The Last Jedi was excellent. My scribbled notes may turn into a blog post at some point, but until then I need another pick-me-up. And what better cheer is there than foreign governments messing with US politics, amirite?
Return Of The FBI
It looks like we’ve got our answer to why the FBI was looking into Trump, and it involves booze and Australians.
During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. […]
The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.
Bravo on this one, New York Times. It also swats down the “coffee boy” line about Papadopoulos.
He was hardly central to the daily running of the Trump campaign, yet Mr. Papadopoulos continuously found ways to make himself useful to senior Trump advisers. In September 2016, with the United Nations General Assembly approaching and stories circulating that Mrs. Clinton was going to meet with Mr. Sisi, the Egyptian president, Mr. Papadopoulos sent a message to Stephen K. Bannon, the campaign’s chief executive, offering to broker a similar meeting for Mr. Trump.
After days of scheduling discussions, the meeting was set and Mr. Papadopoulos sent a list of talking points to Mr. Bannon, according to people familiar with those interactions. Asked about his contacts with Mr. Papadopoulos, Mr. Bannon declined to comment.
There’s also proposals to write “neutral” opinion pieces in favour of Trump, taking advantage of his access. Well worth the read.
Fusion GPS Strikes Back
The news about Papadopoulos also undercuts a Republican talking point: Fusion GPS’s “pee tape” dossier kicked off the FBI investigation, and since that was paid for by Democrats the FBI is now tainted with Democrat cooties. Or something like that, the argument’s never made much sense to me. Whatever the case, two of the people behind Fusion GPS are pushing back.
We walked investigators through our yearlong effort to decipher Mr. Trump’s complex business past, of which the Steele dossier is but one chapter. And we handed over our relevant bank records — while drawing the line at a fishing expedition for the records of companies we work for that have nothing to do with the Trump case.
Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It’s time to share what our company told investigators.
We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.
The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.
As if that wasn’t eyebrow raising enough, Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch tease some of that testimony.
We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don’t seem to interest Congress.
There’s more, but you’ll have to click through for that.
Attack Of The Cloned Americans
On top of all that, Russia shows up in an unexpected place. The FCC, like a number of departments in the US government, request public input on big policy changes. The number of comments coming in about Net Neutrality broke records, and for poor reason.
A study has found more than 7.75 million comments were submitted from email domains attributed to FakeMailGenerator.com, and they had nearly identical wording. The FCC says some of the nearly 23 million comments on Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to gut Obama-era rules were filed under the same name more than 90 times each.
And then there were the 444,938 from Russian email addresses, which also raised eyebrows, even though it’s unclear if they were from actual Russian citizens or computer bots originating in the U.S. or elsewhere.
The oddities in the FCC’s inbox have attracted scrutiny from New York’s attorney general and from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which has opened a probe. […. New York Attorney General Eric] Schneiderman said the FCC had not cooperated with his investigation.
Rachael Maddow, my source for this story and inspiration for this blog post, goes into detail about those shenanigans and similar ones afoot. It’s worth pointing out that this one may have nothing to do with the Kremlin; automated bots are common enough that their mere existence says little about their origins, and while the Russian emails are weird there were also a tonne from Germany. Still, it does fit in with Kremlin tactics.
The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted—to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative. It is the perfect genre for conspiracy theories, which are all over Russian TV. When the Kremlin and its affiliated media outlets spat out outlandish stories about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July—reports that characterized the crash as everything from an assault by Ukrainian fighter jets following U.S. instructions, to an attempted NATO attack on Putin’s private jet—they were trying not so much to convince viewers of any one version of events, but rather to leave them confused, paranoid, and passive—living in a Kremlin-controlled virtual reality that can no longer be mediated or debated by any appeal to ‘truth.’
Their goal is to get “the West” to stop believing in democracy, and the day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.