sussman, a former cybercrimes prosecutor, advises the DNC senior staff that they only have one opportunity to successfully bar the hackers from the organization's computers. "You only get one chance to raise the drawbridge," he says. If the adversaries know you are aware of their presence, they will take steps to burrow in, or erase the logs that show they were present." The DNC hires a private cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike, which installs a proprietory anti-intrusion system, Falcon, on their computers; CrowdStrike cofounder Dmitri Alperovich later recalls that the program alerted the firm about the breach within seconds of being installed. Moreover, it was apparent that Russian hackers were responsible. Alperovitch calls the analyst who files the initial report to confirm, and the analyst says there is no doubt. The malware being used is the same program that had been used in a 2015 attack on the German Bundestag, or parliament. Esquire journalist Vicky Ward will write: "The code and techniques used against the DNC resembled those from earlier attacks on the White House and the State Department." Cyberwarfare expert and former Navy analyst Malcolm Nance will later write: "The technicians immediately recognized that this was not a nuisance attack; it was a professional hit using professional tools and software." The CrowdStrike analyst, a former intelligence officer, tells Alperovitch that Falcon had identified not one but two Russian intruders: COZY BEAR, a group CrowdStrike's experts believed was affiliated with the FSB, Russia's answer to the CIA; and FANCY BEAR, which they had linked to the GRU, Russian military intelligence. (Alperovitch is one of the people who originally gave the two Russian hacking groups their distinctive monikers.) " CrowdStrike's head of services, Shawn Henry, a former executive director of the FBI, leads a forensics team on a two-week hunt through the DNC network. Henry and his team determine that COZY BEAR has been stealing emails from the DNC's research department for over a year, while FANCY BEAR has only been in the DNC system for a few weeks. COZY BEAR's primary objective was to access and obtain any information it could, including opposition research, campaign strategy notes, donor information, and the like. FANCY BEAR, on the other hand, had targeted a small number of very specific files: the opposition research on Donald Trump. Another CrowdStrike team monitors the hackers in a process called "shoulder-surfing." After the initial period of scrutiny, both teams decide to replace the software on all of the DNC computers. Due to the high level of secrecy imposed during the process, some DNC staffers thought, wrongly, that they were being fired. By May 22, the process is complete, the hackers expelled, and the system reset. However, during their time in the system, the hackers had near-complete access to the DNC's emails and chat logs. Not only are the DNC computers breached, but COZY BEAR has gained at least some access to Clinton campaign servers, Republican National Committee computers, and Trump campaign servers. Former NSA analyst Dave Aitel later tells Wired that both Clinton and Trump campaigns have likely been targeted for a long time, by Russians as well as possibly by Chinese and Iranian cyberhackers. He will also say that despite CrowdStrike's best efforts, the breached computers may not be secure. "People get confused because they assume they're after one thing. But this is about long-term collection, not any particular piece of information," he will say. Comparing the foreign hackers to American cyber espionage teams in the NSA, he will add: "It's the same thing we do: Let's suck this target completely dry and turn it into signals intelligence product. This is not a one-time event." DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz later tells a reporter: "This was not a bump in the road – bumps in the road happen all the time. Two different Russian spy agencies had hacked into our network and stolen our property. And we did not yet know what they had taken. But we knew they had very broad access to our network. There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And it was chilling." (Wired, Esquire, Glomar Disclosure, New York Times, Laura Rozen, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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RT screenshot of Dana Rohrabacher

April 2016: US Congressman Meets with Russians to Receive Derogatory Information about Magnitsky Act

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) meets with a Russian official to look at information intended to persuade Rohrabacher to take a stand against the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 US law that punishes Russians suspected of fraud and human rights violations. Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin is sharply opposed to the legislation, and Russian officials and hired lobbyists have mounted a campaign to persuade members of Congress to overturn it.

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The information, Rohrabacher will admit in July 2017, comes from the chief prosecutor of Russia, Yuri Chaika. The information claims that the case that prompted the passage of the act was not what American officials and prosecutors believed it to be. The document outlines what the Daily Beast will call "an alternate reality in which the US – and the rest of the world – has been duped by a fake $230 million scandal that resulted in sanctions being imposed on 44 Russians linked to murder, corruption, or cover-ups." Rohrabacher is in Moscow on an "official" fact-finding" trip, he will claim. "I had a meeting with some people, government officials, and they were saying, 'Would you be willing to accept material on the Magnitsky case from the prosecutors in Moscow?'" Rohrabacher will recall. "And I said, 'Sure, I'd be willing to look at it.' … At the end of the meeting simply as I was walking out, they said this gentleman has some documents for you. And he handed them to me. And that was as far as my meeting with the prosecutors went. We got the information, we looked at it, and we asked various people about the issue." Two months later, Russian agents met with Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign officials, supposedly to persuade the campaign to oppose the legislation. In July 2017, The Hill will observe: "The congressman's account provides the latest evidence that the overture to President Trump's eldest son in June 2016 by a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya was part of a larger campaign by Moscow that predated the Trump Tower encounter and continued afterward. The focus was to sow distrust among American leaders about the Magnitsky Act, and influence far more than Trump's inner circle. It included lobbying overtures to journalists, State Department officials, and lawmakers and congressional staff from both parties …" Sergei Magnitsky discovered a massive fraud scheme that involved top Russian government officials, and was subsequently arrested and beaten to death on the orders of those he brought evidence against. The "evidence" shown to Rohrabacher contains the Putin government's alternate explanation: that Magnitsky and his clients committed the fraud. Rohrabacher chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, and is openly friendly with Russia. Rohrabacher will admit to sharing the derogatory information with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the U.S. Treasury Department. He will also say that Trump Jr. and the other campaign officials were right to take the meeting: "I always had a policy that we should listen to everybody who wants to talk to you, especially if they think they have something that is important and determine if it is important and if it is, to follow up on it. … I think it would be a dereliction of duty not to give it an honest look. And for anybody on Trump's team to turn it down, and wouldn't even look at information provided them that they said would be important for our country. That would have been the wrong thing to do. It was the right thing for [Trump Jr.] to see if there was some important information." (The Hill, Daily Beast, photo of Rohrabacher appearing on Russian propaganda news broadcast via Russia Insider)

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April 1, 2016: Romanian Hacker "Guccifer" Faces Indictment in US

Marcel Lazar, also known as Marcel Lehel or Marcel Lehel Lazar, has his first day in court on charges of hacking, wire fraud, identity theft, cyberstalking, and obstruction of justice. Lazar, a native Romanian, called himself "Guccifer" online, and is apparently responsible for multiple hacks of US governmental computers.

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Lazar has publicly posted unofficial emails sent to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Lazar was extradited from Romania to the US. He faces nine counts of criminal behavior, including three counts of gaining unauthorized access to protected computers. According to the indictment filed by a US Justice Department prosecutor, Lazar "hacked into the email and social media accounts of high-profile victims, including a family member of two former U.S. presidents, a former U.S. Cabinet member, a former member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former presidential advisor." The indictment likely refers to former presidential advisor Sidney Blumenthal, who worked for then-President Bill Clinton and remains a close friend and colleague of the Clinton family. In 2013, news sites published hacked emails obtained from Blumenthal's account which revealed that Clinton used a private email server during her time at the State Department. The news stories identified the hacker as "Guccifer." Lazar, using his online nickname, boasted of hacking into the private emails of former President George W. Bush, and posted images of artwork created by the former president, including self-portraits in the bathtub. He also posted emails hacked from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Corina Cretu, a Romanian member of the European Parliament, prompting Powell to deny rumors that he and Cretu had had an affair. Lazar was arrested in Bucharest in January 2014, and until his extradition to the US was serving a seven-year jail term for, among other things, illegally accessing email accounts of public figures. (Reuters)

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April 14, 2016: "Guccifer" Trial Date Set

Romanian hacker Marcel Lazar, better known as "Guccifer," has a trial date set for September 12. He is accused of hacking into multiple email and computer accounts of, among others, former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and a member of the Bush family.

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Lazar pleads not guilty to all nine charges. There is no proof that Lazar ever worked with any foreign governmental agencies, nor that he may have provided any information he gleaned to any governments or governmental agencies. An anonymous intelligence source will tell Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge that Lazar's extradition during what Herridge will term "a critical point in the FBI's criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton's email use" is "not a coincidence." The FBI is investigating whether or not Clinton broke the law by using a personal email account, clintonemail.com, for government business on a private server set up in her home while she was Secretary of State. Some law enforcement officials and computer security experts speculate that Lazar may cooperate with the FBI in the Clinton investigation, perhaps demonstrating that the private server was hacked by a third party. Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director, says the timing of Lazar's extradition "seems to be something beyond curious." Herridge writes that Lazar's extradition is "all the more noteworthy" because Lazar was serving time in a Romanian prison and was no longer able to hack computers. Reporter Matei Rosca, who has conducted extensive interviews with Lazar, has said that Lazar has no real computer hacking skills, and gained access to the personal email accounts merely by guessing passwords after reading the biographies of his targets. Lazar, Rosca has written, "is a simple and delusional man who has a conspiratorial streak and perhaps wasn't aware of the damage he was causing. His wife and daughter are back in Romania worrying about him and they have not received a phone call yet since he has been in the U.S." Rosca also has said that Lazar has claimed to have more "unpublished hacked material in the cloud, some of it relating to the Middle East. … He said he was expecting to collaborate with U.S. security services when the time is right. Presumably that would be now." (Politico. Fox News)

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April 18, 2016 and After: Trump Foreign Policy Advisor Coordinates with Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry Official for Meeting between Trump, Kremlin Officials

George Papadopoulos, a former intern and researcher with the right-wing Hudson Institute who recently joined the Trump campaign team as a foreign policy advisor, and has been working diligently to facilitate a "foreign policy trip" to Russia with the ultimate goal of having Donald Trump meet with Vladimir Putin, meets with one of his contacts, a Russian professor who lives in London. The Washington Post later identifies the professor as Joseph Mifsud, the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy. The professor introduces him to an official in Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The MFA official may be Ivan Timofeev of the Russian International Affairs Council. Over the next several weeks, Papadopoulos and the Russian MFA official have multiple conversations via Skype and email about "the potential" for setting the "groundwork" for a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Kremlin officials. (Department of Justice, Washington Post, Washington Post)


April 25-27, 2016: Papadopoulos Tells Campaign Officials that Putin Has "Open Invitation" for Trump to Meet with Him

Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who has been working diligently to bring about a meeting between Donald Trump, campaign officials, Kremlin officials, and Vladimir Putin, emails campaign chair Corey Lewandowski for the campaign that "The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready." The email also goes to senior Trump advisor Stephen Miller. The suggested meeting site is London, the home of one of Papadopoulos's Russian contacts, because "these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in 'neutral' cities." (Department of Justice, Washington Post, , Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, New York Times)

April 26, 2016: Trump Foreign Policy Advisor Told Russian Officials Have "Dirt," "Emails" on Clinton

Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who has been working diligently to bring about a meeting between Donald Trump, campaign officials, Kremlin officials, and Vladimir Putin, meets one of his Russian contacts, Joseph Mifsud, at a London hotel. Mifsud tells Papadopoulos that he has met with high-level Kremlin officials, who told him that the Russians have "dirt" (damaging information) about Hillary Clinton.

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"They have dirt on her," Papadopoulos later quotes Mifsud as saying, during questioning by the FBI. "[T]he Russians had emails on Clinton," he later says the professor tells him. "They have thousands of emails." It is unclear whether Mifsud is referring to the private emails that Clinton deleted from her private email server before handing the rest over to the State Department, or the emails hacked by Russian operatives from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Clinton has maintained that the emails she deleted were personal communications that had nothing to do with her service as Secretary of State. The public does not know that the DNC emails were hacked until June 14, but the Trump campaign is now aware of the hacking, if it did not know beforehand. The same day, Papadopoulos emails senior campaign advisor Stephen Miller that he has "some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right." (Department of Justice, New York Times, Daily Kos)

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A low-level Trump adviser was told as early as April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, in the form of "thousands of emails." [It] raises even more questions about just what, exactly, the Trump campaign knew about the Russian effort to hack and release leading Democrats' emails – and whether they had collaborated with or advised that effort in any way. — Andrew Prokop

— Summer 2016 —

Summer 2016: RNC Employs Firm Using Russian Spy to Compile Damaging Information on Clinton

The Republican National Committee employs a private firm founded by former CIA agents to compile two dossiers of damaging information against Hillary Clinton. That firm, Hamilton Trading Group (HTG), employs a former Russian spy to help dig up "dirt" on Clinton. HTG is a deliberately low-profile firm, partly because of its extensive intelligence connections in Russia, where it performs background checks and provides security services for American officials and firms.

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For well over a year, the RNC and HTG's president Ben Wickham will insist that the payments of $41,500 had nothing to do with Russia or Clinton, but were merely for building security concerns at the RNC's headquarters on Capitol Hill. Only in late October 2017 will RNC officials admit that $34,100 of that money went towards creating intelligence-style dossiers about Clinton. The dossiers attempted, and failed, to prove that Clinton intervened in Bulgaria and Israel on behalf of US energy firms that had donated to the Clinton Foundation. Wickham will explain that he initially lied about his work for the RNC because "any other work we may have done for them" was subject to a nondisclosure agreement. "I'm not denying that I wasn't totally forthcoming, but I'm telling you why. The security stuff that we did, which is legitimate, was not covered by any kind of a confidentiality agreement, so I can discuss that." When a $3400 payment to HTG appeared in June 2016 on the RNC's campaign finance reports to the FEC for "security services," experts questioned the payment, as HTG had never previously received a disclosed payment from a federal political campaign or committee, and because HTG was so poorly known in the building-security consulting industry. The Russian spy HTG employs is Gennady Vasilenko, a former KGB intelligence agent who became friends with HTG's co-founder Jack Platt. Wickham will say of Vasilenko, "Gennady has very good contacts in Russia." Wickham and HTG will both deny doing any work related to Russia for the RNC. The payments are made between May and August 2016, during the campaign tenure of Russian advocate Paul Manafort. Wickham will dismiss the timing of the payments as coincidence, and will claim that he has "never had any contact with … Trump or Manafort or their people." (Politico)

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Summer 2016: WikiLeaks Refuses to Publish Documents Detailing Crimes of Russian Government, Says It Is Focused Soley on US Election

WikiLeaks founder and controlling partner Julian Assange refuses to public a trove of documents detailing crimes carried out by the Russian government. A source will provide Foreign Policy the documents in August 2017. The documents come from inside the Russian Interior Ministry. WikiLeaks says in its refusal to publish the documents, "As far as we recall these are already public," and later defends the decision: "WikiLeaks rejects all submissions that it cannot verify. WikiLeaks rejects submissions that have already been published elsewhere or which are likely to be considered insignificant. WikiLeaks has never rejected a submission due to its country of origin."

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WikiLeaks and Assange are lying. In 2014, the BBC and other media outlets reported on the cache, which detailed Russian military and intelligence involvement in Ukraine, but the information provided to those news outlets was less than half the amount of data – 68 gigabytes' worth – rejected by Assange. The source who provides the information to Foreign Policy will write: "We had several leaks sent to Wikileaks, including the Russian hack. It would have exposed Russian activities and shown WikiLeaks was not controlled by Russian security services. Many Wikileaks staff and volunteers or their families suffered at the hands of Russian corruption and cruelty, we were sure Wikileaks would release it. Assange gave excuse after excuse." When the cache is eventually published, few Western media outlets take notice. Foreign Policy Jenna McLaughlin will note that during this time, WikiLeaks is almost solely focused on publishing emails provided by Russian hackers that are potentially damaging to the Clinton presidential campaign. "Assange's role in publishing the leaks sparked allegations that he was advancing a Russian-backed agenda," McLaughlin will write. In fact, later in the year, Assange and WikiLeaks will turn down data stolen from an American security company, writing: "Is there an election angle? We're not doing anything until after the election unless its [sic] fast or election related. We don't have the resources." Anything other than Clinton-related material would be "diversionary," WikiLeaks will say. In its communication with Foreign Policy in 2017, it will say: "WikiLeaks schedules publications to maximize readership and reader engagement. During distracting media events such as the Olympics or a high profile election, unrelated publications are sometimes delayed until the distraction passes but never are rejected for this reason." WikiLeaks will also refuse to publish documents detailing a massive money transfer between the Syrian government and a Russian government-owned bank in 2012. WikiLeaks will accuse the publication making the claim, the Daily Dot, of working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and "pushing [its] neo-McCarthyist conspiracy theories about critical media." WikiLeaks will ignore the validity of the court records published by the Daily Dot verifying the accuracy of the financial interaction, and instead will accuse the US government of leaking those court documents in order to damage Assange's reputation and help the Clinton campaign. In April 2016, Assange blasted Russian media outlets that reported information damaging to the Putin regime in the so-called Panama Papers, accusing the outlets of engaging in "Putin bashing, North Korea bashing, sanctions bashing, etc." while refusing to report on Western lawmakers. Assange's accusations were lies; the Russian media outlets, like others, reported extensively on Western governmental figures who were noted in the Panama papers. Russian investigative reporter Roman Shleynov will say, "For me it was a surprise that Mr. Assange was repeating the same excuse that our officials, even back in Soviet days, used to say – that it's all some conspiracy from abroad." (Foreign Policy)

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— May 2016 —

May-June 2016: Russian Hackers Copy Reams of Data from DNC, Indirectly Support Trump

Hackers from Russia's GRU, the General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, have successfully "exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC," according to a report that will be issued in October 2016 by the US intelligence community.

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By June, it is clear to the intelligence community that the Russians have developed "a clear preference" for Trump." Putin avoids making direct comments in praise of Trump, because, as the report will find, "Kremlin officials thought that any praise from Putin personally would backfire in the United States. Nonetheless, Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump's stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine." (New Yorker)

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May 2016: NRA Operative with Deep Kremlin Ties Tries to Facilitate Trump-Putin Meeting

Conservative political operative Paul Erickson, who has close ties to the far-right National Rifle Association, emails Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn that he can arrange a backchannel meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. The email, titled "Kremlin Connection," asks Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a top Trump advisor who once employed Dearborn as his chief of staff, for advice about setting up such a meeting. Russia is "quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the US," Erickson writes, and wants to use the NRA's annual convention in Louisville to make "first contact."

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Erickson, who portrays himself as having strong connections to senior Russian governmental officials, writes: "Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions's advice on how to proceed. … The Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true reset in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House. Ever since Hillary compared Putin to Hitler, all senior Russian leaders consider her beyond redemption." The email is one of a large number of emails turned over to Congressional investigators. In June, Dearborn will send an email to campaign officials about an unnamed person's attempts to set up a Trump-Putin meeting. It is unclear whether the Erickson email is the one referenced by Dearborn in June. About the same time as Erickson emails Dearborn, another attempt to broker a meeting between Putin and Trump also occurs, this one facilitated by right-wing Christian conservative and advocate for veterans' causes Rick Clay, who is working on behalf of Russian financier Alexander Torshin. The New York Times will write, "[T]ogether, the outreach shows how, as Mr. Trump closed in on the nomination, Russians were using three foundational pillars of the Republican Party – guns, veterans and Christian conservatives – to try to make contact with his unorthodox campaign." He says that due to "happenstance" and the reach of the NRA, he has been in a position to "slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin" in recent years. "Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the US that isn't forthcoming under the current administration. Sessions will claim to have no memory of the Erickson outreach attempt.

Potential Meeting during Veterans Reception

The email says Torshin plans to attend a reception by Clay honoring wounded veterans, an event Erickson expects Trump to attend. At the event, he writes, Torshin can "make 'first contact'" with Trump, and give Melania Trump a gift from the Russian Orthodox Church. Trump does not attend the event, but Donald Trump Jr. attends a separate NRA event that same night, as does Torshin.

Ties Between Erickson, Torshin, NRA

Erickson has documented ties to the NRA and the Russian gun rights community. Far-right gun advocates in America have long looked to Putin as an example of a strong leader who opposes immigration, terrorism and gay rights. The NRA is also one of Trump's most powerful and deep-pocketed backers. Erickson knows Torshin assistant Maria Butina, the founder of a Russian gun rights organization. Butina, who is involved in the Torshin request, hosted Erickson at a September 2014 event for her organization in Moscow. And the two now own an incorporated company, Bridges LLC, in South Dakota. Erickson went to Moscow in December 2015, in the company of former NRA president David Keene and Trump supporter Sheriff David Clarke Jr, where he met with Torshin and top Putin defense official Dmitry Rogozin. Torshin and Butina attended NRA conventions in 2014 and 2015 as honored guests. Sources will say that while Erickson does not name Torshin in the email, he seems to refer to him as "President Putin's emissary on this front." Torshin is a former member of the Russian Parliament, a high-ranking Putin advisor, and the former director of the FSB. Spanish investigators have accused Torshin of laundering money for the Russian mafia through Spanish banks and properties. (New York Times)

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The Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true reset in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House. Ever since Hillary compared Putin to Hitler, all senior Russian leaders consider her beyond redemption. — NRA activist Paul Erickson, as part of an outreach attempt to broker a meeting between Trump and Putin

May 2016: Russian Banker Attempts to Facilitate Meeting Between Trump, Putin

Senior Russian official and banker Alexander Torshin attempts to facilitate a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, using Rick Clay, an American advocate for Christian political outreach and veterans' causes. Clay emails the campaign saying that Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank, wants to broker a meeting between Putin and Trump. The email is titled "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite." Torshin is the former director of the Russian FSB and has murky connections to Russian organized crime. The email circulates among numerous campaign officials before top campaign advisor Jared Kushner sends an email advising against the meeting.

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Clay sends the original email to senior Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn. He proposes that Trump attend a dinner in Louisville honoring wounded veterans, during the same time that Trump is in the city for the annual NRA convention. Trump could then meet Torshin during the dinner, where Torshin could begin facilitating a meeting between Trump and Putin. Trump does not attend the dinner, but his son Donald Trump Jr. attends an NRA function, where Torshin is also in attendance. Dearborn is also involved in a simultaneous proposal for a Trump-Putin meeting from NRA operative Paul Erickson, and will be involved in another attempt to broker a Trump-Putin meeting in June. In April, Trump campaign official George Papadopoulos emailed the campaign about Russians offering "dirt" on opponent Hillary Clinton. A month after allegedly rejecting the Torshin meeting, Kushner takes part in a meeting with two other top Trump officials and a number of Russian officials to receive damaging information on Clinton. In a December 2017 interview with the New York Times,, Clay will say that the request was "very thin," and at the time he never thought the Russians were attempting to interfere with the election: "That never ever, ever, ever entered my mind. You look back at it now, and it actually causes you some pause." Clay will claim to have no specific recollection of the email, but confirms that Torshin and his longtime associate Maria Butina, a member of the Russian gun advocacy movement, requested the contact via Clay's friend Johnny Yenason of the Military Warriors Support Foundation, a veterans’ support organization. (New York Times, New York Times)

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May 4-May 21, 2016: Papadopolous, Manafort Work to Facilitate Campaign Meeting with Russians

Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who has been working diligently to bring about a meeting between Donald Trump, campaign officials, Kremlin officials, and Vladimir Putin, receives an email from his contact at Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ivan Timofeev, about setting up a meeting between Trump officials and his colleagues.

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"I have just talked to my colleagues from the MFA," the email states. "The[y] are open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow." Papadopoulos forwards this to two top campaign officials, campaign chair Corey Lewandowski and top campaign official Sam Clovis. Clovis responds that "[t]here are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen." Almost three weeks later, Papadopolous informs incoming campaign chair Paul Manafort that "Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss." Manafort forwards the email to his campaign and business colleague Rick Gates, saying: "We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal." (Department of Justice, Washington Post)

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May 4, 2016: Romanian Hacker Claims to Have Hacked Clinton Emails

Marcel Lazar, a Romanian hacker who calls himself "Guccifer" and is accused of having hacked numerous politicians' computers, admits that he breached Hillary Clinton's personal email server. "It was easy," he boasts to a Fox News interviewer.

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And in another interview with NBC News, he says: "It was like an open orchid on the Internet. There were hundreds of folders." He says he breached the server in 2013. He provides no evidence of his claim, and as yet no one has verified his assertion. Clinton has weathered tremendous controversy over the private email server, which she used while Secretary of State. The FBI is investigating whether classified information was stored or flowed through that server. In 2013, Lazar apparently hacked into the private AOL account of Clinton aide and confidant Sidney Blumenthal, and tells Fox News he used that access to breach the Clinton server. Lazar was arrested in 2014 and was extradited to the US, where he faces trial. His interview took place from a detention center in Virginia. He has pled not guilty to nine counts of hacking crimes. He tells Fox News he never released any of the emails he accessed because he saw nothing of interest. He admits to using Russian proxy servers to facilitate his hacks. The Clinton campaign says in response to Lazar's claims: "There is absolutely no basis to believe the claims made by this criminal from his prison cell. In addition to the fact he offers no proof to support his claims, his descriptions of Secretary Clinton's server are inaccurate. It is unfathomable that he would have gained access to her emails and not leaked them the way he did to his other victims." (FortuneFox News, NBC News)

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Andrew Napolitano

May 9, 2016: Fox News Analyst Says Russia Has Hacked "20,000" Clinton Emails

Judge Andrew Napolitano, a frequent guest on Fox News's various political analysis and opinion shows, tells host Megyn Kelly that Russia has 20,000 of Hillary Clinton's emails. "There's a debate going on in the Kremlin between the Foreign Ministry and the Intelligence Services about whether they should release the 20,000 of Mrs. Clinton's emails that they have hacked into and received and stored," he says.

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Kelly does not ask Napolitano how he knows that Russia has obtained the 20,000 emails or how he knows the Foreign Ministry and Intelligence Services have them. In mid-June, the private cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike will reveal that two secret Russian hacking groups, code-named COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR, have hacked into DNC email servers as well as other US governmental and private servers. The two groups are believed to work for the Russian secret police, the FSB, and Russian military intelligence, the GRU, respectively. Cyberwarfare expert and former intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance will later write: "Taken in the context of what we now know, it begs the question, how did Napolitano come upon this incredibly specific information? Was it information passed onto him from US intelligence, a Russian source, wishful thinking on his part, or just outright fabricated? Only the most senior ranking members of the Russian foreign ministry and intelligence apparatus know this, as it describes discussions at the inner sanctum of Russian intelligence, including Putin himself." Nance will write that the information apparently comes from a well-known fringe conspiracy theorist, David Booth, who often posts under the pseudonym "Sorcha Faal." Apparently "Faal" is "so well wired into the Kremlin that 'her' work at this website was often copied by mainstream Russian information propaganda" sites that traffic in wild conspiracy theories and nationalist propaganda. Nance speculates that the Kremlin had fed the information to Booth via his website, where Napolitano obtained it. "Whatever the source, it would appear that Judge Napolitano and Fox News brought it right into the mainstream. It would not be out of the ordinary for the Russian information war strategists to insert false media stories during a global influence effort; they have a century of practice as the Soviet Union. Using Fox News, Andrew Napolitano may have unwittingly transmitted a secret Trump campaign punch; the thought came from conservative media, but it may have been created for propagation by Russia itself." (Fox News, CrowdStrike, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance, photo from Salon)

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May 17, 2016: Trump Posts about Deleted Clinton Emails

Donald Trump posts about Hillary Clinton's deleted emails on Twitter: "Wow, 30,000 e-mails were deleted by Crooked Hillary Clinton. She said they had to do with a wedding reception. Liar! How can she run?"

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Eight days earlier, Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano told listeners that Russia has obtained some 20,000 of Clinton's deleted emails. It is not known how Napolitano came to possess that information, or whether Trump has access to the same source that Napolitano apparently has. (Donald Trump)

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May 18, 2016: DNI Says Attempts Made to Cyberattack Presidential Campaigns

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, says that computer hackers have attempted to hack the presidential elections.

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He says during an address at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, "We've already had some indications of that." He gives no details. Clapper's public affairs director Brian Hale adds: "We're aware that campaigns and related organizations and individuals are targeted by actors with a variety of motivations – from philosophical differences to espionage – and capabilities – from defacements to intrusions. We defer to FBI for specific incidents." Chinese hackers breached the computer networks of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain during the 2008 elections, and in 2012, both foreign and domestic hackers tried to gain access to the campaign networks of Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney. Clapper also briefs Congress about the potential cyberattacks and intrusions that may affect the ongoing presidential campaigns. He notes that in 2008, foreign intelligence agencies "met with campaign contacts and staff, used human-source networks for policy insights, exploited technology to get otherwise sensitive data, engaged in perception management to influence policy. … This exceeded traditional lobbying and public diplomacy." He does not say which foreign agencies might be targeting the elections, but he does say that, in intelligence expert and author Malcolm Nance's words, "the US intelligence community has observed espionage activity in the past two presidential elections, and that interest by foreign spies was much higher than in past election cycles." V. Miller Newton, CEO of cybersecurity firm PKWARE, says foreign spying on campaign sites is inevitable: "These campaigns are not working on encrypted platforms. It's a matter of when and how serious of an impact it is going to have on this election." (Washington Post, Associated Press, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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May 25, 2016: "Guccifer" Pleads Guilty to Two Counts

Marcel Lazar, a hacker from Romania who won international notoriety by hacking politicians' email accounts under the moniker "Guccifer," pleads guilty to two counts of identity theft and hacking.

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The plea is part of a deal to avoid prosecution for seven additional charges of wire fraud, unauthorized access to protected computers, cyberstalking and obstruction of justice. He will be sentenced in September. Lazar has claimed to have hacked the private email server of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but no evidence of that claim has ever been made public. (TechCrunch)

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[T]he Russians seemed to have a level of access to the Trump campaign that other countries, including Western allies, could only dream of. — Ryan Lizza

— Summer 2016 —

Summer 2016: Cambridge Analytica Reaches Out to WikiLeaks Regarding Clinton Emails

Cambridge Analytica co-founder and chief Alexander Nix contacts WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to ask whether his firm can assist in finding and disseminating Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails. Nix is referring to some 30,000 emails former Secretary of State Clinton deleted as "personal and private" after turning over emails from her private server to the State Department. Cambridge Analytica works for the Trump campaign.

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Nix will confirm the contact to Assange in October 2017, after Congressional investigators learn of the contact. Nix copies Cambridge backer Rebekah Mercer, of the billionaire Mercer family who supports both Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign, and others on the email contact. Apparently Assange declines Nix's offer. In a statement, Assange will say, "We can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks." Steve Bannon, who heads the Breitbart news, propaganda and conspiracy theory organization, is a board member of Cambridge Analytica. Bannon will join the Trump campaign as senior policy advisor. The Mercers also fund Breitbart. In October 2017, Trump campaign executive director Michael Glassner will try to downplay the critical role Cambridge Analytica plays in the election, saying that the RNC, not Cambridge Analytica, is the campaign's "main source" for data analytics. After Trump secures the Republican nomination, Glassner will say: "We were proud to have worked with the RNC and its data experts and relied on them as our main source for data analytics. … Any claims that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false." Glassner will make a similar statement in October 2017: "Once President Trump secured the nomination in 2016, one of the most important decisions we made was to partner with the Republican National Committee on data analytics. Leading into the election, the RNC had invested in the most sophisticated data targeting program in modern American in history, which helped secure our victory in the fall. We were proud to have worked with the RNC and its data experts and relied on them as our main source for data analytics. We as a campaign made the choice to rely on the voter data of the Republican National Committee to help elect President Donald J. Trump. Any claims that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false." In both instances, Glassner is lying. After the election, Forbes will report that senior Trump campaign advisor Jared Kushner retained the firm "to map voter universes and identify which parts of the Trump platform mattered most." FEC data shows that the campaign paid, or will pay, Cambridge Analytica $5.9 million between July 29, 2016, the week after Trump accepts the nomination, and December 12, 2016. (Campaign digital strategist Brad Parscale will claim that the FEC data is "mislabeled," but will provide no proof. Parscale will downplay Cambridge Analytica's role in the campaign in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.) An anonymous Republican digital strategist who works with Cambridge Analytica during the campaign will insult Nix's credibility, calling him "a consummate salesman" prone to making "claims that [a]re not just factually wrong – they were total fabrications." The anonymous Republican will go on to say that Nix may well have reached out to Assange: "I wouldn't put it past him, if you consider every other thing that he's done, every other way that he's conducted business. I absolutely can see him reaching out and making an inquiry, hoping to find another way that Cambridge could become the heroes." The source makes his disparaging statements about Nix before Assange confirms the outreach. (Daily Beast, CNN, Guardian)

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— June 2016 —

RISS logo

June-October, 2016: Russian Think Tank Creates Strategy to Undermine Elections, Promote Trump Candidacy

The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), a Moscow-based think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin, creates a plan designed to swing the US presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine American voters' faith in their electoral system.

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The news is broken in April 2017 to Reuters by numerous current and former US officials. The information comes from two confidential documents generated by RISS, one in June 2016 and the other in October 2016. The documents provide the framework and rationale for an intensive, sweeping effort by Russian intelligence to disrupt the election and sway the vote in Trump's favor. RISS is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin's office. The first document, a strategy guide, outlines a propaganda campaign for social media and Russian-backed global news outlets such as RT. The thrust of the propaganda is to encourage US voters to choose a president who will take a softer stance on Russia than the current US president. The October document warns that Democrat Hillary Clinton is likely to win the election, and advises Russia to terminate its pro-Trump propaganda campaign and instead focus on arguments about massive voter fraud in Clinton's favor, with the aim to delegitimize her presidency and damage her reputation. The documents will be made available to Obama officials, who will use them to decry the Russian propaganda operation after the November election. One former US intelligence official will say, "Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map." Some of the officials will say that the June strategy paper documents a broadening of an initiative launched in March 2016 to begin promoting Trump's campaign. RT and Sputnik are the primary outlets for anti-Clinton sources, while pro-Kremlin bloggers use Twitter to question the fairness of the anticipated Clinton victory, according to a January 2017 report. One video released in August 2016 by RT's Facebook page, entitled "How 100% of the 2015 Clintons' 'charity went to … themselves" garners over 9 million views on social media. Both outlets "consistently cast president elect-Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional media outlets," according to the January report. The RISS strategy is apparently run separately from the Russian hacking of Democratic emails and documents, though the officials will say that the propaganda and hacking efforts reinforce one another. Both outlets heavily promote stories about the hacked emails, and push the embarrassing aspects of the released documents. RISS is known in Russia as a semi-retirement haven for former intelligence officials, but foreign governments consider it a propaganda mill. Mikhail Fradkov, RISS's director since October 2016, calls the institute "an authoritative analytical organization with high-skilled professionals." Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev will scoff at the idea that RISS could generate such a plan, posting on Twitter that the elderly retired foreign agents "couldn't have possibly game-planned making a sandwich, let alone rigging US [election]." (Reuters, New York Times, photo of RISS logo via Vestnik Kavkaza)

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June 2016: Trump Campaign Aide Emails Team about Possible Meeting with Putin

Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn, formerly chief of staff to Trump advisor Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), sends an email to other Trump campaign officials regarding an attempt to set up a meeting between campaign officials and Vladimir Putin. Dearborn will become Trump's White House Deputy Chief of Staff, and Sessions will become Attorney General.

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The individual requesting the meeting is only identified in the email as "WV," which sources will later say is a reference to West Virginia. It is unclear who the person is, or whether Dearborn acts on the request. Reportedly, Dearborn is skeptical of the request in the email. The request takes place about the same time as the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., two other senior campaign officials, and a number of Russians who are likely assets of Russian intelligence. CNN will later note: "While many details around the Dearborn email are unclear, its existence suggests the Russians may have been looking for another entry point into the Trump campaign to see if there were any willing partners as part of their effort to discredit – and ultimately defeat – Hillary Clinton." Congressional investigators, who will unearth the email in August 2017, will also probe Dearborn's role in arranging two meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Dearborn helped arrange a meeting between the two in April 2016. As will become their wont, Trump White House officials will attempt to reframe the controversy about the Dearborn email into questions of who "leaked" the information to the press. Intelligence experts will say the request documented in the Dearborn email is part of a pattern of Russians attempting to gather human intelligence and attempting to recruit willing or unwilling, or unwitting, partners as part of its intelligence operation against the US. Retired CIA chief of Russian operations Steve Hall will say, "The Russians are really experts at this," but will add that it would be unusual for a meeting to take place with Putin himself before meeting with Russian intelligence operatives. The Dearborn email was preceded by an attempt by campaign advisor George Papadopoulos to facilitate a meeting between Putin and campaign officials. (CNN, Business Insider, Newsweek)

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June 2016: Russians Lead Republican Congressman in Holding "Show Trial" Hearing Based on Kremlin Propaganda

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), a vocal supporter and defender of Moscow, agrees to host a show hearing for the subcommittee he chairs, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. The hearing will actually be a show trial of American billionaire William Browder, whom the Kremlin argues is the real culprit behind a massive Russian fraud and money-laundering ring that was uncovered in 2007 by Browder's employee, Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

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Rohrabacher plans on showing Browder a Russian propaganda movie vilifying both Browder and Magnitsky, and accusing them of being behind the fraud. He also intends on having at least two Russian witnesses with close ties to the Kremlin, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who routinely lobbies Congress to repeal the anti-corruption Magnitsky Act on behalf of the Kremlin. The plan falls apart when senior Republicans agree to instead hold a hearing at the full committee level. Before the intended hearing date of June 14, Rohrabacher and his staff receive multiple briefings from a lawyer working with Veselnitskaya. He then plans the event with the assistance of former Russian intelligence agent Rinat Akhmetshin and film director Andrei Nekrasov. House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce (R-CA) refuses to let Rohrabacher show the film during the hearing; aides later admit that Royce decides to hold the full meeting in place of Rohrabacher's show trial because it would have embarrassed the Republican leadership. However, Rohrabacher's staff will actively promote a screening of the film at the Newseum. Veselnitskaya attends the meeting. A member of Rohrabacher's staff, Catherine O'Neill, sends invitations to Congressional members, promising that the movie will convince them that Magnitsky is no hero. Afterwards, Rohrabacher distances himself from the invitation, describing O'Neill as an unpaid intern who acted without the approval of staff director Paul Behrends. O'Neill soon lands a new job on the Trump transition team and then in the State Department. Rohrabacher receives the film from Russia's chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika, a close associate of Vladimir Putin who operates under a cloud of suspicion of corruption, and Viktor Grin, the deputy general prosecutor and one of those sanctioned by the Magnitsky Act. Veselnitskaya later admits to being in close contact with Chaika. And Chaika's office is thought to be behind the offer of "very high level and sensitive information" offered to Donald Trump Jr. this same month. Veselnitskaya is one of the main participants in that meeting. A document given to Rohrabacher in April by Russian officials during one of his frequent visits to Moscow outlines what the Daily Beast will call "an alternate reality in which the US – and the rest of the world – has been duped by a fake $230 million scandal that resulted in sanctions being imposed on 44 Russians linked to murder, corruption, or cover-ups." The document came from Chaika's office along with information about the propaganda film, and implores Rohrabacher to begin pushing a challenge to the Western view that the Putin regime is a corrupt kleptocracy. And it asks that Rohrabacher chair a subcommittee meeting to promote that view. "Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress … could have a very favorable response from the Russian side," the document promises. Rohrabacher, in return, did his best to impede the passage of a new version of the Magnitsky Act, tried to block the tabling of an amendment removing Magnitsky's name from the legislation, and had Behrends work with Akhmetshin to lobby members of Congress. And during Royce's full hearing, Rohrabacher fulsomely praises Putin, and submits testimony that he says disproves the contention that Putin had former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko poisoned. One committee member, Gerry Connolly (D-VA), is appalled at the raft of Kremlin-crafted lies being told at the hearing, and later says, "I thought I'd just heard a presentation from RT," referring to the Russian propaganda news channel. When he is told that Rohrabacher took briefings from Russian officials, he will say: "If that is corroborated, it is deeply disturbing. We are United States congressmen. Our job is to protect the interests of our country and our allies. It is not to collude with, excuse, dismiss, or, even worse, collaborate with a foreign adversary and its minions." The day after, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy "jokes" that he believe Rohrabacher and Trump are both paid by Russia. In 2012, Rohrabacher ignored FBI warnings that Russia was trying to recruit him as an intelligence asset. Besides Behrends's willingness to work with Russians on behalf of his boss, he also has a close working relationship with Erik Prince, the founder of the infamous Blackwater mercenary firm, and worked for Blackwater. Behrends, Prince and Rohrabacher are friends as well as business associates. Prince will go on to become an informal advisor for the Trump campaign. (Daily Beast)

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June 2, 2016: Clinton: Trump Has "Affection for Tyrants" Like Putin

Hillary Clinton attacks Donald Trump for his well-known affinity to Vladimir Putin. In a rally in San Diego, Clinton says Trump has an "affection for tyrants" that would make him a poor commander in chief. "If you don't know exactly who you're dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch," she says. (New York Times)


June 3-9, 2016: Trump Jr. Sets Up Meeting with Russian Government Agent to Receive "Dirt" on Clinton

Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and the head of Oui 2 Entertainment, sends an email to Donald Trump Jr. Goldstone represents Russian entertainer Emin Agalarov, whose father is Aras Agalarov, a Kremlin-connected real estate oligarch.

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Emin, like his father, is a close business associate of Vladimir Putin's. Goldstone is a fan of both Russia and the Putin regime. The Agalarovs are business associates of Donald Trump's. Goldstone is preparing to check into Trump Tower in Manhattan. He has recently returned from a visit to Moscow. Goldstone writes: "Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin. What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly? I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first." Rhona is Rhona Graff, a senior assistant and "gatekeeper" at Trump Tower. PoliticusUSA editor Jason Easley will observe that Graff seems to be "the backchannel that people use to get information that they want to be seen in front of Trump. What Donald Trump Jr's emails reveal is that the Russians did have a network through which they could send information to Trump." It is also clear that Goldstone is ready to send the documentats containing the anti-Clinton information to either Trump Jr, Trump himself, or both. It is initially unclear whether Goldstone actually has any documents, or whether he passes that information on to either Trump Jr. or his father, though later information proves that compromising information of some kind is indeed made available to Trump Jr., material almost certainly sourced from Russian chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika. In July 2017, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake will note that there is no such position as "the Crown prosecutor of Russia," and will go on to observe: "The point is, though, that this was information being offered from Russian government sources – a fact that is hugely bad for the White House. They have denied contacts with Russians and collusion with the Russian government, yet here is supposed Russian government information being offered and Donald Trump Jr. accepting it." It is also clear in the email that the meeting centers on "Russia and its government's support for" the Trump presidential campaign. Trump responds within minutes, saying: "Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?" On June 6, Goldstone asks Trump Jr. when he will be "free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info – you had mentioned early this week so wanted to try to schedule a time and day." Blake will write: "Trump Jr.'s initial explanation this weekend was that this meeting with the Russian attorney was about adoption. These emails make clear – on multiple occasions – that the pretext of it was always information about Clinton." Trump is eager to speak with Emin Agalarov "now," but Agalarov asks Goldstone to "schedule a meeting with you and The [sic] Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday. I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you? I assume it would be at your office." The meeting is confirmed for Trump Jr's office in Trump Tower, and on June 7, he informs Goldstone that Manafort and Kushner will attend. Goldstone tells Trump Jr. that he will provide the names of the attorney and her translator so they can be passed through security. The final exchange has Trump Jr. attempting to have the meeting at 3pm June 8, but because of the lawyer's flight arrangements, the meeting is scheduled for 4pm June 9. The email exchange leads to a meeting between Trump Jr., campaign chair Paul Manafort, senior campaign advisor Jared Kushner, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr. sends the entire email exchange to both Manafort and Kushner, making both of them aware that the Russian government is trying to involve itself in the US presidential campaign. (Donald Trump Jr., Washington Post, Associated Press via Washington Post, Business Insider, Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, PoliticusUSA)

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The Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump[.] — Trump business associate Rob Goldstone
If it's what you say, I love it. — Donald Trump Jr.
Would you say that the email exchanges between Donald Trump Jr. and the lawyer who was supposed to come to Trump Tower with dirt on Hillary Clinton were circumstantial evidence or direct evidence? It's certainly direct evidence of Donald Trump Jr.'s intent when he says, "If you have what you say you have, in terms of dirt on Clinton, I love it." — Steven Harper

June 3, 2016: WikiLeaks Creates Torrent File for DNC Emails

WikiLeaks creates the torrent for the file that includes the hacked DNC emails.

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A torrent is a file sent via the BitTorrent protocol. The file is often stored on multiple servers, reducing download time and making it more difficult to interrupt users' ability to access the file. Torrent files cannot be accessed until they are completely downloaded. Sometimes torrent files are broken up into separate pieces and stored on different servers, increasing the security of the file. (Glomar Disclosure, Tech Terms)

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June 7, 2016: Trump Implies Release of New and Damaging Information on Clinton

Donald Trump clinches the Republican primary, winning enough delegates to make him the presidential nominee. In his combative victory speech, he repeatedly insults and slanders his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, and tells his audience: "I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week [June 13] and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting."

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It is not known if Trump is aware of the upcoming meeting between a Russian governmental source and three of his top campaign operatives, where the officials were promised "incriminating" information about Clinton. (Time)

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June 8, 2016: DCLeaks Begins Posting DNC Hacked Material

The obscure website DCLeaks.com begins posting stolen DNC emails, apparently hacked by the GRU-backed FANCY BEAR group of Russian computer hackers.

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DCLeaks.com has a Romanian registry. In August, the cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect will publicly announce that its findings show DCLeaks is a a "Russian-backed influence outlet" who is leaking information obtained by known FANCY BEAR methods. ThreatConnect will also show that DCLeaks has strong connections to "Guccifer 2.0," the Russian construct that poses as a lone disaffected hacker but is in reality a persona generated and used by Russian intelligence agents. "Guccifer 2.0" will post information on DCLeaks, and DCLeaks uses the same nameservers as FANCY BEAR. (Medium, , ThreatConnect)

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June 9, 2016: Trump Jr. Agrees to Meet with Russians after Being Promised "Dirt" on Clinton

Donald Trump Jr. agrees to meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after an email exchange in which he was promised she would provide "dirt" – damaging information – about Hillary Clinton. It is later revealed that Russian contacts informed a Trump official that they have "dirt" and "emails" on Clinton in late April.

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The news will be broken on July 9, 2017 by three advisors to the White House who were briefed on the meeting, and two others who know of the meeting. Trump Jr. takes senior campaign advisor Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to the meeting. It is initially unclear whether Veselnitskaya actually gives the campaign officials any compromising information on Clinton, but Trump, Kushner and Manafort attend the meeting with the clear expectation that she will do so. It is subsequently determined that Veselnitskaya will actually turn over some kind of compromising information about Clinton, almost certainly sourced from Russian chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika. Trump Jr. will claim that he asks Manafort and Kushner to attend the meeting, but does not explain why. Apparently the author of the email is Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and the head of Oui 2 Entertainment, a firm that has worked with the 2013 Miss America pageant. Former Clinton and Obama campaign associate Josh Schwerin will post on Twitter, "You have to love that Rob Goldstone wrote an email saying the Russian gov wants to help beat Hillary and then checked in for the meeting." (Schwerin is referring to the fact that Goldstone checks into Trump Tower in Manhattan just after writing the email.) Goldstone is the publicist for Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose father is Aras Agalarov, a Kremlin-connected real estate oligarch and Trump Organization associate. His son is also involved in the family business. In 2013, Trump chose the Agalarovs to host the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and discussed working with Agalarov's Crocus Group to build a tower in Moscow. The pageant took place at a Crocus Group complex. Trump attended the festivities, and bragged after the pageant that he "was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people. I can't go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary." The younger Agalarov met Trump in 2012 after he requested Trump's assistance in having the 2012 Miss Universe winner, Olivia Culpo, appear in one of his music videos. The Agalarovs visited Trump in Las Vegas in 2013, where some of the Miss USA contestats were required to appear, without pay, in the video. Trump himself appeared in the video. The younger Agalarov will say that after Trump won the presidency, he sent him and his father a handwritten note. "Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends," he will say in an interview, and will add that he will continue to exchange notes with Trump Jr. Goldstone has called Moscow his second home, and shortly after the election posted a photo of himself wearing a "Russia" shirt. Goldstone was in Moscow in the days before the June 9 meeting. (New York Times, New York Times, Business Insider, Guardian, New York Times, Daily Kos. Josh Schwerin)

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photo of Natalia Veselnitskaya

June 9, 2016: Trump's Son, Senior Campaign Officials Secretly Meet with Russians

Donald Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr. takes part in a clandestine meeting between a team of Trump campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has close ties to the Putin regime. Trump Jr. is joined in the meeting by campaign chief Paul Manafort and senior Trump advisor Jared Kushner. Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin is also present, though initial news reports about the meeting do not reveal his presence. Akhmetshin is a former Russian spy who is suspected of having continuing ties to Russian intelligence. Veselnitskaya has a translator present as well, former State Department contractor Anatoli Samochornov. In addition, wealthy Russian financier Irakly Kaveladze attends as what his lawyer will characterize as a representative of the Agalarov family. The secret meeting takes place in Trump Tower.

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Trump Jr. was promised "dirt" – damaging information – about Hillary Clinton from Veselnitskaya in a series of emails he received from publicist Rob Goldstone just before taking the meeting, though according to initial explanations from Trump Jr. after the story breaks on July 8, 2017, the discussion centers on an adoption program. (The email exchange between Trump and meeting facilitator Rob Goldstone make it very clear that the meeting is set up to allow Trump Jr. to receive damaging information about Clinton from a Russian governmental source. Nowhere in the emails is adoption mentioned.) Later information from Ahkmetshin shows that Trump Jr. is actually given documents pertaining to supposedly illegal funding being given to the Democratic National Committee (DNC); Veselnitskaya will claim that most of the documentation she provides is about her efforts to have Congress repeal the Magnitsky Act, and will deny having any compromising information on Clinton. She will also claim that she never asked specifically to meet with Trump Jr. She will say that Kushner leaves the meeting within ten minutes, and the "absent-minded" Manafort pays little attention throughout the meeting, she claims. Her characterizations are later shown to be false. Manafort will disclose the meeting to Congressional investigators in July 2017. The New York Times will write that same month: "The meeting – at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination – points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin's meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help." Trump Jr. will claim that he asks Manafort and Kushner to attend the meeting, but does not explain why. Trump Jr. is not an official member of the campaign, and thusly will not be required to disclose his foreign contacts like Manafort and Kushner will be required to do. He and his brother Eric will assume day-to-day control of Trump's real estate holdings, though there is no evidence that Trump himself has withdrawn from being involved in his widespread business interests. The Secret Service will confirm that because Trump Jr. is not currently under their protection, they did not vet Veselnitskaya or any of the other Russian participants in the meeting. In July 2017, Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow will attempt to blame the Secret Service for allowing the meeting to happen.

Full List of Participants

Donald Trump Jr., Trump's son and a top campaign advisor;
Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chair;
Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a top campaign advisor;
Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian lawyer who has worked to further Kremlin interests for well over a decade;
Rinat Askmetshin, Russian-American lobbyist and a former Soviet counterintelligence official, who likely has close ties to Russian intelligence;
Irakly Kaveladze, a Russian-American financier suspected of being involved in a massive money-laundering scheme;
Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya's translator, who has done contract work for the State Department;
Rob Goldstone, the British publicist for Russian pop star and oligarch Emin Agalarov, who brokered the meeting.

Documents Given to Trump Jr.

Although Trump Jr. will initially deny it, Akhmetshin will confirm that Veselnitskaya gives Trump Jr. documentation that supposedly showed people tied to Russia are providing illicit funding to the Democratic National Committee and supporting Clinton. No proof of such allegations has ever surfaced. According to Akhmetshin, she gives Trump Jr. a plastic folder with printed-out documents that show what Veselnitskaya says details the flow of illegal funds to the Democrats. Veselnitskaya suggests that making the documents public could help the Trump campaign. He later says that she tells Trump Jr., "This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money." Trump Jr. asks for further proof, Akhmetshin will say, and Veselnitskaya says the campaign would need to do its own research for further proof. Trump Jr. and the others then loses some of their interest, Akhmetshin will claim. "They couldn't wait for the meeting to end," he will claim. Akhmetshin will say that he does not know whether the documents were provided by the Russian government. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee will say that whether Akhmetshin is a Russian intelligence asset or not, "it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton." Schiff will say that Trump Jr.'s refusal to disclose Akhmetshin's role in the meeting, and his ever-changing story of the meeting, "paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit."

Changing Explanations

When the meeting is revealed to the press in July 2017, Trump Jr. will initially give the following explanation: "It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. … I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand." Trump Jr.'s explanation is a lie, crafted by Trump himself. Trump spokesperson Mark Corallo will tell reporters the meeting is a setup, claiming that Veselnitskaya and her translator "misrepresented who they were," though information later revealed about the meeting proves that to be a lie also. Corallo will note that Veselnitskaya employs a private investigator whose firm, Fusion GPS, will help produce an intelligence dossier that contains explosive allegations against Trump. He does not tell the press that Veselnitskaya hired Fusion GPS to help her in her lobbying efforts concerning the Magnitsky Act. A day later, Trump Jr. will change his story, saying that he met with Veselnitskaya at the request of an "acquaintance" from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which took place in Moscow and featured his father as host. The "acquaintance" is Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and the head of Oui 2 Entertainment, a firm that has worked with the pageant. (According to his own Facebook post, Goldstone checks into Trump Tower in Manhattan the afternoon of June 9, hours after he sends the email, and escorts Veselnitskaya into the building. Goldstone has called Moscow his second home, and shortly after the election posted a photo of himself wearing a "Russia" shirt. Goldstone was in Moscow in the days before the June 9 meeting.) Trump Jr.'s second statement about the meeting reads in part: "After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information." According to Trump Jr., Velitnitskaya then began discussing the adoption of Russian children and her opposition to the Magnitsky Act. "It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting," Trump Jr. will say. "I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office." In another interview, he will later say that Veselnitskaya's presentation is "sort of nonsensical, inane and garbled," and will say that he concluded the original Goldstone email "was probably some bait and switch" to get him to take the meeting. He will not explain why he took the meeting in anticipation of foreign agents giving damaging information to his father's political opponent instead of following the law and contacting the FBI about the illicit offer. These are also lies, as Trump Jr. indeed receives documents from Veselnitskaya during the meeting. She later says that Trump Jr. asks her only one question during the meeting: "The question that I was asked was as follows: whether I had any financial records which might prove that the funds used to sponsor the DNC were coming from inappropriate sources." She will say she has no such records, and add that "it was never my intention to collect any financial records to that end." Akhmetshin will later say, "She spent years researching this stuff." Veselnitskaya will say that "nothing at all about the presidential campaign" is discussed during the meeting. She will also claim, quite falsely, that she had "never acted on behalf of the Russian government" and "never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government." In March 2017, Trump Jr. will lie about the meeting, saying he participated in no campaign-related meetings with Russians: "Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure, I'm sure I did. But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form." He will deny "a hundred percent" discussing government policies related to Russia with Russians. In July 2017, he will also deny giving contradictory explanations, posting on Twitter: "No inconsistency in statements, meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q's I simply provided more details." Corallo will say that "the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting." In an interview aired on NBC, Vesilnitskaya will say of the anti-Clinton information, "They wanted it so badly," and goes on to say: "It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted."

Alibi As Damning as the Event?

Daily Kos senior writer Mark Sumner will observe: "Trump Junior's initial reaction to the story was, of course, to lie about it. He stated that the meeting had been about an adoption program. But, after the evidence was held very close to his face, Junior admitted that he had met with the woman for the express purpose of getting the goods on Hillary. In fact, the lure of potential damaging information about Clinton provided by the Russian government, was so strong, that it drew campaign manager Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner to attend the meeting. The trio went into the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya eager to get information for leverage against Hillary Clinton. But it turned out that the quality of the kompromat offered by the Kremlin-associate was sub-par. Instead, she was more was more interested in discussing the connection between sanctions against Russia and Russia closing down foreign adoptions – a result Trump Junior found disappointing. In other words, Donald Trump Jr. is openly admitting that, when offered the opportunity to collude with Russia against Hillary Clinton, he jumped at the chance. And the idea of some Kremlin-quality dirt was so tantalizing that Manafort and Kushner crowded in to listen." Sumner will find Trump Jr.'s admission as damning as the meeting: "We tried to collude, but it didn't work out … in this case. And that is the alibi."

Kushner's False Security Clearance Form, Revised

The meeting will be disclosed when Kushner files a revised and augmented version of his security clearance form. Kushner's original filing will omit numerous contacts with Russians, including Veselnitskaya as well as Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the head of a Russian state bank, and others. It is a crime to falsify such forms. Kushner's advisors will call the lies and omissions in his filing an oversight. His lawyer Jamie Gorelick will say in a statement: "He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows."

Who is Natalia Veselnitskaya?

Veselnitskaya is best known, not for being involved in adoption issues, but for launching a relentless attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists accused Russian human rights abusers. The law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, who discovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme in 2008 that implicated officials at the highest levels of the Russian government, and because an embarrassment to the Putin regime. Magnitsky discovered the scheme as part of his work with the investment firm Hermitage Capital, founded by American Bill Browder and at the time the largest investment firm in Russia. Instead of being rewarded for his diligence, Magnitsky was incarcerated by the same Interior Ministry officials he testified against. He died in prison a year later. His family says he was beaten to death by prison guards, but Putin says he died of a heart attack. After the law was passed in 2012, Putin retaliated against the law by withdrawing his country's cooperation to Americans wanting to adopt Russian children. "Putin’s top officials were apoplectic," Browder has written. "All of his key lieutenants had used their jobs to become enormously wealthy, and many had done some very nasty things in the process. In theory, the [law] opened the door for these people to be sanctioned in the future. As far as they were concerned, the [law] changed everything." Putin's refusal to allow such adoptions is often used by opponents of the Magnitsky Act to argue against it. Veselnitskaya has also attempted to slander and discredit Magnitsky, and blame the tax fraud scheme on Browder. Putin has also used the law as an excuse to blacklist Americans, including US Attorney Preet Bharara, who helped prosecute the Magnitsky-related corruption case cited above. (Trump will fire Bharara shortly after taking office in January 2017, and Bharara's replacement will quickly settle the case for a paltry $6 million fine and no admission of responsibility.) Eight people who have represented or worked on behalf of Magnitsky and his family have died under mysterious circumstances, including famed Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who died after being gunned down outside the Kremlin, and two others have survived multiple assassination attempts. Veselnitskaya is married to a former deputy transportation minister, and has as clients Russian government-owned businesses and a senior government official's son. She is monitored by the FBI due to her actions and her associations. Her clients include Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of a Cypriot investment company called Prevezon Holdings. Katsyv is the son of Petr Katsyv, the vice-president of the state-owned Russian Railways and the former deputy governor of the Moscow region. In a related case filed by Bharara before his firing, the elder Katsyv was accused of money laundering as part of the scheme exposed by Magnitsky; the case is pending at the time Veselnitskaya meets with Trump Jr. (The money-laundering scheme was created and carried out by members of the Klyuev Group, a conglomeration of Russian criminals protected by, and connected to, the Putin regime. The Katsyvs are apparently members of the Klyuev Group.) After Bharara's abrupt firing, Prevezon will settle the case for a relatively paltry $6 million without admitting culpability. Veselnitskaya and her client have also hired a team of political and legal operatives in the US, including Soviet emigre Rinat Akhmetshin and the consulting firm Fusion GPS, who did research for Prevezon. Katsyv works with Veselnitskaya to try to get the Magnitsky Act overturned. Browder will say that her work against the law is directed by the Kremlin. Evidence shows that, despite her denials, Veselnitskaya has deep ties to both the Kremlin and the FSB. Between 2002 and 2011, Veselnitskaya represented the FSB, Russia's top intelligence agency, in court, refuting Kremlin claims that she has no connections to the Russian government. Veselnitskaya entered the US under an "extraordinary circumstances" dispensation by the Justice Department in late 2015. She had been denied a visa, but the office of Attorney General Loretta Lynch granted her "special immigration parole" to help a company owned by Katsyv to defend itself against a federal case being prosecuted by the DOJ. However, that special permission expired in January 2016. DOJ officials will have no explanation of how she was still legally in the country by June. In the days after the meeting with the Trump campaign officials, she will appear in the audience of a June 14 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the US's Russia policy, and will continue her lobbying efforts against the Magnitsky Act. Those efforts include her attendance at the June 13 showing of an anti-Magnitsky film at the Newseum in Washington, attended by at least five congressional staffers and State Department officials. And she will attend a dinner with Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who chairs the House subcommittee overseeing Russian policy, at a dinner club frequented by powerfl Republicans. Journalist Martin Longman will later write that Manafort, if no one else, should have recognized Veselnitskaya "as an agent of a foreign power and of Vladimir Putin in particular. More than that, though, she should have been seen as an attorney for murderous Russian mobsters with high-level connections to the Russian Ministry of the Interior. Simple prudence should have prevented them from getting entangled with such a person, and not just for political reasons. The potential for blackmail or violence were too high to be acceptable to a rational person."

Who is Rinat Akhmetshin?

Akhmetshin is a former Soviet counterintelligence agent and Soviet military veteran. He now has dual Russian and American citizenship, and currently works with Veselnitskaya to convince Congress to repeal the Magnitsky Act. All of his previous and current lobbying efforts have been either at the behest of the Kremlin, or have been to the Putin regime's benefit. Browder will later say: "In the world of Russian intelligence, there is no such thing as a 'former intelligence officer.' So in my opinion, you had a member of Putin's secret police directly meeting with the son of the future next president of the United States asking to change US sanctions policy crucial to Putin." Akhmetshin is in Washington organizing a lobbying effort against US sanctions imposed on Russia. In November 2015, Akhmetshin was accused of hacking two computer systems by International Mineral Resources in a larger attempt to smear the reputation of the company. Ahkmetshin denied the charges, and the firm later drops the charge. Akhmetsin will claim he was invited on the spur of the moment by Veselnitskaya to attend the meeting. "She said, 'Why don't you come with me?'" he will later claim. He will add that he just walks into the meeting without being asked for any proof of identity. "No one asked us for IDs," he will recall. "We literally walked in" without any security check. It is unclear who exactly he means by "us" and "we;" presumbably he means himself and Veselnitskaya. Akhmetshin will also concoct a novel, and entirely unsubstantiated, reason for the meeting: he will say that Veselnitskaya, who is defending Katsyv, had found what she believed to be violations of Russian law by an unnamed Democratic donor, and the documents she provided the Trump officials included information about the supposed violations.

"Borders on Treason" if "Not Treason Itself"

Trump officials will dismiss the meeting. Trump himself will praise his son, saying about his July 11, 2017 decision to release the email exchange between him and Goldstone, "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency." Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee who will become Trump's chief of staff, calls the reporting about the meeting "a big nothingburger," and will go on to explain, "Talking about issues of foreign policy, issues related to our place in the world, issues important to the American people is not unusual." But Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, will say, "There's no reason for this Russian government advocate [Veselnitskaya] to be meeting with Paul Manafort or with Mr. Kushner or the president's son if it wasn't about the campaign and Russia policy." Richard Painter, the ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, will say the meeting "borders on treason," and says the three involved in the meeting would have already been taken in for quesitoning. In an interview on MSNBC, Painter will say: "Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner were both apparently involved in this. And this was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians who are known to be engaged in spying inside the United States. … We do not get our opposition research from spies. We do not collaborate with Russian spies unless we want to be accused of treason." He will add: "The Bush administration never would have tolerated this. And if this story is true, we'd have one of them or both of them in custody by now and we'd be asking them a lot of questions. This is unacceptable. This borders on treason if it's not treason itself." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will say: "There's no escaping it: the Trump Campaign's inner circle met with an agent of a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of the American election. The American people face a White House riddled with shadowy Russian connections and desperate to hide the truth." The Clinton campaign's former press secretary Brian Fallon will emphasize on CNN that Trump Jr. is joined by Manafort and Kushner, and add, "I think it's impossible to believe that the president himself was unaware of this apparent effort by the Russian government that was known to others in the Trump campaign." The Washington Post's Callum Borchers writes: "Trump Jr. confirmed that he went into the meeting expecting to receive information from the Russian lawyer that could hurt Clinton. That is a breathtaking admission." Former CIA intelligence agent Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will conclude that the meeting was almost certainly a Russian intelligence operation designed to make first contact with the Trump campaign – and the operation was a resounding success for the Russians. Trump Jr. will make an attempt to sarcastically deny any wrongdoing in a Twitter post, writing, "Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent … went nowhere but had to listen." (One person will reply to his post: "No. You're just the first person who met with RUSSIA to CONSPIRE AGAINST OUR ELECTION PROCESS!!! You committed treason.") (Associated Press via Washington Post, Associated Press, Business Insider, Business Insider, CBS News, Daily Kos, Daily Kos, Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump Jr., Guardian, The Hill, NBC News, NBC News, NBC News, New York Post, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free EuropeRaw Story, Reuters via Raw Story, Vanity Fair, Washington Monthly, Washington Post, Washington Post, Washington Post, Washington Post, Washington Post, Yahoo! News, photo of Natalia Veselnitskaya via New York Times)

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June 9, 2016: Trump Digs at Clinton about "33,000" Deleted Emails; Possibly Indicates Knowledge of Son's Secret Meeting with Russian Lawyer

Less than an hour after his son Donald Jr. met with a Russian lawyer after being promised a trove of damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, Donald Trump insults Clinton via Twitter with his first mention of the "33,000 emails" Clinton deleted from her private server before turning the server over to the State Department.

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Clinton has maintained that the emails were personal and not related to her work as Secretary of State. In a tweet that will apparently be deleted shortly after posting, Trump writes, "How long did it take your staff of 832 people to think that up – and where are your 33,000 emails that you deleted?" (Trump's tweet comes after he insulted Clinton by posting: "Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama – but nobody else does!" and Clinton responded with the Internet catch phrase, "Delete your account.") The Trump tweet will be unearthed in July 2017 after the secret Trump Jr. meeting becomes public knowledge, and some political commentators, such as former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, conclude that the tweet may indicate that Trump knows of his son's clandestine meeting. It is later learned that Trump Jr. received some kind of compromising information about Clinton, likely from Russian chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika. (Raw Story, New York Times, Daily Mail)

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June 9, 2016: GOP Donors Flock to Trump Tower

On the same day that top-level Trump officials meet with a Russian lawyer to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton from Russian governmental sources, an array of Republican donors go to Trump Tower to discuss how they will help finance the Trump campaign.

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Trump boasted throughout the primary campaign that he was "self-funding" his campaign, but now that he has secured the GOP nomination, he is looking to ramp up finances for his presidential run against Clinton. Over 60 Republican donors troop through the doors of Trump Tower, including RNC finance chair Lew Eisenberg, Trump Victory vice chairs Woody Johnson, Ray Washburne and Mel Sembler, RNC chair Reince Priebus, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort. Trump tells the donors that he believes he can win or contend in traditionally Democratic states such as California and New York, and take traditionally swing states such as Pennsylvania. Former North Dakota GOP chair Gary Emineth says, "It's time for Republicans to unite behind our next president." Speakers at the event, such as billionaire John Catsimatidis, dismiss Trump's campaign themes such as anti-Hispanic bigotry as "a few mistakes," adding that Trump is still "learning how to be a candidate." (NBC News)

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Mid-June 2016: DNC Asks Government to Identify Russians as Hackers

Senior DNC executives and their lawyer meet with senior FBI officials to discuss the Russian hacking of their systems. Among the topics discussed is a request by the DNC for the federal government to make a quick "attribution" that formally blames actors with ties to the Kremlin for the attack, in order to emphasize that their organization was not targeted by routine hacking but by foreign espionage.

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DNC consultant Michael Sussmann, a former cybercrimes prosecutor, says: "You have a presidential election underway here and you know that the Russians have hacked into the DNC. We need to tell the American public that. And soon." The White House will decide not to make such a proclamation, in part due to fears that such public blaming might sour the Russians on cooperating with the US in Syria, and for fear that the White House will appear overly partisan in the election contest. The DNC will soon decide to go public with their claims that Russia hacked their computers.(New York Times)

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June 12, 2016: Assange Threatens Email Leaks

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, tells a British reporter that WikiLeaks has emails from the Clinton presidential campaign it plans to release.

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He says the emails pertain to accusations that Clinton used a private email server for official communications. Assange says: "We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks has a very big year ahead." The information WikiLeaks intends to publish, Assange says, will contain "enough evidence" to indict her on criminal charges. (ITV)

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June 13, 2016: Trump Fails to Give Promised Speech Accusing Clinton of Russian Collaboration

Donald Trump fails to give the "major speech" he has recently promised, where he implied he would provide information showing Clinton colluded with Russia.

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His son recently had a meeting with a Russian lawyer where that information was promised, though Trump will deny ever knowing about the meeting. The Clinton campaign is prepared for the speech. Campaign official Jennifer Palmieri will recall: "We were very concerned about it. We put a team together." Palmieri and others believed the attack would be a reiteration of some of the debunked allegations made a year earlier in a book entitled Clinton Cash, by Peter Schweizer. The advisors have drafted responses and prepared surrogates to go on television to defend her. "Then the day came, and I was in the room with Hillary, and we're monitoring what he said, and he didn't do anything," Palmieri recalls. In July 2017, Trump officials tell reporters that Trump chose not to give that speech because of a mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida nighclub the day before. (New York Times)

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June 13, 2016: Russian Intelligence Asset and Lobbyist Hosts Anti-Magnitsky Film in Washington

Washington DC's Newseum hosts a screening of a Russian-made propaganda film purporting to show the "real" truth behind the massive fraud allegations that rocked Russia in 2007.

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According to US authorities and Russian opposition leaders, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky uncovered a money-laundering and fraud scheme of epic proportions. When he tried to expose it, he was arrested for committing the fraud he was trying to reveal, jailed, and beaten to death in his jail cell on the orders of the high-ranking government officials he had tried to implicate in the scheme. The film tells a very different story, blaming Magnitsky and his employer, American billionaire William Browder, for the fraud and lionizing the Russian government officials who allegedly carried out the massive criminal enterprise. After the screening, a few Russian opposition activists shout "Shame" at the director, Andrei Nekrasov; a discussion to be hosted by eminent American journalist Seymour Hersh is dominated by the film's critics, though Hersh is able to characterize the film as "the new truth." The film is showing for the first time after having been canceled at several European venues due to protests. The film is the fruit of labors by, among others, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterintelligence expert who now works to convince US lawmakers to repeal the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on specific Russians accused of financial crimes or human rights violations. The act is deeply unpopular in the Kremlin, and Akhmetshin, along with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others, have worked for years, perhaps at the Kremlin's bidding, to engineer its repeal or at least its weakening. Akhmetshin is responsible for tonight's screening. Most observers believe Akhmetshin still works for Russian intelligence. Veteran Washington reporter Steve LeVine, who wrote about Akhmetshin in his 2007 book The Oil and the Glory, says of Akhmetshin: "I call him skilled because – though I am certain that they exist – I know of no Russian gun-for-hire who managed to run his campaigns so successfully, running circles around purportedly much more seasoned Washington hands." Akhmetshin has worked to bolster opponents of Kazahkstan's ruling regime, discredit a former member of the Russian parliament who now opposes the Putin regime, and hack the computers of a Russian-owned mining firm involved in a huge lawsuit. One government official says Akhmetshin is highly skilled at slandering and demeaning the reputations of those who oppose the Kremlin's wishes, and now his targets are Magnitsky and Browder. "You undermine Browder, you undermine Magnitsky. You undermine Magnitsky, you undermine the sanctions," he says. "Then you undermine the entire sanctions regime." A November 2015 lawsuit filed in New York accused Akhmetshin of being a former Soviet military intelligence officer who "developed a special expertise in running negative public-relations campaigns." Akhmeteshin denies ever working for Soviet military intelligence, telling a Radio Free Europe reporter, "I am an American citizen since 2009 who pays taxes, earned his citizenship after living here since 1994, and swore an oath of loyalty to the United States of America." His newest client is the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGI), founded as a nonprofit in Delaware by Veselnitskaya and, apparently, Akhmetshin in February 2016. It shares space in an Washington office building with a prominent US law firm, Baker Hostetler, who represented Akhmetshin in a previous lawsuit. That firm also defends a Cypriot-based, Russian-owned holding firm called Prevezon that US prosecutors allege is deeply involved in the money-laundering scheme that Magnitsky died to reveal. The stated purpose of the HRAGI is "to help restart American adoption of Russian children," a reference to the Kremlin's ban on the practice that was enacted in retaliation to the Magnitsky Act. Akhmetshin, accompanied by another anti-Magnitsky lobbyist, former Democratic congressman Ron Dellums, visited the offices of Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in May to push for his support in repealing the act, though they claimed to be lobbying on behalf of Prevezon. Dellums later said he was strictly interested in the adoption issue. "I don't know anything about the other stuff – Prevezon or anything else," he said. As for the film, entitled "The Magnitsky Act: Behind The Scenes" (a "docudrama" using actors which Nekrasov admits is partially fictionalized), Browder says the film is part of an "intense lobbying campaign" to remove Magnitsky's name from the new legislation before Congress. "The Putin regime has embarked on a very ambitious and well-resourced international campaign to discredit me and Sergei Magnitsky in order to try to repeal the Magnitsky Act," he says. "They work through their embassies, law-enforcement agencies, as well as through private individuals with strong government connections." The screening is attended by a small number of Congressional staffers and at least one State Department official. The source of the funding of the movie, or the lobbying effort against the Magnitsky Act, is not publicly known, though Akhmetshin says the film's screening was paid for by a public relations firm, the Potomac Square Group, that had previously circulated news articles lambasting Browder. HRAGI will repay the firm for the screening, Akhmetshin says. Neither Akhmetshin nor anyone at HRAGI admits that the real beneficiaries of repealing the Magnitsky Act would be Prevezon and other wealthy Russian groups and individuals. (Radio Free Europe)

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June 14, 2016 and After: DCCC Breached by Russian Computer Hackers

A cyber attack targets the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Sources will tell Reuters that the hack may well be related to the earlier attacks against the Democratic National Committee, and are likely also conducted by hackers working for the Russian government.

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The FBI is investigating. The Kremlin will deny any involvement in the DCCC hacks. The Reuters sources say that the hacks were not intended to steal funds, but rather to gather information about DCCC donors, which could include names, email addresses, and credit card information. It is unclear whether information secured during the DCCC breach was used to access other systems. In this instance, hackers created a bogus website with an id very similar to a main donation site connected to the DCCC. Internet traffic intended for that donation site was routed to the bogus site instead. The internet protocol (IP) address used for the hack is similar to those used by Russian hackers to breach the DNC servers. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta will say, "I have concerns that an agency of foreign intelligence is hacking and interfering with a U.S. election." Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democrats, will say: "It's no coincidence someone is hacking into Democratic Party computers. It's almost sounding like a repeat of Watergate. This is just the kind of dirty politics we expect from Donald Trump. I have no doubt Donald Trump is behind it." Democratic strategist Jim Manley will say, "Until proven otherwise, I would suggest that everyone involved with the campaign committee operate under the assumption Russians have access to everything in their computer systems." Three cybersecurity firms, CrowdStrike, ThreatConnect and Fidelis, will report that the intrusion shows evidence of being carried out by FANCY BEAR, a group of Rusisan hackers directed by the Putin government. The group apparently created a fake website, "secure.actblues[.]com," that was created to look exactly like the actual site, "secure.actblue[.]com." Visitors to the fake site inadvertently provided their personal and financial information to the hackers. When the documents from the DCCC are released by the "lone hacker" "Guccifer 2.0," revealing the names, addresses and private telephone numbers of Democratic lawmakers and donors, CrowdStrike cofounder Dmitri Alperovitch and his colleague Shawn Henry join House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a conference call. Pelosi says she has told her colleagues to keep their phones away from their children until they could get new numbers, as many Congressional members had received threatening messages. Alperovitch later tells a reporter: "I remember getting off that call feeling completely outraged. I called up Shawn. I'm like, 'I can't believe the Russians are getting away with it. These are congresspeople. I can't believe that there's still no response from this government'." (Reuters, Esquire, ThreatConnect, Glomar Disclosure)

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WikiLeaks cartoon mocking the DNC

June 14, 2016: Media Reports Russians Hacked Democratic National Committee Computers

The Washington Post reports that hackers working for the Russian government illegally breached the computer network of the Democratic National Committee as early as the summer of 2015, and gained access to the DNC's entire database of "oppo research" on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as well as campaign communications about strategies and talking points, including what are apparently some negative communications about Clinton primary opponent Senator Bernie Sanders.

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The breach is confirmed by security experts who responded to the hacking as well as DNC officials; the DNC coordinates their outreach to the Post with CrowdStrike, the private computer security firm hired by the DNC to seal the breach and expel the hackers. Dmitri Alperovitch, the cofounder of CrowdStrike, writes a blog post providing more technical details about the DNC hack. CrowdStrike confirms that every DNC email and electronic chat was exposed to the hackers. Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns were also breached to some degree, as were some Republican political action committees, but the Post has no specific information about what was gleaned from those intrusions. DNC officials say that the hackers have been expelled from the computer system after a major effort to seal the breaches. Alperovitch later tells a reporter he is thrilled that the DNC chose to go pubic with the breach. "Having a client give us the ability to tell the full story" was a "milestone in the industry," he will say. "Not just highlighting a rogue nation-state's actions but explaining what was taken and how and when. These stories are almost never told."

"Traditional Espionage" the Apparent Aim

No financial, donor, or personal information was accessed or taken, the DNC asserts, leading its officials to believe that "traditional espionage" was the aim of the breaches. (In July, the DNC will withdraw its assurances that no financial, donor or personal information was accessed.) Shawn Henry, president of CrowdStrike, says, "[W]e were able to identify with a very high degree of confidence a group that we have attributed back to the Russian government targeting that DNC network." He adds, "It's the job of every foreign intelligence service to collect intelligence against their adversaries." Henry is the former head of the FBI's cyber division. "We're perceived as an adversary of Russia," Henry adds. "Their job when they wake up every day is to gather intelligence against the policies, practices and strategies of the U.S. government. There are a variety of ways. [Hacking] is one of the more valuable because it gives you a treasure trove of information." Asked why the Russians would gather information on Trump, former senior counselor to the CIA Robert Deitz says, "The purpose of such intelligence gathering is to understand the target's proclivities. Trump's foreign investments, for example, would be relevant to understanding how he would deal with countries where he has those investments" should he be elected. "They may provide tips for understanding his style of negotiating. In short, this sort of intelligence could be used by Russia, for example, to indicate where it can get away with foreign adventurism." For her part, Clinton says that as far as she knows, her campaign was not hacked. She "will be absolutely focused on" cybersecurity if she is elected, she says, "[b]ecause whether it's Russia, or China, Iran or North Korea, more and more countries are using hacking to steal our information, to use it to their advantage." The Trump campaign refuses to speak to the issue, directing inquiries to the Secret Service.

DNC Learned of Hacks in April

In late April, the DNC learned that some sort of intrusions had taken place from members of the committee's IT team. Chief executive Amy Dacey says, "It's never a call any executive wants to get, but the IT team knew something was awry." Dacey spoke with DNC lawyer Michael Sussmann, who contacted Henry. CrowdStrike then installed tracking software to learn more about the breaches. CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch says that his firm discovered two separate hacking groups, both working for the Russian government, had infiltrated the network. The firm was familiar with both teams' work from other breaches that took place over the last two years.

COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR

The groups were nicknamed COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR by CrowdStrike. COZY BEAR had been in the DNC's email and chat communications since the summer of 2015, while FANCY BEAR gained access to the opposition research files in late April. Their breach set off the alarms. CrowdStrike is not yet sure how either group gained access to the computer networks. The two groups may not have been working together; Alperovitch says FANCY BEAR works for Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU, while COZY BEAR may work for the FSB, the Russian security agency formerly known as the KGB. Vladimir Putin once headed that organization. The two groups may be working in competition with one another, Alperovitch says, trying to curry favor with Putin. He says both groups have "superb operational tradecraft," and have successfully breached government agencies, tech companies, defense contractors, energy and manufacturing firms, and universities in the United States, Canada and Europe as well as in Asia. Henry says: "This is a sophisticated foreign intelligence service with a lot of time, a lot of resources, and is interested in targeting the U.S. political system." The DNC experts were outmanned, he adds: "You've got ordinary citizens who are doing hand-to-hand combat with trained military officers. And that's an untenable situation."

Russian Propaganda, Hacking Campaign in Place

The American intelligence community is unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (Washington Post, CrowdStrike, USA Today, Esquire, Yahoo News, WikiLeaks cartoon illustration of DNC leak from Thompson Timeline)

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June 14, 2016: Russian Asset Attends House Committee Hearing on Russia at Behest of Trump Associate, Russian Intel Official

Natalia Veselnitskaya, one of the Russian assets who secretly met with three top Trump campaign officials five days before, obtains a front-row seat for a hearing on Russia-related issues held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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Veselnitskaya gains the seat due to the workings of Trump adviser Lanny Wiles, whose wife Susie chairs the Trump campaign organization in Florida. A photo of her later circulated throughout the media shows her sitting behind former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, a witness before the panel. The photo gives some conservative bloggers the opportunity to falsely accuse Democrats of "planting" her at the hearing. Wiles says he attended the committee meeting himself at the request of another suspected Russian asset, former intelligence official Rinat Akmetshin. Wiles and Akmetshin are working to convince Congress to overturn the US sanctions against Russia. Susie Wiles later denies having any role in assisting Veselnitskaya to gain a seat in the hearing, and Lanny Wiles will later deny knowing that Veselnitskaya had met with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials. Veselnitskaya attempted to testify before the hearing, but committee chair Ed Royce (R-CA) refused to allow her to speak. Veselnitskaya also wanted the committee to view a wildly skewed Russian-made documentary arguing against the Magnitsky Act and other US-imposed sanctions against Russia. The committee does not view the documentary. (Washington Post)

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June 15, 2016: "Guccifer 2.0" Claims Responsibility for DNC Hack, Leaks Trump Oppo Document

One day after the DNC announced that Russian actors had hacked into their servers, an entity using the online moniker "Guccifer 2.0" claims to be responsible for the hacks to the DNC email servers. It does not take long before US intelligence and private cybersecurity agencies and firms determine "Guccifer 2.0" is a constructed persona designed to obscure Russian responsibility for the hacks and the leaks.

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"He" announces a new WordPress site and Twitter profile under his handle, and posts a 237-page opposition file on Donald Trump from December 2015 as well as other files hacked from DNC computers, including documents containing donor information. He also sends an email from a GMZ.us account with the documents to the website The Smoking Gun, and in the email with documents says: "Hi. This is Guccifer 2.0 and this is me who hacked Democratic National Committee. … First I breached into mail boxes of a number of Democrats. And then using the info collected I got into Committee servers … Guccifer [referring to the jailed Romanian hacker who has claimed, without evidence, to have hacked Clinton's private email server] may have been the first one who penetrated Hillary Clinton's and other Democrats' mail servers. But he certainly wasn't the last. No wonder any other hacker could easily get access to the DNC's servers." "He" says he spent over a year inside the DNC servers. In the email, "he" also claims to have given "thousands of files and mails" to WikiLeaks, and claims to have obtained "some secret documents from Hillary's PC she worked with as the Secretary of State," though those documents are not provided. "He" also sends documents to the online news and gossip site Gawker. Both publications receive selected documents from the much larger number of documents in "Guccifer 2.0"'s possession Like the first Guccifer, this hacker also claims to be a lone Romanian, but security experts and US intelligence officials believe the hacks are the work of Russian computer hackers working for the Russian government. One possible indication of the Russian origin of the hack is in the metadata associated with the file: the dossier was last saved by someone whose name, "Felix Edmundovich," appears in Cyrillic letters. It is likely this is an alias that refers to the historical Soviet figure "Iron Felix." "Guccifer 2.0" seems to have a particular animus towards one of the firms analyzing the Russian hacks, CrowdStrike, writing: "I'm very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly. But in fact, it was easy, very easy. … Fuck the Illuminati and their conspiracies!!!!!!!!! Fuck CrowdStrike!!!!!!!!!" CrowdStrike will review its findings and stand by its conclusion that two groups of Russian hackers are responsible for the intrusions. As the informational site Glomar Disclosure will write, "In the blog post, he uses the ')))' smiley emoticon commonly used by those using a Cyrillic keyboard due to the difficulty of typing." CrowdStrike says "Guccifer 2.0"'s claims may be "part of a Russian intelligence disinformation campaign." The Democratic opposition file, written by a staffer named Warren Flood, opens with the summation: "One thing is clear about Donald Trump, there is only one person he has ever looked out for and that's himself. Whether it's American workers, the Republican Party, or his wives, Trump's only fidelity has been to himself and with that he has shown that he has no problem lying to the American people. Trump will say anything and do anything to get what he wants without regard for those he harms." Cyberwarfare expert and former intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance will later write: "To the DNC and the Clinton campaign, the dossier of data was rather mundane information from online sources collating the publically available information the DNC and Clinton campaign would use to characterize Trump. To a general hacker it would be of little interest except for amusement purposes. If the folder contained routine information, sophisticated narrative management could counter whatever the Clinton camp prepared. If the folder contained something explosive, leaking it early could defuse any interest, or it could be argued that the information was false based on the insecurity of the servers. For the Trump campaign, knowing in advance what the DNC and Team Clinton knew would prove invaluable to defending and counterattacking Hillary. And it is not unprecedented. One paranoid American president, so concerned with what secrets the DNC had on him, performed the same operation that appears to have occurred here." Nance is referring to Richard Nixon and the 1972 Watergate break-in. The DNC acknowledges that the documents are theirs, and withdraws its claim that no donor information was accessed by the breach. In July, security expert and author Thomas Rid will write of "Guccifer 2.0": "The first post and tweet were clumsily titled: 'DNC's servers hacked by a lone hacker.' The message: that it was not hacked by Russian intelligence." (The Smoking Gun, Wired, Gawker, Vice, Vice, Esquire, New York Times, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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June 15, 2016: Trump Campaign Says DNC Hacked Itself

Donald Trump posts a response to the release of DNC documents by "Guccifer 2.0" and the allegations that the hacks were carried out by Russian computer hackers. Trump claims that the DNC hacked itself.

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Trump writes: "This is all information that has been out there for many years. Much of it is false and/or entirely inaccurate. We believe it was the DNC that did the 'hacking' as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the DNC doesn't hack Crooked Hillary's, [sic] 33,000 missing emails." Gawker reporters Sam Biddle and Camille Bluestone write: "The Trump campaign alleges that the DNC hacked itself, which sure is a stupid theory." Wired is more circumspect: "That doesn't make much sense." (J.T. Santucci, CNN, Gawker, Wired, Glomar Disclosure)

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June 15, 2016: Russians Deny Connections to Hacks, Say DNC "Forgot the Password"

The Russian government denies all allegations that it, or people working on its behalf, hacked the DNC computers. The Washington Post notes that the tone of the denials is far calmer and less aggressive than the usual government denials of foreign wrongdoing. In this case, a top computer expert for the Russian government, German Klimenko, suggests that the hacks took place because "someone simply forgot the password."

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Klimenko says in comments broadcast by the RIA Novosti state news agency: "Usually these kinds of leaks take place not because hackers broke in, but, as any professional will tell you, because someone simply forgot the password or set the simple password 123456. Well, it's always simpler to explain this away as the intrigues of enemies, rather than one's own incompetence." And Dmitry Peskov, the official spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, says flatly, "I absolutely rule out the possibility that the government or government agencies were involved in this." Former Russian army officer Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center says the accusations of hacking have become "ubiquitous" and stale: "I don't think that it's something they [the Kremlin] will be really talking much about or worried about." Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian political analyst, says that although the Russian government is keenly interested in the US presidential elections and generally favors Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, "I don't see why they would be interested in doing this, which would just electrify the campaign of the Democratic candidate. I think in the case of these reports that many people are just used to seeing the scary ghost of Mr. Putin." (Washington Post)

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June 15, 2016: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tells colleagues he believes Trump is being paid by Putin.

Crowdstrike logo

June 15, 2016: CyberSecurity Firm Provides Details of Russian Hacking

Dmitri Alperovitch, the co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, writes on his company blog that his firm stands behind their findings that "two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries" accessed the DNC network in May 2016.

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He notes that on June 15, a blog post to a WordPress site by a hacker identifying himself as "Guccifer 2.0" claims credit for the DNC breach, and publishes numerous DNC documents. Alperovitch is certain that the Russian government is behind "Guccifer 2.0" and the document hacks, but cannot say whether the document publication is part of what he calls "a Russian Intelligence disinformation campaign." CrowdStrike was hired by the DNC after that organization learned its computers had been hacked. "We deployed our IR team and technology and immediately identified two sophisticated adversaries on the network – COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR," he writes. "We've had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well. In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis. Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of 'living-off-the-land' techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities including deliberate targeting and 'access management' tradecraft … to try to stay ahead of being detected. Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government's powerful and highly capable intelligence services." COZY BEAR has a long record of breaching both US governmental agencies and private firms, and has also intruded into computers in Western Europe, Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey and other Asian nations. FANCY BEAR has conducted similar attacks, but works with another Russian governmental agency, likely the GRU. The COZY BEAR intrusions into the DNC date back as far as the summer of 2015, while the FANCY BEAR intrusions date to April 2016. "We have identified no collaboration between the two actors, or even an awareness of one by the other," he writes. "Instead, we observed the two Russian espionage groups compromise the same systems and engage separately in the theft of identical credentials. … Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government's powerful and highly capable intelligence services." (CrowdStrike)

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image of Word metadata

June 15-16, 2016: Security Experts Say Evidence Points to Russian Origin of "Guccifer 2.0"

Dan Goodin, the security editor for the tech website Ars Technica, writes that while it has not been conclusively proven that the computer hacker "Guccifer 2.0" works for the Russian government, he "left behind fingerprints implicating a Russian-speaking person with a nostalgia for the country's lost Soviet era."

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Metadata shows the Microsoft Word document the hacker attached to the email he sent to The Smoking Gun was written on a computer configured for the Russian language, and was written using a Russian-language keyboard. The alias used on the document translates to "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police. Several of the hyperlinks in the Word document are broken and give an error message, but in a PDF version of the document printed by Gawker hours before Guccifer posted his own copy of the document on his Wordpress site, the error messages appear in Russian. Goodin writes: "The most likely explanation is that the Russian error messages are an artifact left behind when the leaker converted the Word document into a PDF. That kind of conversion would be expected if the leaker's PC was set up to use Russian." Goodin also notes the use of the emoticon ")))" which is often used by Russians in social-media posts to denote a "smiley face." Cyrillic keyboards do not support the "smiley" emoticon as it is usually written in English. In addition, the grammar in the document suggests that the writer is not a native-English speaker. These data points were made public by Matt Tait, a former British intelligence analyst who posts on Twitter using the handle "PwnAllTheThings." The information is consistent with the findings of CrowdStrike, the security firm hired by the DNC to investigate the hacks. CrowdStrike is all but certain the hacks were carried out by a Russian hacking group working for the Putin regime. (Twitter, Ars Technica, Esquire)

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There was no way that the single most damaging (and dull) file from the DNC hack would be "accidently" released weeks before the Republican National Committee convention. It was straight from the Karl Rove political playbook: Release damning information early, hold bad information until appropriate. More startling was that word was spreading across the global cyber security community that the DNC hack and Guccifer 2.0 had Russian fingerprints all over it. – from The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance

June 17, 2016: WikiLeaks Publishes Huge Encrypted File as "Insurance;" File Likely Hacked DNC Documents

WikiLeaks posts a link to a huge (88gb) encrypted file, and invites others to download it as "risk insurance."

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The file almost certainly contains documents illegally obtained by Russian hackers from the DNC. WikiLeaks posts: "Protect our coming publications. Torrent WIKILEAKS INSURANCE 2016-06-03 (88 Gb encrypted)" with a link to the file. Without a key from WikiLeaks, the file cannot be decrypted and read. (WikiLeaks, Vice)

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June 19-August 15, 2016: Papadopoulos Attempts to Set Up "Off the Record" Meeting between Trump, Russian Officials

Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who has been working diligently to bring about a meeting between Donald Trump, campaign officials, Kremlin officials, and Vladimir Putin, tries to set up an off-the record meeting between campaign officials and Russian officials, possibly including himself. He sends an email to campaign chair Corey Lewandowski, reading in part: "The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if a campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it's in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people." Top campaign official Sam Clovis emails Papaopoulos back, saying "I would encourage you" and another unnamed foreign policy advisor to "make the trip … if it is feasible." As far as is publicly known, the meeting does not take place. (Department of Justice, Washington Post, , Washington Post, Talking Points Memo)


June 20, 2016: Three Cybersecurity Firms: DNC Hacks Carried Out By Russians

Michael Buratowski of the Security Consulting Team with cybersecurity firm Fidelis concurs with assessments performed by CrowdStrike: the DNC hacks performed by "Guccifer 2.0" is almost certainly attributable to one or both of two Russian computer hacking teams, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR.

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"We have helped hundreds of organizations deal with similar situations so we know the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) exceptionally well," Buratowski writes. "Our analysis relies on the intelligence repository we have built through this analysis as well as Open Source Intelligence to substantiate our findings." The malware used in the DNC hacks is consistent with that used by the Russian teams, and the "complex coding structures and utilized obfuscation techniques" are far beyond the skill level of most amateur hackers. The cybersecurity firm Mandiant agrees. That firm's analysis was based on malware samples provided by the DNC, and, like Fidelis, says the malware and associated servers are consistent with those used in previous attacks by two Russian hacking teams dubbed COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR, respectively. A third firm, ThreatConnect, determines that some of the attacks were facilitated by a faked domain name leading unwary DNC users to open fake emails configured to appear identical to official DNC emails. That technique is often used by FANCY BEAR, according to the cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC, CrowdStrike. (Threat Geek, Washington Post)

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June 20, 2016: Trump-Russia Dossier Surfaces in Washington

A dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele begins circulating among a small number of political operatives and media outlets in Washington.

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The dossier contains documents and information that allege Russia has compromising information on Trump, perhaps making him a potential target for blackmail; the dossier also contains evidence suggesting that Trump and his campaign may be deliberately colluding with Russian agents to sabotage the Clinton candidacy and help get Trump elected. The dossier will continue to be updated through December 2016. The FBI will get a portion of the dossier in July. (Independent, Medium)

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Guccifer 20 from his blog

June 21, 2016: "Guccifer 2.0" Releases Batch of Emails

Mysterious hacker "Guccifer 2.0" releases a batch of emails illegally gleaned from the Democratic National Committee computer networks. The 261 emails released on his Web site all pertain to the Clinton presidential campaign, and include opposition research documents and talking points regarding a number of controversial topics, including the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack and the FBI's investigation of Clinton's use of a private email server.

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The Washington Post reported that the emails were hacked by computer experts working for the Russian government. The hacker reportedly told Vice News: "I don't like Russians and their foreign policy. I hate being attributed to Russia." Vice reports that in an interview with him via Twitter, the hacker provided a number of responses in Romanian, but the language he used was so full of errors that it is likely Romanian is not his native tongue. Nor would he provide details about how he actually hacked the DNC computers. He claims to be a Romanian "freedom fighter" working by himself to "bring light to the people." He says he left Russian "metadata" in the leaks as his personal "watermark," and says that he was "kicked out" of the DNC servers on June 12. The nickname is a reference to "Guccifer," a Romanian hacker who recently pled guilty to hacking numerous American politicians' computers. The opposition research released by Guccifer 2.0 via WikiLeaks includes material about Donald Trump, mostly what Mother Jones calls "unflattering news reports," and Peter Schweizer, author of the book Clinton Cash, which falsely claimed the Clinton Foundation secretly accepted hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign governments in return for favorable treatment from the State Department during Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. (Mother Jones, Vice News, photo of a blog heading from "Guccifer 2.0" from BBC)

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— July 2016 —

July 2, 2016: GOP Senator Says FBI Should Ask Russia for Clinton Emails

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a potential running mate for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, suggests that the FBI should ask the Russian government for the 30,000 emails Hillary Clinton deleted from her private server.

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"It has gotten so bad, the FBI is on the verge of asking Vladimir Putin for his copies of Hillary's emails," Cotton quips. Cotton's remarks comes during a broad-based attack on Clinton's qualifications and character during a speech at the Western Conservative Summit in Colorado. (Breitbart via Internet Archive)

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July 6, 2016: "Guccifer 2.0" Publishes DNC Strategy Plans Before GOP Convention

Twelve days before the Republican National Convention begins, the Russian persona calling itself "Guccifer 2.0" releases the Democratic National Committee's election strategy and budget for countering the convention. The New York Times later writes, "For Republican operatives, it was insider gold." (New York Times)


July 7, 2016: Romanian Hacker "Guccifer" Lied about Hacking into Clinton's Personal Server

Romanian hacker Marcel Lazar, who went by the online moniker "Guccifer," never gained access to the private email server of Hillary Clinton, according to Congressional testimony by FBI Director James Comey.

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Lazar did hack into the personal email account of Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal, where he apparently learned about Clinton's private server. He falsely claimed he had actually accessed that server. Asked by committee member Blake Farenthold, "Can you confirm that Guccifer never gained access to her server?" Comey replies: "He did not. He admitted that was a lie." Farenthold responds, "At least that's good to hear." Lazar is awaiting sentencing for his convictions in the Blumenthal and other computer intrusions. (The Hill, Washington Times, Fox News)

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July 7, 2016: WikiLeaks Announces "Upcoming Hillary Clinton Leaks"

In a tweet, WikiLeaks mocks the FBI and alerts the world of more leaked documents pertaining to Hillary Clinton. The tweet reads: "The FBI did not ask us for copies of our upcoming Hillary Clinton leaks before concluding its investigation. Credible detective work! Not." (WikiLeaks)


July 13, 2016: Hacker Gives DNC Documents to DC News Outlet

"Guccifer 2.0," the hacker believed to be working with the Russian government, provides a cache of purported DNC documents to the Washington, DC news outlet The Hill, in what that outlet calls "an effort to refocus attention on the hack."

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The hacker communicates with Hill staffers via electronic chat while sending the documents, saying: "The press [is] gradually forget[ing] about me, [W]ikileaks is playing for time and [I] have some more docs." The documents name over 11,000 people with identifying information, files relating to two controversial Democratic donors, and a 2011 opposition research document on former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin. One of the donors, Norman Hsu, was jailed in 2009 for running a Ponzi scheme and making illegal campaign contributions. The DNC conducted research on Hsu's donations to assess the damage to its candidates. The other donor, Paul Magliocchetti, was a Republican lobbyist closely associated with conservative Democrat John Murtha. Magliocchetti was convicted in 2010 of being involved in an illegal campaign finance scheme. The Hill writes: "Guccifer 2.0 has claimed to be a Romanian hacker with no strong political leanings. Guccifer 2.0's choice to release documents from Magliocchetti and Hsu, whose cases are now six and seven years old, shows a detailed knowledge of American politics seemingly at odds with the backstory provided by the hacker." (The Hill)

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July 20-27, 2016: DHS Warns Government Officials of Foreign Intelligence Attempts to Elicit Information

As Trump officials such as Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) are clandestinely meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the Department of Homeland Security begins preparing a nationwide warning about foreign intelligence operatives attempting to draw information from US government personnel at conferences, events and other venues.

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The document is released on July 27. It does not specifically mention Russia, but a senior administration official later says that White House and intelligence officials are becomingly increasingly worried about Russian interference in the election, and about Kislyak's meetings with Trump officials in particular. The Russian concerns are "not unrelated" to the bulletin, the official will say. The bulletin includes a warning that foreign intelligence agents will attempt "to gather intelligence through what appears to be normal, even mundane, social or professional contact" at events. "It is important not to draw special attention to you or your coworkers, particularly when meeting foreign officials, to ensure foreign entities do not target your expertise or assume you have placement and access to information of interest," it reads. "We recommend preparing simple, unclassified answers should a foreign entity begin to inquire, even if seemingly out of polite curiosity, about you or your work. Lastly, plan deflection tactics to minimize a foreign entity’s ability to ask probing questions or display intrusive behaviors." It warns specifically of "elicitation: a commonly used and highly effective intelligence-gathering technique using ordinary conversation to extract targeted information from a person in a manner that does not disclose the true intent of the conversation. It can occur anywhere – at social gatherings, at conferences, on ship/facility tours, on the street, over the phone, in writing, or over the Internet." The bulletin is distributed to "federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners to develop priorities relating to existing or emerging foreign intelligence threats to homeland security." DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis rarely delivers such warnings, generally leaving it to the FBI to produce such bulletins. The document is unclassified, but contains a warning not to share it with foreign governments, which "makes zero sense, isn't enforceable, and is entirely against policy," a Trump official will say. A rather contentious Trump official will tell a Daily Beast reporter, referring to Kislyak: "Dude is everywhere, so fucking what. You don't think we do the same thing over there? So yeah, we know him and he knows us, and you make small talk and you play that game. If you think that means I can't handle my shit and we're all Russian agents, go fuck yourself." Of the bulletin, he says: "This is also known as one enormous Cover Your Ass. The bulletin is bullshit, but the threat isn't and people should know." (Daily Beast)

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July 21, 2016: White House Meets to Discuss DNC Hacks

The White House hosts a high-level meeting to discuss the hack of DNC email servers. Officials from a number of intelligence and defense agencies, including the NSA, FBI, Defense Department, and Homeland Security take part in the meeting. (Washington Post)


WikiLeaks cartoon mocking Clinton

July 22, 2016:  WikiLeaks Releases Hacked DNC Emails

As promised, WikiLeaks releases approximately 19,252 illegally hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and 8,034 attachments. The hack is initially credited to "Guccifer 2.0," who self-represents as a lone hacker with no ties to Russia, but is later learned to be a constructed persona used to obscure Russian responsibility for the hacks.

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The emails are from seven DNC officials: Communications Director Luis Miranda (10,770 emails), National Finance Director Jordon Kaplan (3,797 emails), Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer (3,095 emails), Finance Director Zachary Allen (1,611 emails), Finance Director of Data and Strategic Initiatives Daniel Parrish (1,472 emails), Senior Advisor Andrew Wright (938 emails) and Northern California Finance Director Robert (Erik) Stowe (751 emails). The emails are from January 2015 until May 25, 2016. In announcing the release, WikiLeaks says this is "part one of our new Hillary Leaks series." The emails, which are far more organized and searchable than the previous DNC leaks, include communications that may be construed to show DNC officials planning how to short-circuit the primary campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, who lost to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Sanders campaign, and many of its supporters, have long claimed that the DNC worked to promote the Clinton candidacy over that of Sanders, when it was supposed to be neutral. The email leak takes place just days before the Democratic National Convention, where Clinton will be officially named as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. An email from May 21 shows an email exchange discussing whether to characterize Sanders's campaign as "a mess," and saying, "It's not a DNC conspiracy, it's because they never had their act together." Another email from May, written by DNC CFO Brad Marshall, discusses someone of "Jewish heritage" who is purportedly an atheist, and how that person may be vulnerable among religious voters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. Marshall tells a reporter that he was not talking about Sanders, but instead was discussing one of Sanders's surrogates. Other exchanges show DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz saying in May that Sanders "isn't going to be president," and in April that he "has no understanding of" the Democratic Party. (Sanders has been an independent for decades, though he has always caucused with Senate Democrats. He changed his affiliation to Democrat when he began his presidential campaign, and will revert to being an independent after the campaign.) Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver says of the leaked emails and the DNC: "They said they were neutral, which we knew not to be true. Now we have evidence in black and white that they were trying to put out negative stories about Bernie Sanders. People are very angry about these leaks, and rightfully so. There's no doubt about that." Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a key Clinton supporter, later recalls walking into the Clinton campaign offices and seeing her face on television as news pundits discussed a leaked email where Tanden called Clinton's political instincts "suboptimal." She later says: "It was just a sucker punch to the gut every day. It was the worst professional experience of my life." National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers later says after the November elections: "There shouldn't be any doubt in anybody's mind. This was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect." (The Hill, Washington Post, Esquire, New York Times, Susan Page, WikiLeaks, cartoon from WikiLeaks)

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There's no plausible actor that has an interest in all those victims other than Russia. — Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike, quoted by the New York Times

July 22, 2016: Trump Gives Speech Accusing Clinton of Colluding with Russians, Other Discredited Allegations

In the aftermath of the WikiLeaks email dump, Donald Trump gives a harsh speech lambasting Hillary Clinton for colluding with Russians and other foreign nationals.

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Trump draws his information largely from the discredited book Clinton Cash, by Peter Schweitzer, as well as other conspiracy theories spread by far-right news blogs and web sites such as Breitbart and InfoWars. (New York Times)

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July 22, 2016: WikiLeaks Denies Sourcing Claim

Four hours after releasing a large batch of hacked DNC documents, WikiLeaks implicitly denies that "Guccifer 2.0" is the source. In a post on Twitter, WikiLeaks writes: "Note on sourcing #DNCLeaks. We have, as usual, not revealed our sources. Anyone who claims to know who our source is has no credibility." (WikiLeaks)


July 23, 2016: Trump praises and publicizes the WikiLeaks release of the illegally hacked emails by Russia, and accuses the elections of being rigged against him.

July 23, 2016: WikiLeaks Says Russian Connection Should be Explored, Denies Claims

In a Twitter exchange, WikiLeaks again denies any Russian involvement in its leaks of illegally hacked DNC communications, but says it should be explored.

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Journalist Michael Best, who posts under the Twitter handle "NatSecGeek," writes to WikiLeaks's Twitter page: "If there were accusations CIA hacked & leaked Putin's info, that would be a valid question and you'd demand people explore it. WikiLeaks responds: "It should be explored. But so far, there only evidence free claims. Did Putin also hack our AKP leaks? Absurd." The AKP citation is a reference to a massive data dump of illegally hacked communications secured from Turkish governmental servers. (WikiLeaks)

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July 23, 2016: Right-Wing Blog Spreads Fake Email Supposedly from DNC Hack

The right-wing blog Vox Popoli spreads what it later determines is a fake email supposedly written by Democratic strategist James Carville and released in the recent WikiLeaks email dump of hacked documents from the DNC.

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Carville supposedly wrote: "Ideologies aren't all that important. What's important is psychology. The Democratic constituency is just like a herd of cows. All you have to do is lay out enough silage and they come running. That's why I became an operative working with Democrats. With Democrats all you have to do is make a lot of noise, lay out the hay, and be ready to use the ole cattle prod in case a few want to bolt the herd. Eighty percent of the people who call themselves Democrats don't have a clue as to political reality. What amazes me is that you could take a group of people who are hard workers and convince them that they should support social programs that were the exact opposite of their own personal convictions." The blog owner, Theodore Beale (who writes under the moniker "Vox Day"), later updates his post: "The Carville note appears to be a fake being passed around under cover of the DNCleaks; I thought it was a little strange that the wily Carville would come right out and say that. But whether he said it or not, it is true, moreover, it is true of Republicans as well. It is true of everyone and it has been true since Aristotle's day. Most people simply don't speak or think in terms of dialectic." Beale is an openly misogynistic and anti-Semitic conservative science fiction writer who briefly achieved notoriety through his leadership of the "Rabid Puppies," a small group of far-right science fiction writers who twice attempted, and failed, to "hijack" the prestigious Hugo Awards by casting fake ballots. Their intent was to deny awards to stories and novels written by "politically correct" "social justice warriors," mostly women and Jews. (Vox Popoli, Guardian)

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July 24, 2016: Trump Jr. Accuses Clinton of Lying about Russian Intervention in Election

Donald Trump Jr. goes on CNN to lambast the Clinton campaign's suggestions that Russia is trying to hurt her campaign and help the Trump presidential bid.

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"It's disgusting," he says. "It's so phony. … I can't think of bigger lies. But that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win." Trump Jr. does not mention his recent meeting with Russian lawyers and former intelligence agents to try to get compromising information about Clinton from foreign agents. (New York Times)

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July 24, 2016: NY Times: Questions Arise about Putin's Involvement in the US Presidential Election

Cybersecurity experts are pondering the question of whether Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin is attempting to interfere in the US presidential election, according to the New York Times.

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The recent WikiLeaks document dump of nearly 20,000 stolen emails from the DNC computer servers, many of them damaging to the Clinton campaign and embarrassing to Democratic leaders, has, the Times writes, "intensified discussion of the role of Russian intelligence agencies in disrupting the 2016 campaign." The revelations in the emails that the DNC may have favored Clinton over primary challenger Bernie Sanders has already caused serious dissension in the ranks of Democratic leaders and voters alike, and has triggered the abrupt resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It is clear to many US intelligence agencies and private cybersecurity firms that Russia is behind the DNC hacks, and chose WikiLeaks to funnel the hacked information to the public. The Times writes, "Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone's guess." The question is being raised by the Clinton campaign, as it doubles up on portraying Republican Donald Trump as not only an isolationist, but a willing colleague of Putin's, who will allow him to aggressively intervene in other nations' affairs, including NATO allies and former Soviet client states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Donald Trump Jr. calls the entire issue a smear campaign against his father. The Times notes the conclusions of experts and intelligence analysts who have concluded that the evidence points directly to two known groups of Russian hackers working for the Russian government, as well as the timing of the most recent document release, between the end of the Republican national convention and just before the Democrats' own convention. The release, the Times writes, "seems too well planned to be coincidental." Both the American intelligence community and American press are unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (New York Times, New York Times)

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July 24-25, 2016: WikiLeaks Tweets Address DNC Leaks

WikiLeaks releases a number of posts on Twitter regarding the hacked DNC material it recently released.

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In response to a tweet by MSNBC host Chris Hayes that claims the document release was timed "to do maximum political damage to Democrats on the eve of the convention," WikiLeaks responds: "We set the date. Not our sources." It also says that it published the documents "as soon as the docs were verified & as fast as resources permitted," and claims it received the documents less than three months before releasing them. Other tweets indicate that WikiLeaks has "more [documents] coming … at the appropriate moment." Another tweet implies that their source for the material might be from "inside" the DNC, writing, "DNC has been hacked dozens of times by multiple hackers & we never stated whether our source was inside or outside." Other tweets indicate WikiLeaks is threatening "legal action" against MSNBC host and Grio journalist Joy Reid after she announces her next broadcast will focus on "the unprecedented affinity between an American presidential candidate - Trump - Russia and WikiLeaks." (WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks)

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July 25, 2016: FBI Announces Ongoing Investigation into DNC Hacks, Suspects Russia

The FBI announces that it is investigating the DNC hack, and several officials say the agency suspects Russia as the source of the breach. The agency says it has been looking into the issue for months. Now it announces that it will "investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace." The announcement comes one day after the Clinton campaign publicly accused the Russian government of deliberately trying to manipulate the US presidential election in order to help Donald Trump win.

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Former Defense Intelligenc Agency head David Shedd says, "The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway this week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign." He adds that more leaks are likely. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden observes that if the Russians did engineer the cyber attacks, "they're clearly taking their game to another level. It would be weaponizing information. … You don't want a foreign power affecting your election. We have laws against that." The FBI says it is focusing on computer hackers who work for, or with, Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU. It also wants to know if the agency is responsible for providing the documents it may have hacked to WikiLeaks for dissemination. The GRU is one of two Russian agencies responsible for hacking the DNC, computer experts believe, with the other being the FSB (formerly the KGB). Intelligence experts believe the NSA and CIA may be involved in the investigation along with the FBI. Former White House chief of staff William Daley says he believes it is reasonable to conclude Putin is involved: "I don't think anybody would be surprised if Putin would try to affect the election. That's like the old Casablanca – there's gambling in the casino. It doesn't surprise me at all. Period. I think anybody who dismisses that is living in fairy land here." Several White House officials say the belief that Russia hacked the election in order to help Trump defeat Clinton is gaining ground among Obama administration members. The fact that election manipulation is not a crime that falls under the FBI's purview may limit the investigation, some officials say. Both the American intelligence community and American press are unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump.(Washington Post, Daily Beast, image of GRU emblem by Thompson Timeline)

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July 25, 2016: Assange Says Source of Leaked DNC Information Could be DNC Staffer

In a telephone interview with left-wing news outlet Democracy Now!, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says the source of the hacked DNC emails published by his organization could have been the work of any DNC staffer.

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He claims the "data sets" released by his organization were "pristine," and says that because of the controversial nature of the information, the usual "exploration and marketing" WikiLeaks engages in to gain public attention was not necessary for this release. "[W]e didn't need to establish partnerships with the New York Times or the Washington Post" to gain public attention. "In fact, that might be counterproductive, because they are partisans of one group or another. Rather, we took the data set, analyzed it, verified it, made it in a presentable, searchable form, presented it for all journalists and the public to mine. And that's exactly what has happened." He says that the resignation of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her near-immediate rehiring by the Clinton campaign proves "that if you act in a corrupt way that benefits Hillary Clinton, you will be taken care of." He touts the donor information. which reveals private information about private DNC donors, as particularly significant, along with emails that seem to signify Schultz and the DNC favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primary. Assange denies allegations that the hacked information was provided to WikiLeaks by the Russian government, dismissing the allegations as a "conspiracy theory" and slandering one of the "so-called experts" who has made the allegations as "the NSA dick pic guy." It is unclear who Assange is referring to. He says that he will not reveal WikiLeaks's source or sources for the leak, but "if we're talking about the DNC, there's lots of consultants that have access, lots of programmers. And the DNC has been hacked dozens and dozens of times. Even according to its own reports, it had been hacked extensively over the last few years. And the dates of the emails that we published are significantly after all, or all but one – it's not clear – of the hacking allegations that the DNC says have occurred." Assange provides no proof of his theory. In another interview with NBC, he says "there is no proof whatsoever" that Russian intelligence had any involvement in the DNC hacks.  "The real story is what these emails contain and they show collusion," he says. When reminded that multiple cybersecurity experts have agreed that it was highly likely Russian intelligence was responsible for the hacks, Assange emphasizes that WikiLeaks never disclosed the source of the leaks, saying: "Well, there is no proof of that whatsoever. We have not disclosed our source, and of course, this is a diversion that's being pushed by the Hillary Clinton campaign." (Democracy Now!, CNBC, Daily Caller)

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July 25, 2016: Former DOJ Official: No Concrete Proof Russians Hacked DNC, but Attacks Could be Part of Larger Strike against US Election System

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and former member of the US Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration, tells Slate journalist Isaac Chotiner that it is difficult to be certain that the Russians were behind the DNC hacks.

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"I have no basis to question these reports," he tells Chotiner. "But the truth is that there is no public evidence whatsoever tying Russia to the hack. Attribution for cyberoperations of this sort is very tricky and tends to take some time. Even if the hack can be linked to computers in Russia, that does not show that the hack originated there (as opposed to being routed through there). And even if it originated in Russia it does not show who was responsible. That said, it would not be surprising if the Russians were behind this. In addition to today's reports, the director of national intelligence warned months ago about intrusions into campaign networks, and Russian intelligence services and criminal networks have reportedly infiltrated important U.S government networks in the last year. But to repeat, there is no public evidence yet – all we have are reports by private firms and anonymous government officials." If the hacks were indeed carried out by the Russian government, Goldsmith says, they would be "small beans compared to the destruction of the integrity of a national election result." He asks: "But what if the hackers interspersed fake but even more damning or inflammatory emails that were hard to disprove? What if hackers break in to computers to steal or destroy voter registration information? What if they disrupted computer-based voting or election returns in important states during the presidential election? The legitimacy of a presidential election might be called into question, with catastrophic consequences. The DNC hack is just the first wave of possible threats to electoral integrity in the United States – by foreign intelligence services, and others." (Slate)

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July 25, 2016: Cybersecurity Firm Agrees Russians Likely Behind DNC Attacks

Anup Ghosh, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Invincea, says his company agrees with CrowdStrike and other firms that the DNC hacks were likely carried out by the Russian groups COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR. He says that the same tactics used to breach the DNC servers were used in attacks against the State Department, the White House, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Additionally, those and other groups have successfully compromised other elections, including a November 2015 cyberattack by a Russian hacking collective calling itself CyberBerkut that heavily damaged Ukrainian election commission computers. But Mark McArdle, chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm eSentire, says that while it is difficult to conclusively prove the hacks were carried out by Russian teams under the direction of the Putin government, the malicious software used to facilitate the attacks was very sophisticated and not something readily available on the Internet or written by an amateur hacker. "This was a laser-focused, highly engineered tool developed by someone or some organization. It was not inexpensive – or easy – to create. It took lots of time and effort," he says. McArdle says a very small number of computer hacking organizations have the means to launch such attacks, all owned or operated by governments such as Israel, China, North Korea, and Russia or driven by extraordinarily powerful criminal organizations. (USA Today)

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July 25, 2016: RNC Chair Says RNC Not Hacked

Republican party chairman Reince Priebus says the RNC's emails were not hacked.

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He says the RNC email system uses a two-step authentication process that makes it difficult to hack the email servers. He says that even if the emails were hacked, "you wouldn't see things as embarrassing and miserable as what the DNC did to Bernie Sanders …" He says the emails prove "massive fraud" was perpetuated by the DNC against the Sanders primary campaign, a groundless allegation MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell lets stand unchallenged. (MSNBC)

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July 25, 2016: WikiLeaks Falsely Claims DNC Audience "Turns On" Sanders After Clinton Endorsement

WikiLeaks posts a tweet that reads, "Audience at DNC turns on Bernie Sanders after he says 'we must elect Hillary Clinton'."

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The tweet links to a neutral-language tweet by CNN. A related CNN story published the same evening says that while some Sanders supporters are firm in their refusal to support Clinton, most DNC audience members wholeheartedly support her, and approve of Sanders's endorsement. A video posted by CNN shows the DNC audience cheering loudly when Sanders says "[W]e must elect Hillary Clinton." (WikiLeaks, CNN)

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July 25, 2016: Expert: WikiLeaks Email Dump Confirms Kremlin Directed Theft to Damage Clinton Campaign

Security expert John Schindler, a former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer, War College professor and author, says that the recent WikiLeaks release of 20,000 illegally hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee proves "the naked interference of the Kremlin and its spy agencies in American democracy," specifically in the presidential election.

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Schindler, who describes himself as "anything but a Hillary fan," acknowledges the serious damage the emails have done to Clinton's candidacy. "DNC emails reveal a Clinton campaign that's shady and dishonest, not to mention corrupt," he writes. The effects of the leak have been widespread: the DNC chair, Clinton ally Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has resigned in light of the material revealed in the emails, and the Democratic Party is deeply divided, with many Democratic supporters of Clinton's primary challenger Bernie Sanders unwilling to give their support to Clinton. "On the eve of the four-day Democratic convention extravaganza, this data-dump could not have been timed better to damage Hillary and her efforts to move back into the White House this November," Schindler writes. "Although it's doubtful that leaked RNC internal emails would make any more pleasant a read for the public, Clinton will emerge from this tarred with the indelible brush of corruption and collusion with her party's leadership to fix the Democratic presidential nomination. WikiLeaks has delivered as promised on its public threats of damaging Team Clinton with hacked emails." Schindler notes that the source of the DNC hack is clear: "Russian hackers working for the Kremlin cyber-pilfered the DNC then passed the purloined data, including thousands of unflattering emails, to WikiLeaks, which has shown them to the world." WikiLeaks is working directly for the Kremlin, Schindler asserts, "and has placed itself in bed with Vladimir Putin." The DNC has said as much, and the Clinton campaign agrees, going one step further in noting that the Kremlin wants Donald Trump as president. Schindler says that knowledgeable intelligence sources have been certain WikiLeaks has been a front for the Kremlin for years. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange counseled American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden to seek asylum in Moscow in June 2013 after WikiLeaks released the damaging information Snowden had gathered. While hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange requested the security protection of the FSB – the Russian secret police. Assange has long had his own regular broadcast on RT, Russian's televised and Internet propaganda network. And anti-Semitic WikiLeaks member Israel Shamir, a former member of the KGB, has served as Assange's direct conduit to the highest echelons of the Russian government. "There's no doubt that Assange considers Putin's highly unsavory secret services to be his friends," Schindler writes. "Why is a very good question that anybody who's looking into WikiLeaks ought to ask." What Schindler calls "the operation to take down Hillary Clinton" is merely the latest in Assange's efforts to do the Kremlin's bidding. In 2015, Schindler wrote that "WikiLeaks should be treated as the front and cut-out for Russian intelligence that it has become, while those who get in bed with WikiLeaks – many Western 'privacy advocates' are in that group – should be asked their feelings about their own at least indirect ties with Putin's spy services." Now he writes: "The important part of this story is that Russian intelligence, using its WikiLeaks cut-out, has intervened directly in an American presidential election. … The most damaging aspect to the DNC leak is the certainty that Moscow has placed disinformation – that is, false information hidden among facts – to harm the Democrats and the Clinton campaign. Disinformation is a venerable Russian spy trick that can be politically devastating to its target." Schindler states that he believes Clinton to be "corrupt," but goes on to note that he believes "some of the most salacious emails in the DNC mega-dump are fake … It's normal Russian spycraft to place juicy fake messages among a lot of genuine ones." Both the American intelligence community and American press are unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (New York Observer)

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July 25, 2016: Author Details Proof of Russian Hacking, Russian Hacker Persona

Cybersecurity expert and author Thomas Rid writes a lengthy article for Vice's Motherboard that clearly makes the case for the Russian hacking of the DNC, and the self-proclaimed "lone Romanian" hacker "Guccifer 2.0" as actually being an invention of either Russian hackers or Russian government officials.

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However, his main point is how dramatically the Russian hacking of the election, and the US media's embrace of the results, has changed the way American politics exists. He notes how obvious it is in hindsight that the June 15 appearance of "Guccifer 2.0" on the media scene was a reaction to the June 14 attempt by the DNC to label the hacks the product of Russians, an attempt strongly bolstered by the calmly reasoned claims by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike that two Russian hacking groups are responsible for breaching the DNC's computers. Rid writes that by June 24, "the extraordinary hack and leak had helped force out the head of one of America's political parties and threatened to disrupt Hillary Clinton's nominating convention. This tactic and its remarkable success is a game-changer: exfiltrating documents from political organisations is a legitimate form of intelligence work. The US and European countries do it as well. But digitally exfiltrating and then publishing possibly manipulated documents disguised as freewheeling hacktivism is crossing a big red line and setting a dangerous precedent: an authoritarian country directly yet covertly trying to sabotage an American election."

"Guccifer 2.0"

A plethora of verifiable computer evidence leads directly to the conclusion that "Guccifer 2.0" is a Russian construct created and implemented within hours of the June 14 media announcement that Russia was behind the DNC hacks. Rid writes that he has been told by a British intelligence firm that "sock-puppet social media accounts may have been created specifically to amplify and extend Guccifer's reach …" And the "Guccifer 2.0" persona came out not only claiming that "he" had breached the DNC network, but that the Russian groups identified by CrowdStrike were not in the DNC servers. Rid writes: "It is common to find multiple intruders in tempting yet badly defended networks. Nevertheless the Guccifer 2.0 account claimed confidently, and with no supporting evidence, that the breach was simply a 'lone hacker' – a phrasing that seems designed to deflect blame from Russia." Finally, the "Guccifer 2.0" persona was amazingly friendly with selected journalists, to the point of trying to entice them with tantalizing tidbits of hacked information in return for keeping his profile high in the US media market. Rid writes: "The combative yet error-prone handling of the Guccifer account is in line with the GRU's aggressive and risk-taking organizational culture and a wartime mindset prevalent in the Russian intelligence community. Russia's agencies see themselves as instruments of direct action, working in support of a fragile Russia under siege by the West, especially the United States."

A Larger Framework

The cyberattacks on the US's electoral system fits easily into the larger framework of what Rid calls "Russia's evolving military doctrine," or "New Generation Warfare." The new paradigm, Rid writes, "drastically expands what qualifies as a military target, and it expands what qualifies as military tactic. Deception and disinformation are part and parcel of this new approach, as are 'camouflage and concealment' …" According to Israeli analyst Dima Adamsky, "Informational struggle" is at the heart of the "New Generation Warfare:" "technological and psychological components designed to manipulate the adversary's picture of reality, misinform it, and eventually interfere with the decision-making process of individuals, organizations, governments, and societies." Both the hacks and the "Guccifer 2.0" operation are part of this wider "informational struggle."

US Elections "Fair Game for Sabotage"

Rid warns that "the operation is not over." The hackers can likely gain access to US political parties' computers again if they wish, and the "Guccifer 2.0" persona still exists as a venue to release leaked documents. And the documents will not all be real. Some of the documents previously released were edited, and some fabricated entirely. Manipulation of the information that is obtained is "an established pattern of operational behaviour in other contexts, such as troll farms or planting fake media stories. Subtle (or not so subtle) manipulation of content may be in the interest of the adversary in the future. Documents that were leaked by or through an intelligence operation should be handled with great care, and journalists should not simply treat them as reliable sources." Rid writes: "More activity, if not escalation, is to be expected." This time, he continues, "[t]he political influencing as well as the deception worked, at least partly. The DNC's ability to use its opposition research in surprise against Trump has been blunted, and some media outlets lampooned Clinton -- not a bad outcome for an operation with little risk or cost for the perpetrators." He concludes: "Not reacting politically to the DNC hack is setting a dangerous precedent. A foreign agency, exploiting WikiLeaks and a cutthroat media marketplace, appears to be carefully planning and timing a high-stakes political campaign in the United States that could escalate next week, next fall, or next time. Trump, ironically, is right: the system is actually rigged. American inaction now risks establishing a de facto norm that all election campaigns in the future, everywhere, are fair game for sabotage – sabotage that could potentially affect the outcome and tarnish the winner's legitimacy. … It is time for the United States (and the United Kingdom) to pull their weight: by publishing more evidence, by signalling political consequences for the perpetrators, by treating WikiLeaks as a legitimate counter-intelligence target, and by providing not only physical but also improved digital security to candidates and campaigns in the future." Both the American intelligence community and American press are unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (Vice)

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July 26, 2016: Obama Acknowledges Likelihood Russia Hacked DNC

In a carefully worded set of statements to NBC News journalist Savannah Guthrie, President Obama says that "experts have attributed this [the DNC hack] to the Russians." He adds that the FBI is still investigating the breach.

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He says: "What we do know is is that the Russians hack our systems. Not just government systems, but private systems. But you know, what the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that- I can't say directly. What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin." Asked by Guthrie, "Sounds like you're suggesting that Putin might be motivated to prefer Trump in the White House?" Obama responds: "Well – I am basing this on what Mr. Trump himself has said. And I think that – Trump's gotten pretty favorable coverage – back in Russia." Guthrie follows, "Is it possible, in your mind, that the Russians would try to influence the U.S. election?" Obama answers, "Anything's possible." (Politico)

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We just kept hearing the government would respond, the government would respond. Once upon a time, if a foreign government interfered with our election we would respond as a nation, not as a political party. — DNC chair Donna Brazile
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July 26, 2016: Cybersecurity Firm: "Guccifer 2.0" a Russian Agent, Part of Larger Plan to Influence Media Coverage of US Presidential Election

The Virginia cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect says it has enough evidence to conclude that "Guccifer 2.0," who has identified himself as a lone Romanian hacker, works for the Russian government and has hacked the DNC as part of a larger, orchestrated attempt to influence the US media coverage of the Clinton and Trump presidential campaigns.

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ThreatConnect even says that "Guccifer 2.0" is not a single person, but almost certainly "a collection of people from he propaganda arm of the Russian government meant to deflect attention away from Moscow as the force behind the DNC hacks and leaks of emails," as The Daily Beast writes. ThreatConnect has tracked the DNC hacks back to a Russian internet server, Elite VPN, and to a digital address that has previously been used to facilitate Russian online scams. Rich Barger, ThreatConnect's chief intelligence officer, says, "These are bureaucrats, not sophisticated hackers." The "Guccifer" hackers have made inconsistent statements in blog posts and in interviews with journalists. Moreover, the version of events that "he" has given of his DNC hack is obviously false – for a single example, "he" claims to have used a software flaw that didn't exist until December 2015 to break into the DNC servers during the summer of 2015. In a recent interview with Vice News, the "Romanian" hacker refused to speak in Romanian. "He" used a Russian-language anonymity protection service, while telling journalists he didn't speak Russian. "He" has tried to mask "his" true location in Russia by using a free AOL account based in France. ThreatConnect writes that the people behind "Guccifer 2.0" "are not really hackers or even that technically savvy. Instead, propagandist or public relations individuals who are interacting with journalists."

Russia-Controlled," Leaked Material Determined by Kremlin

ThreatConnect concludes that Guccifer 2.0 is actually an "apparition created under a hasty Russian [denial and deception] campaign" to influence political events in the U.S. In a blog post, the ThreatConnect researchers write: "Maintaining a ruse of this nature within both the physical and virtual domains requires believable and verifiable events which do not contradict one another. That is not the case here." The "Guccifer 2.0" group is, they determine, "a Russia-controlled platform that can act as a censored hacktivist. Moscow determines what Guccifer 2.0 shares and thus can attempt to selectively impact media coverage, and potentially the election, in a way that ultimately benefits their national objectives." US officials have made similar determinations, though publicly, US officials have been less direct. Barger, a former US Army intelligence analyst, says that his firm's findings emphasizes the extent to which the Russian government tried to both influence the US presidential election and conceal its "active measures campaign."

Guccifer 2.0" Created to Distract Public from Actual Russian Hackers

It was only after CrowdStrike identified the likely DNC hackers as the COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR groups that the Russian government "cooked up the Guccifer 2.0 persona," ThreatConnect writes. "The weaknesses of the resulting persona suggest this was an opportunistic, not a pre-planned move." Moreover, the "Guccifer" initiative may have also been designed to impact perceptions in Russia: "While Guccifer 2.0 may be attempting to impact the U.S. media, the persona is getting a lot of play in Russia where it can be used to disparage the U.S. and democracy in general." Regardless of the actual goals of the "Guccifer" initiative, ThreatConnect writes: "Guccifer 2.0 is a censored platform for Moscow. His version of the 'truth' is only what the Russian actors behind him want to share with you." (ThreatConnect, ThreatConnect, Vocativ, The Hill, Daily Beast)

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July 26, 2016: Assange Says WikiLeaks May Release More Documents

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tells CNN his organization may release "a lot more material" relevant to the US electoral campaign. He refuses to confirm or deny that Russian governmental hackers breached the DNC servers and provided WikiLeaks with the nearly 20,000 emails it released days before, saying that his organization attempts to create ambiguity to protect all its sources.

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"Perhaps one day the source or sources will step forward and that might be an interesting moment some people may have egg on their faces. But to exclude certain actors is to make it easier to find out who our sources are," he says. He says the Democratic Party is trying to distract the public from the embarassing content of the emails by leveling groundless claims that the Russians hacked their servers: "It raises questions about the natural instincts of Clinton that when confronted with a serious domestic political scandal, she tries to blame the Russians, blame the Chinese, et cetera. Because if she does that while in government, it could lead to problems." (CNN)

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July 26, 2016: Some US Intelligence Officials Unsure of Russian Motives Behind Hack

Some intelligence officials emphasize that it is premature to conclude that the Russian government is actively attempting to influence US presidential elections on Donald Trump's behalf, according to the Washington Post.

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There is little doubt that Kremlin agents hacked the DNC servers, they say, and the White House has known for months that Russia is responsible for the hacks. But there is less certainty that Russian officials passed the hacked material to WikiLeaks. One official tells the Post: "We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks – none." Proving that is difficult, the official says, because the information may have not been transmitted electronically. The motivation of the Russian government is also uncertain, officials say. It is conceivable that Russia merely wants to disrupt and discredit the US presidential election without trying to bolster the Trump campaign. Former CIA director Michael Hayden says, "Frankly, I don't think they're motivated by thinking they can affect the election itself." They may be hacking private information "to demonstrate that they can – not necessarily to make Trump win or Hillary lose." But if they are attempting to influence the election for Trump, he says, "they're taking their game to another level." Former FBI agent Leo Taddeo, a cybersecurity expert, says: "This is not Putin trying to help Trump. I think they were messaging Hillary Clinton, telling her that they can get in the way of her election if she doesn't show some flexibility in her position toward them." Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: "I'm deeply concerned because, if Russia is behind this, it would represent an unprecedented and alarming escalation of Russian willingness to interfere in our political process." If they are, he says, it would be an attempt "to help pick a candidate who is favorable to an adversary." If it is Russia, Schiff saiys, the White House should identify them as such: "They should make it known publicly and forcefully. Even if they're not able to lay out the evidence because it would disclose sources and methods, they should make the attribution." Republican Senator Ben Sasse adds: "Mr. Putin's Soviet-style aggression has escalated to levels that were unimaginable just a week ago. America is digitally exposed. The United States must take serious offensive and defensive actions now. Russia must face real consequences." (Washington Post)

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July 27, 2016: Donald Trump publicly invites Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails.

July 28, 2016: DNI Unwilling to Name DNC Hackers, Calls Concern over Cyberattacks "Hyperventilating"

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says the US government is not "quite ready yet" to "make a public call" as to who may have hacked the DNC, or what the hackers' motivations might have been.

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He suggests one of "the usual suspects" is likely responsible. "We don't know enough [yet] to … ascribe a motivation, regardless of who it may have been," he tells the Aspen Security Forum. Clapper mocks the "hyperventilation over this" issue, saying sarcastically: "I'm shocked somebody did some hacking. That's never happened before." (Yahoo! News)

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July 28, 2016: WikiLeaks Celebrates Banner Drop During Convention

During the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks posts the following on Twitter: "Bernie Sanders Delegates drop this WikiLeaks Banner as Hillary Clinton speaks."

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The tweet includes a photo of the banner and the hashtag ♯FeelTheBern. The recent WikiLeaks posting of illegally obtained documents from the Democratic National Committee has resulted in many Sanders supporters feeling as if the DNC attempted to skew the primary election towards Hillary Clinton and away from Sanders. (WikiLeaks)

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July 29, 2016: Clinton Campaign Confirms It Was Hacked

The Clinton presidential campaign confirms a data program it used was breached as part of the larger DNC hack. The campaign has accused the Trump presidential campaign of being involved in the cyberattacks, which many experts believe to have been conducted by Russian hackers under the direction of the Russian government.

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"No evidence" that the "internal systems have been compromised" has been found, according to Clinton campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill. In a statement, he says: "An analytics data program maintained by the DNC, and used by our campaign and a number of other entities, was accessed as part of the DNC hack. Our campaign computer system has been under review by outside cyber security experts. To date, they have found no evidence that our internal systems have been compromised." Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller denies any involvement by his campaign, and says in a statement implying that Clinton herself is to blame: "This seems to be a problem wherever Hillary Clinton goes. Hopefully this time there wasn't classified or top secret information that puts American lives at risk." (Guardian)

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July 29, 2016: Guardian Profiles COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR Hacking Teams

The Guardian profiles the two Russian hacking teams suspected of breaching the DNC servers: COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR. Most intelligence sources believe the two teams do not work together, but work for different Russian governmental agencies and sometimes work at odds with one another.

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On July 22, WikiLeaks released almost 20,000 emails from the DNC that were illegally obtained by both COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR. COZY BEAR had infiltrated the DNC computers in the summer of 2015 and lurked quietly within the network, gathering information and cataloguing emails. FANCY BEAR intruded much later. The Guardian's Sam Thielman and Spencer Ackerman write: "The Bears have three important things in common: expensive digital tools, suggesting state sponsorship; an interest in pursuing sensitive, embarrassing or strategically significant information, rather than financially beneficial data; and a choice of targets that align with Russian political objectives." FANCY BEAR has been known to researchers and security experts for at least seven years, and is known to have taken part in disinformation campaigns in the nation of Georgia. COZY BEAR was only discovered in 2015, after researchers at Kaspersky Labs determined that the group had infiltrated unclassified US State Department and White House networks. According to Thielman and Ackerman, US government officials are less concerned with WikiLeaks's role in releasing the DNC documents, and are instead more alarmed by indications that Russia has now launched actual cyberattacks against the US political system. Officials and security experts are relatively certain that the known breaches of US governmental and political networks by "the Bears" are their first intrusions into US computer systems. Toni Gidwani, a  former DIA analyst who now works as chief researcher for the cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect, says: "Targeting a political campaign, trying to find out everything you can about the next leader of the free world, is fair game for intelligence services, as much as we hate it. That's a valid intelligence target. Dumping this much information and [leaving] very much the sense that there's more to come, we have to ask different questions about what the Russian objectives are and what they think is going to happen." While neither the DIA nor the FBI are willing to publicly accuse FANCY BEAR, the group whose hacks set off intrusion alarms in the DNC, of working for the Kremlin, most administration officials have made anonymous claims of just that state of affairs. The White House in particular has been, in one senior official's words, "highly circumspect" in accusing Russia of meddling in US affairs. However, evidence shows conclusively that FANCY BEAR is Russian, and has close ties with the Russian government. Cybersecurity firm FireEye notes that FANCY BEAR gathers "intelligence that would only be useful to a government" – that government being Russia. The 2008 cyberattack on the Georgian government, which presaged a widespread Russian military assault, "in a lot of ways was one of the real opening shots in how we see Russia using cyber as an instrument of national power, fully integrated with their national objectives," according to Gidwani. And the Bears are moving their assaults westward. COZY BEAR has launched numerous hacking efforts against targets in Hungary, Luxembourg and Belgium as well as NATO and the Office of Security Cooperation in Europe. In July 2015, COZY BEAR successfully infiltrated an email system used by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the same time, COZY BEAR infiltrated the DNC network. Gidwani is not sure the Russians intended the DNC hacks to benefit Donald Trump, as many have said, but instead had the more general intent of destabilizing the election in general. "And that shouldn't necessarily be cause for relief," she warns. "Trying to sow this much doubt and discord is also very troubling. These types of actions, what we've seen thus far, they had been limited to eastern Europe, Georgia, Ukraine in the 2014 election. Moscow no longer sees the same line, if you will, between that near-abroad and the US." (Guardian)

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photo of the Clintons celebrating during the balloon drop

July 30, 2016: WikiLeaks Mocks Clinton after Convention

WikiLeaks attacks Hillary Clinton in a post on Twitter, posting a photo of her and her husband celebrating during the "balloon drop" at the Democratic convention and saying: "Does 'Board after party' image illustrate HRC's poor WikiLeaks poll results – entitled, uncool and unaware of it?"

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Two days before, WikiLeaks conducted its own online poll that showed 50% of respondents supporting Donald Trump for president. Apparently this is the poll WikiLeaks is referring to. (WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks)

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— August 2016 —

August 2016: Russia Worries Trump May Withdraw from Presidential Race

Russian officials worry that they have erred in giving such widespread clandestine support to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Based on Trump's performances during campaign events, they fear that Trump is "psychologically unstable."

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Their concerns are triggered by, among other things, Trump's angry reactions to the powerful presentation at the Democratic convention given by Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Gold Star parents whose son died in the Iraq war. Mr. Khan denounced Trump's prejudice towards Muslims and his lack of respect for the American military. In response in interviews and Twitter, Trump attacked both Khans and equated the Khan family with "radical Islamic terrorism." The Russians worry that the backlash of criticism against Trump will cause him to withdraw from the race, "because of his mental state and apparent unsuitability to be president," according to information obtained by a Western intelligence service. Kremlin officials aren't sure what the impact to Russia would be if Trump withdraws, particularly if their meddling in the US elections becomes known. (Newsweek, Guardian, CNN, NPR)

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August 2016: Russia Stops Giving Information to WikiLeaks

Due to their fears of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's possible withdrawal from the race, the Russian officials overseeing their efforts to manipulate the presidential election stop forwarding documents obtained by their hackers to WikiLeaks, which had been reliably disseminating selected material from those documents to the general public in an effort to damage the Clinton campaign.

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However, some information is already being passed, from one "cutout" to another, to WikiLeaks, and the officials decide to let that information continue, fearing that stopping the flow so abruptly might provide more evidence of their involvement. The cessation is only temporary; Russian officials soon resume their campaign to disrupt the election. (Newsweek, Newsweek)

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August-September 2016: GOP Operative Hunts for Private Clinton Emails Hacked by Russians, Says He Works with Flynn

Republican opposition researcher Peter Smith attempts to obtain emails purportedly stolen from Hillary Clinton's private server by Russian hackers, and tells his colleagues he is working with Trump foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn.

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Computer security expert Eric York, who helps Smith find information about accessing the emails, later recalls: "He said, 'I'm talking to Michael Flynn about this – if you find anything, can you let me know?'" Emails written by Smith and one of his associates indicate that Smith's group considers Flynn and the consulting firm Flynn Intel Group to be allies in their mission. It is unclear whether Flynn is actually involved with Smith. A September 7 document later provided by cybersecurity consultant Matt Tait, who briefly works with the group and later writes about his experiences, states that Smith lists Trump senior advisor Steve Bannon, campaign press liaison Kellyanne Conway, campaign advisor Sam Clovis, and Flynn as working with the group. Smith also forms a fake company, "KLS Research," to help conceal any ties he may have with the Trump campaign. A Trump campaign official later says Smith did not work with the campaign, and if Flynn worked with him, it would have been on a private basis. Bannon will deny knowing Smith, and Conway will deny working with him during the campaign. Smith will not discuss his attempts to secure Clinton's private emails until early May 2017, ten days before his death, when he will give a single interview to Wall Street Journal reporters. Smith's story is consistent with information that will be collected by federal investigators, who will say that Russian hackers discussed ways to obtain the Clinton emails and then get them to Flynn via an intermediary. As of June 2017, the investigators will not be able to confirm whether Smith or one of his colleagues is that intermediary. Smith, a private-equity executive from Chicago, puts together a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe with the express intent of securing emails that may have been hacked from Clinton's private server. Smith particularly wants the 33,000 emails Clinton says she deleted because they were personal and not work-related. According to Smith, the emails may have been hacked, and may have contained information Clinton wanted to stay concealed, two suppositions that have no basis in fact. Smith will say he and his group found five groups of hackers all claiming to possess those emails, two of which are Russian. "We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government," he says. Smith obtains several batches of emails, but he and his colleagues cannot be sure of their authenticity. Instead, he will recall, "We told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks." WikiLeaks has never published those emails or claimed to have them. A Smith email claims that Flynn's son, Michael G. Flynn, is helping the group. A recruiting email sent by law student Jonathan Safron, a close associate of Smith's, gives top billing to Flynn and his firm. Smith tells a computer expert that he is in direct contact with Flynn and his son. An anti-Clinton research document produced by the group identifies the younger Flynn as being associated with the group. That computer expert tells the Journal he understood that Flynn himself is coordinating with Smith's group in his capacity as a Trump campaign advisor. Smith became known to the public when, in the early 1990s, he publicized fake claims by Arkansas state troopers that then-Governor Bill Clinton had enlisted them to arrange meetings with women for sex. Smith will tell the Journal that he believes Russians tried to hack the Clinton server, but does not believe that Russia interfered in the election. In June 2017, prominent cybersecurity expert Matt Tait, who was approached to work with Smith, will write that he is sure Smith and his group have deep ties to the Trump campaign and was likely created under the aegis of the campaign. (Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal via MSN)

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August-September 2016: GOP Operative Works with "Guccifer 2.0" to Spread Hacked Information

Florida GOP operative and registered lobbyist Aaron Nevins, who once served as chief of staff for a prominent Florida Republican state senator, answers a call for "journalists" from the Russian construct "Guccifer 2.0" to help him spread illegally obtained information from the Democratic Party's private computer networks.

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Nevins remains anonymous for the better part of a year, before his identity is revealed by the Wall Street Journal; in May 2017, he will give an interview to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel. Ten days after he responds to the invitation from Guccifer 2.0, he receives a response, asking about his email capacity. Nevins sets up a Dropbox account, and Guccifer 2.0 deposits "a ton of stuff," as Nevins will recall, in the account. He will say he is acting as a journalist, not as a campaign operative. Until May 2017, Nevins operated anonymously as the blogger behind "Mark Miewurd's HelloFLA!" After receiving the information from Guccifer 2.0, Nevins quickly realizes that the information seems quite accurate based on his knowledge of Florida politics. He doesn't attempt to use it to impact the August 30 Florida primaries, as he receives it just days before those elections, but he publishes as much as he can as quickly as possible. "I took off my [political] operative's hat and put on my journalist's hat," he will say. He will deny providing any of the Guccifer 2.0 information to campaigns or political operatives, but does send it to news outlets, promoting the information as "a scoop." Much of the information was proprietory information about Democratic campaigns, candidates, potential donors and voters. Some included candid discussions of candidates' perceived vulnerabilities, and one contained a poll that has been worked to cast Hillary Clinton in the best possible light. He posts much of the information on his HelloFLA! blog, which he styles as a combination of tabloid political gossip and news about the "grittier, more raw side of politics." He also advises Guccifer 2.0 as to which documents the construct should release to do maximum damage to the Clinton campaign, and says the documents are worth "millions." The Russians behind the Guccifer 2.0 persona send some of the HelloFLA! posts to Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone. Stone will claim he never forwarded the material he himself received from Guccifer 2.0 with anyone. Stone lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Nevins will say he never dealt with Stone about the material. Nevins will stand by his claims that, despite his long history as a Republican lobbyist, consultant, and aide, he was merely acting as an independent journalist in sharing the information from the Guccifer leaks. "The way I look at it, I was acting as a journalist," he will say. And my actions would show evidence of that. I was sending it out to journalists, not to political campaigns. I, to some extent, felt forced to publish it." He will say he does not worry about getting in any legal trouble or being investigated: "I'm not going to live my life concerned about that. I don't think that I did anything illegal. I think if I held onto the data and if I used it for a political campaign without releasing it or if I just ended up sending it to political operatives around the state we would be having a different conversation, probably from a jail cell." Nevins does not believe the Russians are behind the Guccifer hacks, but even if they are, he will say, he does not care because their agenda dovetails with his own. "If your interests align," he will advise, "never shut any doors in politics." In May 2017, senior Daily Kos writer Mark Sumner will disagree with Nevins's claims, calling his actions direct examples of collusion with Russian operatives bound to undermine and sabotage the election, and concludes: "[Nevins] doesn't care if the Russians were behind interference in our election so long as 'interests align' with his own. That's the sick story of this last year." (Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Daily Kos)

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August 2016: Twitter Takes Eleven Months to Shut Down Russian Troll Account

After eleven months of complaints from the Tennessee Republican Party, Twitter finally closes a fake Twitter account under the name "TEN_GOP" that is operated by Russian social media hackers. The account purported to be an authorized account for the organization, and had 136,000 followers since its inception in November 2015.

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THIS STORY IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT. (BuzzFeed)

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August 1, 2016: WikiLeaks Claims Clinton Helped ISIS "Take [O]ver" Libya

In a post on Twitter, WikiLeaks attacks Hillary Clinton, posting a clip from an interview with Clinton with the comment, "Clinton celebrates her role in killing ♯Libya's head of state which led to ISIS takeover."

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Multiple news sources have repeatedly debunked this claim after Donald Trump and his vice presidential candidate Mike Pence made the claim on July 17 during an appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes, where Trump said: "Hillary Clinton invented ISIS with her stupid policies. She is responsible for ISIS." John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, says that at worst, Clinton "may 'share some of the blame' but there is more than enough share to go around. She was in no sense the singular author of the thing." PolitiFact concludes: "There were several factors that contributed to the growing power of ISIS, but it's misleading to pin the responsibility solely on Clinton. … She did vote to authorize force in Iraq in 2002 while a senator, but that was advocated by the Bush administration and the vast majority of senators. The intervention in Libya, which she supported, did give ISIS an opening, but Trump is overstating her role by saying she is responsible for ISIS. This claim is inaccurate. We rate it False." (WikiLeaks, PolitiFact)

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August 2, 2016: Trump Advisor Predicts Podesta Email Release

Former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone, who continues to have an "informal" relationship with the campaign, posts ominously on Twitter: "Trust me, it will soon the [sic] Podesta's time in the barrel."

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He adds the hashtag "CrookedHillary." Somehow, Stone seems to know that WikiLeaks intends to release hacked emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. It will later become known that Stone has kept up backchannel contacts with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and that he has been in frequent contact with the Russian hackers themselves. (Roger Stone)

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August 3, 2016: FBI Failed to Warn DNC of Russian Hacks, DNC Staffers Now Say

Reuters reports that as early as the fall of 2015, the FBI knew that Russian hackers were intruding into Democratic National Committee computers, but failed to warn the DNC in any but the most general terms until March 2016.

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FBI investigators merely warned the DNC's IT department to be on the lookout for "strange activity" on their network. The FBI began investigating a potential intrusion by "state-sponsored" actors in the fall of 2015, but the DNC, knowing nothing of the possibility of such breaches, merely took the usual precautions and found nothing untoward. The DNC did not know that the breaches were being investigated as possible Russian espionage. The FBI "declined to provide" further information even after the IT staffers asked for it, DNC staffers now say. Those staffers also say that they could have taken much stronger steps to secure their computers had they known of the threat. In March 2016, the DNC IT team realized that its computers had been compromised. At the same time, the FBI warned the Clinton campaign of the attacks. Shortly thereafter, the private cybersecurity firm SecureWorks found evidence of severe intrusions. Ars Technica notes that the DNC's IT team was not particularly strong, having been contracted through third-party firms such as NGP VAN and ActBlue. The DNC lacked a real information security team. It wasn't until June that the DNC hired another firm, CrowdStrike, to assist in securing their servers. One US official tells Reuters that the FBI withheld information about details of the hacking to protect classified intelligence operations. "There is a fine line between warning people or companies or even other government agencies that they're being hacked – especially if the intrusions are ongoing – and protecting intelligence operations that concern national security," the official says. (Reuters, Ars Technica)

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August 5, 2016: Trump Campaign Advisor Denies Russia's Involvement in Hacks, Says Clinton Wants to Start New War with Russia

Trump campaign advisor and longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone pens a vitriolic screed, published in the right-wing conspiracy news blog Breitbart News, claiming that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are unfairly and wrongly accusing Russia of hacking the DNC computer network.

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He names the culprit as "Guccifer 2.0," whom he labels a lone hacker. (Guccifer 2.0 is already known by the US intelligence community and many private cybersecurity firms as being a construct created by Russian officials to cloud the source of the hacks.) Stone writes that Clinton is attempting "to save herself from her latest email scandal with rhetoric that poses a dangerous threat to our democracy and even world peace" by pinning the blame for the hacks on the Russian government. "This new email scandal is the WikiLeaks release of a gaggle of DNC emails that prove the Democrat primary race was rigged in establishment Hillary's favor," he writes. "She's tried to make herself the victim once again, blaming the Russians and – bizarrely – Donald Trump for the hack that set the emails free." Stone says he is forced to report this because "our pathetic press patsies haven't reported it; they just keep repeating Hillary's spin." Stone's "proof" that "Guccifer 2.0 is the real deal"? Guccifer 2.0 says so on Twitter and on a Wordpress blog, and he has posted documents hacked from the DNC. Stone says, falsely, that Guccifer 2.0 tried to get some media attention, but except for a single article on The Hill, the media refused to report on his claims: "For some strange reason, the establishment press didn't want to take on the establishment Democrat machine." Stone repeats Guccifer 2.0's lie that "he" chose to provide his leaked documents to WikiLeaks, "and the rest is history. Now the world would see for themselves how the Democrats had rigged the game." Stone writes that after the firestorm of criticism caused by the WikiLeaks document release, the Clinton campaign decided to play "the victim card! Blame the Russians! Blame Putin! Blame Trump!" Stone tries to bolster his point by misrepresenting a recent scandal not directly involving Clinton, the Anthony Weiner "sexting affair," when Weiner was shown to have sent sexually explicit photos to a young woman via Twitter. Stone's connection: Weiner is married to "Hillary Clinton's top aide, Saudi-raised Huma Abedin" – Stone does not explain why Abedin's heritage has anything to do with his claims. Weiner tried and failed to claim his innocence by blaming others, Stone notes, so "[t]he Democrats are following the Weiner playbook, trying to cast doubt and lay the blame anywhere they can. … Of course, the mainstream media is once again playing along with the Democrat's [sic] blame game, just like they did with Anthony Weiner." He concludes that the Clinton campaign is attempting to start a confrontation with Russia that will divert media attention from her email controversy: "So because I am by nature a shy and humble man not given to brash statements, I won't say that Hillary seems to be taking us down a road to nuclear confrontation with Russia with her politically motivated shenanigans." He says history professor Stephen Cohen has claimed "Obama and Clinton have started a new Cold War with Russia" by their policies, in Stone's words, and goes on to say Cohen views Trump as the only person who can head off the coming war with Russia. Instead of listening to him and Cohen, Stone writes, "the media is full of what only can be called neo-McCarthyite charges that [Trump] is a Russian agent, that he is a Manchurian candidate, and that he is Putin's client. … We're approaching a Cuban Missile Crisis level nuclear confrontation with Russia and there is absolutely no discussion, no debate, about this in the American media." Days after this article is published, Stone will enter into private, clandestine communications with Guccifer 2.0. (Breitbart News archived version, Smoking Gun)

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Mike Morell

August 5, 2016: Former CIA Director Calls Trump "Unwitting Agent" of Russia

Michael Morell, who was deputy director and acting director of the CIA between 2010 and 2013, writes an op-ed for the New York Times endorsing Hillary Clinton and excoriating Donald Trump. He identifies himself as a political independent who has worked alongside Republicans and Democrats alike during his 33-year tenure at the CIA. His endorsement of Clinton is strong. His criticism of Trump is just as strong, leading off with his conclusion that "Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security."

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Of Trump's alignment with Russia against NATO and US policy, Morell writes: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump's vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated. Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests – endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia's annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States. In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation." In November 2016, Daily Beast journalist Michael Weiss will observe in regards to Morell's statement: "The colloquial term for the sort of person Morrell was talking about is 'useful idiot,' someone enlisted in the Kremlin's cause through sympathy, or shared interests, or, indeed, ignorance, without actually intending to be a pawn. But, as Putin certainly knows, the problem with useful idiots is that they tend to be insecure and erratic, whereas witting agents are tutored in how to be disciplined and self-controlled. Trump is too illogical and self-contradictory to be of much use to a hostile foreign power except as a naturally occurring battering ram against the very institutions and beliefs that power would like to see weakened or destroyed. Trump's opponent (whom Putin assuredly does not want to see inhabit the White House) and US democracy at large are the truer objects of a Russian state-run information and cyber-espionage program. That Trump's vulgar and demoralizing campaign is ripping apart America on the path to making it 'great again' is simply an added bonus for the former KGB colonel." (New York Times, Daily Beast, photo from Charlie Rose)

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In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation. — Former CIA Director Michael Morell

August 6, 2016: WikiLeaks Functioning More as an Opposition Research Arm of Trump Campaign, Says Journalist

The Intercept's Robert Mackey writes that recent posts and interviews by WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange make their releases "look more like the stream of an opposition research firm working mainly to undermine Hillary Clinton than the updates of a non-partisan platform for whistleblowers."

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Many WikiLeaks fans have found themselves confused by the anti-Clinton rhetoric from WikiLeaks, Mackey writes, with many speculating that Assange timed the released of the hacked DNC emails to cause dissension among Democratic voters. Mackey adds, "The publication of emails that revealed an anti-Sanders agenda inside the Democratic party was certainly welcomed by the Republican nominee, Donald Trump." Mackey notes that Assange has never adhered to the goal of being a nonpartisan whistleblower. He has repeatedly stated his dislike of Clinton, and apparently feels that maligning her and her presidential candidacy advances the cause of justice. In 2010, New Yorker journalist Raffi Khatchadourian wrote in a profile of Assange: "Assange, despite his claims to scientific journalism, emphasized to me that his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events. … Leaks were an instrument of information warfare." Mackey writes, "His goal is to find dirt in the servers of powerful individuals or organizations he sees as corrupt or dangerous, and bring them down by exposing it." Assange has stated he has no preferences in the US presidential election, and he recently said that "from the perspective of WikiLeaks trying to protect its sources, you have really two very bad presidential candidates." He has joked about hacking Trump's tax returns, but so far WikiLeaks has posted nothing negative about Trump. In 2006, when Assange founded WikiLeaks, he wrote that Western political parties, like traditional authoritarian regimes, keep the public ignorant of their actual doings through "collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population." For the people to regain control, he wrote, they have to find ways of "throttling the conspiracy." One method of doing that is to disrupt their ability to communicate privately. He wrote: "[L]et us consider two closely balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings, the US Democratic and Republican parties. … Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence – let alone the computer systems which manage their subscribers, donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns? They would immediately fall into an organisational stupor and lose to the other." Mackey writes that ten years after Assange posted that screed, he "was finally able to put his theory into practice, by attempting to throttle one of the 'conspiratorial power groupings' that selects candidates to run the U.S. government." However, his choice not to redact personal information from the documents he leaked, just as he chose not to redact that kind of information from a huge document dump of illegally hacked Turkish political communications, led to a storm of criticism from some longtime supporters, including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald recently told an interviewer that WikiLeaks's choice not to redact personal information disturbs him: "There were tons of redactions when they were releasing Pentagon documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. … And they even wrote a letter to the State Department before they released the cables requesting the State Department's help in figuring out which information ought to be withheld." Mackey cites one troubling instance, where WikiLeaks chose to release a voice-mail recording of one DNC staffer having a conversation with his young child during a visit to the zoo. WikiLeaks released the private phone number of that staffer, "much to the delight of some Trump supporters." Assange has responded to those criticisms by attacking the critics, even Snowden, whom Assange accused of trying to cadge a "pardon" from Clinton if she becomes president. Mackey says he was personally attacked via the WikiLeaks Twitter feed when he tried to correct what he calls "a factual error in one of the group's tweets about a DNC email." Mackey writes that the likelihood that WikiLeaks will publish forged documents either through lack of "curation" or deliberate intent is high enough to warrant skepticism towards what WikiLeaks releases. Security analyst Matt Tait recently posted: "I was actually looking [in the DNC emails] for evidence of something much more frightening and which still keeps me up at night: What if the documents were mostly real, but had been surgically doctored? How effective would a carefully planted paragraph in an otherwise valid document be at derailing a campaign? How easily could Russia remove or sidestep an inconvenient DNC official with a single doctored paragraph showing 'proof' of dishonest, unethical or illegal practices? And how little credibility would the sheepish official have in asserting that 'all of the rest of the emails are true, but just not the one paragraph or email that makes me look bad?'" (Intercept, Lawfare)

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August 8, 2016: Trump advisor Roger Stone says he is in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and predicts the next document dump will concern the Clinton Foundation.

August 9-10, 2016: WikiLeaks Fuels Conspiracy Theory about Murder of DNC Staffer

WikiLeaks offers a $20,000 reward for "information leading to [the] conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich," according to a tweet from the organization. Rich died on July 10, after being shot while being mugged in a Washington, DC neighborhood. Although police have repeatedly said his death had nothing to do with his employment at the DNC, far-right conspiracy sites have advanced groundless theories that Rich was killed as part of some larger conspiracy.

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The Metropolitan Police Department says in a statement, "[W]e welcome information that could potentially lead to the identification of the individual(s) responsible for his death and are pleased when any outside contributors help us generate new leads." Shortly after WikiLeaks posts the offer, Julian Assange gives an interview to the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur and suggests Rich had been an informant for his organization. He says: "Whistleblowers often take very significant efforts to bring us material and often at very significant risks. … There's a 27-year-old who works for the DNC and who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington." Asked what specifically he is alleging, Assange responds: "I am suggesting that our sources take risks and they become concerned to see things occurring like that. … We don't comment on who our sources are." Asked why he is floating speculations about Rich's murder, Assange replies: "We have to understand how high the stakes are in the US, and that our sources face serious risks. That's why they come to us, so we can protect their anonymity. … We are investigating what happened with Seth Rich. We think it is a concerning situation. There is not a conclusion yet; we are not willing to state a conclusion, but we are concerned about it. And more importantly, a variety of WikiLeaks sources are concerned when that kind of thing happens."  After Assange's comments, conspiracy theorists muse in social media venues on the possibility that Rich provided some of the information hacked from the DNC and leaked by WikiLeaks. Brad Bauman, a spokesperson for the Rich family, says in a statement: "That said, some are attempting to politicize this horrible tragedy, and in their attempts to do so, are actually causing more harm than good and impeding on the ability for law enforcement to properly do their job. For the sake of finding Seth's killer, and for the sake of giving the family the space they need at this terrible time, they are asking for the public to refrain from pushing unproven and harmful theories about Seth's murder." (Business Insider, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, NBC Washington)

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August 12, 2016: "Guccifer 2.0" Releases First Batch of Hacked DCCC Documents

The "lone hacker" calling "himself" "Guccifer 2.0" releases a batch of files hacked from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in June.

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Unlike previous document dumps from "Guccifer 2.0" and WikiLeaks, this dump contains documents giving staffers' passwords to shared accounts to various news services, Lexis/Nexus, and a federal courts public access system called PACER. Some documents also purport to contain Congressional contact lists and campaign overviews. With the permission of the DCCC, CrowdStrike cofounder Dmitri Alepovitch says that his firm can confirm the hacks were carried out, not by any "lone hacker," but by a Russian hacking group affiliated with the GRU called FANCY BEAR. Alepovitch and other cybersecurity experts believe that "Guccifer 2.0" is a Russian front designed to help in that government's attempt to influence the US presidential election. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says of the DCCC hacks in a statement: "The unauthorized disclosure of people's personally identifiable information is never acceptable. I have every confidence that law enforcement will get to the bottom of this, and identify the responsible parties. … And when they do, I hope the Administration will disclose who is attempting to interfere with the American political process, and levy strong consequences against those responsible." (NBC News, Esquire)

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image of Anton Vaino

August 12, 2016: Critic of Russian Hacking Efforts Ousted

Sergei Ivanov, a close ally of Putin's for decades but one of the harshest critics of Russia's cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns against other governments, is forced out of office by Putin and replaced by Deputy Chief of Staff Anton Vaino.

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Ivanov believed that the Russian cyberattacks and disinformation campaign against the Democratic Party ran the risk of creating a severe backlash from the US government. Ivanov is also furious at another cyber and disinformation campaign that attempted to interfere in the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July. Both the American and Turkish campaigns were orchestrated and supervised by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya writes for the Carnegie Moscow Center: "Putin is gravitating toward those who serve him, and distancing himself from those who, by virtue of their resources, attempt to rule alongside Putin. He does not need advice, he needs people who will carry out his orders with as little fuss as possible." Political analysts Stanislav Belkovsky says on Echo of Moscow radio: "Psychologically, it's now more comfortable for Putin to deal with just that kind of people – people who from the very beginning look on him as a grand chief and who don't remember those times when Vladimir Putin wasn't a grand chief yet." (Newsweek, New York Times, Newsweek, photo of Anton Vaino from Moscow Times)

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August 12, 2016: Republican Lawmakers Hacked, Likely by Same Russians who Breached DNC

Cybersecurity experts say that in the wake of the DNC hacks and the subsequent WikiLeaks dissemination of the hacked materials, evidence shows at least three Republican lawmakers have had their computer networks breached by the same Russian hackers who intruded into the DNC servers.

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The experts first became aware that was something amiss when a little-known website, DCLinks, began publishing emails from various political and military figures. The site made available emails from hundreds of Republican political operatives and employees, including the campaign staff of Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and former Republican Congressional member Michele Bachmann. McCain was the Republican presidential candidate in 2008; Bachmann ran for president in 2012 and Graham in 2016. The emails were mostly innocuous and garnered little media or public attention. One source tells Daily Beast reporter Shane Harris: "Everyone is sweating this right now. This isn't just limited to Democrats." If Republicans are being targeted, and if their information is made public, it is possible, some US officials say, that the DNC hacks are not merely part of a campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton, but part of a larger "active measures" campaign to target and destabilize both parties. Harris writes, "In that sense, the campaign tends to fit more with the standard modus operandi of a foreign intelligence organization, which is to spy on anyone in a position of power, regardless of party." Cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect, which has extensive experience with Russian cyberattackers, says DC Links is a "Russian-backed influence outlet" that had exposed the emails of a former DNC official "whose email account was breached in the same manner as a known FANCY BEAR attack method." FANCY BEAR is one of two Russian hacker groups believed to have breached the DNC. "'DC Links' registration and hosting information aligns with other FANCY BEAR activities and known tactics, techniques, and procedures," ThreatConnect reports. Moreover, ThreatConnect has linked DC Links with the hacker, or hackers, calling themselves "Guccifer 2.0" who claim to have performed the DNC hacks. "Guccifer 2.0" has claimed to be responsible for leaking the emails to WikiLeaks, and ThreatConnect now believes "Guccifer 2.0" has been using DC Links material. (The hacker(s) told The Smoking Gun, an outlet that published some of DC Links's material, that DC Links is a WikiLeaks subproject, though no evidence exists to support that contention; "Guccifer 2.0" is verifiably posting information on DC Links. And DC Links uses the same nameservers as FANCY BEAR.) Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has said more emails embarrassing to the Clinton campaign are being readied for public release. And Trump advisor Roger Stone has said he has been in touch with Assange, and knows that "the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation …" (Daily Beast, ThreatConnect)

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DCLeaks logo

August 12, 2016: Russian Front Group Leaks Hacked Documents

DCLinks, a Russian cut-out masquerading as an independent whistleblowing source, leaks over 2,500 documents from the Open Society Foundation, an organization founded and operated by liberal billionaire George Soros.

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The OSF has been hacked by Russian cyber experts. Some of the documents quickly prove to have been altered to "prove" that the OSF is financing Russian opponents to Vladimir Putin. The documents also purport to show "Soros's anti-Israel network," according to posts on Twitter presumably made by fake accounts. The Russian propaganda outlet RT quickly publishes a story with analyses of the documents and links to some of the tweets. They identify DCLeaks as "American activists," and mock the idea that Russians are responsible for the hacks and the leaks. Other leaked documents include material from retired Admiral Phillip Breedlove, formerly the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe. The Breedlove material is the subject of a July 2016 report by The Intercept claiming that Breedlove wprked in private to overcome Obama's reluctance to escalate military tensions with Russia over the 2014 invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. According to emails hacked from Breedlove's personal GMail account and published by DCLeaks, Breedlove lobbied White House officials and others to, in the words of The Intercept, "begin a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine." William Bastone of The Smoking Gun (TSG) writes that the leaks attempt to paint Soros as funding opposition efforts in half a dozen former Soviet client states such as Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Russia, efforts supposedly undertaken with the blessing of the US government. OSF officials reported the hacks to the FBI in June. (Bloomberg News, RT, New York Times, The Intercept, The Smoking Gun)

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August 12, 2016: Investigative Journalism Site Reveals More about 'Guccifer 2.0' and DCLeaks,

The investigative journalism site The Smoking Gun (TSG) reports that it has been in extensive contact with "Guccifer 2.0," the person or entity responsible for hacking the DNC and DCCC.

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TSG has determined that a wide of US intelligence and private cybersecurity experts are likely correct: "'Guccifer 2.0' is a Russian invention, a hype man tasked with publicizing criminal acts that were actually committed by skilled government hacking groups. While he has described himself in e-mails as an 'unknown hacker with a laptop' and a foe of 'all the illuminati and rich clans which try to rule the governments,' 'Guccifer 2.0' has acted more like a press flack, promising 'exclusives' and pushing journalists to do stories based on stolen documents carrying little news value." The construct's claims of being a "freedom fighter" are patently false. The cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect has determined that "Guccifer 2.0" uses a series of "burner" email accounts via a Russian virtual private network (VPN) to hide "his" identity.

TSG Contacts with "Guccifer 2.0"

TSG reporter William Bastone writes: "On three occasions, 'Guccifer 2.0' made contact with TSG via a Miami, Florida IP address connected to the Russia-based Elite VPN service." On June 27, he wrote to TSG offering what he called "exclusive access to some leaked emails" from Clinton's staff, and sent a followup message offering material "part of the big archive that includes Hillary Clinton's staff correspondence." The message came from an AOL France email account under the moniker "Stephen Orphan." Interestingly, the material, "Guccifer 2.0" said, would not be sent via an email attachment or a download leak, but hosted on a new and obscure "leaks" site, DCLeaks,, a site he says is a "sub project" of WikiLeaks. DCLeaks, has no actual connection to WikiLeaks, but is almost certainly a site operated by Russian hackers. "Guccifer 2.0" offered "closed access" to the information, and requested, "So I ask you not to make links to my blog. Ok?" TSG accepted the offer, and was provided what it calls "a largely inconsequential" set of documents hacked from Clinton staffer Sarah Hamilton's GMail account. After TSG wrote about the incident, "Guccifer 2.0" wrote TSG claiming not to have been the actual hacker of the Hamilton account. "He" never explains how "he" obtained the Hamilton emails. The last contact TSG had with "Guccifer 2.0," Bastone writes, was "on July 4, when he e-mailed two DNC documents along with the greeting 'happy independence day!'"

DCLeaks,

Bastone writes: "While nobody else had heard of DCLeaks,, 'Guccifer 2.0' had somehow not only discovered the site, but had privileges that allowed him to provide TSG with access to a password-protected section of the site." DCLeaks,'s Facebook page, launched June 8, described itselff as a "new level project" committed to exposing "Wall Street fat cats, industrial barons and multinational corporations' representatives who swallow up all resources and subjugate all markets." The site's initial offerings including documents stolen from George Soros's Open Society Foundation, and emails stolen from Philip Breedlove, a retired US General who was formerly NATO's Supreme Allied Commander. The site falsely claims that Soros, a billionaire with liberal sympathies and roundly hated by the American right, is "the architect and sponsor of almost every revolution and coup around the world for the last 25 years," and falsely claims the documents contained in its site reveals Soros's plans to, Bastone writes, "support opposition movements in Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and other countries 'where the United States desire to promote their interests'." In reality, most of Breedlove's emails are personal, and a few show his informal efforts to promote a more aggressive US position against Russia. The language in the site is stilted, indicating the writer is not fluent in American English. The site was registered in April via a Romanian web hosting company, and the site's IP is located in Malaysia. Someone presenting themselves as a DCLeaks, representative using the name "Steve Wanders" has communicated with TSG via email. Bastone says the site is apparently "being used as a cut-out for the cabal behind the DNC hacking and the 'spear phishing' directed at Clinton campaign workers." In late July, DCLeaks, offered information hacked from the account of Clinton campaign staffer William Rinehart. TSG accepted the offer, but found the emails to be mundane and not newsworthy. Bastone writes: "While the targeting of Rinehart … and Hamilton apparently did not yield valuable e-mails or documents, the cyberthieves would have been able to copy scores of e-mail addresses – many for Clinton campaign workers. Those fresh addresses likely would have been sent 'spear phishing' e-mails like the ones that tricked Rinehart and Hamilton." Currently, DCLeaks, is promising a "huge" upload of supposedly damaging Soros documents, and denies any connection to "Guccifer 2.0" or the Russians who hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign. "Wanders" has no convincing explanation of why "Guccifer 2.0" had password access to the site, or how he provided DCLeaks, with the Hamilton emails. The site recently began showing emails hacked from a number of Republican politicians and party officials, all of which were apparently hacked from a single Tennessee web hosting company called Smartech. Cyberintelligence expert John Hultquist of FireEye later says of DCLeaks,: "It really looks like the hackers tried a couple of things that just weren't really working before they hit on using WikiLeaks. With this earlier stuff, it looks like they were experimenting." (The Smoking Gun, New York Times)

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August 12, 2016 and After: Trump Claims Obama, Clinton Founded ISIS; Russian Propaganda Created to "Support" Claim

Donald Trump makes the astoundingly false claim that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "founded ISIS" in order to help overthrow Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

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After making the initial claim, Trump tells far-right radio host Hugh Hewitt that he meant what he said "literally," and objects to Hewitt's attempts to "clarify" Trump's statement by saying that he feels Trump merely means that Obama created a power vacuum into which terrorist groups occupied. "No, I meant he's the founder of ISIS," Trump says. "I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton." Trump refuses to countenance Hewitt's abjuration that Obama is "not sympathetic" to ISIS and "hates" and is "trying to kill them." "I don't care," Trump retorts. "He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?" Hewitt continues to attempt to cajole Trump into softening his claim, and Trump continues to insist that he means exactly what he says. In response, Clinton posts on Twitter: "It can be difficult to muster outrage as frequently as Donald Trump should cause it, but his smear against President Obama requires it. No, Barack Obama is not the founder of ISIS. Anyone willing to sink so low, so often should never be allowed to serve as our Commander-in-Chief." Within hours, the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik cobbles together a "report" that "proves" Trump's claims. The propaganda outlet claims that ISIS was "unwittingly" spawned from what Sputnik calls the coalition of two other terrorist groups, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq, who supposedly banded together to form ISIS after being part of a "US-backed anti-Assad coalition." Sputnik publishes the report and posts about it on Twitter, with the hashtag #CrookedHillary. Trump continues to repeat the lie on the campaign trail until the election in November. The Sputnik claim is based on a deliberate misreading of a 2012 US draft intelligence report commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency and originally published in June 2015 by the conservative organization Judicial Watch. The report, which drew false conclusions from poorly constructed data, was never issued, and it is doubtful anyone but low-level DIA operatives read it. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul slams Trump in response, saying he is echoing Russian propaganda. "BTW, Trumps line that Obama founded ISIS echoes exactly a myth propagated by Russian state-controlled media and bloggers," McFaul says on Twitter. After McFaul's tweet, Clinton advisor Jake Sullivan says: "This is another example of Donald Trump trash-talking the United States. It goes without saying that this is a false claim from a presidential candidate with an aversion to the truth and an unprecedented lack of knowledge. What's remarkable about Trump's comments is that once again, he's echoing the talking points of Putin and our adversaries to attack American leaders and American interests, while failing to offer any serious plans to confront terrorism or make this country more secure." (Sputnik, Daily Beast, Newsweek, CNN)

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August 12, 2016 and After: CrowdStrike Head Frustrated at White House's Silence on Russian Attempts to Influence Election

Dmitri Alperovitch, the cofounder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, is upset that White House officials refuse to make any direct public statements about Russia being responsible for the hacks into the DNC and DCCC computer networks, and Russia's attempts to use the hacked documents to influence the US presidential election.

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Alperovitch is told privately that the White House is loathe to make such a public statement so close to the election. If the administration accused Russia of trying to "hack" the election, the rationale goes, it would be accused of trying to tip the scales in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. As journalist Vicky Ward later writes, "The silence of the American government began to feel both familiar and dangerous." Alperovitch will tell Ward, "It doesn't help us if two years from now someone gets indicted." (Esquire)

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August 14-September 9, 2016: Trump Campaign Advisor Exchanges Private Messages with "Guccifer 2.0"

Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone engages in a surreptitious conversation with "Guccifer 2.0," the construct created by Russian intelligence officials to cloud Russia's involvement in the Democratic Party computer hacks.

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After Stone wrote an article on Breitbart News, a right-wing conspiracy media outlet, on August 5 attributing the breaches to Guccifer 2.0 and not Russia, the Guccifer 2.0 account posted publicly on Twitter, "RogerJStoneJr thanks that u believe in the real Guccifer2." Stone called Guccifer 2.0 a "hero" on August 13. On August 14, Stone wrote to the Guccifer 2.0 account that he was "delighted" Twitter had reinstated the account. On August 16, Stone again messaged the account, asking the owner to retweet a column he had written claiming the presidential election was "rigged." In the interim, Guccifer 2.0 wrote: "wow. thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!! do u find anything interesting in the docs i posted?" On August 17, the Guccifer 2.0 posted this in a direct message to Stone: "i'm pleased to say that u r great man. please tell me if i can help u anyhow. it would be a great pleasure to me." In total, Stone and Guccifer 2.0 exchange at least 16 direct messages. The Guccifer 2.0 account denies having any contact with Stone to the Smoking Gun in late August. Stone will later claim that his contacts with Guccifer 2.0 were "perfunctory" and "completely innocuous." (Smoking Gun, Washington Times)

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August 14, 2016: Trump Campaign Manager Cites Russian Propaganda Claim to Attack Clinton

Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, cites a debunked propaganda claim from Russia's propaganda outlet Sputnik to attack Hillary Clinton.

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On CNN, Manafort claims that "the NATO base in Turkey" was attacked last week by "terrorists." The supposed attack was on the Incirlik military base in Turkey. The debunked Russian story, which was quickly taken down, claimed that terrorists had overrun the base. Experts quickly refuted the claim, and one expert says Manafort's story is a "total fabrication." Manafort says the Incirlik story is an example of how the US media fails to cover real news stories in favor of running stories critical of Trump. He told CNN anchor Jake Tapper: "I mean, there's plenty of news to cover this week that I haven't seen covered. You had information coming out about pay-for-play out of emails of Hillary Clinton's that weren't turned over, by the way, to the Justice Department for her investigation. That's a major news story. You had – you had the NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists. You had a number of things that were appropriate to this campaign, were part of what Mr. Trump has been talking about." Manafort is lying both about the terrorist attack and the "pay to play" emails; both were determined to be false within hours of their release to the press. Both came from Russian propaganda sources; the first from Sputnik, the second from the Russian hacker persona "Guccifer 2.0." (FactCheck)

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Mid-August 2016: Trump Associate Meets with Russian Lawmaker

An unnamed Trump associate meets with a pro-Putin member of the Russian parliament at a site in Eastern Europe maintained by Rossotrudnichestvo, an agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is charged with administering language, education and support programs for civilians.

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Details of the meeting are sketchy, but a Western intelligence official later tells Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald that surveillance of the meeting was conducted either by or on behalf of the Estonian Information Board (EIB), Estonia's foreign intelligence service. It is unclear whether Trump knows about the meeting or is briefed afterwards. (Newsweek)

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August 17, 2016: Former US Ambassador to Russia: Putin Working to Help Trump Win

Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who also served in the National Security Agency, states flatly that "Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to see Donald Trump become the next president of the United States," and therefore Putin and his goverment are taking "unprecedented steps to influence our electoral process to help the Republican Party’s nominee."

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McFaul lays out what he calls both "the motives [and] the means" to try to accomplish that goal. Trump supports Russia-friendly foreign policies that Putin prefers, McFaul notes, most notably Trump's apparent support for Russia's military occupation and annexation of Crimea. For his part, Putin has flattered Trump, giving support to Trump's contempt for the US alliances that keep Russia at bay. Trump's trade policies also work to Russia's advantage, as does his isolationism and his apparent intent to abandon the US's traditional position of leadership. And, McFaul notes, the internal chaos and strife that would erupt inside the US after Trump begins his reign would work to Putin's advantage, and give him the freedom to act around the world in a way that he cannot today. A Clinton presidency, McFaul notes, would not be to Putin's advantage in any sense: "Clinton will never recognize Crimea as part of Russia, seeks to strengthen relations with our allies and speaks out about human rights." These are his motives for supporting Trump. McFaul also notes Putin's means to help elect Trump: the Kremlin propaganda machine is working diligently on behalf of Trump, and "pro-Kremlin bloggers" are making their presence felt on US social media. And, most obviously, Russia hacked Democrats' emails and have leaked them, selectively and with carefully directed impact, to the public via WikiLeaks. McFaul writes: "No one should be surprised that the Russian government uses its incredible cyber capabilities to collect intelligence on important US politicians. That is what spies are supposed to do. What they have never done in the past, however, is publish stolen information to influence a US presidential election." McFaul believes that the Russian efforts to upend the election and lead Trump to an illegitimate victory will be fruitless. (Washington Post)

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No one should be surprised that the Russian government uses its incredible cyber capabilities to collect intelligence on important US politicians. That is what spies are supposed to do. What they have never done in the past, however, is publish stolen information to influence a US presidential election. — Michael McFaul

August 18, 2016: Pence Exhorts Supporters to Illegally "Monitor" Election Voting

Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence (R-IN) urges Trump supporters to "monitor voting sites" to prevent unknown persons from "rigging" the election.

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At a town hall in New Hampshire, Pence is asked: "There's a huge issue right now with voting machines. Even if we get out and we vote, and the voting machines are rigged, as we know that they can be hacked, what's to prevent that? What can you guys do?" After touting Indiana's draconian voter suppression laws that require voters to produce proof of identity before voting, Pence then urges audience members to take part in poll monitoring on Election Day. He says: "I really encourage you … go get involved in your precinct because – we call them inspectors in Indiana, there are poll watchers in Indiana – the truth of the matter is that the integrity of the 'one person, one vote' is at the core of democracy, and that happens one precinct at a time. And the truth of that matter is you are the greatest vanguard for integrity in voting in New Hampshire." Trump recently told Ohio voters: "First of all, it's rigged, and I'm afraid the election is going to be rigged, to be honest. I have to be honest because I think my side was rigged." Neither Trump nor anyone else has ever proferred proof of any kind showing that the election is being rigged in any sense. Trial lawyer Gabrielle Dalemberte observes on Twitter, "The problem this advice is its illegal in most states Pence urges Trump supporters to monitor voting sites." In June 2017, a behaviorial scientist and Trump opponent who posts under the name "Carolina O" will write on Twitter that Pence's exhortation comes four days before Russian hackers begin a widespread effort to hack election software companies: "Aug 18 (4 days before Russia sent 1st spearphishing email to election software company): Pence warns abt rigged election, hacked machines." (Politico, Gabrielle Dalemberte, Caroline O.)

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August 24, 2016: Assange Promises More Information on Clinton to be Released Before Election

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says his organization intends to release "significant" information regarding the Clinton presidential campaign before the November 8 election.

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In an interview conducted by Fox News via satellite, Assange is asked if the information his organization will release will have a serious impact on the election. He answers: "I think it's significant. You know, it depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media." Asked how the information will compare to information already released, he replies: "I don't want to give the game away, but it's a variety of documents, from different types of institutions that are associated with the election campaign, some quite unexpected angles, some quite interesting, some even entertaining." (Reuters)

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August 27, 2016: Twitter Suspends Russian Hacking Site, Trump Supporters Protest

The Russian-sourced website DCLeaks goes down for an unannounced reason.

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Twitter suspends the DCLeaks account. When the right-wing news site the Daily Caller publishes a story on the suspension, Trump supporters flood social media and news sites with outraged responses. Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs says on the air that "leftist fascism" is working to cost Trump a victory. Twitter reinstates the DCLeaks account. (Esquire)

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Late August, 2016: FBI Informs Congressional Leaders that Russia is Directly Helping Trump, Evidence Exists of Trump Collusion

In urgent classified briefings, the CIA tells senior lawmakers that Russia is working to get Donald Trump elected. This information will not be made public until April 2017. The briefings feature intelligence officials sharing evidence that proves Russia is working on Trump's behalf, and has been doing so much earlier than previously thought.

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Before this information was processed, FBI officials in particular doubted that Russia was working on Trump's behalf, and was working primarily to disrupt the US political system and sow dissension. The briefings are led by CIA Director John Brennan, and involve the so-called "Gang of Eight" – the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, and both parties' leaders on the respective intelligence committees. One briefing is for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Brennan also tells Reid that he believes unnamed officials on the Trump campaign are working with the Russians to sabotage the election. The CIA is, by law, restricted to investigating foreign-sourced intelligence, and must defer to the FBI if any investigations should take place. After the briefings, Reid contacts FBI Director James Comey and indicates his concern that Russia's interference in the election is "more extensive than widely known." Reid does not mention the briefings. He cites mounting evidence "of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign" and urges the FBI to open an investigation. Reid is not aware that the FBI is conducting a counterintelligence operation on that very subject. Nor does he know that the FBI has in its possession an unverified dossier that documents collusion between Trump and Russia. Until well after the election, the FBI will insist that it knows of no evidence linking Trump or his aides to Russia. The CIA comes to its conclusion in part after learning that the Russians had breached both Democratic and Republican computer networks, but is only releasing information damaging to the Democrats and the Clinton campaign. The information will remain private in part because of threats issued by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who says he does not believe the intelligence agencies, and threatens to accuse the Obama administration of trying to interfere in the election if these concerns are made public. Eventually, a much softer letter of concern is publicly released by McConnell and the other ranking members of each chamber warning only of "malefactors" who might be trying to disrupt the election. Two Democratic members of the Gang of Eight, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), will release a letter claiming that "based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the US election. … At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election." Reid in particular is irate about the partisan politics surrounding the issue, and becomes furious when the FBI announces in late October, 11 days before the election, that it is re-examining the Clinton email issue, but does not announce the conclusion that Russia is helping Trump. The American press is unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (New York Times, Business Insider, MSNBC)

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[Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-KY] raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics. — New York Times
FBI keyboard graphic

August 27-30, 2016: Democrats Ask FBI to Investigate Russian Hacks, Trump Advisors for Ties to Russia

Democratic lawmakers send two letters to the FBI asking that it investigate senior Trump campaign advisors for what they call collusion in the Russian hacking of DNC servers and election systems.

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The first letter is written by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). In the letter, Reid writes that the threat of Russian interference in the election "is more extensive than is widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results," and Reid writes that based on recent classified intelligence briefings he has received, he fears that Russia's "goal is tampering with this election." The FBI has said that at least two states, Arizona and Illinois, have had their election software breached, likely by Russian hackers. Reid points to Trump advisor Roger Stone, who has said he is in touch with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor who traveled to Moscow in July. Of Stone, Reid writes, "The prospect of individuals tied to Trump, WikiLeaks and the Russian government coordinating to influence our election raises concerns of the utmost gravity and merits full examination." Reid also recommends that the FBI investigate any "complicit intermediaries" between the Russian government and Assange, including "any United States citizen." Days later, four House Democrats send a similar letter to FBI Director James Comey asking that the bureau investigate the Russian ties of Stone, Page, retired General Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The letter reads in part: "Serious questions have been raised about overt and covert actions by Trump campaign officials on behalf of Russian interests. It is critical for the American public to know whether those actions may have directly caused or indirectly motivated attacks against Democratic institutions and our fundamental election process." The Clinton campaign echoes the request for an investigation, with spokesperson Glen Caplin saying: "By admitting he's in contact with Julian Assange through mutual friends, and claiming the Russian front Guccifer 2.0 is the source of hacked documents obtained by WikiLeaks, Roger Stone has raised serious and deeply troubling questions about potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin. This alarming red flag is a question that demands answers." Referring to Page, Reid writes that "questions have been raised" about a Trump advisor with investments in the Russian state energy firm Gazprom, and that advisor's meetings with "high-ranking sanctioned individuals" during a July trip to Moscow. Page gave a speech in Moscow during that trip that lambasted US foreign policy and lauded the policies of Vladimir Putin, at one point telling his audience, "Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change." For her part, Clinton has called Putin the "godfather" of a "global brand of extreme nationalism" that Trump allegedly supports.

Stone: Raising Questions about Russian Ties is the "New McCarthyism"

Stone responds by saying of Reid: "He's essentially accusing me of treason. It's the new McCarthyism. I have no connections with Russians at all. They call us the conspiracy theorists but they are the ones accusing us of treason." Stone says no evidence exists tying the Russians to the DNC hack, and says the purported hacker "Guccifer 2.0" was a lone wolf with no ties to the Kremlin. However, a wealth of evidence shows that "Guccifer 2.0" is, in Washington Post reporter Josh Rogin's words, "a persona created by the Russian government hackers to try to cover their tracks." Stone says he has no influence over Assange, but calls him a "freedom fighter" and a "hero" who is "fighting the deep state," a term Stone uses to mean the two-party political system. Stone goes further, promoting the Rich conspiracy theory, accusing Clinton of murdering or having murdered at least three other people, and claiming his email, bank and social media accounts have all been hacked within the last week, presumably by agents of Hillary Clinton. He says Assange has the "kryptonite" needed to destroy the Clinton candidacy, referring to emails Stone says WikiLeaks has from the Clinton Foundation that prove it engaged in illegal behavior during Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. "I think he has the goods and he will release them at times of his choosing," he says of Assange. "This makes me a conspiracy theorist? No, I'm a conspiracy realist." Stone helped place Manafort, his former lobbying partner, in the Trump campaign. An inveterate foe of the Clintons, Stone has apparently fed Trump with a large and varied set of lies and groundless accusations against Hillary Clinton. He has advocated that she be "executed for murder," without any evidence of wrongdoing, and has showered Clinton and other political and media figures with a barrage of racial and gender slurs, including founding the 2008 anti-Clinton group "Citizens United Not Timid," whose acronym spells a derogatory word he often uses against women. He has been banned from CNN, MSNBC and Fox News because of what CNN called his "incendiary" rhetoric.

Media Spin

In the Washington Post article about the letter, Rogin repeatedly compares the Democrats' evidence-based concerns about Russian hacking with the groundless WikiLeaks conspiracy theory that the DNC hacks were related to the shooting death of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Rogin concludes his article by writing: "Democrats and the Clinton camp are raising the stakes by calling on the FBI to investigate her political opponents for working with an enemy intelligence service. It's another example of how both sides in this election cycle are pushing conspiracy theories that they cannot prove." The New York Times's reporter David Sanger makes no such assertions in his article about Reid's letter.

Classified Evidence Shows Russia Working on Behalf of Trump

At least four Democrats – Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and two members of their chamber's Intelligence Committees, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), have been told in classified briefings that the CIA is sure Russia is working on behalf of Trump, and evidence shows that Trump officials may be working in collusion with Russia. The Democrats are not able to share that classified information with the public. (New York Times, Washington Post, Media Matters, photo illustration from HackRead)

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August 31 - September 1, 2016: "Guccifer 2.0" Release of Pelosi Documents Fraudulent

The Russian intelligence construct calling "himself" "Guccifer 2.0" releases a spate of documents "he" claims were hacked directly from the computers of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But Pelosi says the documents did not come from her computer, and a document detailing "tactics" for dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement is not her work nor does it reflect her beliefs.

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Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill says in a statement, "No hacked, dumped or doctored documents can be attributed to her computer." The document dump was entitled "DCCC Docs from Pelosi's PC." Hammill continues: "In regard to the memo about Black Lives Matter, Leader Pelosi does not support the content or attitude of this memo. On many occasions, Leader Pelosi has publicly supported the ideals embraced by the Black Lives Matter movement and continues to do so." The real documents contained in the dump are almost certainly from the DCCC hack. Hammill concludes, "This attempt by Russia to influence our election has no place in our democracy." (The Hill)

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August 31, 2016: Assange Says Charges of Being Russian Instrument May Damage US/Russian Relations

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange responds harshly to charges that his organization is working with Russia to undermine the Clinton presidential campaign.

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He says that charges that Donald Trump and Jill Stein, the Republican and Green Party candidates for president respectively, are being manipulated by Russian intelligence are groundless, despite the charges being made by current and former top White House officials including former CIA Director Michael Morell. Instead, he says, Clinton is "whipping up a neo-McCarthyist hysteria about Russia" and asks, "What kind of press environment is this going to lead to post-election?" He continues to lambast the American media: "The American liberal press, in falling over themselves to defend Hillary Clinton, are erecting a demon that is going to put nooses around everyone's necks as soon as she wins the election, which is almost certainly what she's going to do." Assange has said his organization will leak more damaging information on Clinton, and has said he would pay for information WikiLeaks can use against her. While Assange insists that he has no preference as to who wins the presidency – the choice between Clinton and Trump is like the choice between "cholera and gonorrhea," he has said, Trump advisor Roger Stone says he has been in "indirect contact" with Assange, and has called Assange a "hero." Assange denies defending Trump by claiming that Trump has no significant financial ties to Russia. (Business Insider)

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By the last week of August 2016, it would become patently clear that someone had stolen every facet of the Democratic Party system, taken what they pleased, and launched an organized campaign to discredit it in the media. Simply put, the Democratic machine was hit by a terrorist attack without bombs. The effect of the hacker's campaign was to influence a strategic outcome that could only help one American political party and indirectly help a foreign actor's strategic policy against the West. A hack of this magnitude could only be perpetrated by a determined foe that wanted to foment division in the Democratic Party, a foe with the advanced cyber technology to see to it that Donald J. Trump would take advantage of the chaos caused at a critical moment in the process, almost exactly one hundred days from the election. – from The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance

— September 2016 —

September-November 2016: Trump Campaign Inundates Social Media with Targeted Stories to Influence Voters

A spate of real and fake news stories supporting Trump and denigrating Clinton's candidacy, much of it produced by Eastern Europeans paid by Russians, are "microtargeted" to American Facebook accounts using data provided by a firm called Cambridge Analytica.

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The Trump campaign spends $5 million a week during the last weeks of the campaign spamming this false information to millions of Facebook users. Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a remarkably accurate method of "profiling" Facebook users based on their "likes." Moreover, people with specific psychological profiles could be located merely by analyzing the "likes" given to particular memes, quotations, stories and the like. In 2014, Kosinski received a job offer from a psychology professor named Aleksandr Kogan to work for his firm, SCL, or Strategic Communications Laboratories. Kogan was particularly interested in Kosinski's method of profiling people. Kogan learned that SCL is a marketing firm that specializes in, among other things, influencing political elections. Kosinski did not know that SCL had recently formed a subsidiary company, Cambridge Analytica, with the aim of influencing US elections. Kosinski turned down the job, but believed that Kogan's company may have reproduced his measurement tool. He was right. Cambridge Analytica played a major role in influencing the 2015 referendum in Britain to have the country leave the European Union – "Brexit." According to Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian, Cambridge Analytica is at the heart of a massive "alt-right" news conglomerate, focused primarily in the US and Britain, that foments. creates, and disseminates a flood of "fake news" and "alternate facts" that permeates social media and some news providers on the right. It isn't hard to find an entire body of purportedly real news and commentary that "proves" the Holocaust never took place, as a single example. She calls it "an entire 'alt-right' news and information ecosystem" and the right's "propaganda machine." The "ecosystem" played a key role in persuading a majority of British voters to exit the European Union – "Brexit" – and will play the same role in the Trump presidential victory. Democracy in both Britain and the US is being "subverted," Cadwalladr writes, by the strategies of this firm, controlled by far-right American billionaire Robert Mercer. The "data analytics" strategies that Cambridge Analytica will use come from "deep within the military-industrial complex," Cadwalladr will write; the firm, she will go on to say, is "effectively part of the British defense establishment. And now, too, the American defense establishment." Sociology professor and psyops/propaganda expert David Miller will say: "[It is] an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it's not transparent or open where it's coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not." In mid-2016, Cambridge Analytica is hired by the Trump campaign, and CA CEO Alexander Nix becomes a senior digital strategy and marketing advisor for the campaign. CA had successfully promoted the candidacies of Senator Ted Cruz and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and was now working on behalf of Trump. The funding came from Mercer, a shadowy US software billionaire who along with his daughter Rebekah are the biggest investors in CA. As it had done for Cruz, CA begins using psychometrics instead of demographics to craft and target Trump's message. Vice reporters Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus will later write: "Trump's striking inconsistencies, his much-criticized fickleness, and the resulting array of contradictory messages, suddenly turned out to be his great asset: a different message for every voter. The notion that Trump acted like a perfectly opportunistic algorithm following audience reactions is something" noted by a mathematician in August 2016. Nix later recalls, "Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven." He then says: "We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals." One successful example is the Trump campaign's use of fake news stories targeting citizens in the Miami district of Little Haiti, telling voters there how the Clinton Foundation had refused to provide support for Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2012. Targets included wavering left-leaning voters, African-Americans, and young women. The primary aim was not to convert these into Trump voters, but to keep them away from the ballot box entirely. Most of the focus of the CA-driven ads is social media, with a particular emphasis on Facebook. The Vice reporters continue, "These 'dark posts' – sponsored news-feed-style ads in Facebook timelines that can only be seen by users with specific profiles – included videos aimed at African-Americans in which Hillary Clinton refers to black men as predators, for example." They write: "The decision to focus on Michigan and Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign was made on the basis of data analysis. The candidate became the instrument for implementing a big data model." CA board member and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign co-chair, will become Trump's senior advisor after Trump's presidential victory. Nix is garnering clients in Europe by touting his success in the United States, and is focusing on hard-right candidates in France, Germany and Holland. After Vice publishes its story on CA in January 2017, the firm issues the following statement: "Cambridge Analytica does not use data from Facebook. It has had no dealings with Dr. Michal Kosinski. It does not subcontract research. It does not use the same methodology. Psychographics was hardly used at all. Cambridge Analytica did not engage in efforts to discourage any Americans from casting their vote in the presidential election. Its efforts were solely directed towards increasing the number of voters in the election." One of the most effective methods of influencing voters used by the company is targeting their personality traits. People who are found to be somewhat neurotic, for example, are disproportionately affected by images of immigrants "swamping" the country. Those voters don't vote their ideologies; they vote their emotions, their feelings, their neuroses. Cadwalladr writes, "The key is finding emotional triggers for each individual voter." If the firm's tactics have trouble persuading targeted voters to vote for a particular candidate, it can achieve success in causing a spike in "voter disengagement," effectively persuading voters to not vote. The firm will have extraordinary success in persuading Democratic voters to not vote during the 2016 presidential election. Cadwalladr will call this effectively voter suppression, regardless of the company's claims. (According to conservative journalist/blogger Louise Mensch, Cambridge Analytica illegally obtained Facebook data via a Russian spy working at Cambridge. The Russian-owned Alfa Bank, along with Russian operative Dimitry Firtash, owns Cambridge Analytica. They also own SCL, which disseminates "fake news" generated by Russian intelligence. It must be noted that Mensch herself is not always a reliable source of information.) It is likely that some of the social media content being promoted by the Trump campaign is from a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. It should be noted that Cambridge Analytica is suing the Guardian over its reporting on its firm. (Vice, Guardian, Medium, Patribotics)

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September 1, 2016: "Guccifer" Receives 52-Month Prison Sentence

Marcel Larzar, the 44-year old Romanian cab driver who used the moniker "Guccifer" to hack private emails of American and European politicians, was sentenced today to 52 months in prison after accepting a plea deal for identity theft and federal hacking charges.

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Lazar is the one who first exposed Hillary Clinton's use of a private email system while she was secretary of state. Lazar has claimed to have hacked into Clinton's private server, but that claim has been proven to be false. Federal prosecutors say Lazar's penalty must "address any false perception that unauthorized access of a computer is ever justified or rationalized as the cost of living in a wired society – or even worse, a crime to be celebrated." (Ars Technica, Sophos)

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September 2, 2016: Putin Denies Involvement in Hacking, Says Content of Leaks More Important that Identities of Thieves

Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin denies that his government employed or directed the hackers who illegally breached the DNC servers and stole thousands of documents and emails, among other US political entities, but then says that Americans should pay more attention to the content of the leaked documents and worry less about who stole them.

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"No, I don't know anything about that," he tells an interviewer from Bloomberg News. "You know how many hackers there are today? And they act so delicately and precisely that they can leave their mark at the necessary time and place or even not their own mark, camouflaging their activity instead as other hackers from other territories or countries. It's an extremely difficult thing to check. It's impossible to check." He says the accusations that his government is behind the thefts are an attempt to "distract the public's attention." Putin goes on: "It doesn't really matter who hacked this data from Mrs. Clinton's campaign headquarters. … Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data? The important thing is the content was given to the public. … There's no need to distract the public's attention from the essence of the problem by raising some minor issues connected with the search for who did it. … But I want to tell you again, I don't know anything about it, and on a state level Russia has never done this." Cybersecurity expert James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Putin is lying about Russia's involvement in state hacking. That nation's record of such hacks, he says, goes back at least ten years. "Nice try, but no goal," he remarks. Clinton campaign spokesperson Jesse Lehrich says: "Unsurprisingly, Putin has joined Trump in cheering foreign interference in the U.S. election that is clearly designed to inflict political damage on Hillary Clinton and Democrats. This is a national security issue and every American deserves answers about potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin." (Bloomberg News, Washington Post)

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September 4-5, 2016: Obama to Putin on Hacking: "Cut It Out"

President Obama instructs Russian President Putin to "cut it out" with regard to the Russian "active measures" campaign to sabotage the US presidential election, and specifically the cyberattacks against Democratic Party computer networks.

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He warns Putin of "serious consequences" if he does not comply. Putin does not confirm or deny the hacking efforts, but replies that the US has for years funded media outlets and civil-society groups that meddle in Russian affairs. Obama will publicly acknowledge this in December, and will say that further hacking by Russia does not occur after his instruction to Putin, though "the leaks through WikiLeaks had already occurred." Obama will say that his main goal is to ensure that Russia does not attack any American electoral infrastructure. "What I was concerned about in particular was making sure [the DNC hack] wasn't compounded by potential hacking that could hamper vote counting, affect the actual election process itself," Obama will say during a press conference. "So in early September when I saw President Putin in China [during the G20 conference], I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be serious consequences if he didn't. And in fact we did not see further tampering of the election process." Obama will not directly confirm that Putin himself was involved in the operation, but says: "Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. … We have said and I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. And I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it." He will say that he made a determined effort not to politicize the issue, but leaves it to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to address. "I wanted to make sure everybody understood we were playing this thing straight. That we weren't trying to advantage one side or another but what we were trying to do is let people know that this had taken place. Part of the goal here was to make sure we did not do the work of the leakers for them by raising more and more questions about the integrity of the election right before the election was taking place at a time when the president-elect himself was racing questions about the integrity of the election." For his part, Trump has complained that discussion of any Russian involvement in the hacks are designed to undermine his campaign, a position he will not abandon even after he succeeds in taking the election. The Kremlin has denied, and will continue to deny, any involvement in the hacks. Of any retaliatory measures, Obama will say: "Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you. But it is also important for us to do that in a thoughtful methodical way. Some of it we do publicly. Some of it we will do in a way that they know but not everybody will. So at a point in time where we've taken certain actions that we can divulge publicly, we will do so. There are times when the message will be directly received by the Russians and not publicized." Obama is likely aware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (Politico, CNN, New Yorker)

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September 8-9, 2016: Trump gives an interview to Larry King that is aired on RT, a Russian propaganda network. Trump officials later claim they did not know the interview would air on Russian television.

September 8, 2016: Assange Promises Huge Document Leak on Clinton Before Election, Admits DNC Leak was Timed to Impact Convention

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says his organization will release as many as 100,000 pages of new material concerning Hillary Clinton before the election.

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Speaking with Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity on Hannity's daily radio program, Assange credits "new sources" stepping forward after WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the DNC in July. "We have tens of thousands, possibly as many as a hundred thousand, pages of documents of different types, related to the operations that Hillary Clinton is associated with," he tells Hannity. "There are some, several … in response to the DNC publications, a lot of people have been inspired by the impact, and so they have stepped forward with additional material." He continues: "It's quite a complex business to sort things, to index them, make sure they're presentable, to see what the top initial angles are that come out," he said. "We're a small shop. We're here around the clock. We understand quite much the time pressures that people have, and how significant it is to try and get that out. We worked like hell to get the DNC publication out before the DNC, the day before the DNC. … I am very confident we're going to get this material out before, long before, the day of the election." (Washington Examiner)

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September 20, 2016 and After: Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks Begin Long Correspondence, Apparently Documenting Collusion and Cooperation

The WikiLeaks Twitter account sends a direct, private message to Donald Trump Jr, a senior Trump campaign advisor and surrogate. The message is the first in a series of communications between WikiLeaks and Trump Jr that will last until July 2017 and perhaps beyond, where the organization asks Trump Jr for his cooperation in sharing their work in leaking Clinton emails obtained from Russia, in contesting the results of the presidential election should Clinton win, and in securing Julian Assange's position as US Ambassador to Australia should Trump win. WikiLeaks also asks for Trump's tax returns.

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The correspondence will be made public in November 2017. The first message reads: "A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch. The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is 'putintrump.' See 'About' for who is behind it. Any comments?" The organization is not a "recycled pro-Iraq war PAC," but a project launched by tech entrepreneur Rob Glaser, funded by Progress for USA PAC, and later merged with Mother Jones to continue covering the Trump-Russia issue.) Trump Jr. responds 12 hours later: "Off the record I don't know who that is, but I'll ask around. Thanks."

Other Campaign Officials Alerted, No Objections

During the conversations, conducted via emails and private Twitter messages, Trump Jr ignores some communications by WikiLeaks, but responds to many and follows up on some. He does "ask around" about the putintrump.org project that same day, emailing senior campaign officials, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Jared Kushner, advising them of the project and informing them that he receives the information from WikiLeaks. Kushner forwards the email to senior campaign communications official Hope Hicks. At no time does Trump Jr rebuff WikiLeaks. Nor do any officials inform the FBI or other law enforcement officials about the contacts from WikiLeaks, which has been determined by US government officials to be operating as a "cut out" for Russian intelligence.

Coordinating Leaks with Campaign Strategy

On October 3, 2016, WikiLeaks writes Trump Jr, saying, "Hiya, it'd be great if you guys could comment on/push this story." The story was a report about Hillary Clinton making a joke about how she would like to "just drone" WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In what is apparently a total disconnect from any sense of irony, Trump Jr responds: "Already did that earlier today. It's amazing what she can get away with." Minutes later, Trump Jr. writes WikiLeaks, asking, "What's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?" Trump Jr is referring to a claim made on Twitter by Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone that read: "Wednesday HillaryClinton is done." The message cited WikiLeaks as a "hashtag." WikiLeaks does not respond to Trump Jr's message. However, on October 12, two days after his father proclaimed during a campaign rally, "I love WikiLeaks!", the organization messaged Trump Jr, saying: "Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us." The message cites wlsearch.tk and says the link will help Trump's followers dig through the trove of stolen documents and find stories. "There's many great stories the press are missing and we're sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4." Fifteen minutes after the message, Trump himself tweets: "Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!" Two days later, Trump tweets the WikiLeaks link provided to his son, in a tweet that reads, "For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the wikieaks emails are right here: http://wlsearch.tk/."

Request for Tax Returns, Offer Designed to Bolster WikiLeaks's Credibility and Cloak Attempts to Help Campaign

Trump Jr does not respond to further direct messages from WikiLeaks, but WikiLeaks continues making requests and recommendations. On October 21, they write: "Leak us one or more of your father's tax returns," and explain why it will help the campaign. WikiLeaks believes the returns will come out soon via "the most biased" media sources, and, "the real kicker … If we publish them it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality. That means that the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing on Clinton will have much higher impact, because it won't be perceived as coming from a 'pro-Trump' 'pro-Russia' source." The message contains an email address and link for uploading the returns, and concludes: "The same for any other negative stuff (documents, recordings) that you think has a decent chance of coming out. Let us put it out." Trump Jr does not respond.

Recommendation to Refuse to Concede

On Election Day, WikiLeaks posts the following to Trump Jr: "Hi Don if your father 'loses' we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred – as he has implied that he might do." At the time WikiLeaks posts this, a well-known prognosticator, FiveThirtyEight, is giving Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning the race. WikiLeaks explains that contesting the results would be good for Trump's rumored plans to start a media network if he loses: "The discussion can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption, etc." After Trump's election victory is confirmed, WikiLeaks sends the following message to Trump Jr: "Wow."

Ambassador Assange?

On December 16, WikiLeaks sends the following message to Trump Jr: "Hi Don. Hope you're doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to [Washington,] DC." The message suggests Trump's phrasing to justify the appointment: "'That's a real smart tough guy and the most famous australian [sic] you have!' or something similar. They won't do it but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK [and] Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons."

Recommendation to Release Emails Regarding Russian Meeting

On July 11, 2017, three days after the New York Times revealed Trump Jr's meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and other likely Russian intelligence assets, the organization writes: "Hi Don. Sorry to hear about your problems. We have an idea that may help a little. We are VERY interested in confidentially obtaining and publishing a copy of the email(s) cited in the New York Times today. We think this is strongly in your interest." It advises that the emails will come out anyway, no doubt to be spun in a negative light, and says, "Us publishing not only deprives them of this ability but is beautifully confounding." Trump Jr does not respond, but hours later, he posts the emails himself on his own Twitter feed. (The Atlantic, Just Security)

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September 22, 2016: First Lady Passport Published as Part of White House Hack, Experts Blame Russians

First Lady Michelle Obama's passport is published online after being hacked by "Guccifer 2.0," a persona created to obfuscate the hacking carried out by Russian hacking groups working for the Putin government.

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Apparently a low-level White House staffer, Ian Mellul, had his email account hacked, though White House press secretary Josh Earnest says that Mellul is not an actual staffer, but a member of a team of short-term contractors who do travel logistics for the White House. Other released documents include detailed schedules for senior US officials and private email messages. The info is posted on the DCLeaks website, which is believed to be run by the same hackers who are behind "Guccifer 2.0." The following text accompanies the leaked documents: "The leaked files show the security level of our government. If terrorists hack emails of White House Office staff and get such sensitive information we will see the fall of our country. … We hope you will tell the people about this criminal negligence of White House Office staffers." Upon learning of the passport leak, Dmitri Alperovitch, the head of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, reacts with fury, later telling a reporter, "That is Putin giving us the finger." (New York Post, New York Post, Fox News, The Hill, Esquire)

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September 26, 2016: Trump denies that the Russians hacked the Democratic computer networks, and says that the hacks could have been carried out by "someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."

September 30, 2016: GOP Leaders Block Russia-Trump Investigations

Congressional Republicans are assiduously blocking any efforts to investigate the ties between Russia, Donald Trump, and the Trump campaign, heedless of the government's belief that Russia is attempting to manipulate the presidential election.

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Lacking any GOP support, Congressional Democrats cannot muster the votes to force subpoenas or any other attempts to investigate the charges. In private, some Republican Congressional staffers say they are concerned about the Russia-Trump connections, but both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have refused to allow any attempts to probe the connections. Instead, Congressional Republicans are eager to escalate their investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, even though the FBI has declared there were no criminal activities surrounding her use of a private email server. Daily Beast reporter Shane Harris writes, "As a result, Clinton is likely to face relentless grilling on Capitol Hill from now until Election Day, but Trump can rest assured that his fellow partisans will go easy on him." At a recent hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) told FBI Director James Comey that he was outraged at the Republicans' refusal to press Comey on the Trump-Russia connection. "Instead, I believe that the focus of this hearing will be more of the same: an attack on you, and your team at the Department of Justice, for declining to recommend criminal charges against Secretary Hillary Clinton," Conyers said. Conyers was correct. Several Congressional Democrats have written to Comey asking him to investigate connections between Trump campaign officials and Russian government officials, but McConnell, Ryan and other Republican leaders have refused to countenance any of those requests. House Judiciary Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has relentlessly pursued a partisan investigation of Clinton regardless of how many times she was exonerated of wrongdoing, says there is nothing for his committee to investigate regarding Trump. For his part, Comey has refused to acknowledge or deny that the FBI is investigating anything regarding Trump or his campaign. (Daily Beast)

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— October 2016 —

October 2, 2016: Trump Advisor May Predict Next Hacked Document Leak

Trump advisor Roger Stone posts on Twitter: "Wednesday HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks"

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Two days later, on a Tuesday, "Guccifer 2.0" releases documents falsely identified as being from the Clinton Foundation. That same day, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks promises more "significant material" about Clinton will be released by his organization. It is unclear what Stone knows or how he knows it, but it is not difficult to speculate that Stone has some prior knowledge, or inside information, of what "Guccifer 2.0" and/or WikiLeaks intend to release before they do so. (Roger Stone)

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Clinton Foundation logo

October 4, 2016: "Guccifer 2.0" Releases Documents Falsely Claimed to be from Clinton Foundation; Some Information Fabricated

The "hacker" calling himself/themselves "Guccifer 2.0" releases a huge batch of documents "he" claims were hacked from the Clinton Foundation.

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The US intelligence community, along with a large number of private security firms, believe "Guccifer 2.0" is not an actual person, but a construct created and directed by Russian intelligence. The release comes after WikiLeaks teased a release of new documents the organization promised would damage the Clinton presidential campaign; when WikiLeaks failed to release anything, "Guccifer 2.0" released documents with the following statement on "his" blog: "So, this is the moment. I hacked the Clinton Foundation server and downloaded hundreds of thousands of docs and donors' databases. Hillary Clinton and her staff don't even bother about the information security. It was just a matter of time to gain access to the Clinton Foundation server." However, reviews by technical and security experts quickly determine that the documents do not come from the Foundation. At least one media outlet, The Hill, flatly labels the document release "a hoax." Sean Gallagher of the tech media publication Ars Technica writes: "While some of the individual files contain real data, much of it came from other breaches Guccifer 2.0 has claimed credit for at the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – hacks that researchers and officials have tied to 'threat groups' connected to the Russian Government. Other data could have been aggregated from public information, while some appears to be fabricated as propaganda. It's hard to tell, because other than authorship information, some files have been scrubbed of the 'custom properties' fields that tell things like the version of Office applications that were used to create them." Some DNC payroll data and Democratic Party lease documents are in the release, but the majority comes from the previous DCCC hack conducted in June. The file timestamps show that the documents come from the DCCC and DNC hacks, "with nothing more recent than July of this year." Clinton Foundation president Donna Shalala says in a post on Twitter, "No evidence of a [Guccifer] hack at [the Clinton Foundation], no notification by law enforcement, and none of the files or folders shown are ours." Clinton Foundation officials say in a statement: "We still have no evidence Clinton Foundation systems were breached and have not been notified by law enforcement of an issue. None of the folders or files shown are from the Clinton Foundation." The Guccifer post includes a screenshot of what appears to be directory folders, including one provocatively titled "Pay to Play." The screenshot is fabricated, using source shots from DCCC and DNC files. As Gallagher writes, the documents in the folder are reports of "incidents where Republican Congressional members took large donations from companies that directly benefitted from bills they sponsored – the Republican version of 'Pay to Play'." Some of the documents are clearly opposition research on various Congressional Republicans. The Hill emphasizes, "Guccifer 2.0 claims to be a lone Romanian hacker, but the near totality of the intelligence and security communities take as fact that Guccifer 2.0 is a cover identity for Russian intelligence." Six weeks before, "Guccifer 2.0" released a spate of documents "he" claimed were hacked from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's computers. The documents were either from the DCCC hack or were fabricated entirely. (Ars Technica, The Hill, Heavy, Donna Shalala, image from Brands of the World)

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October 4, 2016: Assange Promises "Significant Material" to be Released Before Election

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, promises that his organization will release "significant material" over the next ten weeks about arms, Google, mass surveillance, oil, the United States election and war.

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His remarks come during a lengthy news conference in Berlin, where he participated by remote video link from his dwelling inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The conference is to mark the 10th anniversary of WikiLeaks. He says his organization continues to work to expose information about many governments, including that of the United States. "We hope to be publishing every week for the next 10 weeks, we have on schedule, and it's a very hard schedule, all the U.S. election-related documents to come out before Nov. 8. … Our upcoming series includes significant material on war, arms, oil, Google, the U.S. elections and myself." Many US followers of WikiLeaks are reportedly disappointed that Assange makes no promises of information releases designed to impact the Clinton presidential campaign. Some had anticipated Assange might provide some information about Clinton during the broadcast. In fact, he says he has no particular interest in targeting Clinton above anyone else. The idea that "we intend to harm Hillary Clinton, or I intend to harm Hillary Clinton, or I don't like Hillary Clinton, all those are false," he says. He adds that he feels sorry for both Clinton and her opponent Donald Trump, as "these are two people who are tormented by their ambitions." (New York Times)

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October 7, 2016: Department of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence Conclude Russian Government Hacking US Elections

In a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the two agencies declare that "[t]he U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations."

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The statement says that WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and "the Guccifer 2.0 online persona" all show the same "methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts." The statement says flatly that the "thefts and disclosures" effected by these organizations "are intended to interfere with the US election process." Moreover, "[w]e believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities." The statement also notes that Russian hackers seem to have gained access to several states' election-related computer systems, though "we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government." The statement says that "it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place." Some administration officials wanted harsher measures, perhaps the release of damaging information about Russian officials, or a cyberattack retaliation against Moscow. Secretary of State John Kerry urged a muted response, concerned that those actions might undercut US efforts to get Russia to cooperate with the US and European allies in Syria – efforts that will fail. Moreover, Obama and other officials do not want to add fuel to Trump's accusations that the election is being rigged. In the end, the administration agrees to let the statement stand on its own, and let the Clinton and Trump campaigns address the issue as they see fit. (ODNI, DHS, New Yorker)

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October 7, 2016: WikiLeaks Releases Over 2,000 Hacked Emails from Clinton Campaign Chair

WikiLeaks publishes a database of some 2,060 documents it claims were hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails. The emails span the time period from 2007 through 2016.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange calls the document dump "Part I of the Podesta emails," and says the documents released on the WikiLeaks website focus on Podesta's "communications relating to nuclear energy, and media handling over donations to the Clinton Foundation from mining and nuclear interests." Most of the emails are mundane in nature, and concern various areas of the campaign's response to controversial issues such as the Keystone Pipeline and the House Intelligence Committee's Benghazi investigation. The emails show a very cautious campaign, tending to steer towards middle-of-the-road responses and preferring to let surrogates and friendly Democratic lawmakers take the lead on opposing or supporting the more controversial subjects while continuing to determine what the best solutions are for thorny issues such as job creation and restoring infrastructure. Podesta himself says in Twitter posts, "I'm not happy about being hacked by the Russians," and goes on to say he doesn't "have time to figure out which docs are real and which are faked." He does issue one fact-check, writing about the lobbying firm The Podesta Group, "But, for starters, Assange's first claim that I co-own the Podesta Group is completely false." In a press release accompanying the emails, Assange describes Podesta as someone who "controls the Podesta Group." The firm was founded in 1988 by Podesta and his brother Tony Podesta, and John Podesta has not been involved with the firm in recent years. Assange has said that WikiLeaks will release "thousands" of documents that will ultimately derail Clinton's campaign. Security experts say that if the emails were provided to WikiLeaks by Russian agents, as was the case with the leaked DNC emails, Russian intelligence officials could have selectively edited or fabricated those emails before disseminating them. Caplin says: "We are not going to confirm the authenticity of stolen documents released by Julian Assange who has made no secret of his desire to damage Hillary Clinton. Guccifer 2.0 has already proven the warnings of top national security officials that documents can be faked as part of a sophisticated Russian misinformation campaign."

Distraction from Trump's Access Hollywood Videotape?

The release takes place hours after a 2005 videotape of Donald Trump on Access Hollywood was released showing him bragging about manhandling women, even boasting that because he is "a star," he can "grab them by the pussy" without being challenged. Politico says that the timing of the release "fuel[s] speculation that WikiLeaks is trying to tip the balance of the election." Clinton campaign spokesperson Glen Caplin says, "Earlier today the U.S. government removed any reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has weaponized WikiLeaks to meddle in our election and benefit Donald Trump's candidacy."

Clinton Foundation: No Proof of Wrongdoing in Uranium One Accusations

Right-wing conspiracy mavens, as well as the Trump campaign, have accused then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of illegally enriching herself in a 2010 deal to sell US firm Uranium One to Russian interests. The conspiracy says Clinton accepted $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation in return for facilitating the deal. In reality, the State Department was one member of a nine-agency review board called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Both the campaign and the State Department have maintained that Clinton was not directly involved in the deal. The State Department official who handled the deal, Jose Fernandez, has said that "Secretary Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter." The $145 million in Foundation donations came from nine separate donors, only some of whom were linked to Uranium One, and almost all of which were given over two years before the 2010 approval of the deal. A document released by WikiLeaks purports to show Fernandez writing to Podesta asking for his "advice and help in steering me to the right persons in the campaign" to help support Clinton. However, as Jeff Stein of Vox will write, it is not difficult to get the impression that the Clinton Foundation "accepted private donations in a way that [the Clintons] should have known would have created dangerous conflicts of interest [and] dangerously blurr[ed] the distinction between private and public." While no evidence exists that the Foundation accepted donations after giving assurances that there would be "quid pro quo" provisions for donors, the emails make it clear that some donors had those expectations.

Wall Street Speeches Revealed

Another email, sent by Clinton campaign research director Tony Carrk to Podesta and other Clinton aides on January 25, 2016, contains excerpts from a large number of Clinton's private speeches given to a variety of corporations and organizations, and draws the bulk of the media's attention. Clinton had drawn fire from conservatives, media pundits, and some Bernie Sanders supporters and surrogates for refusing to provide transcripts of those speeches, though many of them were kept private under routine corporate nondisclosure agreements. In the transcripts, Clinton often comes across as forced and uncomfortable, telling unfunny jokes and earning notations from staff that she seems "awkward." The transcripts help solidify the public impression that Clinton is quite cozy with Wall Street bankers such as Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Stein will write that the transcripts "reveal a Clinton certainly more sympathetic to these unpopular actors than she would presumably be on the campaign trail."

Media Impact

While the Podesta emails are nowhere near as sensational as the Trump video, in some ways the media impact is more damaging to the Clinton campaign, largely because WikiLeaks will continue to release selections from the hacked documents every day between now and the election, helping to keep the media focused on them and, by inference, the Clinton email scandal. Neera Tanden, a Clinton confidante, later says: "If you care about transparency, you put all the emails out at once. But they wanted to hurt her. So they put them out 1,800 to 3,000 a day." Moreover, the Trump campaign knew about the leaks beforehand, as Trump advisor Roger Stone had posted about them on Twitter four days beforehand. The campaign planned accordingly, and helped feed the media narrative that focused on Clinton and the leaked documents. (WikiLeaks, The Hill, Politico, Politico, Vox, New York Times, Slate)

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October 7, 2016: Obama Administration Acknowledges Russia's Attempts to Manipulate Election

Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper say in a joint statement: "These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."

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In conjunction with the statement, the White House says that President Obama is considering a "proportional response," a statement that many in the media take to mean the US would be launching cyberattacks against Russia. It is later learned that British intelligence officials first alerted their American counterparts to the Russian hacking and manipulation campaign. (Newsweek)

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October 7: Analyst Warns of "Forgeries" Among Recently Leaked Emails

Former Navy intelligence and terrorism specialist Malcolm Nance, issues a warning via Twitter to be skeptical of claims surrounding the recently released emails hacked from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's account.

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Nance, now an analyst with MSNBC, follows up on a similar tweet from journalist and Russian historian K.A. Semenova, writing: "Official Warning: Podesta emails are already proving to be riddled with obvious forgeries and black propaganda not even professionally done." (Malcolm Nance)

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October 10, 2016: Trump Says Hacks May Never Have Happened, Lies about Ties to Russia

During the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, the question of Democratic hacked emails and the concerns that surround them comes up.

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Hillary Clinton notes that the US intelligence community has pinned the responsibility for the hacks directly onto the Russian government, and has said WikiLeaks is part of the organized attempt "to influence our election." She says the accuracy of the information released by WikiLeaks is questionable, then adds: "We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election, and believe [me], they're not doing it to get me elected. They are doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump. Now, maybe because he praised Putin, maybe because he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow. I don't know the reasons, but we deserve answers, and should demand that Donald release all of his tax returns so that people can see what are the entanglements and the financial relationships." Trump responds by calling Clinton's answer "ridiculous." He accuses her of being "caught in a total lie" by the hacked emails about her connections to Wall Street bankers. After vilifying her some more, Trump pivots to defend Clinton's accusations about his apparent favored status by Vladimir Putin and the Russians, saying: "I don't know Putin. I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example, but I don't know Putin. But I notice, any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians, well she doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking, but there is – now Russia – and the reason they blame Russia is they think they're trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia. I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don't deal there, I have no businesses there, I have no loans from Russia." Trump is lying. He has boasted on numerous occasions about his close ties to both Russia and Putin. He has had frequent and numerous business dealings in Russia, and many of his closest campaign officials still maintain deep business and political ties with Russian magnates and politicians. In July, Slate reporter Franklin Foer wrote that Trump's "slavish devotion" to Putin is likely tied to Trump's dependence on Russian investors. (Politico, Vox, Slate)

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Trump lying to crowd

October 10, 2016: Trump Uses False Tweet Publicized by Russian Propaganda Site to Attack Clinton

Donald Trump spreads disinformation published by a Russian propaganda outlet to denigrate Hillary Clinton and a close campaign aide and family associate, Sidney Blumenthal, with the false claim that Blumenthal believed the Benghazi investigation was legitimate.

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An email hacked from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and leaked by WikiLeaks appears to show that Blumenthal, a close confidante of the Clinton family, "believed that the investigation into [the 2012 Benghazi attack] was legitimate because it was 'preventable' and the result of State Department negligence," according to Sputnik, a known Russian propaganda outlet controlled by the Kremlin. The outlet calls the supposed Blumenthal email "the big October surprise" from the Podesta email dump. The claim is false, and the email as it appears in the Sputnik story and in other social media outlets does not exist as published; it was fabricated by unknown parties in order to besmirch Clinton. Within hours, Trump tells an audience at a rally in Pennsylvania that the email is real – written, he says, by "sleazy Sidney Blumenthal" – and Clinton is responsible for the attack on a US consulate in Benghazi that took four American lives. Eichenwald writes, "But now that I have been brought into the whole mess – and transformed into Blumenthal – there is even more proof that the Russians are not only orchestrating this act of cyberwar but also really, really dumb." According to Eichenwald, Sputnik took words he wrote in a Newsweek article from 2012 and twisted them into the words supposedly written by Blumenthal in the spurious email. Blumenthal had emailed the article, noting repeatedly throughout the email that it was from Newsweek and not his work. Eichenwald's words are twisted into a spurious admission by Blumenthal that the Benghazi investigation was legitimate, when Eichenwald had in reality written something very different. "[T]he Russians had faked it all, taking a real document released by WikiLeaks and altering it to create a bogus story – one that ultimately was picked up by Trump himself." Eichenwald notes that Sputnik has long been known "as a central participant in a Russian disinformation campaign designed to use hacking and other techniques to interfere with the American election while strengthening Moscow's global influence." Sputnik will soon delete the article from its site. The author of the Sputnik article, William Moran, tells Newsweek he based his article not on a directive from the Russian government, but on an anonymous tweet he saw on the Internet that used a forged image of the email. He wrote the article without further checking because he was "rushed," Eichenwald writes. However, a government official contacted by Eichenwald says that Sputnik publishes nothing without prior Kremlin approval. Both Trump and Clinton have been briefed on the Russian disinformation campaign, though, the official says, it is not clear that they were told about Sputnik specifically. Eichenwald acknowledges that the fabricated story could have originated with the tweet and not with Sputnik itself, but the outcome is the same – Trump relied on false information to launch an unwarranted and damaging attack on his political opponent. Eichenwald writes: "This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the same manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign fed him false allegations at the same time they were being advanced in a Russian disinformation campaign?" The factchecking site Snopes notes that the tweet in question had circulated among Trump supporters for several hours before Sputnik published its story, making it quite possible that Trump based his false claim on the tweet itself and not the Russian propaganda piece. It is unclear whether the Trump campaign is knowingly using information from a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the Trump candidacy. (Newsweek, Newsweek, Snopes, CNN screenshot from Newsweek)

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Malcolm Nance

October 10, 2016: Intelligence Expert Envisions, Details Russian Campaign to Elect Trump

Former Naval intelligence officer and terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, now an analyst for MSNBC, publishes a book titled The Plot to Hack America, his prescient analysis of what he believes to be an overarching "hybrid warfare" campaign to sabotage the US presidential election and manipulate the electorate with the goal of placing Donald Trump in the White House.

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Part of the book details his view of the hypothetical campaign, which he nicknames "LUCKY-7." "To conduct an operation at this level would require a level of organization far greater than any that had been done before anywhere in the world," he writes. "A political and cyber mission of this magnitude would require every component of the Russian cyber and intelligence arsenal. The mission would seem daunting at first, until one recognized that it would simply resemble a Kompromat-style political warfare operation, but with far greater delicacy." Nance has written elsewhere in the book about how easy he believes it would be for Putin, through his agents, to manipulate Trump via his narcissism and need for validation from globally recognized authority figures such as Putin. "This was a man who enjoyed being a showman on the wrestling entertainment circuit, who had a wildly popular show in which he behaved exactly like a Russian oligarch. To the FSB spies it must have been especially enticing to use their skills for the spy-in-chief to bring this man into a position of favor; a man like this in the White House could be very helpful indeed." First, the campaign would work to heighten Trump's profile in the American media; not a difficult job, as Trump has spent decades making himself into a celebrity. The campaign would also need to obtain opposition research against Clinton – again, not a difficult job, since Clinton has been the target of vilification and character assassination from the GOP for nearly a quarter-century.

Damaging Clinton

The lesser goal is to damage Clinton (and Obama), a goal that will pay benefits even if the loftier goal of getting Trump elected is not met. "[T]here is no greater threat to Putin's policies than Hillary Clinton," Nance writes. "The objectives of LUCKY-7 would be to focus all efforts of the Russian cyberwarfare information operations directorates to damage her election by stealing as much internal information as possible and smacking her with a full-scale Kompromat operation. If the materials existed, they would be judiciously released. If not, then the forgery masters of the FSB would be able to produce whatever dirt would be necessary."

Weakening NATO

Another objective is to weaken NATO and work towards its "realignment." Putin has blamed NATO for "forcing" him to use military force in Georgia and Ukraine. He dearly wants NATO to relinquish its influence on Eastern European nations and allow Russia to reclaim something of its old hegemony over those nations. Trump played right into this objective. He opposes NATO merely because Obama and Clinton support it, Nance writes, and has said repeatedly that as president, he would not necessarily honor the US's treaty obligations to defend NATO allies from Russian military incursions. Nance writes, "The statements rang alarms all across Europe and instantly damaged the credibility of the US nominee worldwide … except in Russia."

Increasing Russian Control in Eastern Europe

It is of paramount importance for Putin to reclaim some of the old Soviet-era influence over Eastern European nations, particularly former client states such as Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and others. Like Hitler, Putin is appealing to "native" Russian citizens of those countries to agitate for their nations to allow Russia to exert more control over their governments and societies. Clinton has warned that Putin is someone "who believes his mission is to restore Russia's greatness. … When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia." In contrast, Trump has publicly applauded Putin's expansionism. A particular objective is to keep the US out of Ukraine and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Clinton apparently infuriated Putin when in 2015 she advocated for more US military aid to Ukraine, in part to resist Putin's incursion into Ukrainian territory. Nance writes: "Such pronouncements would give Putin every impetus to find alternatives to her worldview. And surprisingly, seemingly out of nowhere, Putin managed to find and ally himself with the one man in the United States who believed precisely as himself: Donald J. Trump. Trump himself believed that NATO was obsolete and should be disbanded, that Crimea should be given to Russia, and that America should adopt an isolationist foreign policy. In the interim, NATO member states that didn't pay their full share of the alliance financial commitments would be ignored if they had a military crisis. Who would have ever thought that Russia could be so lucky to find that a major party nominee in America would align himself so closely with the new Russian worldview? Who could have dreamed that a potential American president would imply that the United States would corrupt NATO's mission to a protection racket that essentially extorts its members? Forty percent of the American electorate indirectly approved this high-stakes international racketeering." Moreover, Trump's isolationism and pro-Russian advocacy is a total reversal of decades of Republican positioning. While centrist Democrats such as Clinton advocate a somewhat hawkish position towards Russia, the true hawks have always been found in the ranks of the GOP. Now, suddenly, Trump's foreign policy towards Russia has gone where all but the most leftist of Democrats have gone (and few, if any, of those Democrats have ever advocated for the US to step away from its NATO commitments). Nance firmly believes that under a Trump presidency, if Putin invades the Baltics, Trump will not only fail to respond, but argue in Russia's favor.

Information Warfare

For LUCKY-7 to succeed, Russia will have to employ all of its state intelligence agencies and its propaganda organs. This would be managed through an information warfare management cell (IWMC), which would advise the Kremlin on how best to maintain and support such a complex campaign. Nance writes that based on what is known of previous Russian intelligence operations, this campaign would be managed by Putin himself and a small cadre of his top aides, almost certainly all former KGB associates. Security, cyberwarfare, and propaganda teams would operate more or less in concert.

Phases of the Campaign

While disrupting and undermining the integrity of the US election process is a worthy goal in Putin's eyes, the LUCKY-7 campaign will be a failure if Trump is not elected. Russia will not achieve the heightened influence in Eastern Europe Putin so strongly desires, NATO will not be weakened, Clinton will not be demeaned. "The right man was running for president, he was managed by a close ally, and his foreign policy/intelligence chief was literally on the Kremlin payroll of Russia Today" Nance writes. He envisions seven separate phases:
"PHASE 1: Make Contact, Befriend, and Encourage the Asset
"PHASE 2: Make Asset Feel Indebted to Russia
"PHASE 3: Conduct Covert Cyber-Intelligence Preparation of the Battle Space
"PHASE 4: Prepare the Political Battle Space
"PHASE 5: Develop and Sustain Supporting Political/Propaganda
"PHASE 6: Fund and Manipulate a Cutout Asset to Disperse Kompromat Information.
"PHASE 7: Execute Kompromat Operations"
Phases 1-4 are already completed. Phase 5, Nance writes, is quite easily achieved, considering that Trump has already paved the way. Phase 6 requires finding and bringing into the fold an "independent" agency to disseminate Russian-created or Russian-obtained propaganda. Having the various hacking groups steal information from Democratic computer networks is well and good, but it must be disseminated without direct connection to Russia. Releasing it through known Russian propaganda organs such as RT or Sputnik would be counterproductive. The campaign chiefs decided to "piggyback" off the exploits of the Romanian hacker known as "Guccifer" and create a fictional persona, "Guccifer 2.0," who would be presented as another lone crusading hacker with nothing more than social justice as his driving force. The "Guccifer 2.0" persona began working via the "independent" "watchdog" organization WikiLeaks (which Nance calls "Russia's Intelligence Laundromat"), and the stage was set for Russia to begin the final phases of its campaign. Nance is as yet unaware of a systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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October 12, 2016: Russians Hack Florida, Illinois Voting Computer Systems; Arizona Also Possibly Breached

Russian hackers breached the Florida election system, federal investigators say.

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The computer system used by a contractor for the Florida election system was hacked and personal data of millions of Florida voters was obtained. Illinois officials say their election systems have also been breached. The FBI is preparing to offer assistance to state election officials to help them spot and counter suspicious activity on their systems. The Illinois breach impacted fewer than 90,000 voters, officials say, and Arizona officials insist that reports that their systems were hacked are incorrect, though federal officials continue to investigate. The Florida State Department says that their systems are now secure. FBI investigators believe the the hacks and attempted intrusions of state election sites were carried out by hackers working for Russian intelligence. So far, officials say, the hacks have not accessed the portions of the US election system that counts votes. In 2017, officials will confirm that Arizona indeed suffered a breach. (CNN, NBC News)

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October 15, 2016: FISA Court Issues Warrant to Allow Law Enforcement to Probe Trump-Russia Allegations

The US secret intelligence court known as the FISA Court issues a warrant to investigate two Russian banks, apparently based on information contained in a secret dossier compiled by former MI6 intelligence agent Christopher Steele containing compromising information about Donald Trump from Russian sources.

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That warrant was not made public, and was revealed in January 2017 by BBC reporter Paul Wood, who will say the information "was given to me by several sources and corroborated by someone I will identify only as a senior member of the US intelligence community." After the April 2016 creation of a joint task force to investigate the allegations, lawyers from the Justice Department applied to the FISA Court to intercept the electronic records of the two Russian banks. The application was rejected. So was a second application filed in July. The Justice Department files a third application before a different judge, and is granted the authority to begin eavesdropping on the banks. Neither Trump nor his associates are named in the FISA warrant, which can under law only apply to foreign entities or foreign citizens. The investigation is, of course, searching for suspicious money transfers from the banks to the Trump campaign, which would constitute felony offenses. Former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey will say that FISA warrants such as this one are only issued if investigators can establish "probable cause" that the target of the investigation is either a foreign power or its agent, and that the surveillance will likely produce foreign intelligence. Since the dossier currently in the hands of the FBI alleging collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign could not meet that test, then "that is an indication that additional evidence exists outside of the dossier." (Guardian, BBC, McClatchy)

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Mid-October 2016: Kremlin Experiences "Buyer's Remorse" over Trump

The fears experienced by Russia's top officials over Trump's unpredictable and unstable nature deepen, to the point where some of them worry that if Trump wins, they will not be able to rely on him or even anticipate his actions. (Newsweek)


October 19, 2016: Rubio Criticizes WikiLeaks, Says GOP Could Be Next

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who lost in the presidential primary election to Donald Trump, says that his fellow Republicans need to back away from their newfound admiration for WikiLeaks. In a statement, he says: "These leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process and I will not indulge it. Further, I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us."

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Rubio says he will not discuss any issues that have come to prominence via Democratic information revealed by WikiLeaks. "I will not discuss any issue that has become public solely on the basis of WikiLeaks," he says. Rubio is one of the few Republicans taking such a stance. Trump himself regularly attacks his opponent, Hillary Clinton, using findings sourced from WikiLeaks, as do many Republican spokespersons and right-wing media outlets such as Fox News. Mainstream news media outlets have also featured material sourced from WikiLeaks on a regular and frequent basis. (Huffington Post)

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October 20, 2016: Experts Learn How Russian Hackers Breached Podesta's Emails

Security experts from the private cybersecurity firm SecureWorks determine that a group of Russian hackers known as FANCY BEAR is responsible for hacking Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's emails.

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The experts also present convincing evidence that the Podesta hack was performed by the same group of hackers responsible for material appearing on an obscure website called DCLeaks. All of the hacks were done using malicious short URLs hidden in fake Gmail messages. The URLs were created with a URL shortening tool called "Bitly," named for the company of the same name. After the story's publication by Vice, Bitly contacts the publishers to note that it can only do so much to prevent misuse of its service, as Bitly "cannot proactively police our customers' private data without compromising our commitment to their privacy." Podesta clicked a link in a fake Gmail email that contained a shortened Bitly link directing the user to what appeared to be a valid Google link. FANCY BEAR targeted nearly 4,000 individuals between October 2015 and May 2016, according to SecureWorks. SecureWorks found 213 short links FANCY BEAR used to target 108 email addresses on the hillaryclinton.com domain. FANCY BEAR made a serious error in not fully enabling the privacy settings on its Bitly account, says computer expert and Kings College professor Thomas Rid. SecureWorks used its discovery to determine how FANCY BEAR hacked former Secretary of State Colin Powell's emails, as well as how the group gained access to Clinton staffer William Rinehart's Gmail account. Before the Clinton and Podesta hacks, FANCY BEAR breached the emails of Bellingcat, a website that investigated the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17; the journalists on that site determined that Russian-backed rebels brought the airliner down. Vice journalist Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai writes, "None of this new data constitutes a smoking gun that can clearly frame Russia as the culprit behind the almost unprecedented hacking campaign that has hit the DNC and several other targets somewhat connected to the US presidential election," though the US government has directly accused Russia of directing the cyberattacks. Franceschi-Bicchierai writes that the US "intelligence community declined to explain how they reached their conclusion, and it's fair to assume they have data no one else can see." Rid says that the conclusion is quite clear. Some, including Donald Trump, still insist that the Russians had no role in hacking the DNC or Podesta, but Rid says: "We are approaching the point in this case where there are only two reasons for why people say there's no good evidence. The first reason is because they don't understand the evidence – because they don't have the necessary technical knowledge. The second reason is they don't want to understand the evidence." The Clinton campaign's top foreign policy advisor, Jake Sullivan, says that Donald Trump is now the "puppet" of Vladimir Putin, and says it is clear that the Kremlin "is trying to help Donald Trump. … It's time for Trump to tell the American people what he knew about these hacks and when he knew it." (Vice, Esquire, Politico)

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October 23, 2016: Experts Not Sure if Hacked Documents Genuine

Experts have conflicting opinions on the likelihood that some of the documents released by WikiLeaks to damage the Clinton presidential campaign have been altered or fabricated.

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The campaign itself is adamant that the documents should be discussed in light of the likelihood that they have been altered, perhaps by the Russian government agents who intruded into the DNC and DCCC servers as well as the private email account of campaign chair John Podesta, perhaps by the Russian persona calling "himself" "Guccifer 2.0," perhaps by WikiLeaks staffers with an anti-Clinton agenda. Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke for the campaign recently when he told a reporter: "[T]hese are connected to a Russian government propaganda effort to destabilize the election … The one [email] that has referred to me was flat-out completely incorrect. So I don't know whether it was doctored or whether the person sending it didn't know what they were talking about. Clearly, I think there's a capacity for much of the information in them to be wrong." Cybersecurity experts say it is impossible to verify the legitimacy of some of the emails. Jeffrey Carr, president of the cybersecurity firm Taia Global, says: "I've looked at a lot of document dumps provided by hacker groups over the years, and in almost every case you can find a few altered or entirely falsified documents. But only a few. The vast majority were genuine. I believe that's the case with the Podesta emails, as well." Jamie Winterton, a director of the Global Security Initiative, is more direct: "I would be shocked if the emails weren't altered," he says, citing Russia's well-known practice of disseminating disinformation. Many of the documents from the July 22 DNC data dump showed evidence that documents had been hacked. The documents released by "Guccifer 2.0" purporting to be from the Clinton Foundation were not from that organization, and some of the information contained within those documents was obviously fabricated. Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey of the Brookings Institution says that those interested in disinformation find it most effective to alter a small number of documents embedded within thousands of genuine documents. She advises: "It is possible the WikiLeaks dump of Podesta's emails includes forged or altered documents. With any large leak, it is wise to proceed with caution and skepticism and verify the authenticity of documents before reporting." (PolitiFact)

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Dmitri Alperovitch

October 24, 2016: CrowdStrike Head Expands on Russian Hacks

Vicky Ward of Esquire writes a profile of Dmitri Alperovitch, the Russian expat who is the cofounder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.

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The firm first came to public notice in June 2016, when in coordination with the Democratic National Committee, it publicly revealed that Russian hackers had breached the DNC computer network. Since its inception in 2011, Ward writes, Alperovitch and CrowdStrike "have played a critical role in the development of America's cyberdefense policy."

The Best Defense is a Well-Informed Offense

Alperovitch is a strong proponent of taking an offensive role against cyberattackers. It isn't enough to merely set up a strong defense, he tells Ward. "Otherwise the adversary will scale up and it becomes a game of numbers, which they will win." Ward writes that in his view, "attribution is crucial: First you need to identify the perpetrator, then you need to discover what motivates the crime, and finally – most important – you need to figure out how to fight back." He learned this in 2011 while working as the chief threat officer for the antivirus firm McAfee, which had recently become a subsidiary of Intel. He discovered that the Chinese government had been hacking private firms and organizations; further investigation showed that the hacks had been going on for five years, and that the hacks had targeted, among others, at least 71 companies and organizations, including 13 defense contractors, three electronics firms, and the International Olympic Committee. Most in the American cybersecurity field were shocked to learn of the intrusion. The Chinese intrusions and subsequent theft of sensitive information amounted to economic sabotage, according to former Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin. But Alperovitch was told by an Intel executive not to publicly identify China as the culprit because, the executive told him, "Intel has a lot of business in China." Alperovitch complied, and shortly thereafter left McAfee. He and a colleague, George Kurtz, founded CrowdStrike. The firm, Alperovitch says, had an ethic that at the time was almost unheard of in the cybersecurity field. "We saw that no one's really focused on the adversary," he says. "No one's focusing exclusively on how can we actually identify them, attribute them, deter them from taking this action again." Alperovitch created a slogan that encapsulated CrowdStrike's philosophy: "You don't have a malware problem, you have an adversary problem."

"Guccifer 2.0" and Subsequent Leaks Prove Russia Trying to Manipulate Elections

The day after the Post article appeared, a "lone hacker" calling "himself" "Guccifer 2.0" appeared on the scene to claim sole responsibility and insult CrowdStrike. Alperovitch and Henry pored over their findings, and stood by their initial attributions. Alperovitch says that having someone call his company out like that was "very shocking. It was clearly an attack on us as well as on the DNC." Alperovitch initially thought the hacks were the usual espionage, and, as Ward writes, "Guccifer's attacks on CrowdStrike were just a noisy reaction to being busted." Alperovitch says, "I thought, Okay, they got really upset that they were caught." But after the DNC documents continued to come out via WikiLeaks, Alperovitch decided that the Russians were attempting to manipulate and influence American voters. "It hit me that, holy crap, this is an influence operation. They're actually trying to inject themselves into the election," he says. "I believe that we may very well wake up on the morning the day after the election and find statements from Russian adversaries saying, 'Do not trust the result.'" The massive July 22 document dump, consisting of DNC emails that were far more organized and searchable, caused an uproar among the American media and voters alike. By that time "Guccifer 2.0" had also released documents hacked from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), an intrusion Alperovitch and CrowdStrike determined was conducted by FANCY BEAR alone. The DCCC gave Alperovitch permission to publicly identify Russia as the suspected intruder even before DCCC documents began appearing on "Guccifer 2.0"'s website.

US Government Still Reluctant to Identify Nations as Cyberattackers

During his time in his father's security business and later as a security tech for private firms, Alperovitch learned two things. One, he says, is that "[i]f someone stole your keys to encrypt the data, it didn't matter how secure the algorithms were," and two, since defenses were always being breached by spammers and hackers creating new ways to intrude into systems, the best way to defend a computer system is through psychology, not just technology. He began working with the FBI in 2005, where he helped bring down a massive Russian credit-card theft ring. In 2010, he vetted a speech by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had broken with precedent and decided to publicly call out governments like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea who were engaging in cyberattacks against Western and other nations. "In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all," she pronounced. But Alperovitch wasn't convinced the federal government was ready to start publicly naming countries as cyber vandals. When North Korea hacked Sony's network in 2014, CrowdStrike identified the country's hackers within two hours, but it took the FBI three weeks to honor Sony's request to go public with North Korea's identification as the culprit. The Sony hack had a major impact on many government officials, Carlin says, with the focus shifting from what companies and organizations victimized by the hacks did wrong to determining who performed the hacks and what the federal government would do about it. In April 2015, when President Obama signed an executive order threatening China with sanctions for cyber attacks on the US, a White House official told Alperovitch: "You should be happy. You're the one who's been pushing for this." The threat, and the subsequent negotiations with China, have dramatically slowed the number of Chinese incursions into American networks. But senior government officials still balked at publicly identifying specific nations as being responsible for cyber attacks. In early October 2016, after Russia pulled out of an arms-reduction agreement and the US pulled out of talks with Russia over a proposed ceasefire in Syria, the White House told Alperovitch that it had decided to publicly name Russia as the DNC and DCCC hackers. Alperovitch was not completely mollified. He says of the statement: "It's nice that you have the DHS and DNI jointly putting the statement out on a Friday night, but the president coming out and saying, 'Mr. Putin, we know you're doing this, we find it unacceptable, and you have to stop' would be beneficial." (Esquire, photo of Dmitri Alperovitch from same source)

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October 23, 2016: Kremlin Official Predicts Warmer Relations with US After Election, Also Says that "Cold War" between US and Russia is "Fact of Life"

In an interestingly prescient interview, Russian government official Sergei Ivanov, a senior member of Vladimir Putin's security council and a longtime Putin confidante, says he believes that with a new president, the US will move towards a new and friendlier relationship with Russia. Ivanov knows quite well that Hillary Clinton has long viewed Russia as an implacable foe of US interests, so it seems that Ivanov is anticipating a Trump victory in November.

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In an interview with the Financial Times, Ivanov, who was Putin's chief of staff until August, says: "We are always ready for Realpolitik. … We are prepared for that. We just have to wait until the end of the election campaign. We have to wait a couple more weeks, we just have to be patient." Ivanov says that the Kremlin has been "insulted" by anti-Russian rhetoric during the US presidential campaign, but foresees that stance softening after a new president is elected. Obama administration officials point to Russian opposition to US initiatives in Syria and Ukraine as roadblocks to any thawing of relations between the two nations, along with documented Russian interference in the election, and an actual stand-off between US and Russian forces in Syria. Ivanov denies any involvement by the Russian government in hacking or manipulating the election, and says that claims that the Kremlin wants Trump in the Oval Office are "absolutely not true." Ivanov also dismisses implied threats from the Kremlin about escalated military tensions as mere noise. "Especially when we talk about nuclear weapons and speak about the hypothetical possibility of World War Three, I believe that everyone is smart enough not to take things to a hot war. “But if we talk about cold war, information war and propaganda war, that is a fact of life. We see that every day." Russian expert Catherine Fitzpatrick writes in her blog Minding Russia calls Ivanov's information little more than "spin," and says the selection of Ivanov, viewed by some Westerners as a less hawkish member of Putin's inner circle who was recently demoted, is to emphasize three points: the election rhetoric will abate after November and the two nations can get down to business; Russia never meddled in the election; Russia has no favorites in the election. All three points are demonstrably lies, Fitzgerald observes. All of these claims, she writes, "are designed to snow pundits and publics alike, and instead of nodding at them like a bunch of bobble-heads, people should be debunking these claims – simply by recalling yesterday's newspaper, and the papers in the day before that. She notes that RBC, a Russian news outlet that is often critical of the Kremlin, says the focus of the interview is not the prediction of normalizing relations with the US, but Ivanov's statement that the Cold War between the two nations is "a fact of life." "… Ivanov's interview isn't any signalling of any thaw, but merely subterfuge, and what matters is a flat admission that there is now a Cold War," Fitzgerald writes. She concludes that after the interview, Russia remains an intractable foe of the US, but it expects Trump, if elected, to cooperate with Russian initiatives to "normalize" relations between the two nations, which will benefit Russia but not the US or its allies. (Financial Times, Daily Beast, Minding Russia)

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October 27, 2016: Putin Mocks Allegations of Russian Interference

Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin addresses the Valdai Discussion Club, a three-day event featuring speakers from around the globe. During his speech, he mocks and dismisses allegations that his government is trying to destabilize the US elections, or affect its outcome.

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Putin says in part: "Another mythical and imaginary problem is what I can only call the hysteria the USA has whipped up over supposed Russian meddling in the American presidential election. The United States has plenty of genuinely urgent problems, it would seem, from the colossal public debt to the increase in firearms violence and cases of arbitrary action by the police. You would think that the election debates would concentrate on these and other unresolved problems, but the elite has nothing with which to reassure society, it seems, and therefore attempt to distract public attention by pointing instead to supposed Russian hackers, spies, agents of influence and so forth. … I have to ask myself and ask you too: Does anyone seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people's choice? America is not some kind of 'banana republic', after all, but is a great power." (Valdai Discussion Club)

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October 27, 2016: Kislyak Falsely Claims Never Meeting with Trump, Campaign Officials During Campaign

In an address to the Detroit Economic Club at Lawrence Technological University, Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, denies meeting with Donald Trump or any campaign officials during the course of the presidential campaign.

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He admits to meeting with members of Congress and, in CNN's words, "others who approached him at events." Asked if he had met with representatives of either campaign during the election, Kislyak responds: "What do you call campaign? I was invited for example to both conventions. I was, uh the first, that was the Republican convention, but then unexpectedly while being there, I was called back to Moscow for reason that has nothing to do with the elections. So I wasn't there, but we had invitations to both." Asked specifically about Trump or his campaign officials, Kislyak says: "No, but we met those people who came to see all the ambassadors who were sitting in a special lounge there specifically reserved for the diplomatic corp. and I was among those who were there talking to members of the Congress, to all the peoples who cared to come to us and talk to us." US intelligence officials believe Kislyak is a top Russian spy recruiter, a charge Kislyak denies. Kislyak is lying. He spoke with senior campaign advisor Jared Kushner at least twice between April and November 2016. Kislyak attended an April foreign policy speech by Trump, and met with both Trump and senior campaign advisor Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at the event. In July, Sessions and two other campaign officials, Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, met with Kislyak during the Republican National Convention. In September, Page and Gordon met again with Kislyak at a Republican-led conference. (Page is under investigation for his contacts with Russian officials.) Two days after that meeting, Sessions met privately with Kislyak; Sessions will claim that he discussed nothing about the campaign during the meeting. (Detroit Economic Club, CNN)

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October 30, 2016: WikiLeaks Promises More Clinton Leaks Before Election

WikiLeaks announces what it calls "Phase 3" of its US presidential election coverage in a Twitter post. The post declares, "We commence phase 3 of our US election coverage next week," and asks for donations.

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The single tweet gives no details of what, if anything, is to be released. WikiLeaks supporters, which The Hill writes "now including a number of supporters of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders," respond with tweets of their own asking WikiLeaks to release material that can damage the Clinton campaign. The Hill notes, "A new archive of Clinton-related documents would further irk a campaign still reeling from FBI Director James Comey's announcement on Friday that new emails related to the Clinton server probe had been discovered." (The Hill, WikiLeaks)

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October 31, 2016: Reid Sends Letter to Comey Excoriating Him for Not Releasing Trump Information

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid writes to FBI Director James Comey, accusing him of withholding "explosive information" about Donald Trump.

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Reid and the so-called "Gang of Eight" – the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress, had recently been briefed by the FBI on the investigation into the Russia-Trump connections being conducted by a joint law enforcement and intelligence task force. Congressional staffers were not allowed to attend, and the members present were not allowed to take note. Reid writes: "In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and co-ordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Mr Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information." Reid accuses Comey and the FBI of engaging in a "double standard" by making groundless allegations about Hillary Clinton and her email server, while refusing to release much more solid information about Trump. "The double standard established by your actions is clear," he writes. "By contrast, as soon as you came into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicise it in the most negative light possible." Reid accuses Comey of displaying "a clear intent to aid one political party over another." Referring to the Hatch Act, which bars most government officials from using their position to influence an election, Reid writes, "Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law." Reid is referring to information contained in a secret dossier in the possession of the task force as well as some government officials … including himself … and numerous media outlets. (BBC, News Corp Australia, Mother Jones, News Corp Australia)

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The New York Times misleads its readers about the FBI's "failure" to find links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

October 31, 2016: Reporter Details Dossier on Trump in Hands of FBI

David Corn of Mother Jones responds to media reports of Senator Harry Reid's letter blasting FBI Director James Comey for not releasing "explosive information" about Donald Trump.

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Like Reid, Corn notes that Comey had no problem making a media splash with his announcement that the FBI had found emails that "might be pertinent" to its investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server, but has been obstinately silent about the much more serious evidence of Trump's apparent collusion with Russia. Corn asks, wisely enough, what evidence is Comey not talking about? He notes the US intelligence probe into Trump advisor Carter Page and the FBI's investigation into another advisor, former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort. Corn reports that "a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence" has told him that he has given information to the FBI concerning the Russian government's years-long attempt to co-opt and use Trump, and that the FBI has asked for more information. "This is something of huge significance, way above party politics," the source told Corn. "I think [Trump's] own party should be aware of this stuff as well." A senior US government official has told Corn that his source is highly credible, with a long working relationship with the US government. Corn goes into detail about his source, who is later confirmed to be Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial and as yet unverified dossier containing information about Trump's financial ties to Russia as well as allegations of sexual escapades he participated in while in Moscow. The source noted that he began his research for a Republican client who opposed Trump's candidacy, and then continued the work for a Democratic client. "It started off as a fairly general inquiry," he told Corn, but he found alarming information about Trump indicating connections to the Russian government. "[T]there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit," the source said. In July the source informed a contact in the FBI about his findings; that contact informed FBI senior executives of the information. Corn notes that Mother Jones and other media outlets have reviewed at least some of the material in the dossier, and quotes from one of the documents contained therein: "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance. … [Trump] and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals." The documents claim Russian intelligence has "compromised" Trump with info compiled during his visits to Moscow and could "blackmail him." The documents also say Russian intelligence has compiled information on Hillary Clinton, based on "bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls." The FBI's reaction to the dossier was "shock and horror," the source recalls. In August, the agency asked him for all the information he possessed, and to explain who he received it from. "It's quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on," he told Corn. Corn is apparently unaware of the joint task force that is investigating Russian banks and their apparent ties to Trump, as he writes that "there have been few public signs of whether that probe extends to examining possible contacts between the Russian government and Trump." (Mother Jones, BBC)

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— November 2016 —

November 1-3, 2016: Trump Advisor Tries to Split Sanders, Clinton Voters

In the days before the election, former Trump advisor Roger Stone takes to Twitter to try to divide supporters of Bernie Sanders away from supporting Hillary Clinton in the upcoming presidential election.

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On November 1, he posts: "Berners, how can you vote for Hillary? Bernie and Trump sound alike when talking about ending war. Hillary wants perpetual war." Two days later, he posts: "Worth a couple of minutes to see what kind of person Bernie was forced to support. No one is forcing you! Vote Trump!" Using the hashtags "FeelTheBern" and "Bernie," Stone posts a link to a Twitter post vilifying Clinton. During the Democratic primaries, Stone posted repeatedly in support of Sanders over Clinton. But in 2015, he crudely insulted Sanders, calling him a "Socialist douchebag" and saying that Sanders makes Clinton "look like Barry Goldwater." In 2014, he posted: "Soviet Agent Bernie Saunders, Should be arrested for treason and shot." In March 2017, the author of the Daily Kos post discussing Stone's Twitter efforts reminds readers that Stone's work resembles the classic "ratfucking" techniques popularized by the Nixon campaign in 1968 and 1972. Stone was a campaign operative for the Nixon campaign. (Roger Stone, Roger Stone, Roger Stone, Roger Stone, Daily Kos)

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November 3, 2016: Russian Propaganda Outlet Publishes Assange Denial that Leaked Emails Came from Russia

In an interview published by Russian propaganda outlet RT, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denies that the emails illegally obtained from the US Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign were given to WikiLeaks by anyone in the Russian government.

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Assange spoke via telephone with Australian journalist John Pilger at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been for four years to avoid extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault. He tells Pilger: "The Clinton camp has been able to project a neo-McCarthyist hysteria that Russia is responsible for everything. Hillary Clinton has stated multiple times, falsely, that 17 US intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That's false – we can say that the Russian government is not the source." Assange attacks Clinton's character during the interview, saying: "Hillary Clinton is just one person. I actually feel quite sorry for Hillary Clinton as a person, because I see someone who is eaten alive by their ambitions, tormented literally to the point where they become sick – for example faint – as a result of going on, and going with their ambitions. But she represents a whole network of people, and a whole network of relationships with particular states." Assange is referencing false accusations leveled by the Trump campaign and others that Clinton suffers from one or another debilitating disease that render her unfit to serve as president. RT claims that over the last nine months, WikiLeaks has disseminated over 30,000 emails from Clinton's private email server that she used while Secretary of State. The implication that the emails were hacked directly from the server is false, though many of the emails originated from that server. Some 20,000 more emails were leaked after being hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee, with many of the ones chosen for dissemination selected to give the impression that the DNC worked to undermine the primary campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. WikiLeaks also leaked some 50,000 emails from the private accounts of John Podesta, a close associate of the Clinton family. All of the emails were illegally obtained. The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have issued a joint statement verifying their belief that the emails were obtained by Russian hackers under the direction of the Russian government. Like Assange, Russian officials have denied the claim. (Russia Today)

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November 3, 2016: Clinton's Energy Policies At Odds with Putin's Aims

Newsweek journalist Leah McGrath Goodman examines why Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin fears a Clinton presidency. She goes back to 2013, when Clinton gave a private speech to an audience of Goldman Sachs executives in South Carolina, where she spoke of her ambitious plans to craft what she called an American "energy revolution."

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She said: "The energy revolution in the United States is just a gift. We can have a North American energy system that will be unbelievably powerful. If we have enough of it, we can be exporting and supporting a lot of our friends and allies." Clinton was referring to providing American oil and gas to allies who currently rely on Russian imports. The speeches, released by WikiLeaks a month ago, suggest that Clinton may intend to use America's energy reserves as leverage to force Russia to comply with US requirements. She told a Deutsche Bank audience in 2013: "I've promoted fracking in other places around the world, because when you look at the stranglehold that energy has on so many countries and the decisions they make, it would be in America's interest to make even more countries more energy self-sufficient. So I think we have to go at this in a smart, environmentally conscious way, pursuing a clean-energy alternative agenda while we also promote the advantages that are going to come to us." By 2014, she was telling audiences: "We are now energy independent, something we have hoped for and worked for over many, many years. That gives us tools we didn't have before. And it also gives us the opportunity not only to invest those resources in more manufacturing and other activities that benefit us directly here at home, but to be a bulwark with our supplies against the kind of intimidation we see going on from Russia." This is, of course, in direct opposition to Russian goals. Few in the governmental or private sectors believe that a Clinton presidency will be any friendlier towards Russia than the Obama administration has been. A Paris bank predicted in a statement: "The relationship between the US and Russia may not improve if Clinton is elected. In fact, it may deteriorate further." Russia wants the US sanctions currently in place to be lifted, something that Clinton is highly unlikely to do as president without serious concessions from Russia. For its part, Russia has tried to impact the election and the conversation surrounding it in a number of ways, sponsoring illegal hacks of Clinton campaign emails and dumping them via WikiLeaks, and making a great show of reopening Cold War-era bomb shelters, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, and distributing war rations to a bemused Russian populace in case of a sudden US attack. In January 2016, the US began exporting crude oil for the first time in 40 years, and in March it began exporting natural gas at a rate not seen since the Eisenhower administration. Clinton noted that the increase in exports is the equivalent of a Molotov cocktail directed "right at the source of Russia's wealth," as Goodman writes. Russia depends on oil and gas revenues for more than half of its federal budget. Low energy prices in recent years have mired Russia in a years-long recession, putting pressure on Putin and the Russian government. Much of its oil revenue comes from European Union nations friendly with the US. Clinton told another Deutsche Bank audience in 2014, "I want to export gas, especially to our friends in order to undercut, in Europe's case, the pressure from Russia." That same year, she noted that Russia's state-owned company Gazprom had taken over strategic energy infrastructure throughout Europe, a move she called "pure power politics." She said then: "That's why, as secretary of state, starting in March 2009, I pushed the Europeans to get serious about finding alternative energy sources and to invest in real resources in their infrastructure, so they wouldn't be at Putin's mercy." Her infamous 2009 attempt to "reset" Russian-US relations foundered in part because of the energy issue, but in part because of what she called a critical abuse of power by Putin. "I cannot say I saw this coming, but what I saw was that in 2006 in January, he cut off gas to Eastern Europe. I think like a dozen people froze to death in Poland," she said in 2014. "He did it again in 2009, primarily focused on Ukraine. He has used his energy as a weapon to intimidate Europe." Clinton wants to take that weapon away from Putin. Former CIA and NSA head Michael Hayden says Clinton's prospective energy offensive against Russia is far more effective than Russia's attempt to launch cyber attacks against the US. "How about we just make it an American policy to wean our European allies off Russian oil and gas?” he says. "Sure, it will take five to 10 years to build the infrastructure to bring energy supplies to our allies, but we should do it and make it a point to get it done." Doing this will significantly weaken Putin and perhaps move Russia towards a more forward-thinking, less repressive regime. On the other hand, Clinton's opponent Donald Trump is a loud supporter of Putin. (Newsweek)

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November 4, 2016: Ousted Trump Campaign Chair Predicts Trump Victory

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was forced to resign after allegations of his illegal receipt of millions in payments from shady pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine, posts on Twitter: "Battleground states moving to Trump en masse. Media not liking the pattern. By Sunday Trump will be over 270 in polls." Manafort has remained largely silent after his ouster from the campaign. (Paul Manafort, Politico)


Russian propaganda efforts were extremely effective in turning US voters away from Clinton, studies prove.

Clinton supporters react to Trump victory

November 9, 2016: Trump Wins US Presidential Election

In what the Guardian calls "one of the most improbable political victories in modern US history," Donald Trump wins a narrow Electoral College victory to claim the US presidency.

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Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin sends Trump a congratulatory telegram that expresses his "his hope to work together for removing Russian-American relations from their crisis state." In January, the CIA will report that Russian governmental officials celebrate Trump"s win as "a geopolitical win for Moscow," a reaction that bolsters the intelligence" community's belief that Russia deliberately tried to assist Trump in winning the election. (Guardian, Mother Jones, image of upset Clinton supporters from Global News)

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The election was won by a bunch of people making memes. We memed the President into existence. — White supremacist Charles Johnson

November 10, 2016: Russian Minister Says Russian In Contact with Trump Team During Campaign and Now

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov says Russian officials were in contact with the Trump campaign throughout the elections and are continuing to speak with Trump officials now that Trump has won the US presidency. "There was communication," Rybakov tells a reporter from Interfax News Service. "Naturally, we are continuing this work even after the elections. … "Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage. We have just begun to consider ways of building dialogue with the future Donald Trump administration and channels we will be using for those purposes."

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Rybakov declines to identify the Russian officials in communication with the Trump team, nor does he say what specifically has and is being discussed. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks denies the claim. Asked if Rybakov's statement is accurate, Hicks says, "Absolutely not." Rybakov downplays any expectations of a sudden US-Russian alliance of any sort, saying, "We do not feel any euphoria. We wouldn't like our public … to have the impression that we are overwhelmed with rosy anticipations." MSNBC's Steve Benen writes: "Keep in mind, there are at least two angles to a controversy like this one. The first is that Trump, who has a nasty habit of dishonesty, denied during the campaign that his team was in contact with Russian officials. According to [Rybakov], the president-elect's denials weren’t true. The second is that the alleged behind-the-scenes contacts between Moscow and an American presidential campaign raise all kinds of questions about what, if anything, Trump's team may have promised Russian officials while Russia apparently took steps to undermine Trump's political opponent. We may be looking at the first scandal of the Trump/Pence administration." (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, MSNBC)

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President Obama warns Trump not to appoint Michael Flynn as head of the National Security Agency.

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November 15, 2016: Trump Talking to World Leaders on Unsecured Phones

Donald Trump is conducting business with world leaders using private, unsecured phones, according to reports.

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The New York Times writes that "American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world. … Prominent American allies were in the meantime scrambling to figure out how and when to contact Mr. Trump. At times, they have been patched through to him in his luxury office tower with little warning … " Trump spokesperson Jason Miller will tell reporters that "appropriate precautions are being taken" to secure lines on calls with world leaders. (New York Times, The Hill, photo of broken Galaxy S3 from My Phone Card)

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November 16, 2016: NSA Director: WikiLeaks Email Releases "Conscious Effort by Nation-State"

NSA Director Mike Rogers says that the WikiLeaks release of hacked internal emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign were done as a "conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect."

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Rogers, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, goes on: "There shouldn't be any doubt in anybody's mind. This was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily." Rogers acknowledged in October that Russians were responsible for the hacks. (Mother Jones)

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November 16, 2016:  Russian Fascist Says Trump, Putin Will "Drain Swamp" and Bring About Far-Right Political Dominance

Far-right Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, known for his fascist ideology and his allegedly close relationship to top officials in the Putin regime, writes a screed on his blog saying that Trump's election is the harbinger of massive right-wing change across the geopolitical face of the globe.

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Trump and his supporters repeatedly chant "Drain the swamp!" as a reference to how Trump will "clean up" Washington politics from the corruption and greed that they say controls the government; Dugin defines "the swamp" as "the globalist sect, the open society adepts, LGBT maniacs, [liberal billionaire George] Soros' army, the post-humanists, and so on. Draining the Swamp is not only categorically imperative for America. It is a global challenge for all of us. … We need to purge our societies of the Swamp's influence. Instead of fighting between ourselves, let us drain it together." He says this group of social liberals are "an international terrorist network" that is now set to be destroyed by Trump. "First of all, the Swamp is an ideology – Liberalism," Dugin writes. "We need a Nuremberg Trial for Liberalism, the last totalitarian political ideology of Modernity." He also identifies "degenerate" modern art and "transnational global capitalism" as other elements of his so-called "swamp." He believes Trump and Putin will join to become leaders of a violent, cleansing "Fire" that will transform societies across the West into far-right dictatorships. (The Fourth Political Theory, National Review, Science Direct, IMRussia)

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November 17, 2016: House Democrat Calls for Bipartisan Investigation into Russian Electoral Sabotage

Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, calls for an investigation into Russia's sabotage of the US election.

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Cummings sends a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) supports Cummings's call for a "bipartisan" investigation. Cummings writes: "Elections are the bedrock of our nation's democracy. … Any attempt by a foreign power to undermine them is a direct attack on our core democratic values, and it should chill every member of Congress and American – red or blue – to the core." Cummings cites statements made by Republican Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and by a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), all warning about Russia. He quotes Graham as saying: "Here's what I would tell Republicans: We cannot sit on the sidelines as a party and let allegations against a foreign government interfering in our election process go unanswered because it may have been beneficial to our cause." (CNN)

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November 28, 2016 and After: Cambridge Analytica Sells Trump Supporter Info to Right-Wing Think Tank

After Trump's election, the data mining and analysis firm Cambridge Analytica (CA), owned by the billionaire Mercer family who provided enormous amounts of financial assistance to the Trump campaign, begins selling massive amounts of Trump supporter records to the far-right Heritage Foundation. The Mercer family helps run Heritage, with patriarch Robert Mercer sitting on the board and the family donating $1.5 million or more to the organization since 2013.

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As the Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay explains: "Trump didn't just bring an idiosyncratic set of political priorities with him to Washington. He brought a massive amount of first-time voters and supporters as well – individuals that establishment institutions like Heritage would want to mine for dollars." The business agreement filed by CA reads in part: "Cambridge Analytica will provide data and data analytics to inform a data-driven fundraising project for [Heritage] among the Trump supporter audience to enable Client to expand its donor base in light of the November 2016 election results. Cambridge Analytica will leverage proprietary predictive models for a) Trump supporters and b) political issues prioritization c) evangelical and conservative audiences to establish a target audience for Client's fundraising efforts." Heritage will pay $120,000 to CA for its services in 2016, characterizing the agreement as a "contract for data analytics." Heritage spokesperson Sarah Mills says: "Regardless of who is occupying the White House, we are always innovating to expand our base of supporters. That requires trying and employing new techniques and technologies." CA collects tremendous amounts of data on the individuals in its database, from political leanings to consumer preferences and health issues. (Daily Beast)

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November 30, 2016: Senate Democrats Request Declassification of Information about Russian Hacking

Ron Wyden, joined by five other Democrats and one Independent on the Senate Intelligence Committee, sends a letter to President Obama saying in part, "We believe there is additional information concerning the Russian Government and the US election that should be declassified and released to the public. We are conveying specifics through classified channels."

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A classified version containing far more information is also sent to Obama. No Republicans sign the letter. Senator Dianne Feinstein signs the classified version of the letter to Obama. A Wyden spokesperson says the intelligence needs to be declassified "immediately," as it is in the "national interest that the American public should see it." Mike Mansick of TechDirt writes that the letter will inevitably "be seen as a partisan effort." However, "that spin holds somewhat less weight when you look at the details. First off, the letter itself was put together by Senator Ron Wyden, [who] has a pretty long history of being right on lots and lots of stuff. And that's been especially true when Wyden says that there's some secret info that the public deserves to know about. He's been right on that every single time he's said it. So the track record is there. When Wyden says the public deserves to know something, pay attention. The second thing that provides more confidence here is that this isn't just random conspiracy theories about 'rigged' voting or whatever that some have been spewing. This is a specific request for more transparency by asking for specific information to be released to the public – specific information that the Senate Intelligence Committee members have seen. Given that, it seems worth paying attention to – and at least asking why the President won't declassify such information? If there really is such strong evidence, why not reveal it? So far, all of the evidence pointing to Russia has been fairly weak, and it feels a bit like groupthink that everyone just insists it's true. But it's entirely possible (and perhaps now, probable) that the intelligence community has some more serious evidence. And, if that's the case, it seems worth sharing with the public even if you were happy with the outcome of the election. If Russia really did 'interfere' somehow in the election, the public deserves to know the details of it." (Senator Ron Wyden, Guardian, TechDirt, New Yorker)

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November 30, 2016: Russia Accuses Ukraine of Trying to Sabotage Presidential Campaign

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharov says that Ukraine, not Russia, attempted to sabotage the US presidential campaign by using what she calls "planted" stories critical of Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

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Manafort helped Ukrainian autocrat and Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych become president in 2010. Yanukovych was hounded out of office in 2014. "Ukraine seriously complicated the work of Trump's election campaign headquarters by planting information according to which Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, allegedly accepted money from Ukrainian oligarchs. … All of you have heard this remarkable story." Manafort resigned his position with the Trump campaign after the US media learned he had accepted over $12 million in reportedly illegal payments from Yanukovych. Manafort now says of the reporting: "I never understood why I was the target. I wasn't the candidate. I was just caught in the crossfire." (Time)

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— December 2016 —

December 2016: Obama Rejects Independent Commission to Investigate Russian Sabotage of Election

Secretary of State John Kerry urges the creation of an independent, bipartisan group to investigate the "active measures" campaign Russia used to sabotage the election.

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Kerry envisions a body similar to the 9/11 Commission, consisting of five Republicans and five Democrats. Obama reviews the proposal but ultimately rejects it, concerned that Congressional Republicans will regard it as a partisan exercise. One official who favors the idea later says: "It would have gotten the ball rolling, making it difficult for Trump to shut it down. Now it's a lot harder to make it happen." It is unknown if Obama is aware of the systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (New Yorker)

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December 1 or 2, 2016: Top White House official Jared Kushner proposes a secret backchannel communications conduit to Moscow, to be hosted in the Russian embassy. The channel would not be known to US intelligence or law enforcement.

December 7, 2016: Trump Again Denies Russian Involvement in Hacking

Donald Trump, Time magazine's Person of the Year, gives an interview to that publication. Asked about the Russians' involvement in the hacking of Democratic computer networks, Trump says: "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say 'oh, Russia interfered.' Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they're effective and smart. … It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals." (Time)


December 9, 2016: Media Learns CIA Assessment Concludes Russian Hacking Designed to Help Trump Win Presidency

A secret CIA assessment based on information from multiple intelligence agencies concludes that Russia manipulated the 2016 presidential election with the direct intent of helping Donald Trump win the presidency.

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Previous assessments only concluded that Russian hacks and propaganda dissemination were designed to undermine Americans' confidence in their electoral system. Intelligence officials now know the identities of some of the Russians who both have connections to the Putin government and who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of illegally hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and other governmental and private organizations and individuals, including Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook. A senior intelligence official tells the Washington Post: "It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia's goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected. That's the consensus view." US senators were briefed on the assessment in early December. CIA briefers told the senators that it was "quite clear" that Russia manipulated the election in order to help Trump win the election. It is likely that by now, the US intelligence community is aware of the systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Differing Reactions

The Obama administration's reaction has been muted, with the president and his highest advisers concerned both about escalating tensions with Moscow as well as giving the impression of trying to impact the election in favor of Hillary Clinton. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly refused to accept the possibility that Russia did anything untoward, voicing his doubts as early as September. Trump's transition team issues a statement critical of the intelligence community, saying: "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It's now time to move on and 'Make America Great Again'." (The assertion that Trump's Electoral College victory is "one of the biggest … in history" is a lie, one that the Trump team has repeated multiple times.) For his part, Trump has dismissed the intelligence community's findings entirely. He recently told Time: "I don't believe they interfered" in the election. The hacking "could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey." Trump provided no evidence to bolster his dismissal of the intelligence assessment. Congressional Republicans echo the criticisms ofn the US intelligence community's assessment. House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes, a member of the Trump transition team, says: "I'll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there's clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence – even now. There's a lot of innuendo, lots of circumstantial evidence, that's it."

Minor Differences and Questions

A full, joint assessment from all 17 US intelligence agencies has not yet been issued, largely because there are what a senior US official calls "minor disagreements" among some officials, and because some questions remain unanswered. Intelligence officials are not yet able to identify specific Russian officials responsible for directing the hacked emails to WikiLeaks. "Cutouts," or people one step removed from the Russian officials, were used instead of government employees. Such arrangements are common in secretive intelligence and propaganda operations. For his part, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said that the "Russian government is not the source" of the information his organization leaked, but the intelligence community does not believe his denial.

"Full Review"

The White House is in the midst of what it calls a "full review" of Russian hacking and propaganda efforts undertaken during the election. During a recent briefing, Obama national security adviser Lisa Monaco told reporters, "We may have crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what has happened and to impart some lessons learned." The review is led by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Some Democratic senators have asked Obama to declassify details about the intrusions, and to release information showing why the CIA believes the Kremlin is responsible for the election manipulation.

Democrats Upset at Inaction

Some Congressional Democrats are upset at what they see as the White House's apparent inaction on responding to Russia's successful attempts to throw the election to Trump before Election Day. But White House officials were apparently reluctant to take more stringent measures or issue declarations of intent. The Post reports that "covert retaliatory measures might risk an escalation in which Russia, with sophisticated cyber-capabilities, might have less to lose than the United States, with its vast and vulnerable digital infrastructure." The Obama administration considered publicly accusing Moscow of trying to hack the election, but worried that to do so would have led to Republican accusations that the Obama administration was trying to itself slant public opinion in favor of Clinton. The White House lacked "bipartisan Congressional backing" for such charges, the Post writes, and they did not want Obama accused of using US intelligence for political purposes. They did set up a meeting between House and Senate leaders and two senior Obama officials, FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to ask for what a senior White House official calls a "show of solidarity and bipartisan unity" against Russian interference in the election. The goal was to have the leaders sign off on a bipartisan statement asking state and local officials to accept federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian hacking efforts. Democratic leaders supported the statement, but some Republicans balked, with McConnell threatening to publicly accuse the White House of engaging in "partisan politics." Other Republicans claimed that any such statement would merely shake public confidence in the elections, and give the Russians what they wanted. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee, who was at the September meeting, is critical of the White House's inaction. "The lack of an administration response on the Russian hacking cannot be attributed to Congress," he says. "The administration has all the tools it needs to respond. They have the ability to impose sanctions. They have the ability to take clandestine means. The administration has decided not to utilize them in a way that would deter the Russians, and I think that's a problem." (Washington Post, PolitiFact, Senator Ron Wyden)

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December 9, 2016: McCain Gives Comey Trump-Russia Dossier

Republican Senator John McCain passes a dossier filled with explosive but unverified documents about Donald Trump to FBI Director James Comey.

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The dossier apparently contains evidence that Trump and his top campaign officials knowingly colluded with Russia to help Trump win the presidency, and that Russian intelligence has compromising information on Trump that could be used to blackmail him. The reports were commissioned by former MI6 intelligence operative Christopher Steele, who originally began collecting the information for a Republican client opposed to the Trump candidacy. Later, Steele continued gathering information for a Democratic client. Steele provided a contact within the FBI a copy of the dossier; later, he came to believe that a "cabal within the Bureau" was blocking the dossier from being considered, he released it to select US government officials and media outlets. McCain became aware of the documents by an intermediary from a Western allied nation. McCain met with Sir Andrew Wood, the former British ambassador to Russia and a highly knowledgeable source of information about Russian affairs, at a security conference in Halifax, Canada, where he discussed Steele and the dossier. Wood emphasized that he has not read the dossier, but he vouched for Steele's professionalism and integrity. McCain then sent an emissary to London, who picked up a copy of the dossier from one of Steele's colleagues. McCain hand-delivers the dossier to Comey in a one-on-one meeting. According to press reports, "McCain is not thought to have made a judgment on the reliability of the documents but was sufficiently impressed by the source’s credentials to feel obliged to pass them to the FBI." He does not want to release them to the public because he fears the dossier would be derided as the product of a personal grudge against Trump. McCain later declares his desire for a special Senate committee to investigate the allegations of a Trump-Russia connection, but his Republican colleagues will block any such proposal from being considered. (Guardian, BBC, McClatchy, Independent)

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December 10, 2016: Kremlin Lets Trump Team Issue Denials about Helping Trump Win

Russian media celebrates the Trump campaign team's denials that Russia helped Trump win the election.

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A Russian television host mocked a CIA assessment that shows Russia manipulated the presidential election to get Trump elected by saying: "Some in the United States are still trying to challenge the election. But Donald Trump's team has sarcastically dismissed the latest effort." A narrator then reads a statement from the Trump team, translated into Russian. Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin has dismissed charges that his government intervened in the election, calling those allegation "hysteria" and saying they were intended "only to distract the attention of the American people from the substance of what hackers had put out." Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says the US routinely launches cyberattacks against Russian governmental sites: "Many of these attacks can be traced to U.S. territory. It's not as though we accuse the White House or Langley of doing it each time it happens." However, pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov has said he believes the allegations "that Russia helped with WikiLeaks," though he said he does not know how that help was provided. Markov said: "Everybody in the world is helping Assange. Everybody understands that in this conflict between CIA and Assange, Assange is right, CIA is wrong. So, Vladimir Putin is part of community of all the honest people in the world." Russian analyst Vladimir Vasiliev of the Institute of the USA and Canada said recently that he believed Clinton supporters are using the accusations to pressure US electors to vote against Trump in the upcoming Electoral College affirmation of the Trump win. "Incredible pressure is being put on the electors. There is a true special operation to turn them. The Democrats are doing everything possible to force them not to vote for Trump." Vasiliev offers no evidence of his accusation. (Washington Post)

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December 10, 2016: Reid Accuses Comey of Covering Up Information about Russian Involvement with Trump

Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that the FBI under James Comey's leadership covered up information about Russia's attempt to tip the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

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Reid compares Comey to notorious former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and calls on Comey to resign. Reid is referring to recent reports that the CIA determined Russia hacked the DNC in order to help Trump. Reid tells MSNBC host Joy Reid: "The FBI had this material for a long time but Comey, who is of course a Republican, refused to divulge specific information about Russia and the presidental election. … Everyone should know WikiLeaks was involved from the very beginning. They leaked the information as if it was run by one of the great political operatives in America when in fact it was run by the political operatives in Russia. Russia has a pretty good way of cheating. Look at what they did with athletes." (Comey recently declared that he is no longer a Republican.) Asked if he is sure Comey deliberately concealed information about Russia's involvement, he says: "That's right, that is true. … I am so disappointed in Comey. He has let the country down for partisan purposes and that's why I call him the new J Edgar Hoover, because I believe that. … I think he should be investigated by the Senate. He should be investigated by other agencies of the government including the security agencies because if ever there was a matter of security it's this … I don't think any of us understood how partisan Comey was." (Guardian)

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December 11, 2016: Trump Lies to Press, Saying No One Caught Russian Hackers "In the Act"

Donald Trump tells Fox News that no one knows who hacked the Democrats' computer networks: "Nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don't catch them in the act you're not going to catch them."

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In a rebuttal, CrowdStrike executive Dmitri Alperovitch tells CNN that it actually did catch the Russian hackers "in the act," and were monitoring their activities inside the DNC network for weeks. (CNN)

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December 12, 2016: CIA: Russians Primarily Targeted Democrats to Help Trump Defeat Clinton

US officials say that according to intelligence used in the CIA's assessment of Russia's cyberattack on the presidential election, Russian hackers focused most of their efforts on the Democratic Party and on the Clinton campaign.

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Both Democrats and Republicans were repeatedly targeted during the election, the officials say, but, as the Washington Post writes, "Democratic institutions and operatives came under a more sustained and determined online assault." It is also clear that whatever information may have been hacked from Republican computers was not publicly released, unlike the blizzard of emails and documents released by the Russians via WikiLeaks, "Guccifer 2.0," DCLeaks, and other venues. That failure to disseminate Republican information helped lead CIA investigations to determine that the Russians clearly intended to help elect Trump. Trump and GOP members vociferously dispute the agency's claims. (Washington Post)

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December 12, 2016: GOP Leaders Refuse to Support Russia Investigative Committee

Republican Congressional leaders are refusing to consider creating a special Congressional panel to investigate Russian sabotage of the 2016 election. Politico's Austin Wright notes: "Congressional Republicans spent years investigating Hillary Clinton's emails and launched a special committee to get to the bottom of the Benghazi attacks. But when it comes to alleged Russian interference in the presidential election, the GOP appears to be taking a more restrained approach."

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Both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have announced they will not allow any such Congressional committee to be formed. Wright writes, "This approach offers no guarantee that final investigative reports will ever be released to the public – and potentially shields President-elect Donald Trump from a deeper congressional investigation looking into Russia's motives." McConnell says that the Senate Intelligence Committee "is more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter." McConnell is not ordering the committee to expand its current investigation, but merely saying that the committee should continue its ongoing probe. Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) says: "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been, and remains, concerned about Russia's actions. The committee will continue to conduct vigorous oversight over activities and agencies within our jurisdiction in an appropriate and responsible way." Ryan echoes McConnell's position, saying that the House Intelligence Committee under chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) can continue its current probe. "Throughout this Congress, Chairman Nunes and the Intelligence Committee have been working diligently on the cyber threats posed by foreign governments and terrorist organizations to the security and institutions of the United States," Ryan says. "This important work will continue and has my support." Nunes adds that he rejects any call for a special committee: "At this time I do not see any benefit in opening further investigations, which would duplicate current committee oversight efforts and intelligence community inquiries." Some Republicans, such as Senator John McCain (R-AZ), support a special committee. Democrats have been relentless in their calls for such a committee. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says, "It's absolutely essential that this investigation be bipartisan, wide-ranging, and have access to all of the relevant intelligence so that we can find out how this happened, and how we can stop it from happening ever again." Ranking House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA) is calling for a "bicameral and bipartisan Congressional investigation." (Politico)

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December 13, 2016: Obama Administration, Others Did Not Realize Damage Fake Social Media Stories Was Doing to Clinton Candidacy

A former Obama administration admits that they underestimated the Russian propaganda campaign against Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. They didn't realize until far too late that the torrent of "fake news" plaguing Clinton was largely being generated in Russia and promulgated through social media, and they didn't understand just how damaging that onslaught of fake stories being shared throughout Facebook, Twitter and the like proved to be.

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The official says: "During the summer, when it really mattered, when the Russian social-media strategy was happening, we did not have the whole picture. In October, when we had it, it was too late." Sanders organizer John Mattes recalls that in the weeks after WikiLeaks began leaking documents designed to hurt the Clinton campaign, his Facebook page for Sanders supporters had suddenly gained a raft of new members with fake profiles. For example, he will cite one, "Oliver Mitov," who had virtually no friends and no photos, but belonged to 16 pro-Sanders groups. Mattes will recall that on September 25, Mitov posted a fake story alleging that Clinton had been paid by Saudi Arabian sheikhs to leave Americans to die in the Benghazi attack of 2012. Mattes will say: "The fake news depressed and discouraged some percentage of Bernie voters [from choosing to vote for Clinton]. When I realized it, I said, 'We are being played'." After the election, a study by two economists, Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford and Hunt Allcott of New York University, determined that during the final three months of the campaign, false pro-Trump stories were shared on social media four times as much as false pro-Clinton stories. Another study, by Philip N. Howard, a specialist in Internet studies at Oxford University, determined that during the second Clinton-Trump debate, automated Twitter accounts known as "bots" generated four tweets in favor of Trump for every one in favor of Clinton, driving Trump's messages to the top of trending topics, which mold media priorities. Researchers and political operatives are sure that many of those bots were operated by individuals and organizations supported, and sometimes funded, by the Kremlin. (New York Times, "fake news" illustration from New York Magazine)

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December 13, 2016: New York Times Shows Russians Targeted Democrats in Six States for Defeat

The New York Times reveals that several US House races were also targeted by Russian hackers, all with the express purpose of defeating Democratic candidates and promoting the candidacies of Republicans. Some of the hacking revealed by the Times took place in South Florida, though at least six other states were targeted as well.

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The Russians made thousands of selected pages of documents hacked from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) available to bloggers and journalists. One target, Annette Taddeo (D-FL), who lost her primary race after secret campaign documents were made public, says: "It was like I was standing out there naked. I just can't describe it any other way. Our entire internal strategy plan was made public, and suddenly all this material was out there and could be used against me." Almost a dozen House races were targeted. DCCC executive director Kelly Ward says: "This is not a traditional tit-for-tat on a partisan political campaign, where one side hits the other and then you respond. This is an attack by a foreign actor that had the intent to disrupt our election, and we were the victims of it." The Times writes: "Why the Russian government might care about these unglamorous House races is a source of bafflement for some of the lawmakers who were targeted. But if the goal of Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, was to make American democracy a less attractive model to his own citizens and to Russia's neighbors, then entangling congressional races in accusations of leaks and subterfuge was a step in the right direction." Other House races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina were also subject to Russian intrusions, all of which lead back to the hacked DCCC documents. The materials, provided by the false persona "Guccifer 2.0," a creation of Russian officials to cloak the hacking by their agents, were given to bloggers and journalists with strong attempts to entice participation. One message posted on the Guccifer 2.0 website alongside a document dump read: "It's time for new revelations now. All of you may have heard about the DCCC hack. As you see I wasn't wasting my time! It was even easier than in the case of the DNC breach." The Times writes: "The seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dumps were hardly random: They were some of the most competitive House races in the country." In Taddeo's case, the DCCC had conducted blunt critiques of her and her primary and general opponents, information that was intended to remain private. These are normal products for any political race. But when they were aired in public, readers learned that the DCCC had concluded Taddeo had "proven to be a somewhat poor fund-raiser and she has gained a reputation as an inadequate campaigner among some of the talkers in the community." Her primary opponent, Joe Garcia, "also made a large misstep during the campaign saying 'communism works,' which did not sit well in an area with a large Cuban refugee population. More embarrassingly, Garcia was caught on a C-Span feed picking his earwax and seemingly eating it, and the video made the rounds on the internet." Both Garcia and Taddeo were hurt by the document release. Garcia used the documents to attack Taddeo during a televised debate, and accused her, apparently falsely, of hiring a private detective to follow him. Garcia defeated Taddeo and his Republican opponent used the DCCC material to attack him in return. One of Guccifer 2.0's most important partners was a blogger calling him/herself "HelloFLA!," a former Florida legislative aide and current Republican lobbyist later identified as Aaron Nevins, a professional consultant and Florida GOP operative who once served as chief of staff to a Florida Republican state senator. Nevins asked Guccifer 2.0 for additional documents via Twitter, requests that the Russian persona was more than willing to fulfill. "I can send you some docs via email," Guccifer 2.0 replied to one message on August 22. "Great! [screen name]. I'm just getting my kid from school but I'll be able to get it up pretty quick after I get it. Thanks!" Nevins told the Guccifer 2.0 construct at one point: "I don't think you realize what you gave me. This is probably worth millions of dollars." The Russians responded: "Hmmm. ok. u owe me a million." By September, the Russians were providing documents to eager bloggers and journalists in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) narrowly won her primary after DCCC documents revealed the DCCC was considering replacing her with a "fresh face." Democrat Mike Parrish (D-PA) was revealed to be unpopular with national party officials, who tried to find an alternative to him for the primary. Parrish, according to internal documents, was a small business owner who had been sued multiple times, had been delinquent on his taxes, and was alleged to be guilty of "racketeering and corruption" in a lawsuit. Parrish's standing was fatally damaged by the information released about him, and he lost the election. In one instance, Guccifer 2.0 released documents about Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the chairman of the DCCC. Lujan ran unopposed in the primary and was considered nearly unbeatable in the general election. He later told reporters he believed he was targeted as an effort to tell party leaders that their candidates could be hurt at all levels – no Democrat was safe. Lujan wrote a letter to his counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee requesting that the NRCC not use the stolen material in the 2016 campaign. "The NRCC's use of documents stolen by the Russians plays right into the hands of one of the United States' most dangerous adversaries," Lujan wrote on August 29. "Put simply, if this action continues, the NRCC will be complicit in aiding the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections." The NRCC ignored the request. A similar request from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was also ignored. Both the NRCC and a Ryan superPAC used the Guccifer 2.0 material in attack ads. A few Republicans such as Ryan Costello (R-PA) refused to use the Russian material. Costello ran against Parrish. Costello's campaign consultant Vincent Galko later said, "We believed it was neither necessary nor appropriate to use information from a possible foreign source to influence the election." But bloggers and journalists used the DCCC material anyway, and Costello defeated Parrish. Parrish, a former Army cavalry troop commander who served in West Germany during the last years of the Soviet empire, says: "I've have been fighting Russians my entire life. To me this is just a continued punch-counterpunch; the Cold War games are still being played." (New York Times, Orlando Sun-Sentinel)

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December 13, 2016: Republican Client Confirms RNC Was Hacked by Russians

Evidence proves the Republican National Committee (RNC) was also hacked during the presidential campaign by the same Russian hackers who compromised the DNC's servers and the email account of the Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta.

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RNC chair Reince Priebus and Republican Party spokesperson Sean Spicer, both expected to become prominent members of the Trump administration, have repeatedly denied that the RNC was hacked, even though US intelligence officials have claimed that the RNC was indeed hacked. Those officials have said that the hacks indeed took place, but the hackers "did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks." The Washington Post wrote that in light of no RNC material being leaked to the public, "[t]he lack of a corresponding Republican trove has contributed to the CIA assessment … that Russia was seeking to elect Trump and not merely to disrupt last month's presidential election." As far back as August 2016, the Russian-operated site "DCLeaks" hosted a "Portfolio" that included a collection of documents titled "The United States Republican Party." The documents were completely innocuous, but featured material from the campaign committees of a number of Republican elected officials, state GOP organizations, Republican PACs, and campaign consultants. Some of the emails released on DCLeaks indicate that the Russian hackers had cracked the RNC's email server. The news blog Smoking Gun now writes that it has obtained conclusive proof of the hacking. The documents released by DCLeaks were all hosted by Smartech, a Chattanooga-based firm. The company and its parent, Airnet Group, have long hosted web sites, email servers and even call centers for many top-level Republican figures and organizations. A Republican client of Smartech, Tom Del Beccaro, ex-chairman of the California Republican Party, confirms to TSG that the firm has privately acknowledged it was hacked. (Smoking Gun)

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December 13-14, 2016: GOP Leaders Refused to Publicly Criticize Russian Sabotage, Media Learns

The media learns that in the last months of the election, Republican leaders repeatedly refused to join Democrats in publicly criticizing the Russian hacking and sabotage of the presidential election.

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DNC chair Donna Brazile implored RNC chair Reince Priebus three separate times, twice in private and once in a letter dated October 18, to join her in condemning Russia's theft of DNC emails. Each time, Priebus either declined her offer or simply ignored her. Brazile also pressed Priebus at two presidential debates to attend a joint briefing on the Russian interference, requests he turned down. "They never joined us for a briefing," the official says, though he notes that Priebus may have been briefed separately. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also refused to speak out against the hacks after being urged to do so by President Obama. Both Ryan and McConnell said they did not want to give an appearance of partisan bickering. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tried to get Ryan and McConnell to co-sign a letter, even changing the language to accommodate McConnell's concerns, but in the end, neither of them chose to sign the letter. "I came to the point where [I realized] it didn't matter what we said, they aren't going to sign the letter," Reid recalls. Pelosi says that in early September, both she and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) tried to get Ryan to jointly agree not to use documents hacked by Russian agents after the National Republican Congressional Committee began using material stolen from Democratic campaigns and candidates. In a letter, Pelosi and Lujan warned that use of those documents made the NRCC complicit in aiding "the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections." Ryan chose not to respond to the request. (New York Times, Huffington Post)

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December 14, 2016:The White House says it believes Donald Trump knew about the Russian hacking, and that he encouraged the Russians to continue in their efforts to damage the Clinton campaign.

December 15, 2016: US Officials Certain Putin Involved in Election Manipulation

According to senior US intelligence officials, the US intelligence community believes "with a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the Russian election manipulation efforts. Those efforts helped Donald Trump win the US presidency.

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Two of those officials say that Putin personally directed the use of hacked material from the Democratic National Committee and other targeted organizations. One intelligence source says that Putin initially intended the hacks to damage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, as part of what the source calls a "vendetta" against Clinton, but the effort grew into a broader effort to portray American politics as deeply corrup and to "split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn't depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore." The overall objective, officials say, was to elect Trump. Other agencies such as the FBI haven't signed off on that assertion, but, NBC News reporters William M. Arkin, Ken Dilanian and Cynthia McFadden write, "few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton's candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats." In October, all 17 US intelligence agencies issued a joint statement attributing the DNC hack to Russia. Now, the sources say, Putin's involvement was much deeper than was known when that statement was issued. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul agrees: "It is most certainly consistent with the Putin that I have watched and used to work with when I was an ambassador and in the government. … He has had a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, that has been known for a long time because of what she said about his elections back in the parliamentary elections of 2011. He wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order. And most certainly he likes President-elect Trump's views on Russia." It is likely that by now, US officials are aware of the systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump.(NBC News)

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December 16, 2016: FBI, DNI Agree with CIA that Russia Intended to Help Trump Win

FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper agree with the CIA's conclusion that Russia sabotaged the 2016 election in order to help Donald Trump win.

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CIA director John Brennan sends a message to the agency workforce that reads in part, "Earlier this week, I met separately with FBI [Director] James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election." A CIA official confirms to the press that other CIA officials told a Senate committee in a classified hearing that it is now "quite clear" that getting Trump elected was a central goal of the Russian operation to influence the election. In a more recent meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, a senior FBI counterintelligence official took a more cautious stance, leaving some members and staffers of the committee with the idea that the FBI disagrees with the CIA's conclusion. It is now clear that the FBI's official stance is to agree with the CIA's position that Russia deliberately tried to help Trump. House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) has been publicly trying to promote the idea that the FBI does not concur with the CIA, a position that is wrong, as well as falsely claiming that "the CIA has a new assessment that it has not shared with us." Brennan writes in his message to the agency: "In recent days, I have had several conversations with members of Congress, providing an update on the status of the review as well as the considerations that need to be taken into account as we proceed. Many – but unfortunately not all – members understand and appreciate the importance and the gravity of the issue, and they are very supportive of the process that is underway." The night before, Hillary Clinton told some of her top campaign donors and fundraisers that she believes Russian hackers attacked her campaign because Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin holds a personal grudge against her. Putin blames Clinton for supposedly fomenting mass protests against his rule in 2011. (Washington Post)

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December 16, 2016: Internal CIA Memo: Senate Republican Leaders Ignoring Impact of Russian Interference

CIA Director John Brennan issues an internal memo that informs agency employees of the recalcitrance of some members of Congress to take seriously the Russian interference in the US presidential election. The memo does not identify those members of congress, but two of them are later identified as Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Majority Leader, and John Cornyn (R-TX), the majority whip. Brennan writes that neither of them "understand and appreciate the importance and gravity of the issue." When the news broke yesterday of the US intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump, Cornyn dismissed it as "hardly news."

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THIS STORY IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT. (CIA Office of Public Affairs, BuzzFeed)

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December 18, 2016: Former CIA Director Critical of "Laid Back" Response to Russia Election Sabotage

Robert Gates, the former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, is harshly critical of the "laid back" response by Congress and the Obama administration to the revelations that a Russian operation successfully sabotaged the US presidential election.

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Gates tells an NBC news host that a "thinly disguised" Russian operation had undermined the credibility of the election and damaged the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. "Given the unprecedented nature of it and the magnitude of the effort, I think people seem to have been somewhat laid-back about it," Gates says. Russia carried out "a thinly disguised, covert operation intended to discredit the American election and to basically allow the Russians to communicate to the rest of the world that our elections are corrupt, incompetent, rigged, whatever, and therefore no more honest than anybody else's in the world, including theirs." Gates says he cannot be sure if the operation was designed to help Trump win the election: "Whether it was intended to help one or other candidate, I don't know. But I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Mrs Clinton." Asked by host Chuck Todd if the White House, leaders of both parties and Trump had shown enough urgency in addressing the issue, Gates says, "No." Also appearing on the same program, Meet the Press, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says: "We need a select committee, we need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and exactly what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election. There is no doubt they [the Russians] were interfering." (Guardian)

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December 20, 2016: Russian Citizens, Firms Added to US Sanctions List

The US adds seven more Russian citizens and over three dozen companies to its "targeted sanctions" list, including a close associate of the Kremlin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, sometimes nicknamed "Putin's chef." His company often provides catering to Kremlin functions. Some of the companies are Russia-friendly firms located in Ukraine's Crimea, which has been annexed by Russia.

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John Smith, the Acting Director of the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, says, "These targeted sanctions aim to maintain pressure on Russia by sustaining the costs of its occupation of Crimea and disrupting the activities of those who support the violence and instability in Ukraine." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov calls the sanctions a "hostile move," and adds, "We will be expanding our lists, we will see how we can respond asymmetrically." Aside from his catering business, Prigozhin is also heavily involved in a Russian "troll factory" that saturated American social media with propaganda and fake news stories promoting the Kremlin's policies as well as the candidacy of Donald Trump. He has also, according to reporting by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, "provided financial, material and technological support for senior Russian defense officials, and has had extensive business with the Defense Ministry. That includes a company linked to him that has a contract to build a military base near the Russian border with Ukraine." Smith's statement says, "Russia has been building additional military bases near the Ukrainian border and has used these bases as staging points for deploying soldiers into Ukraine." And, some of Prigozhin's employees apparently work with a mysterious private military contractor (mercenary company) called ChVK Vagner, which operates in Ukraine, Syria and other areas of Russian interest. Vagner and other mercenary outfits work closely with official Russian military units as well as the GRU. The sanctions also target executives with current or previous ties to Bank Rossiya, which the Treasury Department previously sanctioned and called the "personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation." The bank's CEO, Dmitry Lebedev, is on the targeted list. Several subsidiaries of natural gas conglomerate Novatek are also newly added to the list. Novatek itself was sanctioned in 2014. Also, subsidiaries of another sanctioned firm, Russian Agricultural Bank, are on the new list. That bank's president is Dmitry Patrushev, whose father, Nikolai Patrushev, is the head of Putin's Security Council. White House officials say the sanctioned citizens and firms have no connection to the Russian hacking that sabotaged the presidential campaign. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

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December 22, 2016: Security Firm Confirms GRU Hackers Breached DNC

The cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike uncovers definitive proof that a group of hackers working for Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, hacked the DNC.

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CrowdStrike, which has been investigating the intrusion since the summer of 2016, reveals that the same malware used to hack te DNC servers was used to hack and track systems used by the Ukrainian army in its unsuccessful attempt to defend Crimea from Russian invaders beginning in late 2014. CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch says "we have high confidence" the hacks were performed by a unit of the GRU colloquially termed FANCY BEAR. The FBI has drawn the same conclusion, but has not publicly admitted as such. Alperovitch says: "The GRU is used for both tactical intelligence collection in the battlefield in support of Russian military operations and also strategic active measures or psychological warfare overseas. The fact that they would be tracking and helping the Russian military kill Ukrainian army personnel in eastern Ukraine and also intervening in the US election is quite chilling." The malware used by the GRU against the DNC is very similar to the malware used to cripple a Ukrainian army computer application used to quickly set targets for the army's D-30 howitzers. The hack allowed FANCY BEAR to track Ukrainian troop movements. Ukrainian artillery units were devastated by Russian counterattacks, in part because of the GRU hacks. CrowdStrike notes that the other Russian hacking team to breach the DNC servers, COZY BEAR, also works for Russian intelligence, but is not completely sure whether it works for the internally focused FSB or Russia's foreign intelligence arm, the SVR. (Washington Post, CrowdStrike)

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December 26, 2016: Russian Official and Possible Dossier Source Found Dead

Former KGB general Oleg Erovinkin is found dead in the back of his car in Moscow. Erovinkin, a key aide to Igor Sechin, the head of the government-owned Rosneft, is suspected of providing information to former MI6 official Christopher Steele used in the now-infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

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Some sources will claim Erovinkin has actually been murdered and his death covered up. Erovinkin was a key liaison between Sechin and Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. According to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency, Erovinkin's body was "found in a black Lexus [and] a large-scale investigation has been commenced in the area. Erovinkin's body was sent to the FSB morgue." No cause of death has been officialy released, though some claims will surface saying he died of a heart attack. Christo Grozev, an expert on Russia-related security threats and an official for the Bulgarian think tank Risk Management Lab, later writes: "Insiders have described Erovinkin to me alternately as 'Sechin's treasurer' and 'the go-between between Putin and Sechin.' One thing that everyone seems to agree – both in public and private sources – is that Erovinkin was Sechin's closest associate." Grozev will add: "I have no doubt that at the time Erovinkin died, Mr. Putin had Mr. Steele's Trump dossier on his desk. He would – arguably – have known whether the alleged … story is based on fact or fiction. … Whichever is true, he would have had a motive to seek – and find the mole … He would have had to conclude that Erovinkin was at least a person of interest." But Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security services, downplays Grozev's theory, saying, "As a rule, people like General Erovinkin don't tend to die in airport thriller murders." The Daily Mail will go further than some media sources, writing: "The Kremlin may have covered up the murder of a former KGB chief accused of helping ex-MI6 spy Christopher Steele to pull together the notorious dossier on Donald Trump." It also relies on Grozev's theory for its reporting. Grozev himself will urge caution, posting on Twitter: "I appreciate Telegraph's coverage of my Erovinkin story, but note I presented a hypothesis; while paper's angle is somewhat sensationalist." Grant Stern of the Huffington Post will therorize "America's intelligence agencies may have used the dossier as a Canary Trap, testing the Trump administration's ability to keep a national security matter secret by handing him a version or several of the classified document and observing the real world responses of those discussed in the trap's documents." He will speculate that if his theory is accurate, a version of the dossier may have been provided to Trump officials after US intelligence allegedly briefed Trump on it in early December. At that point, Stern's theory goes, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn or another Trump official with backchannel ties to Russia may have provided the dossier to Russian intelligence officials, in essence "outing" Erovinkin and possibly others who provided information for the dossier. Stern's theory remains unproven. (Telegraph, Daily Mail, Christo Grozev, Christo Grozev, Huffington Post)

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December 29, 2016: Obama Orders Retaliatory Actions against Russia for Hacking Election

The White House issues a series of reprisals against Russia, described by cybersecurity expert James Lewis as "the biggest retaliatory move against Russian espionage since the Cold War."

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One series of actions is laid out in an executive order: sanctions against several Russian organizations and individuals, including the FSB and the GRU; the banning of Russian personnel from two Russian-government compounds on US soil used for Russian intelligence gathering; and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats believed to be intelligence agents. The most wide-ranging move gives the president, in the words of Wired reporter Andy Greenberg, "the power to impose sanctions not only in response to cyberattacks that affect national security, but also against anyone 'determined to be responsible for tampering, altering, or causing the misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions'." A White House official tells reporters: "It's an extraordinary step to interfere in the democratic process. They need to be held accountable for that … This is an attack on our democratic system, and we're responding in kind." The announcement makes no mention of any retaliatory hacking, an initiative many in the cybersecurity field have speculated may have already been undertaken in response to the various Russian hacks, but White House officials say that every measure being taken has not been revealed: "This should not be mistaken for the sum total of our response," one official says. White House Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco tells CNN reporter Jake Tapper: "What these individuals were doing were basically collecting intelligence. They were intelligence officers operating here and using these compounds, one in New York, one in Maryland, for intelligence collection purposes. And what we are saying today is, in response to and in order to impose consequences for the Russian government's increasing harassment and aggression toward our personnel in Moscow, and, of course, their malicious cyberactivities, interfering and an effort to interfere in our election process, we are imposing consequences."

Mixed Responses from US Lawmakers, Trump

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the measures do not go far enough. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issue a joint statement that reads in part: "The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue. But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy." Democrat Mark Warner, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, "The actions the President took today are an important step, but preventing Russia from interfering in our elections will require a sustained response from the next administration and from Congress." Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says in a statement: "I hope the incoming Trump administration, which has been far too close to Russia throughout the campaign and transition, won't think for one second about weakening these new sanctions or our existing regime. … Both parties ought to be united in standing up to Russian interference in our elections, to their cyber attacks, their illegal annexation of Crimea and other extra-legal interventions." Most Republicans, including President-Elect Trump, have no interest in any measures against Russia. Trump, who has long mocked any contentions that Russia was behind the hacks and has opposed any actions against the Putin regime, says in a statement: "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation." Greenberg notes that similar measures were enacted against China in 2014, and, reportedly, the number and intensity of Chinese incursions have dropped dramatically. The question remains: will Trump continue the measures after he takes office in January? Lewis, for one, expects Trump to continue the measures for the immediate future, saying that to take a new and more accommodating turn towards Russia during the confirmation process for his cabinet would give Congress "a club to beat up [his] apppointees … It would be very difficult to reverse this during the confirmation phase." Like many Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan uses the actions to criticize the Obama administration, saying: "Russia does not share America's interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world. While today's action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration's ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world."

Kremlin Dismisses, Mocks Actions

The Kremlin is dismissive of the measures, and threatens to respond in kind. Russian parliamentary member Konstantin Kosachyov tells a Russian media outlet that the move represents "the death throes of political corpses." Russia's embassy in Britain posts a tweetthat calls the expulsions "Cold War deja vu," and adds, "everybody, [including] the [American] people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless [administration]." The tweet includes a picture of a duckling with the word "lame" written across it. (US Department of the Treasury, Wired, Guardian, CNN)

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December 29, 2016: Trump Official Admits Russia Has "Thrown Election to" Trump

Before the inauguration, transition advisor K.T. McFarland writes several emails to Trump's incoming Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert which claim that US sanctions against Russia will make it difficult to improve relations with that nation: "If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown USA election to him."

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Bossert forwards the emails to incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, incoming senior strategist Stephen Bannon, and incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. Bossert advises the transition officials to "defend election legitimacy now." After the email exchange, a phone call between Trump, Flynn, McFarland, Priebus and Bannon is scheduled. It is unclear whether that call actually took place. When the emails come to light in December 2017, the White House will claim that McFarland's statement is intended to express the opinion of Democrats, not herself. The McFarland-Bossert exchange not only adds to the evidence that the Trump campaign knew that Russia was working on their behalf during the election, but that Flynn, who will soon be fired after allegedly lying about his contacts with Russian officials, was not operating on any sort of "rogue" basis in his Russian outreaches, as Trump officials will allege. Instead, as the New York Times will report, "the Trump transition team was intensely focused on improving relations with Moscow and was willing to intervene to pursue that goal despite a request from the Obama administration that it not sow confusion about official American policy before Mr. Trump took office." Both McFarland and senior White House advisor Jared Kushner advise Flynn to reach out to Russia. The emails are sent hours after the Obama administration announces that it will expel 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for election meddling. McFarland also writes that Flynn will be meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak after the sanctions are announced: "Key will be Russia's response over the next few days." Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin quickly announces that there will be no Russian retaliation for the sanctions, after Flynn asks Kislyak to prevent any Kremlin retaliation. In the emails, McFarland accuses Obama of trying to "box Trump in diplomatically with Russia," limiting his options with other countries such as Iran and Syria. "Russia is key that unlocks door," she writes. She also accuses Obama of using the sanctions to attempt to "lure Trump in trap of saying something" in defense of Russia, and the sanctions are an attempt to "discredi[t] Trump's victory by saying it was due to Russian interference." McFarland will serve briefly as Flynn's deputy, and will later be named US Ambassador to Singapore. She is often called "Flynn's brain" by other transition officials. McFarland's credentials as a senior Trump and White House foriegn policy advisor seem to rest on her long stint as a Fox News on-air analyst and a brief time as a speechwriter in the Defense Department during the Reagan administration. McFarland ran in the New York senate primary in 2006 in an attempt to challenge Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for the post; during her campaign, she claimed that Clinton viewed her as such a threat that Clinton was using secret helicopters to spy on her estate in the Hamptons. She lost in the primary. Josh Marshall will later write, "In other words, McFarland is a clown, a product of the New York GOP/Fox News/Roger Ailes ridicu-verse." (New York Times, Daily Beast, New York Post, New York Post, Talking Points Memo)

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December 29-30, 2016: Putin Declines to Pursue Retaliation for US Sanctions, US Learn of Contacts Between Trump Team and Russians

Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin announces that he will not retaliate against the US after President Obama imposes sanctions against Russia for interfering in the US presidential election.

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Instead, Putin says, he will focus on "the restoration of Russia-United States relations" after Obama leaves office. He will only consider any future retaliatory actions until he can evaluate the policies of the incoming Trump administration. White House officials begin to suspect that someone on the Trump team has promised that the sanctions would be lifted after Trump takes office in January 2017. In response, US intelligence agencies will begin searching for evidence of such contacts. A former senior US official later says, "Something happened in those 24 hours" between Obama's announcement and Putin's response. It doesn't take long for officials to learn that Trump foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn, the former head of the DIA, had been in frequent and secretive contact with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. (Washington Post)

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photos of Russian embassy

December 29-30, 2016: Trump Praises Putin for Lack of Response to US Expulsions

Donald Trump does not publicly support the recent diplomatic expulsions and other measures taken by the Obama administration against Russia in retaliation for that nation's widespread hacking and propaganda campaign waged during the recent US presidential election. However, Trump praises Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin for not retaliating in kind.

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After Putin announced that his government would not retaliate against the measures imposed by the US government, Trump posts on Twitter: "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!" In a statement, Putin announced: "We will not expel anyone. … Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out." It is virtually certain that Trump knows about his incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's request to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to have Putin choose not to escalate the situation. Trump has consistently refused to lay any blame for the computer hacks at the feet of Russia, though the entire US intelligence community has said it believes that not only are Russian governmental hackers to blame for the incursions, but Putin directed the attacks. Other Republicans disagree with Trump. Senator John McCain has called the incursions tantamout to "an act of war," and says, "[W]e have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy." By New Year's Day, all 35 Russian diplomats expelled from the country, as well as their family members and staffers, will have departed for Russia. (Reuters, BBC, Economist, Donald Trump, image of Russian embassy in Washington, DC via Library of Congress)

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December 29, 2016: Republican Says Russian Hackers Did Media's Job For Them

Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) tells MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson that the Russian hackers merely did the job that the American press should have done by hacking into Democratic Party computers and disseminating (and falsifying) the information they stole from those networks.

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Franks tells Jackson: "There's no suggestion that Russia hacked into our voting systems or anything like that. If Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should've done." Franks is reiterating a recent statement by Donald Trump, who told a Time reporter: "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say 'oh, Russia interfered.' It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey." (Huffington Post)

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December 31, 2016-January 4, 2017: Trump promises to provide new information about the Russian hacks, and fails to do so. Instead, he attacks the US intelligence community for supporting the allegations, and proclaims the innocence of Russia and WikiLeaks based on their denials.

Late December 2016: Four Russians Arrested for Allegedly Spying for US

Four Russian officials are arrested on suspicion of passing information to US intelligence sources. The most senior of the ones arrested is Sergei Mikhailov, a former FSB official.

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Also arrested were Ruslan Stoyanov, a senior manager for Russia's largest cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Labs; Major Dmitry Dokuchaev of the FSB; and a fourth unidentified individual. According to Russian media reports, Stoyanov allegedly developed a program introduced into a prominent bank's computer system to gather privileged information on customers and then sold that information to Western interests. The FSB reportedly believes Mikhailov tipped off US intelligence officials about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company "King Servers." That firm was identified by the US cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect as being an "information nexus" used by hackers suspected of working for Russian intelligence in cyberattacks on electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois. Mikhailov, according to Russian press reports, was arrested during an FSB meeting when officers came into the room, put a bag over his head and escorted him out. A Kremlin propaganda source, Tsargrad TV, will claim that Mikhailov "patronized and supervised" an "Anonymous International" group called "Humpty Dumpty" that it said hacked the personal email of Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and other top Russian officials in 2014; the report claims "Humpty Dumpty" is a CIA operation. Tsargrad is known by other Russian media outlets for promoting unlikely conspiracy theories. Russia's Novaya Gazeta later reports that a full-scale purge of FSB officials may be underway, prompted by the hacks of American computers and the alleged information transmittals to American intelligence assets. On January 26, former NSA official John Schindler will post the following tweet: "Trump enters WH, FSB immediately rolls up alleged moles who told IC [US intelligence community] about Kremlin interference in US 2016 election. Mmmmmmkay …" A day later, he posts: "The real issue here is that Putin WANTS us to know they caught moles right after Trump entered the WH." (USA Today, Novaya Gazeta, McClatchy News, John Schindler, John Schindler)

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— January 2017 —

January 4, 2017: Assange Says "14-Year Old Kid" Could Have Hacked Podesta's Email

In an interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tells Fox News host Sean Hannity that "a 14-year old kid could have" hacked the email account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Moreover, he conflates – deliberately or not – the Podesta hack with the incursion into the DNC's computers by asking why the DNC was so "careless" about the Podesta email breach.

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Assange continues to deny receiving the Podesta emails and other Democratic Party documents from Russia. "We published several … emails which show Podesta responding to a phishing email," he tells Hannity. "Podesta gave out that his password was the word 'password.' His own staff said this email that you've received, this is totally legitimate. So, this is something " a 14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta that way." Assange says Clinton herself took virtually no precautions to keep her emails safe from nation/state hackers during her tenure as Secretary of State: "Now, was she trying to keep them secure from Republicans? Probably. But in terms of [nation-] states, almost no attempt." (No proof exists of any of Assange's claims.) Assange adds: "On the top [of the report], there is a disclaimer, saying … there is no guarantee that any of this information is accurate. There's nothing in that report that says that any information was given to us. Nothing." Assange accuses the American media of being too cozy with the Clinton campaign, saying: "The editor of the New York Times … has come out and said that he would do the same thing as WikiLeaks, [that] if they had obtained that information, they would have published it. Now, unfortunately, I don't believe that is true. … It's more like, 'You rub my back, I'll rub yours. I'll give you information, you'll come to my – I'll invite you to my child's christening or my next big party.'" Assange says that if he had received any damaging information about Donald Trump, he would have published it. "There's no sources coming out through other journalists … and saying, 'We gave WikiLeaks all this information about Donald Trump or … Vladimir Putin and you know what? They didn't publish it.' No one has come out and said that. If they did, that would hurt our reputation for trust for our sources." Democrats were "stupid" for criticizing WikiLeaks for publishing the hacked material. "It's the same reason why they lost the election, which is instead of focusing on substance, they focused on other things [like] this attempt to say how outrageous it is that the American public received true information before an election. The public doesn't buy that. They want as much true information as possible." (Fox News)

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January 5, 2017: Trump Questions Quality of US Investigation of Russian Hacking; NBC Counters

Donald Trump once again questions the validity of the US intelligence community's assertions that Russia hacked Democratic computer networks with the aim of thwarting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

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He posts on Twitter: "So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?" NBC's Ken Dilanian answers, also on Twitter: "Source close to the investigation says FBI didn't need the DNC servers because it already had the forensic data from upstream collection." (Donald Trump, Ken Dilanian)

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January 6, 2017: US Intelligence Agencies Conclude Russian Hacks Part of a Larger, Putin-Led Effort to Sabotage US Presidential Election and Help Trump Win

US intelligence agencies release a joint statement that flatly states Russia executed a comprehensive cyberattacking and propaganda campaign to sabotage the US presidential election. The direction came from Vladimir Putin, and the aim was to secure the election of Donald Trump.

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"The Kremlin's campaign aimed at the US election featured disclosures of data obtained through Russian cyber operations; intrusions into US state and local electoral boards; and overt propaganda," it says. "Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow's longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations." The statement calls the level of Russian interference "unprecedented," and adds that the Kremlin's actions showed "a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort" beyond any efforts leveled at previous elections. The report is a declassified version of a longer report that so far has not been made public. The Washington Post calls the declassified version "an extraordinary postmortem of a Russian assault on a pillar of American democracy." Both President Obama and Trump have been briefed on the classified report by a team including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey. The declassified version contains a footnote that says the conclusions contained in the declassified draft were "identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign." Obama commissioned the report shortly after the November 8 election. The report identifies the hacking group FANCY BEAR, a group under the control of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, as the prime perpetrator of the hacks, though other groups such as the FSB's COZY BEAR also wormed their way into the Democratic computer networks and accessed an untold number of documents and emails. The "persona" that referred to itself as "Guccifer 2.0" and claimed sole responsibility for the hacks is almost certainly a Russian creation, the report says, citing the fact that emails and blog posts made by the entity contained "multiple contradictory statements and false claims about his likely Russian identity throughout the election." The report draws a similar conclusion about the DCLeaks website, saying that it is a Russian front. Both were created by the GRU, the report says. The document rebuts multiple claims by Trump and his campaign that no one could determine who might have been responsible for the hacks. The New York Times calls the report "damning and surprisingly detailed." It is almost certain that by now, the US intelligence community is aware of the systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump.

From Destabilization and Damage to Full Support of Trump

Initially, the report states, the campaign was aimed at undermining Americans' faith in the US democratic process, "denigrat[ing]" Hillary Clinton, and weakening her as she advanced to the White House. However, as the campaign progressed, Putin and senior Kremlin officials "developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump" and began working to aid his election chances. While the cyber attacks breached networks belonging to both parties, the report says, the Russians were far more focused on Democratic computer networks. Moreover, the US intercepted communications clearly showing that Russian leaders congratulated themselves on Trump's win. A primary focus of the propaganda and sabotage campaign was to elevate Trump at the expense of Clinton: "Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him." The Kremlin "developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," who consistently praised Putin and the Russian government, and advocated policies in Syria and Europe strongly favored by Moscow, often at odds with the stances of traditional American allies such as Germany and Great Britain. The report notes that Putin has a personal animus towards Clinton, whom he blames for inciting mass protests against his regime in 2011 and 2012. The report says Putin "indicated a preference for President-elect Trump's stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions" in Syria and Ukraine. The Kremlin also believes Trump is more likely to ease American sanctions on Russia, imposed after Russian forces invaded and occupied the Ukrainian Crimea. Russia used state-owned propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik to promote Trump and denigrate Clinton. The media outlets cast Trump as "the target of unfair coverage from traditional US media outlets," the report says, and Russian propaganda officials claimed during the campaign that Trump was a victim of the US political establishment. As for Clinton, the report states that "RT's coverage of Secretary Clinton … was consistently negative and focused on her leaked emails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism."

Russians Provided Information to WikiLeaks

The report says that the CIA, FBI and ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) believe with "high confidence" that Russian hackers under the direction of the Putin government breached numerous computer networks belonging to both US political parties, and then provided selections from the raw data hacks to WikiLeaks for dissemination, thus directly accusing WikiLeaks of serving as a knowing conduit for Russian propaganda and citing WikiLeaks as a party towards manipulating and sabotaging the presidential election. The timing of the WikiLeaks document releases, the report says, was clearly to damage and destablize the Clinton campaign. "We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks," the report says. "Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity." None of the files provided by the Russians to WikiLeaks contain "evident forgeries," the report adds.

Vote Tampering?

The report finds no evidence that voting machines in any US state were tampered with by Russian cyberhackers, though it says that Russia "obtained and maintained access" to numerous election systems that "were not involved in vote tallying." Those incursions may still be in place.

"Democracy RIP"

The Post writes: "Overall, the report describes a multipronged campaign that involved not only hacking, but overt propaganda on Russian-controlled news platforms and the extensive use of social media and even 'trolls' to amplify voter discord in the United States and encourage opposition to Clinton." The report states, "Before the election, Russian diplomats had already publicly denounced the US electoral process and were prepared to publicly call into question the validity of the results." Even as the election itself began, the Russians were certain Clinton would win, and much of their propaganda efforts were devoted to undercutting her legitimacy. One example is a propaganda campaign designed for Twitter, with the hashtag ♯DemocracyRIP, to be launched upon the announcement of the Clinton victory. The bloggers who had readied their social media onslaught were forced to abandon it when Trump was declared the victor.

Mixed Reactions from Lawmakers, Experts

The Times writes that because the declassified version of the report contains no details as to the sourcing of the claims, "it is bound to be attacked by skeptics and by partisans of Mr. Trump, who see the review as a political effort to impugn the legitimacy of his election. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the Russian propaganda and sabotage campaign constitutes "a troubling chapter in an ongoing story, and I expect that our nation's leaders will counter these activities appropriately." Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, uses the report to attack the Obama administration, saying that his committee "has been warning the Obama administration for years about the need for stronger measures against Russia … but our warnings largely fell on deaf ears." Speaker of the House Paul Ryan briefly acknowledges the Russian intrusions, then says: "We must also be clear that there is no evidence that there was any interference in the voting or balloting process. We cannot allow partisans to exploit this report in an attempt to delegitimize the president-elect's victory." Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is more focused on the Kremlin, calling for "additional punishments on Russia for their cyber interference in the 2016 elections. Democrat Charles Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, says: "We need to confront this interference head on, in an aggressive and bipartisan manner. If we don't, it'll be open season for any foreign power who wants to cause trouble in our elections." Analyst Robert Graham of the cybersecurity firm Erratasec says: "Seeing more of the context in which this happened does make me a little more trusting that this really was Russia. But knowing what data they probably have, they could have given us more details. And that really pisses me off." Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey says the report undercut its credibility by failing to disclose classified source material. "This isn't a remotely risk-embracing document," she says. "There's alway a tension between those who think it's worth bringing forward sources and methods and those that don't. It's clear that those with very conservative views about protecting sources and methods prevailed." Author Yevgenia Albats, an expert on the KGB, later says that Putin likely never believed the "active measures" campaign could actually change the results of the election. But, because of his distaste for both Obama and Clinton, he did what he and his intelligence apparatus could do to boost Trump and damage Americans' confidence in their political system. Putin was less interested in keeping the operation covert, Albats will say. Instead, "[h]e wanted to make it as public as possible. He wanted his presence to be known, [and to] show that, no matter what, we can enter your house and do what we want."

Trump's Reaction

Trump has called the entire investigation a "political witch hunt," apparently believing that to an extent the report was directed at him. Intelligence officials have rejected that view. He has consistently said he believes the denials of WikiLeaks and Putin more than he believes the conclusions of the American intelligence community. After the briefing, Trump acknowledged the possibility that Russia may have been behind the incursions, but had no response to the assertion that the Russian government tried to help him win the election. "[T]there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election," he stated. Trump provided no information to bolster his claim, which contradicts the conclusions of the entire US intelligence community. The declassified report gives no details as to the mechanics of how Russia worked to support the Trump campaign. Trump also echoes the claim of the report that "there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines." Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, "The President-elect's statement … is not supported by the briefing, report, or common sense." Clinton campaign chair Robby Mook tweets in response to Trump's statement: "What is stopping [Trump] from accepting intel community's findings? Until he accepts them, he is effectively siding w/ Putin over U.S." (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Guardian, The Verge, Wired, New Yorker, Robby Mook)

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January 6, 2017: Trump Asks Comey for Reassurance that He is Not Being Personally Investigated by FBI

Intelligence community leaders meet with Donald Trump in a conference room at New York's Trump Tower, to brief him and his national security team on the findings of an assessment showing how effectively the Russians manipulated the election and assisted in Trump's victory. After the meeting, Trump privately asks Comey for an assurance that he is not being personally investigated by the FBI.

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Comey provides that assurance. He later says that Trump does not "directly ask" for the assurance. Trump has Comey remain after the others have left, and Comey briefs him on what Comey will call "some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled during the assessment." The information is based on the Steele dossier, which contains a raft of credible, if sometimes "salacious and unverified," allegations about Trump's involvement with Russian business figures and government officials. Comey's intent, he later says, is to alert Trump that the media will soon publish the dossier, and to give Trump and his associates a chance to prepare for the media onslaught. Comey was asked to give the briefing by outgoing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Comey will say that he can provide Trump's requested assurance because it is technically true: there is not what Comey will call "an open counter-intelligence case on him." Comey creates notes on the meeting immediately afterwards, because, he will later testify, "I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document." (Senate Intelligence Committee, Just Security)

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January 6, 2017: Trump Calls for Investigation into NBC News

Donald Trump reacts to the release of the declassified intelligence document naming Russia as the source of the anti-Clinton leaks, and naming him as the intended benefactor of a large, multifaceted sabotage and propaganda campaign intended to destabilize the US electoral process, by demanding an investigation into NBC News.

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On Twitter, he writes: "I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it." (Donald Trump)

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January 7-8, 2017: Trump Says WikiLeaks Had "Absolutely No Effect" on Election Outcome

Donald Trump cited WikiLeaks and its release of the illegally hacked DNC and Clinton campaign emails at least 164 times in the last month of the election, but now says WikiLeaks "absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election." The election was decided by less than 100,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania combined. Trump campaigned extensively in those states, citing WikiLeaks on average of five times a day in the last 30 days of the election.

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Trump has repeatedly denied that Russian hackers provided the emails to WikiLeaks, in open defiance of the conclusions reached by the entire US intelligence community. (Trump will soon compare the US intelligence community to Nazis over the Trump-Russia controversy.) After receiving a briefing on the US intelligence findings on January 6, Trump is now refocusing his rhetoric, claiming that whoever hacked the emails, the leaks had no effect whatsoever on the election. Trump posts the following lie on Twitter: "Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!" The US intelligence report specifically stated that while election machines and vote tallying themselves were not compromised by Russian hackers, the report "did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election." Think Progress's Judd Legum writes: "One person who thought Wikileaks and the hacked information could and should have an impact on the result was Donald Trump. In the final month of the campaign Trump mentioned Wikileaks every day and in virtually every public appearance. Trump mentioned Wikileaks in each presidential debate, which were watched by tens of millions of people. Trump described the contents of the emails released by Wikileaks as disqualifying Hillary Clinton from the presidency. Trump used Wikileaks as proof to his claims that she was corrupt and the system was corrupt – both the political system and the media. (The media, Trump insisted, would not cover Wikileaks.) Trump encouraged his supporters to read Wikileaks. He delighted in each new release. He marveled at the damage Wikileaks was doing to her campaign. Wikileaks, in short, was a core part of Trump's closing argument against Hillary Clinton." (Think Progress, Donald Trump)

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January 10, 2017: Steele Dossier Show Russia Compiled Compromising Information on Trump

Various media reports say that President Obama and Donald Trump have been presented with unverified reports that Russian officials have gathered compromising information – in Russian, "kompromat" – on Trump and his campaign, possibly for use in blackmailing Trump after he takes office. Moreover, the dossier claims to have evidence that Trump and his top officials were working closely with Russia to damage the Clinton campaign and win the presidency.

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"FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him," the dossier concludes. It also says that while Trump had declined "various sweetener real estate deals offered him in Russia," especially in developments linked to the 2018 World Cup finals, "he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals." The dossier, made up of documents dated between June and October of 2016, contains allegations that the Russian government has been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years. US government officials and journalists have had this information for months, but the online media outlet Buzzfeed is the first to publish the 35-page document, acknowleding the report's numerous errors and lack of corroboration. Portions of the documents were apparently compiled by political operatives attempting to stop Trump from winning the presidency, but none were made public until today. Obama and Trump were given a two-page synopsis of the dossier, by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Mike Rogers. A Western European intelligence agent says that the Kremlin has compiled a dossier of information about Trump during his visits to Moscow several years ago, which include video and audio recordings, some of which is in the dossier. The dossier was compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele and provided to both the FBI and a number of media outlets well before the US presidential election. Because the material was, and remains, unverified, those media outlets chose not to reveal it. The allegations include salacious accusations of Trump engaging in sexual games with Russian prostitutes (perhaps with audio and/or video proof), and perhaps more pertinently, that Russians sent money to either the Trump Organization or to his campaign during the election campaign. Steele, who was posted to the British embassy in Moscow for part of his MI6 career, now runs a consultancy firm that gives clients advice on how to do business in Russia. He had been engaged by an anti-Trump political action committee, or superPAC, to compile "opposition research" on Trump during the Republican primaries, and had reached out to some of his old contacts in the FSB, sometimes paying them for information. Steele's work was later funded by an anonymous Democratic Party supporter. Steele apparently provided the FBI with the documents against his firm's advice; a joint task force investigated some of the claims. The dossier's material is finally released by the online media outlet Buzzfeed. The BBC's Paul Wood will write two days after the material is released that Steele is not the only source for the allegation of Russian-held compromising information on Trump and his campaign. He will also write that his CIA contacts believe the dossier to be credible. Steele channeled information to the FBI in July and again in September alleging collusion between Trump associates and Kremlin officials in the hacks that plagued the Clinton campaign. Steele later met with an FBI official in Italy to share more information indicating that a top Trump official knew about the hacking as early as June 2016. On December 9, Senator John McCain gave FBI Director James Comey a copy of a 35-page compilation of the Steele reports. A number of other media outlets had the report but refused to publish any of it due to the lack of verification. It is impossible to completely vet the information in the dossier, sources say, because much of it comes from leaks within the Kremlin.

Origins

The dossier was compiled by Steele, an employee of Orbis Business Intelligence, a London firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients. Orbis is a well-known player in a growing industry that connects former intelligence agents and journalists with powerful governmental and business officials. Steele is a veteran of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. Steele told Mother Jones reporter David Corn the dossier began "as a fairly general inquiry" in June 2016. But, Steele said, he began to unearth information that he found "hair-raising." According to Vanity Fair reporter Howard Blum, "The allegations of financial, cyber, and sexual shenanigans would lead to a chilling destination: the Kremlin had not only, he'd boldly assert in his report, 'been cultivating, supporting, and assisting' Donald Trump for years but also had compromised the tycoon 'sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.'" Steele was contacted by Glenn Simpson, a former investigative reporter who, with two other former journalists, founded Fusion GPS in 2011, which states cryptically that it provides its clients with "premium research, strategic intelligence, and due diligence." Simpson had been hired in September 2015 by a Republican who opposed the Trump candidacy, though not someone running in the Republican primary against Trump. In mid-June 2016, after compiling a large amount of "oppo research" that his client could use, Simpson was appalled to learn that Trump had secured the Republican presidential nomination, and moreover, Trump had financial ties to the Kremlin. He reached out to Steele and Orbis, with the simple question of whether it could find and identify Trump's financial ties to Russia. Steele is a veteran of Russian espionage on behalf of the Crown, and lived in Moscow under diplomatic cover during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the chaotic tenure of Boris Yeltsin, and the ascension to power of autocrat Vladimir Putin. Steele himself knew better than to go back to Moscow, but he had a number of well-placed sources in Russia's governmental and business infrastructure who could provide him very high-level information. The dossier itself consists of a batch of 17 short reports collected and written between June and December 2016. Sources are almost always identified by letters, i.e. "A" or "G." Some are described as, for example, "a senior Russian foreign ministry official," "a former top-level intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin," and "an ethnic Russian [and] a close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump." This last source, identified as "Source E," is particularly interesting. The source told Steele: "Speaking in confidence to a compatriot, [the source] admitted there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership. … The Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the WikiLeaks platform. … In return the Trump team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltic and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine." Two other sources, "Source D," "a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow" and "Source F," "a female staffer" who was brought into the mix via "Source E," are the sources for the salacious "golden showers" allegation, which was corroborated by others. Steele immediately suspected that little bit of kompromat had been engineered by the FSB. Blum later writes: "Steele apparently began to suspect that locked in a Kremlin safe was a hell of a video, as well as photographs. … Steele could only imagine how and when the Russians might try to use it." Steele provided his first report to Simpson and Fusion GPS on July 20, but while he continued to provide information to Simpson, he began planning his own covert operation. He began secretly sharing his information with friends on the FBI's Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Squad. The FBI team was stricken by the reports, Steele later says, and urgently requested any other information he could compile. But as time went by and the election came closer, Steele became increasingly agitated by the lack of action on the FBI's part. The FBI seemed more interested in the minutiae of the already-resolved "scandal" surrounding Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and the media hammered away at Clinton night and day while knowing, and reporting, nothing about Trump's involvement with Russian government operatives and business figures. (Apparently some of the information had already trickled through the Washington media before being presented to the FBI.) In mid-October, Steele meets with Corn, who does his own investigating and then writes a damning article about the dossier's claims without identifying Steele. The story, unfortunately for Steele and Clinton, gets lost in the noise surrounding the upcoming election. Days before the election, Corn spoke with Julian Borger of the Guardian about the dossier, and in London, Simpson gave some of the information he had been sent by Steele to BBC reporter Paul Wood. While reporters "scrambled to confirm or disprove" the dossier's allegations, as the New York Times will later write, Trump defied the pundits and won the election. In late November, during the annual Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) met with former State Department official David Kramer, now an employee of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University, and Sir Andrew Wood, the former head of Britain's MI6. Wood knew Steele well and respected him, and shared what he knew of the dossier with McCain and Kramer. A week later, Kramer met Steele in London and took a copy of the dossier with him to Washington. On December 9, McCain gave a copy of the dossier to FBI Director James Comey. In the final days of the Obama administration, Congressional leaders were briefed on the dossier's contents; Trump was given a two-page summary of the dossier in early January, at the end of an intelligence briefing at Trump Tower on Russia's interference in the presidential election conducted by the heads of the US intelligence community. Days later, Buzzfeed was the first media outlet to publish the entire document (it is not known whether the 35 pages Buzzfed obtained is the entire dossier, or if other pages remain unreleased.) When Steele is outed as the author of the dossier, he immediately takes his family and goes into hiding for two months.

Financial Allegations

Perhaps the most damning of the allegations stemming from the dossier are the financial ones. These include alleged attempts by Kremlin officials to offer Trump "sweetheart deals" to purchase his loyalty. Apparently Trump turned those down, and his organization has done little real business inside Russia itself. But those allegations formed the basis of the task force investigation. The dossier includes reports that Russian consulates in New York, Washington and Miami were used to deliver "tens of thousands of dollars" to operatives hired by the Kremlin and using fictitious names to pose as legitimate Russian-American pensioners, a "ruse" designed to give the Kremlin "plausible deniability." However, Russia does not operate a consulate in Miami.

Sexual Accusations

Steele's contacts told him that video exists of Trump sporting with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow's Ritz-Carlton Hotel and in another location in St. Petersburg. Wood will write, "I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign." Wood has not seen the video, and is not sure it actually exists, but he has seen the report claiming the video exists. Apparently the video was shot during Trump's 2013 visit to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant. A source cultivated by Wood, which he will refer to as "a retired spy," told Wood in August that he had been told by "the head of an East European intelligence agency" that the video existed. Wood later learned from active CIA officers, acting through an intermediary, that there are "more than one tape," "audio and video," on "more than one date," in "more than one place" – in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St. Petersburg – and that the material was "of a sexual nature." One particularly distasteful allegation says that Trump, knowing that President Obama and his wife had slept in the bed in the presidential suite he currently occupied, paid "a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) [on the bed] in front of him." Most savvy visitors to Russian hotels are aware that there are often recording devices placed in the rooms, particular the more opulent hotels favored by wealthy foreigners. Trump himself will say during a press conference he will hold tomorrow that he warned his staff, "Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go you're going to probably have cameras."

Trump's Lawyer in Prague?

The dossier documents a late-summer meeting between Michael Cohen, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, and Russian government officials in Prague. The FBI has so far been unable to prove that Cohen was in Prague during that time period. Cohen has denied ever traveling to the Czech Republic, although he told reporters he did so in 2001.

Sources Identified?

Some sources may have been identified. Former FSB general Oleg Erovinkin, a senior aide to Igor Sechin, the chairman of the Russian oil company Rosneft, will be found dead in his car on December 26. No cause of death will be announced. Erovinkin may have been "Source B." Two other FSB officials who work in the agency's cyber wing will also be arrested and charged with treason. Those two may also have been sources for Steele's dossier.

Denials

Cohen denies the allegations in the dossier. "Somebody is having a lot of fun at your expense. … It's so ridiculous on so many levels," he tells a reporter. "Clearly, the person who created this did so from their imagination or did so hoping that the liberal media would run with this fake story for whatever rationale they might have." He claims to have never been to either the Czech Republic or Russia. "None of it is true. I don't know who created the document or what it was supposed to be used for, but there's absolutely no accuracy to anything in that document." Senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway denies the claims on Seth Meyers's late-night talk show, saying, "Well, guess what hasn't happened, Seth, nobody has sourced it … They're all unnamed, unspoken sources in the story," adding that "nothing has been confirmed, " and even claiming that Trump is "not aware" of any briefing on the dossier. (Buzzfeed, AOL News, BBC, Guardian, Just Security, McClatchy, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, Yahoo News)

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In America, in the West, occasionally you ask your men to stand up for their country. There's very little difference. In Russia, we just ask our young women to lie down. – retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin, quoted in The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance
So while people are being delicate about discussing wholly unproven allegations, the document is at the front of everyone's minds as they ponder the question: Why is Trump so insistent about vindicating Russia from the hacking charges that everyone else seems to accept? — Benjamin Wittes

January 10, 2017: Trump Tweets Denial of Reports of Compromising Information

Trump responds to media stories of compromising information compiled by Russia and his political opponents by angrily posting the following message on Twitter: "FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" (Newsweek)


January 10, 2017: Senator Demands Declassification of Information Regarding Russian Hacks

At a Senate hearing in January, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asks FBI Director James Comey about media reports demonstrating that Trump officials have links to Russians close to Putin. Wyden asks if Comey will declassify information on that topic and "release it to the American people." Comey responds, "I can't talk about it."

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The New Yorker later writes, "Wyden's questioning had served its purpose." Democrats bring up Comey's announcement 11 days before the election that the FBI was considering a further probe into Hillary Clinton's emails, an announcement that many say helped Trump eke out an electoral victory due to its effect on undecided voters. No such probe was ever mounted. Comey tells the committee, "I would never comment on investigations – whether we have one or not – in an open forum like this so I can't answer one way or another." Senator Angus King responds, "The irony of your making that statement, I cannot avoid." Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) says Comey broke a long-established precedent by discussing the FBI's ongoing investigation into Clinton's emails. Now, Harris says, the standard is that the FBI can discuss ongoing investigations when there is a "unique public interest in the transparency of that issue." The investigation into whether Russia sabotaged the US presidential election fits that standard, she says: "I'm not sure I can think of an issue of more serious public interest than this one. This committee needs to understand what the FBI does and does not know about campaign communications with Russia." Director of National Intelligence James Clapper interjects, "Fair point." Clapper says at the beginning of the hearing that the declassified report issued days before did not assess whether the Russian hacks affected the outcome of the election, leading Mother Jones reporter David Corn to observe, "This was an indirect rebuke to Trump and his partisans, who have repeatedly said the report concluded the Russian intervention did not affect the results." After the hearing, Wyden tweets: "Director Comey refused to answer my question about whether the FBI has investigated Trump campaign contacts with Russia." Later, in an interview, Wyden says: "My increasing concern is that classification now is being used much more for political security than for national security. We wanted to get that out before a new administration took place. I can't remember seven senators joining a declassification request," referring to a November 2016 request by Wyden and other senators for President Obama to declassify information surrounding the Russian hacks. Asked if he suspects that there has been improper contact between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, Wyden says, "I can’t get into that" without revealing classified information. "But what I can tell you is, I continue to believe, as I have for many months, that there is more that could be declassified. … When a foreign power interferes with American institutions, you don’t just say, 'Oh, that's business as usual,' and leave it at that. There's a historical imperative here, too." Asked if the Obama administration's response to the Russian hacks was enough, Wyden answers: "No. It was not enough. … There is a big gap between what the public had a right to know and what came out. And that continues to be true to this day. … I think the way the public is brought in to these positions and the way materials are classified is totally out of whack. People normally think things are classified and buttoned up for national reasons. I find it's far more likely to be political security than national security. … There should have been more information released before the election." After viewing classified materials at the hearing, Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says of the Russia investigation, "This may very well be the most important thing I do in my public life." It is unclear if the Congressional members are aware of the systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. (Chicago Tribune, CNN, Mother Jones, Mother Jones)

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Kurt Eichenwald

January 10, 2017: Reporter Summarizes Apparent Aims of Russian Manipulation of Elections

Using information gleaned from a wide variety of high-level intelligence sources both in the US and Western Europe, Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald summarizes the aims of the Russian cyberattack and manipulation of the US elections.

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American intelligence agencies are in widespread agreement that the Russian campaign of manipulation and cyberhacking was orchestrated to aid in the election of Donald Trump, he writes, and was authorized by Vladimir Putin. It is unclear whether Eichenwald is yet aware of the systematic Russian propaganda and hacking campaign in place to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election and promote the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Help Trump or Harm Clinton?

Some Western European officials believe that the intent was less to help Trump than to harm Hillary Clinton. Some of those European intelligence agencies also believe that Putin may not have known about the campaign at the outset, but once it was underway, Putin approved it. Putin was harshly critical of Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State, publicly accusing her of interfering in Russia's affairs. He was particularly incensed by his December 2011 statement that Russia's parliamentary elections were "neither free nor fair."

Clinton vs. Sanders

One of the biggest aims of the campaign, according to the European intelligence officials, was to divide the Democratic Party along ideological lines – the more "leftist" supporters of primary challenger Bernie Sanders vs. the more "centrist" supporters of the Clinton campaign. Eichenwald writes that the campaign anticipated a Clinton win, and intended "to split the Democratic Party so that as president, Clinton would have to spend enormous amounts of time dealing with domestic discord driven by Republicans and progressives tricked into believing that the Democratic National Committee [DNC] had rigged her nomination." Russian hackers illegally obtained thousands of emails from the DNC and released heavily edited portions through WikiLeaks and other third-party, ostensibly "neutral" avenues. Eichenwald writes: "In many of these instances, the real documents were misrepresented. For example, WikiLeaks released a number of May 2016 emails on the eve of the Democratic convention that made it appear as if the DNC was solely pulling for Clinton; in many online postings, the date was removed so readers would have no idea unless they searched for the original document that was written at a time when Sanders could not possibly have won the nomination."

Larger Goal: A Riven NATO

Putin's larger goal, say some Western European intelligence agencies. was to sow discord and dissent among NATO so that the allied nations would be less capable and willing to interfere in Russia's domestic affairs, its cyberattacks against other nations, or its military expansionism.

"Pipeline" From Russian Hackers to Western Media

Both sets of intelligence agencies agree on how the campaign worked. Hackers, such as the Russian team known under the collective sobriquet "Guccifer 2.0," stole information from a variety of agencies and organizations both governmental and private, European and American. That information was disseminated through what one source called a "pipeline," a series of steps designed to put distance between the Russian hackers and the media and Internet outlets that would eventually release the information to the public. WikiLeaks is the most well-known of the propaganda outlets to disseminate that information, but it is not the only one. Eichenwald writes of WikiLeaks: "However, there are so many layers of individuals between the hackers and that organization that there is a strong possibility WikiLeaks does not know with certainty the ultimate source of these records." It is highly likely that other organizations, media outlets and Internet sites are also unsure where the information they released actually originated.

Deep Penetration

The Russians have seriously compromised both American governmental and non-governmental organizations, the latter primarily tied to the Democratic Party. White House, State Department, and Joint Chiefs of Staff electronic communications have been seriously breached by Russian hackers. There is also evidence that the Russians have penetrated some organizations connected to the Republican National Committee, though that information has so far not been publicly released.

Trump's Response: American Allies "Dumbstruck"

Eichenwald wites that "American allies have been dumbstruck by Trump's response, not only after the election but during the campaign." One Western European intelligence official says she knows Trump was briefed on the hacking efforts during the presidential campaign, and knew very well that Moscow was behind the efforts. But instead of denouncing the efforts, Trump publicly embraced them, used them to double down on his attacks on Clinton, and even publicly defended the Kremlin. British officials were "horrified." In one particularly shocking statement, Trump denounced Clinton's statement that 17 American intelligence agencies have concurred on the facts behind the Russian campaign, and instead claimed "our country has no idea" what the Russians were or weren't doing. Trump was likely aware that not only American intelligence agencies, but intelligence agencies of NATO countries knew about the hacking. A former British told Eichenwald: "A lot of people are now trying to connect the dots of all the data [in the intelligence files] to try and understand Trump. … There certainly are a lot of conspiracy theories being bandied about, but no question there is a lot of concern about what's going on in Trump's head … and whether we would be able to work with him." Western European intelligence officials say they are now gathering intelligence about Trump and his associates.

Trump Campaign Used Russian Propaganda

Indeed, not only did the Trump campaign defend Russia against American intelligence, it hunted down information from sites publicly identified by those agencies as sources for Russian propaganda. Shortly before the third presidential debate, Trump cited as fact a document altered by Russian intelligence that had appeared on a Russian disinformation site called Sputnik. The document falsely claimed that Clinton's closest political allies secretly believed she was responsible for the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. Sputnik later deleted the article citing the document, but the false claim did damage to Clinton's credibility. The Trump campaign emailed links to the Sputnik article to right-wing news sites like the Daily Caller, urging them to publicize the claim.

An Unprecedented Danger

Eichenwald concludes that NATO allies perceive Russia as a direct threat to their interests, both in its aggressive, militarized efforts to transform global alliance and in its abilities to damage the economies of many Western European nations (the region obtains 40% of its natural gas from Russia, for one example. He writes: "Should the United States, the last remaining superpower, tilt its policies away from NATO to the benefit of Russia, the alliance between America and Western Europe could be transformed in unprecedented ways. And so, for perhaps the first time since World War II, countries in Western Europe fear that the American election of Trump could trigger events that imperil their national security and irreparably harm the alliances that have kept the continent safe for decades." (Newsweek, Donald Trump, photo of Kurt Eichenwald via Mediaite)

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January 11, 2017: Trump Admits Russians Hacked US, Denies Rumors of Compromising Dossier

In his first press conference after winning the presidential election, Donald Trump glancingly acknowledges that Russia did indeed hack American computer networks during the presidential campaign. He also calls the claims that Russia has compromising information about him "fake news."

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Of the hacking, Trump says: "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But we also get hacked by other countries, and other people." Of the compromising information, he says, "It should never have been – number one, it shouldn't have even entered paper [sic], but it should never have been released." When asked about reports concerning a dossier of unconfirmed information contaning damaging and sometimes lascivious allegations about Trump, he responds: "It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen." Vladimir Putin will say that the people who compiled the dossier are "worse than prostitutes," and will say that Obama administration officials are trying to undermine Trump's "legitimacy." Trump's admission comes almost a week after the White House issued a statement declaring Russia orchestrated a large-scale effort to hack the election and help Trump get elected. (NewsFix, McClatchy)

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January 11, 2017: Trump Tweets Russian Denial of Dossier

In another angry post on Twitter, Trump echoes the Russians' denial of the veracity of the Trump-Russia dossier, saying: "Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is 'A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.' Very unfair!" Trump cites no evidence disproving the veracity of the dossier. (Donald Trump)


January 11, 2017: Trump Lies about Russian FInancial Deals

Donald Trump issues an almost violently angry tweet reading: "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!" Trump has numerous deals and loans with Russian banks, real estate moguls, and financiers. (Donald Trump)


January 11, 2017: Trump Blasts Dossier Allegations in Twitter Post

In an outraged post on Twitter, Trump calls the unverified dossier released by Buzzfeed "fake news," blames US intelligence agencies for its "leak" to the public, and asks if America has become "Nazi Germany."

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He writes: "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?" Later in the day, Trump gives a press conference in which he lambasts the dossier's release. "A thing like that should have never been written, and certainly should never have been released," je says. The dossier was written by "sick people [who] put that crap together." (Donald Trump, BBC)

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January 11, 2017: Russians Deny Veracity of Trump Dossier

Russian officials deny the validity of the unverified dossier alleging that Russia has compromising information on Donald Trump.

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A spokesperson for Vladimir Putin denies Russia has any such information on Trump and dismisses the dossier as a "complete fabrication and utter nonsense." Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov goes further, insisting that the Kremlin "does not engage in collecting compromising material." (Guardian)

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January 11, 2017: Ukraine Provided Info on Trump to Clinton Campaign, Warnings about Manafort

A report by Politico claims it has found evidence showing Ukrainian governmental officials attempted to help the Clinton campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

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The attempts were nowhere near as organized, widespread or effective than the Russian cyberwarfare and propaganda campaign it waged on behalf of Trump, the magazine acknowledges, and the Ukrainian efforts were entirely legal. Moreover, Ukrainian officials are now scrambling to undo the damage they may have done to their relationship with the White House now that Clinton's opponent, Donald Trump, occupies the Oval Office. The help consisted of publicly questioning Trump's fitness for office, and the dissemination of documents showing that top Trump campaign official Paul Manafort took over $12 million in possibly illegal payments from former Ukrainian officials. They suggested they were investigating the Manafort issue, only to back away from those assertions after the election. And they assisted Clinton's allies in researching damaging information on Trump and his advisors. The Ukrainian efforts were haphazard and ill-focused, Politico asserts, and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says his government remained staunchly neutral during the campaign. Poroshenko officials have now hired a Washington lobbying firm "to strengthen US-Ukrainian relations."

Alexandra Chalupa

The Ukrainian efforts apparently flowed primarily through Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American who worked as a consultant for the Democratic National Committee. She met with Ukrainian officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, where she received information about Manafort's ties to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Chalupa, a former White House staffer during the Clinton administration, has worked for years with the DNC and other Democratic organizations. She is the one who learned of Manafort's work for Yanukovych, and apparently approached Ukrainian officials at the embassy. Chalupa's DNC email account was one of the first to be hacked by the Russians in 2015, shortly after she began researching Manafort. She says she knows people in Kiev and Washington, and began discussing Trump's ties with Ukraine and Russia with them. She shared some of her findings with Clinton campaign officials. "I felt there was a Russia connection" with Trump and his campaign, she recalls. "And that, if there was, that we can expect Paul Manafort to be involved in this election" well before Manafort was brought into the Trump campaign. She warned leaders in the Ukrainian-American community that Manafort was "Putin's political brain for manipulating US foreign policy and elections." Eventually, she spoke with Ukraine's ambassador to the US, Valeriy Chaly, and one of his aides, Oksana Shulyar, in March 2016 at the embassy. Chaly was well aware of Manafort, according to someone briefed on the Chaly-Chalupa meeting, but was not overly worried as he felt Trump had little chance of winning either the GOP nomination or the presidency. Shortly thereafter, Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign, and Chalupa began briefing DNC officials about Manafort, Trump, and the Russian ties. "We were not directing or driving her work on this," says a former DNC staffer. Chalupa worked more closely with embassy staff after Manafort joined the Trump campaign. Embassy staffers also provided information to reporters, Chalupa says, but the staffers "they were being very protective and not speaking to the press as much as they should have. I think they were being careful because their situation was that they had to be very, very careful because they could not pick sides. It's a political issue, and they didn't want to get involved politically because they couldn't." Shulyar says she provided no information to Chalupa or reporters on anything related to Trump or Manafort, explaining "we were stormed by many reporters to comment on this subject, but our clear and adamant position was not to give any comment [and] not to interfere into the campaign affairs. … We have never worked to research and disseminate damaging information about Donald Trump and Paul Manafort." However, political officer Andrii Telizhenko says Shulyar tasked him to help Chalupa learn more about Trump's connections with Russia. "Oksana said that if I had any information, or knew other people who did, then I should contact Chalupa. … They were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa. … Oksana was keeping it all quiet," but the embassy was working closely with Chalupa. According to Telizhenko, Chalupa was hoping to trigger a Congressional investigation into Manafort and/or Trump's involvement with Russia by September 2016. Chalupa did meet with a staffer in the office of Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur, who co-chairs the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, but, says Chalupa, "It didn't go anywhere." Chalupa left the DNC after the Democratic convention in July, and began providing more information to journalists about Trump and Manafort. She describes a series of harassing incidents beginning with the computer hacking that plagued her during and after her time at the DNC, including someone vandalizing her car and two other family members' vehicles. A woman tried to break into her home well after midnight one evening. Shulyar told Chalupa that the incidents were reminiscent of intimidation campaigns used against foreigners in Russia. "This is something that they do to US diplomats, they do it to Ukrainians," Chalupa says. "Like, this is how they operate. They break into people's homes. They harass people. They're theatrical about it. They must have seen when I was writing to the DNC staff, outlining who Manafort was, pulling articles, saying why it was significant, and painting the bigger picture." She says that as the election neared, she began receiving death threats and more hacking alerts.

The Manafort Accusations

After the US media broke the story of Manafort's illicit payments from Ukraine, the Clinton campaign seized on the story to argue that the Trump campaign had "troubling connections" with Russia, according to campaign manager Robby Mook. Ukrainian parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist and a member of Poroshenko's party, held his own news conference to discuss Manafort and Trump, and to urge the US to investigate Manafort. "I believe and understand the basis of these payments are totally against the law – we have the proof from these books," he said. "If Mr. Manafort denies any allegations, I think he has to be interrogated into this case and prove his position that he was not involved in any misconduct on the territory of Ukraine." Manafort has consistently denied receiving any illicit payments from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. But, he stepped down from the Trump campaign less than a week after the story broke. At the time, Leschenko said his intention was at least in part to undermine Trump: "For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world." Leshchenko implied that Kiev was attempting to intervene, at least indirectly, in the election, and said that most Ukrainian politicials are "on Hillary Clinton's side." Now, however, he says: "I didn't care who won the US elections. This was a decision for the American voters to decide." His goal was simply "to raise these issues on a political level and emphasize the importance of the investigation." Poroshenko, through a spokesperson, has distanced himself from Leshchenko's efforts. But a source familiar with Ukrainian politics says it is unlike Leshchenko would have carried out his actions without the tacit approval from Poroshenko or his closest allies. Shortly after the election, Ukrainian officials began downplaying the investigation into the ledgers that showed Manafort receiving illicit payments, and said Manafort was not a target of the investigation. Some opponents of Poroshenko are now implying that the ledgers may have been forged. And a Russian Foreign Ministry official has come to Manafort's and Trump's defense on the matter, accusing Ukraine of "planting information" about Manafort in the US press.

Backpedaling

With Trump firmly ensconced in office, Ukrainian officials are backing away from their pre-election stances. Before the election, Chaly wrote an op-ed for The Hill highly critical of Trump, a move that sources say made some embassy officials uneasy. Chalupa recalls: "That was like too close for comfort, even for them. That was something that was as risky as they were going to be." Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk warned on Facebook that Trump had "challenged the very values of the free world." Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov called Trump a "clown" on Twitter and informed the world that Trump is "an even bigger danger to the US than terrorism;" on Facebook, Avakov added that Trump's comments about Crimea amounted to the "diagnosis of a dangerous misfit" and called Trump "dangerous for Ukraine and the US." When Poroshenko tried to meet both candidates at the UN in September, Trump refused. Telizhenko says that during the campaign, Chaly had instructed embassy staff not to meet with Trump or his campaign aides, even though they were meeting with Clinton campaign staffers as well as aides for Trump's primary rival Senator Ted Cruz: "We had an order not to talk to the Trump team, because he was critical of Ukraine and the government and his critical position on Crimea and the conflict. … I was yelled at when I proposed to talk to Trump. … The ambassador said not to get involved … Hillary is going to win." A former Ukrainian diplomat now affiliated with the opposition calls the decisions "bad and short-sighted." Andrii Artemenko, a conservative opposition parliamentarian, says he met with Trump's team during the campaign and offered to set up similar meetings for Chaly but was rebuffed. Artemenko recalls: "It was clear that they were supporting Hillary Clinton's candidacy. They did everything from organizing meetings with the Clinton team, to publicly supporting her, to criticizing Trump. … I think that they simply didn't meet because they thought that Hillary would win." Shulyar says the embassy had no such ban on meeting with Trump, but had different diplomats interacting with diffrerent candidates. She says that Chaly attended the Republican convention in July and met with members of Trump's foreign policy team "to highlight the importance of Ukraine and the support of it by the US." After the election, Ukrainian attempts to mend fences with Trump escalated. Poroshenko was among the first of the foreign leaders to call Trump to congratulate him, and since the election, Chaly has met with a number of close Trump allies in Congress, as have prominent Ukrainian officials. But, according to Telizhenko, the efforts are largely fruitless: "The Trump organization doesn't want to talk to our administration at all." Ukrainian officials admit that Trump's known penchant for harboring grudges worries them. An American consultant familiar with the situation says: "None of the Ukrainians have any access to Trump … they are all desperate to get it, and are willing to pay big for it." (Politico)

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January 11, 2017: Facts and Errors of Steele Dossier Examined

The Guardian details the verifiable content, and the errors, of the Steele dossier that gives a raft of information about how Trump and his campaign benefited from, and possibly colluded with, the Russians who sabotaged the election.

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Overview

In general, the dossier says that Russia has been "cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years;" its aim is "to encourage splits and divisions in the western alliance" and to disrupt the "ideals-based international order" created after World War II. The dossier says that Trump was offered "various sweetener business deals" by the Kremlin, but declined them. He apparently did not turn down the "regular flow of intelligence" the Kremlin provided him on Democrats and other political rivals. The Kremlin compiled dossiers on both Clinton and Trump, the dossier says. The Clinton dossier contained little of interest, and was mostly comprised of information gleaned from bugged conversations. The Trump dossier, on the other hand, was "explosive," in the words of Guardian journalist Luke Harding. Lurid material from Trump's 2013 visit to Moscow, where he reportedly sported with a raft of Russian prostitutes in the Ritz Carlton Hotel. "FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him," the dossier claims. The general claims are difficult to deny, Harding writes, but the claims of Trump's sexual escapades are currently impossible to verify. Trump has, of course, denied anything untoward ever happened. It is well known that Russia collects a wealth of compromising material on any target it feels worthy of the effort. The sources are difficult to verify, many of them remaining anonymous and some of them current and former Russian intelligence and governmental officials. Harding writes: "The sourcing is one of the weakest aspects of the Trump dossier. Information inside Russia's government and its spy agencies is tightly controlled. Putin's own decision-making circle is extremely small. For example, his decision in 2011 to seek a third term as president was a closely guarded secret. If the report's author is to be believed, he or she enjoys extraordinary access to figures at the very top of the Kremlin. This is possible, but unlikely. Cables leaked in 2010 from the US embassy in Moscow revealed that American diplomats struggled to find good sources in Moscow. Russia's capital is a place where rumour, educated speculation, and planted rumour swirl and where even cabinet ministers don't have the full picture."

Secret Meetings

The dossier claims that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, met several times with members of the Kremlin leadership, including an August or September 2016 visit to Prague, where he met with Russian officials at the offices of Rossotrudinichestvo, a Russian government cultural organization. It also claims that then-Trump advisor Carter Page visited Moscow in July 2016, where he secretly met with Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian state oil company Rosneft and a close Putin confidante. The report claims that Sechin told Page that any future energy deals would hinge on the US lifting economic sanctions after Trump took office. The dossier also says that Page also met Igor Devyekin, a senior Putin official, who told Page that the Russians had compromising material on both Clinton and Trump, and advised Page that Trump "should bear this in mind." Cohen denies the meetings, and says he has never been to the Czech Republic. No verifying information has yet been made public to confirm Cohen's meetings. Page is a different story. His visits to Moscow are quite verifiable, though it is unclear who he met with or what he was told.

The Hacking of the DNC

The dossier claims that an "extensive conspiracy" existed that included both the Kremlin and the Trump campaign team, a conspiracy that was approved at the "highest level" (presumably by Putin) and involved Russian diplomatic staff members in the US. Russia hacked the DNC, the dossier asserts, and released them to WikiLeaks for reasons of "plausible deniability." Moreover, the dossier claims, Trump's team used "moles" within the DNC as well as Russian hackers based in both Russia and the US. Trump officials provided information to Moscow about Russian oligarchs living in the US, the dossier continues. While much of this is not verifiable, the US intelligence community agrees that Russia hacked the election with the intent of helping Trump win the presidency. Trump also invited the Russians to hack the Clinton campaign. And his campaign did intervene to weaken the GOP platform position against the Ukrainian invasion.

The Errors

The dossier contains errors. The Alfa Group, a consortium of financial institutions including Russia's biggest "private" bank, Alfa Bank, is consistently misspelled as "Alpha Group." The dossier says that the Trump team agreed not to mention Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine in return for the hacks, and would instead focus on other US/NATO defense committement. If Trump or his team made that promise, they did not fully honor it. (Guardian)

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January 12, 2017: Trump Compares US Intelligence Community to Nazi Germany in Dossier Denunciation

Trump compares the US intelligence community to Nazi Germany during a news conference in which he lambasts the community for what he calls leaks of information from the Steele dossier.

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He blames the community for media stories claiming he was caught on film engaging in lurid and distasteful sexual acts with Russian prostitutes in 2013. "I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it's a disgrace, and I say that … that's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do," he says. Trump made similar claims on Twitter before the conference, writing, "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?" He also grudgingly admits that Russia is the likely culprit in hacking the election, but immediately points out that other nations are also hacking US governmental and private computers. Trump calls the dossier "fake news" and "phony stuff," and calls Buzzfeed, the media outlet that initially released the dossier, "a failing pile of garbage." Without offering evidence, he says that information on the dossier "was released by maybe the intelligence agencies. Who knows? But maybe the intelligence agencies which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that." The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, says he told Trump that the media leaks did not come from any US intelligence agency: "I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security," Clapper says in a statement. He says the dossier's information was legitimately included in a recent intelligence briefing because "part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security." He adds that he told Trump the dossier remains unverified, and calls the comparison of the intelligence community to Nazi Germany "outrageous." He tells a Fox News audience: "What I do find outrageous is equating an intelligence community with Nazi Germany. I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly." He adds: "Now that he's going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he's going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that US and national security interests are protected. … I think he has to be mindful that he does not have a full appreciation and understanding of what the implications are of going down that road." The Anti-Defamation League blasts Trump for the comparison to Nazi Germany. The ADL's CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says in a statement, "The President-Elect's use of Nazi Germany to make a political analogy is not only an inappropriate comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust," and calls such "glib comparisons" offensive. Greenblatt says that Trump should apologize for the comparison. Trump will not do so. (Reuters, Washington Post, Washington Post, Guardian)

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January 12, 2017: Trump Lies about DNI "Denuncation" of Trump-Russia Dossier

Donald Trump posts on Twitter: "James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phony facts.Too bad!" Either Trump is lying or Clapper's private statement to Trump is far different from what he is publicly saying.

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Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, has noted he spoke to Trump on the evening of January 11, and according to press reports, told him the US intelligence community "has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable." He specifically did not call the report "false," nor did he "denounce" the report. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, responds to Trump's tweet by saying: "Sadly, you cannot rely on the president-elect's tweets or statements about what he's receiving in intelligence briefings. And that's a real problem. If people really want to know what Director Clapper had to say to Donald Trump, do not rely on Donald Trump's tweets, rely on Director Clapper's statement." Trump has also accused the US intelligence community of leaking the document to the media, an accusation Clapper has denied. (Donald Trump, Toronto Sun, Reuters)

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January 13, 2017: Trump Continues to Defend Russia on Twitter

In yet another irate Twitter post, Trump derides the Trump-Russia dossier and quotes Russian denials of its veracity, saying: "Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans – FAKE NEWS! Russia says nothing exists. Probably … " (Donald Trump)


January 13, 2017: US Intelligence Warns Israel Not to Share Intelligence with Trump White House for Fear of Leaks to Russia, Iran

Israeli intelligence officials have been warned by high-level US intelligence officials not to share intelligence with the Trump administration, for fear the intelligence would be provided to Russia and then to Iran.

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The reporting by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth says that members of the US intelligence community are worried about Trump officials' ties to Russia, which stands with Iran on the side of the Assad regime in Syria. Journalist Ronen Bergman writes, "The Israelis who attended the meeting said that the Americans advised them not to expose any sensitive sources to members of the Trump administration, lest that information reach Iranian hands, until it becomes clear that Trump does not have a compromised relationship with Russia and is not vulnerable to extortion." The officials tell the Israelis that Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin has unspecified "levers of pressure" over Trump. Some of that leverage may have been described in the Steele dossier. (Raw Story)

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January 13, 2017: Comey Refuses to Confirm FBI Investigation into Trump in Classified Briefing

In a classified hearing with members of Congress, FBI Director James Comey refuses to confirm whether the bureau is investigating Donald Trump's ties to Russia. Democrats immediately blast Comey, reminding him that in October 2016 he misinformed Congress about a supposed reopening of an investigation into Hillary Clinton, which many blame for shifting a critical number of votes towards Trump.

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Comey previously told Congress he would never confirm a Trump investigation in a public hearing, but most members expected some confirmation in the closed-door session. One source in the meeting later says Comey refused to answer even "basic questions" about the FBI's current investigations. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asks Comey if he isn't applying a double standard to Trump; reportedly, Comey replies that his standard is "a need for public to be reassured, [and] when it's obvious, it's apparent, given our activities, public activities that the investigation is ongoing." Another source says that Nadler asks Comey: "Do you believe that standard has been met with reference to the possible investigation of the Trump campaign's possible connections to the Russian government? And if not, why not?" Reportedly, Comey refuses to answer. Others in the meeting are Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Mike Rogers. After the meeting, Tim Walz (D-MN) tells reporters: "I was nonjudgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him." Elijah Cummings (D-MD) describes himself as "extremely concerned" with Comey's actions, and Mark Takano (D-CA) calls himself "very angry." John Lewis (D-GA) goes further: "I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president … I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton." (Guardian, New York Magazine)

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January 13, 2017: Steele Believes FBI Initially Blocked Investigation of Trump in Favor of Targeting Clinton

The Independent provides an in-depth report on Christopher Steele, the highly regarded former MI6 agent who spent the best part of 2016 creating the now-infamous dossier that claims Trump and his campaign worked with Russia to win the presidency, and the Kremlin has compromising information of a financial and sexual nature on Trump.

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The report says that Steele became so concerned by what he was finding that by the end of his project, he was working without pay. He also gave the information he found to both British and American intelligence officials, after concluding that the material was a matter of national security and should not just be given to Trump's political opponents. One of the agencies he gave the dossier to was the FBI. But, the Independent writes, he "became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails." The report also claims that a colleague of Steele's, Glenn Simpson, may have worked with Steele on the Trump investigation. Simpson is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the consulting firm Fusion GPS. In September 2015, Fusion GPS was hired by Republican opponents of Trump's to find negative information on the candidate. Steele, himself a director of the corporate intelligence consulting firm Orbis Business Intelligence, joined the investigation in June 2016. When Trump won the Republican nomination in July, Steele and Fusion GPS became clients of the Democratic Party. That same month, Steele gave a memo to the FBI saying "that Mr Trump's campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow's intervention in Ukraine." Four days later, Trump publicly pledged to recognize Russia's military occupation of Crimea. His campaign officials had already watered down language in the Republican convention platform that would have pledged US military assistance to Ukraine to defend itself from Russian-aligned rebels. Steele wrote that the Trump campaign was moving in this direction in part because it was aware that Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. The same day Trump pledged to recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea, he publicly asked the Kremlin to hack Clinton's personal emails. MI6 received information about Trump in July and August. By September, the FBI was gathering more and more information about Trump and his Russian connections. Steele compiled a set of his documents into a single dossier and provided a copy to his contacts at the FBI. But the FBI publicly ignored the dossier, and instead released a series of damaging comments and allegations about Clinton and her email follies. The Independent writes: "The New York [FBI] office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city." By October, Steele was demoralized and frustrated, and spoke to investigative reporter David Corn of Mother Jones magazine. At the end of October, the magazine published an article by Corn that gave some details about the dossier and its as-then-unnamed source, an article that drew little attention – the same day the report was published, FBI Director James Comey released a letter that was falsely construed to mean the FBI was planning a new investigation into Clinton's emails. Steele and Simpson were no longer employed by the Democrats after Trump's surprise presidential victory, but they kept working without pay, "hopeful that the wider investigation into Russian hacking in the US would allow the Trump material to be properly examined," the Independent writes. In December, Senator John McCain, a Republican who is increasingly worried about the Trump-Kremlin connection, delivered a copy of Steele's dossier to Comey. Currently, Steele is in hiding, reportedly in fear for his life. Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko who was murdered, allegedly by Putin operatives, says Steele is in danger from the same people who killed her husband: "I believe it is very dangerous, particularly after death of my husband, because when you just approach very specific information, particularly when this information very close to very powerful people, you might be in this line and you just easily might be killed." (Independent, BBC, Mother Jones)

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January 13, 2017: Incoming CIA Director Agrees with Intelligence Assessment that Russia Sabotaged US Election

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), named by Trump to head the CIA, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that he agrees with the assessment by the US intelligence community that Russia sabotaged the 2016 election.

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He says that he is sure Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin intended to cause the dissension over Trump's legitimacy currently dividing the nation. He says the Kremlin has "reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nothing to aid in the defeat of ISIS," and adds, "It's pretty clear about what took place here about Russia involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy." (NBC News)

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January 13, 2017: American Far Left Targeted by Russian Propaganda, Some Leftists Willingly Cooperated

The Daily Beast's Casey Michel examines how elements of the American far left, particularly Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her supporters, helped to promote the Trump candidacy and damage Hillary Clinton's chances for the presidency. Michel concludes that Russian propaganda operatives used Stein and other leftists in a coordinated effort to vilify Clinton and drive Democratic and left-leaning independents away from her on Election Day.

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Part of their efforts, he writes, "involved catering to her rivals on the far-left and pushing any number of crankish conspiracy theories that appeal as much to 'anti-imperialists' as to neo-Nazis." Nor was that effort new to 2016. Moscow has long tried to cultivate ties with America's leftward fringe, contributing millions to the US Communist Party during the Soviet era and soliciting assets among the far left. But, he writes, since mid-2015, observers "have seen a noted spike in information warfare aimed at gulling the Bernie Bros and Occupy-besotted alternative-media set, which saw Clinton as more of a political danger than it did Trump," he writes. Stein is a notable case. In December 2015, Stein accepted an invitation to attend the 10-year anniversary of the Kremlin's propaganda network RT in Moscow. It is still not publicly known who paid for Stein's trip to Moscow and her accomodations there; her presidential campaign has persisted in refusing to answer questions about that matter. (Raw Story's Travis Gettys says that the Stein dossier implied that Stein's trip was funded by the Kremlin.) Stein not only attended the celebratory dinner (with Vladimir Putin and Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn among the attendees), but spoke at an RT-sponsored panel where she blasted the "disastrous militarism" of the US's foreign policy and then proclaiming her political solidarity with Putin in a press event held in Red Square. It is their mutual hatred of US foreign policy that brings Stein and Putin together, Michel writes. She has condemned Ukraine's 2014 EuroMaidan uprising as a "coup" against a pro-Putin autocracy, and has accused the US and NATO of "fighting … enemies we invent to give the weapons industry a reason to sell more stuff." She has repeatedly defended Russia's military annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, and chose a vice-presidential candidate who called the downing of Flight MH17 by Russian-aligned separatists a "false flag" attack mounted by opponents to Russia. "Instead of fomenting a hostile Ukraine we should be leading the way in establishing a neutral Ukraine that would allow Russia to not feel under attack," she wrote on her campaign website. European Green Party officials and Russian environmental activists have called Stein "delusional" and lambasted her for her public alignment with the Kremlin. RT hosted the US Green Party's 2016 presidential debate, and covered "live updates" of Stein's reactions to the Clinton-Trump debates, which Stein praised as a "step towards real democracy." Michel writes, "This mutual affection is, naturally, of a piece with RT's broader modus operandi in the US." Michel notes that RT spends far more effort in working to bring American leftists on board rather than extol the virtues of Trump or other Republican candidates. Another Kremlin-funded propaganda network, Sputnik, hosts podcasts by American "progressives," hoping to build a pro-Russian brand among the American left. "Nor are these fake news outlets tilling fallow soil," he writes. One of the major leftist publications in America, The Nation, openly supports and reposts information from RT, even content written by RT's neo-Nazi contingent. The Nation, Michel writes, "has developed a notoriously soft spot for a regime that violently opposes" issues it supports, such as gay rights, government transparency, and voter rights. Like Stein, The Nation has recently lent its support to the pro-Russian "autonomy referendums" in eastern Ukraine, putting it squarely on the same side of the issue as Donald Trump, Breitbart, and white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer. Sputnik repeatedly worked to persuade Sanders primary voters to vote for Trump instead of Clinton; The Nation and other American "progressive" news outlets joined RT and Sputnik in vilifying Clinton, often sharing false Russian-generated propaganda designed to damage Clinton's image and drive voters away from her. Nation contributing editor Doug Henwood has maintained a professional relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; when Michel asked him about that issue, Henwood retorted by calling Michel a "fucking idiot." Nation contributing writer James Carden, a former Wall Street banker who contributes to the Kremlin's Russia Direct, threatened physical violence against Michel when Michel asked him about his work with that outlet. WikiLeaks, Michel observes, is apparently the focal point of the convergence between Russia and the American far left. WikiLeaks has long since aligned itself with Moscow's interests. It partnered with virulent anti-Semites to leak US State Department cables to Belarus's pro-Kremlin dictatorship which promptly used those documents to hunt down dissidents. WikiLeaks's founder Julian Assange refused to investigate his organization's role in aiding Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in arresting activists and opposition leaders. WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign all but worked openly together, with Trump repeatedly singing its praises and exhorting his followers to read through the latest releases of WikiLeaks's Russian-sourced releases of illegally hacked campaign information. Stein considers Assange a hero; Putin considers him a valuable asset. Michel writes: "Stein, The Nation, and WikiLeaks are hardly outliers on social media or insignificant in their political reach; to their respective audiences, they wield as much influence as Breitbart does with Trump loyalists. In a few swing states, after all, Clinton lost to Trump by a margin smaller than Stein's total statewide voter haul. The Nation has tens of thousands of subscribers and a venerable, 150-year-old pedigree for liberal advocacy. The WikiLeaked DNC and John Podesta emails, meanwhile, gradually released during and after the Democratic National Convention in August, did untold damage to Clinton's campaign." Michel concludes by saying that many on the far reaches of the American right and left both need to step back and assess just how closely their political colleagues have "happily aligned with Putin's spymasters and arms-length purveyors of 'active measures.' and provided cover for a foreign government's interference in a US election. … Putin has cultivated dupes, fellow travelers, and purblind fools among plenty of American progressives who, whether by accident or design, have facilitated the rise of the most extremist and reactionary president this country has ever elected." (Daily Beast, Raw Story)

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January 17, 2017: Putin Vilifies Obama, Defends Trump

Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin accuses the outgoing Obama administration of attempting to undermine Donald Trump's legitimacy with what it calls fake allegations of Russian hacking, and of "binding the president-elect hand and foot to prevent him from fulfilling his election promises."

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Putin calls the Trump-Russia dossier "nonsense." He continues: "People who order such fakes against the US president-elect, fabricate them and use them in political struggle are worse than prostitutes. They have no moral restrictions whatsoever, and it highlights a significant degree of degradation of political elites in the West, including in the United States." Putin calls Trump's electoral win "convincing." He says he hopes "common sense will prevail" and that the US and Russia will be able to normalize relations after Trump takes power. "I don't know Mr. Trump," he adds. "I have never met him and I don't know what he will do on the international arena. I have no reason whatsoever to assail him, criticize him for something, or defend him." Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the dossier is a "rude provocation," and calls its author, veteran MI6 agent Christopher Steele, "runaway swindler from MI6." Asked about Putin's statements, White House press secretary Josh Earnest says it "was not the first time the intelligence community has had some uncomfortable things to say about Russia. … These are the kind of things I'm sure the Russians would rather not hear, but ultimately, and this is something that the next administration is going to have to decide, there's a pretty stark divide here." Of the dossier's allegations that Trump had sexual relations with Russian prostitutes during his time in Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, Putin says Trump could have had better choices for female companionship from the pageant contestants, even though, Putin adds, Moscow prostitutes "are also the best in the world." Putin goes so far as to say Trump's opponents may attempt to "stage a Maidan in Washington to prevent Trump from entering office," a reference to the 2014 protests in Ukraine that forced its Putin-friendly dictator from power. "People who are doing that are inflicting colossal damage to the interests of the United States," Putin says. "How can you do anything to improve U.S.-Russian relations when they launch such canards as hackers' interference in the election?" (Associated Press)

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Before January 20, 2017: Obama Officials Say Russia is Attempting to Destablize West

Obama national security advisor Benjamin Rhodes will say before leaving the White House that he is convinced Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin has gone into what he calls an "offensive mode beyond what he sees as his sphere of influence," setting out to encourage the "breakup" of the European Union, destabilize NATO, and cause unrests in what the New Yorker calls "the object of his keenest resentment – the United States."

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Rhodes will say, "The new phase we're in is that the Russians have moved into an offensive posture that threatens the very international order." Obama-era UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who like Rhodes will leave office after Trump is inaugurated, echoes Rhodes's words, saying that Russia is "taking steps that are weakening the rules-based order that we have benefitted from for seven decades." (New Yorker)

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Before January 20, 2017: Obama Officials Work to Preserve Evidence of Russian Election Sabotage, Possible Trump Collusion

White House officials work diligently to spread and preserve collected information about Russian efforts to sabotage the presidential election, and about the possible contacts between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign around the various departments of the Executive Branch. Former Obama officials will later say that they had two main goals: ensuring that such sabotage does not plague future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail for possible future investigations. Left unsaid is the worry that officials of the incoming Trump administration might work to destroy such evidence.

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The evidence being preserved includes information provided by European allies about meetings between Trump associates and Russian officials, and intercepted communications made by Russian officials discussing their contacts with Trump associates. Trump has falsely insisted that no one in his campaign ever had any contact with Russian officials, and has even suggested that the entire issue is something cooked up by US intelligence agencies and Obama officials in order to discredit him and his incoming administration. Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer will say in March: "The only new piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election. There continues to be no there, there." Like his boss, Spicer will be lying. Regardless of Trump's denials and accusations, many Obama officials believe that Trump associates may have been colluded with Russia in the hacks of Democratic emails. The information securing takes many forms. Some officials begin asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers will be archived and easily obtained by Congressional and federal investigators. Intelligence analysts push as much raw intelligence as possible into their analyses, and keep the reports at as low a classification level as possible to ensure as many government officials as possible can access it. In some instances, those analyses are shared with European allies. Some of it is uploaded into Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information. Some Democratic Congressional members are given caches of documents. The document preservation continues until the final moments of the administration. As the New York Times will later write, "This was partly because intelligence was still being collected and analyzed, but it also reflected the sentiment among many administration officials that they had not recognized the scale of the Russian campaign until it was too late." (New York Times)

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In 1917, armed supporters of Lenin stormed the Winter Palace and arrested capitalist ministers and overthrew the social political order. On January 20, 2017, nobody in Washington planned to storm Congress or the White House and hang prominent members of the old regime from lampposts, but the feeling of the American political elite, especially the liberal part of it, is not different from that of the Russian bourgeoisie one hundred years ago. — Moskovski Komsomolets, quoted by the New York Times

Before January 20, 2017: US Intelligence Official Tells Israelis Trump is Compromised, May Leak Intel to Russians

A small group of Mossad officers and other Israeli intelligence officials meet with their CIA counterparts at CIA headquarters in Langley. After the routine business is covered, one American official tells the Israelis that the US intelligence community has determined that Vladimir Putin has achieved "leverages of pressure" over Trump. He does not offer specifics.

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He warns the Israelis to "be careful" after Trump takes office. Trump or his officials could leak sensitive information to Russia, and the Russians in turn could leak that information to their ally Iran, Israel's most dangerous adversary. The Israelis are horrified, but unsure whether to believe the warnings. Trump's May 10, 2017 leak of highly classified Israeli intelligence to Russian officials convinces the Israelis that the warning is serious. In November 2017, a former US intelligence operative will say to a Vanity Fair reporter: "How can the agency continue to provide the White House with intel without wondering where it will wind up? … Those leaks to the New York Times and the Washington Post about the investigations into Trump and his cohorts is no accident. Trust me: you don't want to get into a pissing match with a bunch of spooks. This is war." (Vanity Fair)

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January 20, 2017: Russian News Host Praises Putin, Applauds White House's Stance Against Gay Rights

Dmitry Kiselyov, host of the Moscow television program "News of the Week," praises Donald Trump and dismisses criticisms of him. He calls charges of Trump's oft-displayed racism as "unfounded myth," and says Trump's sexist, predatory remarks about women are nothing more than a "minute's worth of impulsivity."

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Trump "is what we call in our country a muzhik," a real man, Kiselyov says. "On the first day of his Presidency, he removed from the official White House Web site the section protecting the rights of gays and lesbians. He never supported that. He was always behind the values of the traditional family." (New York Times)

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January 23, 2017: BuzzFeed Editor Defends Decision to Publish Trump-Russia Dossier

Ben Smith, the editor of the online news outlet BuzzFeed, publishes an op-ed defending his firm's decision to publish the Trump-Russia dossier that has caused so much controversy and pushback.

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Smith writes, "Since BuzzFeed News published a 35-page dossier of unverified allegations about ties between President Donald J. Trump and Russia, I've heard a chorus of criticism from journalists who say we abdicated our role as gatekeeper, and a chorus of thanks from readers who want to be trusted to judge dubious documents." Smith says there were two major reasons why he and his staff chose to publish the unverified document, "with appropriate context and caveats … and only after we had spent weeks with reporters in the United States and Europe trying to confirm or disprove specific claims." First, he notes, "the documents were in wide circulation among top intelligence and elected officials and news organizations. They were being fought over – and acted on – at the highest levels of power. But the rest of the country was getting only the occasional glimpse of those battles, never the source documents themselves." He quotes newspaper editor Seth Lipsky as writing, "The only party to this whole affair that didn't know about it, it seems, was the public." Secondly, he notes, the dossier became news when the media reported that both Trump and President Obama had been briefed on the dossier's contents. CNN summarized the content of the dossier as "compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump." Smith writes: "We at BuzzFeed News had, of course, considered that someone else would post the dossier, and planned in that case to follow by adding what we knew on it. We hadn't anticipated what actually happened: a bombshell report that described the document, while the document itself remained secret. That halfway position ran contrary to how we think of our compact with our audience: You trust us to give you the full story; we trust you to reckon with a messy, sometimes uncertain reality. And with other news organizations already trumpeting the dossier's central allegation – that the Trump campaign maintained secret ties to the Russian leadership – our decision to publish it in full rapidly advanced the story." He adds, "Whether reporters from Washington to Budapest succeed in verifying its claims or otherwise does not diminish the compelling public interest in the story – or the presumptive right of the public, and not just a Beltway elite, to see the document." Smith dismisses administration claims that BuzzFeed's and CNN's reporting on the dossier is "fake news," a label he says is "term now used by partisans and cynics to discredit reporting they don't like. We should have seen that coming. BuzzFeed News's reporting helped popularize the term to describe a new breed of fraudsters. But the dossier is a real document that has been influencing senior officials, lawmakers, intelligence agencies and, potentially, the new commander in chief. Nobody should fall for this attempt to turn the press on itself by making a reasonable debate about transparency into a media civil war." He then adds: "News organizations should instead consider this reality: Our audience inhabits a complex, polluted information environment; our role is to help them navigate it – not to pretend it doesnt exist. The need to show our work and earn trust has never been more important, since once reliable official sources are peddling 'alternative facts' – as the White House press secretary did Saturday." He concludes: "Some legacy media organizations have reacted to the new challenges by retreating to traditional reporting procedures of ostentatious, and sometimes false, balance and voice-of-God authority. Their theory is that the media can confront power by engaging in a theater of traditional journalism and proving their purity and incorruptibility – in short, hew to the same rules that got them steamrollered in 2016. This retreat is dangerous. Instead, we need to develop new rules that adhere to the core values of honesty and respect for our audience. That means debunking falsehoods, and being transparent with readers about our process of reporting. Sometimes, it means publishing unverified information in a transparent way that informs our users of its provenance, its impact and why we trust or distrust it. … In a democracy, the justification for shielding the public from something like [the dossier] must be overwhelming. The instinct to suppress news of this significance is precisely the wrong one for journalism in 2017." A week before, Smith defendedBuzzFeed's decision to publish the dossier, telling a CNN audience: "We're proud we published it. And I feel, three days later, it seems clear it was the right thing to do, if you look at how much more we know than we knew three days ago. And I think in three months, it will look even clearer." He said BuzzFeed is "well within the tradition of American journalism" in its decision, and noted, "Every time you use the world alleged on your air, every time you see the word 'alleged' in print or on the web, that is saying we are repeating a claim we can't verify." (New York Times, The Hill)

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National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lies to the FBI about his discussions of US sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

January 25, 2017: House Intelligence Committee Opens Investigation into Russian Attack on Election

The House Intelligence Committee announces it is opening an investigation into the Russian attempts to sabotage and subvert the 2016 presidential election. A joint statement released by committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) and ranking committee member Adam Schiff (D-CA) says that the investigation will focus on "Russian cyber activity and other 'active measures' directed against the US and its allies; counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns; the United States government response to these Russian active measures and any impact they may have on intelligence relationships and traditional alliances; and possible leaks of classified information related to the intelligence community's assessments of these matters."

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In an interview, Schiff explains why the committee will investigate the allegations. "We have a good basis [of fact] in the report that the intelligence community put out, but we want to know the details of just what the Russians did, every vector they've used to attack our democracy. They've used media platforms, they've used obviously hacking, the dumping of documents. We want to make sure to investigate whether there were any connections, direct connections or communications with the campaigns, whether any financial transactions – the whole range of what might have taken place, some of which we certainly know. But we want to know the how of it, we want to know more about the why of it. We also want to examine the U.S. government's response and be self-critical about whether we acted the way we should, what improvements we need to make in our defenses." Schiff confirms what several members of Congress have said, that classified information exists that shows more about the Russian cyberattacks that the public is not aware of. Asked if the committee will probe into possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, Schiff confirms that it will: "We're not going to leave it there if there were any kind of communications or interactions with the Clinton campaign, we will look at that, too. But you're right, it is enormously fraught politically. After all, we're exploring a potential connection between a foreign adversarial power and one of the major presidential campaigns or both of them. So, yes, it's a very politically delicate task to talk about, but frankly we are committed and the chairman has said he is committed as well to following the evidence wherever it may lead, and so we have to pursue I think any credible allegation. … [C]learly there have been a number of very public allegations concerning the Trump campaign." A similar investigation in the Senate Intelligence Committee is already underway. (NPR, US News, Politico)

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January 27, 2017: Trump Demands Loyalty Pledge from Comey, Comey Refuses

FBI Director James Comey is summoned to the White House for a private dinner with Donald Trump, where Trump demands that Comey pledge his loyalty to him. Comey demurs. Associates of Comey, who have spoken with Comey about the dinner, will tell the New York Times that they believe Comey's refusal to compromise himself and the bureau is part of the reason why Trump ultimately decides to fire him.

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According to the two associates, who speak to the Times in May, Trump begins the conversation with boasts about his election victory and the size of the crowds at his inauguration. Then Trump asks if Comey will pledge his loyalty to him. Comey refuses. As the sources say, and Comey has said to others, he promised he would be honest with Trump, but that he would continue to operate independently as the FBI chief has done since the time of the bureau's inception. Comey tells Trump he is not "reliable" in the conventional political sense. According to Comey and the Times sources, Trump asked Comey repeatedly to promise his loyalty, a request Comey did not grant. Trump then asks if he could promise his "honest loyalty," and Comey responds, "You will have that." Trump either does not understand the traditional independence of the FBI Director or does not care about it. After the Watergate crisis, Congress passed a law giving a director a ten-year tenure, making them more independent of the whims of the president. Comey will tell several of his closest associates about the dinner conversation, but will ask them to keep it to themselves while he is director. The sources will decide to make the account public after Comey's May 9 firing. In May, the White House will say that the story is false. Trump will give a very different recounting of the dinner conversation with Comey, claiming that Comey had requested the dinner meeting to beg Trump to keep his job. In the May interview, Trump will not mention any discussion of a loyalty pledge. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will accuse Comey of committing unspecified "atrocities" during his tenure, will say: "We don't believe this to be an accurate account. The integrity of our law enforcement agencies and their leadership is of the utmost importance to President Trump. He would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people." Asked about the loyalty request, Sanders will say that Trump wants someone to head the FBI who is "loyal to the justice system." Trump met Comey for the first time during the presidential transition, when Comey presented him with evidence that the Russians had sabotaged the election. Comey is also the one who revealed the existence of the Steele dossier to Trump. Comey's associates say that he never requested any such dinner meeting with Trump, and only agreed to the invitation because he did not believe it was proper to turn him down. Comey has no intention of being viewed as "chummy" with Trump, his associates will say. (New York Times)

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White House photo of Trump calling Putin

January 28, 2017: Trump Calls Putin, Other World Leaders

Donald Trump speaks with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, one of the first world leaders he has talked with after his inauguration. In separate conversations, he also speaks with Germany's Angela Merkel, Japan's Shinzo Abe, France's François Hillande, and Australia's Malcolm Turnbull.

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According to the Kremlin, Trump and Putin discuss stabilizing the relationship between the two nations, as well as discussing international trade, terrorism, the situations in Ukraine and Korea, and working together to defeat ISIS in Syria. The Kremlin summary does not mention US sanctions against Russia, but it does state that warmer economic relations between the US and Russia "could further stimulate progressive and stable development of bilateral relations." A Trump official later says that no plans currently exist for lifting US sanctions against Russia. The Kremlin adds: "The two leaders emphasized that joining efforts in fighting the main threat – international terrorism – is a top priority. The presidents spoke out for establishing real coordination of actions between Russia and the US aimed at defeating ISIS and other terrorists groups in Syria." Among the US officials in the Oval Office with Trump during the conversation with Putin are Vice President Pence, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, senior policy advisor Steve Bannon, and press secretary Sean Spicer, though Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says Trump and Putin were scheduled to speak alone. British Prime Minister Theresa May has advised Trump: "With President Putin, my advice is to engage but beware." Apparently the Kremlin is pleased with the conversation with Trump. Senior Russian parliamentary member Konstantin Kosachyov says: "The conversation was supposed to return substance and sense to the Russian-American dialogue. By all appearances that's what happened." During one portion of the call, Putin asks Trump about the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons deployments; Trump, apparently ignorant of the treaty, pauses to ask aides in the room what the treaty is, then denounces it as too favorable towards Russia. Spicer later says Trump knows what the treaty is, and merely sought the opinion of an advisor. Trump repeatedly misrepresented and lied about the treaty during the campaign. Spicer posts a photo of Trump speaking with Putin on Twitter. While Trump's conversation with Putin was friendly, his conversations with Merkel and Turnbull were much chillier, with Trump criticizing both nations' policies and insulting the European Union. Reportedly, Trump says the conversation with Turnbull is "the worst call by far." Trump lambasts both Merkel and Turnbull over their decisions to admit refugees to their countries, in Australia's case as part of a deal negotiated between the US and Australia under President Obama. Reports from White House sources also say that Trump brags to both leaders about his political accomplishments and his supposed popularity, as he did in a call yesterday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Trump later blasts the "leaks" that provided that information to the press, and accuses "Obama people" still serving in the White House of giving that information out. (CNN, NPR, Washington Post, photo of Trump, Pence, Flynn et al from Daily Kos)

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January 30, 2017: Trump fires Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, ostensibly for refusing to defend his unconstitutional executive order prohibiting Muslims and refugees from entering the country.

Late January - February 2017: Trump Administration Tries, Fails to Secretly End Russia Sanctions

The Trump administration tries, and fails, to unilaterally end US sanctions against Russia. The media will not learn of these efforts until June 2017.

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State Department and former Obama administration officials ultimately succeed in stopping the effort to rescind the sanctions. One of the first actions taken by the incoming administration is to order State Department staffers to develop proposals for ending economic sanctions, return seized diplomatic compounds to Moscow, and other steps to ease tensions with Moscow. Moscow, one of the executive directives says, will in return cooperate more fully with the US in fighting ISIS in Syria. In response, some State Department officials begin lobbying Congressional leaders to pass legislation to block the efforts. Dan Fried, the chief US coordinator for sanctions policy until his retirement in late February, later says, "There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions." Fried will recall receiving several "panicky" calls from government officials, who tell him they are under directions to develop a sanctions-lifting package and requesting, "Please, my God, can't you stop this?" Fried contacts Capitol Hill allies, including Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to urge them to pass laws that would "codify" the sanctions in place and make it more difficult for Trump to remove them using the power of his office. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Tom Malinkowski, who has just left his position, joins Fried and others in fighting against the sanctions removal. Malinkowski later says that during his last weeks in office, he learns of former colleagues that not only does Trump want to remove the sanctions, but he wants to arrange a summit meeting between himself and Vladimir Putin as part of a larger effort to implement a "grand bargain" with Moscow, a course of action that Malinowski will say "would have been a win-win for Moscow." As one of his final acts as Assistant Secretary, Malinowski announces a round of sanctions against a number of senior Russian government officials under the Magnitsky Act. He also reaches out to Congressional leaders like Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Cardin and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduce a bill prohibiting the administration from unilaterally lifting sanctions against Russia without first submitting its proposal for Congressional review. After National Security Advisor Michael Flynn abruptly resigned, or was fired, over his undisclosed and possibly illicit engagements with Russian officials, and his talks with those officials about lifting the sanctions, the push to remove the sanctions loses steam. Malinowsky will say that after the Flynn removal, "it didn't take too long for it to become clear that if they lifted sanctions, there would be a political firestorm." In June 2017, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff will write: "The previously unreported efforts by Fried and others to check the Trump administration's policy moves cast new light on the unseen tensions over Russia policy during the early days of the new administration. It also potentially takes on new significance for congressional and Justice Department investigators in light of reports that before the administration took office Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his chief foreign policy adviser, Michael Flynn, discussed setting up a private channel of communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak – talks that appear to have laid the groundwork for the proposals that began circulating right after the inauguration." A senior White House official will tell Isikoff that the effort to remove the sanctions was merely part of a comprehensive sanctions review, and will blame Moscow for not unilaterally ending the Ukraine conflict, which the official implies would have resulted in sanctions being lifted. Trump frequently spoke of wanting to ease relations with Russia during the campaign, but he never disclosed his idea for unilaterally removing all US sanctions against Russia without requiring Russia to acknowledge its invasion of Ukraine or its sabotage of the 2016 US elections. (Yahoo News)

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— February 2017 —

February 2, 2017: Treasury Eases Sanctions on Russia's FSB

The US Treasury department eases the sanctions that until now had been imposed on Russia's FSB (formerly the KGB), Russia's main intelligence agency, for interfering in the US presidential election.

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The Treasury Department implements "limited exceptions" to the sanctions that allow US companies to make some transactions with the FSB that are needed to gain approval to import information technology products into Russia. In response to a question about the partial lifting of the sanctions, Donald Trump retorts, "I'm not easing anything." Trump officials deny his administration is taking a softer stance towards Russia, with one Treasury official calling the change nothing more than a "very technical fix" made in response to "direct complaints" from companies that were unable to import many consumer technology products without a permit from the FSB. He adds that the changes were in the process of being made before the Trump inauguration. The FSB regulates the importation of hardware and software that contains cryptography; companies need the agency's permission to import even broadly available commercial products such as cellphones and printers, if they contain encryption. (Reuters)

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February 3, 2017: Russian Executive Sues over Trump-Russia Document

Aleksej Gubarev, the chief of a technology firm in Luxembourg, files a defamation suit in Florida alleging that the Trump-Russia dossier contains inaccurate information about him.

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The lawsuit names BuzzFeed, the media outlet that first published the dossier, as the defendant. Gubarev's lawsuit says that the dossier falsely named him and his firm, XBT, as being involved in cyberhacking operations against the Democratic Party. The lawsuit says that BuzzFeed behaved recklessly in publishing the dossier, that nothing in the dossier concerning Gubarev are true, that his reputation is now "in tatters," that his family's security is compromised, and his firm's business prospects are compromised. It calls the decision to publish the dossier "perhaps one of the most reckless and irresponsible moments in modern 'journalism'." BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith has said that his reporters in the US and Europe spent weeks investigating the report before the outlet decided to publish. The dossier says that Gubarev was "recruited under duress by the FSB" and became a "significant player" in the Russian government operation to hack the Democratic National Committee. XBT "had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct altering operations' against the Democratic Party leadership" in 2016, the dossier asserts. Gubarev lives in Cyprus. He founded the site Webzilla, which is also named in the dossier, and built it into his firm XBT. The lawsuit is filed in Florida, where Webzilla is registered. After learning of the lawsuit, BuzzFeed removes information concerning Gubarev from the dossier, saying in a statement, "We have redacted Mr. Gubarev's name from the published dossier, and apologize for including it." BuzzFeed spokesperson Matt Mittenthal says the outlet redacted other names in the document and should have redacted Gubarev's, but defends the decision to publish it. Gubarev is also suing Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who compiled the document, and Steele's consulting company. Lawyer and First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams says the lawsuit presents a "difficult situation for BuzzFeed to be confronted with. … It seems inevitable that BuzzFeed will say in some fashion that subjecting it to crippling damages for publishing the dossier would, in the end, imperil the public's right to know just what misconduct an American president" is suspected of. "I would think that wherever this case is heard, an absolutely central issue will be whether a court would adopt the neutral reportage principle and say basically precisely what the editor of BuzzFeed has been saying – that this is an enormous matter of public interest, we reported it fairly, we did not endorse it, we made very clear that these were simply charges that were well known to everyone but the American public." For his part, Gubarev says he is ready to defend his claims of innocence, and will allow law enforcement to inspect his computer equipment: "I'm willing to do any investigation. Come to my office. Do what you want. Check all my servers." Gubarev's lawyers say that BuzzFeed's apology will not impact its decision to sue BuzzFeed. Donald Trump and other senior Trump administration officials have harshly criticized BuzzFeed for publishing the dossier; Trump has said: "As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences. They already are." (New York Times, CNN Money, The Hill, CNBC)

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February 9, 2017: Former NATO General, Defense Expert Say US Unprepared to Handle Russian Cyberattacks

In a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, witnesses say the US does not fully comprehend Russia's cyber capabilities, and is unprepared to respond to future cyberattacks directed by the Kremlin. The witnesses in the hearing are former NATO supreme allied commander General Philip Breedlove and Julianne Smith, director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program of the Center for New American Strategy.

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In a prepared statement, Smith tells the senators, "Russia's ability to wage information warfare has been greatly aided by its heavy investments in cyberspace, where the United States remains ill-equipped to counter or deter its aggressive probing." Breedlove warns that Russia's "hybrid warfare" capabilities, and says, "What I haven't seen among the western nations who are under this attack is a strong, unified voice of indignation, outrage and to bring force to this." The US and its allies must unite to oppose Russia and counter its global propaganda efforts, Breedlove continues, saying that up to now, the US has not entered the information warfare battlefield. The US is not doing enough to reassure its allies that we stand with them against Russian cyberattacks, he adds. Breedlove goes on to say that Russia's overarching plans are to weaken and perhaps even hasten the demise of NATO and the European Union, and destabilize transatlantic relations. Russia's continued occupation of Ukraine's Crimea region, and its attempts to incorporate it into itself, could lead to the eventual invasion of one or more Baltic nations, where, as in eastern Ukraine, ethnic Russians make up large parts of the local populations. If the US weakens or withdraws its sanctions against Moscow without the Russians complying with the Minsk Agreements (a roadmap for Russia's withdrawal from Crimea), then that would constitute a serious concern. Smith says the US should intensify, not weaken, sanctions against Russia, and be much more open with the public about Russia's election sabotage. The U.S. should re-impose sanctions, and even intensify them; the government needs to discuss the election hacking issue much more publicly. She agrees that Russia wants to undermine NATO and the EU, and adds that it is clear that nation wants to undermine democracy around the world. It is overtly engaging in hostilities against the US in diplomatic, military, economic, and intelligence arenas, she adds, and says that the cyber attacks against the US and other nations are part of a larger strategy. Russia and Putin support right-wing nationalists in Europe to advance its own agenda, she says, and expects Donald Trump, who himself embraces right-wing nationalism, to seek a new and far more cooperative relationship with Russia. Russia's overall agenda is fundamentally inimical to that of the United States, she warns. During questioning, Breedlove reminds the committee that Russia constantly tests other nations with non-military attacks and provocations to judge those nations' ability and willingness to respond. "[W]ar by other means" is constantly being waged by Russia, he observes. For their parts, many senators urge the creation of an independent investigation into Russia's campaign to sabotage the US election. Both Breedlove and Smith agree that it is necessary to complete an investigation in order to better inform policy going forward. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) compares the current situation to the 1963 Cuban missile crisis, and notes that the US could respond more clearly to a concrete threat as illustrated by surveillance photos showing Russian missiles just offshore of Florida, and provided the opportunity for a clearer discussion of policy options. The discussion surrounding the Russian cyber threat is far less clear, he says. Breedlove agrees, saying: "We understood a little better how to address the Cuban missile crisis because it was a decisively military feeling thing, and we had very decisive military responses. The cyber thing is even more scary to me because we haven't really defined what is an attack, we haven't really defined how we're going to respond." Smith notes that she and Breedlove participated in a tabletop military exercise just the day before that dealt exclusively with conventional threats. "The minute the team had to deal with a potential cyber hack that had been inserted into the game … there's no order of battle," she says. "We don't know what the toolkit looks like, we don't have a proper way to assess the threat, to figure out what tools we'll use to deter it, to detect it." She adds: "We're getting better. The United States is certainly far ahead of many other countries around the world, but we still are far too clumsy in our response and our ability to respond to this challenge." The US bureaucracy is too large and unwieldy to deal with Russia's "active measures" and information warfare, she continues. "If we're going to win this information war and really come at Russia with a much more effective approach, we're going to have to figure out ways in which we can lash up the skillsets that we have in the private sector, build better trust there to assess our vulnerabilities and then connect with our allies to do so." Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) says the US needs to coordinate with Russia on how to counter attacks from Russia: "NATO's been wrestling with what an Article 5 attack is, so we don't need to just understand for our own good what a weaponized cyber attack means. … But we need to help the world define it, because very soon it's likely that in parts of the world adjacent to Russia it will be more weaponized, and we're going to have to make a decision as to whether we're coming to the aid of one of our allies." NATO's Article 5 embodies the concept of "collective defense," with the organization's website noting, "Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies." Breedlove recommends that NATO decide quickly whether cyberattacks should fall under Article 5. Trump has entirely failed to speak out in favor of Article 5; on May 25, when he finally addresses a NATO meeting, he will refuse to discuss or even mention Article 5. (The White House will quickly attempt to cover Trump's omission, reassuring Americans and NATO allies that Trump is "fully committed" to NATO and Article 5. Trump has repeatedly said that NATO allies who are attacked – presumably by Russia, though other attackers are possible – might not receive any US aid because they don't spend enough on defense. He has called NATO "obsolete," and has repeatedly lied in claiming NATO allies owe tremendous sums to the US. Corker says Congress should "empower" Trump officials who take a harder line against Russia than Trump himself does. "In spite of the unfortunate statements that end up being made, I think there are folks within the administration that have a very, very different point of view, and I think us working with them to empower them to create policies that we would support is something that we can play a role in doing," Corker says. Corker says he has talked with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and says he understands "the route he is planning to take to ratchet back what Russia is doing. … I want to spend a little time making sure that what we do to strengthen his hand is appropriate, and I think you're going to see a very different type of activity towards Russia," Corker said. Corker also agrees with the committee's ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin (D-MD), in criticizing Trump's recent attempt to find equivalence between the US and Russia's takeover of Crimea, saying that he sees "no moral equivalence, none, between ourselves and the actions that Russia has taken" and that Trump’s comments do not reflect the views of "most members of the US Senate." (Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, FCW, Institute of Modern Russia, Radio Free Europe, NATO, Foreign Policy, Economist)

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February 10, 2017: Ukrainian Report Outs, Helps Identify Russian Social Media "Trolls"

Ukraine's Euromaidan Press exposes what it calls "an army of Kremlin trolls" working to destabilize Ukraine's anti-Kremlin political movement as well as America's political system.

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The discovery began when Ukrainian journalist Lana Samokhvalova stumbled across a network of self-styled "Ukrainian patriots" urging anti-government violence at a series of commemorative events celebrating the Euromaidan Revolution. Some research proved that the leader of the group, Mykola Hayduk, was actually a Russian masquerading as a Ukrainian and working to discredit the Maidan independence movement. Social activist Liudmyla Savchuk, who spent time masquerading as a Russian "troll" to learn how they operate, says: "They're everywhere – Facebook, Vkontakte, LiveJournal, Odnoklassniki. They make their own fake news sites. They create their own news agencies. They pretend to be Ukrainian journalists. They write as if they're Ukrainian journalists. As if they're from Kyiv or Kharkiv, but they're really in Russia. They simply take a news piece, re-write it how they need it, distort the information and send it out into the world." The group she infiltrated, in St. Petersburg, has over 400 employees, she says, working 12-hour shifts for $1000 a month. "This information war they lead is mostly aimed at Ukraine and the United States," she says. "Until this information war ends, there won't be an end to any other. And never end, unless this information war is stopped. I don't even know, it's just such a tragic situation." Another Ukrainian journalist, Roman Kulchinskiy, has exposed over 2,000 Kremlin trolls. "Their aim is to lure real people into their networks and get their victims to believe in them," he says. "When people get trapped in this environment, they become surrounded by hatred, they start believing that things are worse than they were under Yanukovych. The trolls always emphasize this. That Maidan was a mistake, and that it made things worse. That the government's the same. That something needs to be done. That they need to violently overthrow the government. … Trolls register very often. One troll might register up to 70 accounts. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one of the most important needs is human desire to be accepted and valued by others. Just imagine a person surrounded by 70 people, who are giving you specific information. But those 70 accounts are really just one person." The aim, the article states, is to facilitate the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. Some, like Hayduk, pose as patriots, post violent propaganda, and call for violence against dissidents. Others pose as thoughtful political commentators. The third, the article notes, is quite different: "[T]he perfect Ukrainian. This is usually a very beautiful girl. She'll be dressed in blue and yellow or has blue and yellow makeup. She'll be gorgeous. She'll have very high-quality photos. They take pictures of girls in front of sunflowers or wheat and a blue sky. In short, they're very well done, carefully selected images of the perfect Ukrainian girl. But her beauty doesn't match what she writes. She will share the same outright lies and conspiracies." And the fourth, the article says, are "predators. They almost never post anything. They are administrators." But the Russian trolls in this information war can be spotted, the article notes. The trolls rarely post anything else except political commentary and calls to action – rarely, if ever, sharing personal information, posts about their friends, travels, and so forth. "If you go to their page and can't find one post about their personal life, it's a sig[n] that this isn't actually a person," the article says. "Always pay attention to what's happening on a page. Trolls might post some cute memes or cat photos. But when it comes to political issues, they toe the Kremlin line." Calls to violence are also red flags. "If they're systematically pushing violent ideas, that violence is the only way to solve your problems, then that's made for you in Lubyanka." The article advises that readers should not respond to trolls, double-check information, and find multiple sources to verify claims. "There's a legion of them. Their weapons are lies and manipulation. They need a large army of zombies to further the Kremlin's plan. But recognizing them is simple: double check your information." (Euromaidan Press)

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February 11, 2017: Dossier Allegations Match Many Actual Events

Business Insider's Natasha Bertrand documents the instances where the now-infamous, unverified dossier showing Trump's involvement with the Russian hacking of the US presidential election "lines up" with actual facts.

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Some of the content of the dossier has already been proven erroneous, and many of the dossier's claims are still being investigated. However, Bertrand writes, "US intelligence officials have now corroborated some of the dossier's material. And this corroboration has reportedly led US intelligence officials to regard other information in the dossier as more credible. Importantly, the timeline of known events fits with some of the more serious alleged Trump-Russia misconduct described in the dossier. And questions about these events have not been fully answered, including the sudden distancing of Trump associates from the campaign and administration as the events and Russia ties became public." A month later, the New Yorker will write: "[I]n the weeks that followed, [the intelligence community] confirmed some of its less explosive claims, relating to conversations with foreign nationals. 'They are continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier, and, at its core, a lot of it is bearing out,' an intelligence official said. Some officials believe that one reason the Russians compiled information on Trump during his 2013 trip was that he was meeting with Russian oligarchs who might be stashing money abroad – a sign of disloyalty, in Putin's eyes."

Paul Manafort

Manafort was the Trump campaign chair, and continued to work with the team during the transition. He is known to have close ties to both Russia and Ukraine. The dossier alleges that the Trump campaign reached a deal with Russia where Trump "agreed to sideline" the issue of Russian intervention in Ukraine in return for Russia providing the emails it has stolen from Democratic Party computer networks to WikiLeaks, where they would be publicly released to damage the Clinton candidacy. The dossier says that the "well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership was managed on the Trump side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul Manafort." It also says that Manafort was still receiving "kickback payments" from Ukrainian political leaders. The Trump campaign did indeed intervene at the Republican National Convention to soften the party's policy on Ukraine. Bertrand writes, "The change fits with the dossier's assertion that the Trump campaign agreed to soften US support for Ukraine in exchange for the Kremlin releasing damaging information about Hillary Clinton." Days after the language change, WikiLeaks released a blizzard of emails damaging to the Clinton campaign, just in time to impact the Democratic National Convention that began the following week. A month later, the media learned that Manafort had accepted $12.7 million from the Ukrainian political party led by former Ukrainian President Yanukovych. Manafort has denied receiving any such payments, but he resigned five days after the media stories broke.

Michael Flynn

Former campaign policy advisor Michael Flynn, who was quickly named Trump's national security advisor, was paid by the Kremlin to speak at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Russian propaganda organ RT. He also engaged in regular communications with Russia's ambassador to the US, and discussed the possible lifting of US sanctions against Russia, though Trump and his administration officials have denied it. The dossier says that a Kremlin official involved in US-Russian relations told the dossier's author that Russia attempted to cultivate US political figures by "funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow." Among those invited, the dossier notes, are "a delegation from Lyndon LaRouche, presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and former DIA director Michael Flynn." The dossier adds that the effort to cultivate these figures had been "successful in terms of perceived outcomes." According to the dossier, the Trump campaign promised to "raise defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine." Flynn is in a strong position to implement those policies. Since the RT event, Flynn has given numerous interviews to that outlet that have been far more friendly to Russia, and critical of US policy, than most US officials and Republican lawmakers. He has gone so far as to tell RT that the "rise Of ISIS was a 'willful decision' of the US government," according to that publication. Flynn supports the entry of Montenegro into NATO, a policy at odds with Russian desires, but a move that, Bertrand writes, "aligns with the dossier's suggestion that the Trump White House would support raising commitments "in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine." Two days after this story is published, Flynn will abruptly resign his position as National Security Advisor.

Carter Page

Former Trump campaign foreign advisor Carter Page, an investment banker, has a long financial and personal history with Russian business magnates. The dossier says that Page was used by Manafort as an "intermediary" between the campaign and top Kremlin officials. The dossier says that Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, where he met with Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's state-owned oil company Rosneft. According to a source close to Sechin quoted in the dossier, Sechin "was so keen to lift personal and corporate Western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatised) stake in Rosneft." Page was interested but "noncommital" towards the offer, the dossier says. It also says that "sanctions on Russia would be lifted" if Trump were elected. Page did indeed journey to Moscow in July 2016, and delivered a speech where he praised Russia's foreign and economic policies, and vilified the US. Though Page denies meeting with Sechin, independent media investigations have shown that he did indeed meet with the oil magnate. Like Manafort, Page departed the campaign after the media broke the story of his Moscow visit. Unlike Manafort, the Trump campaign essentially disavowed any connections between Page and their organization. On December 7, Rosneft sold 19.5% of its shares, worth about $11 billion, to a multinational commodity trader and Qatar's state-owned wealth fund. Page was in Moscow on December 8 to "meet with some of the top managers" of Rosneft, he confirmed with reporters.

Sergei Millian

Sergei Millian is a Belarus-born businessman and a US citizen, who in 2006 founded the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce in 2006. Millian calls himself an exclusive broker for Trump's family business, the Trump Organization, with respect to real-estate dealings in Russia. A source in the dossier says that the "conspiracy of cooperation" between Russia and Trump involved hacking prominent Democrats. The hacking campaign used specific people in the US-Russian emigre, or ex-pat, community to succeed, the dossier continues. According to the dossier, the Kremlin recruited "hundreds of agents" both in Russia and in the US who were either "consciously cooperating with the FSB or whose personal and professional IT systems had been compromised," citing "a number of Russian figures with a detailed knowledge of national cyber crime." The dossier says, "Many were people who had ethnic and family ties to Russia and/or had been incentivized financially to cooperate." Agents were paid by "consular officials in New York, DC, and Miami" who issued "pension disbursements to Russian emigres living in the US as cover … tens of thousands of dollars were involved." In return, the dossier claims, Putin required information from Trump on Russian oligarchs living in the US. The same source adds that the Trump campaign was "relatively relaxed" about the attention on Trump's reported ties to Russia "because it deflected media and the Democrats' attention away from Trump's business dealings in China." The source states, "Unlike in Russia, these [dealings] were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign." The CIA established a counterintelligence task force in April to investigate, among other things, whether the Trump campaign had received funds from Russia. Former CIA Director John Brennan was given an audiotape that indicated Kremlin funds had indeed gone to the Trump campaign. American media reports say Millian was the dossier's source for these allegations. Millian denies any involvement, and labels those reports "fake news." Since his name has become connected to the dossier, Millian has begun downplaying his ties to the Trump Organization. Bertrand notes on his LinkedIn page that he is the Vice President of the World Chinese Merchants Union Association, and has written of his frequent visits to Beijing to meet with a Chinese official and the Russian ambassador to the Republic of San Marino. The dossier claims that the source has extensive knowledge of Trump's business dealings in China. Millian has also worked with Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian government organization supposedly helping youngsters from other countries to learn about Russian culture. The FBI has investigated whether Rossotrudnichestvo is a front for the Russian government to cultivate "young, up-and-coming Americans as Russian intelligence assets." In 2011, Millian wrote a thank-you note to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "on behalf of the fifty American entrepreneurs invited by Rossotrudnichestvo to attend the first edition of the Russian-American Business Forum in Moscow," but now claims he never had any dealings with Rossotrudnichestvo. He told Bertrand that Trump's election was "God's will. … Your salvation is to pray for good health for the US President Trump and give your best efforts to help him make our country great again." (Business Insider, New Yorker)

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February 12, 2017: US Intelligence Community Withholding Key Intelligence from White House over Fears It Will be Given to Kremlin

Former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer John Schindler writes that the US intelligence community is so worried about the Trump administration – its ties to the Kremlin, its deliberate attempts to destabilize NATO and wreck longstanding global intelligence partnerships, Trump's contempt for his daily intelligence briefings – that the community is beginning to withhold intelligence from the White House.

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Trump's derision and mockery of the intelligence community (IC) has caused consternation and rage inside that community, and the ascension of Michael Flynn as the administration's National Security Advisor has made the rift that much deeper. Flynn is widely disliked in the IC for his disastrous tenure as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency; in 2014, he was fired "for managerial incompetence and poor judgment – flaws he has brought to the far more powerful and political NSC," Schindler writes. Like other senior officials in the Trump White House, Flynn's murky ties to Russia have concerned many in the IC. And the Steele dossier, initially dismissed by the media and most lawmakers as fake, is now being corroborated piece by piece by communications intercepts. Schindler writes: "[T]hat salacious dossier is raw intelligence, an explosive amalgam of fact and fantasy, including some disinformation planted by the Kremlin to obscure this already murky case. Now SIGINT confirms that some of the non-salacious parts of what Steele reported, in particular how senior Russian officials conspired to assist Trump in last year's election, are substantially based in fact. … I can confirm from my friends still serving in the IC that the SIGINT, which corroborates some of the Steele dossier, is damning for the administration. Our spies have had enough of these shady Russian connections – and they are starting to push back." Schindler writes that he knows for a fact that critical intelligence from the National Security Agency is being withheld from the White House, for fear that the intelligence they give the White House will find its way to the Kremlin. "Since NSA provides something like 80 percent of the actionable intelligence in our government," he writes, "what's being kept from the White House may be very significant indeed. However, such concerns are widely shared across the IC, and NSA doesn't appear to be the only agency withholding intelligence from the administration out of security fears. A senior Pentagon intelligence official tells Schindler that "since January 20, we've assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM," the White House Situation Room. "There's not much the Russians don't know at this point." Schindler concludes: "I previously warned the Trump administration not to go to war with the nation's spies, and here's why. This is a risky situation, particularly since President Trump is prone to creating crises foreign and domestic with his incautious tweets. In the event of a serious international crisis of the sort which eventually befalls almost every administration, the White House will need the best intelligence possible to prevent war, possibly even nuclear war. It may not get the information it needs in that hour of crisis, and for that it has nobody to blame but itself." (New York Observer)

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February 13, 2017: National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigns after lying to Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

It is almost beyond imagining that a National Security Advisor could be forced to resign amidst a counter-intelligence investigation into his communications and ties to a foreign adversary. — Josh Marshall

February 14, 2017: Trump Asks Comey to End FBI Investigation of Flynn, Request Constitutes Obstruction of Justice

According to a memo written by FBI Director James Comey, Donald Trump requests that Comey intervene in the FBI investigation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn was fired the day before. According to the memo, Trump tells Comey: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

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Comey writes the memo immediately after the meeting, to create a paper trail of what he perceives as Trump's improper attempts to influence a continuing investigation. Such notes and memos from FBI agents are routinely accepted in court as credible evidence of conversations. He shares the memo with FBI officials and close associates, though it will not become public knowledge until May, after Comey is fired by Trump. The request clearly demonstrates the willingness of Trump to pressure the FBI and Justice Department over the Russia-Trump investigation, to the point of obstructing justice. In May, New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt will write, "The documentation of Mr. Trump's request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and FBI investigation into links between Mr. Trump's associates and Russia." CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin will describe the request as follows: "Three words: obstruction of justice. Telling the FBI director to close down an investigation of your senior campaign adviser for his activities during your campaign for president, if that's true, that is obstruction of justice. … 'Close it down' is an instruction to stop investigating President Trump's campaign. Richard Nixon was impeached in 1974 for telling the FBI to stop an investigation of his campaign. That's what Watergate was. If [Comey is] telling the truth, I don't know how anyone can see this comment as anything but obstruction of justice." The request takes place in the Oval Office, during a briefing that includes Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. After the briefing, Trump asks Sessions and Pence to leave, and during the ensuing conversation, makes the request. Flynn had not done anything wrong, Trump insists. Comey immediately becomes concerned that Trump is trying to "stop the investigation," according to his memo. The discussion begins with Trump railing about leaks to the news media, and advising Comey to jail reporters for publishing classified information. After that, Trump begins discussing Flynn, and requests that Comey drop the investigation. CNN's source will say of Comey, "He wrote a number of memos, a great many if not all were about contacts with Trump – particularly the ones that made him feel uneasy." When the source is asked about Trump's threats to release "tapes" of his conversations with Comey, the source says: "[Comey] would love to have them. One of his reasons for writing these memos is the concern this couldn't be corroborated – but that could be met if there are tapes." The White House will say in May that a "conversation of that nature" did not happen, and adds in a statement: "While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey." (New York Times, CNN)

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February 14, 2017: Multiple Trump Officials in Contact with Russian Intelligence During Campaign; Russians Confirm

Phone records and call intercepts show that multiple menbers of the Trump presidential campaign, and other Trump associates, had constant contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. The New York Times confirms that with four sources within the US government, and CNN confirms with other governmental sources. Both Trump and President Obama were briefed last year on the findings.

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US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, specifically the National Security Agency, recorded the communications during the same time period as they were investigating Russian cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee. The intercepts were part of routine monitoring of Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to US intelligence, CNN reports. The investigation then broadened to examine whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. No evidence of such collusion has been made public as yet. American officials were worried about the contacts given that Trump was praising Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail, and even went so far as to ask Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails and make them public. The intercepted communications included both Trump campaign officials and other Trump associates. The Russians involved are members of the Russian intelligence services as well as other government officials. One Trump official involved in the contacts is former campaign chair Paul Manafort. Most of the details of the intercepted calls remain classifed, and the Times's sources refuse to give further details. Manafort denies any contacts with any Russians: "This is absurd. I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today. … It's not like these people wear badges that say, 'I'm a Russian intelligence officer'." Press secretary Sean Spicer also denies the story, saying, "There's nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period." Russian officials have stated openly that there were contacts during the election. Two days after the election, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian reporters that "there were contacts" with Trump's "immediate entourage" by Russian officials before the election. "Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage," he added. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn tells a CNN reporter: "That is 100% not true, at least as far as me. I cannot believe that they are including me in anything like that. I have not been involved in any of these activities." Flynn resigned for allegedly lying about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, who has also confirmed meeting with several members of the Trump campaign before the election. As for his part, Trump says in a tweet, "This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign." Shortly after this report comes out, Trump snaps at a reporter during a press conference: "How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia." (New York Times, New York Times, CNN)

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February 14, 2017: Russian Lawmakers Protest Flynn Resignation

The Russian propaganda news outlet RT quotes a number of angry Russian parliamentarians expressing their dismay at the recent resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Some say that the scandal surrounding Flynn is a deliberate attempt to sour US-Russia relations.

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Leonid Slutskiy, the head of the State Duma Committee for International Relations, says he believes Flynn resigned due to external pressure: "Under these circumstances, my conclusion is that the real target in this scheme is Russian-American relations and the general trust in the new administration." He continues: "This situation is a negative signal for arranging Russian-American dialogue. It is obvious that Flynn had to submit his resignation under certain pressure. But President Trump accepted it. The chosen pretext was Flynn's contact with the Russian ambassador, even though this is normal diplomatic practice." Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Upper House Committee for International Relations, says Flynn's resignation is due to the "paranoia" of some US politicians, and their desire to damage the Trump presidency. On Facebook, Kosachev writes: "Hawks in Washington see even simple willingness for dialogue with the Russians as a thought crime (in the words of the immortal G. Orwell). To drive a national security adviser into resignation for his contacts with the Russian ambassador (a common diplomatic practice) is more than paranoia, it is something immeasurably worse. It is either Trump has not achieved the sought-after independence and he is being persistently and successfully driven into a corner, or the new administration has been hit by Russophobia, from top to bottom." The Steele dossier documents Kosachev's meeting in Prague with Trump campaign representatives, a claim Kosachev denies. Duma Senator Aleksei Pushkov agrees, posting on Twitter: "Flynn is leaving but Russian problem stays in Trump's White House. The purging of Flynn was just the first act, now Trump himself becomes the target. Flynn was purged not because of some blunder, but because of an ongoing aggressive campaign. The newspapers are calling for 'Russians out!' This is paranoid and this is a witch hunt." But after Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov says the resignation is an internal matter for the White House and "none of our business," some of the lawmakers back down from their language. Slutskiy now says the resignation "cannot fundamentally influence Russia-US ties." (RT, Washington Post, Daily Kos)

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February 14, 2017: WikiLeaks Says "Destabilization Campaign" by Press, Dems, "Spies" Forced Flynn Resignation

WikiLeaks posts a tweet blaming a "destabilization campaign" by Democrats and the US media for the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

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The tweet reads: "Trump's National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigns after destabilization campaign by US spies, Democrats, press." WikiLeaks provides no evidence of its claim. No such evidence is known to exist. (WikiLeaks, The Hill)

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February 14, 2017: Trump More Concerned about Leaks than Russian Involvement

After Donald Trump posts a tweet about "so many illegal leaks" possibly disrupting his negotiations regarding North Korea, Daily Kos senior writer Mark Sumner notes the circumstances under which Trump actually conducted some of those "negotiations."

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Trump posts: "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?" Sumner notes that Trump seems far more concerned about the leaks than he is about the havoc the Russian connections are wreaking in his administration. He then points out how Trump handles his administration's response to the news that North Korea launched a missile in the direction of Japan: by speaking with Japan's Prime Minister Ade and talking to Washington on his cellphone at a public table in the Mar-a-Lago banquet room, surrounded by his advisors and a number of diners who are reportedly thrilled to be inadvertently part of such high-level policymaking. (Donald Trump, Daily Kos)

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February 15, 2017: European Allies Gathering Intelligence on Trump Admin, Business Officials and Partners

Newsweek reports that at least one European ally of the US, and possibly others, intercepted communications between Trump officials and Russian government officials before the January 20 inauguration. The intercepts, which began in August 2016, include one or more contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and a Russian official based in the US, and were triggered by the British government's determination that Russian operatives were in contact with Trump campaign officials.

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That information was shared among NATO nations. The contact or contacts may or may not have been with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The communications are made up of more than telephone calls. Currently, the European intelligence agency is still gathering electronic and human-sourced information (HUMINT) on Trump's overseas business partners – some of whom the agency considers to be agents of their respective governments. The agency is concerned that Russia is attempting to use its relations with the Trump officials to further destabilize NATO. In addition, a Baltic nation is gathering intelligence on Trump administration officials and Trump Organization executives, for fear that an American policy shift towards Russia would endanger that nation's sovereignty. That nation has been conducting its intelligence operation on Trump and his officials since August or earlier. Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald confirms that he has been told which nations are conducting the surveillance, but is not free to disclose that information due to his sources' fear of exposure and their governments' fear that Trump will turn on them. Eichenwald writes: "These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country's most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented – where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official." Eichenwald notes that the Republicans in Congress have so far refused to conduct any serious investigations of the connections between Russia and the Trump administration. The European allies know, for example, that an Azerbaijani business partner of Trump's is a government official who laundered money for the Iranian military. The CIA was alerted to that information. Another concern is rooted in Trump's business partner in the Phillippines, Jose E.B. Alberto, the head of Century Properties. Alberto is also the special representative to Washington for that nation's despotic leader, Rodrigo Duterte. Century Properties is a partner in the Trump Tower project in Makati, Phillippines. The deal, which is well known to European intelligence agencies, has garnered millions for Trump's business, with millions more forthcoming. The current relationship between the US and the Phillippine government is strained, in large part because of Duterte's propensity for slaughtering his citizens. While the Parliament of the European Union and two United Nations human rights experts have condemned Duterte's actions, prompting Duterte to turn to China as a possible new ally, Trump is poised to begin a much more welcoming relationship between the US and the Duterte regime. One of Eichenwald's sources says that the situation "is already an enormous challenge. President Trump's business there is a complicating factor that we are trying to assess." While all of the US's NATO allies are concerned about Trump's penchant for favoring Russia over NATO, the Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are particularly worried. They feel they are at risk of being invaded by the Russian military in the same fashion that Russia occupied Ukraine's Crimea region. The Baltic nation referenced by Eichenwald is also investigating the relationship between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, and Igor Sechin, the head of the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Tillerson and Sechin are longtime friends and sometime business partners; Rosneft is among the Russian companies impacted by US sanctions. A US State Department cable from 2008 found: "Sechin's power derives from his relationship with Putin. As Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration in charge of the security services, there was little doubt about Igor Sechin's power. He was widely regarded as a very influential member of Putin's inner circle, perhaps even the most influential, with the requisite FSB background to advance the President's (and his own) agenda." (Newsweek)

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February 15-27, 2017: Spicer Gets CIA Director, Senate Intelligence Chair to Dispute Reports of Trump Campaign Aides' Contacts with Russian Intelligence Officials

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to get CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) to discredit a New York Times article claiming that Trump campaign aides had multiple contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Burr is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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Spicer goes so far as to call reporters, connect them with Pompeo or Burr, and stay on the line during the conversations. Both officials complied with Spicer's directive. Spicer calls reporters from the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, and connects them to Pompeo and/or Burr. Both of the officials refuse to go into details about why the article is wrong, but both tell the reporters that the article is not accurate. Spicer also gives the reporters' phone numbers to House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), who offers to call the reporters himself. Shortly after the article appears, an FBI official later identified as Deputy Director Andrew McCabe tells White House chief of staff Reince Priebus that the story is "bullshit," but no one in the FBI is willing to publicly challenge the accuracy of the report. Priebus personally asks McCabe to go public with a rebutall, and McCabe refuses. Spicer then begins hunting for officials and lawmakers to do that job for him. A White House official says that Spicer wanted to make the connections with Pompeo, Burr and Nunes before the evening press deadline comes around. The official tells Axios reporter Mike Allen: "We'd been getting incoming all day. Ironically, the White House was actually encouraging people with direct knowledge of the accuracy of the Times story to discuss it with other reporters." Not long afterward, Priebus asks McCabe to personally and publicly rebut the story. Both McCabe and Priebus are in violation of a policy that bars the White House from conferring with the FBI about ongoing investigations; the proper channel of contact for the White House is via the Justice Department. Former Justice Department aide Matt Miller says that the Justice Department policy "directs that contacts between the White House and the Justice Department be funneled through the White House counsel's office to the AG or Deputy Attorney General's office precisely so there can be no inappropriate tampering with investigations. If McCabe and Comey told Priebus about what was happening in an ongoing investigation into the president's associates, they clearly violated that guidance and crossed a major line." Additionally, a Reagan-era executive order requires the Attorney General's approval for most contacts between the FBI and White House regarding intelligence issues. White House officials deny Priebus or any other official ever made the request. According to the White House, McCabe informs Priebus that neither he nor any other FBI official could publicly comment on the report, telling Priebus, "We'd love to help but we can't get into the position of making statements on every story." CNN reports that FBI Director James Comey denied Priebus's request because "the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation." Priebus, with Comey's permission, repeats McCabe's "BS" comment on NBC's "Meet the Press," citing the source as "senior intelligence officials." Spicer, without revealing his role in the matter, doubles down on Priebus's comment, saying that the reports that the FBI rejected a White House request for pushback are "indefensible and inaccurate," and adds: "We didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth." Other reporting indicates that the White House is lying about the chain of events. NBC's Ken Dilanian says of the Times report and subsequent CNN reporting: "Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn't confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN's description of Trump aides being in 'constant touch' with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign." Think Progress reporter Aaron Rupar observes: "So according to the White House version, an FBI official improperly communicated with the administration during an ongoing investigation. The White House then asked the FBI to quash the story with the sort of anonymous leaks Trump has repeatedly blasted as 'illegal' in recent weeks. They made that request at a time when Comey is working with the Senate Intelligence Community to investigate an election meddling effort Trump's inner circle has been linked to." (Axios, Daily Caller, Think Progress, Time, The Hill, CNN)

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February 16, 2017: Trump Defends Flynn, Admits to Firing in "Combative" Press Conference

Donald Trump gives what the Washington Post calls a "combative, grievance-filled news conference" to, among other things, explain why former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired.

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The Presentation

Before taking questions, he manages to roundly insult the Obama administration and the US media, brag about his approval numbers (by cherry-picking a single poll which has him anywhere between 7 and 16 points higher than an aggregate of reliable polls), and take credit for job creation that he had nothing to do with. The Post indicates that he seems to want to repair relations with the press, but it is hard to see how that can happen considering he says things like: "[M]uch of the media in Washington, DC, along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it, to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control." After mischaracterizing his administration's relations with a number of US allies, saying he has had "really, really productive conversations [with them,] I would say far more productive than you would understand," he falsely claims that the US military was ignored under the Obama administration, calling it "depleted" and saying he will rebuild it. He brags about his Electoral College victory, falsely claiming that he achieved "the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan" and claiming that fact-checks proving him wrong are examples of media attacks on his administration: "[T]hey know we are following through on pledges that we made, and they're not happy about it for whatever reason." He claims, despite all evidence to the contrary, that "[t]his administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my Cabinet approved," and blames Congressional Democrats for his administration's failures, ignoring the fact that Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress and Democrats signed off on almost all of his cabinet choices. He touts his intention to "crack down" on immigration and crime, and attacks the courts that have impeded his unconstitutional executive orders. Other items on his list include the fast-tracking of the environmentally calamitous Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, the imposition of a lobbying ban, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (which he terms "a disaster" and says the protesters mobilizing to protect it "fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing").

The Questions

The first question is about Flynn. Trump says, "Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given. He didn't have to do that, because what he did wasn't wrong – what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That's the real problem." In summation, Trump says that while Flynn did nothing wrong, the leaks that were provided to the media were the real problem, and somehow forced Trump to fire Flynn. This contradicts information provided by White House spokesperson KellyAnne Conway, who told reporters that Flynn voluntarily resigned. He then launches into another denial of his administration's ties to Russia, which he calls "fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it." The leaks of classified information, however, is something he considers far more grievous. "And I'm saying – the first thing I thought of when I heard about it is: How does the press get this information that's classified? How do they do it? You know why? Because it's an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves. But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves, really ashamed." He continues to defend Flynn, saying that his duties encompassed his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak as well as the officials of other nations. "You know, he was doing his job. The thing is, he didn't tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn't remember. So either way, it wasn't very satisfactory to me. And I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position. And that also helps, I think, in the making of my decision. But he didn't tell the vice president of the United States the facts. And then he didn't remember. And that just wasn't acceptable to me."

Denials about Collusion or Connections

Asked about any contacts between other members of his team and Russian officials, he insults the "failing" New York Times for reporting about said contacts, and falsely claims the story has been "discredited." He then issues a flailing denial about unnamed campaign officials denying ever speaking to Russian officials, and his own lack of contact with those officials: "And the people mentioned in the story, I notice they were on television today saying they never even spoke to Russia. They weren't even a part, really – I mean, they were such a minor part. They – I hadn't spoken to them. I think the one person – I don't think I've ever spoken to him. I don't think I've ever met him. And he actually said he was a very low-level member of, I think, a committee for a short period of time. I don't think I ever met him. Now, it's possible that I walked into a room, and he was sitting there, but I don't think I ever met him. I didn't talk to him ever. And he thought it was a joke. The other person said he never spoke to Russia; never received a call. Look at his phone records, et cetera, et cetera. And the other person, people knew that he represented various countries, but I don't think he represented Russia, but knew that he represented various countries. That's what he does. I mean, people know that." He then cites Paul Manafort, whom he describes as "a respected man," and downplays Manafort's connections to Ukraine. Trump accepts Manafort's denials of any connections to Russia, ignoring the reams of evidence that prove Manafort is lying. He then reiterates his own lack of connections to Russia: "And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia. President [Vladimir] Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election. He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the countries. So that's the extent. Russia is fake news. Russia – this is fake news put out by the media. The real news is the fact that people, probably from the Obama administration because they're there, because we have our new people going in place, right now." He quickly pivots to denying that he has ever mistreated any of the women who have claimed he sexually harassed or attacked them.

Refuses to Prove Lie about Electoral Margin

Asked about his lie that he won by the biggest electoral margin since Reagan, Trump says: "I'm skipping that information, I don't know, I was just given, we had a very, very big margin. … I was given that information. I was given – I actually, I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?"

Downplays Yates's Warning

Asked about the evidence against Flynn and a general review of the US intelligence community, Trump downplays the review and also downplays the warning that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates provided his office about Flynn. The only reason Flynn was fired, Trump says,was that "he did something wrong with respect to the vice president, and I thought that was not acceptable."

Attacks Leaks

Trump again lambasts the people who are leaking information from his administration, saying that the leakers are "criminal[s]" and that he has a plan in place to stop them. The leaks are real, he says, but the news reports based on those leaks are fake. "I don't mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it's true and, you know, over a course of time, I'll make mistakes, and you'll write badly and I'm okay with that. But I'm not okay when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it's so much anger and hatred and just the hatred." He then tells the reporters that they have a lower approval rating than Congress and immediately backs away from that claim. Asked how the leaks can be true and the news based on those leaks false, he says that he knows they are false because he reads the stories, and the tone of the news stories, with the exception of reports on outlets such as Fox News, is hateful.

Defends WikiLeaks, Reiterates False Attack on Clinton

Asked again about Russia, he issues the same denials and then defends WikiLeaks, whom he says does not release classified information, but instead merely released information that he says proved his election opponent Hillary Clinton "cheat[ed] on the debates." Asked again about WikiLeaks, he reiterates his support for that organization's leaks about Clinton, lies about his request for Russia to hack her emails, and says his approval of WikiLeaks has nothing to do with his disapproval of the leaks about his administration, because what WikiLeaks released was not classified information. He also claims, falsely, that the Russians tried and failed to hack Republican campaign organizations, and takes credit for that supposed failure. He then taunts the CNN reporter who asked the question before allowing him to ask a follow-up question about Trump's chilling impact on First Amendment freedoms, which Trump ridicules. Asked yet again about real vs. fake news reporting, he pivots to praising the performance of his administration and repeating the lies he used on the campaign trail about Clinton providing Russia with enormous amounts of uranium.

Reiterates Flynn Denial

He denies asking Flynn to discuss the US sanctions with Kislyak, and reiterates his claim that he fired Flynn solely "because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been okay with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it."

Downplays Provocations by Russia

A reporter asks about the provocative acts by Russia in recent days, including sailing spy vessels off the US coast, a ballistic missile test that violated a longstanding agreement between the two countries, and repeated instances of Russian planes buzzing US destroyers. Trump says he knows the press wants him to beat up on Putin and Russia, insults Clinton's dealings with Russia during her tenure as Secretary of State, says he will make no deals with Russia and then says he may make some sort of deal, and concludes by saying he will not "be tough on Russia" just because the media wants him to be such.

Reiterates Defense of Travel Ban

He insults a BBC reporter before the reporter can ask him a question, then harshly defends his unconstitutional travel ban on immigrants and visitors from primarily Muslim nations, blaming the "bad court" for blocking his executive order and falsely claiming that the court's block has been overturned.

Denies He is Bigoted

After testily reiterating his denials about Russian contacts, he then refuses to answer questions from several reporters, saying, "I want to find a friendly reporter." He interrupts the next question, denies he is racist or anti-Semitic, and attacks the reporter for not asking a simple, friendly question.

Insults Black Reporter, Lies about Black Congressman

He is asked a question by a black female reporter, April Ryan of PBS, about his campaign promises to "fix the inner cities." Ryan asks if he intends to include the Congressional Black Caucus in his planning, and he asks Ryan if she can set up a meeting with him and the caucus, a highly inappropriate and racist request. "Are they friends of yours?" he says. "Well, then, set up the meeting." He then lies about caucus head Elijah Cummings (D-MD), saying that Cummings told him he wanted to meet with Trump but then told Trump he couldn't have such a meeting because it would be politically bad for him. "I was all set to have the meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy." Cummings made no such request of Trump, nor did he tell Trump that he could not have the meeting because of political concerns.

Blames Democrats for Supporters' Racism

He concludes by claiming that the racism, misogyny and bigotry expressed by many of his supporters is actually fake, planted by Democrats and liberals and reported by the media that wants to denigrate him and his supporters. He then blames Obama for the racial divisions in the country, and says he will heal those divisions.

Contradictory Claims about Flynn

Senior writer Kerry Eleveld of the Daily Kos sums up Trump's contradictory claims about Flynn during the conference: "Flynn resigned; he fired him; Flynn's great, he was just doing his job; his resignation is all the media's fault; and, finally, if Flynn hadn't made those Russia calls, Trump would have told him to do it anyway." (Washington Post, Daily Kos)

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February 17, 2017: Comey Testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee

FBI Director James Comey testifies in a closed hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. One of the topics under discussion is Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and allegations of collusion with Russia by Trump officials during and after the election campaign.

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Most senators refuse to discuss the content of the hearing, but Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweets after the hearing, "I am now very confident Senate Intel Comm I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence." Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the ranking member of the committee, says of the committee's Russia investigation: "What we are trying to do – and I give Richard [Richard Burr (D-NC), the committee chairman] a lot of credit – is to not have this devolve into a partisan food fight that doesn't serve the public purpose. This is so important that we get it right. … But the amount of manipulation, why there's not more outrage about the fact there were close to 1,000 Russian internet trolls, actual people, working trying to manipulate our news." Warner also says that the committee has created a process to ensure that White House officials do not destroy documents the committee needs for its investigation. The meeting takes place in a secure classified briefing area in the basement of the Capitol building. (CNN, The Hill, Washington Examiner)

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February 18, 2017: Three Separate FBI Investigations Underway into Russian Hacking, Trump Ties

A day after FBI Director James Comey refuses to confirm whether the FBI is engaged in an investigation of Russian sabotage of the US presidential election and possible ties between Russia and the Trump administration, five current and former government officials confirm that the bureau is pursuing at least three separate probes into the issue.

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The FBI's Pittsburgh office, which specializes in cybersecurity investigations, is trying to determine who breached the DNC servers during the campaign. The investigation is well underways, the officials say, but not far enough along yet to result in an indictment. The FBI's San Francisco office is trying to determine the identities of the team behind the "Guccifer 2.0" persona. And a third investigation in Washington, DC is pursuing leads from informants and foreign surveillance intercepts. That investigation includes examinations of financial transactions by Russians who have links to Trump and his associates. (Reuters)

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February 25, 2017: GOP Congressman Calls for Special Prosecutor

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) tells HBO host Bill Maher that the federal government should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged contacts between associates of Donald Trump and Russia during and after the campaign. He also says that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from being involved in that process.

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"You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who is an appointee," Issa says. "You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute and office to take – not just to recuse. You can't just give it to your deputy. That's another political appointee." Of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin and his officials, he says: "This is a bad guy who murders people. … We have to work with him; we don't have to trust him. We need to investigate their activities, and we need to do it because they are bad people." (Fox News)

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February 26, 2017: House Intel Chair Calls Investigation into Trump-Russia Connections "McCarthyism"

House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) says the idea of an independent investigation into Trump campaign aides' connections to Russia "is almost like McCarthyism." He says the House of Representatives will not engage in a "witch hunt," and claims, "[A]t this point, there's nothing there."

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Speaking to reporters at the California Republican Party's spring convention in Sacramento, he says: "We're going to go on a witch hunt against, against innocent Americans? … At this point, there's nothing there. Once we begin to look at all the evidence, and if we find any American that had any contact with Russian agents or anybody affiliated with the Russian government, then we'll be glad to, at that point, you know, subpoena those people before the House and let the legislative branch do its oversight and then we would recommend it over to, you know, the appropriate people. But at this point … we can't go on a witch hunt against the American people, any American people who have not had any contact, just because they appeared in a news story." Fellow committee member Mike Quigley (D-IL) later says: "I thought he has been very, very fair as chairman, the two-plus years I've served under him. I'm very surprised by his initial, dismissive comments about the nature of the investigation." Nunes was not initially a staunch Trump loyalist, but he served as a senior advisor for the Trump transition. (Politico, Daily Beast)

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— March 2017 —

March 2, 2017: US Counterintelligence Learns of Major Russian Propaganda and Influence Operation Far Outstripping Election Manipulation

A classified report given to US counterintelligence officials in Washington confirms that Russia has moved beyond merely hacking US computer networks to influence elections, and has engaged in a larger and more sophisticated scheme to "hack" American social media.

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Hacking the Defense Department

Russian hackers have sent what Time calls "expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department." The tweets contained links to stories of interest, but those stories were hosted on a Russian-controlled server that installed a program allowing the hackers to take control of the users' phone, computer, and Twitter account. The officials are appalled, considering just what kind of havoc the Russians could wreak if they control the phones, computers and Twitter handles of senior Defense Department officials. DOD Twitter accounts could send out false information at a critical moment in a battlefield situation, disaster or terrorist attack. Covert Russian agents could take the deception that much further. The result, they conclude, could be "panic and confusion" at a minimum.

Undermining and Destroying Democratic Governments

The Russian operation in play is much larger than affecting a single election, even a presidential one. Based on the evidence, the counterintelligence operatives conclude, as Time writes: "Marrying a hundred years of expertise in influence operations to the new world of social media, Russia may finally have gained the ability it long sought but never fully achieved in the Cold War: to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. The vast openness and anonymity of social media has cleared a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces. It is not only possible to undermine democratic governments, says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corporation, who ran a major Pentagon research program that worked to understand how propaganda could be disseminated using social media, it is not particularly difficult. Intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as some current and former Congressional members, "now believe the 2016 Russian operation was just the most visible battle in an ongoing information war against global democracy," as Time observes. Increasingly, they are speaking out.

Digital Information About Millions of Users

Moreover, social media gives Russian hackers, and others, a treasure trove of personal, social, financial and professional data about users – data which is often commercially available to anyone who can afford it and use it. Researchers have used algorithms to subdivide huge populations such as the American electorate into thousands of disparate subgroups according to a number of defining characteristics, from religious beliefs to preferences in television shows, music and food products. From there, "followers" particularly susceptible to propaganda can be identified and targeted with very specific messages. Time writes, "Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior." That is exactly what happened in 2016, senior intelligence officials confirm to Time, and the operation continues. It is difficult to determine to what degree Americans' beliefs and actions have been changed, but the changes are real.

Fighting Back

The US and its allies are still trying to determine how best to fight back against the Russian cyberpropaganda efforts. Researchers worry that the fear of Russian influence can be as damaging, or more damaging, than the operations themselves. Time writes, "Eager to appear more powerful than they are, the Russians would consider it a success if you questioned the truth of your news sources, knowing that Moscow might be lurking in your Facebook or Twitter feed." In May 2016, US intelligence intercepted a conversation involving a Russian military official in the GRU bragging that his organization was going to pay back Hillary Clinton for what Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she ran against him while she served as Secretary of State. The official boasted that the GRU would disrupt the presidential election. But the officials who reviewed and reported on the conversation didn't understand the depth of the problem: "We didn't really understand the context of it until much later," a senior intelligence official says. Few in the government had imagined the kind of propaganda and influence operation Russia was planning for the election. Even fewer realized it had been in development since 2011. Journalists are also targeted; if they demonstrate any particular political slant, Russian bots and human operators slam him with thousands of fake news stories. Moscow bought, and still buys, ads on Facebook to target specific groups of voters with propagands. (Both Google an