Trey Gowdy just released a statement on the President’s press conference. It’s about what you’d expect in most respects. But the last sentence is key.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m pretty cautious in my arguments, cautious on a lot of fronts. I can be aggressive in how I frame those arguments. I sometimes speak in hyperbole. But in basic judgments I’m quite cautious. Something is fundamentally wrong here. There is no reasonable explanation for the simple facts we see other than that Russia has some kind of hold over President Trump.
President Trump’s press conference with President Putin was relatively normal by the extremely abnormal standards of the Trump Presidency – until the end. Then, when asked about who he believed, Russia or US intelligence, Trump went on a tirade against the FBI, lashing out about the DNC server, Hillary’s emails and more. Later, Putin provided a non-denial denial about a pee tape and Trump concluded with a final attack against Peter Strzok and the Mueller “witch hunt.”
Asked whether he believes US intel or Putin, Trump goes on tirade against FBI over "DNC Server", says it's not clear who to believe. pic.twitter.com/d7Viw1Vn4B
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 16, 2018
Take a moment to read this column by David Ignatius in the Post. Ignatius’s column in early 2017, first revealing the calls between Michael Flynn and the then-Russia Ambassador, was a key moment in the whole Russia story. It lit a fuse that led to Flynn’s resignation only weeks later and showed for perhaps the first time that the entire Trump/Russia story – with at least some levels of collusion – was quite real. This new column has no big news revelation. What is provides is perspective, ways in which the Friday indictments are a warning to both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
In the first case, one of the things that is easy to lose sight of in the 29 page indictment, precisely because it is so front and center, is just how much visibility the US seems to have into Russian intelligence operations. It is quite extraordinary. The details read more like a government’s after-action report of its own activities than intelligence gathered about an adversary government’s most secret operations. To some degree this is just the extraordinary capacities of US intelligence services, the fruits of which the public seldom gets to see in any sort of detail. But it seems like a particularly deep penetration of Russian intelligence specifically. As Ignatius notes, Putin must be wondering what else the US knows, what other operations are compromised and whether there are human as well as signals intelligence compromises they don’t know about.
From the column …
Looking at this case through a counterintelligence lens raises an intriguing new series of questions. In putting all the detail into the indictment, Mueller was giving Russian intelligence a hint of how much America can see. But this public disclosure may mask much deeper capabilities — perhaps a capacity to expose many more layers of GRU military-intelligence operations and those by the Russian civilian spy services, the FSB and the SVR. American intelligence agencies rarely tip their hand this way by disclosing so much in an indictment; clearly they did so here to send messages.
Key line from a new article in The Jerusalem Post on the apparent denouement of the Syrian Civil War and Israel’s effort to enlist Russian assistance in securing its key strategic objectives in a post-conflict Syria: “Benjamin Netanyahu worked laboriously mobilizing all his influence in Washington to persuade Donald Trump to meet Vladimir Putin.”
It got overwhelmed by news of the new Special Counsel indictments on Friday. But a group of Senate Democrats released a report late on Thursday (or early Friday) which shows why Congressional oversight is so important and what might be in store for next year. Most coverage of the report focused on the fact that Novartis gave Trump fixer Michael Cohen policy recommendations that ended up included in official administration policy. But that’s not the most important finding.
This is wild. You may have heard of the British far-right activist Tommy Robinson (actually a pseudonym for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon). He’s the founder of something called the English Defense League, a far-right nationalist group with a record of organized violence against British Muslims. Think of it as some variant of US alt-right types but with a specific focus on anti-Muslim xenophobia. Pam Geller, just more terrible and violent. He’s currently serving a year sentence for breaking a UK law that bars certain kinds of publicity of on-going criminal trials.
That’s “Tommy Robinson”.
Now, remember Sam Brownback, the former GOP Senator and later Governor of Kansas who close to bankrupted the state? He’s now President Trump’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Usually Republicans look to some one like this to speak out for Christian groups in majority Muslim countries with maybe a smattering of attention to other religions to keep up appearances. (To be clear, Christian groups are currently targeted for repression and violence in a number of Middle Eastern countries at the moment – Copts in Egypt, Christian groups in Iraq, etc. Obviously there are many global cases of religious persecutions facing other religions.)
But according to Reuters, when Brownback was meeting with the British Ambassador to the US recently he pressed him for better treatment of Robinson and apparently threatened that the US would go public with the criticism if his government did not. “Brownback told [Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch] that if Britain did not treat Robinson more sympathetically, the Trump administration might be compelled to criticize Britain’s handling of the case, according to the two sources in contact with organizers of the planned pro-Robinson demonstration.”
The British were apparently bewildered by why a roving ambassador for religious freedom would lobby on behalf of a notorious anti-Muslim bigot with a record of violence in the UK. I’m frankly not as bewildered. In the Brownback/Trump milieu anti-Muslim activism is frequently seen as a de facto express of religious liberty activism on behalf of Christians. But separate from that, this isn’t the kind of getting in each other’s business the US and Great Britain usually do with each other.
There’s no specific evidence. But the Reuters story was published tonight. It seems hard to figure that this bit of information wasn’t shaken free by President Trump’s apparent attempts over the last 48 hours to topple the current British government.
President Trump’s past statements denying, clouding, blame-shifting, and minimizing (Prime access) the Russian hacking of Democrats in 2016 read in an especially stark light after today’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers.
I’m hoping to write quite a bit more about the various threads of information coming out of today’s indictments. But one point I want to zero in on has to do with “Guccifer 2.0,” the purported independent hacker who was in fact either a Russian intelligence officer or a fictive personality through whom various Russian intelligence operatives communicated. The key is that it was known well before the 2016 election that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence operative and numerous political operatives and journalists continued to use him as a source of information. Virtually every publication reported on the documents published by Wikileaks. But with Guccifer 2.0 many journalists were going to “him” with specific requests or getting special deliveries right from him. Specifically, one of his go-to publications was Jared Kushner’s New York Observer. And at the time Kushner was very much a hands-on owner.
First, how was it known that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence operative? There were various technical and tradecraft clues which were reported on as early as June 2016 in publications like Motherboard and Ars Technica. One notable, telling moment came when Motherboard was interviewing him and asked him to explain his hack in Romanian, purportedly his native language. He couldn’t or wouldn’t. When he finally typed out a few sentences in the language they were riddled with errors. Clearly the claim to be Romanian was bogus. To be clear, this is reporting from June 2016 — not just before the election but before the first large scale releases of documents from Wikileaks.
Yet one of Guccifer’s go to publications continued to be The New York Observer, Kushner’s newspaper. I remember quite clearly that in early September 2016 I saw an article in The Observer that trumpeted new “exclusive” documents from Guccifer 2.0. The author, Michael Sainato, reached out to Gufficer 2.0 directly asking what he could give him. By this point the fact that all these hacked DNC and Clinton documents were coming out of a Russian intelligence operation was widely understood. There were definitely still skeptics. But it was widely known, especially the identity of Guccifer 2.0.
Setting aside whether it was appropriate for Trump’s son-in-law’s publication to be publishing this stuff, I was stunned that they’d do it purely for optics reasons. I wrote about it in this September 6th 2016 post.
I reached out to a person closely associated with The Observer just after seeing the article and basically asked, “WTF? How can this be happening?”
The reply I got was that it was the work of a freelancer who wrote the piece and basically the paper wasn’t really involved. (That is, to be clear, not how freelancing works.) The freelancer was Michael Sainato who wrote numerous Guccifer 2.0 pieces for The Observer and appears to have continued writing regularly for them up until November of last year.
To be clear, I certainly wasn’t the only one who noticed. The Clinton campaign went ballistic about it. But basically no one cared or paid much attention. (Here’s a good Foreign Policy article from 2017 about how the Observer became a go-to outlet for Russian hacks.) The Observer wasn’t the only outlet either. Here’s a Glenn Greenwald article from October 9th based on documents received directly from Guccifer 2.0. Here Greenwald mocks what was already understood: that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence operation.
The emails were provided to The Intercept by the source identifying himself as Guccifer 2.0, who was reportedly responsible for prior significant hacks, including one that targeted the Democratic National Committee and resulted in the resignations of its top four officials. On Friday, Obama administration officials claimed that Russia’s “senior-most officials” were responsible for that hack and others, although they provided no evidence for that assertion.
The point is that this was known months before the articles I’m referencing were written. It was an open secret. Lots of people worked with “him.” And Kushner’s paper was near the top of the list.
Look, I'm no big deal, but today is the final straw for me. I will never support Trump again. If that makes me a NeverTrumper, so be it.
I am a tea party conservative, that will never change. But Trump was a traitor to this country today. That must not be accepted.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) July 16, 2018
Again contradicting his director of national intelligence, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that “no,” Russia is not still targeting the United States.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (NE) issued a harsh retort to President Donald Trump’s unprecedented behavior during a presser with Vladimir Putin, countering Trump’s assertion that the U.S. is also to blame for the decline in relations with Russia and calling Trump’s comments “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” he said in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
Hatch on the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki:
“Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Our nation’s top intelligence agencies all agree on that point. From the President on down, we must do everything in our power to protect our democracy..” (1/3)
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 16, 2018
“by securing future elections from foreign influence and interference, regardless of what Vladimir Putin or any other Russian operative says.” (2/3)
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 16, 2018
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 16, 2018
No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.
— Abby Huntsman (@HuntsmanAbby) July 16, 2018
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued a statement on Monday forcefully combatting statements President Donald Trump made standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”