McClatchy News continues its investigative reporting into the Russian cyber war against the U.S. during the 2016 election. Previous post McClatchy News: Russia uses ‘bots’ and trolls for information war against U.S.
Today McClatchy News reports Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation:
Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.
Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told McClatchy he wants to know whether Russia’s “fake or damaging news stories” were “coordinated in any way in terms of targeting or in terms of timing or in terms of any other measure … with the (Trump) campaign.”
By Election Day, an automated Kremlin cyberattack of unprecedented scale and sophistication had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters. Some investigators suspect the Russians targeted voters in swing states, even in key precincts.
Russia’s operation used computer commands knowns as “bots” to collect and dramatically heighten the reach of negative or fabricated news about Clinton, including a story in the final days of the campaign accusing her of running a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria.
One source familiar with Justice’s criminal probe said investigators doubt Russian operatives controlling the so-called robotic cyber commands that fetched and distributed fake news stories could have independently “known where to specifically target … to which high-impact states and districts in those states.”
All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is confidential.
Top Democrats on the committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election have signaled the same.
Schiff said he wants the House panel to determine whether Trump aides helped Russia time its cyberattacks or target certain voters and whether there was “any exchange of information, any financial support funneled to organizations that were doing this kind of work.”
Trump son-in-law Kushner, now a senior adviser to the president and the only current White House aide known to be deemed a “person of interest” in the Justice Department investigation, appears to be under the microscope in several respects. His real estate finances and December meetings with Russia’s ambassador and the head of a sanctioned, state-controlled bank are also being examined.
Kushner’s “role as a possible cut-out or conduit for Moscow’s influence operations in the elections,” including his niche overseeing the digital operations, will be closely looked at, said the source knowledgeable about the Justice Department inquiry.
Kushner joined Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at a newly disclosed June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York. The meeting, revealed by The New York Times, followed emails in which Trump Jr. was told the lawyer for the Russian government would provide him with incriminating information on Clinton and he replied “If it’s what you say I love it.”
That disclosure could only serve to heighten interest in whether there was digital collaboration.
Mike Carpenter, who in January left a senior Pentagon post where he worked on Russia matters, also has suspicions about collaboration between the campaign and Russia’s cyber operatives.
“There appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia’s online propaganda machine and individuals in the United States who were knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation,” he said, without naming any American suspects.
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As more has been learned about the breadth of the Russian cyber onslaught, congressional Democrats have shown growing resolve to demand that the Republican-controlled intelligence committees fully investigate ways in which Trump associates may have conspired with the Russians.
Among other things, congressional investigators are looking into whether Russian operatives, who successfully penetrated voting registration systems in Illinois, Arizona and possibly other states, shared any of that data with the Trump campaign, according to a report in Time.
“I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told Pod Save America recently. “Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware (of) really raises some questions … How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?”
The Russians appear to have targeted women and African-Americans in two of the three decisive states, Wisconsin and Michigan, “where the Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play,” Warner said.
Twitter’s and Facebook’s search engines in those states were overwhelmed, he said, meaning they couldn’t discern fake news from real news.
“On your news feed, you suddenly got … ‘Hillary Clinton’s sick’ or ‘Hillary Clinton’s stealing money from the State Department,’” said Warner.
It started even before Trump locked up the nomination. Throughout the Republican primary elections in early 2016, Russia sent armies of bots carrying pro-Trump messages and deployed human “trolls” to comment in his favor on Internet stories and in social media, former FBI special agent Clint Watts told Congress weeks ago.
Watts, now a cybersecurity specialist with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the targets included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
As Donald Trump was locking up the Republican presidential nomination in May 2016, a U.S. intelligence intercept picked up Russians discussing ways to spread news damaging to Clinton, two people familiar with the matter said.
No one has proved that Russia’s attack influenced the vote count in the Nov. 8 general election., but it wouldn’t have taken much to tip the results and change the course of history.
Clinton lost the decisive states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million ballots cast. She could have won Michigan if 5,353 Trump voters had gone for her instead, Wisconsin if 11,375 votes had flipped to her and Pennsylvania if 22,147 Trump voters had instead picked her.
Kushner’s pivotal role in the Trump cyber effort was underscored by his hiring in 2015 of Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital guru who previously had done work for the Trump Organization, said two GOP operatives familiar with the campaign.
Parscale’s company raked in about $90 million for work targeting many states with paid advertisements, social media messages and other cyber tools.
As the Trump campaign’s top digital director, Parscale ran much of the operation from his San Antonio offices. He is expected to appear before at least one of several congressional committees investigating aspects of Russia’s interference in the election.
Parscale could not be reached for comment.
Shortly after his name arose in the inquiry, Kushner publicly volunteered to tell Congress about his Russia contacts and to answer questions about all issues for which he’s being scrutinized. Another of Kushner’s lawyers, Jamie Gorelick, says he will cooperate with both congressional and Justice Department investigations.
However, no interview date has been set, and Kushner’s attorneys decline to say whether he has produced records sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Remember that there is already a confirmed case of one GOP operative, Aaron Nevins in Florida, who openly admits to assisting the Russian hackers in “weaponizing” the information hacked and using it to target key voter demographics — a clear case of collusion with the Russians. GOP operative colluded with Guccifer 2.0 – Russian stolen info was used by the GOP.
I included in this post this additional detail flagged by Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog:
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used the material that was stolen by hackers in attack ads against several Democrats.
Joan McCarter at Daily Kos returns to this detail today in Paul Ryan asked if he’d commit potential treason for his own campaign, has no comment:
House Speaker Paul Ryan had no comment when asked whether he’d do what Donald Trump, Jr. did—potentially commit treason by meeting with a foreign source offering dirt on his opponent.
“I’m not going to go into hypotheticals,” Ryan answered. He doesn’t need to. As David Weigel reminds us, when he had the chance to use Russian hackers against Democratic congressional candidates last year, he—or rather his Super PAC—ran with it. From a December 13, 2016 article in The New York Times:
By October, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” tied to Mr. Ryan, had used the stolen material in another advertisement, attacking Mr. Garcia during the general election in Florida. AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan, said he did not control how the material was used in the ad, although she did not dispute that the material had been stolen as part of an act of Russian espionage. “Speaker Ryan has said for months that foreign intervention in our elections is unacceptable,” she said in a written statement.
For months, Ryan had known about Russia’s interference in our election. He and his leadership team had that private meeting, which was secretly recorded, in which they all talked about the “sophisticated propaganda war” Russia was conducting in Europe and in the U.S. They talked about the DNC hacking. Then the infamous exchange with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy:
McCarthy: There’s … there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump… [laughter]… swear to God.Ryan: This is an off the record…[laughter]…NO LEAKS…[laughter]…all right?! … This is how we know we’re a real family here. […] What’s said in the family stays in the family.
It’s not a hypothetical for Paul Ryan. He knew exactly what Russia was doing in 2016, and he accepted it. Because it was all in the family.
It’s not just the Trump campaign. The RNC and its multitude of PACs used information hacked by the Russians, and may very well have cooperated with the Russian hackers in weaponizing this information and using it to micro-target key voter demographics, as GOP operative Aaron Nevins has openly admitted to having done. This scandal may be bigger than the Trump campaign.