Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign

The Washington Post reports: 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. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller seeks White House documents related to Trump’s actions as president

The New York Times reports: Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has asked the White House for documents about some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director, according to White House officials.

Mr. Mueller is also interested in an Oval Office meeting Mr. Trump had with Russian officials in which he said the dismissal of the F.B.I. director had relieved “great pressure” on him.

The document requests provide the most details to date about the breadth of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and show that several aspects of his inquiry are focused squarely on Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House. [Continue reading…]

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Iranian president aptly describes Trump as a ‘rogue newcomer’ to world politics

The Washington Post reports: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted President Trump on Wednesday for his “ignorant, absurd and hateful” speech before the United Nations a day earlier and vowed Iran would not be the first to walk away from the historic 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani, during a 23-minute address at the U.N. General Assembly, never mentioned Trump by name. Instead he referred to him obliquely, at one point saying it would be a pity if the nuclear deal were undone by “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.”

Rouhani denied that Iran had ever sought to obtain nuclear weapons and said the ballistic missiles it has been testing would be used only for defensive purposes.

“Iran does not seek to restore its ancient empire, impose its official religion on others or export its revolution through the force of arms,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Russians appear to use Facebook to push Trump rallies in 17 U.S. cities

The Daily Beast reports: Suspected Russia propagandists on Facebook tried to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during last year’s election, The Daily Beast has learned.

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists— brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.

The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state. It’s difficult to determine how many of those locations actually witnessed any turnout, in part because Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence. But videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were reposted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day. [Continue reading…]

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Special counsel’s office has interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has authority over probe

The Washington Post reports: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office has interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein as part of its probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a conversation that put investigators in the unusual position of obtaining the account of a man who has authority over their work, according to people familiar with the matter.

The interview was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said that it took place in June or July and that it was about President Trump’s removal of James B. Comey as FBI director. Special counsel investigators have been probing whether the president might have attempted to obstruct justice leading up to Comey’s firing.

Precisely what investigators have asked Rosenstein, or how key a figure he is in the probe, remains unclear. Rosenstein undeniably played a role in Comey’s firing — authoring a memo highly critical of the FBI director, which the White House used initially to justify the firing.

Rosenstein told the Associated Press in June that if his conduct were to become germane to the probe, he would step aside.

“I’ve talked with Director Mueller about this,” Rosenstein told AP. “He’s going to make the appropriate decisions, and if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there’s a need from me to recuse, I will.”

A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment Tuesday night. Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said: “As the deputy attorney general has said numerous times, if there comes a time when he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed.” [Continue reading…]

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Seb Gorka joins pro-Trump group founded by Pizzagate truthers and a Seth Rich conspiracy theorist

The Daily Beast reports: Seb Gorka may have left the Trump White House. But he’s still working for a conspiracy theorist.

The controversial former White House adviser has officially signed on with a new pro-Trump super PAC founded and run by people who have promoted conspiracy theories about the 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and outlandish falsehoods regarding a Democratic Party child-rape ring known in the right-wing fever swamps as “Pizzagate.”

In joining the group, dubbed the MAGA Coalition, Gorka has dramatically elevated its profile. But that hasn’t led its members to stop dabbling in urban myths and legends. Reached for comment on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the MAGA Coalition defended its leaders’ efforts to “raise questions” about both human trafficking rings run out of D.C. pizza shops and a murder they deemed mysterious even as police insist it was the result of a botched robbery.

The MAGA Coalition was created to promote Trump’s agenda and “compete against globalist corporatist interests,” according to the group. It is headed by Adam Gingrich—no relation to Newt—who worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Pennsylvania. Gorka joined the group as a “senior adviser,” Axios reported on Tuesday, not long after his unceremonious ouster from the Trump White House last month. [Continue reading…]

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Mexico needs help now. Can President Trump overcome his grudges and provide it?

León Krauze writes: Mexico’s defiant camaraderie in the face of calamity is well-known around the world, not least in the United States. In 2005, in the aftermath of Katrina, the Mexican government sent a 45-vehicle army convoy with 200 men to help out. And help they did, serving 170,000 meals and distributing more than 180,000 tons of supplies to the needy in three weeks of work. Mexico again sent much-needed assistance after Harvey’s devastation of Houston last month, including emergency supplies and a large team of paramedics.

Unfortunately, a few hours into Mexico’s recent tragedy, solidarity has not been reciprocal. The Trump administration’s latest episode of morally reprehensible behavior began 10 days ago, when a different major earthquake hit Mexico, sinking Oaxaca and Chiapas, the country’s poorest regions, into grief and misery. It took President Trump one long week to reach out to Mexican President Enqrique Peña Nieto to offer the most basic of condolences after tweeting a laughable excuse for his diplomatic blunder.

On Tuesday, after the latest earthquake had shaken Mexico City, Trump found the time and energy to pick up his phone and write a short tweet asking God to bless Mexico City. (A few hours later, he seemed more enthused while commenting on the “bad” ratings for the Emmy Awards.)

It wasn’t always like this. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson viewed as one of the worst secretaries of state in history

Vox reports: The United Nations General Assembly is usually a time for America’s secretary of state — the country’s chief diplomat — to shine. That, to put it mildly, isn’t what’s happening with Rex Tillerson.

Instead, this week’s confab of world leaders in New York is taking place with Tillerson’s hold on his job looking shakier than ever. A pair of reports this week in Axios and Politico say he’s fallen out of favor in the White House. Rumors are flying about possible new secretaries, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said to be at the top of Trump’s list.

There is a simple reason why Tillerson is at such risk of getting canned: His tenure, observers say, has been an unmitigated disaster.

“Tillerson would be at or near the bottom of the list of secretaries of state, not just in the post-Second World War world but in the record of US secretaries of state,” says Paul Musgrave, a scholar of US foreign policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO — whose nomination was initially greeted warmly by prominent foreign policy hands — has failed to wield any significant influence in internal administration debates over issues like Syria, North Korea, or Russia.

His push to slash “inefficiencies” in the State Department and seeming disinterest in working closely with longtime staff were even more damaging. By failing to get people into vital high-level posts and actively pushing out talented personnel, he ended up making America’s response to major crises incoherent and weakening the State Department for a “generation,” according to George Washington University’s Elizabeth Saunders.

This can’t all be blamed on Tillerson: Even a skilled and experienced diplomat would have had trouble maintaining influence in the chaotic Trump White House, where people like Haley and Jared Kushner wield major influence and foreign policy is often made by tweet.

Yet both nonpartisan experts and high-ranking State Department appointees in the past two administrations believe he personally deserves much of the blame. [Continue reading…]

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The U.S. government-in-exile has a new president

Ben Smith writes: The annual Manhattan conference hosted for a decade by the Clinton Global Initiative became a kind of shorthand for what some hated about the Clintons: a mix of worthy and venal motives, a slosh of money and shady rich people around their world, and flashy and enduring relationships with autocrats in the Gulf.

Tomorrow, Bill Clinton will hand what used to be CGI’s main event off to Mike Bloomberg. And Bloomberg is reviving part of the event’s original role as a kind of US government in exile. The conference was created during the worst of the Iraq War and amid intense American isolation. European and Middle Eastern allies loathed George W. Bush, and turned instead to the open and sympathetic face of Bill Clinton’s America.

Bloomberg’s move to take over the conference (renamed the Bloomberg Global Business Forum) hasn’t drawn much attention, but it’s worth seeing in that context: The former New York mayor is inheriting not a conference, but a platform for an alternative American diplomacy. (Bloomberg, Axios wrote on breaking the news, is “the new Clinton.”)

Bloomberg is formalizing the posture that brought him to Paris in June. After Donald Trump announced that he was canceling the climate accord, Bloomberg said he’ll rally American businesses to meet its targets anyway. [Continue reading…]

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Meddling in Germany’s election by alt-right

USA Today reports: Less than a week before Sunday’s vote that is likely to hand German Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term, evidence of anticipated Russian meddling has yet to materialize, but U.S. right-wing groups have interfered, according to German researchers.

“So far we have not been able to track down any specific Russian activity,” said Simon Hegelich,” a professor of political science data at the Technical University of Munich who has advised the German government about the threat of hacking and fake news.

Instead, Hegelich and others point to an alliance of mostly anonymous online trolls and extremist agitators who are disseminating right-wing materials through YouTube; messaging board sites like 4chan and reddit; and Gab.ai, a texting service.

“A lot of the stuff we are seeing in Germany can be linked to, or is at least inspired by, the ‘alt-right’ movement in the U.S.,” Hegelich said, referring to a loosely defined group whose far-right ideology includes racism, populism and white nationalism.

He said proving connections among sympathizers is extremely difficult and may never be conclusive. But an analysis of 300 million tweets over the past six months by Hegelich and researchers at the Technical University of Munich shows Germany is a hotspot for posts that use the hashtag “#AltRight.” [Continue reading…]

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Why there’s no end in sight for Myanmar’s Rohingya exodus

Brandon Tensley writes: Myanmar has been careening ever deeper into crisis for several weeks. On August 25th, an insurgent army of the Rohingya people—a stateless Muslim group in the majority-Buddhist country—attacked state security forces. The military responded with a brutal counterinsurgency, one that included torture, summary killings, and the mass displacement of civilians. The Myanmar government has since largely cut off aid operations to conflict-torn areas.

Violence centered around the Rohingya, particularly in the impoverished state of Rakhine, on Myanmar’s western coast, isn’t new. Last year, for instance, on October 9th, the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army—the group that also carried out last month’s attacks—killed a dozen officers across state security outposts. Over the next few days, the Myanmar military’s reprisal forced thousands of Rohingya, as well as other civilians, across the border into nearby Bangladesh. Many of those who escaped the violence reported that their villages had been burned down and that innocent civilians had been killed. Four years before that, a string of riots in 2012 claimed more than 100 lives and forced some 140,000 more into squalid refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has routinely left them vulnerable to abuse by smugglers, as they take to rickety boats and attempt to look for sanctuary elsewhere; in 2015, increased attempts at migration led to a regional refugee crisis.

Yet the severity and speed with which the current crisis is escalating threatens to make it the worst flare-up of mass migration Myanmar has seen in decades. These developments, in a country allegedly moving toward democracy, can also seem more dire than before. [Continue reading…]

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Path to radicalization winds through shame and loneliness

Elizabeth Charnock and Dounia Bouzar write: The problem of Islamist radicalization presents a grim challenge to France, and the forces that drive young people to join violent extremist groups remain poorly understood. Far more than the United States, the circumstances that drive average people to become violent affect a far larger proportion of the population.

Often, discussions of the subject devolve into simple platitudes. Radicals must be mentally unstable; religious fanatics; or victims of societal pressure —or all of the above. Grooming efforts by terrorist recruiters, playing on the personal vulnerabilities and shame of French citizens, appear to be the root cause of radicalization.

While there is much argument about the value of deradicalization programs, including their ability to stop attacks, these programs have immense value from an intelligence gathering perspective. They can offer a unique mechanism for intelligence gathering on the jihadist recruitment process. And France provides a useful case study for the self-destructive paths the radicalized take.

The number of French-speaking jihadists worldwide well exceeds that of any other Western language. So it is no surprise that their recruitment efforts are the most sophisticated in France, as observed by CPDSI [Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam] firsthand through extended interviews with more than 1,000 individuals. The CPDSI is a French government entity that works to intervene in the lives of citizens at risk of becoming radicalized.

In France, there is significant evidence that ISIS recruiters utilize standard case officer techniques to broaden their pool of potential recruits well beyond the Muslim population. These recruiters probe for vulnerabilities and opportunities to drive wedges between the recruit and French society.

The vulnerabilities can be along any axis: social, socioeconomic, political, cultural, ethnic, religious, or psychological. The mission of the recruiter is to transform the malaise into an adherence to jihadist ideology. The goal is to manipulate the recruit into believing that such adherence is the only possible escape from their malaise.

The motivations of the recruit depend on their recruiter, but most motivations are pedestrian and banal, rather than ideologically or religiously motivated. For example, the promise to women of a faithful, protective husband holds an alluring pull, as roughly 50 percent of the radicalization cases reported in France involved women. The most common threads all share one thing in common: they promise access to a better world, and perhaps a better self. [Continue reading…]

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Google is coming after critics in academia and journalism. It’s time to stop them

Zephyr Teachout writes: About 10 years ago, Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor who coined the term network neutrality, made this prescient comment: “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king.”

Wu was right. And now, Google has established a pattern of lobbying and threatening to acquire power. It has reached a dangerous point common to many monarchs: The moment where it no longer wants to allow dissent.

This summer, a small team of well-respected researchers and journalists, the Open Markets team at the New America think tank (where I have been a fellow since 2014), dared to speak up about Google, in the mildest way. When the European Union fined Google for preferring its own subsidiary companies to its rival companies in search results, it was natural that Open Markets, a group dedicated to studying and exposing distortions in markets, including monopoly power, would comment. The researchers put out a 150-word statement praising the E.U.’s actions. They wrote, “By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, [the E.U.] is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend.” They called upon the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice and state attorneys general to apply the traditional American monopoly law, which would require separate ownership of products and services and the networks that sell products and services.

Google has been funding New America for years at high levels. Within 24 hours of the statement going live, Google representatives called New America’s leadership expressing their displeasure. Two planned hires for the Open Markets team suddenly were canceled. Three days later, the head of the Open Markets team, the accomplished journalist Barry C. Lynn, received a letter from the head of the think tank, demanding that the entire team leave New America. The reason? The statement praising the E.U.’s decision against Google was, according to New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter, “imperiling the institution.” (As of this writing, Slaughter has denounced the story as false, claiming that Lynn was dismissed for failures of “openness” and “collegiality.”) [Continue reading…]

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Music: Binkbeats ft. Niels Broos — ‘Little Nerves’

 

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Trump using campaign, RNC funds to pay legal bills from Russia probe

Reuters reports: U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump’s legal fees related to the probe.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, is a partner. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Flynn prepping for a $1 million legal tab

The Daily Beast reports: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn plans to spend more than a million dollars on his legal defense, a source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast on Monday. But because of the structure of the fund he has set up to pay for it, the public won’t know who is footing the bills.

The retired Army lieutenant general is facing legal scrutiny as part of an ongoing federal probe into alleged Russian government meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He’s now searching for ways to pay the resulting legal bills, including through a crowdsourcing effort he announced on Twitter on Monday morning.

“We deeply appreciate the support of family and friends across this nation who have touched our lives,” Flynn wrote.

Flynn is dealing with a multitude of potentially complex legal problems stemming from the Russia investigation, which has expanded to examine the private business activities of a number of current and former Trump aides and associates, including Flynn’s advocacy on behalf of a Turkish government-linked company last year. He belatedly disclosed that work under a federal law governing domestic lobbying and public relations on behalf of foreign governments and political parties. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller team’s focus on Manafort spans 11 years

CNN reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is reaching back more than a decade in its investigation of Paul Manafort, a sign of the pressure Mueller is placing on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.

The FBI’s warrant for a July search of Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, home said the investigation centered on possible crimes committed as far back as January 2006, according to a source briefed on the investigation.

The broad time frame is the latest indication that Mueller’s team is going well beyond Russian meddling during the campaign as part of its investigation of Trump campaign associates. Manafort, who has been the subject of an FBI investigation for three years, has emerged as a focal point for Mueller. [Continue reading…]

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Trump offers a selective view of sovereignty in UN speech

The New York Times reports: President Trump, in declaring Tuesday that sovereignty should be the guiding principle of affairs between nations, sketched out a radically different vision of the world order than his forebears, who founded the United Nations after World War II to deal collectively with problems they believed would transcend borders.

Mr. Trump offered the General Assembly a strikingly selective definition of sovereignty, threatening to act aggressively against countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, whose policies he opposes, yet saying almost nothing about Russia, which seized territory from its neighbor Ukraine, and meddled in the American presidential election.

But more important than how he defined sovereignty was Mr. Trump’s adoption of the word itself — language more familiar to small countries, guarding themselves against the incursions of larger neighbors or defying the judgments of a global elite, than to a superpower that fashioned a web of global institutions to enshrine its national interests.

“I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” Mr. Trump declared to a smattering of applause from an audience that included gimlet-eyed diplomats from some of the countries he criticized.

Mr. Trump rooted his philosophy in President Harry S. Truman, the Marshall Plan and the restoration of Europe. But the vision he articulated was smaller and more self-interested. America, he said, would no longer enter into “one-sided” alliances or agreements. It would no longer shoulder an unfair financial burden in bodies like the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

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