My View: Evidence shows Trump, businesses connected to Russia | Editorials: “When Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, he endorsed Russian intelligence connections with the country’s mobsters and oligarchs, allowing them to operate freely as long as they served his personal interests. Multiple sources make clear that Putin and the FSB/KGB essentially control the Russian mob.” – by Tom Maertens Mankato

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My View: Evidence shows Trump, businesses connected to Russia | Editorials

by Tom Maertens Mankato

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The Trump administration continues to deny that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, including hacking 21 state voter databases; the campaign/White House issued at least 20 blanket denials of meeting with Russians, now shown to be lies.

The evidence is overwhelming that Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort knowingly conspired with Russia to alter the 2016 election. Trump Jr. was told explicitly that the June 9 meeting he accepted with several Russians was very sensitive because Russia was supporting his father.

His emails make the transactions clear: the Kremlin offered assistance, and subsequently left behind “compromising material” on Hillary Clinton; Trump Jr. willingly accepted it knowing it came from Russia and was intended to affect the election. The (eventual) quid pro quo involved “adoptions” (the Magnitsky Act), which imposed sanctions on 44 of Putin’s cronies linked to murder, corruption or cover-ups.

Besides the Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner meetings, Page, Flynn, and Sessions also met with Russian officials and lied about it.

The idea that these meetings took place without the knowledge and direction of Trump is laughable. Trump has consistently defended Russia, and denigrated his own intelligence community and the press, while impeding or obstructing investigations.

For his part, Trump had multiple private meetings with Putin at the Hamburg G20 meeting, with no Americans present. There was no American notetaker in the Oval Office meeting Trump had with Russians where he disclosed highly classified information. What else did Trump give away?

Why did Jared Kushner attempt to set up a secret back-channel communication with the Kremlin inside the Russian embassy to avoid detection by U.S. intelligence?

We already know that Roger Stone, a Trump campaign official, admitted to having contacts with Wikileaks, which the CIA director labelled a hostile intelligence service, (and which Trump professed to “love” over 140 times during the last 30 days of the campaign) and with Guccifer 2.0, a front for Russian military intelligence. Stone also betrayed his involvement by his foreknowledge that John Podesta’s email account would be hacked.

Several investigations are underway which should confirm who the culprits were and how they manipulated the elections.

What most Americans don’t understand is the connection between Putin, the KGB/FSB, and the Russian mob. Boris Yeltsin himself described Russia as “the biggest mafia state in the world.”

The connection dates back to the Communist Party’s rainy day slush fund — said to exceed $20 billion — in case Gorbachev’s reforms got out of control and they had to flee the country. The KGB was charged with exporting the money, which it subcontracted to the mob to launder and invest abroad.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Yeltsin abolished the Communist Party, leaving the KGB/mafia with all that money, which they used to buy real estate abroad and distressed enterprises in Russia as their own insurance policies.

When Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, he endorsed Russian intelligence connections with the country’s mobsters and oligarchs, allowing them to operate freely as long as they served his personal interests. Multiple sources make clear that Putin and the FSB/KGB essentially control the Russian mob.

According to James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey & Company, some $1.3 trillion in illicit capital has been sent out of Russia since the 1990s, parked mostly in real estate, like Trump’s. In fact, Trump Jr. said in 2008 that most of the Trump money was coming from Russia.

The Guardian has uncovered elaborate ties between the Trump family and Russian money laundering in New York real estate (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/24/jared-kushner-new-york-russia-money-laundering).

According to Craig Unger in The New Republic, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties over the past three decades. USA Today reported that “the president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.”

Unger cites multiple sources about hundreds of Trump units that were sold to “Russian-speakers” and concludes that, without the Russian mafia, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

Trump is clearly running scared, desperate to stop the investigation; he fired Comey, he’s threatening to fire Mueller and is talking about presidential pardons, all intended to obstruct justice. As former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller said: “Trump looks ‘super guilty.’”

Trump continues to claim the Russia connection is a “hoax,” but it’s gotten the Trump crime family in deep trouble.

Tom Maertens

worked on Soviet and then Russian affairs for a dozen years, inside the State Department, at the U.S. Consulate General in Leningrad, and as Minister-Counselor for Science, Environment and Technology at U.S. Embassy Moscow. Sources for this article can be found in the online version at mankatofreepress.com

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Trump lashes out over Russia probe, after news of grand jury (VIDEO) | World

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US President Donald Trump accompanied by Senator Shelly Moore Capito arrive at Huntington tri-state airport for a rally in Huntington, West Virginia, August 3, 2017. — Reuters picUS President Donald Trump accompanied by Senator Shelly Moore Capito arrive at Huntington tri-state airport for a rally in Huntington, West Virginia, August 3, 2017. — Reuters picWASHINGTON, Aug 4 — Donald Trump described Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as a “total fabrication” yesterday amid reports that a special prosecutor has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the issue, a step toward possible criminal indictments.

“We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you,” Trump said at a campaign-style rally in West Virginia.

Trying to build support among his core supporters, he said his enemies were “trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly, demeaning to our country and demeaning to our constitution.”

“The reason why Democrats only talk about the totally made-up Russia story is because they have no message, no agenda, and no vision,” he said.

“The Russia story is total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics.”

His comments came after the Wall Street Journal revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to investigate Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.

The newspaper, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, reported that the grand jury had begun its work in the US capital Washington “in recent weeks.”

The move is a sign that the sweeping federal investigation — which includes allegations that Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russia to tilt the election in the Republican’s favour — is gathering pace.

The establishment of a grand jury will allow Mueller — a former FBI director — to subpoena documents and get sworn testimony. It could well lead to criminal indictments.

“It’s a significant escalation of the process,” national security attorney Bradley Moss told AFP.

“You don’t impanel a grand jury unless your investigation has discovered enough evidence that you feel reflects a violation of at least one, if not more, criminal provisions,” he said.

“If you secure an indictment, your next step is to arrest the defendant.”

Presidential lawyer Ty Cobb said he was not aware that a grand jury had been convened.

“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said, adding that “the White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.”

“The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr Mueller.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was not likely the subject of the investigation.

“Former FBI director Jim Comey said three times the president is not under investigation and we have no reason to believe that has changed,” she said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment on the report.

‘Investigatory independence’

Trump has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion, saying he is the victim of a political “witch hunt” and “fake news”.

But he has been forced to acknowledge that his eldest son, Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his then campaign advisor Paul Manafort did meet a Kremlin-connected lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Mueller is also said to be investigating Trump’s financial records unrelated to Russia or the election, CNN reported.

Trump has publicly warned Mueller that his financial dealings should be out of bounds and investigating them would cross a red line.

If called to testify before a grand jury, Trump would not be the first president to do so. Then president Bill Clinton was forced to give details about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, evidence that was used in his impeachment.

yesterday’s revelations will only fuel speculation that Trump may try to curb the investigation by firing Mueller.

Two US senators introduced a bipartisan bill yesterday to pre-empt that move by insulating Mueller.

The legislation, sponsored by Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Thom Tillis, would bar a president from directly firing the special counsel without a judicial review.

Under the bill, Mueller would be allowed to challenge his removal in court in the event he is fired without good cause.

“A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances,” Tillis said in a statement.

Coons added: “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.” — AFP

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Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half – New York Times

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New York Times
Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half
New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump embraced a proposal on Wednesday to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.
Trump, GOP senators introduce bill to slash legal immigration levelsWashington Post
Trump, GOP senators unveil measure to cut legal immigrationThe Hill
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What is a grand jury Robert Mueller Trump Russia

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  • Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017.   REUTERS/Joshua RobertsRobert Mueller, right. Thomson ReutersRobert Mueller, the FBI’s special counsel, impaneled a grand jury in recent weeks to help him investigate Russia’s election interference.
  • The move signals the scope of the investigation is broadening, and the jury has already issued subpoenas.
  • Investigators have also seized on Trump’s financial ties to Russia as a potential avenue of investigation, according to CNN.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, has impaneled a grand jury, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The grand jury has been working for several weeks already, according to The Journal, and marks an escalation of the investigation into the election meddling and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign team was involved.

“It is a clear sign that this investigation is escalating, and it likely means we are going to see a parade of White House staffers and other Trump associates coming in and out of the courthouse in downtown Washington,” Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman under President Barack Obama, told Business Insider.

“While testimony is secret, you can’t hide who is coming in and out of that courthouse,” Miller said, “and it will put tremendous pressure on White House staffers who will be wondering what their friends and associates testified to behind closed doors.”

Reuters reported that the jury had already issued subpoenas related to the June 2016 meeting between Trump’s eldest son and a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended the meeting.

A grand jury “serves as the mechanism by which” criminal charges are initiated, according to Alex Whiting, a former federal prosecutor, and it has the authority to subpoena documents and witnesses.

“In any complex or long-term criminal investigation, therefore, federal prosecutors will go to the grand jury to compel the production of documents or records,” Whiting wrote in May. “Or if they want to force witnesses to testify under oath, which a grand jury subpoena requires unless the witness has a valid privilege not to testify.”

Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas who specializes in national-security law, told The Journal that the grand jury was “a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel.”

Emily Pierce, who was a Justice Department official in the Obama administration, told Business Insider that impaneling a grand jury “does not necessarily mean Mueller will bring charges,” adding that “it certainly ups the ante for anyone who may be a target of this probe.”

Miller said the choice of venue for the grand jury was “notable,” too.

“Washington is where any obstruction-of-justice crimes that occurred in the White House would be appropriately venued,” he said.

Mueller reportedly expanded the investigation in May to include obstruction of justice, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the Russia probe.

In June, Mueller took over the grand-jury investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lobbying work for a Turkish businessman, according to Reuters. And experts say Mueller appears to be widening his investigation into Trump’s associates by impaneling the second grand jury.

“While many people have focused on the potential actions of the president and whether he can face charges, I think that the lower-level folks who are reportedly targets have more to fear, given it is likely more difficult to indict a president than a campaign operative,” Pierce said.

Vladeck agreed.

“If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy,” he told The Journal. “This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said that impaneling a grand jury was “an early step, not a late step, in an investigation.”

“It means there is enough evidence to warrant serious investigation,” Mariotti wrote on Twitter. “But it does not mean that charges will be sought.”

The White House said in a statement attributed to Ty Cobb, the special counsel to the president, that it “favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.”

He continued: “The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

Whiting previously wrote that grand jury investigations “can last for months or even years, as prosecutors chase down evidentiary leads and amass the documentary and testimonial evidence.”

According to reports, Mueller has additionally expanded the investigation to examine Trump’s financial history and business dealings, and he recently added a 16th lawyer to his team of investigators: Greg Andres, a former Justice Department official who managed the department’s program targeting illegal foreign bribery.

Citing people familiar with the investigation, CNN reported on Thursday that “federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward.”

The investigators are apparently examining Trump Organization financial records and looking at who purchased Trump-branded real estate in the past six years, according to CNN. They’re also probing the backgrounds of people like the Russian-Azerbaijani oligarch Aras Agalarov, who helped bring Trump’s Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.

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Exclusive: Grand jury subpoenas issued in relation to Trump Jr., Russian lawyer meeting

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August 3, 2017 / 8:42 AM / 44 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer, two sources told Reuters on Thursday, in a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is gathering pace.

The sources added that Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington to help investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Russia has loomed large over the first six months of the Trump presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to tilt the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May, is leading the probe, which also examines potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia.

Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign, while regularly denouncing the investigations as political witch hunts.

Mueller’s use of a grand jury could give him expansive tools to pursue evidence, including issuing subpoenas and compelling witnesses to testify. The impaneling of the grand jury was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesman for Mueller declined comment.

A grand jury is a group of ordinary citizens who, working behind closed doors, considers evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing that a prosecutor is investigating and decides whether charges should be brought.

“This is a serious development in the Mueller investigation,” said Paul Callan, a former prosecutor.

“Given that Mueller inherited an investigation that began months ago, it would suggest that he has uncovered information pointing in the direction of criminal charges. But against whom is the real question.”

U.S. stocks and the dollar weakened following the news, while U.S. Treasury securities gained.

Damaging Information

News last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father’s presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, fueled questions about the campaign’s dealings with Moscow.

The Republican president has defended his son’s behavior, saying many people would have taken that meeting.

Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he was not aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury.

“Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly. … The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

John Dowd, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, said: “With respect to the news of the grand jury, I can tell you President Trump is not under investigation.”

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.

Lawyers for Trump Jr. and Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One source briefed on the matter said Mueller was investigating whether, either at the meeting or afterward, anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign encouraged the Russians to start releasing material they had been collecting on the Clinton campaign since March 2016.

Another source familiar with the inquiry said that while the president himself was not now under investigation, Mueller’s investigation was seeking to determine whether he knew of the June 9 meeting in advance or was briefed on it afterward.

Additional reporting by Noeleen Walder, Jan Wolfe, Anthony Lin, Jonathan Stempel, Tom Hals, Julia Ainsley and Joel Schectman; Writing by Frances Kerry and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney

August 2, 2017 / 9:07 PM / 21 hours ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Attorney General Jeff Sessions last weekend that his job was safe after Sessions endured several weeks of sharp public criticism from President Donald Trump, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Kelly, who was named chief of staff by Trump on Friday, phoned Sessions on Saturday to reassure him the White House wanted him to remain as head of the Justice Department, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The conversation was first reported by the Associated Press.

Kelly said Trump was still annoyed with Sessions’ decision in March to recuse himself from the investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, but there had been “kind of a thaw” in Trump’s attitude toward him, according to the official.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

The Kremlin says it did not interfere in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion.

Last week, Trump assailed Sessions in a tweet as “very weak” and said he was “very disappointed” with his attorney general in a Wall Street Journal interview.

When asked at a news conference last week about Sessions’ future, Trump replied: “Time will tell. Time will tell.”

Republican lawmakers rallied to the defense of Sessions, a former U.S. senator from Alabama, and Trump has not mentioned him in tweets in recent days.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney

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Oh, Wait. Maybe It Was Collusion.

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They then employed a cover story — adoptions — to make it believable to the outside world that there was nothing amiss with the proposed meetings. They bolstered this idea by using cutouts, nonofficial Russians, for the actual meeting, enabling the Trump team to claim — truthfully — that there were no Russian government employees at the meeting and that it was just former business contacts of the Trump empire who were present.

When the Trump associates failed to do the right thing by informing the F.B.I., the Russians probably understood that they could take the next step toward a more conspiratorial relationship. They knew what bait to use and had a plan to reel in the fish once it bit.

While we don’t know for sure whether the email solicitation was part of an intelligence ploy, there are some clues. A month after the June meeting at Trump Tower, WikiLeaks, a veritable Russian front, released a dump of stolen D.N.C. emails. The candidate and campaign surrogates increasingly mouthed talking points that seemed taken directly from Russian propaganda outlets, such as that there had been a terrorist attack on a Turkish military base, when no such attack had occurred. Also, at this time United States intelligence reportedly received indications from European intelligence counterparts about odd meetings between Russians and Trump campaign representatives overseas.

Of course, to determine whether collusion occurred, we would have to know whether the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting. The early “courting” stage is almost always somewhat open and discoverable. Only after the Russian intelligence officer develops a level of control can the relationship be moved out of the public eye. John Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., recently testified, “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”

Even intelligence professionals who respect one another and who understand the Russians can and often do disagree. On the Trump collusion question, the difference of opinion comes down to this: Would the Russians use someone like Mr. Goldstone to approach the Trump campaign? Our friend and former colleague Daniel Hoffman argued in this paper that this is unlikely — that the Russians would have relied on trained agents. We respectfully disagree. We believe that the Russians might well have used Mr. Goldstone. We also believe the Russians would have seen very little downside to trying to recruit someone on the Trump team — a big fish. If the fish bit and they were able to reel it in, the email from Mr. Goldstone could remain hidden and, since it was from an acquaintance, would be deniable if found. (Exactly what the Trump team is doing now.)

If the fish didn’t take the bait, the Russians would always have had the option to weaponize the information later to embarrass the Trump team. In addition, if the Russians’ first objective was chaos and disruption, the best way to accomplish that would have been to have someone on the inside helping. It is unlikely that the Russians would not use all the traditional espionage tools available to them.

However, perhaps the most telling piece of information may be the most obvious. Donald Trump himself made numerous statements in support of Russia, Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks during the campaign. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his team have gone out of their way to hide contacts with Russians and lied to the public about it. Likewise, Mr. Trump has attacked those people and institutions that could get to the bottom of the affair. He fired his F.B.I. director James Comey, criticized and bullied his attorney general and deputy attorney general, denigrated the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and assails the news media, labeling anything he dislikes “fake news.” Innocent people don’t tend to behave this way.

The overall Russian intent is clear: disruption of the United States political system and society, a goal that in the Russian view was best served by a Trump presidency. What remains to be determined is whether the Russians also attempted to suborn members of the Trump team in an effort to gain their cooperation. This is why the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is so important. It is why the F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation, also quietly progressing in the background, is critical. Because while a Russian disruption operation is certainly plausible, it is not inconsistent with a much darker Russian goal: gaining an insider ally at the highest levels of the United States government.

In short, and regrettably, collusion is not off the table.

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Trump Signs Russian Sanctions Into Law, With Caveats

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In the statement to Congress, Mr. Trump said the bill “included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.” Although he added that “I nevertheless expect to honor” the waiting periods, he did not commit to it. Moreover, he took issue with other provisions, saying only that he “will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress.”

“This bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” Mr. Trump said in the separate statement to reporters. “Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people and will drive China, Russia and North Korea much closer together.”

“Yet despite its problems,” he added, “I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”

Like Mr. Trump, who has offered no public comment or even a Twitter message about the Russian order to slash the number of United States Embassy workers, it appears that Mr. Putin has not completely given up on the idea of establishing closer relations. The Russian government took its retaliatory action before the president signed the bill so that it would be a response to Congress, not to Mr. Trump.

After Mr. Trump signed the measure on Wednesday, the Russian government reaction was mild. “De facto, this changes nothing,” said Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, who was traveling with Mr. Putin in the Russian Far East, according to the Interfax news agency. “There is nothing new.”

He added that no new retaliation should be expected. “Countermeasures have already been taken,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry attributed the sanctions to “Russophobic hysteria” and reserved the right to take action if it decided to. Vasily A. Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said the law would do nothing to change Moscow’s policies. “Those who invented this bill, if they were thinking that they might change our policy, they were wrong,” he told reporters. “As history many times proved, they should have known better that we do not bend, we do not break.”

Dmitri A. Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, declared the “end to hope for the improvement of our relations” and mocked Mr. Trump for being forced to sign. “The Trump administration has demonstrated total impotence, handing over executive functions to Congress in the most humiliating way possible,” he wrote on Facebook. He added that “the American establishment has totally outplayed Trump” with the goal “to remove him from power.”

American lawmakers said the new law sent an important signal that Russia would be held to account for its election interference and aggression toward its neighbors. But the lawmakers expressed concern about whether Mr. Trump would try to sidestep the measure.

The president’s signing statement “demonstrates that Congress is going to need to keep a sharp eye on this administration’s implementation of this critical law and any actions it takes with respect to Ukraine,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader.

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a prime driver behind the legislation, said, “I remain very concerned that this administration will seek to strike a deal with Moscow that is not in the national security interests of the United States.”

The Trump administration continues to send mixed messages about Russia.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has been visiting Eastern Europe in recent days to shore up allies nervous about an assertive Kremlin, told a group of Balkan prime ministers on Wednesday that Russia sought “to redraw international borders by force” and “undermine your democracies.”

“The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same,” he said in Montenegro, the latest Eastern European nation to join NATO. He noted that the president would sign the sanctions legislation.

“Let me be clear: The United States prefers a constructive relationship with Russia based on mutual cooperation and common interests,” Mr. Pence said. “But the president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia: A better relationship and the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions and conduct that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.”

But just a day earlier, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered a somewhat different take, focusing on the potential for cooperation with Russia in fighting the Islamic State and finding a resolution to the civil war in Syria. Rather than sounding unified with Congress, Mr. Tillerson complained that lawmakers should not have passed the sanctions legislation.

“The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I are very happy about that,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “We were clear that we didn’t think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that’s the decision they made. They made it in a very overwhelming way. I think the president accepts that.”

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After Trump, “big data” firm Cambridge Analytica is now working in Kenya – BBC News

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After Trump, “big data” firm Cambridge Analytica is now working in Kenya
BBC News
On its website, the firm says it “uses data to change audience behaviour.” Most notably, the company was hired by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and has been given some credit for Trump’s electoral success. The company purchases and compiles …

After Trump, “big data” firm Cambridge Analytica is now working in Kenya

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A social media data firm that worked for Donald Trump and which once claimed ties to a pro-Brexit campaign group is now reportedly working for Kenya’s incumbent president.

Cambridge Analytica’s mission statement is simple. On its website, the firm says it “uses data to change audience behaviour.” Most notably, the company was hired by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and has been given some credit for Trump’s electoral success.

The company purchases and compiles data on voters – including their browsing history, location data and Facebook likes. On its website, Cambridge Analytica claims to possess up to 5,000 data points on more than 230 million American voters. When combined with on-the-ground surveys, Cambridge Analytica can use this vast information bank to target key messages at relevant voters.

Now, Cambridge Analytica is working in Kenya, helping in the effort to re-elect President Uhuru Kenyatta.

On 10 May, The Star newspaper in Kenya reported that Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party had hired the firm, and a month later, the same newspaper reported that Cambridge Analytica was working from the seventh floor of the party’s headquarters in Nairobi.

Cambridge Analytica refused to comment on those reports to BBC Trending, but the global privacy-protection charity Privacy International confirmed that they had seen similar information to The Star, citing local sources, and said that Cambridge Analytica was being paid $6 million for its work in the country.

Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in Kenyan politics began in 2013, when the company worked for Kenyatta and The National Alliance – the forerunner of the Jubilee Party. During that year’s campaign, the company correlated online data with 47,000 on-the-ground surveys. According to the Cambridge Analytica website, this allowed the company to create a profile of the Kenyan electorate and come up with a campaign strategy “based on the electorate’s needs (jobs) and fears (tribal violence).” Kenyatta won the 2013 election.

Kenyans are among the most active social media users in Africa. The number of mobile phone users in the country shot up from 8 million in 2007 to 30 million in 2013, and 88% of the population can now access the internet through their phones.

Having served as Minister of Information and Communication from 2005 to 2013, Bitange Ndemo was one of the driving forces behind Kenya’s technological expansion. He told BBC Trending that social media plays a “key role” in the country’s political campaigns.

“It provides a fast way of responding to your opponent’s propaganda,” he said. “Plus, it is perhaps the only medium that can reach most young people.”

Tribal turmoil

At the same time, Kenya’s recent political history has been marred by violence. This reached a peak after the 2007 general election, when a contested result caused tribal divisions to erupt – 1,100 people were killed in the ensuing conflict, while 650,000 were displaced.

“Kenya is very tricky political terrain,” says Paul Goldsmith, an American researcher and writer who’s lived in Kenya for 40 years. “Cambridge Analytica might have access to surveys and other data, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into useful insights. There’s always something unpredictable during elections here. There’s always a curveball.”

“Western companies, charities and development experts tend to run into obstacles when they come to Africa,” Goldsmith says. “I would be surprised if Cambridge Analytica was any different.”

Tribal divisions continue to frame Kenyan politics. Each political party remains closely affiliated with a particular ethnic group. Though Kenyatta did not stand for president in 2007, he was accused of encouraging members of his native Kikuyu tribe to attack Luo tribesmen, who were represented in the election by Raila Odinga. The charge was taken to the International Criminal Court, but ultimately dismissed in December 2014 due to a lack of evidence. Odinga, who maintains that he was cheated out of victory in 2007, is standing against Kenyatta this time around.

During primary elections earlier this year, held to decide the candidates for each party, seven people were killed as rival groups accused each other of vote rigging. Earlier this week, a senior election official was reported dead, and a close colleague told the press that he had been tortured and murdered.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica told Trending that the company is not involved in any negative advertising in Kenya, and that the company “has never advocated the exploitation of ethnic divisions in any country.”

Data harvesting

Cambridge Analytica’s presence in Kenya has prompted concerns about data protection. “Kenya does not currently have specific data protection legislation,” says Claire Lauterbach, a researcher at Privacy International. “This basically means that it’s unclear which agencies or companies can have access to individuals’ data, including sensitive information.”

Cambridge Analytica’s strategy involves the mass harvesting and analysis of voter data. Data protection campaigners are therefore concerned about what might happen to this data after the election.

The issue even worries former government ministers, including Bitange Ndemo, who says the government has failed to pass the data protection laws that he drafted when in office. “Somehow Parliament did not quite understand its importance,” he told Trending. “We need to protect personal data. The fears that data may be abused should be a concern to all.”

In response, Cambridge Analytica said that the company is not compiling individualised data profiles on Kenyan voters, and a spokesperson also stated that a data harvesting programme on the same scale as recent American campaigns is not possible in Kenya.

Cambridge Analytica is heavily funded by Robert Mercer, a US businessman who helped to fund Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and was a member of Trump’s transition team. Mercer is also a major donor to Breitbart News, the website that current White House chief strategist Steve Bannon ran before joining the Trump campaign, and Bannon was once on Cambridge Analytica’s board of directors.

Cambridge Analytica is currently being investigated by the UK’s privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), regarding its alleged use of analytics in the recent EU referendum campaign.

Following the Brexit vote, it was widely reported that Cambridge Analytica had assisted the unofficial Leave.EU campaign – affiliated with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and insurance tycoon Aaron Banks. Leave.EU’s former communications director, Andy Wigmore, told the Observer in February that Cambridge Analytica was “more than happy to help… we shared a lot of information.”

Banks, one of the founders of Leave.EU, has made contradictory statements about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the campaign on Twitter. At one point, in response to a story about the firm, Banks seemed to credit the company’s technology with advancing the Brexit cause:

However, he later said that Leave.EU did not enlist the company, because the Electoral Commission (EC) designated a different group as the official Leave campaign:

Cambridge Analytica now denies that it was ever involved in the EU referendum campaign, and has lodged a legal complaint against the Observer.

Kenya is not the only developing country election where Cambridge Analytica is now getting involved. Bloomberg News reported that the company is also conducting initial research in Mexico, in advance of that country’s presidential election in 2018.

Blog by Sam Bright

You can follow BBC Trending on Twitter @BBCtrending, and find us on Facebook.

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No let-up in spying amid tit-for-tat Russian sanctions: US official

ReutersJul 31, 2017
William Evanina, the National Counterintelligence Executive, described a wide array of challenges his agency faces: hacking of government …
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… on a health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2017. … both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue,” said William Evanina, National …
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Russia Still Spying On US Despite Sanctions, Warns Top US …

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No let-up in spying amid tit-for-tat Russian sanctions: U.S official

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July 31, 2017 / 5:44 PM / 2 days ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia still runs a versatile spying campaign against the United States despite sanctions and daily publicity about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the top U.S. counter-intelligence official said in an interview.

William Evanina, the National Counterintelligence Executive, described a wide array of challenges his agency faces: hacking of government and industry secrets; industrial espionage; government employees and contractors who share secrets with the news media and groups such as WikiLeaks and foreign acquisition of strategic U.S. industries.

Evanina spoke to Reuters on Friday, the same day that Russia retaliated in Cold War-era style to a new round of U.S. sanctions by ordering Washington to cut diplomatic staff and said it was seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties. Russian President Vladimir Putin said 755 people would have to leave their jobs, although many will be Russian nationals.

Congress voted overwhelmingly last week to further punish Russia over U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow had used cyber warfare and other methods to meddle in the election, something Putin has repeatedly denied. Last December, then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats, sanctioned Russian intelligence agencies and personnel, and evicted Russian officials from two diplomatic compounds in the United States.

Evanina said that losing the compounds was a “significant blow to the Russians. Significant. And I’m not even sure we … can measure it.”

He said, however, that U.S. agencies “have not seen a deterrence, or a drop – or an increase,” in Russian spying activity in the last year. “I can tell you, the FBI does not have less work.”

Still, Evanina acknowledged that in the tit-for-tat expulsions, the United States has more to lose than Moscow.

“We have a significantly … smaller footprint over there than they do here. It’s always going to be disproportionate.”

The United States has long pursued its own aggressive espionage and electronic surveillance operations against Russia and, before that, the Soviet Union. Russia’s cuts to U.S. personnel and property will shrink the diplomatic infrastructure that countries typically rely on to both conduct foreign affairs – and spy.

Evanina said Russian espionage strategy has shifted over the last five to seven years, no longer relying solely on intelligence officers formally employed by its spy agencies. Now, he said, it also involves dispatching businessmen, engineers and other travelers to the United States working as contractors for intelligence services.

Evanina declined to comment on U.S. investigations into Moscow’s election year activities and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials. Trump denies any collusion.

He said that in the past year, he has worked intensively with the U.S. private sector to protect critical infrastructure and supply chains from foreign threats. Evanina suggested that the United States could soon adopt more stringent reviews of foreign acquisitions that have national security implications.

Reuters reported on July 20 that the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has objected to at least nine acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign buyers so far this year, a historically high number that bodes poorly for China’s overseas buying spree.

Reporting by Warren Strobel and John Walcott; editing by Grant McCool


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