Last Week In One Sentence: GOP operative and anti-Trumper, Cheri Jacobus, said the investigation of an email hacking/catfishing scheme that targeted her has been forwarded to Robert Mueller; Russia's Deputy Attorney General, who allegedly directed the foreign operations of Natalia Veselnitskaya, died last week in a mysterious helicopter crash in Russia; the pilot of the helicopter had two bullet wounds; the Russian sovereign wealth fund leader with whom Erik Prince met in the Seychelles, Kirill Dmitriev, "reached out to at least three additional individuals in close contact with the Trump transition team" in the days before Trump's inauguration; GOP operative Peter Smith, who killed himself in an alleged suicide, solicited and raised at least $100k in his search for Clinton's emails; Randy Credico told the Senate Intelligence Committee he would plead the 5th in response to a subpoena; Reddit's CEO admitted that "suspicious" Russian accounts have been active within the past month on the platform; Russian state TV and Russian trolls supported Kavanaugh and condemned what they call "malignant feminism"; Representative Eric Swalwell wrote an op-ed for the Fresno Bee accusing Devin Nunes of burying evidence on Russian meddling to protect Trump and endorsing his opponent, Andrew Janz; a coalition of voting rights activists announced they are filing a federal lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp for "using a racially-biased methodology" to remove roughly 700,000 voters from the state's voter rolls; and California's Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Friday banning companies from secretly using automated social media accounts to sell products or influence elections.
McConnell's betrayal. While we knew the broad outlines of this story, we now have more details and I think it's important to remember. Before the 2016 election, CIA Director John Brennan informed U.S. officials including Mitch McConnell that Putin was interfering in the election with the goal of assisting Donald Trump. Not only did McConnell say that he wouldn't sign on to any condemnations of Russia's actions, he said if the Obama administration went public he would "all out Brennan as a partisan intervening on behalf of Hillary Clinton."
Catfishing. In an interesting development, GOP operative and anti-Trumper, Cheri Jacobus, said the investigation of an email hacking/catfishing scheme that targeted her has been forwarded to Mueller. The fact that the FBI thinks Mueller has jurisdiction over this case suggests there may have been foreign government involvement.
- Brief background: While publicly feuding with Trump in later 2015, Jacobus was contacted by an individual posing as a British lawyer with rich clients looking to make large donations to anti-Trump super PACs. This person attempted to get valuable political information from Jacobus and her associates. Eventually they became suspicious. Later in 2016, Jacobus was able to connect the persona to a New York con man, Steven Wessel. He was sent to jail for violating conditions of bail. Yet, 4 months later her email was hacked and all her messages were deleted, implying Wessel was not acting alone. No progress was made in the case until this latest development involving Mueller.
Suspicious death. Russia's Deputy Attorney General, who allegedly directed the foreign operations of Natalia Veselnitskaya, died last week in a mysterious helicopter crash in Russia. Karapetyan was intimately involved in many of Putin's schemes, including the death of Magnitsky and the investigation into the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. He and Veselnitskaya attempted to recruit a high-level Swiss government official, leading to their exposure. UPDATE: Sunday, it was revealed by Moscow journalist Sergei Dorenko that the pilot of the helicopter had two bullet wounds and there is evidence of bullets hitting the blades of the copter. Russian authorities deny these allegations.
- Karapetyan is also linked to the Trump Tower meeting: the dirt on Clinton Veselnitskaya offered Trump's team was allegedly given to her by Karapetyan's general prosecutor's office, according to the emails of introduction.
Seychelles update. The Russian sovereign wealth fund leader with whom Erik Prince met in the Seychelles, Kirill Dmitriev, "reached out to at least three additional individuals in close contact with the Trump transition team" in the days before Trump's inauguration. In a communication to George Nader (who is now cooperating with Mueller), Dmitriev wrote of "rebuilding the relationship" between Russia and the U.S., implying "his boss" Putin endorses such outreach.
- Daily Beast: "On January 11, 2017, Dmitriev held his meeting on the Indian Ocean archipelago with Prince, the former head of Blackwater. Shortly afterward, he distributed a memo to various Trumpworld figures proposing that Washington partner with Moscow on a number of military, energy, and financial projects… The memo circulated just days before President Trump's inauguration at a time when his team was actively forming plans on how to improve relations with Russia, including easing sanctions against the country."
Clinton's emails. You may not remember Peter W. Smith - he was the GOP operative who, apparently, killed himself after describing to the WSJ his efforts to track down what he believed to be emails stolen from Hillary Clinton. The WSJ has now revealed Smith solicited and raised at least $100k from donors as part of this effort. Due to the extreme lengths he took to hide his activities, it is not known exactly who made these donations.
- Smith contacted hackers, perhaps Russian, just days before the 2016 election in his search. He also "implied in conversations" that he was working with Mike Flynn at the time. For all these reasons, Smith is being investigated by Mueller's team. A business associate of Smith, John Szobocsan, has been interviewed by Mueller's team three times and testified before the grand jury in August.
- Smith's death was ruled a suicide despite a rather suspicious, in my opinion, note that read: "NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER." The WSJ continues: "Retired Wall Street financier Charles Ortel said he spoke with Mr. Smith on the phone in the hours before his death about a new project to brief the Obama Foundation and warn its leaders against the mistakes they believed were made by the Clinton Foundation. According to Mr. Ortel, Mr. Smith sounded excited, and he began brainstorming who to contact and how to proceed…He said he was stunned when news outlets reported that Mr. Smith had taken his life shortly after their conversation."
Trump's tax fraud. The reason I'm including this will become clear. The NYT conducted a large-scale investigation (short summary here) into Trump's taxes and financial records, publishing the result last week: Donald Trump is the result of at least half a billion dollars siphoned off from his dad's fortune using shell companies, lying about gifts and loans, and "outright fraud." Far from a 'self-made man,' Trump was earning $200 a year by the time he was three years old, $1 million a year after college, and over $5 million a year in his 40s and 50s. "All told, The Times documented 295 streams of revenue [of varying legality] that Fred Trump created over five decades to enrich his son." Over time, Fred Trump had to give Donald more and more to save him from self-created financial disasters.
- Fred Trump died in 1999, splitting his estate amongst his children. Donald Trump likely blew through that money very quickly - in the mid-2000s, the Trump Organization went on a "big buying spree…making all-cash purchases of golf courses and hotels," totaling roughly $400 million. There are signs that he needed an infusion of cash from other sources by the later 2000s; for example, in 2008 Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $55 million more than he bought it for. After that? This is speculation, but I doubt "the king of debt" suddenly figured out how not to lose money. Trump needed money, the Russians needed a puppet. The time frame is right, he would've been in a tough spot by the 2010s. Again, speculation, but without his father's money Trump had to get cash from somewhere.
The 5th. Randy Credico, a radio show host who Roger Stone asserts was an intermediary to Julian Assange, told the Senate Intelligence Committee he would plead the fifth in response to a subpoena for testimony and documents. Credico has already been interviewed by Mueller's team and testified for hours before the grand jury.
Stone on the radio. Mueller has reportedly obtained audio of radio interviews between Randy Credico and Roger Stone from 2016-2017. The two "repeatedly discuss" Wikileaks and Credico asks Stone about the back channel to Assange, casting doubt that it exists.
- Credico maintains that the audio reinforces his version of events - specifically that he was not, as Stone claimed, his intermediary to Wikileaks. The interviews don't look good for Stone, though, who can be heard bragging that he had a mutual friend with Assange who gave him "pretty good information."
Manafort forfeiting. On Monday, Manafort's lawyers were spotted entering the building where Mueller's team works with one of the lead prosecutors, Andrew Weissman. Then Friday, Mueller submitted a court filing requesting an order to seize assets that Manafort bought with money he hid from U.S. authorities. The property includes the Trump Tower condo, a luxury estate in the Hamptons, funds from three bank accounts, a life insurance policy, and an investment account.
- The New York Times profiled some of the properties Manafort is forfeiting (with pictures): "An 1890s Brooklyn brownstone with gilded details. A Soho loft with picture windows. A Lower Manhattan apartment with an automated garage. A house in the Hamptons with a pool, tennis and basketball courts — even a chipping green."
More Russian connections
Russians on reddit. Reddit's CEO admitted that "suspicious" Russian accounts have been active within the past month on the platform. 953 posts were found and deleted; 264 of which were made to T_D, Donald Trump's support community.
GRU cyberattacks. The U.S., U.K., and Netherlands have accused Russia of global cyberattacks and plots. The U.S. has indicted seven Russian intelligence officers on charges stemming from the joint investigations.
- The Netherlands alleged four Russians plotted to hack the Hague's Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which had been probing the poisoning of ex-spy Skripal in the U.K.; The U.K. accused Russian intelligence hackers targeted Ukraine's Kyiv metro and Odessa airport, Russia's central bank, and two privately-owned Russian media outlets - Fontanka.ru and news agency Interfax; The U.S. said Russian intelligence attacked the World Anti-Doping Agency, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and a U.S. nuclear power company in Pennsylvania; finally, Canada stated the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency was also attacked by Russian state hackers.
- The Hill: "The Russian hacking group Fancy Bear, linked to the GRU, has been widely suspected in attacks on Olympic organizations. The attacks have been seen as part of an effort to retaliate against a ban imposed on Moscow for engaging in a doping program."
Russia <3 Kavanaugh. Russian TV propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, who was chosen for his role by Putin, railed against Kavanaugh's accusers and women in general last week, similar to Trump himself. Whereas Kiselyov said, "Guess what stands in Kavanaugh's way? Certainly, the disease of malignant feminism… used to destroy promising careers and eliminate political opponents," Trump said, It's a very scary time for young men in America," but "women are doing great."
- Kavanaugh called Julie Swetnick's allegations "a joke" and "a farce." Kiselyov stated: "The case against Brett Kavanaugh sounds like a joke."
- I wrote about evidence that Russian trolls and bots have been actively supporting Kavanaugh and degrading his accusers since the beginning. My piece here.
Exploiting white supremacy. A review of social media accounts belonging to the Kremlin's Internet Research Association (IRA) shows that between September and December 2017 they imitated Americans to inflame racial tensions surrounding the NFL. On the first NFL Sunday of 2017's season, 60% of the tweets sent by IRA accounts concerned the NFL, taking both sides of the protest argument.
- Daily Beast: "With every tweet, Facebook post, YouTube video and Tumblr page, Russia showed that it understands America with a depth that prompts much of white America to avert its eyes. Russian propaganda expertly grasped that even the most meager challenges to white supremacy prompt a politically powerful and useful white resistance, and that this dynamic is a persistent feature of American life. All Russia—or any foreign power, or no foreign power at all—needs to do is breathe on the embers until they ignite."
- Russians "observed the idioms adopted by left and right online political subcultures and repurposed them, using 'cultural, linguistic and identity markers in their Twitter profiles to align themselves with the shared values and norms of either the left- or right-leaning clusters'."
Last Jedi. An analysis by a researcher at the University of Southern California, Morten Bay, found that half of the negative Twitter activity surrounding Star Wars: The Last Jedi was driven by "bots, trolls/sockpuppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme rightwing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality. A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls."
- Of the over 960 accounts with Last Jedi content Bay analyzed, only 21.9% promoted a negative opinion of the film. Of the 21.9% of negative accounts, half were bots/trolls with "clear political agendas." Further breaking down the negative bot/troll component, 5% were bots, 16% were trolls or sockpuppets (including Russian trolls), and 30% were users with political agendas.
- Morten Bay study: "The study finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments," Bay writes. The likely objective of these measures is increasing media coverage of the fandom conflict, thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society. Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation."
NY tax probe. Following the publication of the NYT's allegations of tax fraud against the Trump family, New York state tax officials are "pursuing all appropriate avenues of investigation." While too much time has passed for criminal charges to apply to the tax crimes described by the NYT, civil fraud charges can still be pressed. For example, the penalty for intentionally underpaying taxes "could include a penalty of up to 75 percent of the unpaid federal taxes and double the unpaid state amount."
- Washington Post: "…Fred Trump paid no federal gift taxes on seven buildings that were transferred to Donald Trump and his siblings…There is typically a three-year statute of limitations on federal gift inquiries, but that doesn't apply when a gift is made without being reported to the government. And if the donor is dead, the IRS would have the ability to go after the beneficiary of the gift for unpaid taxes."
Trump Foundation. While not technically the Russia probe, I think this behavior speaks to general law-breaking that carries over into other parts of Trump's politics. The New York Attorney General accused Donald Trump in a new court filing of engaging in "persistent illegality" in using his charitable foundation "for his personal, business and political interests in violation of federal and state law governing charities." AG Underwood also alleges the foundation coordinated unlawfully with Trump's presidential campaign.
Nunes' obstruction. Representative Eric Swalwell wrote an op-ed for the Fresno Bee accusing Devin Nunes of burying evidence on Russian meddling to protect Trump and endorsing his opponent, Andrew Janz. Swalwell states that Nunes plans to selectively release the interview transcripts produced by the House's Russia probe.
- Democrats on the committee asked for the transcripts to immediately be sent to Mueller, from whom Nunes has hidden them so far. Swalwell explains, "there's good reason to believe many witnesses committed perjury or offered information relevant to the special counsel's work. But Nunes opposed it, and it was voted down." Then Democrats moved to release the transcripts to the public immediately, to avoid selective release; again, Nunes opposed.
- Nunes and the Republicans on the committee prevented an investigation into the blocked number Trump Jr. called after the Trump Tower meeting, despite evidence that Donald Trump used a blocked number.
- Nunes killed the effort to released Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's interview transcript. "He's burying that transcript to protect his friend — also in a tight re-election battle against Harley Rouda in Orange County — just as he has protected President Trump."
Georgia purge. A coalition of voting rights activists announced they are filing a federal lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp for "using a racially-biased methodology" to remove roughly 700,000 voters from the state's voter rolls. The group alleges that Kemp did not notify voters before removing them from the rolls. About 1 in 10 eligible voters in Georgia have been affected by the purge.
- The activists state that Kemp used the flawed Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, created by Kris Kobach, to maintain voter rolls. An investigation of Crosscheck found it identifies false positives more than 99 percent of the time, resulting in the removal of legitimate voters. Kemp denies using Crosscheck.
- "…the activists plan to make the list of purged voters public so that individuals can check for their names and then re-register before the October 9 deadline," which is TOMORROW.
Bot ban. California's Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Friday banning companies from secretly using automated social media accounts to sell products or influence elections. The ban, which goes into effect July 1, 2019, specifically prohibits people from making a bot that appears to be anything but automated; in other words, "a person using a bot shall not be liable under this section if the person discloses that it is a bot." Additionally, note this law targets harmful bots - bots used surreptitiously in an attempt to influence commercial transactions or how people vote in elections - not all bots.
- "The Senate Rules Committee Analyses cited a 2017 study by the University of Southern California and Indiana University. Researchers found that an estimated 48 million Twitter users were actually automated accounts."
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