Tag Archives: Russia

Winning A War Without Firing A Shot

The American public has heard so much about Russian activities–about interference with the 2016 election,  about Russian “bots” that continue to infest Facebook and Twitter, and about Donald Trump’s longtime dependence on Russian money to finance his developments–that significant segments of the population have simply tuned it out. It’s last week’s story–and as a nation, we have a very short attention span.

That’s unfortunate, because Russia is winning Putin’s war on our democracy without having to fire a shot.

Roll Call recently had a headline that caught my attention.“The Most Important Document You May Ever Read.”

On the day that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on election interference came out, cable news anchors strained to race through its 448 pages and describe the findings, all in the same breath. Computer sleuths hacked the document’s setting to let users search for “Trump,” “president,” “collusion” and “Russia.” Talking-head lawyers feverishly opined that Volume I contained less incriminating information than Volume II.

But around the country, voters mostly gave an “Is that all there is?” shoulder shrug and went back to their corners. Many members of Congress admitted they didn’t even bother to read it.

Nearly six months later, and to almost no fanfare last week while Congress was in recess, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second of two installments of its own bipartisan investigation into roughly the same topic. The slim, 85-page report reads like a Russian spy novel crossed with a sequel to Orwell’s most dystopian version of the future — right down to an interview with a paid Russian troll who said his experience in 2016, pitting American voters against each other with social media platforms of their own making, was like being “a character in the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee is chaired by Republican Richard Burr; Mark Warner, a Democrat, is Vice-Chair, and the investigation that led to the report is as bipartisan as you are likely to get in today’s Senate.

The report–available here-– doesn’t mince words. First, it confirms that the Russians deliberately attacked the American electorate in 2016 with an active campaign intended to benefit Donald Trump and destroy Hillary Clinton. One of the former trolls told the committee that, on the morning following the election, exhausted hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, uncorked champagne, looked at each other and uttered “almost in unison: ‘We made America great.’”

The tactics and strategies that the Kremlin directed included every major social media platform you can think of — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — and a few you’d never suspect, including Pinterest, LinkedIn and 4Chan. The hashtags alone tell the story— #MAGA #TrumpTrain #Hillary4Prison #ZombieHillary #SickHillary. Along with anti-Clinton stories, they also pushed out messages against Trump’s primary rivals like Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Once in the general election, they pumped up third-party candidates to siphon support away from Clinton with posts including, “A vote for Jill Stein is not a wasted vote.”

Online trolls were based in St. Petersburg and were given daily quotas for targeting Americans online, including 50 Facebook posts per day. They were even given a list of American holidays, to remind them of times to post less, so as to avoid detection from online providers.

Americans gobbled it up. The Senate Intelligence report details a troubling fact: in the three months leading up to Election Day, Russian-planted false information on Facebook outperformed real news.

Russian messages were crafted to erode Americans’ trust in investigative and political journalism, and to exploit racial divisions. The sheer volume was so enormous that it overwhelmed readers, who could no longer separate what was real from what wasn’t.

As the article in Roll Call concluded: “If you read nothing else now that Congress is back in session, take a moment to digest this report. It may be the most important document you ever read.”

Doug Masson Quotes The Federalist

Doug Masson is a lawyer in Lafayette, Indiana, and one of the most thoughtful and erudite Indiana bloggers. He has a post on the Democratic primary that is well worth reading in its entirety–and with which I entirely agree–but I was particularly struck by this quotation from Federalist 68

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”

The “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant…by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union.”

Whatever propaganda Republicans employ to dismiss the findings of the Mueller Report or denigrate America’s Intelligence operations, the evidence is overwhelming that Russia raised a creature of its own during the 2016 election. That evidence was recently confirmed by a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence committee, about which I will report more fully in due course.

As Doug says, Trump is “emotionally fragile, intellectually bankrupt, and utterly corrupt”.

He believes that the office of the Presidency is there to serve him rather than the other way around. His trading on public resources to induce foreign powers to meddle in our elections was exactly the kind of thing the Founders were concerned about when they wrote the Constitution.

Most readers of this blog have already joined me in my determination to “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” (I would personally cast my ballot for a potted plant if it was the alternative to Trump) but that doesn’t mean that most of us don’t have favorites in–and opinions about– the Democratic Primary. At this point in the process, I find myself agreeing with Doug’s analysis.

For my part, I don’t mind Biden, but I like Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren. I don’t have strong feelings about Bernie himself, but his online supporters have been fairly off-putting in a way that doesn’t seem nearly so common for supporters of other candidates. In a perfect world, I should be comparing policies, but Presidential campaigns are won or lost on the basis of personalities. The electorate says they care about policy, but when it comes time to vote, they mostly don’t understand the policies and have shaped their understanding of the policies to conform with their personality preferences. I may have better than average understanding of some of these issues, but ultimately, I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of federal laws, rules, and regulations to truly assess the candidates’ plans beyond a pretty superficial level. Nevermind the fact that whatever they propose will have to navigate the legislative process. I’m going to have to trust that the person will do the best they can and will generally make sound decisions.

I have previously called Bernie and Biden analog candidates for a digital age. Either would be immensely preferable to Trump, but I would prefer to see both of them as honored elder statesmen. I love Elizabeth Warren, but I worry that she would make a fairly easy target. Plus I’d hate to see her leave the Senate, where she has been such an effective voice for fairness.

And I really love Mayor Pete.

I’m ready to turn this country over to a new generation–to the people who will have to live with the results of the economic and environmental decisions they make, who grew up with and understand the immense impact of technology on everyday life, and who have the intellect and energy that the Presidency requires and that the current President so clearly lacks.

The men who wrote The Federalist and crafted our Constitution were young. I Googled it, and it turns out that many of the Founding Fathers were not yet 40 years old in 1776. The average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was 44 (Ben Franklin undoubtedly raised the average!), but more than a dozen of them were 35 or younger.

The impressive Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand was born in 1980 and elected at age 37, and Emmanuel Macron of France just turned 41.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’m Bernie’s age, and most days, I need a nap.

All that said–whoever emerges will have my activism and my vote. Whoever it is won’t have Russia’s.

 

Does Deutsch Bank Have The Goods On Trump?

A journalist friend tells me that some early “newspapers”– more accurately described as pamphlets compiled from recently circulated broadsides–used to have a tag line beneath their mastheads. It read “Interesting, if true.”

Lawrence O’Donnell recently supplied us with a humdinger of “interesting if true” news.

According to Raw Story–and subsequently, several other news outlets, including Salon–Deutsche Bank may have the evidence the Mueller investigation was unable to find.

Fast-tracked impeachment hearings will occur this fall if the bombshell report is true that President Donald Trump had loans with Deutsche Bank co-signed by Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin.

 “The source close to Deutsche Bank says that the co-signers of Donald Trump’s Deutsche Bank loans are Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin,” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell reported Tuesday.

If true, this would explain why Trump was so agitated (I know, he’s always agitated, but this was notable even for him) when Congress issued a subpoena to the bank for records of their loans to Trump and the Trump organization. It would explain the lawsuit he filed in an effort to quash that subpoena.

It would also explain his slavish attention to Putin’s interests, most recently highlighted by his behavior at the recent G7 meeting. According to several reports, Trump cornered the other heads of state and aggressively lobbied for Russia’s re-admittance to the group.

Finally, it would explain why Deutsche Bank continued to make loans to Trump after American banks would no longer do so. After several of Trump’s business disasters and bankruptcies left lenders with enormous unpaid obligations, American bankers cut Trump off. That cutoff is not speculation, and Don Junior has been widely quoted for a speech in which he bragged that the Trump Organization no longer needed homegrown lenders, because Russia was supplying all the cash they needed.

Salon quoted journalist and tax expert David Cay Johnston, who has covered Trump for years.

“Deutsche Bank, in making these loans, had to have someone in the background that was guaranteeing these loans. It would be surprising if they’re actually co-signers,” Cay Johnston said in response to the news.  “That would be absolutely astonishing, and I would think mandate his removal from office.”

The only thing Deutsche Bank has confirmed (to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals) is that the bank has possession of the tax returns of at least one member of President Donald Trump’s family.

A lawyer for Trump has now threatened to sue O’Donnell for “false and defamatory” statements. It would be extremely difficult to win such a suit, since O’Donnell himself cautioned that his bombshell report was based upon information provided by a single source–a person who works with Deutsche Bank–and that he had been unable to verify it. (He may have breached journalistic ethics by reporting an unverified accusation–spreading gossip, essentially– but proving intentional defamation would be extremely difficult given his transparency about the source and his inability to confirm that source’s account.)

That said, the information seems so accurate, because it’s so incredibly plausible. Russian oligarch guarantors or co-signers would explain a number of otherwise inexplicable things…

It’s VERY interesting…if true.

 

Odds and Ends

Today, rather than discussing a single topic, I thought I’d post a couple of observations that are related to some of the previous month’s discussions.

Russia. A fairly common response to the media’s focus on the Russia investigation–especially but not exclusively from supporters of Trump and/or the GOP–is that it is unlikely that Russian interference made a difference in the outcome, so why the big obsession with it?

Unless it turns out that Russia hackers actually changed vote totals, I tend to agree that the efforts probably didn’t change the election results. That said, let me respond to the “then why the fuss” question with an analogy.

Let’s say you own a company. Your internal auditor comes to you with evidence that one of the bookkeepers tried to embezzle from the corporation’s account, but was unsuccessful. Would you breathe a sigh of relief, and go about your business as usual? Or would prudence dictate that you investigate in order to find out what was attempted and why, so that you could 1) add safeguards to be sure the account is protected in the future; 2) determine whether the bookkeeper was acting on her own or in concert with other employees; and 3) inquire into management practices that may have given the impression that embezzlement was possible–or that so angered an otherwise good employee that she felt no compunction trying to steal from the company?

I should also note that success of a venture isn’t the key to whether it’s right or wrong. (If you try to kill someone and fail, you’re still guilty of attempted murder.)

Joe Donnelly. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly is a big disappointment. (Not as big a disappointment as Fifth District Representative Susan Brooks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Even conceding that he’s an Indiana Democrat and thus will need independent and even a few Republican votes, he’s been really bad on issues I care a lot about. That said, I will still vote for him in November, and you should too.  We don’t get to choose between perfect and not-perfect. Mike Braun, the Republican candidate, is dramatically, unacceptably worse. But even if Braun weren’t a self-satisfied, self-described “Trumper,” a vote for him would be a vote for Mitch McConnell–aka the most evil man in America– to continue leading the Senate.

The odds of the Democrats winning control of the Senate aren’t good, but if there is a blue “wave,” it is possible. In order for that to happen, however, we have to elect every Senate candidate who has a “D” next to his or her name–and that definitely includes Joe Donnelly. (And to be fair, he does support a progressive agenda about half the time–which is half more than Braun would do.) Think of it this way: a vote for Donnelly is really a vote against Mitch McConnell.

The Democrats and America’s myriad imperfections. A number of commenters to this blog have railed against the imperfections and misdeeds of the Democratic Party. I agree with some–hell, a lot– of those criticisms, just as I agree that any accurate history of this country documents a whole host of failures to live up to our national ideals. I also recognize that today’s America is more plutocracy than liberal democracy, and that needs to change.

What really drives me nuts about purists, however, is the naiveté. (Assuming, that is, that they truly want to effect change, and aren’t just satisfied parading their moral superiority.) In real life, making the perfect the enemy of the good simply rewards the bad. (See discussion of Donnelly election, above.) The Democrats are very imperfect. Today’s GOP is many multiples worse. Our choice is between not-so-good and demonstrably horrible.

Any honest look at history confirms that sustainable progress is incremental. If we can move from horrible to not-so-great (but a hell of a lot better) in November, we can get to work making the systemic and cultural changes that need to occur if we are to have any hope of salvaging democratic governance–not to mention the planet, the economy, the  justice system and public education.

If the purists stay home, and we don’t dislodge the horribles, we’re toast.

Speaking Of Treason

The dictionary defines treason as betrayal, treachery, disloyalty and faithlessness. I looked it up, because it was the word that came to mind when I read this article by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

Marshall was revisiting a report that first emerged in June, 2016, about a remark made by Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, asserting that both Donald Trump and Dana Rohrabacher were on Putin’s payroll. When the comment leaked, staff members dismissed it as a “joke”–which it pretty obviously wasn’t. At the time, there was no way of knowing  what prompted the observation. But as Marshall writes,

Given all we know now, it’s worth revisiting not only the stunning quote but the context around it.

Let’s start by reviewing the gist of the news. Here, from Entous’s article, McCarthy pipes up in a conversation among House leadership about Russia and Ukraine.

That’s when McCarthy brought the conversation about Russian meddling around to the DNC hack, Trump and Rohrabacher.

“I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is. . . . The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh.

Ryan asked who the Russians “delivered” the opposition research to.

“There’s . . . there’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, drawing some laughter. “Swear to God,” McCarthy added.

“This is an off the record,” Ryan said.

Some lawmakers laughed at that.

“No leaks, all right?,” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

Marshall notes that McCarthy and Ryan had each met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Groysman earlier in the day.

According to the recording obtained by The Washington Post, in his meetings with top US officials Groysman had focused on the dynamic we’ve all grown familiar with over the last two years: Russian funding of populist, rightist political parties, propaganda campaigns meant to throw competitor states off balance and into turmoil and even financial subsidies directly to key politicians.

Whatever else Groysman discussed with them, subsequent comments made by Ryan make it clear that he was aware of Russia’s very sophisticated cyber-warfare techniques, and that they weren’t confined to Ukraine: financing populists, financing people in various governments to sabotage those governments, interfering with oil and gas energy production, and a variety of other disruptive strategies.

The question is whether Groysman told McCarthy and the others something more specific. It’s not a stretch to imagine he did. The accounts suggest he was describing patterns and candidates very much like Donald Trump. We simply don’t have evidence to settle that question. The people in that meeting certainly aren’t talking. What strikes me is that the people in that meeting, certainly Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan had a very clear sense of Russian operations in Ukraine and Europe more broadly and how it matched what was taking shape with Donald Trump. The gist of Groysman’s message was that western countries needed to stand united because Russia represented a common threat. The first news of cyberattack the day before only put the equation in a sharper relief.

Whatever they knew then or suspected, the coming months would add dramatic weight to McCarthy’s suspicions. Wikileaks began releasing DNC emails a month later, throwing Clinton’s campaign repeatedly off track. Trump would more aggressively cheer on Russia’s actions. And remember: precisely what was happening – whether Russia was the power behind Wikileaks or someone else – wasn’t 100% clear at the time to ordinary citizens. But at least Ryan and likely McCarthy as well had contemporaneous intelligence briefings which made it crystal clear. Both men were among the 12 members of Congress who were briefed on the Russian campaign in early September 2016 by Jeh Johnson (DHS Secretary), James Comey and Lisa Monaco (White House Homeland Security Advisor).

At that briefing, according to reports,

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.

As the sentences I’ve bolded indicate, McCarthy, Ryan and Mr. Evil–aka Mitch McConnell–have been aware of the nature and extent of Russian meddling since June of 2016. To get a complete and accurate picture of their disgraceful conduct, you need to click through and read the entire analysis, but as Marshall  concludes,

McCarthy and Ryan as well had clear warnings and a clear understanding of the Russian pattern of conduct and Trump’s probable connection to it. They would get a lot more evidence over coming months confirming this impression from June 2016. But they either ignored what they knew or decided to make a conscious decision to unknow it as they moved more and more firmly into lockstep support of Donald Trump. We see this especially clearly with McCarthy, the one who appeared most sure of the connection in this June 15th 2016 meeting and would become the most loyal and staunchest advocate for Trump in the ensuing months and years.

Treachery? Disloyalty? Faithlessness?

Ryan said the Republicans were all “family.” Right. Like the Corleones…