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Trump says using stolen information not a crime, as more Russia connections are confirmed

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Trump says using stolen information not a crime, as more Russia connections are confirmed

 

Mike Licht / Flickr general flynn hand on head...
Mike Licht / Flickr

Donald Trump’s legal team has moved to dismiss a lawsuit accusing them of using stolen information in the 2016 campaign by introducing a new argument. Using stolen information, say Trump’s lawyers, is protected free speech. Meanwhile, new information has appeared on two long dangling threads of the Russia investigation. A new connection has been drawn between former national security advisor Michael Flynn and a Republican strategist who reached out to Russian hackers. And that Russian bank that was communicating with the Trump Organization seems less like a coincidence, and more like … a Russian bank communicating with the Trump Organization.

A report in the Atlantic covers the lawsuit filed by donors and employees of the Democratic National Committee after information stolen from their email servers by Russian hackers was used by both the Trump campaign and Trump adviser Roger Stone. Lawyers for the Trump campaign argue that the First Amendment protects the “right to disclose information—even stolen information—so long as (1) the speaker did not participate in the theft and (2) the information deals with matters of public concern.”

That “did not participate in the theft” is an amazingly exact standard, considering that the Trump campaign may not have been directly involved in the theft, but was certainly aware that the material was stolen, and worked with WikiLeaks and others to disseminate the stolen goods. The other standard, “the information deals with matters of public concern,” is even more vague. The emails stolen were not government information and not connected to any crime. These were not the Pentagon Papers. Most of the material stolen, including most of that used by the Trump campaign, was little more than internal discussion and strategy proposals—nothing that affects public policy. Setting the bar at public interest opens the door for the publication of just about anything. As a test, interest is no test at all.

As the Atlantic indicates, this motion seems to be testing language that could be part of an argument from the Trump team when special counsel Robert Mueller issues a final report. Trump wasn’t conspiring with Russian operatives to use stolen information to harm his political opponent and subvert the election; he was using freedom of speech to reveal information of public interest. Freedom!

Meanwhile, at the Wall Street Journal, new information draws a firm connection between former GOP strategist Peter Smith, who committed suicide last year, and the raising of money to be used to locate … Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Smith met with Flynn first in 2015, and it looks as if the two may have participated in a business venture related to cybersecurity, which is striking, considering the connection both men have to Russians who stole information from the DNC and Democratic operatives. Before he committed suicide in 2017, Smith took money from several Republican donors, telling them that he was on the trail of emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal server. Over a year ago, reports surfaced that Russian hackers were trying to obtain this information and pass it to Michael Flynn. It wasn’t clear at the time that the efforts by Smith to fund Russian hacking were directly connected to attempts to get the information to Flynn. But that seems more certain at this point, since Flynn and Smith were working together even before Flynn joined the Trump campaign.

Before he committed suicide in a Minnesota hotel room, Smith formed a company and collected money to pay hackers for what he claimed was a copy of Hillary Clinton’s “deleted emails.” Smith claimed that many people had copies of the emails, and that he had sent copies to WikiLeaks. However, investigators have found no evidence that Clinton’s personal server was ever breached. The claims made by Smith that he had Clinton’s emails, and that they contained information damaging to the Clintons, have made his suicide part of the broader conspiracy theories on the Right.

Even as new information shows that Flynn and Smith were connected, a very different connection is drawing fresh attention. The New Yorker reports that the odd chatter between a Russian bank and a server based in Trump Tower now looks less like a coincidence, and more like communication. In 2016, IT researchers looking into claims of Russian hacking turned up a domain linked to the Trump Organization that was primarily used to deliver email advertisements, but was also seeing regular low-level traffic from Russia’s Alfa Bank. Alfa Bank’s computers were pinging the Trump server from a few up to several dozens of times each day. One other organization seemed to have a similar relationship with the mystery server: Spectrum Health, a company linked to Betsy DeVos and her brother Erik Prince. Based on the pattern and frequency of the communications, the researchers concluded that the three servers formed a “covert communication channel.”

After months of denial, apparent disinterest from government investigators, and dozens of “experts” jumping in to dismiss the communications among the servers as either something related to the advertising mission of the Trump server or some coincidence in the way networks chat, further research indicates that … it was likely a covert communication channel.

Information about the server was one of those bits of data that the New York Times had previous to the election but chose to dismiss as unimportant. Despite a detailed story filed by a Times reporter, the story was edited down and merged with other information in a story headlined “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. sees no clear link to Russia” which was published on an interior page two days after the Times devoted the entire front page to the story that Comey had re-opened the investigation into Clinton’s emails. Slate published a more detailed article, and  the Times’ public editor, Liz Spayd, later published a column critical of how the issue had been handled—but only after the election. And the result of that was that Spayd was fired by Times executive editor Dean Baquet.

“The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had,” she wrote. Spayd’s article did not sit well with Baquet. “It was a bad column,” he told the Washington Post. Spayd argued that Slate had acted correctly by publishing a more aggressive story, which Baquet dismissed as a “fairly ridiculous conclusion.” That June, Spayd’s job was eliminated, as the paper’s publisher said that the position of ombudsman had become outdated in the digital age.

There was one other outcome of this story. Alfa Bank hired cybersecurity firm Stroz Friedberg to produce a report stating that there was no connection between the bank and the Trump Organization.

In June, 2017, Trump nominated Brian Benczkowski, a lawyer who had overseen the Stroz Friedberg report for Alfa Bank, to lead the criminal division of the Justice Department.

Republicans confirmed Benczkowski in July.

Trump’s advocates claimed that the investigations sponsored by Alfa Bank had proved that Alfa and the Trump Organization were not communicating. In fact, they sidestepped the question. Mandiant, one of the cybersecurity firms, said that it was unable to inspect the bank’s D.N.S. logs from 2016, because Alfa retained such records for only twenty-four hours. The other firm, Stroz Friedberg, gave the same explanation for why it, too, was “unable to verify” the data.

It’s unclear whether the Trump Organization server is one of the threads being followed by special counsel Robert Mueller, but he is certainly looking into the actions of Michael Flynn, who has signed an agreement to cooperate in exchange for a reduction in charges and sentencing.

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Beto Down 10 Points In the Polls?

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Beto Down 10 Points In the Polls?

 

Beto O'Rourke / Flickr Beto O x27 Rourke x27 s...
Beto O’Rourke / Flickr

This will be short, but in a comment in the front page article on last night’s Beto vs. Cruz debate, a poster lamented that Beto is “down 10 points” in the “polls”.  I am by no means saying that Beto will win…I’m a native Texan and we always knew this would be a long shot; however, in this reality-based community, I wanted to set the record straight.

According to 538, the current results of 31 polls has Cruz with a weighted average +5.8%.  While this is certainly a lead, who would have thought a year ago that the senate race in Texas would be this close?  Secondly, 538 has Beto’s chances of winning at 1 in 5 (similar to the odds they gave Trump).  As Texas supporters, we understand the odds, but we are doing everything we can to GOTV.

Something is happening in Texas.

And, win or lose, Democrats, which have been largely overlooked in our state, have the GOP’s attention.

Early voting starts next Tuesday, Oct. 22.  Let’s GOTV.

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An indicted Republican used racism, lies and Trump to attack his opponent. It didn’t go well.

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An indicted Republican used racism, lies and Trump to attack his opponent. It didn’t go well.

 

Rebel HQ / YouTube Big Pharma Republican Challenged By New 1539825945.jpg...
Rebel HQ / YouTube

At the start of 2018, most residents of New York’s rural 27th Congressional District assumed their local GOP Congressmember, multimillionaire Chris Collins, would coast to re-election in this strongly Republican district. But that changed in early August when Collins was indicted for insider trading and lying to the FBI. Those political tremors became seismic waves in September when Collins rejected the pleas of local GOP leaders to drop out so they could nominate a less ethically-challenged candidate. All of a sudden his Democratic opponent, Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, whose grassroots campaign had drawn little national attention beforehand, found himself in the middle of a new Red-to-Blue opportunity as money and support began rolling in.

Collins is one of Trump’s earliest and most strident supporters, so when he found himself facing an unexpected loss, he fell back on the tried and true tactics of his mentor and the modern GOP: racism, lies and personal attacks. Collins first attacked McMurray, whose wife is Asian-American, by showing a video of him speaking Korean and intentionally mistranslating McMurray’s words to falsely claim he worked to outsource jobs. The ad was widely criticized for its racist overtones and lies, so Collins came back with a second attack ad that criticized McMurray for supporting single-payer health care. And Collins’ third ad falsely hit McMurray by taking his comments about Donald Trump out of context. With his personal wealth against McMurray’s underfunded campaign, Collins had the airwaves entirely to himself, and he used it entirely on misleading, negative advertising.

Then something amazing happened.

With new attention on the race, McMurray was able to raise funds for a poll, with very surprising results: despite the strongly Republican inclinations of the district and McMurray’s low-budget campaign, McMurray had moved into a 42-42 dead heat with Collins. Collins’ attack ads appeared to have only raised McMurray’s name recognition, and the voters – no matter their ideology – were rejecting Collins’ racism, dishonesty, and attacks on health care. These results were confirmed by a subsequent Siena Poll, leading to McMurray being named to the DCCC’s Red to Blue program with just a few weeks left in the campaign.

Across the country, Democrats like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, Christine Pellegrino in New York and Doug Jones in Alabama are winning in Republican turf by rewriting the script on how races are won, running proudly populist campaigns that reject corruption and corporate control of Washington, and standing up to special interests on issues like jobs and healthcare.

Many of these races are easily dismissed as outliers because of the specific failings of the GOP candidates involved. In McMurray’s case, his poll found that 90% of the voters sampled had heard, seen or read about Collins’ indictment. But the desire to drain the swamp may be more desirable than the leadership in either party is willing to admit. Voters in districts like New York’s 27th, who voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2016, appear to view corruption on both sides of the aisle as the true enemy.

Politics aside, McMurray’s slow-and-steady grassroots approach laid a foundation that no one saw coming. Before anyone else thought he was viable, he was doing the hard work that makes democracy run, spending months going from one small town event to another; introducing himself to farmers, families and small business owners; and talking at every gathering or union picnic that would let him.

Collins’ indictment put McMurray’s campaign on the map for a political establishment that had dismissed him only weeks before. Collins’ negative advertising was the catalyst that gave Nate the boost he needed to pull dead even with less than a month to go. But McMurray’s willingness to run in what many saw as a hopeless race, and work tirelessly because it was simply the right thing to do, are the true foundations of a red-to-blue opportunity that could significantly reshape politics in 2019 and beyond.

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Trump declares that Saudis are innocent … just like Brett Kavanaugh

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Trump declares that Saudis are innocent … just like Brett Kavanaugh

 

On Tuesday, Donald Trump sat down for an interview with the Associated Press and stated off by declaring that he believes the Saudis are innocent—because they say they are. Just like Brett Kavanaugh. Also, he does not need Beyoncé.

Much of Trump’s interview followed in the same vein—difficult to interpret when listening, and even harder to make out on the page. It would take a gallon tub of rubber cement and a stack of Xacto blades to cut and paste the words into some semblance of order. But if Trump couldn’t get his point across by speak-English-good, he managed to beat his points home through sorry repetition.

Asked again about why he believes the Saudi leaders, Trump went to a touchstone of … not innocence.

Trump: We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way. So I was unconcerned. So we have to find out what happened and they are doing a very major investigation. So is Turkey. Plus, they’re putting themselves together and doing it. And hopefully they’ll get to an answer as to what happened. But I will say they were very strong in their denial about themselves knowing.

The one thing that Kavanaugh’s testimony did show is that the strength of the denial is all that counts. Trump did not mention whether the crown prince shouted or talked like a middle-school brat, but those seem to be the hallmarks of innocence.

As with Kavanaugh, it seems there’s a very “thorough investigation planned.”

Trump: They’re going to try and do it in less than a week.

Of course. Trump can definitely give the Saudis some pointers on how to conduct a “thorough” investigation in record time. Maybe they already have statements from Timmy and PJ and Squi. Because that’ll definitely speed things along.

Trump then moved along to describing how he thought the Republican candidates were going to do well in the midterms, a factor which he predicted from his “incredible record” in picking winners in the Republican primaries, and the fact that people are still turning out for his rallies. As with most statements made by Trump during the interview (or outside the interview) every time he returned to the topic, he inflated his personal opinion of his personal greatness with a few more pumps to the ego balloon.

Trump: I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of an impact. They would say that in the old days that if you got the support of a president or if you’ve got the support of somebody it would be nice to have, but it meant nothing, zero. Like literally zero. Some of the people I’ve endorsed have gone up 40 and 50 points just on the endorsement.

Forty or 50 points. Why not just make it 110? And of course, no one in the past ever sought out the endorsement of a party leader? Why would they if it wasn’t Trump?

As with most discussions, Trump returned again and again to the idea that he won in 2016, and that his constant rallies—conducted even in the midst of national disaster—are the dipstick for determining the Republican oil level.

Trump: I mean, I go out, I make a speech like I have, you know, 25 times more people than she gets. And I didn’t need Beyoncé to get them.

Portions of Trump’s replies to the AP were so unintelligible or detached from the question asked, that it would require a new Rosetta Stone to determine their meaning. But the biggest chunk of his response to questions about the midterms seems to be evenly split between the idea that Republicans will win because … Trump. And also, when Republicans lose, it’s not the fault of Trump. Immediately after his response that Republicans would win, because he doesn’t need Beyoncé, Trump swung to the land of “people love me, but it doesn’t rub off.”

Trump: Now, I’m not sure that that’s right. And I’m not running. I mean, there are many people that have said to me, ‘Sir, I will never ever,’ you on the trail when I’m talking to people backstage etcetera, ‘I will never ever go and vote in the midterms because you’re not running and I don’t think you like Congress.’ Well, I do like Congress because I think, and when I say Congress I like the Republicans that support me in Congress.

Trump also revisited Kavanaugh in his discussion of the midterms, showing his certainty that the Supreme Court fight would completely reverse Democratic momentum. Or not.

Trump: I will say, that fight because he was treated so viciously and violently by the Democrats. That fight has had an impact on energy, and it’s had an impact on the Republican Party, a very positive one in terms of getting out and voting. I think, but I’ll let you know in three weeks.

Democrats treated Kavanaugh “viciously and violently.” Almost as if someone much larger had pinned him to a bed, began tugging his clothes off, and threatened him with assault while laughing at his fear. Except not at all like that.

Halfway through the interview, Trump screams at an assistant to bring him “the list” so he can brag about his accomplishments, which mostly seemed to come down to Republicans rubber stamping Trump’s selection of ultra-conservative judges who had been picked for him in advance by Republicans. So … win! And no one can say that Trump has no humor after this knee-slapper.

Trump: Who is the one, who’s the one president that percentage-wise has done better than me? There’s only one. George Washington — 100 percent.

(Laughter)

Trump: Nobody has gotten that yet.

AP: That is a good piece of trivia.

That is … moving on. To the very serious affairs of state. Really. The affairs.

AP: Sir, as the president of the United States, is it appropriate to call a woman, and even one who is making serious allegations and who you are in litigation against, to call her a horseface?

Trump: You know what? You can take it any way you want. … I just speak for myself. You take a look, and you make your own determination.

Trump plowed through his relationship with Michael Cohen. That is, if he actually met Cohen, who he called “low level” and “a contractor” if you just ignore that office in Trump Tower right next to Trump and all the times Trump referred to Cohen as his personal attorney.

Trump was also asked about climate change and spent five minutes dawdling with claims about hurricanes in 1890 and how there have been few hurricanes recently, and how it’s all a cycle, and how he wants “absolutely crystal clear water” and “the cleanest air on the planet” and made the blatantly false claim that “our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been.” But then he finished up by denying climate change.

Trump: What I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows. And you have scientists on both sides of the issue. And I agree the climate changes, but it goes back and forth, back and forth. So we’ll see.

So no, Donald Trump hasn’t accepted one iota of scientific evidence. Or one moment of the evidence that’s literally falling on the heads of people across the nation. He’s always right, and he’s going to be right if it kills all of us. Which it will.

Trump continued with a rant about how he’s “really an environmentalist” because “Everything I want and everything I have is clean.” Which isn’t being an environmentalist. It’s being a germaphobe of Howard Hughesian proportions.

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