Russian National Charged with Interfering in U.S. Political System
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A criminal complaint was unsealed here today charging a Russian national for her alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system, including the 2018 midterm election.
“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities whenever feasible, and that we will not stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our government. I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their determined work on this case.”
According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering. Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and Ukraine, among others.
“Today’s charges allege that Russian national, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Our nation is built upon a hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so. Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable.”
Khusyaynova allegedly managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence activities directed at the United States. The financial documents she controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and “promoting news postings on social networks.” Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only a portion of these funds were directed at the United States. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million.
“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates,” said Director Wray. “We take all threats to our democracy very seriously, and we’re committed to working with our partners to identify and stop these unlawful influence operations. Together, we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process.”
The alleged conspiracy, in which Khusyaynova is alleged to have played a central financial management role, sought to conduct what it called internally “information warfare against the United States.” This effort was not only designed to spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal requirements.
The conspirators allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin. They used social media platforms to create thousands of social media and email accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons, and used them to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S. audiences. These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens of thousands of followers.
The conspiracy allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate.
Members of the conspiracy took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas; the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and associated violence; police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration.
The conspirators’ alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view; they wrote on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives. Members of the conspiracy were directed, among other things, to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” The actors also developed playbooks and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news outlets to use, and how to frame divisive messages.
The criminal complaint does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had any effect on the outcome of an election. The complaint also does not allege that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.
The investigative team received exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Last night, the Red Sox beat the Houston Astros on Texas turf, ending the series 4-to-1, and becaming the winners of the AL Pennant for the fourth time this century. The Astros and the Red Sox were arguably the toughest teams in both leagues, so even though the World Series starts next week (against either the LA Dodgers or the Milwaukee Brewers, and it looks like the Dodgers), it feels like the ultimate victory.
Youth is served. Former General Manager Theo Epstein’s Red Sox teams were all about veteran leadership, as exemplified by a 2004 roster that was older than all but two other World Series winners. Five of that team’s six top players by wins above replacement during the season were on the wrong side of 30 — 28-year-old David Ortiz was the youth of the group — and pitcher Bronson Arroyo was the youngest of the team’s postseason regulars at age 27. It was fitting for an era of baseball where older players produced a disproportionate share of value across the major leagues, but the game has changed since then — and so have the Sox. This year’s team wasn’t exactly the youngest in baseball, but even having a roster that’s a pretty normal age represents a veritable youth movement by Boston’s earlier standards. This time around, seven of the nine best Red Sox by WAR were under 30 — a big departure from the ancient cores Boston had previously rolled with. And the team’s best player, Mookie Betts, is especially fresh-faced relative to those veteran groups of the past: He turned 26 just two weeks ago.
Swing first, ask questions later. The Red Sox of old knew how to handle a bat — Manny Ramirez owned a .312 career average, Bill Mueller won a batting crown, etc. — but they got more value out of classic Moneyball-style patience than from anything that could be described as a free-swinging approach. No team in 2004 saw more pitches per plate appearance than Boston, and only two teams walked more often. (The 2007 champs somehow took a free pass even more often than the 2004 group.) This year’s Sox aren’t the second coming of the 2015 Royals, of course, but they were closer to average in bases on balls and pitches per PA. Following the advice of new manager Alex Cora, they also got plenty of hits on early hitter’s counts, such as 2-0: “The key of the offense is to have a consistent approach, hunting pitches you can do damage with,” Cora said right after being hired as Boston’s manager. “First pitch or a 2-0 pitch. Sometimes a first pitch available is the one you can do damage on, so we’re going to have guys ready to do damage early in the count.” These Sox even had the best batting average in baseball during the regular season (highlighted by Betts’ MLB-leading .346 mark), and have hit .295 during the playoffs so far, including .370 with runners in scoring position. It all makes for a slightly different brand of Red Sox offense — one that can overwhelm teams with power, rap out key base hits or make good things happen on the basepaths.
Those killer Ks. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester — Boston’s pitching staffs have always had strikeout artists at their disposal. But this year’s club took it to new levels, retiring 1,558 batters via the K, or 9.61 per nine innings. Every team’s pitching strategy is based around strikeouts in 2018, so in that regard Boston isn’t much different from any other contemporary club, but even relative to league average, Boston’s strikeouts per nine rate this year was significantly better than any of the Red Sox’s recent World Series teams. Led by Chris Sale — literally the all-time MLB leader in K/9 innings — plus four other starters who averaged at least eight strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season (including David Price, who had nine strikeouts in Thursday’s ALCS clincher) and closer Craig Kimbrel (13.9 Ks per nine), not even earlier incarnations of the Red Sox have featured so many pitchers up and down the staff who were so good at missing bats. And that tendency has come in handy, considering the defense ranks worse by WAR than either of Boston’s two most recent World Series teams. (Granted, the outfield glove work of Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi has earned its kudos, but the rest of the defense is generally mediocre, according to the stats.) The Red Sox have made defense irrelevant on 74 outs so far this postseason, so they’ll look to rack up even more Ks against the Dodgers or Brewers.
Closer woes? Speaking of Kimbrel, he has become synonymous this postseason with pitching the Red Sox into — and then somehow out of — big trouble. Over the entire season, his FIP minus (essentially, fielding independent pitching relative to the league, where average is 100 and lower is better) of 75 was worse than that of Keith Foulke in 2004 (72), Jon Papelbon in 2007 (57) or Koji Uehara in 2013 (42!!!). So this year’s version doesn’t exactly have the same lockdown back-of-the-bullpen presence that previous Boston pennant winners have enjoyed. However, Kimbrel still ranked among the top relievers in strikeout rate and posted above-average numbers overall. But don’t blame Sox fans for being on high alert if and when Kimbrel enters a close game during the World Series.
Latest is greatest. Relief worries aside, by just about every metric the 2018 Red Sox look better on paper than any of Boston’s other recent World Series teams. They set a new franchise record for wins with 108 during the regular season, and were also better according to deeper stats such as run differential or our Elo ratings. They then proceeded to go 7-2 in the postseason — better than any of Boston’s other runs through the first two rounds (in which they were 7-3 at the end of each ALCS) — and they did it against a much more difficult set of opponents in the 100-win New York Yankees and 103-win Astros. With Thursday’s win, this year’s Sox became the first team since the 2001 Yankees to beat a pair of 100-win clubs before even reaching the World Series. Although nothing could ever match the sheer emotional release of Boston’s 3-0 comeback against the Yankees in 2004, this year’s version has unquestionably been more dominant during its own run. Between the team’s regular-season superlatives and its relatively smooth postseason sailing (considering the opposition), it’s tough to imagine a more impressive way that the 2018 Red Sox could have arrived at the cusp of a title.
Of course, the one thing the 2004, 2007 and 2013 Red Sox had in common was that they finished the job after reaching the World Series. The 2018 version may have its differences from those earlier incarnations, but winning a championship is the one commonality that Cora and company would most like to share with their predecessors.
What I like about this Red Sox team is the fact that there always seem to be someone to step up and deliver when it counts. The best example of this is Jackie Bradley Jr., who had an abysmal season average of .234, which was low even for him. But, despite that Jackie Bradley, Jr. won the ALCS MVP Award:
One of the keys throughout the series for the Red Sox was their production with two outs, and no one produced more in those situations than Jackie Bradley Jr., who was named ALCS MVP despite having only three hits in 15 at-bats. But he made those three hits count: a three-run double in Game 2, a grand slam in Game 3 and a go-ahead two-run homer in Game 4.
Bradley did not have a hit in nine plate appearances with no outs or one out, but was 3-for-6 with two home runs, a double and nine RBIs when batting with two outs.
Bradley’s nine RBIs with two outs tied for the second-most ever in a postseason series, trailing only Yogi Berra‘s 10 RBIs in the 1956 World Series.
With the talent and luck we have, I think we will go all the way. I’m not alone in thinking this.
According to a report in Bloomberg today, shortly after the midterm elections, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will release findings on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election and whether Trump himself obstructed justice:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to two U.S. officials.
Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mueller’s probe stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The regulations give a special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released.
I still have doubts about collusion. Certainly, Russia sought it. And the Trump campaign sought it. That is uncontrovertible. But did they ever follow through and strike an accord? Evidence is lacking, publicly at least.
On the other hand, obstruction is clear and obvious. He did it publicly. We all saw it happen in real time.
If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Riyadh to read the Riot Act to Saudi rulers over the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he hid it well behind cheery smiles and professions of amity. But then outrage has been conspicuously absent from the Trump administration in the two weeks since Mr. Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again.
Mr. Pompeo first went to see King Salman and thanked him for his commitment to a “thorough, transparent and timely investigation,” according to a State Department spokeswoman. He then went on to see the real power behind the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and here President Trump joined in by phone. Mr. Trump on Twitter appeared to take at face value the prince’s claim that he knew nothing of what happened in the consulate and his promise of a “full and complete investigation.”
“Answers will be forthcoming shortly,” the president promised. Later he said that blaming the Saudi leadership was another case of “guilty until proven innocent.”
But the best metaphor for Mr. Pompeo’s diplomacy seemed to be what reporters witnessed outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Mr. Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2: the arrival of a cleaning crew with buckets, mops and fluids.
The semi-“official” Saudi finding is that it was an interrogation team that got too ambitious. The problem with THAT excuse is that there are tapes. It was all over within a few minutes, the recordings suggest. No interrogation. Khashoggi was dead within seven minutes of arrival into the Saudi Embassy.
An appropriate adjustment to U.S.-Saudi relations—one consistent with U.S. interests, broadly and properly conceived—should have been made well before the Khashoggi affair even arose. Such an adjustment would end the unqualified deference that the Trump administration has given to Riyadh and make the relationship more businesslike, to be managed up or down to the extent to which Riyadh does or does not act consistent with U.S. interests. Changes in the oil market mean that petroleum is no longer the overriding concern it once was on anything having to do with Saudi Arabia. Certainly commonality of values is not a basis for anything more than a businesslike relationship; the United States has no more shared values (such as democracy, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech) with Saudi Arabia than it does with any other state in the Middle East.
But instead, Trump is acting as the PR agent for the Saudi prince. Anbd in doing so, Trump is denying any business ties to Saudis, an assertion denied by the facts. In reality, his finances and business dealings form a major part of his motivations, and the Saudis have been a large part of those dealings. As just one example, last year the Saudis reportedly spent $270,000 at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington for travel associated with Saudi lobbying—part of the emoluments Trump receives from that facility a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. In addition is Trump’s overall admiration for the autocratic Saudi regime, which was in full display during his trip to Riyadh early in his administration. A more specific factor is the role in the administration of son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner and Kushner’s bromance with MbS.
This means Congress has to step up and invoke the Magnitsky Act, which provides for sanctions against individuals, including foreign government officials, who have committed human-rights violations. The Trump administration no doubt would try to limit any Magnitsky Act invocation to those officials and not much more, while withholding blame from the highest Saudi decisionmakers. Such an approach would be dishonest. But that’s where we’re at.
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly claimed that nobody respects women more than him, referred to Stormy Daniels as “Horseface” in a tweet on Tuesday.
Trump compared the adult film entertainer — who he allegedly had an affair with — to a horse in response to a federal judge’s dismissal of Daniels’ defamation lawsuit. The White House has said Trump believes Daniels lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their relationship in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011.
The defamation suit is separate from the Stormy Daniels lawsuit against Trump and others related to the “hush payment”
Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, called Trump “a disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States” in response on Twitter.
Daniels claims her affair with Trump, which included unprotected sex, started just months after First Lady Melania Trump gave birth to the couple’s only child in 2006. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, admitted to paying Daniels $130,000 in a hush payment weeks before the 2016 election. Cohen eventually reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors after investigations into payments that were made to numerous women who claimed to have affairs with Trump.
Despite repeatedly asserting his unparalleled respect for women, Trump has a long-documented history of sexism and misogyny, including mocking the physical appearance of Republican rivals, commenting about his desire to date underaged girls, rating the attractiveness of women, telling a mother that she was “disgusting” for breastfeeding, mocking the looks of a woman who accused him of sexual assault, referring to women as “a beautiful piece of ass,” comparing an Olympic champion to a “linebacker,” saying “Women, you have to treat them like shit,” claiming he goes “through the roof” if dinner isn’t ready when he gets home, dropping numerous creepy remarks about his own daughter Ivanka, tweeting that Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, calling pregnancy an “inconvenience,” and referring to a Miss Universe winner as “Miss Piggy.”
As this unfolds, it is worth noting that Khashoggi was I believe 59 and portly. it is pretty hard to see how an interrogation could have led to his accidental death. Torture, maybe. But again, a police or military team can pretty easily take custody of someone without killing them.
Even if you assume that the plan was to return him to Saudi, again, we’re talking about multiple members of a trained elite force dealing with a middle aged man. “Oops” is not a persuasive explanation.
Also, why the bone saw?
Another point: it sounds like Saudi Arabia is coming up with a “rogue killers” defense, which is exactly what Trump was saying this morning. Were they running it by him? Was he the advance PR man?
"Look, this guy thought that murdering a dissident on his own initiative would impress the crown prince, and that — why would he think that? That's so weird right? Thinking that? The ideas some nutjobs get, I tell ya. Hoo man. Anyway…" https://t.co/jYfQoPgWIMpic.twitter.com/9nYbbzAC6C
CNN is reporting that the Saudi preliminary report “could change”, meaning, I assume, this is a trial balloon and they still can backtrack and deny any knowledge.
UPDATE — Looks like the Turks got some kind of deal to keep their mouth shut
Saudis about to admit to “accidental” murder. Why? It’s likely Turks were about to release audio of the killing. What next? Will be declared “a rogue” & “unfortunate” loyalists act by King Abdullah. All banished to Mecca so cannot be interrogated. Trump & MBS will claim victory. https://t.co/qBNSCUcfSt
Fielding a question on the White House lawn, Donald Trump showed that he is always ready to believe a dictator … even when it requires saying something utterly ridiculous. Asked about the disappearance, and suspected murder, of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump was ready to say who it wasn’t.
Trump: The king firmly denies any knowledge of it.
And, just like Vladimir Putin denying that Russia hacked the 2016 election, the word of a dictator that oversaw 48 beheadings in just the first four months of 2018 was enough for Donald Trump. And, just as with the Russian hacking, Trump has an alternative theory.
Trump: He didn’t really know. Maybe … I don’t want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?
Rogue killers. Or maybe it was China. Or a 400 pound man in his parents’ basement. Who knows?
Trump: We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.
Well, okay then. If the guy who sends a man out with a sword to lop of the head of half a dozen people a week tells you he did not send out someone to chop up Khashoggi on the floor of the Saudi consulate and send his dismembered body out in bags … honestly the ghastliness of this crime could not be worse. Except that Trump is making it worse. He won’t believe American scientists when they tell him about climate change. He won’t believe American generals when they advise him on military situations. But Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and Mohammed bin Salman—he believes them.
This is a frequent Trump tactic where he “confronts” the authoritarian leader with an accusation, they deny it, and he then tells the press this and promptly moves on to other things
And he’s hardly a visitor. Khashoggi has a green card, i.e. the US gov’t has designated him a permanent resident with the right to apply for citizenship after a certain # of years.
Been hearing the ridiculous “rogue killers” theory was where the Saudis would go with this. Absolutely extaordinary they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it. https://t.co/ChRFyleneR
President Trump did a couple campaign rallies last week, met with Kanye West, and did LOTS of golfing this weekend, as Americans are still dying from Hurricane Michael. The official death toll stands at 18, but somewhere between 30 and 50 are being counted as missing in Mexico Beach Florida, alone. Access is still a problem as roads are still blocked.
This is another of Trump’s Katrinas. Puerto Rico was the other one.
In his first non-Fox interview in months, Trump talked to Leslie Stahl for “60 Minutes”. Here’s a highlight of the insanity
“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this. I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.”
“I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over a millions of years. They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.”
Reality check: The vast majority of scientists do believe that climate change is a real — and dangerous — phenomenon, highlighted by last week’s report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned of potential catastrophe unless the world took “unprecedented” steps to combat the issue.
The Mueller investigation
Asked if he’d pledge to not shut down the investigation: “Well, I — I don’t pledge anything. But I will tell you, I have no intention of doing that. I think it’s a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind. There is no collusion. I don’t want to pledge. Why should I pledge to you? If I pledge, I’ll pledge. I don’t have to pledge to you. But I have — I have no intention of doing that.”
Pressed by Stahl with Kim Jong-un’s history of torture, Trump responded: “Sure. I know all these things. I mean — I’m not a baby. I know these things.”
And asked about his declaration of “love” for Kim: “Look. Let it be whatever it is. I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him. Look at the horrible threats that were made. No more threats. No more threats.”
On Vladimir Putin’s alleged assassinations of political enemies: “Probably he is, yeah. Probably. I mean, I don’t — “
On meddling during the 2016 election: “They — they meddled. But I think China meddled too.”
His regrets as president
“The press treats me terribly. I thought very strongly that, you know, the one great thing will happen is the press will start treating me great. Lesley, they treat me worse. They got worse instead of better. Very dishonest. … I regret that the press treats me so badly.”
“I could have been earlier with terminating the NAFTA deal. The problem was, I was getting to know the leaders. I was getting to know countries. I didn’t want to do it right out of the box. So I waited a little while, but I could have done trade a little bit earlier.”
He also said that it didn’t matter how Dr. Christine Ford was treated during the Kavanaugh hearings. Why not? Because “we won”, Trump said.
Trump’s appearance on 60 Minutes seems to be a tactic for the upcoming election.
Trump team seems to have decided it needs to saturate the media space and political bandwidth w/Trump to greatest extent possible.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test today that “strongly support” her claims of Native American ancestry, hitting back at President Donald Trump for mocking her and showing her seriousness about a 2020 presidential run.
The DNA test, conducted by Stanford University professor Carlos Bustamante, showed Warren’s likely Native American ancestry dates back six to 10 generations.
The release of the results were part of a rollout from Warren’s campaign showcasing her heritage while offering evidence that she did not benefit professionally from it. She was hired as an educator, Warren argued, because “she was an award-winning legal scholar and professor.”
The rollout, which came with a slick video showing Warren talking about her family with her older brothers, provided a glimpse into how Warren may take on Trump on the campaign trail, as she proactively tries to defuse one of his major attack lines against her.
But I am focusing on the Trump promise. So is Warren…
If only there was some — I don’t know — VIDEO evidence of Trump making that promise….
“We will take that little kit — but we have to do it gently. Because we’re in the #MeToo generation, we have to do it gently,” the president trolled. “And we will very genlty take that kit, and slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t injure her arm, and we will say: I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.”
This week as Republicans celebrated the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, polling told a different story: more Americans disapprove of the confirmation, are concerned about Kavanaugh politicizing the court and believe there should be further Congressional investigation. Under Mitch McConnell’s Senate leadership, a record number of Trump judicial nominees have been pushed through, including restacking 15 percent of circuit court judges.
In the final weeks before midterms, Democrats poured record donations to House candidates, and Beto O’Rourke, the Senate candidate from Texas, pulled in a record-smashing haul of $38.1 million for the last quarter. Republicans sought to counter Democrats’ enthusiasm by riling their base by vilifying the left as paid protestors or a “mob” that threatens violence against the right. These tactics serve as an acknowledgment that traditional issues like tax cuts and the economy no longer excite the Republican base.
The disappearance and likely death of WAPO contributor Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly at the hands of the Saudi crown prince, along with the vicious murder of popular Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova — both government critics — drew international attention to the threat to human rights and the free press. Trump tried to side-step U.S. involvement, while sharpening his attacks on his Democratic rivals as scary, bad, evil, radical, and dangerous — and billing himself as the only one who can save his base from disaster.
After U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley became the latest on the growing list of senior official departures, Trump flirted with the idea of elevating Ivanka Trump to the position, repeatedly. For the first time since taking office, Trump’s campaign rallies no longer garnered live broadcast on Fox News, indicating a falloff in ratings.
Swift wrote in her post, “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”
In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is the Republican running for governor, announced 53,000 voter registrations were flagged and would be put on hold. Of those on hold, 70 percent are Black Americans.
On Saturday, Trump vowed “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi, adding “Well, nobody knows yet, but we’ll probably be able to find out,” in an interview for “60 Minutes” set to air Sunday night.
In a break from precedent, Trump apologized to Kavanaugh: “On behalf of our nation…for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure” and decried the “campaign of personal destruction.”
The head of a pro-Trump super PAC said “we’ve never seen anything like this before.” House GOP aides hoping to receive a late cash transfer from the Republican National Committee no longer expect that to happen.
Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist who has been critical of his country’s government, vanished last week.
His disappearance is straining Turkey-Saudi relations and could complicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent attempts to recast his government as forward-thinking and reform-minded — as well as his country’s close relationship with the US.
The 59-year-old veteran journalist was last seen on October 2 walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He was there to obtain a document verifying his divorce so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée.
But what happened next is a mystery.
Turkish officials have said they have “concrete” evidence that Khashoggi never left the building and was murdered there; some have even put forth gruesome theories of how his body may have been dismembered and smuggled out.
The Saudi government, however, says it had nothing to do with his disappearance and maintains that he left through a back entrance, though it has provided no evidence to support that.
A Saudi official told me in an email on Monday that “Jamal’s disappearance is a matter of grave concern to us, and we categorically reject any allegations of involvement in his disappearance.”
Murdered WaPo journalist, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, recorded the audio of his death via his Apple watch. His location was tracked as well. https://t.co/A3riiitNGb
Amid the ongoing investigation, relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have quickly soured. The mystery is shaking Washington as well: Khashoggi is a US resident and had been living in self-imposed exile in Virginia for about a year — fearful, he said, that the Saudi government would target him for his dissident views.
If he was indeed murdered by his own government, it raises bigger questions about the safety of journalists, freedom of speech, and the future of Saudi relations with Turkey, the US, and others.
WaPo reported: “Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information.”
Khashoggi used to enjoy close ties to the Saudi royal family. In the early 2000s, he served as an adviser to Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, the former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, while the prince was the ambassador to Washington. Khashoggi also worked as the editor of a Saudi newspaper, Al Watan. But in recent years, he had taken a more critical tack, criticizing the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS).
The 33-year-old crown prince has tried to paint himself as a reformer by loosening restrictions on women driving and opening up cinemas in the Kingdom, but he’s also led a purge of opposition within his government under the guise of a crackdown on corruption and championed a bloody, brutal war with Yemen that’s left tens of thousands dead.
And despite his reforms, MBS hasn’t shown any willingness to tolerate political dissent or free speech. He’s even arrested some of the activists who championed the reforms he’s pushed through.
In June 2017, Khashoggi, fearing arrest, left the country. He resettled in the US, where he spent the past year living in self-imposed exile.
Khashoggi became a frequent contributor to publications like the Washington Post’s global opinions section and continued to criticize the Saudi government from afar. In a column published last September titled “Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable,” he wrote of how his hope that the crown prince would be a reform-minded voice has now given way to fear of repression.
“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he wrote. “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”
Khashoggi also expressed concern about being targeted by the Saudi government for his views, telling journalist Robin Wright in August that the country’s new leadership would like to “see me out of the picture.”
And just three days before he disappeared into the Saudi consulate in Turkey, he told BBC Newshour in an off-air interview that he doubted he’d ever be able to return to his home country. “I don’t think I’ll be able to go home,” he told the BBC, saying that in Saudi Arabia, “the people who are arrested are not even dissidents.”
Three days later, his worst fears may have been realized.
Khashoggi first went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on September 28 to file paperwork needed for his upcoming wedding to a Turkish woman, Hatice Cengiz.
On October 2, he returned to the Saudi Consulate at around 1 pm, according to Cengiz. She told the Washington Post that she waited for him by the gate outside, but that several hours later, even after the consulate had closed, there was still no sign of him.
Cengiz said that she called the consulate and spoke to a guard, who told her there was no one inside. She then called the police, as well as an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as Khashoggi had instructed her to do if anything should happen to him.
After several days of confusion and no sign of Khashoggi, Turkish officials said on Sunday that they believed the journalist had been murdered, according to the Washington Post.
Yasin Aktay, a friend of Khashoggi’s and adviser to the Turkish president, told Reuters that he believed Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi Consulate, and that Turkish authorities think 15 Saudi nationals were involved.
Turan Kışlakçı, the head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association and a friend of Khashoggi’s, told the Associated Press that Turkish officials he’d spoken with said Khashoggi had been murdered “in a barbaric way” and that they had evidence which they had not yet released. Other anonymous Turkish officials told news outlets that his murder had been “preplanned” and that his body had been moved from the consulate.
On Monday, Turkey requested an official search of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to find evidence of the apparent crime. Saudi officials said they would allow the consulate to be inspected.
Erdoğan has weighed in as well, saying that the disappearance was “very, very upsetting.” During a press conference on Monday, the Turkish president said the onus was on Saudi Arabia to prove that Khashoggi had indeed left the consulate. “The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying ‘he has left,’” Erdogan said, according to Reuters.
In a letter to journalists on Tuesday, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Khalid bin Salman wrote that the Saudi government had sent a security team to work with Turkey to uncover what happened and were cooperating with Turkish authorities.
“Jamal has many friends in the Kingdom, including myself, and despite our differences, and his choice to go into his so called ‘self-exile,’ we still maintained regular contact when he was in Washington,” he wrote. “Jamal is a Saudi citizen whose safety and security is a top priority for the Kingdom, just as is the case with any other citizen.”
But on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Saudi Crown Prince had devised a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, according to US intelligence intercepts of Saudi communications.
The Post also reported that two planes carrying a team of 15 Saudi men arrived in Istanbul from Riyadh on the day that Khashoggi disappeared, and left later that day. Experts have speculated that these men were part of an effort to capture him and bring him back to the Kingdom — an effort that may have gone badly wrong.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
Possible Saudi involvement in the disappearance—and alleged murder—of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi presents the U.S.-Saudi relationship with its greatest crisis since 9/11. If the Saudis are proven guilty of this heinous crime, it should change everything about the United States’ long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia. Regrettably, it probably won’t.
The administration’s identification with Mohammed bin Salman, as a modernizer determined to open up the kingdom and tame its religious extremism has now been undermined by a crueler reality—that of a ruthless, reckless, and impulsive leader willing to repress and silence his critics at home and abroad.
Whatever happened to Khashoggi is first and foremost on the Saudis. But in kowtowing to Riyadh in a fanciful effort to make it the centerpiece of U.S. strategy in the Middle East, the Trump administration has emboldened MbS, as the crown prince is known, created a sense of invincibility, and encouraged him to believe there are no consequences for his reckless actions. And it is likely, unless confronted with incontrovertible evidence of Saudi responsibility for Khashoggi’s death or serious pressure from Congress, the president would be reluctant to impose them even now.
Trump’s enabling of Saudi Arabia began even before he became president. He talked openly on the campaign trail about his admiration for Saudi Arabia and how he couldn’t refuse Saudi offers to invest millions in his real-estate ventures. His predecessors may have gone to Mexico or Canada for their first foreign foray; Trump chose Saudi Arabia. In a trip carefully choreographed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who quickly established close personal ties with the soon-to-be crown prince, Trump was feted, flattered, and filled with hopes for billions in arms sales and Saudi investment that would create jobs back home. Trump’s aversion to Obama’s Iran deal also fueled the budding romance. Trump used his anti-Iranian animus (even while he boasted he’d make a better deal with the mullahs) to energize his ties with Riyadh, and MbS was only too happy to exploit his eagerness. Reports that MbS saw Trump’s team, particularly Jared Kushner, as naïve and untutored should have come as no surprise.
Previous administrations—both Republican and Democratic—also pandered to the Saudis, but rarely on such a galactic, unrestrained, and unreciprocated scale. Through its silence or approval, Washington gave MbS—the new architect of the risk-ready, aggressive, and repressive Saudi policies at home and in the region—wide latitude to pursue a disastrous course toward Yemen and Qatar. The administration swooned over some of MbS’s reforms, while ignoring the accompanying crackdown on journalists and civil-society activists. Indeed, The Guardianand other outlets reported that MbS told Kushner in advance of his plans to move against his opponents and wealthy businessmen, including some royals, in what might be termed a “shaikhdown.”
The greatest foreign-policy success of MbS’s first year in power was his success at capturing of the heart and mind of the president. And there’s little doubt that U.S. permissiveness and willingness to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt emboldened MbS to act without regard to external constraints and with the confidence that U.S. support could be taken for granted.
The U.S. has important national interests in the stability of Saudi Arabia, and Trump’s embrace of MbS has brought some returns. The upsides of U.S. support for MbS, however, are overwhelmed by the downsides of empowering him to screw up whatever he touches. Over the past two years, the policies pursued by the crown prince have undermined important American interests. For all the investment the administration has made in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, we are getting precious little in return.
In May of 2017, the Saudis promised to buy $110 billion worth of additional U.S.military weapons and equipment.Trump has cited those arms sales as a reason not to pressure the Saudis over Khashoggi’s disappearance. But there’s a lot less here than meets the eye.
The Saudis have also opened their checkbook to support U.S. aid initiatives in the Middle East. In response to American prodding, they have offered $100 million in reconstruction assistance to Syria. This is a welcome step, but they could be doing much more, as, for example, they’ve been doing in Iraq.
It is hard to assess the value of Saudi counterterrorism cooperation because most of it operates under a cloak of secrecy. Whatever contributions Saudis make in intelligence sharing and law enforcement, though, serves Saudi interests. It is not being proffered as a favor to the United States.The same is generally true for Saudi energy policy, where decisions on oil production and exports are largely driven by market forces and the kingdom’s own needs.
Against these modest gains, MbS’s mistakes weigh heavily. A Saudi-led military coalition is waging an inhumane campaign against the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen, giving al-Qaeda and isis greater room to maneuver and handing Iran greater opportunities to spread its influence in Yemen. The wanton killing and destruction, much of it done with U.S. military support, has further sullied America’s reputation. The Saudis have resisted attempts by the UN to broker a political settlement of the dispute as well as UN investigative efforts to establish accountability for possible Saudi war crimes.
The administration’s efforts to turn the Gulf Cooperation Council into an effective anti-Iranian coalition have foundered over the bitter and unnecessary fight that Saudi Arabia (and the UAE) have picked with Qatar. Their joint blockade of Qatar pushed the gulf state to strengthen its ties with Iran, and has greatly complicated administration efforts to confront the Iranian challenge in the region by turning the GCC into a more military force and forming a new “Middle East Strategic Alliance.” The Saudis have made a number of unreasonable demands on Qatar, while rejecting U.S.efforts to resolve the dispute.
The Saudis have also dampened Kushner’s hopes for making the “deal of the century.” King Salman made it clear to the White House that Saudi Arabia will not support the new American Middle East peace plan unless it explicitly designates East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state, a demand Netanyahu’s government is likely to reject.There was always too much magical thinking in the Trump administration’s conception of what the Saudis would do to reach out to Israel and pressure the Palestinians when it came to peacemaking. Now in the wake of the Khashoggi affair, Saudi decision-making on this and other issues may become even more inward looking.
All of this helps to explain why the Saudi role in the disappearance of Khashoggi is such a critical inflection point in U.S.-Saudi relations. Unlike 9/11, where there’s no compelling evidence that the senior Saudi leadership had foreknowledge or played a role in the attacks, the killing of Khashoggi could not have taken place without the express approval of the crown prince. Even if those looking for a way to defuse this crisis believe it can be dismissed as a rogue operation and those who perpetrated the killing handed over for trial (most likely magical thinking) nobody would ever believe that MbS didn’t bear responsibility for the affair. This single act—the culmination of a series of repressive actions against women activists, journalists, and family members—will make it nearly impossible to continue to mask the obvious: MbS may be committed to serious reform, but it will be directed from the top down by a ruthless and inexperienced leader who brooks no criticism or dissent and who’s prepared to go to murderous lengths to eliminate any opposition. The message to Saudis who believed they could criticize MbS with impunity was that no one can protect them. If the allegations of Khashoggi’s horrific killing are confirmed, it will mark MbS permanently and make it impossible for the administration to tout his reformist credentials.
Still, Saudi money can be persuasive. Next week, high-level U.S. financiers and government officials have been invited to the MbS-sponsored Davos in the Desert Conference to be held at the very same Ritz-Carlton where the regime detained and bilked scores of wealthy and influential Saudis under the guise of an anticorruption campaign. Who attends and who doesn’t may provide some measure of how the Khashoggi disappearance is affecting the kingdom. As of this writing, major media outlets (including CNN, NBC and the NY Times) as well as Richard Branson are skipping the conference. On the other hand, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchen is going.
Statement from Bloomberg spox on FII: “Bloomberg will no longer serve as a media partner for the Future Investment Initiative. As we do with every major event in the region, we plan to cover any news from our regional news bureau."
NEW: SAUDI ARABIA has paid nearly $9M to lobbying firms so far this year. But at least one firm ended its contract today, & others are considering following suit, as the country faces mounting backlash over its alleged assassination of JAMAL KHASHOGGI. https://t.co/7rUXrqx2Gkpic.twitter.com/FiIPvBHsvh
All of this is complicated by the fact that Trump has not assigned any ambassadors to Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Look at this notable exchange between a reporter and the State Department spokesman (Palladino)
Outside of the administration, pressure is growing. Congress recently fell four votes short of suspending U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia over civilian casualties in Yemen. A letter sent Wednesday to Trump by a bipartisan group of legislators triggered the Global Magnitsky Act, which will force the administration to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance, and if the Saudis are found complicit, to impose sanctions. And journalists—having lost one of their own—will continue to be seized with this issue.
The question that remains to be answered, though, given the executive branch’s control of foreign policy, is how the Trump administration will respond over time. Will it recognize that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is out of control? That the Saudis are pursuing interests that do not coincide with ours, and that the Saudi leadership seems to feel confident that it can continue to use and abuse Washington’s support without attention or regard to American values or interests? And will it—out of frustration over Saudi behavior—ask the same question posed by Bill Clinton to his aides after his first meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu: “Who’s the fucking superpower here?”
On paper, MbS is committed to an agenda that would benefit Saudi Arabia and the region, particularly his seeming determination to moderate the extremist strain of Islam that the Saudis have exported for years, and to foster the kingdom’s emerging and largely covert ties with the Israelis. An enlightened and experienced leader pursuing reform in a political culture and region resistant to change would usually be worthy of U.S.support. But an impulsive and reckless 33-year-old leading a regime that’s repressing and imprisoning his subjects at home and perhaps killing them abroad is not. America cannot create the former; but it certainly has no business empowering the latter. The Trump administration should not fail to recognize the difference.
I still want to know how much money the Trump Organization has been paid by Saudi entities since Election Day 2016
Trump Hotel room revenue rose 13% in first 3 months of 2018 after a 2 year decline due to "last minute visit" by Saudi Crown Prince. Trump claims to donate foreign govt profits to Treasury under ethics agreement—but keeps details secret https://t.co/LQXUBLf4O8pic.twitter.com/XIFfAEjTZ4
With early voting starting Monday, a range of efforts to restrict voting in the Peach State could cause big problems at the polls.
Reports that Georgia is keeping 53,000 voter registrations on hold because of minor discrepancies have received widespread attention since Monday. But in fact, the state has recently adopted a range of controversial voting practices. The combined effect is to put voters – especially racial minorities – at risk of disenfranchisement as the state’s hotly contested governor’s race approaches. Early voting begins Monday.
Below is a summary of four of the four major voting issues that have contributed to problems in the Peach State.
“Exact Match” Policy: In 2017, Georgia passed legislation requiring that information on voter registration forms match exactly with existing state records. Even a single digit or a misplaced hyphen could be enough to prevent registration and instead put the application on “pending” status. Georgia previously had a different version of this exact match process, but agreed in 2017 to discontinue the practice after civil rights groups brought suit – only to reinstate a different version of exact match later that year.
Reports indicate that approximately 53,000 people are now on pending status – and a vastly disproportionate number of them are African-American: seventy percent of the pending list, compared to 32 percent of the population. Civil rights groups sent a letter in July advising the state that the practice violates Federal law, but the state has not discontinued Exact Match.
What does being on pending status mean for voters? If they do not provide the additional information needed to resolve the discrepancies within 26 months, their pending registrations will be canceled. Importantly, voters who show up on Election Day should be allowed to vote a regular ballot by providing ID at the polls, and thus should not give up on voting just because their status is pending; however, the requirement could cause confusion on Election Day, if voters are wrongly given provisional ballots or given other misinformation. The ID requirement could also cause problems for voters trying to vote by absentee ballot. For those voters who do not cast ballots in 2018, they are at risk of removal prior to 2020 if they do not get off pending status within 26 months of registering.
Aggressive Voter Purges: A recent Brennan Center report on purges nationwide found Georgia to be one of the most aggressive purgers. Between the 2012 and 2016 elections, it purged 1.5 million voters – twice as many as in the 2008 and 2012 cycles. All but three of the state’s 159 counties saw purge rates increase. And we recently released new data showing that the trend has continued over the past two years, during which the state has purged 10.6 percent of its voters.
Purge rates do not prove voters are being removed erroneously. But we also found that provisional ballots went up as the purge rate increased in Georgia, as well as in other jurisdictions that used to get extra scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act. This suggests more voters are showing up to the polls after having been purged, because voters in those situations often get provisional ballots.
Voter Registration Drives Restricted: The governor’s race – which pits Secretary of State Brian Kemp against former state legislator Stacey Abrams – also recalls a controversial episode involving the Secretary of State’s office and the New Georgia Project (NGP), a civic group founded by Abrams in 2013. Prior to the 2014 election, Kemp’s office launched an investigation into voter registration forms submitted by NGP. After investigating approximately 87,000 forms, NGP was eventually cleared of wrongdoing – but not until after the group’s voter registration drive was disrupted. The group filed a lawsuit against Kemp for failing to process approximately 40,000 voter registration forms submitted by the group. The lawsuit was dismissed in part because Kemp promised to ensure registration applications would be sent to counties.
Kemp, a Republican, was also criticized for political statements about voter registration drives. “[Y]ou know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines,’ he said at the time. ‘If they can do that, they can win these elections in November.”
Polling Place Closures: Majority-black Randolph County, Georgia was sued for attempting to close seven of its nine polling sites. The county claimed a consultant had recommended the closures because of disability compliance issues. After a lawsuit, there county reversed course and kept the sites open.
The proposed polling place closures in a minority county were particularly concerning because in the past, similar tactics have been used to suppress minority votes. Prior to the 2013, polling place changes in Georgia (and other areas with a history of discrimination) had to be precleared by the Department of Justice or a federal court to make sure they did not result in a rollback of minority voting rights. But after the Supreme Courts’ 2013 Shelby County decision, that protection no longer exists.
The solution may come in a lawsuit filed yesterday by the Lawyers’ Committee and the Campaign Legal Center. The lawsuit alleges that the exact match system violates the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the U.S. Constitution. ALegal groups sued Kemp over the same issue before the 2016 presidential election, and a court ordered Kemp to restore the more than 40,000 registrations he put on hold that year.
“Georgia’s ‘exact match’ protocol has resulted in the cancellation or rejection of tens of thousands of voter registration applications in the past,” Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “The reintroduction of this practice, which is known to be discriminatory and error-ridden, is appalling.”