It appears that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is getting closer to finding crimes committed foreign persons and by Trump’s closest advisers; and Jared Kushner may be at the center of it all. For Trump, the shit is about to get real.
It all centers around Facebook and microtargeting. As I’m sure you know, Mueller recently obtained a warrant for the content of ads that Facebook sold to a Russian source. CNN has the latest this morning: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant.
Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.
“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.
Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.
This is significant, because it indicates that Mueller has evidence of crimes related to the Facebook data. Business Insider: Mueller just obtained a warrant that could change the entire nature of the Russia investigation.
FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.
Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.
“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.
Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime….
“The key here…is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”
It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.
Read more in this Twitter thread–click to read the rest:
And who was in charge of the data operation for the Trump campaign? Jared Kushner. He revealed a lot about how he did it in a Forbes article back in May 2017: Jared Kushner In His Own Words On The Trump Data Operation The FBI Is Reportedly Probing. A couple of excerpts:
— “We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign. That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff. Doing it state by state is not that hard. But scaling is a very, very hard thing. They gave me a lot of their subcontractors and I built in Austin a data hub that would complement the RNC’s data hub. We had about 100 people in that office, which nobody knew about, until towards the end. We used that as the nerve center that drove a lot of the deployment of our ground game resources….
— “We played Moneyball, where we were asking, ‘Which states are will be the most cost effective—ROI per electoral vote.’ We used a lot things to get much more bang for the buck… We got rid of a lot of the political people. That’s not who we hired. Our best people were mostly people who volunteered pro bono, people from the business world, people from nontraditional fields. We could squeeze the margin so that nobody was getting rich on it. And we only had people who were doing it for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go onto the next campaign, but because they felt passionately about getting Donald Trump elected.”
Yesterday Vanity Fair published a piece by Chris Smith that connects a lot of dots: Did Jared Kushner’s Data Operation Help Select Facebook Targets for the Russians?
Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.) ….
No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”
Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.
Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that “algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts.”
His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump’s comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 “issue models” to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign….The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.
The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose — to influence the U.S. presidential election.
And that’s not the only Russia Investigation story that broke yesterday.
Bloomberg: Russia Laundering Probe Puts Trump Tower Meeting in New Light. The Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 was also involved in a huge money laundering case–could getting rid of that case have been the quid pro quo for Russian help in getting Trump elected?
when she stepped into Trump Tower, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya was also representing a client ensnared in a long-running U.S. investigation into an alleged web of Russian money-laundering. That criminal inquiry, opened by federal prosecutors in New York in 2013 and previously unreported, is still active, according to people familiar with the probe. There was no mention of an ongoing criminal inquiry when the U.S. settled a related civil lawsuit against Veselnitskaya’s client in May.
The outline of the criminal investigation, stretching from Switzerland to Cyprus, is laid out deep within the 734 filings in the civil case. Several countries have supplied documents to the U.S., as have Deutsche Bank AG, Citigroup Inc. and other global banks that aren’t targets. U.S. prosecutors in the case are seeking to track parts of more than $200 million they say left Russia after a massive fraud, and to identify who was involved in the scheme.
The revelation adds a new element to the Trump Tower meeting, which has emerged as a focus of congressional investigators and a U.S. special counsel inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Recall that Trump fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had brought the case in 2013 and later the Justice Department settle the case for peanuts:
After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon matter was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ full allegations about the Russian money flows. But just days before opening arguments, the U.S. announced it had settled the case for $5.9 million.
The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology by the government.”
Several Democratic lawmakers looked at the Prevezon settlement in a new light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian lawyer, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the matter.
Natasha Bertrand has more at Business Insider: New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting.
The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.
Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.
In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alekseevich Pavlov — a person “central to the Government’s case against Prevezon,” according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.
Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.
Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.
The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide “all non-privileged correspondence” with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.
This was all short-circuited when the DOJ settled the case. Read more details at BI.
In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.
meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”
On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted Mi at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.
People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.
Read the rest at the link. It sure looks like Mueller is getting closer to nailing Trump and his gang.
What stories are you following today?
Good Morning!! It is just me, or is the news getting weirder with each passing day?
Last night Jerry Sandusky who, with a little help from his friends, has destroyed the reputation of a large university and created the worst scandal in sports history, appeared on the new NBC show Rock Center. Sandusky told Bob Costas he didn’t sexually abuse little boys–he just “horsed around” with them in the showers.
When asked by Costas, “Are you a pedophile,” Sandusky responded “No.”
Joe Paterno’s one time defensive coordinator was charged earlier this month with 40 counts of sexually abusing eight boys. He is currently free on a $100,000 bond and has denied any wrongdoing. The allegations date back to 1994, according to a grand jury report. A grand jury report detailed claims of alleged sexual encounters with young boys in Sandusky’s home, hotels and Penn State locker rooms.
“I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact,” said Sandusky.
When pressed by Costas about what Sandusky was willing to concede that he’d done was wrong, Sandusky said, “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”
He touched their legs? Talk about a non sequitur. Sandusky’s lawyer should have told him not to talk to the media.
NPR’s Morning Edition is running a three-part series on Ayn Rand’s influence on U.S. politics. The first episode was on yesterday. They reported on an interview that Mike Wallace did with Rand in 1959.
Wallace is in a chair, on a stark set, holding his notes and a cigarette. Across from him sits Rand, a native Russian, small and sharp and a little nervous. Wallace asks her to outline the idea she calls “objectivism.”
It is, she says, a system of morality “not based on faith” or emotion, “but on reason.”
Rand wholly rejected religion. She called it a weakness, even a parasite — one that convinces people their purpose is to work for the betterment of others. In fact, she says, for man, the truth is just the opposite.
“His highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness,” she says.
Wallace asks Rand about politics and about government programs and regulations that have improved many people’s lives.
“I feel that it is terrible that you see destruction all around you, and that you are moving toward disaster until and unless all those welfare state conceptions have been reversed and rejected,” Rand answers.
These programs are destroying individual liberties, Rand says, especially the freedom of producers, entrepreneurs, businessmen. The government has no right to take their property, she says….
“I am opposed to all forms of control. I am for an absolute, laissez-faire, free, unregulated economy.”
I still don’t understand how Republicans can buy into Rand’s philosophy and then claim the right to control women’s lives based on their fundamentalist nonsensical religious beliefs. If you really think about it, what they’ve done is taken Rand’s gospel of selfishness and pretended that was Jesus’ message too.
Yesterday, President Obama went golfing with a friend who was recently caught in a prostitution sting.
“The president’s fourball at the Mamala Bay Golf Course includes his long-time friend Robert “Bobby” Titcomb who was arrested and plead no contest in May to soliciting a prostitute, Marvin Nicholson, and White House advance man Pete Selfridge,” the report read.
In April, Titcomb was arrested in Honolulu and charged with a misdemeanor for soliciting a prostitute after he approached an undercover police officer. Titcomb’s attorney, William Harrison, said at the time that Titcomb did not fully agree with the facts of the case, but plead no contest because he wanted to take responsibility.
He was fined $500 and the conviction was expunged from his record in October, following six months without further incident.
Obama and Titcomb have been friends since attending the Punahou School together in Honolulu, according to Hawaii News Now.
That should give the Republican candidates something to be outraged about in the next debate. Why are there so many of those debates, anyway?
King Abdullah II of Jordan has called on Syria’s President Bashar Assad to resign.
Syrian President Bashar Assad faced heightened economic and political pressures Monday, as Europe imposed a new round of financial sanctions and King Abdullah II of Jordan called on the embattled autocrat to step down.
Meanwhile, the Arab League, which on Saturday moved to suspend Syria because of its failure to implement a league-brokered peace deal, said it was preparing to send a delegation of up to 500 observers into Syria. Details were still being worked out with Damascus, the league’s secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, told reporters in Cairo.
Syria has said it would welcome Arab League observers, but the Assad regime has remained defiant in the face of Arab demands that it halt violence against civilian protesters.
The Syrian uprising began in March near the Jordanian border in the southwestern provincial city of Dara. Opposition activists reported that at least 28 people were killed Monday in that area, some in clashes between armed rebels and security forces at the city’s northern entrance. The official government news agency said at least two law enforcement officers were killed and an unspecified number wounded in clashes with a “terrorist group” in the vicinity of Dara.
The opposition reported at least 50 killed nationwide Monday. The death toll could not be independently confirmed.
Herman Cain had a serious case of brain freeze yesterday when he was asked if he agreed with President Obama’s position on Libya. From the NY Daily News:
The GOP presidential hopeful looked hungry for a cheat sheet when the editorial board of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel asked him if he supported Obama’s backing of the revolution that toppled Moammar Khadafy.
“Okay … Libya,” Cain responded haltingly, according to a video of the interview.
He stared at the ceiling, fiddled with his blazer, blinked a bunch of times and pushed his water bottle away from him on the table.
Eleven seconds later, he spoke:
“President Obama supported the uprising, correct?” said the normally chatty former head of the Godfather’s Pizza chain.
“President Obama called for the removal of Khadafy — just wanted to make sure we are talking about the same thing,” he added, as if trying to goad his interviewers into confirming what he said was true.
More staring at the ceiling. “Nope, that’s a different one,” he blurted out, waving his hand, adjusting his chair and crossing his legs.
And so on. There’s lots more. Watch it:
What a dope!!
That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today?
Unknown attackers have blown up a pipeline that runs through El-Arish area of Egypt’s north Sinai area and supplies gas to Jordan and Israel, according to Egypt’s state television.
The explosive material was placed inside or adjacent to the control station of the gas supply line. There were no immediate reports of any casualties as a result of the blast.
“Saboteurs took advantage of the security situation and blew up the gas pipeline,” a state television correspondent reported, saying there was a big explosion.
State TV quoted an official as saying that the “situation is very dangerous and explosions were continuing from one spot to another” along the pipeline.
Forbes reports that Egypt has been forced to cut off gas supplies to Israel and Jordan.
There were conflicting reports out of Egypt as to the cause of the explosion, with the state-run Middle East News Agency saying the work was done by “subversive elements.” Oil Minister Samah Fahmy reportedly said it could take up to two weeks to repair the damage.
The pipeline is the third most strategically important piece of energy infrastructure in Egypt after the Suez Canal and the Sumed Pipeline. But it is the most important one to Israel, delivering 40% of Israeli natural gas supplies. The Israeli government said this afternoon that it did not expect any interruption of electricity supplies as the country has gas in storage and can also switch to other fuels like oil and diesel. Israel started receiving gas from the pipeline in 2008.
Assuming for a moment that this was not an accident, it represents a serious escalation of the crisis in Egypt.
Jitters about the impact of the unrest on the economy of both Egypt and the region were not eased yesterday when an explosion ripped through a gas terminal in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, setting off a massive fire that was contained by shutting off the flow of gas to neighbouring Jordan and Israel. Supplies are expected to be hit for at least a week. While Israel has other sources of power, and Jordan is believed to have substantial reserves, the sense that Egypt’s fragility can reach beyond its borders will add to the anxieties.
Traders are worried that the unrest might spread to oil-producing countries in the region and even affect shipments through the Suez Canal. Egypt is not a major oil producer, but it controls the canal and a nearby pipeline. Together these carry about two million barrels of oil a day from the Middle East to customers in Europe and the United States. Several large Egyptian refineries near the canal have been the site of recent protests.
We can use this as a live blog to discuss the situation in Egypt. I’ll continue to add updates if I learn any more about the cause of the pipeline blast.