They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on Tuesday denied a report that he informed the Senate Intelligence Committee he would refuse to appear before the panel to answer questions in its investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

As Page told TPM, he remains eager to do so, but wants to testify publicly. He said he was offering to appear at a Nov. 1 open hearing on the role social media played in influencing U.S. voters.

At the same time, however, Page confirmed Politico’s reporting that he plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid turning documents over to the committee.

Page told TPM that the committee asked for information on “every aspect of my life”—a request that he said goes beyond the confines of the panel’s investigation. Pointing to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant that the Washington Post reported the FBI took out to monitor his communications, Page said that intelligence agencies already had access to all the relevant information they needed to know.

“Asking for more information is by definition a false testimony/perjury trap,” Page said in a Wednesday phone call. “They’ll say, ‘You said X and Y, but we see you also see you also said X, Y and Z. It makes no sense at all.”

Page did not elaborate on how testifying publicly precluded the possibility that he could contradict the information intelligence agencies may have collected about him.

This unusual legal strategy is of Page’s own design. The former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, who is under scrutiny for his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 race, is representing himself in federal and multiple congressional investigations.

It’s unclear if the committee has formally invited Page to testify or considered his offer to appear on Nov. 1. A spokeswoman did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.

Page claims to have sent lengthy letters to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees refuting any inappropriate contacts with Kremlin-linked officials and accusing lawmakers of engaging in a “witch hunt.” He also released those letters to reporters.

The energy consultant has been more forthcoming with federal investigators looking into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, sitting down for some ten hours of interviews with FBI agents earlier this year.

This post has been updated. 

Read More →

White nationalist Richard Spencer says he first learned of “flash mobs” from a viral YouTube video that showed dozens of people twirling around Antwerp, Belgium’s Central Station in a spontaneous, coordinated performance of the Sound of Music’s “Do-Re-Mi.”

He told TPM he’s trying to adapt that absurdist concept for an entirely different purpose: unannounced public expressions of pro-Confederate, white nationalist sentiment, like Saturday’s 15-minute long torch-lit rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Both the last-minute rally organizers and policing experts point out that this is one of the few types of events that white nationalists can expect to pull off after their 1500-person strong August rally in Charlottesville devolved into deadly chaos. With something like Saturday’s flash mob, it’s easier to control who participates and the counter-protesters who flocked to their previous events don’t have any advance notice. Those conditions provide white nationalists with a less fraught, if inherently sillier, method of keeping their names in the headlines.

“If the goal is to get attention to bring a light to their antics on a small stage, I don’t think there’s any question that it’s working,” Seth Stoughton, a policing expert at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told TPM.

Stoughton pointed out that unlike the August “Unite the Right” rally, which was intended to bring different factions of the racist and neo-Confederate far-right together, a smaller event like Saturday’s flash mob is “directed outward,” at the media and at communities like Charlottesville.

But the attention these events draw is much more limited, and such rallies’ small size serves as evidence to those who oppose white nationalists’ message that mass public backlash is an effective protest tactic.

“It’s a sign that as a physical presence they are not able to pull off the kind of thing they’ve done in the past,” David Harris, a professor on policing and national security issues at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, told TPM of these smaller demonstrations.

“After Charlottesville, [Spencer] said ‘We’re going to be back; you haven’t seen the last of us,” Harris continued. “This fulfulls that pledge, if you like, but it also exposes the current weakness of their position in terms of what they’re actually able to do.”

The flash mob model is limited by various logistical constraints. Organizers can’t use public social media accounts to attract participants; need attendees to live in close proximity to the chosen location so that they can travel there on relatively short notice; and only so many participants can be invited without word leaking out.

Spencer and Mike Enoch, the creator of a white nationalist blog who attended the Saturday event, both acknowledged those limitations. But they said the point of the demonstration was simply to get their message out without their opponents learning about the events and shutting them down.

“We want to show that we have the logistics and the apparatus to do these things on short notice and without any warning to the places where we’re gonna show up,” Enoch said, adding that “the statement we wanted to make didn’t require 1500 people.”

Spencer, Enoch, and Identity Evropa leader Eli Mosley were among the 40-something people that showed up on the University of Virginia’s campus on Saturday evening after driving down from Washington, D.C.

The students they encountered there seemed uninterested in what the spontaneous ralliers had to say. Spencer said a group of undergraduates was having a house party right near the spot where they disembarked and lit up their tiki torches; realizing what was happening, the students immediately tipped off the police.

Read More →

As voting rights advocates had long suspected, a document Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was photographed holding while meeting then President-elect Donald Trump included a proposal to weaken the National Voter Registration Act, which has been an obstacle in Kobach’s quest to implement a proof-of-citizenship requirement for registering to vote.

The document became public Thursday as part of an ACLU lawsuit against Kobach challenging the proof-of-citizenship requirement he’s tried to implement in Kansas.

Read More →

A member of the President Trump’s voter fraud commission is continuing his separate crusade of bullying localities into purging their voter rolls, even as a witness at a commission meeting last month questioned the formula the commissioner has used to bring his claims.

For years before J. Christian Adams was named to Trump’s voter fraud commission, he led a private group that sent letters and in some cases brought lawsuits against counties alleging that they had bloated voter rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. To make those claims, he has compared the Census Bureau’s estimate of the number of a county’s citizens of voting age to the number of registered voters on its rolls.

Read More →

It appears Russia didn’t attempt to disrupt the 2016 election through ads only on social media.

Nearly lost amid the deluge of reports about Kremlin-run Facebook and Twitter campaigns designed to influence the American electorate, the Department of Homeland Security last week messily notified 21 states, including Wisconsin, that Russia had targeted their election systems. The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) then quietly issued a press release describing an unsuccessful August 2016 cyberattack that took the form of neither a targeted phishing attack nor an attempt to crack a password, but an ad.

The elections commission said that the state IT division’s protective measures had “blocked an advertisement embedded in a publicly available website from being displayed on a WEC computer.” When the state Department of Enterprise Technology provided the IP address it had blocked to DHS, the agency identified that address as “connected to Russian government cyber actors,” according to the release.

Steve Michels, the DET’s communications director, told TPM that the ad his department’s firewall identified and blocked was consistent with run-of-the-mill website advertising. Such filtering “commonly occurs in conjunction with an internet advertising pop-up or banner,” he said. While Michels said he couldn’t confirm what site the ad originated with, neither Facebook nor Twitter serves pop-up or banner ads.

“This attempt was blocked by our web content filtering tool and no data was exfiltrated,” Michels told TPM. “This blocked content request came on an elections commission network, likely a desktop computer.”

Toni Gidwani, director of research operations for respected cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect, told TPM that such “malvertising”—malicious advertising—” is a pretty common attack vector.” Gidwani, who cautioned that ThreatConnect couldn’t independently verify DHS’s claim of Russian targeting of Wisconsin without the actual IP address, which Michels declined to disclose, said the tactic is often used on general-interest sites where advertisers don’t exercise broad control over their audiences.

“If the website was something really specific to elections and/or something that WEC workers specifically would navigate to more consistently than other targets, that would be notable,” she told TPM. “If the website was something really general, then it might be hard to make the case that the activity was targeting the WEC. ”

The first kind of attack to which Gidwani referred is sometimes called a “watering hole,” a trap set for a particular set of users at a website they seem likely to visit; it’s not clear that the WEC employee who set off the ad was targeted that way. But it does appear that Russian cyberactors were able to participate in the broader digital ad ecosystem, with its self-applied regulations and well-documented vulnerability to malicious activity, in addition to their use of Facebook and Twitter ads.

It’s not clear what the 2016 attack was intended to accomplish, but tools designed for ad fraud—usually used to inflate the records of successfully completed ads, which determine how much an advertiser pays—have been repurposed in the service of Russian propaganda efforts before. In 2015, someone used a network of bots designed for malvertising to redirect users to pro-Russian videos on Dailymotion.

Jonathan Albright, research director at the Two Center for Digital Journalism who was mapping ecosystems of online disinformation as far back as November 2016, told TPM that many of the websites spreading that disinformation contained malicious code.

“There were definitely suspicious resources (i.e., content and code) in the batch of propaganda/disinfo/hoax sites I looked at back in November 2016,” Albright said. “If I remember, I believe 3 of the 116 sites were pre-emptively blocked by my browser as I scraped the ad tech. Lots of redirects to weird IPs, external insecure image/graphics loading, etc.”

Targeting a body like the Wisconsin Elections Commission would not be a particularly difficult or sophisticated operation, Albright said.

“It’s absolutely possible to target a business, and based on what I’ve seen, even more likely that an individual government office or bureau/department would be targeted,” he told TPM. “I think a directed story or topical hoax piece could be written to bring in a specific audience and then used as a vector to compromise individual computers and/or ranges of IP addresses.”

Wisconsin blocks tens of thousands of attempts to game its web applications and more than half a million attempts to crack passwords annually, Michels said. He was emphatic that the ad served to the WEC computer was one small attack in a sea of similar attempts, and that it was thwarted.

Regardless, experts already suspected that Russian government operators had used malvertising elsewhere; now DHS has confirmed they used it in the 2016 elections, too.

Read More →

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law are engaged in an ugly legal battle that escalated last week with the son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, alleging that Manafort was part of a conspiracy to mislead a federal bankruptcy court.

It’s not clear whether their ongoing tussle in a federal bankruptcy court in California will be of interest Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which reportedly is examining Manafort’s financial practices. Regardless, it illuminates the complex legal and financial situations Manafort has wrapped himself up in over the years. His mounting legal bills are reportedly one of the reasons Manafort recently switched to a different law firm for representation in the Mueller probe.

Read More →

Acknowledging that his committee had “hit a wall” when it came to assessing the credibility of the so-called Steele dossier — a controversial document that made a slew of Russia-related allegations against President Trump and his associates— Senate Intel Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) made a personal entreaty  Wednesday urging the dossier’s author to cooperate with the committee’s investigation.

Burr’s comments came during a press conference on Capitol Hill to provide an update on the status of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Investigation of the explosive dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele has been one area where the committee’s probe has stalled.

Read More →

The “general consensus” of the Senate Intelligence Committee thus far is that the  intelligence community was correct in assessing that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election, the committee chairman said Wednesday.

“Given that we have interviewed everybody that had a hand in the ICA [Intelligence Community Assessment], I think there is general consensus among members and staff that we trust the conclusions of the ICA,” Senate Intel Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) said in a briefing to update reporters on the status of his committee’s Russia investigation.

Read More →

A federal judge on Tuesday said that prosecutors misled the court in the corruption case against ex-Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), and ordered prosecutors to go back and review all of the documents they’ve submitted to the court for accuracy.

U.S. District Court Judge Colin Bruce said that prosecutors in the case initially denied speaking with members of a grand jury about whether the disgraced former congressman would testify, as Schock’s lawyers had claimed. The prosecution then changed its story more than six months later, the judge noted, admitting that they did discuss Schock’s potential to testify with grand jurors.

“The recent revelation puts this court in a somewhat difficult position as it is now aware that it was misled by the Government,” Bruce wrote in a Tuesday filing. “Unfortunately, this court relied upon, and even quoted, the Government’s inaccurate statement, which it now knows to be false, in a previous order.”

The judge ordered the government to “review all claims and statements made in its current filings to ensure that there are no more false or misleading claims,” as well as to detail to the court any additional false or misleading claims prosecutors have made.

Defense attorneys have made several attempts to dismiss the case against Schock—known as the “Downton Abbey congressman”—since he was indicted in 2016 on 24 counts, including improper use of campaign funds. Schock’s lawyers in March accused prosecutors of improperly turning a former staffer for the congressman into an informant, arguing that allowed prosecutors to obtain information they could not otherwise access. Defense lawyers also argued that prosecutors violated the Constitution’s separation of powers provisions. Then in August, Schock’s lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the charges while accusing prosecutors of inappropriately quizzing witnesses about Schock’s romantic relationships and sexuality, sometimes in front of grand jury members.

Read More →

New York prosecutors had investigated Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. for allegedly giving false information to prospective buyers of condo units in their troubled Trump SoHo development, according to a joint investigation out Wednesday from ProPublica, WNYC and The New Yorker.

While the report found prosecutors gathered significant evidence for a criminal case, no indictment ever came down against the siblings. As the report revealed, Mark Kasowitz, one of Trump’s longtime personal attorneys who had donated thousands of dollars to the reelection campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, asked Vance to drop the investigation. The district attorney ultimately did so, overruling his own prosecutors.

The existence of a criminal investigation into the Trump SoHo project was first reported by the New York Times last year. Buyers were angry that the Trump family had publicly insisted that the development was selling units like hotcakes, when it actually was hobbled by a bursting real estate bubble, an odd zoning situation and press reports on the involvement of a Trump associate with a felony record: Felix Sater.

The Trump Organization ultimately settled a civil suit related to the development in 2011, admitting no wrongdoing but agreeing to refund much of the deposits, as the Times reported.

But the new collaborative reporting project is the first to reveal that prosecutors were focused on Trump’s eldest children; that they had email evidence; and that Kasowitz may have had a hand in how the case shook out.

The evidence accumulated by Vance’s team included emails in which the Trump siblings discussed how to coordinate misleading information they would provide to people interested in their condo units, according to the report. Trump Jr. told a broker in one message that no one would ever find out about those false statements because the deception was kept strictly within the Trump Organization, according to a person who saw the email.

One of the individuals who viewed the emails told reporters that the Trump children “approved, knew of, agreed to, and intentionally inflated the numbers to make more sales” and that “they knew it was wrong.”

The investigation into the siblings originated in the D.A.’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau in 2010. It dragged on through 2012, with Trump Organization attorneys reportedly arguing that the siblings’ exaggerations did not amount to criminal misconduct.

Kasowitz donated $25,000 to Vance’s reelection campaign in January 2012, and Vance returned that money so as not to accept funds from a donor with a case before his office, according to the report. Shortly after Vance returned his donation, Kasowitz met with the district attorney in May to repeat the defense’s arguments that there’d been no wrongdoing; Vance dropped the case three months afterward, and Kasowitz subsequently donated and helped raise an additional $50,000 for Vance’s campaign.

Both men denied to the reporters that there was anything improper about how the case played out.

Read the full report here.

Read More →

LiveWire