Week 44: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.
September 16, 2017
Front and center this week were reports on Russia’s use of social media to influence the US election, possibly with help from the Trump regime. As well, a slew of reporting continued to build the evolving mosaic of connections and quid pro quo between members of the Trump regime and Putin allies.
Trump’s short-lived pivot ended abruptly late in the week when he again evoked “both sides” on Charlottesville, then started an embarrassing tweet storm about a tragic bombing in London. An interview by Rachel Maddow of Hillary on her new book, provided a momentary pause and wake up call for how much our country has changed — both our global standing and government competency — under a leader who admires, and aspires to authoritarianism.
- When asked about Hurricane Irma, Trump took the opportunity to compliment the Coast Guard’s branding: “If you talk about branding? No brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard.”
- Axios reported according to an adviser, Trump finally realized: “People really f@&@ing hate me.” The adviser noted Trump’s need for affirmation may have led to his sudden embrace of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
- WH social media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted then deleted a video, which he incorrectly attributed to Miami Airport during Hurricane Irma.
- FP reported on growing concerns within the CIA that due to his personal beliefs, Trump ally Pompeo is rolling back the agency’s diversity mandate.
- In June, senior CIA management abruptly canceled an event with the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The Foundation was created by the Shepards in honor of their late gay son. Shepard’s death led to some of the country’s first federal hate crime laws.
- On Sunday, Trump announced his sixth wave of US Attorney nominations: 41 of the 42 were men.
- On Monday, Trump nominated six to become US attorneys. All six were white men.
- Trump’s NASA nominee Jim Bridenstine was quoted as saying the agency should be reorganized, and “expansion of human knowledge” about space and Earth should be removed from NASA’s objectives.
- The UNC Board of Governors approved a ban on litigation which effectively ended the civil rights center work benefitting low-income and minority groups at UNC’s law school.
- ICE arrested a 34 year-old father of two in Santa Fe, using his younger brother, who was in HHS custody, as bait.
- Phoenix New Times reviewed ICE arrest records and found that employees at two Motel 6 locations in predominantly Latino neighborhoods were alerting ICE on undocumented guests.
- After an outcry on social media, Motel 6 said it would stop sharing guest lists, but has yet to acknowledge if this was only done at the local level, and to explain why employees were collaborating with ICE.
- NYT reported the Trump regime is considering lowering the refugee quota to below 50k, the lowest level since 1980, and less than half the 110k admitted by Obama in 2016.
- An ABC News affiliate reported DACA recipients are being detained for hours at Texas border checkpoints, with no explanation as to why. Border Patrol claim it’s new protocol.
- A federal judge in Chicago blocked DOJ’s rules under Sessions which required sanctuary cities to cooperate with immigration agents in order to get public safety grants, like the COPS program in Week 43.
- In the wake of Charlottesville, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups. The resolution called Heyer’s murder a “domestic terrorist act.”
- The resolution urges Trump and his regime to speak out against hate groups, and called on the DOJ and federal agencies to use all resources to improve data on hate crimes, and address growth of hate groups.
- On Tuesday, the House unanimously approved the resolution, and on Wednesday, press secretary Sanders said Trump “looks forward” to signing the resolution.
- Instead, on Thursday, Trump claimed that both sides were to blame in Charlottesville, repeating his charge that those who resisted the neo-Nazis and white supremacists were as much to blame as the alt-right crowds.
- WAPO reported Politico’s editors warned staff on topics like physical attacks on journalists and white supremacy: “Try to stay away from those things because some of them are partisan.”
- Trump nominated Eric Dreiband to lead the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Dreiband testified against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and represented UNC in banning transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
- In her book Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, reporter Katy Tur detailed an unwanted kiss from Trump while covering his campaign. Tur said she was “mortified.”
- Axios reported that according to an internal memo, the CDC is cracking down on employees communications with the press. The memo says not to speak to reporters, “even for a simple data-related question.”
- On Monday, Trump’s DOJ said in a court filing that a judge should erase her finding that Arpaio violated a court order and was guilty of criminal contempt — a symbol of vindication.
- Two legal advocacy groups filed challenges to Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, saying it was unconstitutional because it undermines the power of the judicial branch.
- Salon reported Trump has formed at least 49 new businesses since he announced his run for presidency, and continuing since he took office. He has done almost nothing to separate himself from his businesses.
- McClatchy reported despite Trump’s pledge not to work with foreign entities, a construction company owned by the Chinese government was hired to work on Trump’s new golf club development in Dubai.
- BuzzFeed reported Trump International Beach Resort in Florida has asked the government for permission to hire more temporary foreign workers. Trump has sought more than 380 H-2 visas since June 2015.
- Florida AG Pam Bondi will start next week on Trump’s commission to combat the opioid crisis. In April, an ethics commission cleared Bondi of accepting a $25k donation from Trump at the same time she received a complaint on Trump University for fraud, which her office dismissed.
- In a September report on executive branch agency waivers and authorizations, the Office Government Ethics noted the WH has refused to provide information requested and to answer follow-up questions on secret WH waivers.
- The Secret Service released just 22 of the visitor names to Mar-a-Lago in response to an April FOIA filing by CREW and two other groups. All 22 names were all related to Japanese PM Abe’s February visit
- The limited disclosure violated a federal judge’s order to turn over all visitor names from Jan 20 — March 8, 2017. Trump has spent 25 days at Mar-a-Lago. CREW promised to head back to court.
- WAPO shared a receipt sent to “National Security Council” from Mar-a-Lago, showing taxpayers were billed the “rack rate” of $1,092 for a two-night stay. Mar-a-Lago is 99% owned by Trump’s revocable trust.
- Derek Harvey, the controversial former Mideast chief for the NSC who was fired by McMaster, is going to work for Nunes.
- At Trump’s behest, McConnell is considering making the blue slip, a way for individual senators to block a nominees from their home states, advisory instead when it comes to appeals court nominees.
- Politico reported, in a reversal of internal policy, OGE said WH staffers may accept anonymous donations from lobbyists to legal defense funds.
- Late Friday, after scrutiny from the Politico story, OGE clarified its rules, saying contributions to legal defense funds from anonymous donors, as well as those from lobbyists and foreign governments, are unacceptable.
- ABC reported Mnuchin requested use of a government jet to take him and his wife to their honeymoon in Europe, prompting an “inquiry” by the Treasury Dept’s Office of Inspector General.
- CREW sued the Treasury Dept for documents relating to Mnuchin’s use of a government plane to travel to Kentucky with his wife Louise Linton. The Treasury Dept failed to respond to a prior request for disclosure.
- Trump’s Election Integrity Committee convened its second meeting in NH. Of note, the list of witnesses included no people of color or women, but instead allies of Kris Kobach and tarnished academics.
- Gizmodo reported on a document obtained from the DOJ which shows Sessions was lobbied by the Heritage Foundation to exclude Democrats, mainstream Republicans, and academics from Election Integrity Committee.
- The author of the letter from Heritage, Hans von Spakovsky, participated in Kobach’s NH meeting, on a panel. Spakovsky has led the charge for strict voter ID laws for more than a decade.
- In a statement, Alan King, a Democratic judge from Alabama on Trump’s Election Integrity Committee, criticized the commission for overzealous efforts to purge people from voter rolls in favor of more affluent voters.
- ProPublica investigated the Election Integrity Committee’s use of emails and found no instructions or training has been given. Some commission members are using private email which violates federal law.
- On Monday, Mexico withdrew its offer of aid to help Hurricane Harvey victims, noting Trump failed to send condolences to Mexico for a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and hurricane.
- NYT reported that in a WH meeting, Kelly likened Mexico to Venezuela under the leadership of the Chávez regime, and suggested it was on the verge of a collapse which would have repercussions for the US.
- Despite an ongoing DOJ investigation into Malaysian PM Najib Razak for misappropriating billions of dollars from a government fund he controlled, Trump invited him to the WH for a friendly visit.
- Najib has also been criticized for human rights violations under his leadership. He and his entourage stayed at the Trump Hotel DC.
- Yahoo reported Russian news agency, Sputnik, is under investigation by the FBI into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
- Andrew Feinberg, Sputnik’s former WH correspondent, turned over emails to the FBI. Feinberg said supervisors regularly “would say, ‘Moscow wants this or Moscow wants that.’”
- Feinberg also told MSNBC many of the popular articles from right-wing media outlets like Breitbart, Infowars, and Gateway Pundit and were prominently featured on Sputnik’s website.
- RT, the Russian state-owned outlet, said it will be required by the FBI to register as a foreign agent in the US, signaling their content will be viewed as propaganda of Moscow.
- Russian journalist Latynina fled Russia with her family following a series of attacks. Latynina writes for an independent newspaper and Friday received a prize for defending human rights and freedom of the press.
- Priebus and McGahn both hired lawyer William Burck to represent them in the Mueller Russia probe.
- Politico reported lawyers for former and current Trump aides are advising clients not to lie for Trump. Lawyers are also warning clients that being connected to Trump won’t protect them from criminal charges.
- WSJ reported some of Trump’s lawyers concluded earlier this summer Kushner should step down. Among their concerns were undisclosed meeting with Russians, and mentioning Mueller probe to other WH staff.
- Also knowing the June 9 meeting was yet to come out publicly, lawyers had prepared talking points for Kushner’s resignation, blaming the toxic political environment and him being used as a weapon against Trump.
- Russian politician Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Duma, said on live TV that Russia stole the US presidency. The TV show focused on the US’s diminishing power on the world stage.
- Daily Beast reported Russia used Facebook’s event-management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests, including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho.
- The event was hosted by “SecuredBorders,” outed as a Russian front in March. When their Facebook page was taken down last month, the group had 133k followers.
- Former FBI agent Clint Watts noted this group is an example of the next step in Russian influence: “The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.”
- In the months leading up to the Idaho rally, there were dozens of stories on right-wing websites like Infowars and Breitbart implying immigrants were taking over Twin Falls.
- Business Insider reported on another Russian-link Facebook group: “Heart of Texas,” which had over 225k followers, and was taken down by Facebook last week.
- The group started by posting anti-Hillary memes, then shifted as Election Day neared. Starting in November, “Heart of Texas” organized a series of anti-immigrant, anti-Hillary rallies across Texas.
- ProPublica reported Facebook enabled advertisers to target ads towards users who expressed interest in categories like “Jew hater” and “How to burn jews.” After ProPublica contacted them, Facebook took these down.
- Bloomberg reported that Russia’s effort to influence US voters through Facebook and other social media is a “red-hot” focus of Mueller, as well as possible links in that effort to the Trump campaign.
- WSJ reported Facebook has given Mueller more details on Russian ad buys, including copies of the ads and details about the accounts that bought them and the targeting criteria they used.
- While Congress has the power to subpoena Facebook for “basic subscriber records” and to call witnesses, Mueller’s search warrant compels Facebook to disclose much more detailed information.
- Vanity Fair reported that Congressional investigators and Mueller are focused on whether any Americans helped Russia target social media to impact crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics.
- In an interview with Forbes after the election, Kushner bragged about the Trump campaign’s online efforts, and said he had a technology expert “give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting.”
- Questions also emerge about possible ties between Kushner and Parscale to data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, whose major investor is Robert Mercer, a patron of Bannon.
- Senate Intel Committee ranking members Burr and Warner said they are likely to ask representatives from Facebook to publicly testify on Russia’s activity on their platform during the 2016 election.
- Sen. Warner tweeted that groups linked to Russia which used Facebook to meddle in the 2016 election paid in rubles.
- A campaign finance reform group, headed by the former chair of the FEC Trevor Potter, said Facebook was an “accomplice” in a Russian influence scheme, and called on the company to publicly release Russian ads.
- BuzzFeed obtained a proposal delivered by a Putin diplomat to Trump three months into office detailing a wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military, and intelligence channels between Russia and the US.
- Members of the WH and State Dept did not dispute the authenticity of the proposal. Delivering the proposal meant Russia believed Trump would not hold alleged 2016 election interference against them.
- Daily Beast reported the Trump campaign has begun turning over documents to Mueller. The Mueller probe is broad, and it is treating the WH, transition team, and campaign as separate legal entities.
- At a press briefing Tuesday, Sanders said the DOJ “should certainly look at” prosecuting Comey, claiming he had leaked privileged information to the media and offered false testimony to Congress.
- On Wednesday, Sanders again said Comey, essentially a political opponent, should face criminal charges for leaking a memo to the NYT.
- Sanders also said ESPN reporter Jemele Hill should be fired for her Monday tweet referring to Trump as “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
- NYT reported after Trump was told that Mueller was appointed, he berated Sessions in the Oval Office. Trump called Sessions an “idiot,” and said picking him for AG was the “worst decisions he had made.”
- Trump blamed the Mueller appointment on Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia investigation, and said Sessions should resign. Sessions said he would quit and sent a resignation letter.
- Sessions later told associates the way Trump publicly demeaned him was his most humiliating experience in his decades of public life.
- Flynn refused a new request to appear in front of the Senate Intel Committee. Flynn has offered to testify before both the Senate and House Intel Committees in exchange for immunity, but neither committee accepted the offer.
- Top Democrats on the House Intel and Foreign Relations Committees wrote in a letter that Flynn concealed more than a dozen foreign contacts and overseas trips during the process of renewing his security clearances in 2016.
- The foreign contact information came from three private companies advised by Flynn which were pursuing a joint venture with Russia in 2015 and 2016 to bring nuclear power to several Middle Eastern countries.
- WSJ reported Flynn continued promoting the project after he took the position of NSA in the Trump regime, even after NSC ethics advisers directed Flynn to remove himself from the project.
- Even after Flynn was fired by Trump, he continued to lobby the Trump regime on the project, including Cohn and Barrack, Jr. ahead of their May trip to Saudi Arabia.
- NBC reported Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, is the subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The inquiry is based at least in part on his work with Flynn Intel Group.
- CNN reported the DOJ refused the Senate Judiciary Committee’s request to interview two top FBI officials , Carl Ghattas and James Rybicki, on the firing of Comey, citing Mueller’s ongoing investigation.
- NYT reported Senate Judiciary Comm ranking members Grassley and Feinstein are considering subpoenaing members of the DOJ in their inquiry on Trump’s firing of Comey.
- CNN reported Susan Rice privately told the House Intel Committee that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the UAE came to New York late last year.
- The New York meeting (reported in Week 21) took place last December, and was attended by Flynn, Kushner, and Bannon. In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not advise the Obama administration in advance.
- Shortly after in January, Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos, attended a secret meeting in Seychelles, arranged by the UAE, with a Russian close to Putin, allegedly to set up a back-channel for communications.
- WAPO reported DHS ordered all federal agencies to ban the use of a Kaspersky security software. Co-founder Eugene Kaspersky graduated from a KGB-supported school and worked in Russian military intelligence.
- The moves comes after the GSA removed the company from its approved vendor list, suggesting a vulnerability exists with Kaspersky that could give the Kremlin backdoor access to the systems the company protects.
- BuzzFeed reported that Flynn, Bannon, and Kushner met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in NY days before Trump was inaugurated to push a deal which Flynn was advising on: nuclear power plants in the Middle East.
- An eyewitness said at least half-a-dozen other people were with the trio at the Four Seasons bar. Flynn failed to disclose the meeting in security clearance forms, and Kushner disclosed it only in his amended forms.
- As part of the for-profit deal, reactors would be built by US companies and security would be provided by the Russian state-owned firm Rosoboron. Congressional approval would have been needed.
- In February, Abdullah visited the WH and met with Trump, Kelly, and Mattis. A statement afterward underscored that the US “is committed to strengthening the security and economic partnership with Jordan.”
- Bloomberg reported at the time Veselnitskaya met with Donald Jr. at Trump Tower, she also represented real-estate company Prevezon, which was under criminal investigation for a money laundering case.
- In 2013, Bharara filed a civil suit against Prevezon. Sessions abruptly settled the case three days before trial in May for just $5.9 million. There was no mention of the ongoing criminal investigation.
- Democratic lawmakers want to know if the Trump team members put pressure on Sessions to settle the case after Bharara was fired.
- Bloomberg said in the criminal case several countries and banks including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, UBS and TD have supplied documents to the US to track more than $200 million that left Russia after a massive fraud.
- Business Insider reported that in the Prevezon criminal case, grand-jury testimonies are at a key stage. Prevezon is owned by the son of a powerful Russian government official.
- Politico reported Kyle Freeny, an attorney working on the DOJ’s highest-profile money laundering case, is joining Mueller’s team.
- Democrats flipped two very pro-Trump districts in special elections: there was a 28-point swing in NH, and a 31-point swing in OK.
- Benevity tracked a shift in donations made by Fortune 1000 US workers: ACLU went from #87 in 2015 to the top spot in 2017. SPLC went from #230 in 2015 to #17 in 2017.
- Early Friday morning, Trump took to Twitter after a bombing in London: “Another attack in London by a loser terrorist,” and “Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner.”
- UK PM May publicly alluded to Trump’s tweet, saying she never thinks it’s helpful to “speculate” on “an ongoing investigation.” Friday, McMaster tried to clarify the tweets, saying Trump was speaking “generally.”
- Bloomberg reported PM May complained directly to Trump, saying she was unhappy with his response when he called to offer condolences.
- Joining his classmates at Yale, 185 of Mnuchin’s high school classmates from Riverdale Country School classmates called on him to resign.
- WSJ reported Rep. Dana Rohrabacher contacted the WH trying to broker a “deal” that would end Assange’s US legal troubles, in exchange for a computer drive or other data-storage device that he said would exonerate Russia.
- Kelly intercepted the call and advised Rohrabacher the deal “was best directed to the intelligence community.” Kelly did not make Trump aware of Rohrabacher’s message.
- AP reported that despite a pledge by the Trump inaugural committee to give leftover funds to charities, nothing has been donated. The group has helped pay for redecorating the WH and the Pence’s residence in DC.
- Trump’s inaugural committee raised $107 million, a record amount and double what Obama raised for his well-attended inauguration. The amount of times to close out the books is also unusual.
- Pence’s press secretary Marc Lotter resigned. It was unclear what his next move will be. Pence recently replaced his chief of staff.
- In an Atlantic article, “How Trump Is Ending the American Era,” Eliot Cohen described the damage Trump has done, and continues to do to America’s global standing.
- On Friday, the Pentagon issued new guidance clarifying that transgender troops currently in the military can re-enlist in the next several months. This is yet another example in past weeks of Mattis going against Trump.
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Copyright Amy Siskind, September 16, 2017