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

In a lawsuit and a spate of recent profiles, the Georgia State University student managing white nationalist Richard Spencer’s college campus tour has been characterized as a fresh-faced free speech advocate who wants to see visiting speakers of all persuasions treated equally. Cameron Padgett most recently made headlines for teaming up with self-proclaimed “alt-right lawyer” Kyle Bristow to sue Michigan State University for refusing to allow Spencer to come give a talk on the East Lansing campus.

In TPM’s initial conversations with the Georgia native, who first gained national attention for his successful April lawsuit that compelled Auburn University to allow Spencer to speak there, he described himself simply as a libertarian “senior in college.” His relative youth was also emphasized in a press release Bristow sent about the Michigan State case on Sept. 3 and in the complaint, which described Padgett as a “law-abiding 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University” and “23-year-old senior at Georgia State University who subscribes to identitarian philosophy,” respectively.

Spencer himself told TPM it was useful to have a current college student making speaking requests to schools on his behalf.

But there is one odd inconsistency in how Padgett’s background has been publicly presented: A wealth of local news stories about his high school athletic career indicate he is 29, not 23, as has been reported in the press and as he was described in the original complaint against Michigan State.

Asked about this discrepancy, Padgett told TPM he never intended to mislead anyone about his age.

“All the news articles, I don’t know how they got my age wrong,” he said, calling the mistake “kind of weird.” “They assumed. I don’t know why they did that. They never asked me or anything; they just put that in there. I’m a graduate student at Georgia State and I’m 28.”

In a subsequent text message, Padgett said that he meant to say he was “born in ’88…not that I was 28.”

Padgett said he believed the slip with his age originated with a widely-circulated Associated Press article about the Michigan State suit that stated he was 23. He added that he’d asked Bristow to amend the complaint with the correct information.

Bristow did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for confirmation that the complaint had been amended. A motion for preliminary injunction that Bristow filed on Sept. 10 made no mention of Padgett’s age.

The same local press that placed Padgett in high school in the mid-2000s also reported on a dispute over a referee’s call at one of his brother’s basketball games; a 2009 citation for disorderly conduct provided by the Candler County, Georgia clerk alleged that Padgett refused to leave the premises and was “questioning officers and running his mouth.” Padgett told TPM that officers “falsely arrested him” and that the matter was swiftly resolved outside of court.

Taken together, these details cast a slightly different light on public reports about and descriptions of Padgett.

In a phone conversation this week, Spencer showered praise on Padgett for his work on the Auburn case, referring to him as “a very energetic young man,” a “pragmatic and optimistic young man,” and an “amazing kid.”

“First off Cameron is a student and secondly a lot of this is simply division of labor,” Spencer told TPM when asked why Padgett reaches out to schools to set up speaking gigs rather than doing it himself.

“He is not an employee; he is doing this voluntarily, but we also make it very clear to the university what is happening,” he said. “We aren’t fronting or anything. We say we are going to bring Richard Spencer from the National Policy Institute, that the National Policy Institute will ultimately pay the room rental fee and all that. But Cameron is being that point man. And I do think it’s good that he’s a student as well.”

Georgia State confirmed that Padgett is currently enrolled there. He told TPM he was in his last semester earning a graduate degree as a finance major, and that he got involved on Spencer’s behalf as a “staunch, staunch supporter of the First Amendment” who felt public schools were unfairly discriminating against Spencer for his views on race. Padgett said he received no official title or compensation from NPI, and did not plan on becoming more active in far-right politics after graduation.

Padgett said he used the $29,000 settlement he received from the Auburn case to pay Sam Dickson, his lawyer on that case who has represented members of the Ku Klux Klan in the past, and reimbursed some $3,500 to NPI for the money it spent renting and securing the campus venue for Spencer. He said the remaining money went to a “pro free speech organization,” which he declined to identify.

NPI’s recently-appointed executive director, Evan McLaren, described Padgett as a “volunteer and a friend” who has “really taken the bull by the horns” in sending room rental requests on Spencer’s behalf to schools including the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, Penn State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ohio State University.

“I think he basically shares Richard’s attitude that it’s an important message, at least one that’s valid enough that it should be heard on campus,” McLaren said, noting that “the public universities are obviously a target.”

Exactly what message Padgett wants promoted isn’t entirely clear. NPI, Bristow and Padgett himself say he’s merely a free speech advocate and doesn’t consider himself part of the loosely-defined mass of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists who compose the alt-right.

Unprompted, Padgett told TPM he would “support someone who went up and said all white people are evil and should give money to all the minorities and give their land over.”

However, to date he has only involved himself on campus free speech cases on Spencer’s behalf. Padgett also has cited the far-right politician Pat Buchanan, who called Donald Trump “the great white hope,” as a major influence; has a Twitter feed full of tweets lamenting the plight of white people in America and criticizing the influence of Jews; and told TPM that, though he did not want a “100 percent homogenous white nation,” multiculturalism “just hasn’t worked.”

Intentions aside, First Amendment experts have told TPM that Spencer and Padgett have good odds of succeeding in court. Free speech protections are very strong in public spaces like state school campuses, and court precedent, like at Auburn, has mostly fallen on their side.

Both men said that they’re hoping the Michigan State case will bolster that precedent, prompting other universities to simply give up on blocking Spencer’s appearances.

“We want to get a model that works,” Spencer said.

Read More →

A nonprofit group filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department Wednesday seeking records of any communications between President Trump’s transition team and federal investigators about potential investigations into Trump-tied individuals.

“The suit was filed after DOJ refused to reveal whether Trump-Pence transition officials sought information from federal prosecutors regarding politically sensitive investigations being conducted during the transition,” the group Democracy Forward Foundation said in a press release announcing the lawsuit Thursday.

Read More →

Until Wednesday, the son of President Donald Trump’s ousted national security adviser was probably best known for getting canned from the White House transition team for promoting the bogus “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.

But the son of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn burst back into the spotlight with NBC News’ report that he is a “subject” of the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. That report casts a new light on the years Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, spent working alongside his father, serving as chief of staff for his consulting firm and as his right-hand man during Trump’s campaign and transition.

In this dual role, Flynn’s son was both a cheerleader for the campaign and closely involved in his father’s sensitive foreign business dealings, accompanying him on a 2015 trip to Russia and assisting with a Turkish lobbying deal that initially brought his father under federal scrutiny. Unraveling the exact details of this father-son working relationship could be critical to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

One area of interest for Mueller, according to NBC, is the younger Flynn’s work for Flynn Intel Group, the Virginia-based intelligence consulting firm that his father founded in 2014. Earlier this year, the firm retroactively registered as a foreign agent after carrying out a $530,000 lobbying contract in the thick of the 2016 campaign for a businessman with close ties to the Turkish government. Flynn’s son was paid $12,000 over a three-month period for “administrative support” for his work on the Turkey project, according to the firm’s March 2017 filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Flynn’s son also accompanied him on a December 2015 trip to Moscow to attend a gala hosted by Kremlin-funded news outlet RT, where his father was seated at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin. The elder Flynn was paid $34,000 to speak at the event, and RT also paid for both of the Flynns’ airfare and three-night stay at a luxury hotel, according to NBC.

Flynn only disclosed that payment, as well as thousands of dollars in speaking fees he received from two other Russian companies, after he was ousted from the White House for lying about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign. RT announced this week that its U.S. arm was told to register under FARA for pushing Russian government propaganda.

Just months after the Moscow trip, Flynn formally joined the Trump campaign as a top adviser and surrogate, and he brought his son along for the ride. Flynn’s son sometimes traveled on the trail and heavily promoted Trump on his social media accounts, alongside links to dubiously sourced far-right sites pushing conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton. He also advocated a softer line towards the Kremlin, tweeting in March 2016 that “we have no choice when it comes to working with Russia” and that failure to do so would force the U.S. to “go to war.”

When Flynn was floated as a possible vice presidential pick in May 2016, it was his son who fielded press requests, telling CNN his father planned to “let the process play itself out.”

Both Flynns also figured prominently in a GOP activist’s alleged scheme to obtain emails he believed Russian operatives had hacked from Hillary Clinton’s private server. In recruiting emails to computer security experts later provided to the Wall Street Journal, veteran GOP opposition researcher Peter W. Smith claimed that Michael T. Flynn, his son, and Flynn Intel Group were assisting with his effort.

At least one of the cybersecurity experts contacted by Smith said that he seemed to have a close relationship with the Flynns and intimate knowledge of the Trump campaign’s inner workings.

“Although it wasn’t initially clear to me how independent Smith’s operation was from Flynn or the Trump campaign, it was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well,” Matt Tait wrote in a LawFare blog post recounting his interactions with the 81-year-old Smith, who committed suicide shortly after the Journal’s story was published.

Flynn’s son declined the Journal’s request for comment on the scheme.

Clinton’s emails were a fixation for the younger Flynn, and he tweeted about them frequently in the run-up to the 2016 election. It was that overactive online presence that ultimately brought his relationship with the Trump team to an end.

Though Flynn’s son stopped by Trump Tower with his father after the Nov. 8 election and had an official transition email address, Vice President-elect Mike Pence tried to argue that he had no official role after his incendiary tweets became a focus of media attention. They included links to stories alleging that Clinton aide Huma Abedin was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was a closeted homosexual who used cocaine.

The younger Flynn’s promotion of “Pizzagate,” a bizarre conspiracy theory that posited that Clinton aides were running a child sex trafficking ring from a Washington, D.C. pizza place, prompted the transition team to formally sever ties in early December.

At the time, a source told the New York Times that the “Pizzagate” tweets cost Flynn’s son a White House job. The source said that he planned to join his father’s National Security Council and had even started the process of obtaining a security clearance.

The subsequent federal investigation into his father and, reportedly, himself, has not inspired the younger Flynn to abandon his social media activities. In the past 24 hours alone, Flynn’s son has fired off a volley of tweets about politicians engaging in pedophilia and, of course, Clinton.

Read More →

When a Russian troll farm was fishing for Trump supporters on Twitter, it baited the hook by targeting minority activists and public figures.

TPM has reviewed tweets and images from a pro-Trump Twitter account run by the Russian troll farm that likely purchased $100,000 worth of political ads on Facebook. Among the account’s favorite targets during the 2016 campaign season were Michelle Obama, undocumented immigrants and antiracist activist movement Black Lives Matter.

The since-suspended account, @tpartynews, had about 22,000 followers and was run out of a St. Petersburg company called the Federal News Agency (FAN), according to the authors of a report on the agency that ran in March in a major Russian business magazine, RBC. Twitter did not respond by press time to multiple requests for comment; Talking Points Memo will update this piece if they return those requests.

In a blog post about the Russians’ political ad spend on Facebook, the company’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, observed that the ads and accounts identified as being linked to the $100,000 buy “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

Twitter appears to have been a target of the same campaign, and the tenor of the @tpartynews account seems to fit with Stamos’s description.

The account promoted Donald Trump’s campaign events generically—”Massive line for #TrumpWA in #Everett!”, it tweeted on Aug. 30, 2016—but it also managed to work in anti-BLM sentiment wherever it could.

“‘Fuck this flag! Fuck this country!’ #BLM were shouting at ‘peaceful’ protests to #Trump’s rally in #Wisconsin,” the account tweeted on April 6, 2016. On June 4, the account offered some tough-on-crime grandstanding: “Crimminals [sic] commit less crime after they have been shot! That’s why I say #bluelivesmatter,” the account tweeted above a picture of a sunglasses-wearing police officer aiming a pistol at the camera.

The account also took shots at undocumented immigrants: “Illegal Immigrants today.. Democrat on welfare tomorrow!” read another.

In addition, @tpartynews offered to soothe the hurt feelings of conservatives: “People make fun of the way Melania Trump looks and speaks,” the account’s operators wrote above a meme of the first lady and her predecessor, with conservative commentator Joe Walsh’s brand affixed to it. “Do that to Michelle Obama and you’re a racist.”

The account did a credible impression of its domestic pro-Trump counterparts, as well. Like many far-right U.S. media outlets, @tpartynews tweeted out a crime blotter story about a group of seven young men—two white, five black—who allegedly shouted “black lives matter” as they assaulted seven white victims. Ohio court records show that charges against one were dismissed, another pled down to a small fine, and four other cases were transferred out of Akron criminal court. The cursory local media report that broke the story was reposted with no follow-up by Trump-stumpers from Breitbart News to The Blaze to PJ Media (the Russian troll account didn’t do follow-up reporting, either).

The Twitter account would have easily flown under the radar: Tea Party News is the screen name of a great many twitter users. But according to Andrey Zakharov, Moscow-based special reporter for RBC.ru, the @tpartynews account was run out of St. Petersburg, Russia by the same operation that tried to organize anti-immigrant rallies in a tiny town in Idaho via a Facebook account called Secured.Borders, as the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.

“Our sources … gave us inside statistics of Tea Party News,” Zakharov told TPM. “[W]ith 22,000 followers, their tweets were read by 1.6 million users.”

Zakharov and his partner, Polina Rusyaeva, reviewed screenshots and statistics provided by sources close to the troll farm; Secured.Borders, he said, had 140,000 likes and was seen more than 4 million times.

Zakharov said the troll farm’s tactics are old news in Russian politics, but its international reach is something new. “Troll farms are used by Moscow’s government,” he told TPM. “PR agencies use them, sure, but not on such scale.” Internationally, he said, he knows of “only the famous one from St. Petersburg.”

FAN is a Kremlin-aligned news agency that probably runs the now-notorious Internet Research Agency, according to Adrian Chen’s New York Times magazine profile of the group. Its head is “oligarch restaurateur” Evgeny Prigozhin, referred to in Chen’s piece as “The Kremlin’s Chef.”

Alexey Kovalev has reported in depth on troll farms and wrote a widely-circulated English-language account of Zakharov and Rusyaeva’s article for the Moscow Times. Troll farms’ operations, he said, are anything but ideological.

“I posted something angry about Moscow’s mayor (I’m in a state of permanent info war with the city hall), and literally two seconds later a typical bot, fake profile and all, pops up in the comments, praising the Dear Leader,” Kovalev recalled to TPM. “I ask him, half jokingly, ‘How much do they pay you there to suck the mayor’s dick?'”

Lots, the troll replied. “Two seconds later he DM’s me and says “Not that bad actually – 70,000 rubles on a normal month or 100 if I’m lucky, you’re interested?'” Kovalev said he applied for the job, but was rejected for being a “saboteur.”

That particular farm wasn’t affiliated with the St. Petersburg group, Kovalev said. But good command of English, he was told, was still a prerequisite for the gig.

Investigators are increasingly focused on Russian interference in the 2016 election using social media platforms; Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said publicly that Twitter will provide a report to Congress similar to the one Facebook made last week.

Read More →

The Twitter account for President Trump’s new pick for the Federal Election Commission was reportedly made private Tuesday evening after other Twitter users began noticing some of the nominee’s past sharing of anti-Protestant posts.

The White House announced late Tuesday night that Trump was nominating Trey Trainor, a Texas lawyer who repeatedly clashed with the state’s campaign finance regulators, to serve on the Federal Election Commission. Trainor is being picked to serve the remainder of a six-year term that expires in 2021, according to the White House announcement Tuesday night, but it is not entirely clear which current commissioner he will be replacing.

Read More →

While serving in the White House, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pushed a private-sector scheme to build dozens of nuclear reactors throughout the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Former National Security Council staffers and others familiar with the effort told the Journal that Flynn spoke about the project in meetings and directed his staff to meet with the former U.S. military officers involved with it. Flynn’s own work on the project as a private citizen dates back to at least mid-2015.

Former NSC staffers told the newspaper that Flynn’s contacts with his former business associates happened “outside normal channels,” with one former council member calling his actions “highly abnormal” and “not the way things were supposed to go.”

A lawyer for Flynn and a White House spokeswoman declined the Journal’s requests for comment.

These remarkable details add a new dimension to Tuesday reports about Flynn’s involvement with the project. Two top House Democrats said they informed special counsel Robert Mueller they have evidence that Flynn broke the law by failing to include on his security clearance application a summer 2015 trip to the Middle East, where he tried to broker the ambitious energy deal. Politico reported that Flynn received at least $25,000 for his work on the project, and that he actively promoted it to members of the transition team after Trump won the election.
But news that he continued to work on the deal after joining the White House make the possible legal implications for Flynn far more severe.

Former and current officials told the Journal that he continued to advocate for the power plan after receiving warnings from NSC ethics advisers, and one official confirmed to the newspaper that a meeting between the former military officers and NSC staff occurred.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) on Wednesday released correspondence with executives at the companies that Flynn worked with, X-Co Dynamics/Iron Bridge and ACU Strategic Partners. Those companies confirmed his June 2015 trip to the Middle East to promote the project—a visit that Cummings and Engel say Flynn never disclosed on a January 2016 application to renew his security clearance.

“Since these violations carry criminal penalties of up to five years in prison, we are providing your responses to Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” the Democratic lawmakers told Flynn’s former business colleagues in a letter.

 

Read More →

Kris Kobach may have thought he had a slam dunk case when he showed up in New Hampshire Tuesday to claim mass voter fraud. Instead, he found himself getting dunked on — by both the members of the voter fraud commission he’s leading, and the witnesses who testified at its meeting — who bashed him for screwing up basic facts of New Hampshire’s elections law and accused him of jumping to conclusions.

Kobach, a leading proponent of restrictive voting laws who is the Republican secretary of state in Kansas and the vice chair of President Trump’s voter fraud commission, recently claimed New Hampshire was the site of enough voter fraud to have potentially swung the state’s 2016 election results. That didn’t play well in New Hampshire, where the commission’s second meeting happened to be held.

Before the start of the day’s second panel, Kobach attempted to tamp down some of his initial allegations, which came in the form of a Breitbart op-ed where he wrote that “Now there’s proof” of significant voter fraud in New Hampshire. But even before that, Kobach’s claims had been undercut by the testimony of a witness during the first panel who explained New Hampshire’s requirements to vote.

Read More →

John Lott, a pro-gun rights writer who 10 years ago also wrote an article about voter fraud, appeared in front of the President Trump’s voter fraud commission Tuesday to promote an idea that appeared to be a troll of Democrats concerned that the commission would lead to restrictive elections laws that would suppress voting.

To quell Democrats’ concerns about anti-fraud measures leading to voter suppression, Lott suggested that the background check system that is used to clear gun purchasers should be used on those seeking to vote, as was hinted in a copy of his presentation posted online by the White House last week:

Democrats have long been concerned about voter suppression but they’ve also long lauded the background check system on guns, saying it’s simple, accurate, in complete harmony with the right of people to go and defend themselves,” Lott said, while referencing a quote from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praising the use firearm background checks.

Read More →

Kremlin-backed news network RT announced Monday that the U.S. Justice Department had ordered its American affiliate to register as a foreign agent for disseminating Kremlin propaganda.

“The company that supplies all services for RT America channel, including TV production and operations, in the U.S., has received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the company is obligated to register under FARA due to the work it does for RT,” Margarita Simonyan, RT’s Moscow-based editor in chief, said in a statement posted on RT’s site.

A DOJ spokesperson declined TPM’s request for comment on the action taken against RT.

The disclosure came the same day that Yahoo News reported Sputnik, another Kremlin-backed outlet, was under FBI investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by masquerading as a legitimate news outlet while serving as an arm of the Russian government.

Sputnik’s former White House correspondent confirmed to Yahoo that he turned over thousands of emails to the FBI as part of their probe, and also sat down for a two-hour interview about the publication’s editorial operations.

Both RT and Sputnik were singled out for acting as arms of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” in a January U.S. intelligence report that determined Russia engaged in a wide-ranging effort to swing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor

FARA violations are seldom enforced and there is typically a special exemption for foreign media outlets, but Russia’s interference in the U.S. election has pushed Congress to crack down. Yahoo reported that Sputnik and RT would have to explicitly label their content government propaganda if they were required to register, and that their executives could face criminal charges and fines if the DOJ finds they willfully declined to do so.

Simonyan, RT’s editor in chief, hinted that Moscow could take similar steps against U.S. journalists working in Russia as retaliation. This tit-for-tat pattern extends back to December 2016, when then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomatic personnel and closed two of their compounds in response to the country’s election interference. Since then, hundreds of U.S. diplomatic personnel have been expelled from Russia, while the U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Russia and closed more of their stateside diplomatic facilities.

Read More →

The Justice Department is siding with Joe Arpaio in asking a federal judge to toss the criminal contempt case that spurred President Trump’s pardon of the former Arizona sheriff, who had been found in contempt of court for violating a court order.

“The President’s decision to grant Defendant a ‘[f]ull and [u]nconditional [p]ardon [f]or [h]is [c]onviction’—and Defendant’s decision to accept it—ends this prosecution,” the DOJ said in a court filing Monday. “The presidential pardon removes any punitive consequences that would otherwise flow from Defendant’s non-final conviction and therefore renders the case moot.”

Read More →

LiveWire