McCain: ‘We are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!’

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The investigation goes digital: Did someone point Russia to specific online targets?

Philip Bump writes: There are two benefits for political campaigns with the social-media-spawned ability to target ads to smaller universes of people.

The first is that they can tailor a very specific message to a very specific population, like pitching a drilled-down policy position to, say, Hispanic men under age 45 who are farmers near Fresno, Calif.

The second is that, because not very many people will see that message, the odds that it rises to national attention are small. You can’t hide a television ad. If you buy a television ad on cable or on a broadcast network, someone is going to see it, and, if newsworthy, it will end up on the news.

Before social media — most specifically, Facebook — campaigns had to balance cost, reach and targeting through spending on direct mail, field programs and television. Now, they can pick out individuals from a massive crowd with a tailor-made video ad for relatively little cost — with much less of a chance that their opponents find out it ever happened.

The presidential campaign of Donald Trump embraced this explicitly. In October of last year, Bloomberg News reported that the campaign’s digital arm, run by Brad Parscale, would target possible Hillary Clinton voters for an inverse pitch. The Trump campaign would not show them ads making the case for voting for Trump; instead, they showed videos that they hoped would dampen enthusiasm for Clinton — and get the voters to stay home. [Continue reading…]

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Does Trump have a point about Obama and Russia?

Susan Glasser writes: Did President Obama “choke,” as his successor has now taken to claiming, by failing to respond more aggressively to the Russian hacking of the 2016 election?

For President Trump to say so carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy given that even now he refuses to unreservedly accept that the Russians were responsible and in nearly six months in office has done nothing about it himself. But even top Democrats are now increasingly acknowledging that he may have a point about Obama.

Obama’s former national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, says as much in a new interview for The Global Politico, telling me there’s “no doubt about it” that Obama should have publicly pinned the blame on the Russians much sooner and taken more aggressive steps to retaliate.

Donilon, a Washington lawyer and longtime Democratic player going back to his days as a junior staffer in Jimmy Carter’s White House, advised Obama through many of the key moments of his early presidency and went on to help lead the national security transition for what he expected to be the Hillary Clinton administration. Normally cautious, careful and exacting, Donilon argues that Obama as early as last summer should have made “aggressive public attribution” that Russia was responsible, long before the president ultimately did so last October just a few weeks before the election.

“Given the fact that they were attacking a fundamental element of our democracy,” Donilon says in the interview, the Obama administration should have been “pushing back harder and publicly” rather than worrying so much about appearing to use the national security apparatus for partisan ends or assuming a Clinton victory would end the matter. That “would have been a better course of action, frankly.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s son met with Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Clinton

The New York Times reports: President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help. [Continue reading…]

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GOP operative sought Clinton emails from Russian hackers, implied a connection to Flynn

The Wall Street Journal reports: Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.

In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.

Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.

What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved.

Mr. Flynn didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual. The White House declined to comment.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian attempts to sway the U.S. election and whether there was collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign. President Trump has denied any collusion and called the investigation a “witch hunt.” The Russian government has denied it interfered in the election.

Mr. Smith died at age 81 on May 14, which was about 10 days after the Journal interviewed him. His account of the email search is believed to be his only public comment on it. [Continue reading…]

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Evidence is mounting that Russia took four clear paths to meddle in the U.S. election

Business Insider reports: It was September 2015 when the FBI first noticed that Russian hackers had infiltrated a computer system belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

It was the first sign that Moscow was attempting to meddle in the presidential election.

Nearly a year later, further reporting and testimony from current and former intelligence officials have painted a portrait of Russia’s election interference as a multifaceted, well-planned, and coordinated campaign aimed at undermining the backbone of American democracy: free and fair elections.

Now, as FBI special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional intelligence committees continue to investigate Russia’s election interference, evidence is emerging that the hacking and disinformation campaign waged at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin took at least four separate but related paths.

The first involved establishing personal contact with Americans perceived as sympathetic to Moscow — such as former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and early Trump foreign-policy adviser Carter Page — and using them as a means to further Russia’s foreign-policy goals.

The second involved hacking the Democratic National Committee email servers and then giving the material to WikiLeaks, which leaked the emails in batches throughout the second half of 2016.

The third was to amplify the propaganda value of the leaked emails with a disinformation campaign waged predominantly on Facebook and Twitter, in an effort to use automated bots to spread fake news and pro-Trump agitprop.

And the fourth was to breach US voting systems in as many as 39 states leading up to the election, in an effort to steal registration data that officials say could be used to target and manipulate voters in future elections. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s silence on Russian hacking says how much he cares about democracy

Politico reports: Democrats are uniting behind a simple message about Russian hacking during the 2016 election: Donald Trump doesn’t care.

Even as the president lashes out at the series of Russia-related probes besieging his administration, Democrats say Trump has yet to express public concern about the underlying issue with striking implications for America’s democracy — the digital interference campaign that upended last year’s presidential race.

The president missed a self-imposed 90-day deadline for developing a plan to “aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks,” stayed silent after Moscow-linked hackers went after the French election and publicly renewed his own skepticism about the Kremlin’s role in the digital theft of Democratic Party emails during the presidential race. Privately, the president questioned a senior NSA official about the truthfulness of the conclusion from 17 intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered with the election, according to The Wall Street Journal. On Capitol Hill, Trump and his team have declined to support a Republican-backed effort to hit Russia with greater penalties for its digital belligerence.

And while the White House received bipartisan praise for a cybersecurity executive order Trump signed in May, administration officials said the directive is aimed at broadly upgrading the government’s digital defenses, not thwarting future Russian election hacking.

Instead, Trump tapped a commission led by Vice President Mike Pence to investigate an issue that elections experts call vastly overblown — voter fraud, something the the president has baselessly alleged resulted in millions of illegal voters casting ballots for Hillary Clinton in November. [Continue reading…]

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How we became bitter political enemies

The New York Times reports: Last year, for the first time since it began asking the question in 1992, the Pew Research Center reported a majority of Democrats and Republicans said they held “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party. Since Pew published those findings last summer, that extreme distaste has receded a bit: So far this year, 45 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans hold “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party.

That conclusion follows a sweeping 2014 Pew study that found that “partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive” than at any point in the last two decades.

That negativity appears to have fed a growing perception that the opposing party isn’t just misguided, but dangerous. In 2016, Pew reported that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt that the other party’s policies posed a threat to the nation.

The fear of what harm the other party could cause appears to be a major motivator behind party affiliation. “It’s at least as much what I don’t like about the other side as what I like about my own party,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

When asked why they identified as Republican, 68 percent of respondents told Pew that a major factor was the harm that Democratic policies posed, just surpassing the 64 percent who cited the good that could come of their own party’s policies. Among Democrats, 62 percent said fear of Republican policies was a major factor for their affiliation, while 68 percent cited the good of their own party’s policies. [Continue reading…]

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Democrats begin to turn on DHS chief

Politico reports: John Kelly’s sterling reputation as a Marine general with an appreciation for nuance led many Democrats to back his nomination as Homeland Security secretary in the hope that he would rein in President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration and security policies.

Instead, Kelly has moved to impose those policies with military rigor. He has pursued an aggressive deportation campaign; defended Trump’s effort to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries; and hinted that he might separate migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kelly has joked with Trump about using violence against reporters and defended Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, amid allegations that he tried to set up a secret back channel to the Russian government. [Continue reading…]

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Supreme Court has opportunity to make sure people’s votes have equal value

The Washington Post reports: With newly elected Scott Walker in the governor’s office and a firm grip on the legislature, Wisconsin Republicans in 2011 had a unique opportunity to redraw the state’s electoral maps and fortify their party’s future.

Aides were dispatched to a private law firm to keep their work out of public view. They employed the most precise technology available to dissect new U.S. Census data and convert it into reliably Republican districts even if the party’s fortunes soured. Democrats were kept in the dark, and even GOP incumbents had to sign confidentiality agreements before their revamped districts were revealed to them. Only a handful of people saw the entire map until it was unveiled and quickly approved.

In the following year’s elections, when Republicans got just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, they still captured a 60-39 seat advantage in the General Assembly.

Now, the Supreme Court is being asked to uphold a lower court’s finding that the Wisconsin redistricting effort was more than just extraordinary — it was unconstitutional.

Such a conclusion would mark a watershed moment for the way American elections are conducted.

The Supreme Court has regularly — and increasingly — tossed out state electoral maps because they have been gerrymandered to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

But the justices have never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering — when a majority party draws the state’s electoral districts to give such an advantage to its candidates that it dilutes the votes of those supporting the other party.

A divided panel of three judges in Wisconsin, though, decided just that in November. It became the first federal court in three decades to find that a redistricting plan violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections because of partisan gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court could announce as soon as Monday that it is either affirming or reversing the lower court’s decision, or, more likely, accepting the case for full briefing and arguments in the term that begins in the fall.

The case comes at a time when the dusty subject of reapportionment has taken on new significance, with many blaming the drawing of safely partisan seats for a polarized and gridlocked Congress. Barack Obama has said one of his post-presidency projects will be to combat partisan gerrymanders after the 2020 Census.

In Wisconsin, it already has become a hot topic.

“If there’s one word that defines the last year or year and a half in this country, it’s ‘rigged,’ ” said Dale Schulz, a Republican and former Wisconsin legislator who has joined with a Democratic counterpart to urge an end to the way the state handles redistricting. “People have come to realize their votes aren’t as important as they once were. And that’s really what this whole case is about: It’s about making sure people’s votes have equal value.” [Continue reading…]

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To Eric Trump, Democrats are ‘not even people’

So Eric Trump, devoted to his father, says his father’s critics are “not even people.”

I wonder where this young man would pick up a phrase and a dehumanizing put-down like that?

And what does this say about the Trump family’s views on democracy and their conception of “the people”?

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Putin hints at U.S. election meddling by ‘patriotically minded’ Russians

The New York Times reports: Shifting from his previous blanket denials, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Thursday that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers could have been involved in cyberattacks last year to help the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.

While Mr. Putin continued to deny any state role, his comments to reporters in St. Petersburg were a departure from the Kremlin’s previous position: that Russia had played no role whatsoever in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and that, after Mr. Trump’s victory, the country had become the victim of anti-Russia hysteria among crestfallen Democrats.

Raising the possibility of attacks by what he portrayed as free-spirited Russian patriots, Mr. Putin said that hackers “are like artists” who choose their targets depending how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.” [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is undermining civil rights, promoting racial division, and poisoning America

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.

As outlined in Labor’s fiscal 2018 plan, the move would fold the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, now home to 600 employees, into another government agency in the name of cost-cutting.

The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.

The new leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has proposed eliminating its environmental justice program, which addresses pollution that poses health threats specifically concentrated in minority communities. The program, in part, offers money and technical help to residents who are confronted with local hazards such as leaking oil tanks or emissions from chemical plants. [Continue reading…]

Following a fracas inside the Texas State Capitol during which a Republican lawmaker, Representative Matt Rinaldi, threatened to shoot one of his Democratic colleagues, the New York Times reports: It was not clear on Monday whether Mr. Rinaldi or other lawmakers could face disciplinary action. The House speaker, Joe Straus, a Republican, said in a statement, “There is no excuse for members making insensitive and disparaging remarks on the floor of the Texas House.”

Mr. Blanco blamed what he described as a highly charged political atmosphere ushered in by President Trump that he said has given rise to hateful speech nationwide.

“The Trump rhetoric is trickling down and allowing current elected officials and candidates to resort to racism and violence making it sound like it was O.K.,” he said. “This has to stop. It is not what our country or what Texas is about.” [Continue reading…]

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Comey acted on Russian intelligence he knew was fake

CNN reports: Then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake — created by Russian intelligence — but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself, according to multiple officials with knowledge of the process.

As a result, Comey acted unilaterally last summer to publicly declare the investigation over — without consulting then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch — while at the same time stating that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information. His press conference caused a firestorm of controversy and drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

Comey’s actions based on what he knew was Russian disinformation offer a stark example of the way Russian interference impacted the decisions of the highest-level US officials during the 2016 campaign.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that this Russian intelligence was unreliable. US officials now tell CNN that Comey and FBI officials actually knew early on that this intelligence was indeed false. [Continue reading…]

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How alleged Russian hacker, ‘Guccifer 2.0,’ teamed up with Florida GOP operative and funneled data to Trump campaign

The Wall Street Journal reports: The hacking spree that upended the presidential election wasn’t limited to Democratic National Committee memos and Clinton-aide emails posted on websites. The hacker also privately sent Democratic voter-turnout analyses to a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins.

Learning that hacker “Guccifer 2.0” had tapped into a Democratic committee that helps House candidates, Mr. Nevins wrote to the hacker to say: “Feel free to send any Florida based information.”

Ten days later, Mr. Nevins received 2.5 gigabytes of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents, some of which he posted on a blog called HelloFLA.com that he ran using a pseudonym.

Soon after, the hacker sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data.

Mr. Nevins confirmed his exchanges after The Wall Street Journal identified him first as the operator of the HelloFLA blog and then as the recipient of the stolen DCCC data. The Journal also reviewed copies of exchanges between the hacker and Mr. Nevins. That the obscure blog had received hacked Democratic documents was previously known, but not the extent of the trove or the blogger’s identity.

In hopes of a scoop, he said, he reached out to Guccifer 2.0 on Aug. 12 after seeing a newspaper article about a hack of the DCCC. The hacker using the Guccifer 2.0 name had invited journalists to send questions via Twitter direct messages, which Mr. Nevins did.

Seeing that some of what Guccifer 2.0 had was months old, Mr. Nevins advised the hacker that releasing fresher documents would have a lot more impact.

More impressed after studying the voter-turnout models, Mr. Nevins told the hacker, “Basically if this was a war, this is the map to where all the troops are deployed.” [Continue reading…]

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How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe

The Washington Post reports: A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake, according to people familiar with its contents.

In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server.

The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.

Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable. [Continue reading…]

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We’re Seth Rich’s parents. Stop politicizing our son’s murder

Mary Rich and Joel Rich write: Imagine living in a nightmare that you can never wake up from. Imagine having to face every single day knowing that your son was murdered. Imagine you have no answers — that no one has been brought to justice and there are few clues leading to the killer or killers. Imagine that every single day, with every phone call you hope that it’s the police, calling to tell you that there has been a break in the case.

Imagine that instead, every call that comes in is a reporter asking what you think of a series of lies or conspiracies about the death. That nightmare is what our family goes through every day.

Our beloved son Seth Rich was gunned down in the early hours of July 10, 2016, in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Bloomingdale. On the day he was murdered, Seth was excited about a new job he had been offered on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Seth had dedicated his life to public service, and he told us that he wanted to work on the campaign’s effort to expand voter participation because he loved our country dearly and believed deeply in the promise of democratic engagement. Seth had been walking around, calling friends, family and his girlfriend, pondering the broader picture of what the job change would mean. He wondered how he would pick up and move to New York City for four months, the strain that might put on his relationships, and how it would all affect the life he had built for himself in Washington.

The circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth’s murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants — after shooting our son — panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth’s personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.

Still, conservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel.

We know that Seth’s personal email and his personal computer were both inspected by detectives early in the investigation and that the inspection revealed no evidence of any communications with anyone at WikiLeaks or anyone associated with WikiLeaks. Nor did that inspection reveal any evidence that Seth had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks or to anyone else. Indeed, those who have suggested that Seth’s role as a data analyst at the DNC gave him access to a wide trove of emails are simply incorrect — Seth’s job was to develop analytical models to encourage voters to turn out to vote. He didn’t have access to DNC emails, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, John Podesta’s emails or Hillary Clinton’s emails. That simply wasn’t his job. [Continue reading…]

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