It would be hard to imagine a less likely candidate that Donald Trump for President of the United States. To many Trump was a relic of the 80’s, an aging, uneven dilettante, a serial womanizer, a repeat bankrupt, a narcissistic Manhattan B lister, a media bull shitter and obnoxious loudmouth.
To others he was a successful real estate tycoon a deft business genius turned flamboyant reality TV star. To those who loved his TV series The Apprentice he was an American icon, a golden haired symbol of hard won success and outspoken support of America and Americans. To law enforcement Trump had lawyered up and papered over misdeeds that ranged from mob connections, affairs, money laundering, and to the media elites who worked for the broadsheets. He used mob savvy lawyers like Roy Cohn and later a softer, equally crooked version called Michael Cohen to do his dirty deniable clean-up work. Trump was a long time Manhattan publicity whore, a man who even posed as “John Barron” or “John Miller” as his own PR person to compliment himself and now possibly suffering from some geriatric ailment that prevented him from forming a compete sentence. There was no way a tainted throw-back like Trump would ever win an election, let alone pay for one. Unless you were running against Hillary Clinton.
Initially, the conservative right backed an outsider, a plain speaker, a tough talking patriot who would focus his efforts on restoring the esteem of the much maligned middle aged white conservative male and someone who didn’t care what the elite media or the entitled left thought. That man was Ted Cruz.
When Ted Cruz lost steam after losing in the Indiana primary on May 3, 2016 to Donald Trump, the extreme right and the center right gravitated to the reality show star. The man with wasta and a rapidly growing following was now Trump. Trump, with a little help and a lot of money, could be the perfect wrecking ball to swing in the sclerotic insider world of DC and smash down the politically correct left. This appeal was also bolstered by a general sense of dread that the elderly Hillary Clinton, much abused wife of Bill Clinton, former Senator who moved to New York and frequent flier mile secretary of state had been carefully placed into political positions to assuage her naked hungry for power. The Democrats had elected a man from mixed parentage, why not the first woman?
Despite what the left considered an ideal candidate, Clinton appeared to just patiently await her coronation. She did not connect with voters. Aloof, entitled and not in touch. It was not an ideal election and the poor choices sparked fierce debate. A knock down slugfest creating a perfect place for someone to light a fire. Something the world of social media was happy to do.
Trump had no money to win and Clinton was drowning in it. Elections run on advertising and image. Raising funds requires making bargains with the devil and using every tactic available. What was needed was something that would push the ball over the line. Cinton had weak points. Trust, arrogance, inability to tell the truth, a dodgy family foundation, deleted emails…there must be something in those deleted emails….if they could be found. Clinton’s camp found finding fault with Trump laughably easy All they had to do was Google the thousands of outrageous statements, deplorable acts and thousands of silly statements.
Surprisingly, this mudslinging only emboldened Trump. His followers didn’t trust the media. He would simply tweet if he had something to say and the media would go nuts chasing Trump’s insulting tweets until he tweeted again.All of this perfectly in line with Steve Bannon’s desire to destroy the cozy old school relationship between government and the media. Bannon’s history as a investor in Hollywood, turned propaganda film maker turned blogger made him an outsider and Trump inflamed the old school media with his lack of respect.
Tweeting vs Sunday print editorials is perfect OODA loop stuff. The O.O.D.A. Loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act was Col John Boyd’s way of explaining to fighter pilots in the 50’s how combatants go through the process of reacting to stimulus Boyd’s idea was that if you move faster than your opponent you will always maintain the initiative. Even if what you are doing does not make sense. It is more important to confuse and wrong foot the enemy until you strike. So Donald Trump and his strategic advisor Steve Bannon worked the short game while a group of supporters worked the long game. If Clinton wanted coverage on Sunday news shows and magazine profiles, Bannon was happy to roll ini the viral mud of social media. It was all about controversy the electricity that drives popular discussion and top of mind awareness. He needed fuel to stoke this fire just as he had built up Brietbart on bashing Clinton and Obama.
The press still has not regained their balance. Demanding, facts, in depth interviews, real concepts Bannon and Trump just fired off more tweets more Facebook ads and laughed all the way to the bank. Trump’s media maven Brad Pasquale spent 80% of their ad budget on Facebook and created another perfect way to alienate the main stream media. A business that relied heavily on campaign ads to swell their coffers. It also created a petri dish for Russian trolls and fake news as the monetization of clicks drove thousands of enterprising people to capitalize on Trump’s stickiness and viral qualities. The election was so viral that Romanian kids could create hyperbolic political ads and fake news sites and then use monetization sites like Adsense to make up to $10,000 a day. Trolls not pundits rose to the top of the food chain.
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Controversy needs dirt. There were plenty of willing miners that searched for dirt that would be used to feed the trolls.
The Clinton Dirt posse were a strange cabal of characters straight out central casting. They range from Chicago investment banker Peter W. Smith, then an aging and now dead scandal monger, Iowa activist Sam Clovis an obese radio host, Charles C. Johnson a short pudgy red headed ginger muckracker, former folk singer and Reagan era speechwriter Dana Rohrabacher, ex-Blackwater neo-mercenary Erik Prince, Knight of Malta and former Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, Rohrbacher employee and Prince supporter Paul Behrends, Victoria Toensing (muckraking media savvy lawyer for Clovis and Prince) and even Prince’s best buddy and role model Olly North of Iran Contra fame popped up in media reports. Other than Johnson and Prince (who also worked together against Weiner) It was the 80’s all over again. And this election suddenly seemed to be all about dirt and dirty tricks.
This group of aging political super villains (to the Democrats at least) appeared to act in concert or in support of candidate Trump’s National Security Team under General Mike Flynn. Flynn was not a politician, he was a war fighter, so the people he picked seemed heavy on enthusiasm and short on diplomacy. The extreme took front and center, with neocons. alt-rights and just plain scary featured prominently. An Iran Contra level of paranoia, slippery dealing and skullduggery took hold. Conversations, speeches and memos with terms like “deep state”, “fake news”, “political warfare”, “information campaigns” and “islamofascism” peppered conversations. There was an enemy out there, but the comingling of enemies that included Antifa, Muslim Brotherhood, Clinton supporters, Marxists, ISIS and the media made for a heady brew.
When Trump assembled his “brightest minds” foreign policy team the media had to hit Google to figure out who they were. It didn’t help that the reality show candidate said he formed his world view by watching television on the weekends. His starting line-up was Joseph E. Schmitz, Gen. Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Walid Phares and would be chaired by Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the later investigation into Russian interference because he actually met with Russians as did most if not all of the rest except for pro-Israel, Lebanese-born Christian Walid Phares who was a virulent critic of Islam and Kellogg who had briefly run the Iraq CPA and had worked for intelligence contractors after becoming an expert on network centric warfare
Almost immediately various elements of the Russian government began reaching out to this crew to offer “Clinton Dirt”. It is important to remember that at a certain point the right assumed that Clinton had deleted both embarrassing and sensitive emails and assumed that many of these were Classified or above. The most high profile “Clinton Dirt” was the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign staff and Russians. But the search began much earlier.
Some of the team surreptitiously travelled to Europe to make contact. The spring summer and fall of 2016 were full of multiple random meetings with multiple random Russians and Trump proxies. That intensity of randomness about one topic and within that short window would make the whole affair not random at all. This was in addition to the formal contacts the Trump team had with the Russian ambassador in the U.S.
Trump was no stranger to Russia or Russians in his business dealings. His checkered business past swung from grandiose to bankrupt to cash flush. His decision to shift from building and owning to licensing meant he had to be a brand. The idea of a TV show that featured him as wealthy and successful self-made man was perfect. In 2004 The Apprentice was born, produced by TV’s most successful reality show producer, former nanny and Venice T-shirt hawker Mark Burnett. It also meant the classic TV watching demographic began to meet the man from Queens as a tough, no nonsense purveyor of the poor man’s view of American Dream. Trump insists he made over 200 million dollars over the 14 seasons he was on the show and was able to successfully license his name on properties from hotels to golf courses. More importantly Trumphad managed to gild his tarnished brand with thin 12 carat TV reality star gold. .
Trump had plenty of Russian customers, friends and was working on a hotel in Moscow (among other locations) before his run for office but he would constantly downplay his business and personal interests in Russia to the media during the campaign. Did Russia really figure into Trump’s thinking during the election?
The one area where Russia was important in the campaign was the general sense was that Trump wanted to move Russia away from Iran in their war against extremists in Syria and move our support towards Israel and the Gulf dictators in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Trump was going to not only embrace Assad but work with Russia to push back Iran. The reverse of what Obama tried to do in overthrowing Assad using covert “moderate” rebels trained by the CIA. Trump’s idea of working with the Russians was dangerous, it had elements of Stalin working with Roosevelt in World War Two against a common enemy only to watch most of Eastern Europe vanish into the Soviet empire. President Obama, seeing decades of endless warfare had moved away from the anti Iran/pro Israel Neocon vision of a new Order in the Middle East.
The other incentive to include Russia was a multi-billion-dollar plan from ACU Strategic Partners to bring nuclear power to the Gulf States with Russian nuclear reactors. A project Flynn had helped push before joining the Trump machine. A plan that would haver required lifting sanctions from the Russian state owned nuclear energy company Rosatom and VTB bank. Instead of waiting for after the election to not interfere with the current President’s policies, Trump’s people jumped right into the middle of foreign policy discussions on multiple and confusing fronts. Searching both for damaging information against opponent Clinton and discussions on their foreign policy plans to drop sanctions and partner with Russia.
George Papadopoulos was approached by Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud. Excited he contacted Sam Clovis about his March 24, 2016 meeting with “Putin’s niece” Sam Clovis’ lawyer is Victoria Toensing, Erik Prince’s lawyer. By August of 2016, Clovis was encouraging Papadopoulos to set up a meeting. Manafort disagreed, insisting that a low level person should travel to Russia to meet and discuss dropping sanctions.
The clown circus continued. Russians appeared to pop up from every nook and cranny offering Clinton Dirt but delivering nothing. When samples were found, they were forgeries. There was even attempts to counter the idea that the Russians were hacking. In August of 2016, that Florida political operative Aarons Nevinsalso reached out to Guccifer, as did Roger Stone. Stone first tried to say that Guccifer 2.0 was not a Russian hacker.
In the summer of 2016, Joseph Schmitz was the former Inspector General for the DoD, turned Blackwatermeltdown-era lawyer had been accused of slow rolling investigations against George W. Bush officials, pitching wonky arms dealsto rebels in Syria. He approached the FBIand other government agencies to verify an offer to hand over the missing Clinton emails from the Dark Web. The offer came via an American contractor he code named “Patriot”. Schmitz took the material to at least two federal agencies and two congressional committees he realized he had been duped.
Carter Page went to Hungary towards the end of the summer and later told the House Intelligence Committee he “did a lot of sightseeing and went to a jazz club. Not much to report.” He did note that “there might have been a Russian in there” Page would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI. The FBI had been granted a FISA surveillance warrant in October of 2016.
Why would so many Trump campaign members be lying about meeting with Russians?
Donald Trump Jr, got an email from Rob Goldstone on June 3 2016 saying that “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
Trump Jr. would later fly to Paris the day before election day to give a $50,000 speech at a think tank. He lunched with At the Hotel Ritz Paris with Syrian Peace activist Randa Kassis a women who supports Russian intervention in the war, and her French husband, Fabien Baussart. A man with Russian ties who is said to have nominatedRussian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize. She summarized her October meeting on Facebook: “I succeeded to pass [to] Trump, through the talks with his son the idea of how we can cooperate together to reach the agreement between Russia and the United States on Syria”
In addition to the globetrotting there were a host of supporters and insiders who made suspicious trips. Suspicious only because the Trump team kept insisting these meetings weren’t happening. In November of 2017. Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak would say that it would take him 20 minutes to list all the Trump people he met with or spoken to on the phone. His recollection did include lengthy meetings with Jeff Sessions and with Mike Flynn on sanctions.
What had turned into an attempt to shape or perhaps reverse Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East found Trump being played by Russian intelligence. To the media, during the campaign, all of this is just churn, no smoking gun, just multiple examples of Trump’s campaign people acting out John Le Carre novels but getting nothing in return, only finding more and more tentacles reaching out from Moscow hoping to get sanctions lifted to free up Putin’s money.
As October 2016 and the election loomed it was clear there was no Clinton Dirt to be had, and Hillary had as she said wiped her servers clean, “like with a cloth”. With Clinton climbing in the polls, Trump needed that October Surprise, even if there wasn’t any dirt on Clinton.
Perhaps some enterprising supporter could invent some?
Peter W. Smith (who died at 81 in May of 2017) bankrolled muckrakers going back giving $25,000 to support the State Troopers who ratted out Bill Clinton and hired then Breitbart reporter Chuck Johnson to find Hillary Clintons missing emails. According to Johnson, he had first met in 2013 when they worked on opposition research on President Obama. It’s not quite clear why a second term President would be of much interest. But Johnson worked with Andrew Auernheimer aka “the Weev”, a convicted hacker living in the Ukraine to help him out. Smith had put 50,000 of his own money and a donor had provided 100,000 in additional funds.
Just after July 22, 2016 When WikiLeaks began publishing the DNC emails, Smith contacted Matt Tait a senior cybersecurity fellow at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. Tait was covering Clinton’s email woes and as an expert on hacking,
Smith assumed that Tait could help him with to the “Clinton Dirt”. Smith conveyed the impression that he was a Trump campaign insider and told Tait that someone from the “Deep Web” had offered his team erased emails and could Tait verify that they were real? Tait had little interest in Smith and wrote up a blog pieceto memorialize the conversation.
On July 27, Donald Trump tweets, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” The July 13, 2018 DoJ indictmentinsist that on the same day, Russian hackers then tried to gain entry into Hillary Clinton’s personal servers. The 20,000 DNC emails released on July 22, 2016 by Wikipedia three days before the Democratic National Convention. Despite the cartoonof an angry Clinton in front of a computer with bombs and money (remember she primarily used a Blackberry) this was still not the “Clinton Dirt” Trump was seeking.
Later on, Tait remembers is being sent an invitation to join Trump associated opposition effort dated September 7, 2016 and labeled, “A Demonstrative Pedagogical Summary to be Developed and Released Prior to November 8, 2016”. KLS Research. the company authoring the report was owned by Smith and registered in Delaware. For nitpickers, a pedagogical summary is not actual evidence but facilitates the presentation of evidence. The assumption was that Clinton had done something illegal but complicated and that crowdsourcing hackers and data would put together a convincing case before the election. The goal was to hire hackers to find anyone or someone who had Clinton Dirt on the dark web.
Again, there was no actual evidence the purpose of the document was to recruit hackers to find and analyze the Clinton Dirt. Tait remarked at the need of the dirty tricksters to create a corporation designed to avoid campaign reporting linked to his recollection that Flynn had asked for go between to receive Clinton emails from the Russians. Tait was also upset that his name had been included and he had no interest in participating. Tait was intrigued enough to start poking holes in the theory of Russians being the source of the DNC hack.
What did happen was an ever expanding analysis of the Guccifer 2.0 documents by the digirati that concluded that Guccifer 2.0 spoke very bad Romanian, had artificially put time codes in documents and tripped up when he made a change to a Word .doc on West Coast time under the name “Ernesto Che’. And that there was no clear evidence of Russian or Western authorship. The slipup Tait had spotted was someone on the West Coast of the U.S. had added an invisible space in Word’s “Track Changes” features to “brand” the document. A peculiar idiosyncrasy that none other than Matt Tait first noticed.
On January 16 2017 the late Smith wrote an interesting blog before his death and laid you the whole hacking affair blaming Obama’s spin doctors on bringing in Russia as the culprit.
- (Clinton’s email) operated on a virtually unprotected server. Its contents were openly available to nation-states and to individuals. WikiLeaks said it was in possession of the 33,000 or so missing Clinton emails and has sat on them for nine months without releasing them.
- Guccifer (Marcel Lehel Lazar), an individual self-trained in cybersecurity, successfully hacked into 100 private email accounts of prominent U.S. and world government officials with ease. His unchallenged legal testimony indicated no Russian involvement.
- John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, had his commercial email account hackedwhen he fell for a bogus password-change request. His emails were released through WikiLeaks, with no evidence of Russian involvement.
- While Guccifer 2.0 is an individual who claims to have modeled his work after the original Guccifer, his DNC server leaksresulted in the resignation of the discredited head of the DNC. The material was readily available from the DNC site, which had protection deficiencies which were unattended to for 18 months. WikiLeaks said that the copies delivered to them came from a leak from a disgruntled DNC staffer, not a hack.
- DCLeaks appears to involve individuals in the Washington, D.C. area who are interested in disseminating political information. Included in these emails were those belonging to the author, which were on a weakly-protected state GOP server. It is difficult to see that such mundane content would be of interest to Russia.
- Peter W. Smith
To make matters more obvious a bizarre PR campaign was mounted in Washington D.C. to show a fictional/documentary film to convince the media and lawmakers Bill Browder does the best job of laying this out in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee :
“Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet intelligence officer naturalised as an American citizen, was hired to lead the Magnitsky repeal effort. Mr. Akhmetshin has been involved in a number of similar campaigns where he’s been accused of various unethical and potentially illegal actions like computer hacking.
Veselnitskaya also instructed U.S. law firm Baker Hostetler and their Washington, D.C.-based partner Marc Cymrot to lobby members of Congress to support an amendment taking Sergei Magnitsky’s name off the Global Magnitsky Act. Mr. Cymrot was in contact with Paul Behrends, a congressional staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time, as part of the anti-Magnitsky lobbying campaign.
Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act. He contacted a number of major newspapers and other publications to spread false information that Sergei Magnitsky was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal. They also spread false information that my presentations to lawmakers around the world were untrue.
As part of Veselnitskaya’s lobbying, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Chris Cooper of the Potomac Group, was hired to organize the Washington, D.C.-based premiere of a fake documentary about Sergei Magnitsky and myself. This was one the best examples of Putin’s propaganda.
They hired Howard Schweitzer of Cozzen O’Connor Public Strategies and former Congressman Ronald Dellums to lobby members of Congress on Capitol Hill to repeal the Magnitsky Act and to remove Sergei’s name from the Global Magnitsky bill.
On June 13, 2016, they funded a major event at the Newseum to show their fake documentary, inviting representatives of Congress and the State Department to attend.
While they were conducting these operations in Washington, D.C., at no time did they indicate that they were acting on behalf of Russian government interests, nor did they file disclosures under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.”
Browder makes the case that the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration were deeply hiring Putin and his inner circle but why the oblique approach? And why didn’t they just do something on the Clinton Dirt they had been so eagerly offering…but never producing?
Rinat Akmetshin, and this unusual cast of characters including Paul Behrends, Erik Prince, Natalia Veselnitskaya would appear at Dana Rohrabacher’s Liberty Ball at the Library of Congress. The 680 photos of the participants have been since taken down but snagged by a number of people on social media
Next Part Three