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The Russian Connection 2


Coconut Flan

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Interesting article from CNN about Susan Rice: "Exclusive: Rice told House investigators why she unmasked senior Trump officials"

Spoiler

Washington (CNN)Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.

The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.

The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.

The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it's customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama's national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.

Rice's previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.

But her explanation appears to have satisfied some influential Republicans on the committee, undercutting both Nunes and Trump and raising new questions about whether any Trump associates tried to arrange back-channel discussions with the Russians.

"I didn't hear anything to believe that she did anything illegal," Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican helping to lead the panel's Russia invesigation, told CNN of Rice's testimony. He declined to discuss any of the contents of her classified remarks.

Through a spokeswoman, Rice declined to comment about her testimony. Nunes refused to answer questions when asked about Rice Tuesday evening.

It's unclear precisely which Trump officials Rice discussed at the House meeting. But multiple sources have confirmed to CNN that Zayed met at the time with Flynn, Kushner and Bannon. The three-hour discussion focused on a range of issues, including Iran, Yemen and the Mideast peace process, according to two sources who insisted that opening up a back-channel with Russia was not a topic of discussion.

Still, the fact that the New York meeting occurred prior to the Seychelles session and that the UAE did not notify the Obama administration about why the crown prince was coming to the United States has raised questions in the eyes of investigators on Capitol Hill.

A secret meeting in the Seychelles

But the Trump Tower meeting came shortly before the UAE brokered a meeting to open lines of communications with the United States and Russia, with a clandestine January meeting in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, according to reports in CNN and The Washington Post. That meeting is now under investigation on Capitol Hill, though it's unclear whether Rice mentioned the Seychelles meeting in the testimony.

A senior Middle East official told CNN that the UAE did not "mislead" the Obama administration about the crown prince's visit, but acknowledged not telling the US government about it in advance. The meeting, which took place December 15, 2016, the official said, was simply an effort to build a relationship with senior members of the Trump team who would be working in the administration to share assessments of the region.

"The meeting was about ascertaining the Trump team's view of the region and sharing the UAE's view of the region and what the US role should be," the official said. "No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything."

A spokesperson for the crown prince declined to comment.

The Seychelles meeting -- and the circumstances around it -- has been a subject of interest to Hill investigators looking at any potential link between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Washington Post initially reported in April that the UAE brokered a pre-inauguration meeting between the founder of the security firm Blackwater, Erik Prince, who is a close Trump ally, and an associate of Vladimir Putin's in the Seychelles Islands. The purpose of the meeting was part of an effort by the UAE to persuade Russia to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, according to the Post.

And it occured shortly after Bannon, Flynn and Kushner also met in Trump Tower with Zayed, whom the Post said helped arrange the Seychelles meeting with Russia government officials to set up the private discussions with the Trump team.

But the senior Middle East official told CNN this week that Prince's name was not discussed at the Trump Tower meeting. And Prince himself has said he did nothing wrong, telling CNN's Erin Burnett last month: "I was there for business."

Both the White House and Prince have strongly denied that Prince was working as a liaison for the Trump administration.

Prince said he met with a Russian while at the Seychelles but "I don't remember his name."

"It probably lasted about, as long as one beer," he said about the meeting.

Explaining 'unmasking'

For her part, Rice had been called to the House Intelligence Committee to testify partly over what Nunes and other Republicans believed was an abuse in the practice of "unmasking" -- or revealing the identities of Americans who were communicating with foreign officials under surveillance by the US intelligence community. Simply unmasking the names of individuals in classified reports does not mean that their identities will be revealed publicly, and Rice denied to the committee that she leaked classified information to the press, sources familiar with the matter said.

But Rice's suggestion that she unmasked the names of US individuals -- who turned out to be Trump associates -- over concerns about the propriety of the crown prince's visit to the United States could help her fend off attacks that she was out of line in the actions she took.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who is helping lead the House investigation, told the Daily Caller "nothing that came up in her interview that led me to conclude" that she improperly unmasked the names of Trump associates or leaked it to the press.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, did not say explicitly whether Trump still believes Rice committed a crime but added the issue of leaking and unmasking needs to be investigated.

"We've seen illegal leaking of classified materials, including the identities of American citizens unmasked in intelligence reports," Sanders told CNN. "That's why the President called for Congress to investigate this matter and why the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community are doing all they can to stamp out this dangerous trend that undermines our national security."

Nunes was forced to step aside from running the Russia investigation amid a House ethics inquiry into whether he improperly disclosed classified data. The ethics inquiry came in the aftermath of his bombshell comments that Obama administration officials had improperly unmasked the names of Trump associates, a revelation that Trump used as cover for his unsubstantiated claim that Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped during the election to spy on him. The Justice Department said in a court filing Friday that the DOJ and the FBI have no evidence to support Trump's claims.

But on Tuesday, the Republican who took over the investigation from Nunes said there was no reason to bring Rice in for further questioning.

"She was a good witness, answered all our questions," Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican now running the House Russia probe, told CNN. "I'm not aware of any reason to bring her back."

 

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Wow. Second Russian Connection thread. I certainly did not expect that when I started the first one.

Appropriate at the beginning of the second thread: Seth Abramson has a comprehensive list with every known person (until now, that is, the list will be updated when necessary) with Russian connections.

 

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"Trump Ethics Chief Approves Anonymous Donations for Russia-Related Legal Fees"

Spoiler

The White House has a Russia problem, and over the past few months, staffers have been lawyering up to protect themselves. Robert Mueller is looking at several Trump associates in particular: Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., are all reportedly central players given their past connections with Kremlin operatives. But practically everyone in the West Wing who had extensive interactions with those principals is a potential witness, too, forcing Hope Hicks, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Mike Pence, and Michael Caputo, among others, to retain counsel, too. As my colleague Abby Tracy reported in June, those lawyers are expensive, and not everyone is the scion of a billionaire with direct access to their presidential campaign’s funds, like Kushner or Trump Jr. For many members of Donald Trump’s staff, the $750 to $1,000 per hour cost of a top-tier attorney is either out of reach or a recipe for bankruptcy. (One expert noted that even for an individual facing a single interview with the F.B.I., a lawyer could easily devote 40 to 60 hours to their case, resulting in bill for anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000.) And so this week, with Trump staffers staring down the barrel of Mueller’s investigation, the White House opened the floodgates to outside money for penurious aides and advisers, eliminating the transparency requirement for their legal defense funds entirely.

Politico reports that the U.S. Office of Government Ethics has, with little fanfare, reversed an internal rule preventing White House staffers from accepting anonymous donations to help pay for their legal bills. Under this new status, government employees under investigation can solicit and accept money from parties normally prohibited from donating money to them—such as lobbyists, interest groups, and the broad category of “people with business before the government”—as long as their identities are unknown. “You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” Marylin Glynn, a former acting director of the O.G.E., told Politico.

O.G.E. guidelines technically allow for this to occur, thanks to a 1993 guidance document implemented while Bill Clinton and his staff were being investigated during the Whitewater scandal. At the time, the Office determined that it could technically be legally acceptable, because there could be no conflicts of interests if the donor was unknown. But upon further consideration, the Office advised White House staffers to refuse anonymous donations. “It wasn’t in the interest of the public to have people guessing who really is donating here,” said Glynn.

The 1993 document, however, remained unchanged until May 2017, when then director Walter Shaub added a line at the top stating that the opinion was “NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE.” He insisted that his action was not motivated by politics—both candidates in 2016, after all, had suspicious ties to large financial institutions—but after he left in July, the document had been updated to include some wiggle room, stating at the top that the guidance “HAS NOT CHANGED” and may only apply to employees with “VERY FACT-SPECIFIC” cases. “It’s very depressing,” Shaub told Politico. “It’s unseemly for the ethics office to be doing something sneaky like that.” The Trump White House disputed that characterization, and said that Shaub was only “trying to make himself feel relevant.” (The Hive has reached out to both the White House and Shaub for comment.)

Regardless of their legality, anonymous donations to White House legal defense funds have always aroused suspicion: Richard Nixon was scrutinized for his actions in setting up a fund for his staffers during Watergate, and the Clintons themselves had relied on such a fund to defend themselves during the Whitewater and Paula Jones scandals. At the very least, after the president spent the entire campaign hammering the Clintons for their alleged corruption, the Trump administration may want to avoid aping the Clintons.

I guess this clears the way for Vlad to pay the legal bills for his tangerine lapdog.

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Wow, getting more childish every day: "Russia reduces parking spaces at US consulates"

Spoiler

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has withdrawn parking privileges for U.S. diplomats, an apparent continuation of a diplomatic tit-for-tat between Washington and Moscow.

State-owned television channel Rossiya 24 reported on Wednesday that parking spaces outside the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg had been painted over with a pedestrian crossing, and special parking signs had been removed outside the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, near the Ural Mountains.

Diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Russia are at their lowest level since the Cold War and have been marred in recent months by a series of expulsions of diplomats and closures of diplomatic missions.

Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, declined to comment on the loss of parking spaces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Russia would reduce U.S. diplomatic missions to “full parity” with their Russian counterparts on U.S. territory. As well as canceling parking privileges, Russian media has reported that U.S. diplomatic missions could be hit with staff reductions and fewer approved diplomatic entry points.

The U.S. ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington and New York on Aug. 31 in response to an order from Moscow to reduce the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia by 755 staff members. Those actions followed the U.S seizure of Russian compounds in Maryland and New York and the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

What's next, requiring all U.S. diplomatic employees to wear 20 or more pieces of "flair"?

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19 hours ago, GreyhoundFan said:

"Trump Ethics Chief Approves Anonymous Donations for Russia-Related Legal Fees"

  Reveal hidden contents

The White House has a Russia problem, and over the past few months, staffers have been lawyering up to protect themselves. Robert Mueller is looking at several Trump associates in particular: Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., are all reportedly central players given their past connections with Kremlin operatives. But practically everyone in the West Wing who had extensive interactions with those principals is a potential witness, too, forcing Hope Hicks, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Mike Pence, and Michael Caputo, among others, to retain counsel, too. As my colleague Abby Tracy reported in June, those lawyers are expensive, and not everyone is the scion of a billionaire with direct access to their presidential campaign’s funds, like Kushner or Trump Jr. For many members of Donald Trump’s staff, the $750 to $1,000 per hour cost of a top-tier attorney is either out of reach or a recipe for bankruptcy. (One expert noted that even for an individual facing a single interview with the F.B.I., a lawyer could easily devote 40 to 60 hours to their case, resulting in bill for anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000.) And so this week, with Trump staffers staring down the barrel of Mueller’s investigation, the White House opened the floodgates to outside money for penurious aides and advisers, eliminating the transparency requirement for their legal defense funds entirely.

Politico reports that the U.S. Office of Government Ethics has, with little fanfare, reversed an internal rule preventing White House staffers from accepting anonymous donations to help pay for their legal bills. Under this new status, government employees under investigation can solicit and accept money from parties normally prohibited from donating money to them—such as lobbyists, interest groups, and the broad category of “people with business before the government”—as long as their identities are unknown. “You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” Marylin Glynn, a former acting director of the O.G.E., told Politico.

O.G.E. guidelines technically allow for this to occur, thanks to a 1993 guidance document implemented while Bill Clinton and his staff were being investigated during the Whitewater scandal. At the time, the Office determined that it could technically be legally acceptable, because there could be no conflicts of interests if the donor was unknown. But upon further consideration, the Office advised White House staffers to refuse anonymous donations. “It wasn’t in the interest of the public to have people guessing who really is donating here,” said Glynn.

The 1993 document, however, remained unchanged until May 2017, when then director Walter Shaub added a line at the top stating that the opinion was “NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE.” He insisted that his action was not motivated by politics—both candidates in 2016, after all, had suspicious ties to large financial institutions—but after he left in July, the document had been updated to include some wiggle room, stating at the top that the guidance “HAS NOT CHANGED” and may only apply to employees with “VERY FACT-SPECIFIC” cases. “It’s very depressing,” Shaub told Politico. “It’s unseemly for the ethics office to be doing something sneaky like that.” The Trump White House disputed that characterization, and said that Shaub was only “trying to make himself feel relevant.” (The Hive has reached out to both the White House and Shaub for comment.)

Regardless of their legality, anonymous donations to White House legal defense funds have always aroused suspicion: Richard Nixon was scrutinized for his actions in setting up a fund for his staffers during Watergate, and the Clintons themselves had relied on such a fund to defend themselves during the Whitewater and Paula Jones scandals. At the very least, after the president spent the entire campaign hammering the Clintons for their alleged corruption, the Trump administration may want to avoid aping the Clintons.

I guess this clears the way for Vlad to pay the legal bills for his tangerine lapdog.

Very interesting. I wonder if they'll even care where the money comes from. Or bother to find out. More stupid decisions coming!

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23 hours ago, GreyhoundFan said:

"Trump Ethics Chief Approves Anonymous Donations for Russia-Related Legal Fees"

  Reveal hidden contents

The White House has a Russia problem, and over the past few months, staffers have been lawyering up to protect themselves. Robert Mueller is looking at several Trump associates in particular: Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., are all reportedly central players given their past connections with Kremlin operatives. But practically everyone in the West Wing who had extensive interactions with those principals is a potential witness, too, forcing Hope Hicks, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Mike Pence, and Michael Caputo, among others, to retain counsel, too. As my colleague Abby Tracy reported in June, those lawyers are expensive, and not everyone is the scion of a billionaire with direct access to their presidential campaign’s funds, like Kushner or Trump Jr. For many members of Donald Trump’s staff, the $750 to $1,000 per hour cost of a top-tier attorney is either out of reach or a recipe for bankruptcy. (One expert noted that even for an individual facing a single interview with the F.B.I., a lawyer could easily devote 40 to 60 hours to their case, resulting in bill for anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000.) And so this week, with Trump staffers staring down the barrel of Mueller’s investigation, the White House opened the floodgates to outside money for penurious aides and advisers, eliminating the transparency requirement for their legal defense funds entirely.

Politico reports that the U.S. Office of Government Ethics has, with little fanfare, reversed an internal rule preventing White House staffers from accepting anonymous donations to help pay for their legal bills. Under this new status, government employees under investigation can solicit and accept money from parties normally prohibited from donating money to them—such as lobbyists, interest groups, and the broad category of “people with business before the government”—as long as their identities are unknown. “You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” Marylin Glynn, a former acting director of the O.G.E., told Politico.

O.G.E. guidelines technically allow for this to occur, thanks to a 1993 guidance document implemented while Bill Clinton and his staff were being investigated during the Whitewater scandal. At the time, the Office determined that it could technically be legally acceptable, because there could be no conflicts of interests if the donor was unknown. But upon further consideration, the Office advised White House staffers to refuse anonymous donations. “It wasn’t in the interest of the public to have people guessing who really is donating here,” said Glynn.

The 1993 document, however, remained unchanged until May 2017, when then director Walter Shaub added a line at the top stating that the opinion was “NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE.” He insisted that his action was not motivated by politics—both candidates in 2016, after all, had suspicious ties to large financial institutions—but after he left in July, the document had been updated to include some wiggle room, stating at the top that the guidance “HAS NOT CHANGED” and may only apply to employees with “VERY FACT-SPECIFIC” cases. “It’s very depressing,” Shaub told Politico. “It’s unseemly for the ethics office to be doing something sneaky like that.” The Trump White House disputed that characterization, and said that Shaub was only “trying to make himself feel relevant.” (The Hive has reached out to both the White House and Shaub for comment.)

Regardless of their legality, anonymous donations to White House legal defense funds have always aroused suspicion: Richard Nixon was scrutinized for his actions in setting up a fund for his staffers during Watergate, and the Clintons themselves had relied on such a fund to defend themselves during the Whitewater and Paula Jones scandals. At the very least, after the president spent the entire campaign hammering the Clintons for their alleged corruption, the Trump administration may want to avoid aping the Clintons.

I guess this clears the way for Vlad to pay the legal bills for his tangerine lapdog.

Well, they'll know it's the Koch brothers, the Mercers, Big Pharma, Big Oil.  Not such a big pool of mega donors.  But how would this work to keep it anonymous?  The griftee lets it be known that they have legal bills the size of the GNP of a small country, and then "somebody" cuts a check? 

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2 hours ago, Howl said:

 But how would this work to keep it anonymous?  The griftee lets it be known that they have legal bills the size of the GNP of a small country, and then "somebody" cuts a check? 

To be honest, I'm not sure. Maybe some enterprising BT will set up a website, "Grift-fund-me" or something like that.

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"Mnuchin and Pompeo should recuse themselves from the Russia investigation'

Spoiler

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and CIA Director Mike Pompeo ought to follow the lead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and recuse themselves from the special counsel’s investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election.

The two Cabinet members are linked to the investigation through the agencies they run, which are assisting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s wide-ranging probe. Mnuchin and Pompeo should step aside for the same reason Sessions took himself out of the picture: potential conflicts of interest.

In explaining his recusal, Sessions said he was following the recommendation of Justice Department ethics officials. “They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation,” he said.

Mnuchin is in the same boat.

The treasury secretary served as national finance chair for Trump’s presidential campaign and on the Trump transition team. What’s more, Mnuchin has a personal relationship with Trump and his immediate family members, and has political relationships that extend to Trump transition advisers and campaign aides who could be affected by Mueller’s investigation.

Pompeo has his own conflict challenge. A far-right Republican elected to Congress in the tea party wave of 2010, Pompeo touts his personal relationship with Trump and key administration officials. He is an Oval Office favorite.

A serious question of partiality arises in the cases of these Trump appointees.

As it stands, Mnuchin and Pompeo are in a position to closely monitor where the investigation is headed — because Treasury and the CIA are in the thick of it.

Those government agencies are key providers of support for the special counsel’s investigation into possible contacts, money transfers and business relationships, including any money laundering, among a variety of Russian officials and Trump associates.

One Treasury bureau, the Financial System Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, is especially equipped to help unearth possible entanglements among Trump, his associates and Russia — or any suspicious financial activities of Trump and his associates. The Internal Revenue Service, another Treasury bureau, is a critical investigative asset because of its access to tax returns and familiarity with tax evasion and gamesmanship with money derived from illegal activities — the stuff of which convictions are made.

The CIA is similarly situated with the special counsel’s office. Last month, CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani noted that the FBI and the special counsel’s office are leading the law-enforcement investigation into Russian involvement in the election, but he confirmed: “CIA is providing relevant information in support of that investigation.”

Which gets us back to two of Trump’s most obeisant Cabinet members, Mnuchin and Pompeo, and the matter of their recusal.

Do they monitor the work of their agencies with the special counsel’s office? Do they know the contents of the information shared with the special counsel’s office? If so, what are they doing with that information?

I raised these questions this week with press offices at Treasury and the CIA. I also asked whether Mnuchin or Pompeo — or a designee — has disseminated any of the information to White House officials, including the president, his family members, legal advisers or any other administration official. The CIA did not respond. On Friday, spokesman Seth Unger said Treasury “declined to comment.”

My questions were not without cause.

While Mnuchin and Pompeo should expect to be kept informed of investigations conducted by their agencies, the fruits of those investigations should be disseminated only to duly authorized prosecutors, not the White House.

The country has a dark history of that rule having been violated. And it was a major part of what led to a committee of Congress in 1974 approving articles of impeachment against a president of the United States.

To recall: President Richard M. Nixon was charged with “disseminating information received from officers of [the U.S. government] to subjects of investigation . . . for the purpose of aiding and assisting such subjects in their attempts to avoid criminal liability.”

The facts, according to the House Judiciary Committee documents: On April 16, 1973, then-assistant attorney general Henry Petersen went to the White House and relayed to Nixon evidence implicating his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and Haldeman’s aide Gordon Strachan in Watergate.

Minutes after Petersen left, Nixon met with White House assistant John Ehrlichman and informed him of Petersen’s revelations. Ehrlichman then took steps to gather as much information as he could about the events regarded as potentially incriminating by the prosecutors.

Nixon, the committee concluded, had spoken falsely to Petersen when he assured him that secret prosecutorial information would not be discussed with anyone. Nixon, in fact, informed former aides who were grand jury subjects of mounting evidence against them. Hence, the articles of impeachment.

Mnuchin and Pompeo might enjoy their access to the president. But they shouldn’t be foolhardy. Because of their jobs, they also might be in a conflict situation and a position to aid and abet individuals who could face criminal liability.

Brownie points and candy from Trump may be dandy, but recusal is better.

I wish they would both recuse themselves right out of their jobs. Neither should be in the cabinet.

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My local news radio station has started a series about the Russia situation. If the first part is any indicator, it should be a doozy. There is a link in the article to the sound. "Anatomy of a Russian attack: First signs of the Kremlin’s attempt to influence the 2016 election"

Spoiler

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that an attempt to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A WTOP investigation that began in November 2016 examines how the attack happened, when it started, who was involved and what's next.

,,,

About this series: The U.S. intelligence community has concluded an attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A WTOP investigation that began in November 2016 examined how the attack happened, when it started, who was involved and what’s next. Dozens of interviews with current and former U.S. intelligence officials, members of Congress, cyber security and intelligence experts, foreign government officials, Russian nationals and American victims were conducted. Here is what WTOP learned.

...

WASHINGTON — In April 2014, former FBI special agent Clint Watts and two colleagues noticed a bizarre petition on the Whitehouse.gov website.

“Alaska back to Russia appeared as a public campaign to give America’s largest state back to the nation from which it was purchased,” Watts said during testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 30, 2017.

Watts told the committee that upon closer examination he, Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger observed a strange occurrence.

The petition had gained “more than 39,000 signatures in a very short period of time,” Watts said.

Watts, currently a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow, said he and his team detected something even more peculiar.

“Our examination of those signing and posting on this petition revealed an odd pattern. The accounts varied considerably from other petitions and appeared to be the work of bots.”

Their investigation into the accounts associated with the petition revealed that the bots were directly related to other social media campaigns and networks that had been aggressively promoting Russian propaganda in previous months.

Hackers connected to the accounts had multiplied on the networks and could be spotted among recent data-breaches and website defacements.

“Closely circling those hackers were honey pot accounts, attractive looking women and political partisans trying to social engineer other users,” Watts said. “Above all we observed hecklers — those synchronized trolling accounts you see on Twitter — that would attack political targets using similar talking patterns and points.”

That activity turned out to be the makings of a sophisticated Russian influence operation.

In 2015, U.S. intelligence agencies began to notice that bots like those Watts described had selected some very specific targets — the U.S. elections system and individuals and organizations associated with it.

According to U.S. intelligence sources, the activity intensified as time passed and there was little doubt that it was a Russian intelligence-linked operation that reached to the very top of the Russian government.

By late 2016, President Barack Obama was notified. And at a Dec. 16, 2016 news conference, he told reporters that he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to interfere in the election process.

“In early September when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut out and there would be some consequences if he didn’t. And in fact we did not see further tampering of the election process,” Obama said.

Former CIA director John Brennan revealed later that he spoke to Alexander Bortnikov, his counterpart in Russia’s intelligence services, on Aug. 4, 2016.

“I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election,” Brennan said.

He told Bortnikov that if Russia continued to pursue the activity, “it would destroy any near term prospects for improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow and would undermine constructive engagement even on matters of mutual interest.”

But Brennan said Bortnikov did exactly what he anticipated he would do.

“As I expected, Mister Bortnikov denied that Russia was doing anything to influence a presidential election,” Brennan said. “Claiming that Moscow is a traditional target to blame by Washington for such activities.”

But on Jan. 10, 2017, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper revealed that the damage had already been done.

“We have high confidence that President Putin ordered an influence campaign the 2016 aimed at U. S. presidential election,” he told the Senate Intelligence committee.

At President Obama’s direction, the intelligence community had conducted a deep, probing investigation into suspicions that Russia had deliberately interfered in the election.

Its report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” revealed “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s long-standing 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.”

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” Clapper told the committee. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence community’s finding lined up with what Watts and his colleagues suspected.

After the release of the report, another absurd occurrence they had noticed in the summer of 2016 made perfect sense.

“On the evening of 30 July 2016, my colleagues and I watched as RT and Sputnik news simultaneously launched false stories about the U.S. air base in Incirlik, Turkey being overrun by terrorists,” he told the committee.

“Within minutes pro-Russian social media aggregators and automated bots amplified this false news story,” Watts said. “There were more than 4,000 tweets in the first 75 to 78 minutes after launching this false story.”

Perhaps the most stunning development for Watt and his companions was that the rapid proliferation of that story was linked back to the active measures accounts (Russian bots) they had tracked for the preceding two years.

“These previously identified accounts almost simultaneously appearing from different geographic locations and communities amplified the big news story in unison,” Watts said.

The hashtags promoted by the bots, according to Watts, were “nuclear, media, Trump and Benghazi.”

The most common words, he said found in English speaking Twitter user profiles were “God, military Trump, family, country, conservative, Christian, America and constitution.”

The objective of the messages, Watts said, “clearly sought to convince Americans that U.S. military bases being overrun in a terrorist attack.”

In reality, only a small protest gathered outside the gates at the Incirlik base and increased security at the air base had only been deployed to secure the arrival of the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to Watts, similar Russian-driven fake news operations were organized around the Jade Helm exercise, Black Lives Matter protests and the Bundy Ranch standoff in Oregon.

They were partly successful in sowing chaos in some of those cases.

Duping U.S. social media consumers into believing fake news stories emboldened those running Russia’s active measures campaign to more aggressively seek to influence voter’s decisions in the 2016 presidential election, according to intelligence sources who spoke with WTOP.

“It is a very, very [sic] persuasive demonstration of the fact that the Russians interfered in our election process, with the purpose of helping one of the two candidates,” said Robert Litt, former General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in an interview with WTOP on Sept. 13, 2017.

Litt, who left the U.S. government on Jan. 20, 2017, did so with a clear view of how the Russian influence operation worked.

“They have an extremely capable intelligence service with exceptional cyber capabilities that they have repeated demonstrated, not only against the United States, but against Estonia and Georgia.”

NOTE: In our next article, we look at the tactics involved.

 

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@GreyhoundFanAm I remembering correctly, that you live in a blue state? We need news stations in red states to pick up this series!

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1 hour ago, sawasdee said:

@GreyhoundFanAm I remembering correctly, that you live in a blue state? We need news stations in red states to pick up this series!

I live in Virginia, which is a purple state. The part of the state where I live is close to Washington DC, and is rather blue. Much of the southern and western parts of the state are deep red. The news station in question is from DC. I'm sure they've shopped it to other stations, but I would wager none in red states would buy it.

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"The FBI wiretap on Paul Manafort is a big deal. Here’s why."

Spoiler

Randall D. Eliason teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University Law School.

Reports that the FBI wiretapped former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort are a further sign of the seriousness of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. But there’s still a great deal we don’t know about the implications, if any, for the broader inquiry into possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign.

CNN reported Monday night that the FBI obtained a warrant to listen in on Manafort’s phone calls back in 2014. The warrant was part of an investigation into U.S. firms that may have performed undisclosed work for the Ukrainian government. The surveillance reportedly lapsed for a time but was begun again last year when the FBI learned about possible ties between Russian operatives and Trump associates.

This news is a big deal primarily because of what it takes to obtain such a wiretap order. The warrant reportedly was issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A FISA warrant requires investigators to demonstrate to the FISA court that there is probable cause to believe the target may be acting as an unlawful foreign agent.

When news broke last month that Mueller was using a grand jury to conduct his investigation, many reported it with unnecessary breathlessness. Although a grand jury investigation is certainly significant, a prosecutor does not need court approval or a finding of probable cause to issue a grand jury subpoena, and Mueller’s use of a grand jury was not unexpected.

A FISA warrant is another matter. It means investigators have demonstrated probable cause to an independent judicial authority. Obtaining a warrant actually says much more about the strength of the underlying allegations than issuing a grand jury subpoena.

That’s also why the search warrant executed at Manafort’s home in July was such a significant step in the investigation. Unlike a grand jury subpoena, the search warrant required Mueller’s team to demonstrate to a judge that a crime probably had been committed.

But it’s important not to get too far in front of the story. The FBI surveillance of Manafort reportedly began in 2014, long before he was working as Trump’s campaign manager. So the initial allegations, at least, appear to have involved potential crimes having nothing to do with the Trump campaign. And most or all of the surveillance apparently took place before Mueller was even appointed and was not at his direction.

Mueller’s involvement now does suggest that the current focus relates to Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign. But we don’t know exactly how, if at all, any alleged crimes by Manafort relate to his work in that role. And we don’t know whether any other individuals involved in the campaign are potentially implicated.

We also don’t know what evidence was obtained as a result of the surveillance. The fact that warrants were issued does not mean any evidence of criminal conduct was actually found.

The other import of this news involves the possible implications if Manafort is charged. The New York Times reported Monday that when Manafort’s home was searched in July, investigators told him he should expect to be indicted. Even if Mueller were to indict Manafort for crimes not directly related to the Trump campaign, it would be a significant development. A typical white-collar investigation often proceeds by building cases against lower-level participants in a scheme — the little fish — and then persuading them to cooperate in the investigation of the bigger fish. Trump and his associates therefore may have reason to be concerned about what Manafort could tell investigators if he were indicted and chose to cooperate.

Again, much of this is speculation. Due to grand jury secrecy and the secrecy surrounding the FISA process, we don’t know many of the details. And given the typical pace of these investigations, whatever happens likely will not happen quickly.

But news of the FISA surveillance is the latest evidence that Mueller’s investigation is serious, aggressive and will be with us for some time.

I hope it does end up taking down the TT and his associates.

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The local news radio station published another chapter in its series about Russia: "Anatomy of a Russian attack: From robocalls to hoaxes, a look at tactics used"

Spoiler

WASHINGTON — In the early hours of Feb. 13, 2017, just after returning home from a trip to Africa earlier in the month, David Pollock woke up to the incessant ringing of his mobile phone.

He answered it. On the other end was someone speaking in Russian, who abruptly hung up.

“It started probably about 7 a.m. and continued many hours after that. I was getting robocalls from Russia in Russian,” he said.

Some of the relentless callers “left messages. Sometimes, they hung up, and sometimes, there was just noise after I answered,” said Pollock, the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute. He said that for nearly an entire working day, “the calls were coming in so fast; I couldn’t block them or delete them until many hours went by.”

Pollock believes he was targeted after publicly confronting a Russian academic, who denigrated the U.S. military and the U.S. government during a plenary session at a security conference in Morocco a few days before.

But as annoying as it was, what happened to Pollock was tame compared to the scene that unfolded in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2014.

‘A certain mission’

“We started getting phone calls in regards to a message titled ‘toxic fumes, hazard warning,’” said Duval Arthur, director of the office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

He told WTOP that citizens received a text message alert about 8 a.m. about an explosion at a manufacturing plant. The alert read “‘take shelter, check local media,'” according to Arthur; the dispatch was sent from Columbia Chemical Company and listed its website as columbiachemical.com.

Within two hours, social media users from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes were inundated with posts about the incident.

Twitter and other social media platforms were jammed with images of the explosion and a screenshot of a CNN homepage. Even a YouTube video had been posted showing someone watching a TV broadcast in which ISIS had allegedly claimed responsibility for an attack on the plant.

But not a word of it was true. It was all an elaborately staged hoax.

The organization mentioned in the alert, Columbia Chemical Company, does not exist.

There is a company in the area called Columbian Chemical, owned by Birla.

Arthur told WTOP he called the company, and they said the following in a news release:

“We have been informed by the community that a text message has been received by several individuals indicating a release of toxic gas from the Birla Carbon’s Columbian Chemicals Plant near Centerville, Louisiana. The content as stated by the text message is not true. There has been no release of such toxic gas, explosion or any other incident in our facility. We are not aware of the origin of this text message.”

When WTOP asked who was responsible, Arthur said, “I was told it was the Russians, but I have no information on that — none whatsoever.”

WTOP contacted the Louisiana division of the FBI and asked about the investigation. A spokesman declined to comment on the disposition and nature of the inquiry.

Arthur is uncertain about who was behind the incident, but current and former U.S. intelligence sources are clear that it and other incidents like it are the work of a Russian government-funded network.

Both Pollock and St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, were likely victims of a troll house operation.

“These folks have a certain mission. They go 24 hours a day in 12-hour shifts. In those shifts, they are given a certain number of posts that they have to fulfill,” said former Congressman Michael J. Rogers, R-Mich.

Rogers, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 2011-2015, told WTOP hundreds of workers at the troll houses are assigned to target websites, social media accounts and online platforms, “which have some impact on people’s opinion on either a person or some idea or a political candidate,” that is important to the Russian government.

He said each troll, “based on the information I saw, is assigned about 135 online posts (or targets).”

In each post, according to Rogers, the troll is required to include a minimum number of characters — “something like 200,” said Rogers.

Whether it’s robocalling people perceived as hostile to the Russian government or launching intricately scripted hoaxes, it’s all believed to be a part of the Russian military’s new information warfare division — designed specifically to fight the U.S. and the West.

“They took all of their cyber-actors and combined them in this information warfare center. They talked openly about propaganda being a part of what they do. They said they were going to be smart and effective in everything they do to protect the Russian federation,” Rogers said.

Russia’s influence operations

Moscow’s new hybrid warfare machine was on full display last year.

“What we have seen in the 2016 election was an unprecedented attempt by Russia to manipulate our most basic democratic process: our electoral process and the jewel of the crown, the presidential process,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an exclusive interview with WTOP.

The operation was based on an old idea.

“Russia, a long time back in time inside the Soviet Union, was an agent of misinformation. When it was a communist dictatorship, it used propaganda to contain its own people,” Warner said.

Many of the tactics that Russia deployed in 2016 against the U.S., he said, “They’ve been using for the last decade in places like Poland, Hungary, Romania and, of course, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”

A U.S. intelligence official told WTOP, “Russia relies on tools it uses in its influence campaigns, such as media messaging and funding of parties, to muddy the waters about Russian activities and bolster its preferred candidates.”

Russia “probably is also increasingly using cyber-enabled disclosures to undermine the credibility of Western institutions,” said the official, looking at how Moscow skillfully hacked the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

After both entities were hacked, sources told WTOP, the information was then funneled to organizations such as WikiLeaks and DCleaks.

Warner said, “Russia started by hacking into private individual accounts of both political parties, but decided to only release information that was harmful to the Democratic candidate — Clinton.”

Somewhere mid-spring to summer of 2016, according to Warner, “Moscow changed from saying they just wanted to sow chaos to deciding they’d rather see Trump over Clinton.”

There were two phases of the operation, he said.

The first was the selective hacking of information and then letting that information be released at critical times. The second part, which Warner said “was even more sophisticated, was using modern technology and the internet, and they would pay people to create fake social media accounts and create botnets.”

He said they would use those accounts and bots to flood the internet with fake news. And, according to Warner, they were so skilled at it that they could even target specific areas.

“Data scientists have shown that in certain areas, for example in Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania, during the last 10 days of the campaign, Twitter or Facebook users wouldn’t find stories about Clinton vs. Trump,” Warner said.

Instead, he said, they would encounter fake stories “about Hillary Clinton being sick or stealing money from the State Department.”

The reason, he said, was because the overwhelming number of bots and fake social media accounts — a part of Russia’s information warfare operation — could determine what the top trending stories would be on social media platforms.

The whole thing is so scary. It really is like we are living "1984".

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Drip, drip, drip: "Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign"

Spoiler

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. And a spokeswoman for Deripaska dismissed the email ex­changes as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘beltway bandit’ industry.”

Nonetheless, investigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a U.S. presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe.

Several of the ex­changes, which took place between Manafort and a Kiev-based employee of his international political consulting practice, focused on money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients.

The notes appear to be written in deliberately vague terms, with Manafort and his employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, never explicitly mentioning Deripaska by name.

Investigators believe that key passages refer to Deripaska. The billionaire is referenced in some places by his initials, “OVD,” and one email invokes an expensive Russian delicacy in what investigators believe is a veiled reference to Manafort’s past work with Deripaska.

In one April exchange days after Trump named Manafort as a campaign strategist, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?”

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said Wednesday that the email ex­changes reflected an “innocuous” effort to collect past debts.

“It’s no secret Mr. Manafort was owed money by past clients,” Maloni said.

Maloni said no briefings with Deripaska ever took place but that, in his email, Manafort was offering what would have been a “routine” briefing on the state of the campaign.

Vera Kurochkina, a spokeswoman for Rusal, the company led by Deripaska, on Wednesday derided inquiries from The Post that she said “veer into manufactured questions so grossly false and insinuating that I am concerned even responding to these fake connotations provides them the patina of reality.”

The email exchanges add to an already perilous legal situation for Manafort, whose real estate dealings and overseas bank accounts are of intense interest for Mueller and congressional investigators as part of their examination of Russia’s 2016 efforts. People close to Manafort believe Mueller’s goal is to force the former campaign chairman to flip on his former Trump associates and provide information.

In August, Mueller’s office executed a search warrant during an early-morning raid of Manafort’s Alexandria, Va., condominium, an unusually aggressive step in a white-collar criminal matter.

Mueller has also summoned Maloni, the Manafort spokesman, and Manafort’s former lawyer to answer questions in front of a grand jury. Last month, Mueller’s team told Manafort and his attorneys that they believed they could pursue criminal charges against him and urged him to cooperate in the probe, providing information about other members of the campaign. The New York Times reported this week that prosecutors had threatened Manafort with indictment.

The emails now under review by investigators and described to The Post could provide prosecutors with additional leverage.

Kilimnik did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest men, is widely seen as an important ally of President Vladi­mir Putin. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2006, published by WikiLeaks, referred to Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis.”

The billionaire has struggled to get visas to travel to the United States because of concerns he might have ties to organized crime in Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal. He has vigorously denied any criminal ties.

Russian officials have frequently raised the matter over the years with U.S. diplomats, according to former U.S. officials familiar with the appeals.

In 2008, one of Manafort’s business partners, Rick Davis, arranged for Deripaska to meet then-presidential candidate John McCain at an international economic conference in Switzerland.

At the time, Davis was on leave from Manafort’s firm and was serving as McCain’s campaign manager. The meeting caused a stir, given McCain’s longtime criticism of Putin’s leadership.

The Post reported in 2008 that Deripaska jointly emailed Davis and Manafort after the meeting to thank them for setting it up. Davis did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

At the time of the McCain meeting, Manafort was working in Ukraine, advising a Russia-friendly political party. He ultimately helped to elect Viktor Yanukovych as president in 2010. In 2014, Yanukovych was ousted from office during street protests and fled to Moscow.

Manafort and Deripaska have both confirmed that they had a business relationship in which Manafort was paid as an investment consultant. In 2014, Deripaska accused Manafort in a Cayman Islands court of taking nearly $19 million intended for investments and then failing to account for the funds, return them or respond to numerous inquiries about exactly how the money was used. There are no signs in court documents that the case has been closed.

The emails under review by investigators also show that Manafort waved off questions within the campaign about his international dealings, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

Manafort wrote in an April 2016 email to Trump press aide Hope Hicks that she should disregard a list of questions from The Post about his relationships with Deripaska and a Ukrainian businessman, according to people familiar with the email.

When another news organization asked questions in June, Manafort wrote Hicks that he never had any ties to the Russian government, according to people familiar with the email.

Hicks, now the White House communications director, declined to comment.

Former campaign officials said that Manafort frequently told his campaign colleagues that assertions made about him by the press were specious. Hicks, however, told colleagues that she was uncomfortable with Manafort’s style and concerned he was not always putting the candidate’s interests first.

The emails turned over to investigators show that Manafort remained in regular contact with Kilimnik, his longtime employee in Kiev, throughout his five-month tenure at the Trump campaign.

Kilimnik, a Soviet army veteran, had worked for Manafort in his Kiev political consulting operation since 2005. Kilimnik began as an office manager and translator and attained a larger role with Manafort, working as a liaison to Deripaska and others, people familiar with his work have said.

People close to Manafort told The Post that he and Kilimnik used coded language as a precaution because they were transmitting sensitive information internationally.

In late July, eight days after Trump delivered his GOP nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland, Kilimnik wrote Manafort with an update, according to people familiar with the email exchange.

Kilimnik wrote in the July 29 email that he had met that day with the person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” according to the people familiar with the exchange. Kilimnik said it would take some time to discuss the “long caviar story,” and the two agreed to meet in New York.

Investigators believe that the reference to the pricey Russian luxury item may have been a reference to Manafort’s past lucrative relationship with Deripaska, according to people familiar with the probe.

Kilimnik and Manafort have previously confirmed that they were in contact during the campaign, including meeting twice in person — once in May 2016, as Manafort’s role in Trump’s campaign was expanding, and again in August, about two weeks before Manafort resigned amid questions about his work in Ukraine.

The August meeting is the one the two men arranged during the emails now under examination by investigators.

That encounter took place at the Grand Havana Club, an upscale cigar bar in Manhattan. Kilimnik has said the two discussed “unpaid bills” and “current news.” But he said the sessions were “private visits” that were “in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the U.S.”

 

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I think you all know I have a thing for Seth Abramson's tweets, mostly for his very insightful mega-threads. But here's another reason why. 

Take that, Grassley! Although I'm sure you'll ignore this letter, just like all the Russian connections to the administration you are doing your best not to see.

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Oopsie...

Another potential Mueller honey pot: Spicer's notebooks

Spoiler

The Watergate resonance of the Bob Mueller probe rose this week with a CNN report that the special counsel has details of wiretaps of "former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election."

Now we can tell you about another potential honey pot for Mueller. Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell Axios that he filled "notebook after notebook" during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.

When Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party's seal. Spicer was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.

One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job.

"Sean documented everything," the source said.

That surprised some officials of previous White Houses, who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing.

When we texted Spicer for comment on his note-taking practices, he replied: "Mike, please stop texting/emailing me unsolicited anymore."

When I replied with a "?" (I have known Spicer and his wife for more than a dozen years), he answered: "Not sure what that means. From a legal standpoint I want to be clear: Do not email or text me again. Should you do again I will report to the appropriate authorities."

The WashPost reported Sept. 8 that Mueller "has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview" Spicer and five other top current and former Trump advisers.

One White House official told me: "People are going to wish they'd been nicer to Sean. … He was in a lot of meetings."

About an hour after Spicer's texts, he replied to a polite email I had sent earlier, seeking comment:

Per my text:

Please refrain from sending me unsolicited texts and emails

Should you not do so I will contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment

Thanks

Sean M Spicer

I;m so glad he took all those notes. They could turn out to be a veritable goldmine of information.

What an asinine little snowflake Spicer is, though. It just underlines that we should not equate him to Melissa McCarthy, talkshow and Emmy appearances notwithstanding.  

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6 hours ago, fraurosena said:

I think you all know I have a thing for Seth Abramson's tweets, mostly for his very insightful mega-threads. But here's another reason why. 

Take that, Grassley! Although I'm sure you'll ignore this letter, just like all the Russian connections to the administration you are doing your best not to see.

I'm not sure anybody is ignoring things anymore. The investigation is heating up and Grassley is probably acutely aware that information supporting the collusion charges could come from anywhere. He would be beyond foolish to ignore communication from a popular supporter of the investigation. No one wants to be blindsided. He may publicly brush it off after reading it carefully but it will sink in.

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"21 states told they were targeted by Russian hackers during 2016 election"

Spoiler

The Department of Homeland Security contacted election officials in 21 states Friday to notify them that they had been targeted by Russian government hackers during the 2016 election.

Three months ago, DHS officials said that people connected to the Russian government tried to hack voting registration files or public election sites in 21 states, but Friday was the first time that government officials contacted individual state election officials to let them know they were targeted.

Officials said DHS told officials in all 50 states whether they were hacked or not.

“We heard feedback from the secretaries of state that this was an important piece of information,” said Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “We agreed that this information would help election officials make security decisions.”

He said it was important that the states shore up their systems now “rather than a few weeks before” the 2018 midterm elections.

Kolasky said that going forward, DHS will “have a bias to get information to [the states] as quickly as we can, and we are building protocols to notify them in a timely fashion.”

DHS left it to individual states to decide whether to make public whether they were targeted.

In only a handful of states, such as Illinois, did hackers actually penetrate a system, according to U.S. officials, and there is no evidence that hackers tampered with any voting machines.

In Arizona, the Russian hackers did not compromise the state voter registration system or even any county system. They did, however, steal the username and password of a single election official in Gila County, Arizona officials said.

Friday’s notifications were made after state elections officials and some federal lawmakers expressed frustration that Homeland Security had not yet disclosed the extent of the Russian attempts to infiltrate voting registration systems.

“It’s unacceptable that it took almost a year after the election to notify states that their elections systems were targeted, but I’m relieved that DHS has acted upon our numerous requests and is finally informing the top elections officials in all 21 affected states that Russian hackers tried to breach their systems in the run up to the 2016 election,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

State elections officials in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington were told Friday they were targeted, according to officials and a tally by the Associated Press.

“What this boils down to is that someone tried the door knob and it was locked,” said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

In June, Samuel Liles, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division, testified that 21 states had been affected by the Russian hacking and said that vote-tallying machines were unaffected. He told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the hackers seemed to be looking for vulnerabilities, which he compared to walking down the street and looking at houses to see who might be inside.

In the phone calls Friday, DHS officials were explicit about who they believe was behind the attempted intrusions: agents of the Russian government, according to people familiar with the briefings. While most state systems were not breached, the widespread attempts underscore the breadth of Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 race, officials said.

“This successful defense of the integrity of our online voter registration system is good news for Connecticut, but it underlines the threat posed by foreign agents seeking to disrupt U.S. elections and sow the seeds of doubt in the integrity of our electoral process,” Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said in a statement. “It is clear that Congress needs to act swiftly, both to investigate and publicize Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and to appropriate the necessary funds so that our state and local governments have the resources they need to adequately protect our election infrastructure.”

Until Friday, only a handful of the 21 states were publicly known. While some state officials had already received indications from federal officials that their systems were among those targeted, others – including Wisconsin -- said Friday’s call came as a surprise.

I think one of my calls on Monday, after calling my senators (again), is to call the head of my state's elections to see what is being done to ensure that our election in November, which is a hotly-contested gubernatorial race, won't be hacked. I think if the Repug candidate wins, I will have to check myself into an institution for four years. An institution without TV, radio, and internet.

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They said my state was one attacked but nothing resulted but I don't believe it which I hate because I feel like I'm pushing a conspiracy.

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Here's another one of Seth Abramson's MEGA-threads. Yes, it's long. Very long. But boy, what a doozy!
Apparently TT had a meeting with his super-sekrit national security/foreign policy team a month before the Mayflower meeting. If what Seth surmises about this meeting is true... Mueller will be licking his chops.

 

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Yes. Someone used his smarts for once!

A Top Senator Just Pulled A Brilliant Trick To Force Trump To Turn Over Key Russia Documents

Spoiler

A top Democratic Senator is locked in a fight with the US Treasury Department to obtain records about Trump and Russia from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to the Senate Finance committee.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and he just placed a hold on a Treasury nominee to pressure FinCEN into delivering to the Finance Committee the documents which they gave to secretive Senate Intel committee on which the Senator already sits.

Congressional staffers on Capitol Hill told Occupy Democrats anonymously that, “Senate Finance has experts in those fields and more, like the intricacies of laws governing shell corporations as one example.”

Some of them believe the Oregon Senator may be attempting to move key Russia evidence from its secretive home in one committee into the public spotlight in the Senate Finance committee. CNN reports:

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has placed a hold on a senior Treasury Department nominee in a bid to pry loose financial documents tied to Russia… [He] said Friday he was placing a hold on Isabel Patelunas, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Treasury’s assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis, until Treasury hands over the documents he’s seeking.

“I have placed a hold on the nominee because of the Treasury Department’s refusal to provide the Senate Finance Committee with Treasury documents related to Russia,” Wyden said in a statement. “The provision of these documents to the committee is not only part of the oversight process, but is necessary if the relevant congressional expertise is to be brought to bear on the effort to follow the money.”

“When a Senator says something like this,” says the Democratic Coalition’s co-founder Scott Dworkin. “He’s really saying: “This is some sort of proof that Trump has a money trail to Russia.'”

One Senate Finance committee aide told OD that the committee hasn’t received any of FinCEN’s documents yet, and “the Treasury Department is refusing access. This Committee has direct oversight when it comes to tax, financial crimes, and the Treasury Department.” The aide noted that if the FinCEN documents are confidential, they’ll remain so within the Senate Finance committee.

Trump’s Taj Majal was slapped with a $10 million dollar fine by FinCEN in 2015, the largest ever for money laundering at that time after the IRS completed investigating his casino. CNN revealed that IRS investigators found money laundering crimes committed at Trump’s Taj Mahal going all the way back to 1990.

The Senate Intelligence Committee made headlines for requesting documents about Trump from FinCEN in May.

Intel committee investigators reviewed 2,000 pages from FinCEN starting in late June, and today’s events may mean that they’ve found something so important, they need it to go public.

This is the second time Sen. Wyden is holding up a key Treasury nominee to obtain documents from FinCEN about Trump’s Russian ties.

Senator Wyden’s request for Russia-linked financial information about Donald Trump could include his tax returns since the IRS is FinCEN’s primary money laundering investigator.

Today’s news may quietly signal the launch of a highly specialized Congressional probe into Donald Trump and the Trump Organization’s worldwide conglomerate of companies listed on his tax returns.

Oh, let's hope they really are launching a specialized Congressional probe into TT and his organization's worldwide conglomerate of companies. Although that could just be wishful thinking...

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"Obama tried to give Zuckerberg a wake-up call over fake news on Facebook"

Spoiler

Nine days after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as “crazy” the idea that fake news on his company’s social network played a key role in the U.S. election, President Barack Obama pulled the youthful tech billionaire aside and delivered what he hoped would be a wake-up call.

For months leading up to the vote, Obama and his top aides quietly agonized over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign without making matters worse. Weeks after Trump’s surprise victory, some of Obama’s aides looked back with regret and wished they had done more.

Now huddled in a private room on the sidelines of a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru, two months before Trump’s inauguration, Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. Unless Facebook and the government did more to address the threat, Obama warned, it would only get worse in the next presidential race.

Zuckerberg acknowledged the problem posed by fake news. But he told Obama those messages weren’t widespread on Facebook and that there was no easy remedy, according to people briefed on the exchange, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of a private conversation.

The conversation on Nov. 19 was a flashpoint in a tumultuous year in which Zuckerberg came to recognize the magnitude of a new threat — a coordinated assault on a U.S. election by a shadowy foreign force that exploited the social network he created.

Like the U.S. government, Facebook didn’t foresee the wave of disinformation that was coming and the political pressure that followed. The company then grappled with a series of hard choices designed to shore up its own systems without impinging on free discourse for its users around the world.

One outcome of those efforts was Zuckerberg’s admission on Thursday that Facebook had indeed been manipulated and that the company would now turn over to Congress more than 3,000 politically themed advertisements that were bought by suspected Russian operatives.

But that highly public moment came after months of maneuvering behind the scenes that has thrust Facebook, one of the world’s most valuable companies — and one that’s used by one-third of the world’s population each month — into a multi-sided Washington power struggle in which the company has much to lose.

Some critics say Facebook dragged its feet and is acting only now because of outside political pressure.

“There’s been a systematic failure of responsibility” on Facebook’s part, said Zeynep Tufekci, as associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies social media companies’ impact on society and governments. “It’s rooted in their overconfidence that they know best, their naivete about how the world works, their extensive effort to avoid oversight, and their business model of having very few employees so that no one is minding the store.”

Facebook says it responded appropriately.

“We believe in the power of democracy, which is why we’re taking this work on elections integrity so seriously, and have come forward at every opportunity to share what we’ve found,” said Elliot Schrage, vice president for public policy and communications. A spokesperson for Obama declined to comment.

This account — based on interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the government’s investigation and Facebook’s response — provides the first detailed backstory of a 16-month journey in which the company came to terms with an unanticipated foreign attack on the U.S. political system and its search for tools to limit the damage.

Among the revelations is how Facebook detected elements of the Russian information operation in June 2016 and then notified the FBI. Yet in the months that followed, the government and the private sector struggled to work together to diagnose and fix the problem.

The growing political drama over these issues has come at a time of broader reckoning for Facebook, as Zuckerberg has wrestled with whether to take a more active role in combatting an emerging dark side on the social network — including fake news and suicides on live video, and allegations that the company was censoring political speech.

These issues have forced Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to weigh core values, including freedom of speech, against the problems created when malevolent actors use those same freedoms to pump messages of violence, hate and disinformation.

There has been a rising bipartisan clamor, meanwhile, for new regulation of a tech industry that, amid a historic surge in wealth and power over the past decade, has largely had its way in Washington despite concerns raised by critics about its behavior.

In particular, momentum is building in Congress and elsewhere in the federal government for a law requiring tech companies — like newspapers, television stations and other traditional carriers of campaign messages — to disclose who buys political ads and how much they spend on them.

“There is no question that the idea that Silicon Valley is the darling of our markets and of our society — that sentiment is definitely turning,” said Tim O’Reilly, an adviser to tech executives and chief executive of the influential Silicon Valley-based publisher O’Reilly Media.

Thwarting the Islamic State

The encounter in Lima was not the first time Obama had sought Facebook’s help.

In the aftermath of the December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., the president dispatched members of his national security team — including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and top counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco — to huddle with leading Silicon Valley executives over ways to thwart the Islamic State’s practice of using U.S.-based technology platforms to recruit members and inspire attacks.

The result was a summit, on Jan. 8, 2016, which was attended by one of Zuckerberg’s top deputies, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The outreach effort paid off in the view of the Obama administration when Facebook agreed to set up a special unit to develop tools for finding Islamic State messages and blocking their dissemination.

Facebook’s efforts were aided in part by the relatively transparent ways in which the extremist group sought to build its global brand. Most of its propaganda messages on Facebook incorporated the Islamic State’s distinctive black flag — the kind of image that software programs can be trained to automatically detect.

In contrast, the Russian disinformation effort has proven far harder to track and combat because Russian operatives were taking advantage of Facebook’s core functions, connecting users with shared content and with targeted native ads to shape the political environment in an unusually contentious political season, say people familiar with Facebook’s response.

Unlike the Islamic State, what Russian operatives posted on Facebook was, for the most part, indistinguishable from legitimate political speech. The difference was the accounts that were set up to spread the misinformation and hate were illegitimate.

A Russian operation

It turned out that Facebook, without realizing it, had stumbled into the Russian operation as it was getting underway in June 2016.

At the time, cybersecurity experts at the company were tracking a Russian hacker group known as APT28, or Fancy Bear, which U.S. intelligence officials considered an arm of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, according to people familiar with Facebook’s activities.

Members of the Russian hacker group were best known for stealing military plans and data from political targets, so the security experts assumed that they were planning some sort of espionage operation — not a far-reaching disinformation campaign designed to shape the outcome of the U.S. presidential race.

Facebook executives shared with the FBI their suspicions that a Russian espionage operation was in the works, a person familiar with the matter said. An FBI spokesperson had no comment.

Soon thereafter, Facebook’s cyber experts found evidence that members of APT28 were setting up a series of shadowy accounts — including a persona known as Guccifer 2.0 and a Facebook page called DCLeaks — to promote stolen emails and other documents during the presidential race. Facebook officials once again contacted the FBI to share what they had seen.

After the November election, Facebook began to look more broadly at the accounts that had been created during the campaign.

A review by the company found that most of the groups behind the problematic pages had clear financial motives, which suggested that they weren’t working for a foreign government.

But amid the mass of data the company was analyzing, the security team did not find clear evidence of Russian disinformation or ad purchases by Russian-linked accounts.

Nor did any U.S. law enforcement or intelligence officials visit the company to lay out what they knew, said people familiar with the effort, even after the nation’s top intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., testified on Capitol Hill in January that the Russians had waged a massive propaganda campaign online.

The sophistication of the Russian tactics caught Facebook off-guard. Its highly regarded security team had erected formidable defenses against traditional cyber attacks but failed to anticipate that Facebook users — deploying easily available automated tools such as ad micro-targeting — pumped skillfully crafted propaganda through the social network without setting off any alarm bells.

Political post-mortem

As Facebook struggled to find clear evidence of Russian ma­nipu­la­tion, the idea was gaining credence in other influential quarters.

In the electrified aftermath of the election, aides to Hillary Clinton and Obama pored over polling numbers and turnout data, looking for clues to explain what they saw as an unnatural turn of events.

One of the theories to emerge from their post-mortem was that Russian operatives who were directed by the Kremlin to support Trump may have taken advantage of Facebook and other social media platforms to direct their messages to American voters in key demographic areas in order to increase enthusiasm for Trump and suppress support for Clinton.

These former advisers didn’t have hard evidence that Russian trolls were using Facebook to micro-target voters in swing districts — at least not yet — but they shared their theories with the House and Senate intelligence committees, which launched parallel investigations into Russia’s role in the presidential campaign in January.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, initially wasn’t sure what to make of Facebook’s role. U.S. intelligence agencies had briefed the Virginia Democrat and other members of the committee about alleged Russian contacts with the Trump campaign and about how the Kremlin leaked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks to undercut Clinton.

But the intelligence agencies had little data on Russia’s use of Facebook and other U.S.-based social media platforms, in part because of rules designed to protect the privacy of communications between Americans.

Facebook’s effort to understand Russia’s multifaceted influence campaign continued as well. 

Zuckerberg announced in a 6,000-word blog post in February that Facebook needed to play a greater role in controlling its dark side.

“It is our responsibility,” he wrote, “to amplify the good effects [of the Facebook platform] and mitigate the bad — to continue increasing diversity while strengthening our common understanding so our community can create the greatest positive impact on the world.”

‘A critical juncture’

The extent of Facebook’s internal self-examination became clear in April, when Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos co-authored a 13-page white paper detailing the results of a sprawling research effort that included input from experts from across the company, who in some cases also worked to build new software aimed specifically at detecting foreign propaganda.

“Facebook sits at a critical juncture,” Stamos wrote in the paper, adding that the effort focused on “actions taken by organized actors (governments or non-state actors) to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment, most frequently to achieve a strategic and/or geopolitical outcome.” He described how the company had used a technique known as machine learning to build specialized data-mining software that can detect patterns of behavior — for example, the repeated posting of the same content — that malevolent actors might use.  

The software tool was given a secret designation, and Facebook is now deploying it and others in the run-up to elections around the world. It was used in the French election in May, where it helped disable 30,000 fake accounts, the company said. It was put to the test again on Sunday when Germans went to the polls. Facebook declined to share the software tool’s code name. Another recently developed tool shows users when articles have been disputed by third-party fact checkers.

Notably, Stamos’s paper did not raise the topic of political advertising — an omission that was noticed by Capitol Hill investigators. Facebook, worth $495 billion, is the largest online advertising company in the world after Google. Although not mentioned explicitly in the report, Stamos's team had searched extensively for evidence of foreign purchases of political advertising but had come up short. 

A few weeks after the French election, Warner flew out to California to visit Facebook in person. It was an opportunity for the senator to press Stamos directly on whether the Russians had used the company’s tools to disseminate anti-Clinton ads to key districts.

Officials said Stamos underlined to Warner the magnitude of the challenge Facebook faced policing political content that looked legitimate.

Stamos told Warner that Facebook had found no accounts that used advertising but agreed with the senator that some probably existed. The difficulty for Facebook was finding them.

Finally, Stamos appealed to Warner for help: If U.S. intelligence agencies had any information about the Russian operation or the troll farms it used to disseminate misinformation, they should share it with Facebook. The company is still waiting, people involved in the matter said.

Breakthrough moment

For months, a team of engineers at Facebook had been searching through accounts, looking for signs that they were set up by operatives working on behalf of the Kremlin. The task was immense.

Warner’s visit spurred the company to make some changes in how it conducted its internal investigation. Instead of searching through impossibly large batches of data, Facebook decided to focus on a subset of political ads.

Technicians then searched for “indicators” that would link those ads to Russia. To narrow down the search further, Facebook zeroed in on a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency, which had been publicly identified as a troll farm.

“They worked backwards,” a U.S. official said of the process at Facebook.

The breakthrough moment came just days after a Facebook spokesman on July 20 told CNN that “we have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.”

Facebook’s talking points were about to change.

By early August, Facebook had identified more than 3,000 ads addressing social and political issues that ran in the United States between 2015 and 2017 and that appear to have come from accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency.

After making the discovery, Facebook reached out to Warner’s staff to share what they had learned.

Congressional investigators say the disclosure only scratches the surface. One called Facebook’s discoveries thus far “the tip of the iceberg.” Nobody really knows how many accounts are out there and how to prevent more of them from being created to shape the next election — and turn American society against itself.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

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