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Closing Borders and Ethnocentrism Unite Trump and Hungary’s Orbán

Thu, 2017-05-18 07:18

While many Americans remain confused about what to make of Donald Trump, clues to his outlook can be gleaned from the policies of world leaders whose populist appeal resembles that of the new US president. In the first part of this series, we looked at parallels with recently impeached South Korean President Park. In this second installment, we take a close look at the tenure of an Eastern European strongman, who not only sealed off his country’s borders but whose forceful attacks against migrants helped stop his slide in the polls.

When thousands of Hungarians rallied against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest last month, it was a rare public display of opposition to the “Viktator.”

Angered by Orbán’s clampdown of a university, protesters jammed the city’s central areas and marched to the headquarters of Fidesz (Orbán’s party) and the Education Secretariat building.  Orbán’s attempt to close down Central European University — funded by George Soros and the nation’s most liberal educational institution — is the latest example example of his avowed determination to turn Hungary into an illiberal state.

A recent poll shows that, before the clampdown, support for Orban’s party was at 37%.  Afterward, it was at only 31%. However, in Hungary’s multi-party system, that was more than enough to stay ahead of the pack, which was led by a far-right party at 14%.

Thousands protested in Budapest recently in response to Prime Minister Orbán’s attempts to shutter the Central European University. Photo credit: Gphgrdol / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY – SA 3.0)

Viktor Orbán has a lot in common with Donald Trump. He has long pursued policies that he claims put his country first. His speeches are laced with anti-immigrant language. And he has backed up his hard-line nationalist rhetoric with actions — for example, by erecting fences along the country’s southern borders with Serbia and Croatia. These fences, constructed in 2015, are equipped in places with razor wires. Another barricade, set for completion next month, will flaunt high-tech surveillance tools such as motion sensors.

Orbán’s anti-immigration efforts have been condemned by the European Parliament. And concerns have been voiced globally by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and similar NGOs.

But Orbán’s policies on refugees and migrants have not met the same resistance in Hungary as Trump’s have in the US.

A Hungarian who asked to remain anonymous told WhoWhatWhy that he is considered a “nativist” by his friends. The term “nativist” is used by Hungarians to refer to those who support their country’s current “protectionist” (at best) or xenophobic (at worst) measures.

As the owner of a shop on one of the touristy streets of downtown Budapest, he is likely just another middle-class man voicing his concern about the economic future of his nation. He says he voted for Orbán because he considered him an adept politician. Although he now suspects Orbán of corruption, he still stands with the prime minister because of his strong actions against refugees.

“Saving” Europe

And the larger European community has not strongly condemned these policies. As explained by  philosopher and political scientist János Kis, a former leader of the Alliance of Free Democrats in Hungary, many Europeans deem Orbán’s hard line as the “only way to save Europe from the flood of masses that threatens to destabilize the continent.”

Orbán insists that migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East pose an “existential threat to the European way of life.” Critics contend that for both Orbán and Trump, making their own countries “great” equates to making them “white,” as Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi, points out.

Orbán’s “us vs. them” rhetoric and his promotion of “secure borders” against the “violent threat” of immigrants verges on what Andrew Marantz calls “extreme nationalism.”


An officer patrols the barbed wire barrier running along the Serbia-Hungary border. Photo credit: Delmagyaroszag/Schmidt Andrea (Flickr – CC BY-SA 3.0)

János Kis has theorized that the anti-immigrant “argument claims that the outer borders of the EU must be defended, as if asylum seekers were the army of a hostile power attacking the EU with tanks and an air force… The boat is full, the argument continues, so we must shove back those trying to climb in, lest we sink with them. This is brutal talk, but many think that those who are against it are bleeding-heart idealists [because] there is no other realistic solution.”

Pushing the Right Buttons .

Orbán demonizes migrants as a way of justifying his harsh tactics against them. But he also frames his policies as sensibly practical by citing statistics to show that Hungary, like the European Union in general, will soon face ”civilizational disaster” if it lets in too many Muslim immigrants.

Like everything he does, Orbán’s very outspokenness seems calculated. Although EU regulations call for an independent press in all member countries, Orbán has dominated the public conversation in Hungary through various means, ranging from financial and other pressures to ensure favorable media coverage for his government’s actions to installing anti-refugee billboards on street corners.

Orbán has shown that he knows how to wield the levers of power in a modern authoritarian state. In the parliamentary election of 2014, which returned his Fidesz party to a commanding majority, international observers concluded that Fidesz “enjoyed an undue advantage because of restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the State.”

Beyond their anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, Orbán and Trump share a fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just as stories swirl about the plausibility of deeper connections between Trump and Putin, the Russian leader’s influence on the rise of right-wing “strong men” in Europe has been the subject of much speculation.

Two weeks after the US election, Orbán spoke on the phone with President-elect Trump and reported that he and Trump hit it off handsomely. The Hungarian prime minister said that Trump had invited him to visit the US at some unspecified time in the future.

“I told him that I have not been there for a long time as I was regarded as a ‘black sheep’,” Orbán was quoted as saying. “He laughed and said, so was he.”

When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the Obama administration was publicly critical of the erosion of democratic freedoms in Orbán’s Hungary.

Orbán came out strongly for Trump before the election, a risky decision considering how few people, in Europe or the US took the latter seriously as a candidate. Now, the Hungarian leader can hope that Trump will allow Hungary to pursue its anti-immigrant policies without having to worry about democratic niceties.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhat Why from Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore/Flickr – CC BY – SA 2.0) and Viktor Orban (European People’s Party/Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

The post Closing Borders and Ethnocentrism Unite Trump and Hungary’s Orbán appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Is N. Korea Behind Global Cyber Attacks?

Wed, 2017-05-17 10:42

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Trump’s Bodyguard/Operations Chief Reveals Cell Number of Defense Sec. (DH)

Keith Schiller, President Trump’s Director of Oval Office Operations, accidentally displayed a note exposing the cellphone number of Defense Secretary James Mattis in a publicity photo. Schiller is the President’s long time bodyguard, known for roughing up protesters and delivering the pink slip to FBI Director Comey.

Is North Korea Behind the Global Cyber Attack? (Milicent)

Because of the software codes involved, a Google security researcher suspects the same North Korean group that hacked Sony Pictures and the Bangladeshi bank is behind the latest cyber-attack.

Dutch Documentary Investigates Trump’s Russian Mob Ties (Trevin)

The film examines the president’s Russia connections, dating back to his first Russian visit in the 1980s.

Trust Your Eyes, Not Your Brain (Milicent)

German scientists have shown that, when images are ambiguous, your brain will make assumptions and fill in blanks, rather than pay attention to what you actually see.

Noam Chomsky on Wealth and Power (Jimmy)

An excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s latest book, Requiem for the American Dream: The Ten Principles of Wealth and Power. He writes, “That’s essentially neoliberalism. It has this dual character, which goes right back in economic history. One set of rules for the rich. Opposite set of rules for the poor.”

Cartoons Can Be More Persuasive Than Photographs (Milicent)

Want to change behavior? Go here to see why cartoons are so powerful in getting a message across.

The post Is N. Korea Behind Global Cyber Attacks? appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia

Wed, 2017-05-17 09:04

As much as President Donald Trump would like to make the various investigations into Russia’s interference in the US election go away, it is still the biggest story of the year. WhoWhatWhy has done its part in advancing it by publishing several exclusives on the issue.

The biggest one was undoubtedly our bombshell article on whether the FBI’s Russia investigation was compromised because it could interfere with the Bureau’s objective of fighting organized crime originating in the former Soviet Union. Part of that story details Trump’s various ties to organized crime and contacts associated with mobsters.

A lot has happened since we published it 7 weeks ago, not the least of which was the firing of James Comey. Another recent development was the airing of an engaging Dutch documentary by the program Zembla, which highlights some of Trump’s most dubious connections (Part 1 & Part 2). Although there are some errors of fact, including miscasting a plaintiff’s attorney as a state prosecutor, it’s still worth watching.

And you’ll definitely want to brush up on our original article (reprinted below) and our deep-digging followups, which we linked to above. Because this story isn’t going away. It’s just going to get bigger.

 The Federal Bureau of Investigation cannot tell us what we need to know about Donald Trump’s contacts with Russia. Why? Because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting mobsters tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin — and to Trump.

But the Feds’ stonewalling risks something far more dangerous: Failing to resolve a crisis of trust in America’s president. WhoWhatWhy provides the details of a two-month investigation in this 6,500-word exposé.

The FBI apparently knew, directly or indirectly, based upon available facts, that prior to Election Day, Trump and his campaign had personal and business dealings with certain individuals and entities linked to criminal elements — including reputed Russian gangsters — connected to Putin.

The same facts suggest that the FBI knew or should have known enough prior to the election to justify informing the public about its ongoing investigation of potentially compromising relationships between Trump, Putin, and Russian mobsters — even if it meant losing or exposing a valued informant.

It will take an agency independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expose Donald Trump’s true relationship with Moscow and the role Russia may have played in getting him elected.

Director James Comey recently revealed in a congressional hearing for the first time that the FBI “is investigating … the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

However, a two-month WhoWhatWhy investigation has revealed an important reason the Bureau may be facing undisclosed obstacles to revealing what it knows to the public or to lawmakers.

Our investigation also may explain why the FBI, which was very public about its probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, never disclosed its investigation of the Trump campaign prior to the election, even though we now know that it commenced last July.

Such publicity could have exposed a high-value, long-running FBI operation against an organized crime network headquartered in the former Soviet Union. That operation depended on a convicted criminal who for years was closely connected with Trump, working with him in Trump Tower — while constantly informing for the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and being legally protected by them.

Some federal officials were so involved in protecting this source — despite his massive fraud and deep connections to organized crime — that they became his defense counsel after they left the government.

In secret court proceedings that were later unsealed, both current and former government attorneys argued for extreme leniency toward the man when he was finally sentenced. An FBI agent who expressed his support for the informant later joined Trump’s private security force.

In this way, the FBI’s dilemma about revealing valuable sources, assets and equities in its ongoing investigation of links between the Trump administration and Russian criminal elements harkens back to the embarrassing, now infamous Whitey Bulger episode. In that case, the Feds protected Bulger, a dangerous Boston-based mobster serving as their highly valued informant, even as the serial criminal continued to participate in heinous crimes. The FBI now apparently finds itself confronted with similar issues: Is its investigation of the mob so crucial to national security that it outweighs the public’s right to know about their president?

Jack Blum, a former senior Senate investigator and one of America’s foremost experts on white-collar financial crime, sums up the complexity — and the urgency — of the situation:

“What makes this investigation especially difficult is that it will lead into the complex relations between the counterintelligence operations of the FBI and its criminal investigative work,” says Blum.

“Further, it is likely other elements of the intelligence community are involved and that they have ‘equities’  to protect. Much of the evidence, justifiably, will be highly classified to protect sources and methods and in particular to protect individuals who have helped one or another of the agencies involved.”

 

Photo credit: FBI

“I Can’t Go into Those Details Here” .

In his March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey said that he could not go into detail about its probe into the Trump administration’s Russian connection.

If he had, we might have learned that, for more than three decades the FBI has had Trump Tower in its sights. Many of its occupants have been targets of major investigations, others have been surveilled, and yet others have served as informants. One thing many of them have in common is deep ties to organized crime — including the Russian mafia.

Felix Sater fits all of these categories. A convicted felon, Sater worked in Trump Tower, made business deals with Donald Trump through Sater’s real estate firm, Bayrock, cooperated with the FBI and CIA and was subsequently protected by the DOJ from paying for his crimes. And the Moscow-born immigrant remains deeply linked to Russia and Ukraine.

Based on documents examined by WhoWhatWhy, it is possible to draw certain conclusions that help connect the dots between Trump, the FBI, Russia and the mob.

The resulting picture is not a pretty one for Donald Trump. However, because of its efforts to neutralize the organization of perhaps the world’s most powerful mobster — a man considered a serious national security threat — the Bureau might just have compromised its own ability to provide to Congress or inform the American public about all of the ties that exist between Trump, his presidential campaign and the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Further, Trump’s business association with Sater and Bayrock may have put the president’s financial interests at substantial risk, including possibly millions of dollars in fines, penalties, or other damages, should civil or criminal misconduct be proven in court or otherwise resolved if claims were triggered. Anyone who knew of Trump’s jeopardy in this matter would have enormous leverage over the Trump operation.

The government’s kid-glove treatment of Sater is partially explained in those long-suppressed legal documents, which reveal that the mobbed-up businessman was perceived by the authorities to be extraordinarily cooperative and useful. Legal filings on Sater’s behalf state that he “reported daily” to the FBI for many years.

Sater agreed to assist the US government on issues of national security and organized crime. His activities were first revealed in a lawsuit brought by a former employee of Sater’s real estate firm, Bayrock. While working with Trump, Sater’s name became “Satter” publicly — presumably with the knowledge if not the encouragement of the FBI. This distanced Satter the businessman, and his partners, from Sater the criminal.

Attorneys representing the plaintiff spent years untangling the financial machinations of Bayrock — which they allege involve hundred of millions of dollars in claims arising from, among other things, money laundering and fraud.

They also sought to expose the government’s awareness of — even complicity in — Sater’s activities.

Their efforts to unseal court documents, including Sater’s legal history, have been met with a concerted pushback by DOJ lawyers, mischaracterizations of the case record, and even — according to the attorneys — anonymous death threats.

Felix Sater could not be reached for comment.*(See Editor’s Note at bottom for update)

 

A Stunning Discovery .

The story of Donald Trump’s business dealings with a Russian mobster might never have come out were it not for a Bayrock employee stumbling upon Sater’s cooperation agreement with the FBI, among other sensitive information, that had inadvertently been left accessible.

That employee sought out attorney Fred Oberlander, who combed through the documents. Over time, Oberlander — who was instructing undergraduates at Yale University in computational physics and computer science from age 18 — began to deconstruct the byzantine financial structure that was Bayrock, which allegedly hid a range of crimes, including massive-scale money laundering from sources in the former Soviet Union.

On February 10, 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, instructed Oberlander, in a secret order, not to inform the legislative branch of the United States government what he knew about Felix Sater. (That order remains under seal, but a federal judge has unsealed a redacted version.)

Apparently, the appellate court was persuaded that the unusually broad order was justified on the merits, but the lawyers opposing Sater found the imposed remedy extraordinary.

“Our being ordered to not tell Congress what we know may well be the first and only hyper-injunction in American history,” asserts Oberlander’s own attorney, Richard Lerner. “If there are others who have been scared silent by judges who wish to nullify Congressional and public oversight, we may never know. That is frightening.”

Photo credit: WhoWhatWhy

Characters Out of a James Bond Movie .

Preventing the Russian mafia from expanding its foothold in the United States has been one of the Bureau’s top priorities. In fact, it might be the FBI’s most important function apart from its role in the fight against terrorism.

The Russian mob has a breathtaking and underappreciated reach. It is so powerful that FBI Agent Peter Kowenhoven told CNN in 2009 that Semion Mogilevich, its “boss of bosses,” is a strategic threat, and a man who “can, with a telephone call or order, affect the global economy.”

 

US authorities came to see Mogilevich, who is described as close with Putin, as not only a danger to the financial system but a potential threat to world peace. He had access to stockpiles of military weapons and even fissionable material, snapped up as the Soviet Union fell apart.

His rumored ability to deliver the makings of weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder — as well as his experience in smuggling opium from Afghanistan — would take on the very highest importance after 9/11, when European intelligence sources reported that al-Qaeda representatives had contacted Mogilevich in search of nuclear material.

The Russian mob should also not be confused with a mere crime syndicate. It is an organization comprised of state actors, oligarchs, and specific groups of individuals working collectively with the authority of the Russian government — a “mafia state.” At times, it is difficult to tell where the mob ends and the government begins.

To some, the Russian mob brings to mind the globalized villains of a James Bond movie, who want everything and will stop at nothing.

Robert I. Friedman, a former colleague of the authors of this article at The Village Voice, drew the ire of Mogilevich for his reporting on the Russian mafia. The “boss of bosses” put a $100,000 price on Friedman’s head soon after the publication of one of his fearless exposés of Mogilevich, and the FBI suggested that he stop reporting on the topic. (Friedman died in 2002, at the age of 51, of a rare blood disease he was said to have contracted on a trip to India.)

Enter Trump .

Right from the earliest days of Trump Tower, in 1983, some of the choicest condominiums, including those in the 10 floors immediately below the future president’s own triplex apartment, went to a rogues gallery of criminals and their associates.

Granted, the construction and gambling industries have long been bedeviled by connections to organized crime. It may have been impossible for Trump to have avoided those ties altogether. Nevertheless, according to many news stories and public records, Trump has repeatedly been linked to organized crime figures and their associates.

Donald Trump and Roy Cohn, October 18, 1984.
Photo credit: Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

To be sure, nouveaux riches of all stripes were attracted to the Trump “glamour” and might well have had difficulty gaining approval of traditional condo or coop boards. Nonetheless, Trump must have known that many of his occupants were problematic — and likely to draw the attention of law enforcement.

Tower occupants have included:

 Verina Hixon, a close friend of John A. Cody, New York’s concrete union boss, living in six units just below Trump’s triplex. Cody, with ties to the Gambino crime family, was later sentenced to five years in prison for racketeering. Trump and Cody reportedly helped Hixon with a loan so she could pay for the units.

 Robert Hopkins, who was arrested in his suite for ordering a mob murder of a gambling competitor. Hopkins would eventually be convicted of running a massive gambling ring, partly from Trump Tower, an operation that occasioned what was perhaps the first of many wiretaps in the building. Trump appeared in person at the closing on the apartment, where, according to our Village Voice colleague Wayne Barrett’s 1991 Trump biography, Hopkins sat at the end of a conference table counting out $200,000 in cash. (It was mob lawyer Roy Cohn who introduced Hopkins to Trump.)

–  Sheldon and Jay Weinberg, an enterprising father-son duo: The father was masterminding the biggest Medicaid fraud known at the time; the son was later indicted on grand larceny and insurance fraud. The Weinbergs rented directly from Trump three condominiums he had kept for himself.

 David Bogatin purchased five apartments on the 62nd floor while running a massive tax avoidance scandal involving commercial gasoline sales. Bogatin had ties with Italian and Russian mobsters. He would later flee to Poland and set up a highly successful chain of banks there before being extradited to the US, where he ended up in the maximum-security state prison in Attica, NY.

 Joseph Weichselbaum, Trump’s helicopter pilot, convicted of drug trafficking on three occasions.

–  Glamorous international art dealer Helly Nahmad, then 34, who lived in a sprawling apartment in Trump Tower (and according to some accounts owned the entire 51st floor), was later convicted and served five months of a one-year sentence for running an illegal gambling operation. He helped orchestrate super-high-stakes card games that sometimes were played in Trump Tower and “catered to billionaires, Russian oligarchs, Hollywood stars, and pro athletes,” including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Tobey Maguire, and Ben Affleck. Also convicted were Vadim Trincher and his sons Eugene and Ilya; the Trinchers had apartments in Trump Tower too.

Of course, living in Trump Tower by no means suggests any sort of criminality or association between or among the residents. Still, the list is impressive.

But even in this company, one man stands out. Not surprisingly, he is from the former Soviet Union.

Spying on Trump Tower — Since 1983 .

When the Soviet Union was breaking up in the early 1990s, Mogilevich (AKA “The Boss of Bosses,” AKA “The Brainy Don”) suborned a Russian judge to spring a ruthless and canny lifetime criminal from a Siberian prison. His name was Vyacheslav “Yaponchik” Ivankov.

Vyacheslav Ivankov and Semion Mogilevich (inset)
Photo credit: Alchetron (public domain) and FBI / Wikimedia

Four months later, in March 1992, Ivankov arrived in the United States to organize a new criminal network. He would take the disparate elements of already-established Russian-speaking criminals and use them to create a sophisticated, well-managed operation that could launder funds and generate cash flow as part of a transnational network. But authorities had no idea where he was.

“And then,” recounted a former FBI agent in Robert I. Friedman’s book Red Mafiya, “we found out he was living in a luxury condo in Trump Tower.”

The moment the Feds spotted him, he vanished again, only to resurface later in an Atlantic City casino:  Trump’s Taj Mahal.

 Thus, by the early 1990s, both the arrival of Russian organized crime in the US and the strange attraction of Trump properties for Russian mobsters were on the Bureau’s radar.

FBI activity in Trump Tower dates back to soon after it was built, in 1983. Around that time, the Bureau put electronic surveillance in the building with a tap on the phone of the above-mentioned Trump Tower resident Robert Hopkins, a Lucchese crime family associate, who was eventually arrested in the Tower for ordering a murder.

FBI interest in Trump Tower continued through the 1990s, when the Bureau, working closely with US prosecutors at the Eastern District (which includes Brooklyn), began to focus on the business operations of a man with ties to Mogilevich: the aforementioned Felix Sater.

At about the same time, Trump found himself in a bind with his commercial lenders, who kept his public mystique alive while in essence secretly stripping him of control of his casinos and putting him on an “allowance,” as they tried to salvage what they could from the wreckage of his disastrous business decisions. They retained the Trump name on his most iconic properties, based on the cold calculation that his “brand” might still help draw customers.

Трамп и его деньги (Trump and his Money) .

As Trump lost access to traditional lines of credit, his desperate need for financing led to sources that are murky, at best, including monies traceable back to the former Soviet Union — a circumstance that may explain Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

According to two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax returns, purportedly sent anonymously to reporter David Cay Johnston, Trump appeared to make an enormous amount of money that year — earning more than $153 million, which put him into a tiny class of super-rich Americans, probably numbering in the dozens.

Trump’s windfall seems to have developed around the same time that investors from countries of the former Soviet Union started opening the cash spigot.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch with FBI Director James Comey (left), and US Attorney Preet Bharara at a press conference on March 24, 2016. Photo credit: FBI

A 2013 indictment of the illegal high-stakes card games’ organizers, brought by US Attorney Preet Bharara, alleged not only high-stakes illegal gambling and the laundering of approximately $100 million dollars, but also extortion, as ring members used threats and force to strip ”money and property” from clients.

One of the operation’s leaders, Alimzhan “Taiwanchik” Tokhtakhounov, an alleged international crime boss and admitted friend of top Mogilevich lieutenant Vyacheslav “Yaponchik” Ivankov (who, as noted, was found living in Trump Tower at one point), managed the ring from afar; he could not legally enter the US as he was already wanted on charges of trying to bribe ice-skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Tokhtakhounov has often been tied to Boss of Bosses Semion Mogilevich.

Bharara, whom Trump recently fired — after accepting the resignations of other US attorneys left over from the Obama administration — is not the only big name who was involved in investigating the goings-on in Trump Tower. Former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch also played a part. Lynch, first a prosecutor and then the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, would have had knowledge of an FBI operation that involved Sater, the Russian mobster-turned-cooperating-witness.

“If he (Sater) were sitting in a room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.” – Donald Trump, 2013 deposition

While Sater has recently been the subject of some news coverage — his name came up during the March 20 House Intelligence Committee’s public hearing on Russia, when Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) asked FBI Director James Comey about him — no thorough exploration of the Bureau’s dealings with this key informant has been published.

Until now.

The information below is based on an extensive exploration of those dealings, and of previously unexamined and unpublished legal documents, which the government has sought to suppress.

The picture that emerges goes to the heart of the many questions raised about Trump’s relationship to Putin’s Russia in the weeks before and after the presidential election.

Efforts to try to get this information to the public appear to have been aggressively blocked by the DOJ because it would potentially expose their own operations — both those that have been effective and others that have not.

 

Felix Sater had been on the Bureau’s radar since the mid-1990s, when they were investigating Russian mob–affiliated financial scams.

Very soon after Semion Mogilevich associate “Yaponchik” Ivankov arrived in the US, in 1993, Sater, together with an Italian mob associate named Salvatore Lauria, and others, had taken over a firm called White Rock and created a criminal brokerage whose only purpose was to fleece investors and launder money.

It excelled at “pump and dump” scams, a practice in which stock prices are artificially inflated, then sold to unsuspecting investors — especially targeting elderly and unsophisticated buyers with high-pressure cold-calling tactics. White Rock included members and associates of four of the five major New York City organized crime families, including the nephew of mobster Carmine “the Snake” Persico and the brother-in-law of Gambino hit man Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, as well as Russian criminal elements.

The Art of the (Double) Deal .

Although shuttering Sater’s operation was considered a great success, authorities soon decided they could leverage it to get even bigger fish. Thus, they cut a deal with Sater, seemingly to help them go after the Russian-speaking mob, and its “Brainy Don,” Semion Mogilevich.

 Instead of serving jail time, Sater became a highly valued FBI informant. Using unnamed connections, Sater arranged to locate some Stinger missiles that Osama bin Laden had supposedly placed on the market — an older model that could be used to shoot down commercial airliners.

Immediately after September 11, 2001, Sater received a call from the chief of a new section in the FBI who wanted to talk to him about Stingers, according to Salvatore Lauria in The Scorpion and the Frog, co-authored with journalist David S. Barry. Months later, Sater joined Bayrock — the real estate development company with offices in Trump Tower — and he was soon partnering in business deals with Donald Trump himself. This raises some interesting questions: Did Sater take the job at Bayrock at the FBI’s direction? Indeed, was Sater’s business relationship with Trump at the FBI’s behest?

One thing is certain: Bayrock became one of the most important links between Trump and big-money sources from the former Soviet Union.

Donald Trump, Bayrock partner Tevfik Arif, and Felix Sater attend the Trump Soho Launch Party on September 19, 2007 in New York.
Photo credit: Mark Von Holden / WireImage

The firm was founded by Tevfik Arif, a former Communist Party functionary in the Soviet republic of what is now Kazakhstan. Arif had formed another entity called Bayrock in Moscow in 1989, during the very last years of the Soviet Union.

Many Soviet functionaries transitioned to successful careers in market capitalism with the help of friends in high places: those with access to resources could make enormous profits by pilfering the moribund Soviet state, and such funds were best laundered and moved abroad for safekeeping and investment. Real estate was generally seen as a stable investment.

During the five years Sater worked at Bayrock, he traveled throughout the former Soviet Union, ostensibly looking for real estate sites to develop with the Trump Organization — while also allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit funds from mysterious sources in the former Soviet Union. And all the while he was working as an informant for the FBI.

Soon after joining Bayrock (about late 2001 to early 2002), he effectively took control of it — while of necessity hiding that fact from its lenders and clients. Sater was the firm’s Chief Operating Officer, and according to assertions in a lawsuit filed by a former Bayrock employee, by 2006 he owned more than 63% of the firm.

Sater’s dominant role came despite the fact that he was a felon. Because of the services he was providing to the US government, this information was withheld from banks and others with whom Bayrock signed contracts, including condominium buyers.

 The Trump organization lent its name to Bayrock projects in Toronto, Florida, Arizona, and in New York City, in the chic SoHo neighborhood; the SoHo project was the only Bayrock development into which the Trump Organization actually put up any equity. Most of the Bayrock-affiliated projects failed, though, leaving a trail of angry investors as well as a string of lawsuits and countersuits. According to legal depositions, most of the projects that Sater worked to develop overseas — necessitating trips to Russia, Poland, and Ukraine (including numerous trips to Crimea) — never seemed to get off the drawing board.

Sater and Trump sometimes traveled together. In September 2005, Trump and apparently Sater flew along with his wife Melania to Colorado, where Sater talked to a local reporter about possible Trump-Bayrock development projects in Denver.

The real estate tycoon and the undercover mobster were close enough that, according to his deposition testimony, Sater could simply walk up a flight of stairs to Trump’s office and stop in for an impromptu chat. Indeed, Sater and the Trump clan grew so close that in February 2006, at the personal request of Donald Trump, the mobster joined his children Ivanka, Donald Jr., and his son’s wife Vanessa in Moscow to show them around, according to his deposition testimony. While he was in Moscow he emailed a journalist about possible Trump-Bayrock developments in Denver, in which he indicated he was with Don Jr.; a few days later Sater is alleged to have called one of the partners at the Arizona project and threatened to have him “tortured and killed,” according to later court filings.

Sater’s tenure at Bayrock might have lasted longer, had The New York Times not “outed” his criminal past in 2007.

Yet a few years later, after Sater had left Bayrock, he could still be found in Trump Tower. But now he was apparently working directly for Trump himself, with an office, business cards, phone number and email address all provided by the Trump Organization. The cards identified him as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.”

Today, Trump claims to have trouble remembering Sater.

“Trump was asked about Sater in depositions related to other cases in 2011 and 2013. In the first, Trump acknowledged that he used to speak with Sater ‘for a period of time.’ Yet in the second, Trump said, ‘if he were sitting in a room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,’” Mother Jones reported.

In early December 2015, Trump still seemed unclear when asked by an Associated Press reporter about Sater. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” he said. “I’m not that familiar with him.” Ivanka and Don Jr. also later said that they had no memory of being with him in Moscow.

FBI agent Leo Taddeo definitely did not “have to think about it.” Taddeo had worked in the Italian and Russian organized crimes sections of the New York FBI office and had directly witnessed the ramifications of the arrival of “Yaponchik” Ivankov in 1992 — and the influence of Mogilevich — in the Russian-speaking community, New York financial markets, and beyond. He rose to be the head of the Russian organized crime section — and was one of Sater’s FBI handlers. Taddeo testified on Sater’s behalf at his sentencing, praising his “extraordinary” cooperation and stressing how “capable,” “important,” and “effective” he was.

During the years when Trump and Bayrock pursued their joint projects, the Trump SoHo was planned, designed and funded, and ground was broken for it.

So Bayrock, of which Sater came to own a majority, and the Trump Organization, headed by the future president himself, did several high-profile deals together and had offices close by each other in Trump Tower, and yet the current president claims that he is “not that familiar with him.”

There are a number of possible reasons why Trump has had to tread lightly around the issue of Sater. Aside from what Trump might have known about Sater’s back-channel connections to the Russian government or organized crime, their joint projects also pose enormous financial risk to Trump.

If he or anyone around him — such as other Trump Organization executives, accountants and lawyers — had knowledge of Sater’s criminal past and yet entered into contracts with him and Bayrock, Trump and his company would then be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars — and possible jail time.

Why?

Because parties to bank loans and investment contracts must confirm that no owner or manager has been convicted of fraud, and if that confirmation is false, anyone who knew of the fraud is potentially liable. The same would be true even if someone learned about Sater’s criminal status after signing the contract but continued with it.

Thus, if Trump knew Sater was a convicted felon but did business with him anyway, he, the Trump Organization, and anyone within the company who knew of it could face substantial penalties or fines. This might especially be true for the Trump-Bayrock projects, as so many of them ended terribly, with multiple lawsuits across many states.

However, the information of Sater’s past financial criminality was officially hidden because his legal docket in the White Rock/State Street case was kept secret (owing to his continuing “cooperating witness” status). For this reason, even after performing due diligence, someone entering business agreements with Sater would find no evidence of his criminal past.

Ukraine: The Big Prize .

The FBI’s failure to fully expose Trump’s Russian connection before the election seemingly emboldened the entire Trump team — from the president to his former campaign manager to his “bulldog” personal lawyer — along with Sater, to take actions that can be seen to have benefited Putin. Nowhere is this more true than with Ukraine.

This former Soviet republic is central to Putin’s dream of restoring Russia to its Cold War-era greatness and protecting its borders. Annexing Crimea from Ukraine was a huge victory for him. Holding on to that strategically important region and maintaining access to it by controlling eastern sections of Ukraine itself are vital to Putin’s ambitions.

Other crucial strategic issues concerning Ukraine include its desire to join NATO, seen by Russia as a huge threat. There is also the matter of a pipeline that brings natural gas from Russia through Ukraine into fuel-hungry Europe, importantly Germany. Mogilevich was later named as the secret majority owner of the Ukrainian stake in a mysterious intermediary company, half-owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom. (Mogilevich, as well as Sater’s father, who has been identified as part of the Mogilevich organization in a Supreme Court petition, both hail from Ukraine. Mogilevich’s lawyer denied that his client had any connection to the company.) While questions swirled about the deal, Sater, then serving as an FBI informant, traveled to Ukraine and Russia — ostensibly searching for properties to develop with the Trump Organization. (For a post-publication response from Felix Sater on these points, see Editor’s Note at bottom.)

 For his part, candidate Trump didn’t even acknowledge that Russia had annexed Crimea or engaged its military in Eastern Ukraine, when the issue came up early in the presidential campaign.

“Just so you understand. [Putin] is not going to go into Ukraine, all right?” Trump said in an interview shortly after he was nominated — before being corrected on the facts.

Trump’s platform chairman J. D. Gordon reportedly had met with the Russian ambassador during the convention. In an interview with CNN’s Jim Acosta, Gordon said he had advocated the softening of the GOP platform language on Ukraine — a softening that Trump himself had advocated earlier in the year at a meeting with Gordon. Gordon’s later comments seem to walk that assertion back, but the GOP platform was changed.

Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

At that time, Trump Tower resident Paul Manafort was still running the campaign — until he was forced out because of his ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and other powerful forces sympathetic to Russia. But Manafort’s connections to Russia ran even deeper than suspected back then.

On March 22, the Associated Press reported that Manafort had been paid the astonishing sum of more than $10 million a year in the 2000s by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally, to implement a plan that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

Stranger still, just last month, Trump associates Sater and Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, lobbied then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn with a scheme to lift sanctions on Russia, imposed after it seized Crimea. They delivered a proposed “peace plan” for Ukraine that infuriated the country’s current prime minister. The proposal would have advanced the ambitions of a pro-Russian politician whose movement Manafort helped shape

It turns out that, like so many other figures in this story, Cohen has his own substantial Ukrainian ties. After graduating from what is considered by many to be a third-tier law school, Cohen became a personal injury lawyer. He married a woman whose parents are Ukrainian, and his brother, also a lawyer, married a woman whose father rose from humble Ukrainian roots to become a billionaire.

Much Less Than Six Degrees of Separation .

While all this high-stakes maneuvering between the US and Russia over Ukraine was unfolding, the DOJ and FBI were hard at work to prevent the Sater-Trump story from becoming widely known.

 WhoWhatWhy has learned that a number of key law-enforcement figures associated with Sater’s role as a government informant have continued protecting him — which has inevitably helped to keep under wraps the criminal goings-on in Trump Tower. One of these figures even went on to work for Trump.

FBI Special Agent Gary Uher not only investigated (alongside fellow Agent Leo Taddeo) the early “pump and dump” case that originally snared Sater, he also apparently served as one of Sater’s handlers. After Uher retired from the Bureau’s New York office in 2011, he went into the private security business with another former FBI agent, in a firm named XMark — which became one of a small army of private security firms that guarded Trump during the presidential campaign. (Neither Uher nor Taddeo responded to requests for comment.)

In fact, both XMark and Uher personally began receiving payments from the campaign as soon as Trump announced, in June 2015. Uher’s name surfaced in the press a handful of times, sometimes in allegations that he roughly handled protestors at Trump rallies. Yet until now, no one has pointed out that before he went to work for Trump, Uher ran Sater.

It is not clear how Trump and Uher would have even known each other were it not for the man both knew in common — the man Trump was consistently vague about during the campaign — Felix Sater.

As for Taddeo, in July 2016, as talk of possible efforts by the Kremlin to help Trump’s campaign continued to pick up steam, the Washington Post  ran a story that downplayed the possibility and quoted the ex-agent, now in the private sector: “This is not Putin trying to help Trump,’’ he said. The article identified Taddeo as “a former FBI special agent in charge of cyber and special operations in New York”.; it did not tell readers he had been  Sater’s former FBI handler when Sater worked with Trump.

Left to right: XMark partners Ed Deck and Gary Uher accompany Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with his private security director, longtime Trump Organization employee Keith Schiller, after delivering an address in Birch Run, Michigan, August 11, 2015.
Photo credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

The paths of other central characters in the case are also curious.

Two of Loretta Lynch’s colleagues at the Eastern District US Attorney’s office, Leslie Caldwell and Kelly Anne Moore, left government service to join the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and both represented Sater at his 2009 sentencing hearing. Caldwell returned to government work in late 2013 when she was tapped to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division — the number three position at the Justice Department.

Moore is still at Morgan Lewis. That firm was hired post-election by Trump to sort out ethical issues concerning possible conflicts of interest — which considering this history takes on a whole new meaning. (Neither Caldwell nor Moore responded to requests for comment.)

Trump’s announcement that he had retained Morgan Lewis as ethics counsel was clearly meant to blunt calls for disinvestment or use of a blind trust for the oversight of his businesses. Curiously, on the same day that Trump made the announcement, the Moscow office of Morgan Lewis was named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” for 2016 by an industry association.

By entrusting Morgan Lewis with addressing his conflicts — and presumably demanding confidentiality agreements in the process, as is his practice — was Trump insulating himself from the release of information that would reveal the true nature of his financial relationship with Sater, Bayrock, and others?

Such revelations — which could have exposed Sater’s criminal history, his interactions with Trump, the full scope of Bayrock’s financial arrangements with the Trump Organization, and perhaps the true source of Bayrock’s financing — all would be covered by attorney-client privilege.

With so many players and so many layers of involvement, getting to the bottom of Trump’s Russian connection is a Herculean task. And there is one further complication.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, July 21, 2016.  Photo credit: The Justice Department / YouTube

The Trump-Sater-Mogilevich-Putin saga, with its intertwining domestic and international threads, is almost certainly a battleground for powerful elements in the US intelligence complex. Even unravelling one thread — the FBI’s “running” of Felix Sater as an informant — is a challenge at every level. The FBI historically has been riven by internal battles over priorities and strategies — and the Bureau has waged fierce turf wars with other intelligence agencies, notably the CIA.

Why We Need an Independent Investigation .

To sum up, WhoWhatWhy’s investigation suggests that the FBI, in using an informant with a strong connection to Trump and alleged ties to Russian mobsters — including one deemed a national security threat by the US — has seemingly tied its own hands in investigating the president.

This makes it difficult for the Bureau to pursue the president’s long-running proximity to mobsters, including gangsters from the former Soviet Union, and to those with close connections to the Russian president and oligarchic elite.

This in part could explain the FBI’s odd behavior and the confusing back and forth on what the government knows about Russia’s interventions in the 2016 election.

In this complex tale, it is sometimes hard to keep focused on the most important connections. The FBI used Sater in high-value projects; perhaps to help take down the Brainy Don Mogilevich, who takes us straight to Putin. That connection is so sensitive as to be deadly. Indeed after Ivankov, Mogilevich’s lieutenant and Trump Tower resident, publicly discussed Mogilevich’s close ties to Putin, he was gunned down by a sniper on a Moscow street.

 At the end of 2015, the Justice Department’s criminal division, headed by Leslie Caldwell — the former Eastern District prosecutor and later Sater’s attorney — removed Mogilevich from the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, an extremely rare occurrence. Suspects are usually removed from the list for only two reasons: arrest or death.

FBI wanted poster for Semion Mogilevich, 2009.
Photo credit: FBI and Zscout370 / Wikimedia

Donald Trump has been a big Putin fan for years. This has been a subject of speculation and derision, but it has not gone further than that.

Given how close Trump was with Sater, and Sater with the FBI, and the fact that the FBI was working to thwart Mogilevich (who was close to Putin), the big question is this: Why is this president’s unusual enthusiasm for the Russian leader, and Russia in general, not already a formal topic of urgent inquiry?

Something doesn’t add up.

Whatever it is, we need to know. And, as this article demonstrates, the FBI, for a variety of reasons, is not likely to tell us the whole story.

And, it should be pointed out, what is vitally important to the public interest is not always what the Bureau considers a crime. That is why the role of independent investigators, including, notably, journalists, is so vital. Jack Blum, the former senior Senate investigator and leading expert on white-collar financial crime, stresses the gravity and urgency of the situation:

“However complicated an investigation might become, it goes to the heart of our democracy and it must go forward. This time, unlike other investigations, including the Kennedy assassination, CIA-Chile, and Iran-Contra, it has to go to the heart of the matter no matter how long it takes and no matter how shocking the conclusions.”

Photo credit: Donald Trump / Twitter Tweet 1 and Tweet 2

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Re-examining the Chelsea Manning Saga as Prison Term Ends

Wed, 2017-05-17 06:41

“In an ideal world, governments, corporations, and other large institutions would be transparent by default. Unfortunately, the world is not ideal. Many institutions begin a slow creep toward being opaque and we need people who recognize that.” — Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning will be released from Ft. Leavenworth prison today after her 35-year, maximum-security sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama before he left office in January.

In 2010, Private Manning, then known as Bradley, leaked over 700,000 documents to Wikileaks, including classified diplomatic cables, Army reports, and videos while stationed in Iraq as an Army intelligence analyst.

The Manning disclosures are one of the largest classified document leaks in US history, in league with the Edward Snowden disclosures and Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers. Some credit the Manning leak as an important catalyst for the Arab Spring.

Wikileaks released the documents in an unredacted form to the Internet, gaining both condemnation and praise for the organization and its founder, Julian Assange. The Manning leaks put Wikileaks in the mainstream consciousness, where it continues to remain.

The most sensational documents revealed wrongdoing by the US government, and its attempts to cover them up. For instance, documents show that the US was well aware of torture and prisoner abuse perpetrated by Iraqi Security Forces, and did nothing about it. Another revelation was that known Egyptian torturers had received training at FBI headquarters in Quantico, VA.

Other documents showed the inner workings and deliberations of an American empire in the process of pushing its own policy agenda and geopolitical strategy forward, often at the expense of others. Political scientists and historians consider the documents a treasure trove, a window into the machinations of American foreign policy.

Manning was arrested after revealing what she did to an online acquaintance, who then alerted the authorities. She was tried and convicted under the Espionage Act.

During the trial, Manning was held at the the Quantico Marine Corps brig, where at one point she was placed on suicide watch and subjected to harsh conditions, including being stripped naked and not allowed to sleep between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. She was placed in solitary confinement over an 11-month period, under conditions which Juan Mendez, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, said “constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”

On August 21, 2013 she was sentenced to 35-years. The New York Times described her sentence as “excessive.”

Immediately after sentencing, Manning released a statement through her lawyer revealing that “I am a female,” and that she wished to undergo hormone therapy, procedures which are not available at Ft. Leavenworth.

During her detention, Manning attempted suicide several times, leading her to be placed in solitary confinement.

As the Obama presidency came to a close, many activists made a concerted effort to appeal to the president to grant Manning clemency. Among them was Edward Snowden, who leaked a large cache of intelligence documents revealing massive US & UK government surveillance in 2013, and who himself sought a presidential pardon.

Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 11, 2017

Manning and Snowden’s methodology for leaking the documents they came to possess stand in contrast, and have been a source of some criticism against Manning. Snowden chose to leak his cache to a group of journalists, who carefully reviewed and curated each document, making sure to redact names and any sensitive information they discerned was not in the interest of the public. The journalists then shared the information they were about to publish with the government to make sure they were not putting any lives at risk.

Manning, in contrast, leaked his documents to Wikileaks, which released everything entirely unredacted (Wikileaks has recently changed this procedure somewhat).

The Manning leak has had a profound effect on people’s perspective of the Iraq and Afghan wars. And, like the Snowden leaks, it has challenged Americans to examine the issues of transparency and secrecy, calling them to question what the government does in their name; especially when it sheds blood.

In a written response with Amnesty International in late 2014, Manning revealed what led her to disclose the leaks:

“In Iraq in 2009-10, life felt very cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me, including the Iraqis themselves. That really changed my perspective on my life, and made me realize that speaking out about injustices is worth the risk.”

The below leaked video from Manning is of two AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships killing a group of Iraqi men, some of whom may have been carrying AK-47s and RPGs, on July 12, 2007 in Baghdad. Two of the men were Iraqi war correspondents carrying cameras. No charges were ever brought against any US military personnel.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adopted by WhoWhatWhy from Chelsea Manning (mathew lippincott / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

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Hillary’s Super PAC

Tue, 2017-05-16 09:50

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Why Does Air Travel Seem So Miserable? (Jeff C.)

Some insist the major carriers have been in relentless financial decline for years, and unrest is being fueled by an increasing airline model that sacrifices comfort and other freedoms in order to make flying more affordable and accessible.

Pelosi Has A Primary Challenger (Trevin)

After stating in December of last year that she doesn’t think people want a new direction, she will face lawyer Stephen Jaffe in 2018, who helped the Sanders campaign monitor the Nevada Caucuses.

Mexican Journalist Covering Drugs and Crime Assassinated (DH)

Javier Valdez Cárdenas was shot and killed Monday while driving. An armed group attacked the reporter in Sinaloa province, an area known as a center for drug operations. Cárdenas won the International Press Freedom award in 2011.

Hillary Clinton Launches Political Action Group ‘Onward Together’ (Trevin)

The organization will be “dedicated to advancing the vision that earned nearly 66 million votes in the last election.” Does that vision include climate change, single-payer, and other immensely popular progressive issues that were missing from her campaign?

Physicists Can’t Agree on What Science Even Means Anymore (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Physicists are still figuring all this stuff out—as are most scientists, all the time. You just have to decide how much patience you have for answers … and if the time comes when a theory doesn’t make sense, whether you have the chutzpah to tell several thousand physicists that they aren’t actually doing science.”

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Trump and Evangelicals, the Culmination of an Unholy Alliance

Tue, 2017-05-16 06:55

To an objective observer, it might seem odd that President Donald Trump received a hero’s welcome at Liberty University Saturday. However, the religious right’s idol-worship of the president is only the latest chapter in a long history of conservative Christians selling their souls for 30 pieces of silver, which, in American politics, is a seat at the table.

President Trump was invited to deliver the commencement speech for the graduating class of 2017, the second time a sitting president has done so since George H.W. Bush gave the address there in 1990.

Jerry Falwell, the legendary televangelist and conservative leader who died ten years ago yesterday, founded the university in 1971. Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is well known as a bastion of conservative, fundamentalist evangelicalism.

For nearly four decades, evangelicals and the GOP have maintained a strong alliance, the seeds of which were planted by the late Falwell. They shared policy positions and goals such as wanting small government, a strong military, pro-life, pro-Israel, pro-Second Amendment, favoring supply-side economics, and being suspicious of multiculturalism.

Over the years, Falwell helped grow Liberty into the largest Christian university in the world, with over 80,000 online students, a $1.1 billion endowment, sprawling 7,000 acre campus, and a soon-to-open campus gun range.

The school has become a mandatory campaign stop for would-be Republican politicians. Texas Senator Ted Cruz chose Liberty as the place to announce his presidential candidacy in March 2015. And Trump’s May 13 commencement address was the third visit for the president. Last January, he made a campaign stop on the campus right before the Iowa caucuses.

On the occasion of his first visit in 2012, the university conferred on him an honorary doctorate in business. Trump seemed eager to demonstrate his faith credentials, declaring, “But the truth is I went to Sunday school, and I loved going to Sunday school, and I did for years.”

You could forgive those who had a hard time picturing the reality TV star as the embodiment of piety.

During his speech on Saturday, he made a point of expressing his gratitude to his local supporters. With good reason. “And I want to thank you, because boy did you come out and vote,” said the president, speaking to LIberty’s packed football stadium.

On Election Day, 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump, a slightly higher percentage than their previously overwhelming votes for the past three Republican presidential candidates.

Pundits were not entirely sure how the evangelical vote would turn out, considering Trump’s known baggage: twice divorced, previously pro-choice and in favor of universal healthcare, and feeling the heat from the recently leaked Access Hollywood “grab them by the pussy” remarks. (Jerry Falwell, Jr., the current president of Liberty, blamed the leak on a conspiracy of GOP establishment leaders.)

Indeed, some evangelical leaders, such as Southern Baptist president Al Mohler, expressed grave concern: “But I could not possibly be consistent and somehow vote for someone whose character I believe eclipses Bill Clinton on so many of those very same concerns.” He later referred to Trump as a sexual predator.

“Donald Trump is a deeply ambivalent hero for any religious movement, whose only explicit religious beliefs seem to be impulses rather than a deeply-held worldview and whose spiritual loyalties seem malleable,” Professor Kate Bowler, who teaches church history at Duke Divinity school, told WhoWhatWhy.

But by and large evangelical leaders got behind the billionaire tycoon, including Franklin Graham Jr., the son of Billy Graham; Focus on the Family’s James Dobson; 700 Club founder Pat Robertson; theologian Wayne Grudem; and of course, Jerry Falwell, Jr.

At the Liberty commencement, after prayers, the pledge of allegiance, and the singing of the national anthem, Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced the president: “I do not believe that any president in our lifetimes has done so much that has benefitted the Christian community in such a short time span than Donald Trump.”

For his part, the president reminisced about Reverend Falwell, Sr.:“I used to love watching him on television, hearing him preach. He was a very special man.”

Outsiders may have trouble understanding the evangelicals’ embrace of Donald Trump. Yet the symbiotic relationship between evangelicals and the GOP stretches back to the 1970’s, just before Ronald Reagan’s election.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony, May 13, 2017 Photo credit: The White House / YouTube

A Georgia Peanut Farmer and “The Moral Majority” .

In 1976, Jimmy Carter seemed like the evangelicals’ dream president. A peanut farmer from Georgia who taught Sunday school every week, he was widely seen as a person of integrity — likely one of the reasons he was elected in the wake of the Nixon-Watergate scandals.

Carter was very open about his Christian faith, and many evangelical leaders had high hopes for him. Bailey Smith, a mega-church pastor from Oklahoma, said that the country needed a “born again man in the White House. And his initials are the same as our Lord!”

Jimmy Carter won the presidency as a Democrat, and Newsweek magazine declared 1976 the Year of the Evangelical.

An admirer of President John F. Kennedy, Carter was instrumental in the historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1978, known as the Camp David Accords, and he was a strong advocate for civil rights, a commitment that went back to his farming days in Georgia.

Carter posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1977.

But increasingly, evangelicals found themselves uncomfortable with Carter’s politics and policies, especially his stand on civil rights. The history of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation in the south was intimately tied up with churches that condoned it for generations. The genesis of the Southern Baptist denomination itself was born out of a split over slavery, with the northern Baptists siding with the abolitionist movement.

It took the Southern Baptist church until 1995 to formally renounce slavery and segregation, and to issue an apology for their long-standing failure to support the civil rights movement.

Indeed, Jerry Falwell Sr. was a vocal opponent of Brown v. Board of Education, though he later repented of his sin.

“Falwell founded Lynchburg Christian Academy, a K-12 school in 1967, the same year that Lynchburg public schools desegregated, and it was a whites-only school for two years,” Seth Dowland, associate Professor of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University, told WhoWhatWhy.

Four years later, Falwell founded Lynchburg Baptist College, which was later to be renamed Liberty University.

While opposition to desegregation was common among evangelicals, it wasn’t the only issue at play. Many evangelicals thought that public schools were forcing a kind of “secular humanism” on their children, indoctrinating them with belief systems antithetical to their own.

Other important factors in the evangelical disaffection with the Democratic Party were abortion, the Equal Rights amendment, and gay rights. But it was a dispute over money that sealed the political alliance between evangelicals and the GOP.

During the 1970s, the IRS attempted to take away the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, an ultra-conservative Christian college in Greenville, South Carolina, because of its history of racial discrimination, including the failure to admit African-American students, and later prohibition of interracial dating.

The possibility of losing their tax exempt status was a threat to many private Christian schools throughout the south and midwest, many of whom were on a tight budget. Jerry Falwell was incensed and used the collective outrage of southern evangelicals to organize vocal political opposition to what he saw as extreme government overreach.

Falwell’s influence and power grew, and an alliance was forged between conservatives and evangelicals who were fed up with the federal government’s intrusion into their “religious” affairs. Falwell managed to focus their frustration against Carter, even though the IRS actions predated his presidency.

The alliance between religious and political conservatives found its ultimate expression in Falwell’s political organization known as “The Moral Majority.”

Despite its origins in opposition to desegregation and concern for maintaining tax exemptions for religious institutions, the Moral Majority fashioned itself as a pro-America, pro-family values political organization.

Its adherents were strongly opposed to abortion, and though Carter was opposed to it personally on moral grounds, he did not waver from the Democratic party’s support of the Supreme Court decision, in Roe v. Wade, permitting abortion under certain circumstances.

“Carter made a distinction between his private faith and what he would try to do in public policy that was hugely disappointing to evangelicals,” explained Professor Dowland from Pacific Lutheran University. “The thing that Carter didn’t do that these high-profile evangelical endorsers wanted him to do was to really champion an evangelical policy agenda in office.”

Falwell and his organization actively campaigned for GOP candidate Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, and raised money for TV and radio ads that targeted Carter.

“He [Falwell] showed himself to be more loyal to Republican politicians, particularly Reagan, than virtually any other evangelical leader,” said Dowland.

Reagan won the presidency in a landslide, and the Moral Majority became a force to be reckoned with. No longer could any presidential candidate afford to ignore evangelicals as a political power.

President Jimmy Carter, Moral Majority membership card and Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute flyer, 1981. Photo credit:  Children’s Bureau Centennial / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), S B Rosencrans / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) and Yale Law Library / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Fast forward to 2004. The US is in the midst of a bloody conflict against insurgents in Iraq, one year after President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech. Americans are tired of the war and coming to the realization that the case for invading Iraq was based on lies.

Despite the bloodshed and deceit perpetrated by the Bush administration, the incumbent president won re-election. The consensus of journalists and political scientists was that many Americans, despite any doubts they might have had about the war, voted for Bush over the Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry because of what they called “moral values.” This translated into concern about abortion and gay rights, issues which divided Kerry from the evangelical voting bloc, who overwhelmingly rallied to Bush.

The disconnect between a “moral” vote for someone who initiated a pre-emptive war under false pretenses which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths remained inexplicable to many outside the faith.

But when evangelical zeal was translated into politics by the likes of Jerry Falwell, the result was a focus on maintaining traditional institutions and customs against what was perceived as a relentless assault by the forces of modernity .

As a consequence, the nearly 40-year alliance with the GOP has put evangelicals in the awkward position of supporting a president and political party whose policies would appear profoundly antithetical to many of their core principles.

They are preaching the Prince of Peace, who was a champion of outliers of all kinds, yet reluctant to denounce endless war and show concern for sexual minorities. They believe in God’s good earth but appear unconcerned about its environmental degradation. They warn of the dangers of money while lauding billionaire oligarchs and tax breaks for the wealthy. They teach compassion and care for the poor and sick but aligned with politicians whose actions belie their claims of empathy.

But these apparent contradictions did not prevent an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals from casting their vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. For many of them, “Make America Great Again” signified a cause they identified with, on the conviction that their economic duress and ever decreasing influence on popular culture were maladies that Trump could remedy, despite his not knowing the proper way to cite “2 Corinthians.”

As Dowland explained, “that nostalgia is implicitly connected to an era when white Christians had more control, and the ideal was assimilation, not multiculturalism.”

So evangelicals went to the voting booth in 2016 with their minds made up. Trump was on the right side of the issues they cared about the most.

“In the course of the campaign,” said Bowler, the Duke University professor, “Trump became the unlikely advocate for hot-button evangelical issues — a thrice-married man fighting for ‘traditional families,’ a sexual braggart at the helm of a purity-obsessed culture.”

And the students at Liberty who enthusiastically cheered Trump were following in a long tradition of evangelicals who have learned to redefine “moral values” in ways that would be unrecognizable to the founder of their own religion.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Jerry Falwell (Deborah Thomas / Wikimedia) and Donald Trump (The White House / YouTube).

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Trump’s Unconfirmed Cabinet Pick

Mon, 2017-05-15 10:07

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Trump Admin Gets Bank Lawyer to Head OCC Without Senate Confirmation (DH)

Keith Noreika was appointed First Deputy of the OCC under the Comptroller, Thomas Curry. This put Noreika in line to rise to top position without a Senate confirmation hearing or disclosure of an ethics agreement. Then Thomas Curry was fired.

Organic? That’s What the Label Said. (Russ)

When ‘organic’ might not mean exactly what you think.

Lyft and Waymo Reach Deal to Collaborate on Self-Driving Cars (Trevin)

The project will compete hard against Uber. Waymo is also currently suing Uber for allegedly stealing its trade secrets on autonomous cars.

Robert Reich on the End of Trump (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The question is no longer whether there are grounds to impeach Donald Trump. It is when enough Republicans will put their loyalty to America ahead of their loyalty to their party.”

The post Trump’s Unconfirmed Cabinet Pick appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

WWW Exclusive: Felix Sater Links Trump to Comey’s Replacement

Mon, 2017-05-15 08:16

President Donald Trump’s own words link the firing of James Comey as FBI director to the Bureau’s Russia probe. That move, however, might not have been well thought out because Andrew McCabe, Comey’s deputy and temporary replacement, could have unique firsthand knowledge of potential ties between Trump and organized crime in the former Soviet Union.

This creates an intriguing if complex and nuanced situation that could influence Trump as he decides whether to replace McCabe as interim director.

How this important but overlooked factor — discussed in no other reporting of the drama around the Comey firing, the search for an interim FBI director, McCabe, and Trump — will play out is uncertain. But the importance of McCabe’s prior history is part of the hidden backstory between the FBI and Trump.

First, a quick review.

In an exclusive WhoWhatWhy investigation published in March, we told the story of Felix Sater, the Russian-born financial criminal whose real estate development firm Bayrock partnered with Trump on numerous troubled projects — while Sater was working as an FBI informant. Further, pending civil litigation alleges that Bayrock, whose offices were just a floor beneath Trump’s in Trump Tower, served as a massive money laundering operation for funds from the former Soviet Union.

In the mid-1990s, Sater had been one of the chiefs of State Street, a mobbed-up financial brokerage that racked up tens of millions of dollars in profits in a few short years and fleeced thousands. Sater and 21 others were swept up in the high-profile FBI operation that targeted the brokerage, which included associates of both Italian crime families and the Russian mob — which includes Sater. Sater then “flipped” and became an informant, after pleading guilty to a single count of racketeering. He was working at Bayrock a few short years later.

It turns out that the paths of Andrew McCabe and Felix Sater intersect.

McCabe worked for 20 years in the New York field office of the FBI. According to older FBI biographical information, he joined the New York office in 1996, when he worked on “organized crime matters.” In 2003, “he became the supervisory special agent of the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, a joint operation with the New York City Police Department.”

“Eurasian organized crime” is the FBI designation for crime that originates from the former Soviet Union, including Russia and Ukraine.

Curiously, McCabe’s most recent official biography does not include this aspect of his career, and recent press profiles also do not include this fact (although older press releases do so). (This reporter could find no discussion of this period of McCabe’s career in previous press reporting.)

FBI Deputy Director Andrew G. McCabe speaks at a press conference on July 20, 2016; with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Photo credit: FBI

It was the FBI’s organized crime unit in New York that investigated State Street, the mobbed-up brokerage where Felix Sater held sway in the mid-1990s. Sater has been named in numerous press reports in connection with the Russian mob. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), during hearings into Russian interference in the US election, last week noted that Sater’s family has links to organized crime and called Sater a “colorful character.” Sater’s father has been tied to the criminal organization of Semion Mogilevich, perhaps the most powerful of organized crime bosses in the former Soviet Union, and considered a national security threat by US law enforcement. (To WhoWhatWhy, Sater has denied knowledge of or connections to Eurasian mobsters.)

Whether McCabe worked specifically on the State Street case is unclear, but he certainly was in the organized crime section while that high-profile, multi-year investigation was ongoing.

State Street closed as the FBI got close in 1996, Sater signed his cooperation agreement in 1998, the State Street indictments were unsealed in 2000 — and Sater was working at Bayrock in Trump Tower by early 2002.

Sater and Bayrock went on to partner on multiple deals with Trump, including the Trump SoHo. Most of the Bayrock projects failed very badly, leaving a string of lawsuits across multiple states.

While at Bayrock, Sater regularly traveled to Europe, including Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, with numerous trips to Crimea, ostensibly in search of possible development projects that could bear the Trump name — projects that never seemed to reach the drawing board stage. To reiterate, Sater was working as an FBI informant throughout the years he was at Bayrock (until early 2008).

Thus McCabe, as supervisory special agent of the Eurasian organized crime unit in New York from 2003 to 2006, would seem likely to have known very well what Sater was up to and intelligence he had gathered. In addition, he would have been aware of Sater’s relationship with Trump and possibly Trump’s financial relationships in the former Soviet Union at a time when he was struggling to find funding in the US after his numerous bankruptcies.

McCabe also would likely be privy to information about goings-on at Trump Tower, which was a hive of wealthy Russians and others from the former Soviet Union, as well as people like Paul Manafort, who lived in Trump Tower and was actively engaged in supporting pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians and business interests tied to organized crime — including Mogilevich — from 2005. (Manafort is Trump’s long-time friend who served for a period as his campaign manager.)

As must be stressed, Trump’s risk regarding Sater is enormous in multiple ways. While at Bayrock — and serving as an FBI informant — Sater was entering contracts with lenders and clients, and because of his past as a financial criminal, this was a crime. Indeed, Sater was forced to pull out of Bayrock after a New York Times article in late 2007 outed him as a felon, making his position at Bayrock untenable.

If it could be proven that Trump knew that Sater was a financial criminal and did business with him anyway, it would expose Trump to massive financial liability. This is because parties to bank loans and investment contracts must confirm that no owner or manager has been convicted of fraud, and if that confirmation is false, anyone who knew of the fraud is potentially liable.

If Trump or anyone around him — such as other Trump Organization executives, accountants, and lawyers — had knowledge of Sater’s criminal past and yet entered into contracts with Sater and Bayrock, Trump and his company would then be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars and possible jail time. The same would be true even if someone learned about Sater’s criminal status after signing the contract but continued with it.

Yet what if that criminal was considered protected by his informant status with the FBI?

Revealing the criminality on the part of anyone who entered into contracts with Sater despite being aware of his criminal history would also reveal the role of the FBI and Department of Justice and what they knew about Sater’s alleged shady deals and activities while using him as an informant.

McCabe, as a former supervisory special agent of the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force in New York, would be especially well informed of the players and issues regarding the former Soviet Union.

These insights, gained over a 20-year career in New York, would provide him with a unique understanding while overseeing an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as Trump business connections to those in the former Soviet Union. New York is not only the unofficial headquarters of the Russian-speaking community in the US, it is also the center of much financial and other crime tied to the former Soviet Union.

McCabe would likely also have knowledge of potentially problematic issues, such as possible crimes committed by Sater at Bayrock while working as an informant (from which Trump could have profited), questions regarding Trump’s previous relationship with the Bureau, as well as the current and former FBI agents who either are or may have been connected to Trump or his campaign.

This is something the president could be aware of: members of his private security detail during the campaign and after included former FBI agents, one of which — Gary Uher — not only worked in the organized crime section at the same time as McCabe, but investigated and then worked with Sater on the State Street case, as reported exclusively by WhoWhatWhy.

This information, completely overlooked by the rest of the media, adds another layer of complexity and intrigue to the unfolding drama of the Russia investigation that will overshadow everything Trump does until it is resolved one way or another. It also underscores how much we do not know — or are not being told.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Federal Plaza (Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and Andrew McCabe (FBI).

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Want to Improve Election Integrity? Lock Up Vote Suppressors

Sun, 2017-05-14 07:28

Republicans often deride government as ineffective. There is one way, however, in which they have gotten it to work just as they intended: The GOP’s voter suppression effort is a well-oiled machine and it will likely be cranked up in even more states before the next election.

If it hadn’t been for President Donald Trump’s FBI debacle, it is very likely that election fraud and voter integrity would have been featured prominently in the news this week because the commander-in-chief signed an Executive Order creating an “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.”

On its face, that sounds like a good idea. The problem is that this commission will likely not look into the many, very real, election integrity problems that plague the US and have been documented extensively by WhoWhatWhy.

 “We already know that millions of people did not vote illegally in the last election. Period. The real problem is that too few eligible people are registered to vote and turning out on Election Day — not too many.”

Instead, it is probably going to spend a good bit of time trying to find evidence for Trump’s completely unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegal votes were cast last November — every single one for his rival Hillary Clinton.

A major red flag to the purpose of the commission is that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been appointed as its co-chair. WhoWhatWhy readers will recognize the name. Kobach is a main architect of voter suppression efforts throughout the country. (For the horrifying details, please go here, here, and here.)

Election integrity advocates are worried that the commission will be used to justify further laws designed to keep minorities and other Democratic constituencies away from the ballot box.

“This commission begins with zero credibility and should be recognized for what it is: a highly partisan and deeply cynical diversion premised on justifying the President’s past lies about illegal voting,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Policy and Legal Strategies at the public policy organization Demos.

“We already know that millions of people did not vote illegally in the last election. Period. The real problem is that too few eligible people are registered to vote and turning out on Election Day — not too many.”

The ACLU called Kobach “Public Enemy #1” with regard to voter suppression.

Unfortunately, a new study by Civis Analytics and Priorities USA shows that voter suppression works. Turnout increased in states in which no new Voter ID laws were passed, while it shrank in states that instituted strict legislation on that front. This effect was particularly pronounced in districts with a large African American population.

After all, if somebody commits a felony and gets five years in the slammer for trying to cast an illegal vote, shouldn’t the penalty for preventing a legal vote be just as harsh? 

So, instead of having a commission, chaired by a known vote suppressor — trying to validate something Trump made up out of thin air — what should actually be done?

First of all, there should be a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote as explicitly as, for example, the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. Hopefully, that would prevent GOP-led states from passing laws that restrict access to the ballot box. It is unlikely that Congress will do this, so corresponding language should be placed on the ballot in all 50 states.

In addition, a second set of laws should be passed. There is no dispute that in-person voter fraud (or other types of voter fraud) should be punished severely. And the penalties in these rare cases are quite harsh. Voter fraud in a federal election carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

But the exact same penalty should apply to anybody denying an eligible voter the opportunity to cast a ballot in any way, shape or form.

After all, if somebody commits a felony and gets five years in the slammer for trying to cast an illegal vote, shouldn’t the penalty for preventing a legal vote be just as harsh?

So, if you intimidate a voter, or give him/her misleading information on when and where to vote, you get up to five years. And let’s go further. If you lobby for a law that would disenfranchise voters and is later deemed illegal, you should also face five years in jail.

And finally, the same penalty should apply to state and federal lawmakers or other officials if there is evidence that they passed a law or instituted a measure that knowingly denied a certain group of people the right to vote.

We think that would put a quick stop to all of these voter suppression laws. And people like Kris Kobach should only be rigging votes on the selection of cell block spokesmen.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Mike Pence caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Kris Kobach caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Pence body (matthewreid / FLickr – CC BY 2.0), baby face (Terence Nance / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Liberty crown (David Fulmer / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), binky (Peter & Joyce Grace / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), chains (ms.akr / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), lock (Blondinrikard Fröberg / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Baby Carriage (A. Jackson Co. / Library of Congress) and background (Daniel X. O’Neil / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

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Is the Constitutional Right to Vote a Myth?

Sat, 2017-05-13 07:11

Every four years a host of celebrities, politicians, and talking heads encourage Americans to get out and vote. “It’s your right,” they say. We live in a democracy, and part of the responsibility of living in a democratic society is for its citizens to exercise their right to vote. Just like the Constitution says, right? Well…not exactly.

Every gun owner in America knows which amendment applies to them, and when people speak of an assault on the freedom of speech, we all understand that they are talking about First Amendment protections.

But what about our right to vote? It turns out that it’s not actually there. Granted, there are patchwork voting amendments saying that you can’t discriminate on the basis of race (the 15th), gender (19th), or age (26th), but nowhere does the Constitution guarantee the right to vote to all citizens.

While the framers of the Constitution are often praised for their crafting of the document, including important concepts such as the separation of powers, they couldn’t all quite agree on everything. They didn’t have uniform ideas about just who should be voting, and for what. While all seemed to agree that women shouldn’t vote, there was disagreement over whether slavery should be abolished. In the end, in order to form a union, the slavery issue was dropped, and no specific federal voting rights were enacted. The fine details were left to the newly formed states to be worked out.

Today, there are 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 island territories, and over 13,000 election jurisdictions. Each one has different rules and regulations, such as when you can register to vote, what qualifications you need, and how the votes are counted. Different states have different rules about early voting. Some states, such as Vermont, allow incarcerated felons to vote. Others like Florida, will throw a felon back in jail if they ever try to vote. Texas requires a government ID to vote, while neighboring New Mexico does not.

These videos walk us through some of the dizzying voting laws, and the effects they have on disenfranchisement today. They also inform us of some of the bills in motion to try and correct these difficulties.

 

 

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Uncle Sam (James Montgomery Flagg / Library of Congress).

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Logic Check: Be Wary of New Trump Comey Tapes Threat Story

Fri, 2017-05-12 13:33

The big story as I write is that President Donald Trump has, via tweet, implicitly threatened former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, suggesting that he has tapes of Comey stating that Trump was not under investigation by the FBI.

It strikes me that this is typical of Trump tactics designed to keep his political base on board and to keep people distracted from the core of the Trump-Russia investigation.

Because: first, Trump does not say there are tapes. He says Comey better hope there are no tapes. That in fact may be a deceptive statement intended to create the false impression that Trump has tapes — and that if so, the tapes support his claim that Comey had somehow cleared him.

More importantly, though, even if there were tapes of Comey assuring Trump that he is not under investigation, the reality is that an FBI Director who wanted to keep his job would have to think twice about making such a risky statement directly to the president. Furthermore, there are semantics involved. Because most of the contacts with Russia would not have directly involved Trump, but rather surrogates. In fact, only after they had cut deals with the surrogates would they be able then to connect the dots directly to Trump.

In times like these, with information overload and so much happening so quickly, it is more important than ever to take a moment to ponder whether we are reacting too superficially to events, rather than keeping things in perspective.

A tabloid-style ping-pong of charges does not serve the public interest. And WhoWhatWhy will not be part of it.

James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017

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Intolerant Liberals?

Fri, 2017-05-12 12:05

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Jeff Sessions Wants Max Sentences for Drug Offenders (Jimmy)

Sadie Gurman writes, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms.”

Intolerant Liberals? (Russ)

This article should come as no surprise.

Nature Video Demonstrates the Beauty of Simplicity (Milicent)

What would happen if you stuck a bucket of water outside in the desert?  John Wells—who runs a sustainable living laboratory in southwest Texas—did just that. And he hid a camera at the bottom of the bucket. The result is a bouquet of quiet, delightful little surprises.

Big Data, Billionaires, and Populism (Reader Steve)

A new report examines how populists forces were made to appear the determining factor in outcomes for Brexit and 2016 US Presidential election. In reality, the article claims, it was someone else pulling the strings.

Iran’s Elections Remember Past Transgressions (Dan)

Past crimes haunt the upcoming general election.

The post Intolerant Liberals? appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Environmental Groups and States Go to War With Trump

Fri, 2017-05-12 10:37

On March 24, President Trump signed an executive order to forge ahead with the Keystone XL oil pipeline that had been scotched by Obama in 2015. This is the deal to send tons of dirty tar sands Koched-up oil from Canada across 1,200 miles of the US to Gulf Coast refineries.

Already, Nebraska residents are gearing up for battle. The state’s public utility commission has yet to grant a permit, and landowners all along the proposed route are refusing to let their property be taken. Should a spill occur, the Ogallala aquifer underlying the state would face severe contamination problems.

Two major lawsuits have already been filed, one by the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth and the other by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the North Coast Rivers Alliance. Both actions will be heard in federal court in Montana, and will argue  that the project’s approval is based upon an outdated and biased environmental assessment conducted in 2014 by a company with a conflict of interest, as well as a history of violating treaty laws with Native Americans.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said on the group’s website: “We continue to meet Trump in the streets, and we look forward to meeting him in the courts to stop his reckless agenda that threatens our clean air and water and the climate….”

This isn’t the only environmental legal challenge happening. Trump’s executive order lifting a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land – without any federally required study of the possible ecological impact – has brought a suit by the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, EarthJustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana, whose reservation is in close proximity to over 425 million tons of coal at two different mines.

States are joining the fray as well. California Governor Jerry Brown said he’s prepared to sue if the EPA tries to stop his state from setting stronger fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

“I fought the Bush administration as California’s attorney general and will continue defending the California law,” Brown said. “Not out of any political position, but in recognition that the world is at risk and that the lives of real people are endangered.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Montana Governor Steve Bullock are also looking at going to court.  “As governor of a state with millions of acres of public land,” said Bullock, “I will not stand idly by if Congress or other outside special interests try to erode the birthright of all Americans.”

And a coalition of states and environmental groups are banding together to prevent the new administration from stalling Obama Administration standards for more energy-efficient ceiling fans, portable air conditioners and other products.

Notice has been served to Energy Secretary Rick Perry of a suit coming unless the previous White House’s plan gets implemented. As New York Attorney General Eric Schneider said, these are “common-sense” standards that would vastly reduce air pollution, including carbon dioxide, mercury and methane – and would save consumers and businesses close to $24 billion on their electric bills.

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A Trump Treasury of Tweets, Part 2

Fri, 2017-05-12 07:00

Back in January, we compiled a list of some of our favorite Donald Trump tweets, pointing out the unique manner in which the president chooses to express himself to the world.

A lot has happened since then, and now that we’ve past the 100 days mark, we thought it would be good to once again review and recap the president’s Twitter usage.

Up to this point, Trump’s time in office can accurately be described as “rocky.” While some things have worked out and others have not, each week seems to bring a new scandal, the latest being Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the president’s conflicting accounts of why he did it.

But whatever challenges he faces, it has not, and we’re sure it will not, prevent him from taking to his favorite social media platform to let us know just what’s on his mind and in his heart.

Trump has said Twitter allows him to bypass “fake news” and address his followers directly. In addition, it provides friends and foes alike with an opportunity to find out what is on the mind of the US president … or what cable news show he has been watching at any given time. The tweets also provide a window into what kind of things are getting under the president’s skin.

Because Trump provides this unprecedented insight into the thinking (or lack thereof) of a president, we would be remiss not to highlight some of these tweets. You can find our selection of some of the most important presidential tweets below.

We finally agree on something Rosie. https://t.co/BSP5F3PgbZ

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2017

Watching Senator Richard Blumenthal speak of Comey is a joke. "Richie" devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017

James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017

Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, "I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer." Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017

Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do –everybody does. ObamaCare is dead! But our healthcare will soon be great.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2017

Congratulations to @foxandfriends on its unbelievable ratings hike.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2017

President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017

Don't let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2017

Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this. Watch!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2017

I am committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection. Jobs matter!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2017

Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before. Frankly, we have no choice!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017

I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2017

Congratulations to our great military men and women for representing the United States, and the world, so well in the Syria attack.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2017

When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2017

Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017

ObamaCare is imploding. It is a disaster and 2017 will be the worst year yet, by far! Republicans will come together and save the day.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2017

For eight years Russia "ran over" President Obama, got stronger and stronger, picked-off Crimea and added missiles. Weak! @foxandfriends

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017

Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation. ObamaCare is a complete and total disaster – is imploding fast!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

Great meeting with CEOs of leading U.S. health insurance companies who provide great healthcare to the American people. pic.twitter.com/s2NMVMvQq3

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2017

Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017

I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017

HAPPY PRESIDENTS DAY – MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2017

Despite the long delays by the Democrats in finally approving Dr. Tom Price, the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare is moving fast!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017

Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017

'Trump administration seen as more truthful than news media'https://t.co/6LmsR5JOSW

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017

My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017

I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017

The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart. Bad people are very happy!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017

Iran is playing with fire – they don't appreciate how "kind" President Obama was to them. Not me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017

Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger did a really bad job as Governor of California and even worse on the Apprentice…but at least he tried hard!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017

Congratulations to Rex Tillerson on being sworn in as our new Secretary of State. He will be a star!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017

If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017

Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017

Nancy Pelosi and Fake Tears Chuck Schumer held a rally at the steps of The Supreme Court and mic did not work (a mess)-just like Dem party!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2017

Look forward to seeing final results of VoteStand. Gregg Phillips and crew say at least 3,000,000 votes were illegal. We must do better!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2017

Ungrateful TRAITOR Chelsea Manning, who should never have been released from prison, is now calling President Obama a weak leader. Terrible!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2017

Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017

If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible "carnage" going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017

Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN – public is smart!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017

Wow, television ratings just out: 31 million people watched the Inauguration, 11 million more than the very good ratings from 4 years ago!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2017

Had a great meeting at CIA Headquarters yesterday, packed house, paid great respect to Wall, long standing ovations, amazing people. WIN!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2017

Had a great meeting at CIA Headquarters yesterday, packed house, paid great respect to Wall, long standing ovations, amazing people. WIN!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2017

A fantastic day and evening in Washington D.C.Thank you to @FoxNews and so many other news outlets for the GREAT reviews of the speech!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2017

January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2017

"It wasn't Donald Trump that divided this country, this country has been divided for a long time!" Stated today by Reverend Franklin Graham.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2017

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Donald Trump signing (The White House) and background (stephanie / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

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Montana’s Melting Glaciers

Thu, 2017-05-11 10:09

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

FCC Spammed With Fake Anti-Net Neutrality Comments (DH)

The FCC’s call for comments about ending net neutrality spurred over a half million submissions very quickly. Some of those were generated by a bot posting thousands of anti-net neutrality comments.

Short Video on Shameful Moment in US History, May 1939 (Milicent)

In May 1939, Over 900 Jews escaped from Germany on an ocean liner, the SS St. Louis. They were hoping to start new lives in America — but President Roosevelt turned them away. Here is a video on this doomed mission, narrated by a survivor, Gerald Granston, who was six years old at the time.

Real Risk Associated with Mental Illness and Guns is Suicide (Trevin)

Recent handgun purchasers seem to be a much more at-risk of suicide — which is responsible for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the US — than other gun owners. A voluntary no-buy list could save lives of those struggling to manage “recurring suicidality.”

Glaciers in Montana Are Melting Away (Milicent)

Report from the US Geological Survey: global warming has reduced the size of 39 Montana glaciers, some by as much as 85%, compared to their size in 1966. Most are now so small they can no longer be defined as glaciers.

Jimmy Carter Feels the Bern (Jimmy)

Senator Bernie Sanders sat down recently with former President Jimmy Carter to discuss human rights. During the session, Carter revealed that he voted for Sanders over Clinton during the 2016 primary.

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Entrapping the FBI: Podcast with Russ Baker & Matt Harvey

Thu, 2017-05-11 07:00

The official White House line is that President Donald Trump fired James Comey because the former FBI director mishandled the Hillary Clinton email investigation. While there are many reasons to believe that the actual motive is related to the Bureau’s probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, Comey’s questionable decision to inform Congress — just days before the election — that the email investigation was being reopened deserves scrutiny.

Over the course of a month, WhoWhatWhy looked into the players and events that culminated in Comey writing the letter and influencing the presidential race. We found a sophisticated, well-funded covert operation that put enough pressure on the FBI director to get him to act.

We published our findings earlier this week in an 8,200-word exclusive. In this week’s podcast, WhoWhatWhy editor-in-chief Russ Baker and journalist Matt Harvey, who wrote the story together with Jonathan Larsen, talk about the plot to create an “October Surprise” and those involved in it — including Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s daughter-in-law, as well as Blackwater founder Erik Prince, right-wing journalists and very likely Trump-supporting FBI employees.

Click HERE to Download Mp3

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Dell laptop (India7 Network / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), bubbles (Derek Keats / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), catfish (Bébéranol / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 4.0), diver (Derek Keats / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and Hillary sign (afish / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

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Will Greece Ever Be Able to Pay Its Debts?

Wed, 2017-05-10 14:33

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts? (Jeff C.)

This author says it’s time to admit that the Greek debt crisis is a contest between politics and reality, as the nation is faced with debts which cannot be repaid, and thus will not be repaid.

ACLU Sues Administration Over Yemen Raid Records (DH)

A Special Forces raid, approved by President Trump and conducted on January 29, led to death of one Navy Seal and up to 25 civilians, including one 8-year-old American girl. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit Monday in support of their previous freedom of information request.

Cannabis Reverses Aging of Mice Brains (Milicent)

Prolonged, but low doses of cannabinoids given to aging mice restored the cognitive abilities they had in their youth, say scientists. Some day, cannabinoids (the active ingredient in hemp) may be used to treat dementia in humans.

Puerto Rico’s $123 Billion Bankruptcy Is the Cost of US Colonialism (Jimmy)

Could this be America’s Greece? Juan González writes that US politicians “will have to finally decide whether to completely annex Puerto Rico as the 51st state, or acknowledge that it still remains a distinct nation, with the right [to] its own sovereignty and independence.”

Plastic Trash Is Being Turned Into Roads (Milicent)

Don’t throw your plastic trash into the sea – use it to build roads! That’s what Scottish engineer Toby McCartney is doing. Here is an inspiring video on how he does it.

 

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WWW Analysis: Trump’s Even More Desperate Reason for Comey Firing

Wed, 2017-05-10 07:00

Trump’s firing of James Comey yesterday proves that even those who carry water for the president are not safe. Trump is in greater peril, it seems, by the hour. And in response, the long knives are out for anyone who is less than 100 percent dependable.

He needs unquestioned loyalists around him — especially in the office that could send almost anyone to prison.

After all, Trump and his cronies are investigable for so very many things, from questionable business dealings and conflicts of interest to tax matters to allegedly colluding with the Russian government.

Comey, under criticism for his own actions, faced significant public pressure to demonstrate that the FBI does its job. That could not have sounded good to Trump.

As it happened, just hours before the Comey news broke, WhoWhatWhy had published a lengthy investigation into the back story to Comey’s most famous — or infamous — act. It chronicled how Trump’s close surrogates and media allies pressured the FBI director to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Evidence strongly suggests that this surprising move days before the election was decisive in Trump’s unexpected victory.

Overall, having Comey at the Bureau was a blessing for Trump. Besides damaging Clinton, he also aided Trump by withholding information about the Bureau’s potentially much more serious probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.

The incoming president knew he had a good thing going. In early January, during a reception for top law-enforcement officials, an obviously grateful Trump singled Comey out for special praise and even a hug. But he soon cooled on the FBI director — as he so often does with people.

Also, Comey’s life was growing increasingly complicated, and he himself appeared to have lost his footing. In recent days, he looked incompetent in front of Congress, even bungling key testimony, such as exponentially overstating the quantity of Clinton emails forwarded to Anthony Weiner’s computer. Trump, who if anything is about appearances, could not have enjoyed watching this televised spectacle.

But the real problem was, as they say in mafia movies, you’re either with us or you’re….out.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Trump said in a letter dated Tuesday.

Comey is only the second FBI director ever to be fired. He joins William Sessions, who was dismissed by Bill Clinton in 1993.

Ostensibly, the reason for Comey being sacked was his “handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” according to a May 9th memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. That reasoning rings hollow, however, as the alleged fireable offense took place more than six months ago.

It is much more likely that Comey’s revelation that Trump’s campaign is being investigated for its Russia ties as well as his testimony before the Senate last week were the real reason for his dismissal.

Trump and his team are desperately seeking to stifle Russiagate. Matters continue to heat up on that front. As we write, CNN is reporting that prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas. Firing one of the people in government who knows most about that sensitive topic would serve that aim twofold.

The FBI is itself entwined in the matter and urgently needs to clear the air. As WhoWhatWhy reported in another major investigation, published in late March, the Bureau maintained a long and close informant relationship with a Trump business associate working out of Trump Tower. The president may have been worried about where that thread could lead, as it includes hints as to Trump receiving long-term financing from oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin and organized crime.

Comey now can’t make any trouble on the matter; and it serves to put any other determined federal appointees — planning to rigorously follow Russiagate even if it leads to the Oval Office — on notice that such conduct will mean the end of their career.

Not surprisingly, Trump acolytes are presenting the firing as long in coming. As the veteran Trump strategist and hatchet man Roger Stone, himself under scrutiny in Russiagate, tweeted yesterday:

https://t.co/9zM6SERZPz

IT'S ABOUT TIME! #DRAINTHESWAMP

— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) May 9, 2017

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Donald Trump (The White House / YouTube) and James Comey (FBI).

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Puerto Rico Crises Worsens

Tue, 2017-05-09 09:44

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Puerto Rico to Close 179 Public Schools (Jeff C.)

The move is a bid to save more than $7 million amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus to the U.S. mainland in the past decade.

Obama-Aligned Group Sue Trump Admin Over Syria (Dan)

A watchdog grouped aligned with former President Obama is suing the Trump administration over the legality of last month’s Syria strike. Namely that there was not adequate rationale to intervene. While Obama (and many others) have made use of unilateral action without UN or Congressional approval, the group alleges that past strikes had more compelling evidence.

Internet Society Calls for Stronger and Universal Encryption Online (DH)

Kathryn Brown, President and CEO of the Internet Society, makes the case that encryption should be made stronger, as well as universal, to support the success of the digital economy. Weak encryption may serve law enforcement or state and corporate surveillance efforts, but the gains are outweighed by the lack of security for everyone.

Thousands in US Send Messages of Friendship to Russia (Trevin)

Close to 9,000 have signed on to a letter posted by RootsAction wishing the Russian people “nothing but well” and opposing the “hostility and militarism” of the US government.

Nightmare Inside Privatized For-Profit Immigration Detention Centers (Jimmy)

A new investigative report finds widespread abuse and terrible living conditions at several of the largest immigration detention centers in the US.

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Exclusive: How Trump Backers Weaponized Anthony Weiner to Defeat Clinton

Tue, 2017-05-09 07:25

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation decided not to pursue a criminal case against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, Donald Trump’s path to the White House narrowed considerably… until a group of his staunchest supporters found a way to get the case back in the spotlight at the most opportune time.

In a month-long investigation, WhoWhatWhy has examined the events and players that had a hand in the FBI’s reopening of the Clinton email probe — apparently a factor in swinging the election Trump’s way.

Close scrutiny of the circumstances leading up to the FBI’s fateful decision reveals a key aspect that has thus far gained little attention — that fate got a helping hand from Trump supporters, surrogates and media allies.

This includes

•  A reasonable likelihood that Trump or somebody high up in his campaign received inside information, possibly from sources in the Bureau

•  An operation to bait Anthony Weiner, the controversial husband of Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin

•  A successful effort, perhaps from within the FBI, forcing director Comey to utilize the Weiner allegations as a basis to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation

That in turn gave swing voters two reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton: (1) renewed doubts about her behavior in regard to security concerns, and (2) an implied connection to Weiner’s repugnant behavior.

For plenty of voters, that may have been enough to sway them. And in a close election, the resulting redistribution of comparatively few votes in a few key states caused a seismic shift in the overall electoral outcome.

Comey and the FBI were reacting to events. But who were the people who set those events in motion? And what were their motives? Were these actors doing so out of concerns for justice, for the truth, or to create partisan advantage?
It is not so surprising that political operatives would identify Weiner as a chink in Clinton’s armor, a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. It is only slightly less surprising that they would seek to lure Weiner, already known to have an addiction to sexting, into a situation that would embarass his wife, and perhaps cause serious damage to the Clinton campaign.

What is more intriguing, though, is the evidence that days before Comey made his explosive announcement in October 2016, Trump insiders were publicly predicting an “October Surprise.” And, further, that the problems of Weiner became not just the problems of his wife, but of Clinton, a woman who really had very little to do with him.

***

Very early on, Trump was publicly signalling that a way to harm Clinton was via Weiner.

On August 3, 2015, Donald Trump tweeted in his inimitable and confusing style:

“It came out that Huma Abedin knows all about Hillary’s private illegal emails. Huma’s PR husband, Anthony Weiner, will tell the world.”

Whatever he meant to suggest, this much is clear: Trump, then a longshot presidential contender, not only had Clinton in his sights; he had identified Abedin and her controversial spouse Weiner as potential embarrassments to the frontrunner.

That August 3 tweet was just one in a string. His assertions essentially anticipated that an attack was coming, if not when and how. He also regularly referred to Weiner as a degenerate and liability to Clinton.

All that was missing was a girl to lure Weiner into another “sexting” transgression. Then the trap could be sprung and the computer contents publicized.

On March 22, 2017, a year and a half later, after a highly improbable turn of events had landed Trump in the White House and astonished the world, the new president bragged to Time magazine that he had predicted the importance of Weiner long before the fact.

Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner] you know what I tweeted about that whole deal and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing.

Of course, Trump greatly distorted the facts, but that mattered little once the dust had settled.

From another point of view, what Trump and his enablers seem to have proven is that Hillary Clinton had (and would continue to have) evidence to back up her famous assertion from 1998, when she said that she and her husband were under siege from a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.”

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton late in the 2016 campaign.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“A Lot of Funny Business” .

That conspiracy — maybe a more accurate term is “obsession” — was still bearing poisonous fruit nearly two decades later.

While a lot of what was happening might qualify as hard campaigning, it would be an entirely different matter if law enforcers handed information to Team Trump. In addition, it was remarkable the way conservative news outlets were willing to spin exaggerations — even overt lies — as special, inside information from law-enforcement, to help the Republican contender.

“There was a lot of funny business going on,” Clinton recently told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “If the election had been held on October 27, I would have been your president.”

She was referring to FBI Director James Comey’s announcement, on October 28, that he had reopened the investigation into her emails.

While Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, 2017, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we had an impact on the election,” he also insisted that he had no choice but to go public with the news of the re-investigation back in October — no matter what the consequences.

We now know how consequential that decision was. But what is only beginning to become clear is the story behind the story that Comey told the Senate. There is evidence that the FBI director’s hand may have been forced by a “dirty tricks” campaign mounted by anti-Clinton political operatives. People within the FBI’s New York office with strong ties to the Trump camp — and an aversion to Clinton — appear to have been involved.

Huma Abedin has an unlikely defender: Anthony Weiner’s former online sex pal, Sydney Leathers https://t.co/A0G7YWuRr5 pic.twitter.com/OgnVRWI0a9

— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) October 31, 2016

Among the players in this sub rosa saga were

•  Alana Goodman, who frequently took aim at the Clintons from her perch at the Washington Free Beacon, and then greatly expanded her audience when she began writing for the British Daily Mail.

•  Sydney Leathers, the second of Anthony Weiner’s two sexting partners, and a porn actress, who contributed pieces to Washington Babylon, the blog of Ken Silverstein, a liberal journalist long critical of the Clintons. Leathers has presented herself as an expert in the art of entrapping politicians.

•  Alt-right Internet provocateur Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson, who worked at the neoconservative New York Sun, and eventually cycled through gigs at the Daily Caller and Breitbart. He was an early Trump supporter and reveled in political dirty tricks.

•  The unnamed 15-year-old from North Carolina, who reportedly was writing a book about Weiner, sexted with him, and whose accusations in the Daily Mail triggered Weinergate redux.

Cassandra Fairbanks, a writer for the Kremlin-backed Sputnik News, who reportedly “converted” to a Trump supporter, after activism in Black Lives Matter and the Bernie Sanders campaign. She also is rumored to have close ties to the FBI.

•  Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, a big Trump supporter and brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, went public as part of a calculated propaganda campaign in a November 4 Breitbart News interview, making a host of wild and demonstrably false allegations in connection with the Weiner/Clinton revelations.

•  The New York office of the FBI, which had a long and close relationship with Donald Trump and his significant ally Rudolph Giuliani. And, as we previously reported, that FBI office was running a highly valued informant inside Trump Tower, a man who was doing business with Trump. One of the key FBI handlers went on to provide security to Trump’s campaign.

Once the director of the FBI became involved, it was as if a powerful electrical current had run through all of these parts of the story, completing the circuit.

***

A generally unsympathetic and increasingly reviled figure, Anthony Weiner has repeatedly disappointed voters and allies since his first sexting scandal surfaced. His effort to rehabilitate himself cratered with revelations of continued self-destructive behavior, in the process humiliating himself, his family, and would-be loyal supporters.

Our investigation, however, only concern’s Weiner’s character inasmuch as his weaknesses — and unrestrained conduct — served the ends of a political dirty-tricks operation which seems to have altered the very fabric of the 2016 election.

Comey’s Comedy of Errors .

Notwithstanding some dissenters, a general consensus has emerged, and some data shows, that one of the principal events which handed Donald J. Trump the White House may have been the revelation of a letter from Comey to Congress, 11 days before the election, in which the FBI director notified lawmakers that the Bureau was examining new evidence regarding Clinton’s use of email.

FBI Director James Comey Photo credit: FBI

As Comey had already declared the email scandal investigation closed four months earlier, the about-face had profound political repercussions.

Within hours of the news breaking, renewed cries of “lock her up” could be heard at Trump rallies and on news outlets covering them. The ground seemed to shift beneath both candidates. Trump became even more aggressive, while Clinton’s confidence appeared to wane — just as her lead in the polls shrank.

Polls would later reveal that party loyalists and independent voters cooled to the Democratic candidate in the final days of the campaign.

The Comey letter to Congress empowered the always-vocal army of Trump proxies and Republican commentators to question how voters could even think of electing someone who was under FBI investigation.

Very few people knew at the time that Trump’s campaign had itself been under investigation for months. On serious charges too — evident collusion with the Russian government to tip the election to Trump.

In April, The New York Times published an exhaustive account of the political and agency motivations behind Comey’s actions, but it did not go to the heart of the issue.

WhoWhatWhy believes the real story of Comey’s unprecedented actions took place outside the purview of FBI headquarters and the Justice Department.

Breitbart screenshot of story about Erik Prince and Anthony Weiner.
Photo credit: Breitbart

What Set Off the Bomb?

Many questions of crucial importance remain fully or partially unanswered. Among them:

How did Weiner’s latest “sexting” scandal come to light in the first place? Was the Daily Mail’s central role in the story influenced in any way by its legal dispute with Melania Trump, a suit that was only resolved after the election?

Who spread the false claim that there was a treasure-trove of as-yet-unseen Clinton emails waiting to be investigated on Weiner’s laptop?

How did the story surface that those non-existent emails contained salacious and even criminal material — rumors floated on Breitbart that stoked up Trump’s base?

Who leaked advance knowledge of Comey’s bombshell before it happened, and how did the leakers come by their information?

Why were all of these leakers so closely connected to Trump?

Was this second Comey investigation into Clinton’s emails a put-up job from the very beginning, enabling the Trump team to make an additional round of outrageous and libelous claims?

We now know that there never was a “there there,” but through leaks, false stories and outrageous spin by a host of Trump’s proxies, it turned out to be enough to help turn the election.

As you read the timeline below, ask yourself this central question: Were these a bunch of unrelated events, many involving Alt-right dirty tricksters, which just happened to feed on one another until they pushed the election over the edge?

Or was there a darker, more coordinated narrative, more like the notorious “Swift-Boating” of John Kerry, a campaign of false information that vilified a genuine war hero and changed the outcome of the presidential election of 2004?

Put another way, was the Weiner story politically motivated from the start? Had Comey been “catfished?” Based on the evidence gathered in a month-long investigation, it sure looks like it.

Photo credit: Urban Dictionary Screenshot

Catfishing: A Chronology .

2011

There are multiple attempts to smear Weiner by falsely connecting him to “teen girls” online. In June, Breitbart News and Mediaite posted stories purporting to show evidence that Weiner had been cyber-flirting with two teenagers. Mediaite extensively quoted two 16-year-olds under the pseudonyms “Betty and Veronica.” Both of them, however, along with “Betty’s” mom, turned out to be invented personas. Mediaite was forced to issue a retraction, even though the story’s writer claimed to have gone to “more than reasonable” lengths to confirm the accusers’ identities.

2015

Less than a month after he officially declares his candidacy, Donald Trump tweets:

“It came out that Huma Abedin knows all about Hillary’s private illegal emails. Huma’s PR husband, Anthony Weiner, will tell the world.”

2016

July 5:

In the course of a lengthy press conference, Comey announces that, after a nearly year-long investigation into the Clinton email server, the FBI has determined that no basis exists to refer charges to the Justice Department. Comey adds that no evidence was found of Clinton intentionally deleting emails “in an effort to conceal them.”

But Comey has more to say: “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate the law governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

While ostensibly closing the case, he has also thrown new fuel on the fire.

The GOP-controlled Congress wants more, though, and requests that the director notify them should the Bureau discover new information.

Late July – Early August

Charles C. Johnson [not to be confused with Charles Johnson the blogger behind the blog Little Green Footballs] reaches out first to online seductress Sydney Leathers and then conservative journalist Alana Goodman to form an alliance that, while mutually beneficial, would be most rewarding for Donald Trump. A reprised “Weinergate,” Johnson mused, while ostensibly focused on Abedin’s and Weiner’s troubled union, would lead inexorably to the real target.

“The public at large would think failed marriage, and they’d think Hillary and Bill,” he told WhoWhatWhy.

Engaging with Leathers made sense, he said referring to the fact that she claimed to know “all these women” who had been in contact with Weiner online.“I had a friend of mine who reached out to her and we said ‘if you hear anything else, here’s the money, flip us the information, and there’ll be more money later,’” Johnson said, explaining that besides relying on crowdfunding, he has considerable personal wealth.

On just how much exactly he paid Leathers to come up with the right victims, Johnson draws a blank. “I don’t know how much we gave her, I can’t remember,” he said, adding, “We did a lot of research, all the Hillary ties, making sure it got to the right journalists. If a journalist was doing really good work against [Hillary] they’d get an email with more research. So it was a lot of fun.”

August 11:

Ken Silverstein, a political progressive, who has long been critical of the Clintons — and is also a political columnist for the New York Observer, the paper Jared Kushner owned until the week prior to Trump’s inauguration — launches a new website called Washington Babylon. It features the piece by Sydney Leathers mentioned earlier in this article, ostensibly a review of the month-old documentary “Weiner.”

Silverstein tells WhoWhatWhy that commissioning the story was an appeal for eyeballs, saying, “I had known Sydney and liked her and was looking for a good story that would get attention for the first day of Washington Babylon so I called her and asked her to do it.”

But Leathers clearly has an axe to grind, complaining about “people’s” suspicions that she “set [Weiner] up” to sink his 2013 mayoral candidacy. Most importantly she claims to know for a “fact” that his sexting behaviors continue despite his claims at being rehabilitated.

August 13:

The pro-Trump New York Post reports that an anonymous Republican student at an unnamed “NYC area college” using a female friend’s Twitter account “catfished” Weiner into sending him flirtatious direct messages. While the tone of the piece is mostly comical, given later circumstances one sentence rings ominously, “It’s the third time Weiner has been caught sexting.”

Appearing on a Miami radio show a week later, Weiner calls the “catfish” item a setup. “Look, I am a target of a local newspaper here in New York.” he says, clearly referring to the Post. “They got someone to get into a conversation with me online. I caught them at it, but they still had enough things to make a story out of it.”

EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Weiner sexted a busty brunette while his son was in bed with him https://t.co/amX1TJIFn7 pic.twitter.com/qlJ8O22UvO

— New York Post (@nypost) August 29, 2016

August 28:

The Post splashes news of still another Weiner sexting scandal across its front page, under the headline “Pop Goes the Weiner.” The latest unnamed object of Weiner’s cyber-desire, a 40-something divorcee, was described as “a self avowed supporter of Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association who’s used Twitter to bash both President Obama and Clinton.”

September 1:

Almost immediately after being slapped with a $150 million defamation lawsuit by Melania Trump over a presumably erroneous August 20 story that the would-be First Lady was once an escort, the Mail prints a deeply apologetic retraction. Charles Harder —  the attorney who used Silicon Valley kingpin Peter Thiel’s fortune to put Gawker out of business — is Melania Trump’s attorney. Is it possible that the conservative Mail, under legal pressure, was looking to help the Trump campaign? Or was its readership, many of whom adored Trump, a factor?

September 21:

The Daily Mail’s Alana Goodman breaks the Weiner “underage sexting” story, which will eventually lead to Comey reopening an investigation into Clinton’s emails. The lengthy feature purports to chronicle a cyber-relationship between Weiner and an anonymous North Carolina 15-year-old.

Using obscured tweets and distorted photos as proof of the teenager’s claims, the piece takes us through the unnamed high-schooler’s cyber-romance, which began flowering in January, when the girl contacted Weiner for a book she was supposedly writing about him, and ended abruptly in July for reasons that are not clear. The most salacious claims in the Daily Mail article are that the two spoke suggestively over Skype and that Weiner showed her pornography.

Anthony Weiner messaged a 15-year-old that he wanted to 'bust her tight p***y’ https://t.co/C1pEh0Qj2l

— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) September 21, 2016

Goodman’s Mail story, immediately picked up by other media, created a huge splash. Speaking with WhoWhatWhy, Johnson credits the story’s virality to what he calls his paid online “troll army,” adding, “I made sure it was amplified all over Twitter.

The teen reportedly sent Weiner two email “letters,” one under false pretenses, to a fake email address that was purportedly her teacher’s —  which Weiner was cc’d on — and the second after she had spoken with the Daily Mail. To some skeptics, the second letter is especially puzzling. At times the writer seems anxious to apologize; at other moments she is a self-righteous avenger reveling in her ability to injure Weiner. The language is a curious mishmash of half-formed and even contradictory ideas.

In lengthy blog-post, controversial former UK MP and anti-Trump activist Louise Mensch, noted that the teenager’s letter contains passages lifted from famous writers such as J.D. Salinger, David Foster Wallace, Chuck Palahniuk and Charles Bukowski.

The writer switches from first to third person (For example: “You took advantage of her young, naive mind. She was infatuated with you. You should be glad that I am one of the most disensitized [sic] teenagers.”) And she admits to using trickery such as setting up a fake gmail account and “ten minute mail.”

Later, the teen will release a letter to Comey complaining that her efforts to keep Weiner from harming other teens now had become politicized and could affect the election.

Critics have said that letter differs from other communications purportedly authored by the teen, which they claim suggests the teen does not exist, or was a surrogate for others.

Goodman did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But Weiner suspected he had again been the victim of a hoax. In a short emailed statement published as a sidebar to the main article, he wrote in part, ‘While I have provided the Daily Mail with information showing that I have likely been the subject of a hoax, I have no one to blame but me for putting myself in this position.”

It is entirely possible that there exists in Gastonia, N.C., a precocious, emotionally vulnerable young teen who has a history of connecting with older men on the Internet and whose emails contain allusions to famous writers, sometimes switches from the first to third person, and include a few typos and mood swings. No one wants to victimize a victim.

But there is not much evidence that anyone has met the victim in person, and the interview clips of her are too fuzzy to establish whether her appearance matches that of a young teen.

The FBI has not stated its agents met in person with the teen, although a man identified as her father told BuzzFeed that an on-site interview was conducted by agents. And no reporter has confirmed meeting face-to-face with her, either.

Larry McShane, who filed a follow up to the Mail piece for the Daily News, claimed to have independently confirmed” the girl’s identity without speaking to her. McShane told WhoWhatWhy that “he honestly didn’t remember” how the News verified the girl’s age and identity. Alana Goodman also would not comment about any aspects of her story.

An article posted by BuzzFeed, on April 10, responding to Louise Mensch’s February claims that the North Carolina underage girl was bogus, is more adamant: “BuzzFeed News subsequently interviewed the teenager in person. She is real, not invented.”

Blogger David Mack, who also says that he has interviewed her, writes:

BuzzFeed News is not identifying the underage girl or her family to protect their privacy. BuzzFeed News independently confirmed the teen’s identity, in part, via an email provided by Weiner, by traveling to her hometown, and by speaking with her and her father.

His statement fails to confirm who, if anyone, from BuzzFeed actually met the girl. Moreover, when contacted by WhoWhatWhy on April 13, Mack was equally vague about whether they met, only writing that his “reports speak for themselves,” and that he cannot divulge any more information because of “promises [he] made to the family.”

Weiner reportedly disclosed her contact information to the media. However, repeated efforts by WhoWhatWhy to reach Weiner and Abedin have been unsuccessful.

Anthony Weiner Photo credit: Coalition for Queens / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the very day of the Daily Mail story, September 21, Chuck Johnson brags on his own site GotNews that he had been “woke” to Weiner’s texting scandal since 2013. He had indeed written, in July of that year, a long story for the Daily Caller about a Chick-fil-A employee and high school student who seemed to be trying to set Weiner up on Twitter in 2011.

September 22:

CNN announces there is an investigation into Weiner based on the sexting.

Jake Tapper refers to the Daily Mail story and repeats Anthony Weiner’s response that he has been the victim of a hoax but has no one to blame but himself. The cable news channel goes on to report that prosecutors in the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara have issued a subpoena for Anthony Weiner’s cell phone and other records. The text published by CNN reads: “The FBI and the New York Police Department have opened preliminary investigations of allegations that the former New York Democratic congressman exchanged sexually explicit text messages with a purportedly underage girl.”

Early October:

FBI agents seize Weiner’s laptop. Details on the precise date and exactly what level of scrutiny the Bureau’s New York office applied to the contents are unclear.

October 7:

The infamous Access Hollywood audio surfaces with Donald Trump bragging that he grabs women he barely knows “by the pussy.” He says they let you get away with it if you are famous.

The story creates an immediate firestorm. Most pundits claim his candidacy has been irrevocably damaged. But two things happen to mitigate the damage. Within hours, the first emails of the John Podesta email hack are released, likely courtesy of Russia by way of Wikileaks. The rest of 19,252 Democratic National Committee emails are leaked over the rest of the month.

October 9:

The beleaguered Trump shows up at his final debate press conference with three women who have leveled sexual assault allegations at Bill Clinton: Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey. A fourth woman at the press conference, Kathy Shelton (whom Johnson called “Hillary’s rape victim”), was 12 years old when a 27-year-old Hillary Clinton successfully defended her accused rapist in court. Johnson, Bannon and Kushner worked as a team to put the four women at the center of the debate.

Chuck Johnson, who paid an undisclosed amount of money to surface the Weiner sexting story, claims credit to WhoWhatWhy for bringing the women to the debate. “I was the one who arranged the whole thing,” he says. “From top to bottom.” (Johnson tells WhoWhatWhy that he spent a whopping total of one million dollars of his own money on opposition research against Hillary Clinton.)

During the month of October, nothing official is heard from either the NYPD, the FBI or the US Attorney’s office. But clearly people have been leaking regularly to Trump campaign surrogates and the Trump family about developments in the ongoing investigations.

Left to right: Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, Lara Trump (behind in red dress) and Tiffany Trump
Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

October 24:

Appearing on Fox & Friends a month after the Daily Mail revelations, Eric Trump’s wife, Lara Trump, hints broadly at an “October Surprise.” Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law says, “There’s still a few days left in October… We’ve got some stuff up our sleeve.”

The alleged 15-year-old victim of Anthony Weiner’s sexting escapades lives in Gastonia, North Carolina. Coincidentally or not, Lara and Eric Trump visited the local GOP office in Gastonia just three days before her TV appearance.

October 25:

Rudy Giuliani also appears on Fox & Friends, bearing a similar message. Host Brian Kilmeade asks the Trump surrogate about the campaign’s plan for the final two weeks.

Laughing, Giuliani replies, “You’ll see. We’ve got a couple of surprises left.” Repeating the phrase “you’ll see,” Giuliani adds, “And I think it will be enormously effective.”

Giuliani isn’t quite finished. According to a comprehensive story by DailyKos on the leaks, Giuliani is asked by a My City Paper reporter on his way out of the Fox studio what the October Surprise might be. “No hints,” responds the former mayor. “But it will be good.”

October 26

Roughly three weeks after the FBI’s New York bureau seized Weiner’s laptop and discovered Clinton emails, Director Comey hears about it for the first time. Explanations for the purported delay in notifying Comey of this startling discovery include the New York office being distracted by other projects and its computers repeatedly crashing. The practical effect was to delay the damaging announcement to much closer to the election — when Clinton forces had much less time to respond.

On the same day Comey is notified, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, reverses course and decides that he will vote for Donald Trump after all, even though he still will not endorse him. Chaffetz had been one of the most outspoken Republicans in protesting the infamous Access Hollywood video. Is the timing sheer coincidence or has Chaffetz also heard the leaks about the bombshell that is coming and has decided to back a winner?

Rudy Giuliani campaigning for Donald Trump, 2016.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Giuliani appears on Fox News so giddy he can barely contain himself. On America’s Newsroom he declares that Trump has a surprise or two “that you’re going to be hearing about in the next few days.” Warming to his task, he continues, “I mean, I mean…I’m talking about some…pretty big surprises…You’ll see.” By the end of this carefully drawn out tease, Giuliani is positively chortling with self-satisfaction.

October 28

Comey sends a letter to Congress announcing that the FBI is looking into new Clinton emails after learning of documents “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation.”

Comey’s letter to Congress, described by media sources as well as politicians on the left and right as “brief” and “vague,” does not say that the FBI is re-opening its investigation, but that is how the world will interpret his remarks — thanks to the way the media echo chamber accepts Chaffetz’s coyly worded tweet at face value. Comey, it is obvious in hindsight, had lost control of the narrative some days before his letter to Congress.

His letter reads in part: “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned about emails [which may] contain classified material.”

October 29

Lara Trump brags to WABC’s Rita Cosby that Trump had “forced” Comey’s hand with the letter.

“I think my father-in-law forced their hand in this. You know, he has been the one since the beginning saying that she shouldn’t be able to run for president, and I commend him on that.”

October 30

The FBI asks the federal court in New York for a warrant to search Abedin’s emails on Weiner’s computer.

The request for the warrant reads, “There is probable cause to believe that the Subject Laptop contains evidence, contraband, fruits, and/or other items illegally possessed in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 793 (e) and (f).”

When the warrant is released to the public on Dec. 20, it is hammered by critics. Randy Schoenberg, the lawyer who forced the court to unseal the document, is quoted in The Hill as saying, “I see nothing at all in the search warrant application that would give rise to probable cause, nothing that would make anyone suspect that there was anything on the laptop beyond what the FBI had already searched [for.]”

October 31

The mainstream media who have collectively so far viewed the election as a formality begin to show signs of worry. Reassuring its cosmopolitan readers that Clinton’s established strength remains unassailable, the Guardian reports: “Nearly 100 former Department of Justice officials and prosecutors, both Republican and Democratic and led by the former Obama attorney general Eric Holder, signed a letter criticising Comey’s decision.”

The contradiction between Comey’s radio silence on the FBI’s ongoing probe into Russian computer hacking and his vocal reopening of the investigation into Hillary’s emails draws criticism that he has violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal officials from abusing their authority to sway elections. In a Times op-ed explaining the complaint he has filed against the FBI with two oversight bodies, Richard Painter, a lawyer with the George W. Bush administration, writes, “The F.B.I.’s job is to investigate, not to influence the outcome of an election.”

November 1

Chuck Johnson, the man who told WhoWhatWhy he connected the 15-year-old with the Daily Mail’s Alana Goodman, brags on a Trumpdevoted Reddit thread about his role in the new Comey bombshell.

ChuckCJohnsonVerified

Hillary is collapsing after I helped introduce underaged women who sexted with Weiner to various newspaper journalists. It’s over. The black vote is too low to matter. We can’t get complacent but there are serious problems for the Democrats.

November 2

A letter from the girl to Comey is leaked and published by BuzzFeed. In it, she accuses the FBI itself of having a political agenda and seeking to blow the story out of proportion by tipping off the media:

“Not even 10 minutes after being forensically interviewed with the FBI for seven hours, I received a phone call from a REPORTER asking for a statement.”

By taking this action when she did, she positioned herself as someone not seeking publicity while at the same time creating a new, damaging twist that put the whole thing back in the news.

Depicted in the tweet below are, left to right: Cassandra Fairbanks, James Gordon Meek and Alana Goodman.

This one came out better because it was taken by @meekwire ! @CassandraRules pic.twitter.com/K59pHO4yqs

— Alana Goodman (@alanagoodman) January 1, 2017

As BuzzFeed writes, Mensch’s ceaseless accusations against Cassandra Fairbanks based on her being a Russian agent were excessive and strange even by Twitter standards. But a friend of Goodman’s, and at least an acquaintance of Johnson’s, Fairbanks has engendered wariness.

Purportedly a former Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders supporter who went over to Trump’s side last summer, she had, by early June, garnered a reputation among progressive activists of being a close ally of an FBI informant.

A BBC article dated October 5, 2016, “The Social Media Star who Flipped to Trump,” accepts her lightning quick transformation at face value. But her cyber-footprint of BLM “activism,” filled with pseudo-radical chic selfies and provocations of fellow protesters, lend credence to suspicions that she was a counterfeit radical, i.e., a poseur, trying to harm the movement. This January, she wrote effusively about Johnson’s crowdsourcing efforts for the right-libertarian site We Are Change. (Johnson told WhoWhatWhy that he knew Fairbanks, but “not well.”)

As Election Day approaches, Trump’s “outside” media machine whirrs into overdrive on the Weiner story, sensationalizing it with every re-iteration. Setting the tone, a True Pundit headline blares:

NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails:

Money Laundering, Sex Crimes with Children, Child Exploitation, Pay to Play, Perjury

November 3

Maximizing the sordid saga for political impact, the Trump campaign releases a TV ad calling Weiner a “pervert” and referencing emails.

The Guardian reports that a highly unfavorable view of Clinton among FBI rank-and-file pressured Comey into re-opening an investigation into her emails. The piece quotes an anonymous Bureau agent who says, “FBI is Trumpland.”

November 4

In one of the most amazing developments in this bizarre story, Erik Prince gives an extraordinary interview on Breitbart, the propaganda outlet formerly run by Donald Trump’s campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Prince, the founder of the reviled Blackwater mercenary force that operated in Iraq, and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, had been a well-hidden Trump campaign operative until this interview.

Prince tells Breitbart that he has learned what is in the newly discovered emails from well-placed sources in the NYPD, and claims that it includes evidence of “money laundering” and of a Clinton “sex island” with “under-age sex slaves” that is “so disgusting…”

He claims that Abedin is “an agent of influence very sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, that Weiner himself may soon be arrested by NYPD.”

None of these assertions held up, but for the next four days they would spread like wildfire on fake news sites and stoke the renewed cries of “lock her up.”

The new investigation will “shine the light on this great evil,” Prince announces. Some claim that this commentary added credence to the now infamous fake “child sex ring” news story dubbed Pizzagate being pushed on fringe right-wing sites

In a lengthy interview with WhoWhatWhy, Chuck Johnson spoke of his long and close relationship with Erik Prince which began when they met in 2011 at a conservative Human Rights Conference hosted in Oslo. “We talk once or twice a week,” he adds. “We’re still friends.”

Like other Trump surrogates, Prince said that, if someone under FBI investigation were elected president, it would be a constitutional crisis. In terms of Clinton, that threat ended the following day when Comey announced that there was no “there” there — not even any new emails.

Few people knew at the time that the country would, in fact, elect a president who was under FBI investigation.

The flow of fake news went according to plan: from the fringe website Infowars to Breitbart to talk radio to Trump and his surrogates to Fox News and on to the world.

November 6:

Less than two days before Election Day, the Weiner story is over.

Comey clears Clinton of any wrongdoing once again. Comey’s brief letter to Congress explains that after “working round the clock” the investigators have decided, “not to change our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.” It turns that that there were no new Clinton emails, no evidence of money laundering, nothing relating to sex islands or sex slaves, no arrest or charges against Weiner.

But the damage was done.

November 9

Johnson is spotted in the VIP section of Trump’s victory party at New York’s Hilton Hotel.

While Johnson would not divulge to WhoWhatWhy who invited him to the notoriously exclusive celebration, he spoke freely about his influence with Trump’s braintrust. He described a process of vetting, suggesting, and introducing candidates to the incoming administration through his highly placed friends. He estimates “about a hundred” of his picks got jobs with the new administration, with more still being added.

With their candidate headed for the White House, Giuliani can continue to gloat; Lara Trump can be thankful she had a role to play; Prince has come out of the woodwork and was reported to be representing Trump in talks with the Russians in the faraway Seychelles Islands; Michael Flynn, who had yelled “Lock her up,” is now under various investigations. And Comey has his hands full with another investigation, looking into the possibility that Trump’s presidential campaign may have colluded with either the Russian government or the Russian mob, or both, in interfering in the presidential election on behalf of Trump. But Comey waited until March 20 — more than four months after the election — to announce that investigation.

In terms of the Weiner story itself there were several loose ends.

•  Had there ever been a 15-year-old girl? If so, had anyone put her up to sexting with Weiner and then paid her to appear on camera in disguise? (Certainly, as WhoWhatWhy’s investigation makes clear, Leathers was paid for her efforts.)

•  Who wrote those confused letters, peppered with literary passages, surfaced by the Daily Mail?

•  Did the fact that the Daily Mail was threatened by a libel suit play any part in the tale?

•  Had Comey’s hand been forced by supporters of Donald Trump within the FBI?

•  How did so much false information get out regarding Weiner’s laptop before the FBI even obtained its search warrant?

•  Who leaked information to Lara Trump and Giuliani?

•  Did anyone feed false stories to Prince, or did he make them up?

And of course the biggest question of all: Would Trump be president today had it not been for a mysterious 15-year-old girl, Chuck Johnson’s efforts, Alana Goodman’s story in the Daily Mail and Prince’s totally false claims about what might have been on the “new” emails that did not in fact exist?

Trump himself was clearly grateful to the FBI chief. On January 22, at a White House reception for law-enforcement officials, the newly-minted president singled out Comey for special praise and a warm hug.

Yet, with Trump under intense scrutiny over — practically everything, but particularly his alleged close ties to Russia — Trump’s media proxies kept their base focused on the Clinton emails. This strategy also kept the pressure on Comey, who was due to testify to Congress on both matters.

The allegations have grown to include unnamed NYPD brass claiming that Clinton personally knew all about Weiner’s sexting in real time, including but not limited to the girl’s purported suicidal ideation. As the right-wing site True Pundit wrote on March 22:

New York Police Department detectives and sources working an underage child pornography case against Anthony Weiner confirm the laptop seized from the former congressman contains proof that Hillary Clinton knew he was engaging in a long sexual relationship with a minor but did not intervene to alert any state or federal authorities to protect the 15 year old.

Almost nothing in these reports could be confirmed — including that there was any kind of pending case against Weiner, as implied by the New York Post:

On the federal level, Weiner could be charged with sexual exploitation of children, which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 30.

In a replay of a move used on Comey before Election Day, a newly tweaked version of Weiner’s sexting partner’s angry letter to the Bureau director is leaked on March 28 to Gateway Pundit.

Donald Trump himself played a crucial role in this. On the eve of Comey’s latest congressional testimony, the president, ever masterful at calculated distractions, was actually attacking his own FBI director, tweeting:

FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017

At the time of posting, Trump had added a second astonishing accomplishment to his surprise electoral victory: keeping the country focused on wrongdoing by someone other than himself.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Weiner (Twitter), hook (tswedensky / Pixabay) and catfish (Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr).

The post Exclusive: How Trump Backers Weaponized Anthony Weiner to Defeat Clinton appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

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