The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.
Mueller was appointed in May to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Under the regulations governing special counsel investigations, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has oversight over the Russia investigation, would have been made aware of any charges before they were taken before the grand jury for approval, according to people familiar with the matter.
On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.
Reporters present saw a flurry of activity at the grand jury room, but officials made no announcements.
Shortly after President Donald Trump abruptly fired then-FBI Director James Comey, Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel. Mueller took the reins of a federal investigation that Comey first opened in July 2016 in the middle of the presidential campaign.
Mueller is authorized to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” according to Rosenstein’s order.
The special counsel’s investigation has focused on potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as obstruction of justice by the President, who might have tried to impede the investigation. CNN reported that investigators are scrutinizing Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia.
Mueller’s team has also examined foreign lobbying conducted by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and others. His team has issued subpoenas for documents and testimony to a handful of figures, including some people close to Manafort, and others involved in the Trump Tower meeting between Russians and campaign officials.
Last year, the Comey-led investigation secured approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of Manafort, as well as former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as part of the investigation into Russian meddling.
In addition to Mueller’s probe, three committees on Capitol Hill are conducting their own investigations.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Mary Kay Mallonee and Laura Robinson contributed to this report.
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A federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first charges in the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, CNN reported Friday.
CNN cited sources briefed on the matter in reporting that the grand jury approved charges, but the network said that the charges are sealed under orders from a federal judge and it was unclear what the charges are or who they are against. The Wall Street Journal later Friday also reported that the first charges have been filed, citing a source.
NBC News has not confirmed the reports. Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Mueller, declined to comment Friday night.
Report: First charges filed in Mueller Russia probe 15:57
Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed in May as special counsel to oversee the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election.
He was appointed by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein made the decision to appoint Mueller because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any probe in the Russia investigation.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn have been said to be key figures in Mueller’s probe, law enforcement sources familiar with the matter have told NBC News in the past.
Representatives for Flynn and Manafort did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday night.
Congressional investigations into alleged Russian involvement in the presidential election are also underway.
CNN, citing sources, said that an arrest could happen Monday.
“Sealing is fairly common at the stage when you have an indictment that is issued or approved, as it may have been today,” former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said on MSNBC Friday.
Charges filed in Trump Russia probe: Report 11:40
“And the reason is that law enforcement kind of wants its ducks in a row before they go out and arrest the defendant or even notify him — it may be that they don’t arrest whoever this defendant is because they’ve worked out a relationship with his or her defense attorney to bring them in to appear on the case,” she said.
Less than a fifth of voters who pulled their registrations following a request for voter information have registered again.
Don’t let Russian internet trolls stir racial unrest here
So why would Russian President Vladimir Putin be reviving that ploy now? For the same reason that our intelligence services believe he approved the hacking of last year’s elections in an attempt to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton’s chances and help …
Journalism is under assault from fake news, Trump and big tech platforms, Joseph Kahn tells Sydney audience
The Trump presidency and the proliferation of fake news is an assault on good journalism, and this should be resisted by funding even more investigative reporting, the New York Times managing editor, Joseph Kahn, has told a black-tie dinner in Sydney.
“Attacks on the press by the president, the fake news phenomenon, and the shift of eyeballs and ad dollars to the big tech platforms are serious challenges,” Kahn said in his Andrew Olle Media Lecture at the International Convention Centre in Sydney.
Dianne Feinstein demands answers from White House, Trump, Facebook, Twitter on Russia
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Big Media ignores real Russian scandal
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“He believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows,” Conway said on CNN’s “New Day.”
that Trump told his staff to work with the Justice Department to allow an undercover FBI informant who played a critical role in an FBI investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence in the uranium industry in the United States during the Obama administration to be free to speak with Congress. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has called for the Justice Department to do the same.
Conway, in the interview, pointed to Grassley’s request.
“That’s the proper channel here,” Conway said.
The Justice Department has strict rules limiting the White House’s involvement in criminal law enforcement matters. Any involvement by the White House counsel in the decision is unusual, particularly because it relates to the President’s political opponents.
Conway, however, defended Trump’s interest in the politically charged case: “It’s not unusual for a President to weigh in.”
Republicans want to know the circumstances surrounding the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia’s Atomic Energy Agency, Rosatom, which was approved by the Obama administration in 2010.
The deal had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a panel that is composed of representatives from several US government agencies, including the State Department, which at the time was led by Hillary Clinton.
Conway went on to hit Clinton and the Democratic Party for
a dossier of allegations about Trump and Russia, which she said was an improper attempt to use foreign intelligence to hit Trump.
“Now, we are faced with the possibility — and it looks like the very real probability — the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid a foreign agent for information to try to smear Donald Trump,” Conway said.
by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party solicited the firm Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump during the campaign. That firm, in turn, hired former UK intelligence officer Christopher Steele, whose memos make up the
. As CNN has
, the Fusion efforts researching Trump were first funded by his Republican foes.
Conway slammed the Democrats for contributing funding to opposition research obtained from a foreign source, though the Trump campaign — prior to Conway’s involvement — met with a Russian lawyer in an attempt to glean potentially damaging information on Clinton, according to Donald Trump Jr.’s own account.
the head of a data analytics company linked to the Trump campaign contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about emails from Clinton’s private server.
Conway denied any firsthand knowledge of the effort.
“I only know what I read in the press on this, which is that he made that entreaty and Julian Assange says that he rejected it, never happened, and the Trump campaign has since spoken on this,” Conway said.
She went on to say the Trump campaign, which she helped lead through the end of the general election, “beat Hillary Clinton fairly and squarely.”
“I know nothing about that because I was the campaign manager, and I can’t be bothered with any of that,” Conway said of the Cambridge Analytica outreach to WikiLeaks. “The campaign was not doing that.”
Los Angeles Times
‘Who paid for the dossier?’ doesn’t matter; Russian meddling in our elections is what’s important
Los Angeles Times
… from the main event: Russian interference in last year’s election and allegations that the Trump campaign colluded in that interference — and that Trump tried to frustrate investigations of that conduct, including by firing former FBI Director …
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JFK assassination files: CIA, FBI among agencies lobbying Trump to delay release of some files
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fbi – Google News
Infighting plagues Senate Judiciary Committee’s Russia investigation
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New Kennedy Documents Say FBI Was Tipped Off Oswald Was In Danger After Arrest
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FBI informant expected to admit he committed fraud while working undercover on terrorism sting
Agbareia, 51, admitted to FBI agents on several occasions that he was still committing crimes and continued doing so “despite numerous warnings to cease,” prosecutors said. They said Agbareia resumed operating his lucrative fraud in 2007 and continued …and more »
fbi – Google News
The director of the CIA could stop Robert Mueller in his tracks — and there are reasons to worry
Does the CIA have the right to deny special counsel Robert Mueller access to Russia-related information relevant to his investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election? And if so, should we be worried that CIA Director Mike Pompeo would seize on …and more »
Why are Russia’s Facebook ads remaining a secret? pic.twitter.com/KfyIXeEFnd
Every year, the FBI releases a report that is considered the gold standard for tracking crime statistics in the United States: the Crime in the United States report, a collection of crime statistics gathered from over 18,000 law-enforcement agencies in cities around the country. But according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the 2016 Crime in the United States report — the first released under President Trump’s administration — contains close to 70 percent fewer data tables than the 2015 version did, a removal that could affect analysts’ understanding of crime trends in the country. The removal comes after consecutive years in which violent crime rose nationally, and it limits access to high-quality crime data that could help inform solutions.
Published under the auspices of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the Crime in the United States report contains national data on homicides, violent crimes, arrests, clearances and police employment that has been collected since the 1960s. The UCR’s report is an invaluable resource for researchers who track national crime trends and is a rich reference database for journalists and members of the general public who are interested in official crime statistics. Among the data missing from the 2016 report is information on arrests, the circumstances of homicides (such as the relationships between victims and perpetrators), and the only national estimate of annual gang murders.
Tables, by category, in the FBI’s Crime in the United States report, 2015-16
|NUMBER OF TABLES|
|Context for crimes*||23||6||-17|
|Police dept. employee counts||12||7||-5|
* Expanded offense data beyond the aggregate number of crimes reported by law enforcement.
† Aggregates of the number of violent and property crime offenses reported by law enforcement.
Changes to the UCR’s yearly report are not unheard of, and the press release that accompanies the 2016 report, which was published in late September, acknowledges the removal of some tables, saying that the UCR program had “streamlined the 2016 edition.” But changes to the report typically go through a body called the Advisory Policy Board (APB), which is responsible for managing and reviewing operational issues for a number of FBI programs. This time they did not.
In response to queries from FiveThirtyEight about whether the changes to the 2016 report had been made in consultation with the Advisory Policy Board, a spokesman for the UCR responded that the program had “worked with staff from the Office of Public Affairs to review the number of times a user actually viewed the tables on the internet.” When FiveThirtyEight informed a former FBI employee of the process, he said it was abnormal.
“To me it’s shocking that they made these decisions to publish that many fewer tables and they didn’t make the decision with the APB,” James Nolan, who worked at the UCR for five years and now teaches at West Virginia University, told FiveThirtyEight.
Nolan called the FBI’s removal of the tables for lack of web traffic, “somewhat illogical.” (A spokesman for the UCR program told FiveThirtyEight that in the last year, the UCR received 3,045,789 visitors.)
“How much time and savings is there in moving an online table?” Nolan said. “These are canned programs: You create table 71 and table 71 is connected to a link in a blink of an eye.”
These removals mean that there is less data available concerning a perennial focus of Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions: violent crime. Trump and Sessions have frequently talked about MS-13, a gang with Salvadoran roots, as a looming problem in the country. MS-13 has been cited in 37 Department of Justice press releases and speeches in 2017, compared to only nine mentions in 2016 and five in 2015. Sessions gave a speech on the organization last month, while Trump gave a speechon Long Island in July, saying the gang had “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.” Trump also frequently refers to gun violence in Chicago, and at the beginning of his presidency, he established a Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, which aims to study and promote awareness of crimes committed by immigrants who entered the country illegally.
Although the removal of the tables makes it more difficult to get information on one of the White House’s most prominent causes, it also seems like part of a trend in the Trump administration: the suppression of government data and an unwillingness to share information with the press and public. About two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the FEMA website stopped displayingkey metrics relating to island residents’ access to drinkable water and electricity. The data was later restored. The early days of the Trump administration were marked by reports that federal agency employees had been instructed not to talk to the press and to restrict social media postings.
Since Trump took office, government watchdog groups have been concerned about access to government data and maintaining the integrity of that data. Before Trump’s inauguration, Louis Clark, the executive director and CEO of the Government Accountability Project, an organization that protects whistleblowers, told FiveThirtyEight that he worried that the public information offices in various agencies could interfere with transparent sharing of information with the public.
The fact that the FBI Office of Public Affairs rather than the Advisory Policy Board determined which data tables to remove hearkens back to patterns of suppression from the George W. Bush administration. “They set up all these PR operations,” Clark said about the Bush administration’s tactics. “If a reporter called up and wanted to know about the Arctic, the scientists getting the question couldn’t answer and were required to send the reporter to the government PR person.”
The data missing from the report is mostly about arrests and homicides. There were 51 tables of arrest data in the 2015 report, and there are only seven in the 2016 report. Data about clearance rates — essentially the percentage of crimes solved — was covered in four tables in 2015 but just one in 2016. The expanded offense data — information collected by the FBI beyond the number of crimes committed, such as the type of weapon used or the location of a crimes — went from 23 tables in 2015 to 6 in 2016.
There were 15 tables of murder data in 2015, but in 2016 there were only a few tables offering expanded insights on homicides. The expanded homicide data from 2016 doesn’t include statistics on the relationship between victims and offenders; victims’ and offenders’ age, sex, race or ethnicity; or what weapons were used in different circumstances. Practically speaking, that means that researchers can no longer easily identify the number of children under the age of 18 murdered by firearm in a given year. Additionally, data tables used to identify the number of women murdered by their partners are similarly no longer available.
The removal of this expanded homicide information is not acknowledged in the report. Also, the FBI’s 2016 definition of expanded homicide data, which is identical to the one from 2015, says that the agency collects “supplementary homicide data that provide the age, sex, race, and ethnicity of the murder victim and offender; the type of weapon used; the relationship of the victim to the offender; and the circumstance surrounding the incident. Statistics gleaned from these supplemental data are provided in this section.” This suggests that murder circumstance data will be provided, though none is.
While the UCR says that the data no longer included in the report was available upon request, the FBI only provided a raw data file, which is more difficult to analyze — especially compared to easily accessible data tables — and does not always match the figures posted online in the UCR reports.
The FBI noted that in addition to its decision to streamline the report, UCR had launched a Crime Data Explorer, which aims to make crime data more user-interactive. But data contained in the explorer does not replicate what is missing from the 2016 UCR report, and it doesn’t allow users to view data for particular years, but rather aggregates trends over a minimum period of 10 years. The National Incident-Based Reporting System is another tool the FBI uses to provide more detailed information on crimes, but it too does not replicate what is missing from the 2016 UCR report and has a substantially lower participation rate from police departments across the country.
Richard Rosenfeld, former president of the American Society of Criminology and a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, noticed that the 2016 report no longer had data for a trend area that he tracks — homicides related to the narcotic drug trade. “One could argue the Trump administration is interested in the opioid epidemic and might be interested in its criminal justice consequences,” he said.
“I simply don’t understand why they would omit any of the tables that they have included from years past.”
If you have any tips or insights into the changes to the 2016 Crime in the United States Report, please send them to <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with ranking member Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, before the start of a hearing entitled Russian Intervention in European Elections, June 28, 2017.
By Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
Ten months after the House and Senate intelligence committees launched dual investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Republican lawmakers have begun calling for them to end, with some eager to wrap up by the end of the year. But with the pivotal question of whether Donald Trump’s campaign has colluded with the Russian government left unanswered, and in the face of new inquiries regarding the Trump campaign’s ties to a Robert Mercer-backed data-mining company, Democrats are reluctant to close the books on the probes or tie themselves to a timeline—potentially foreshadowing a partisan showdown.
In recent weeks, both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed doubts that they will reach a clear-cut conclusion, conceding that Robert Mueller’s F.B.I. investigation is more likely to yield such results. Despite having a long list of remaining witnesses to question, Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, said he hopes to complete the inquiry by February. “If there’s evidence that there was something there, that will be laid out. If there’s no evidence, how could anybody object to it?” Burr told Politico. Other Republicans have taken their criticism of the ongoing probes a step further. “We’ve hit the point of diminishing returns long ago,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho said. “We’ve looked at lots of stuff. At some point in time, the jury needs to reach a verdict.”
Pressure to issue said verdict is highest in the House, where the panel tasked with exploring the breadth of Kremlin influence during the election has been plagued with partisan infighting. Congressman Mike Conaway—who took over the probe after Devin Nunes was forced to step down amid accusations that he was protecting the White House—told reporters that he wants to reach a conclusion as soon as possible. “I have no interest in prolonging this one second longer than [necessary],” he said, according to The Hill, although he conceded that completing a thorough investigation “takes some time.”
But Democrats on the House committee could impede Conaway’s plan. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the panel, derided his colleague’s timeline as unrealistic and, along with other members of his party, has argued that while the congressional committee hasn’t yet surfaced conclusive evidence of collusion. “We’ve certainly seen evidence of an intention by the Trump campaign to collude with the Russians,” Schiff told Politico. “I would hope that, at the end of the day, we’ll come to a common conclusion on that as well.” Eric Swalwell, another outspoken Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, echoed the sentiment. “We may not find the crime on videotape, but I believe we have already seen evidence of intent,” the California lawmaker said. “But our investigation is ongoing and we haven’t reached a conclusion.” (Other Democrats have tried to lower expectations on what the committees will deliver: “The probability that we’re going to produce a report that buttons down every question is pretty low,” said Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut.)
Beyond timeline, there are also growing concerns that Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate will arrive at starkly different conclusions. In an attempt to avoid this outcome, Conaway is pushing to work with Schiff, Burr, and Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, on a unified conclusion—an idea Schiff supports. But Warner dismissed the idea that the various committee members aren’t already in sync. “We’re still operating in a very collaborative fashion,” Warner told Politico.
As lawmakers debate what constitutes a “thorough” Congressional investigation, they are also girding themselves for a partisan battle over the budget for Mueller’s probe. Every six months, Mueller is required to generate a spending report, the first of which will soon be made public following a Justice Department review. As Politico points out, Congress doesn’t have direct control over Mueller’s budget, which is not subject to the typical appropriations process; instead, it’s monitored by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special prosecutor’s work after Jeff Sessions recused himself earlier this year. Critics have already begun to launch political attacks at Mueller, arguing that his ever-widening inquiry is an unfair burden on taxpayers, and threatening to restrain it either through Congress’s oversight over the Justice Department or through new legislation. “For them to say to us, ‘Vote for an open-ended appropriation into a Mueller witch hunt,’ I think you’ll see significant objection there,” Congressman Steve King of Iowa told Politico. Others have expressed doubts that attacks against Mueller—whose sterling reputation precedes him—will stick. “I’d be inclined to approve it,” Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on both the Senate Appropriations and Judiciary committees, told Politico in reference to the budget, adding, “He seems to be a pretty frugal guy.”
Trump, naturally, is siding with Republicans. The president took to Twitter on Friday morning not only to claim that there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and the Kremlin, but also to highlight the cost of the multiple investigations. If Republicans concede and attempt to shut down the inquiries, Democrats must either go along, or risk denting the investigations’ integrity by cementing their status as a partisan issue.
Russia’s worrisome push to control cyberspace
The Keene Sentinel
Russia’s bid to rewrite global rules through the U.N. was matched by a personal pitch on cyber-cooperation in July from President Vladimir Putin to President Trump at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. Putin “vehemently denied” to Trump that Russia had …
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Los Angeles Times
Trump administration belatedly takes step toward new Russia sanctions
Los Angeles Times
In early August, after considerable delay, Trump signed into law a measure that required the new sanctions, which target individuals with ties to Russian defense and intelligence agencies. Under the law, companies that do business with those …
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trump russian ties – Google News
The First FBI Crime Report Issued Under Trump Is Missing A Ton Of Info
Every year, the FBI releases a report that is considered the gold standard for tracking crime statistics in the United States: the Crime in the United States report, a collection of crime statistics gathered from over 18,000 law-enforcement agencies in …
Trump FBI file – Google News
Comics, including Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, discussed Trump’s relationship with Fox News and the administration’s response to the opioid epidemic
Late-night on Thursday hosts addressed Donald Trump’s interview with Fox News anchor Lou Dobbs, as well as the administration’s response to the opioid epidemic.
“Sometimes I feel sorry for Donald Trump, but not as often as he does,” Stephen Colbert began. “He’s always complaining about his media coverage. So last night, he just unplugged, got away from it all, and sat down for his 19th interview with Fox News. In this case, it was a full-blown rubdown from anchor and unrefrigerated Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs.”
Donald Trump | The Guardian
Lawmakers demand investigation into no-bid contract between Puerto Rico and Trump-connected company
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New York Daily News
Trump tries to take Russia collusion heat off himself by pointing the finger at Clinton over dossier, uranium deal
New York Daily News
In addition to the dossier and collusion allegations, special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s assesment that …
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Kislyak, recently amended his public financial filing to disclose a brief advisory role with SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company. Scrutiny mounts for Trump digital operation The Hill–5 hours ago … Kislyak, recently amended his public financial filing to disclose a brief advisory role with SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company. Trump campaign firm CEO offered WikiLeaks … Continue reading “12:44 PM 10/27/2017 – Kislyak, SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica…”
Trump Investigations Report
Column: Trump bowing to CIA on JFK files is a reminder of how the presidency changes people
At the request of the CIA, FBI and others in the national security community, President DonaldTrump made a last-minute decision last week to delay the release of thousands of pages of classified documents related to the John F. Kennedy assassination.and more »
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TIME –E&E News –Nasdaq –TPM
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The presence of Donald Trump on social media has attracted attention worldwide since he joined Twitter in March 2009. He has frequently used Twitter to comment on politicians and celebrities, and he relied on Twitter significantly to communicate during the 2016 United States presidential election. The attention on Trump’s Twitter activity has significantly increased since he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States and continued to post controversial opinions and statements. Many of the assertions made by Trump on his Twitter account have been proven to be false.
Fast Company–Oct 25, 2017
TrueBlueTribune–35 minutes ago
Blog–Slate Magazine (blog)–Oct 11, 2017
Vanity Fair–Oct 25, 2017
Media Matters for America–Oct 26, 2017
The Inquisitr–Oct 25, 2017
Blog–Slate Magazine (blog)–Oct 25, 2017
ABC News–Oct 25, 2017
In-Depth–Salt Lake Tribune–14 hours ago
Opinion–Baltimore Sun–3 hours ago
In-Depth–Politico–Oct 26, 2017
Highly Cited–CBS News–Oct 9, 2017
Opinion–Washington Post–Oct 9, 2017
In-Depth–Chicago Tribune–Oct 8, 2017
New York Daily News–Oct 25, 2017
Opinion–Chicago Tribune–Oct 25, 2017
In-Depth–Salon–4 hours ago
May 26th, 2017 by Carolyn Fortuna
Trump campaign data may be directly tied to social media manipulation, according to an investigation at The Guardian. If that is the case, then take a back seat, fake news, because what we could have is a deliberate right-wing propaganda machine that is altering the way that voters perceive candidates and issues. It could be much more detrimental to our democracy than any fake news.
The Guardian has revealed that extreme conservative ideology is cycled through popular social media sites through algorithms so it becomes pervasive, dominant, and constant.
Social media manipulation is trouble for democratic society everywhere.
Cambridge Analytica’s Data Mining and Trump’s Victory
One company that drives data, Cambridge Analytica, goes so far as to take credit for Trump’s election win through its ability to manipulate media messages targeted at persuadable voters. According to the homepage of its website, Cambridge Analytica (CA) uses data to change audience behavior. If you click on the “Political” tab, you can eventually find a description that says,
“CA Political’s industry-leading data services help you to find, understand, and engage with voters more effectively. Our services can be purchased individually and tailored to your needs, but combined they offer a fully end-to-end campaign package. CA Political provides clients with a truly quantifiable approach to campaigning.”
It is a company that openly brags that the “expertise and intelligence” it provided to the Trump campaign spurred his election win. How did CA’s data analysis lead to what CA describes as the “most remarkable victory in modern U.S. political history?” Why is CA now suing The Guardian for a 2017 article titled, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media?“
That article now has a subtitle, “This article is the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited.”
What exactly happened with the Trump campaign data, according to The Guardian‘s inquiry? And do the forces behind his win continue to use data manipulation to influence the US government today?
How Trump Campaign Data Links to Google Searches
How does a 21st century data-driven campaign for an unlikely candidate for President of the USA work? By designating three integrated teams — research, data science, and digital marketing — CA was able to move millions of data points into targeted messages directed at “the most persuadable voters and the issues they cared about.” The purpose? Hit them with messages at key times to get them to take action to vote for Donald Trump.
Doesn’t really sound like anything different than any other contemporary campaign, does it? Just wait.
Data mining to target voters is only one aspect of the controversy around CA and The Guardian. In December 2016, writer Carole Cadwalladr chronicled how some topics, when searched on Google, resulted in responses that “were being dominated by right wing and extremist sites.”
In an interview, Jonathan Albright, professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, says that his research reveals that right-wing news sites attempted to do what most commercial websites try to do: find tricks that elevate their placement on Google’s PageRank system. They try to “game” the algorithm. Albright’s mapping of the news ecosystem has divulged that millions of links between right-wing sites were “strangling” the mainstream media during the 2016 Presidential election.
CA was cited by Albright as a company that sites like Breitbart could use to track people as they surf the web, including their visits to Facebook. They wanted to direct specific ads to their advantage. According to Albright:
“They have created a web that is bleeding through on to our web. This isn’t a conspiracy. There isn’t one person who’s created this. It’s a vast system of hundreds of different sites that are using all the same tricks that all websites use. They’re sending out thousands of links to other sites and together this has created a vast satellite system of right wing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system.”
“There’s large-scale, statistically significant research into the impact of search results on political views. And the way in which you see the results and the types of results you see on the page necessarily has an impact on your perspective.”
The results of Albright’s research that a vast network of right-wing sites feeds Google searches make me a little sick to my stomach.
The Case Study of Donald Trump for President: “A Full-Scale Data-Driven Digital Campaign”
Let’s return to the case study of CA’s data collection and analysis for the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Let’s try to figure out what CA did that was different — and how The Guardian‘s expose was so controversial that it led to a lawsuit.
CA built 20 custom data models to forecast the voter behavior of 180,000 individuals. Their digital marketing efforts led to a large-scale operation with 8-figure ad budgets and an infrastructure that supported all aspects of the campaign, “influencing voters where and when it counted.”
The responses from each individual polled by phone or online were matched with existing data in CA’s database. They analyzed numerous topics — “from their voting history to the car they drive.” As they did so, CA correlated individual behaviors with voting decisions. These models allowed CA to predict the way individuals would vote, even without the backdrop of knowing their specific political beliefs.
In essence, consumer and personal behaviors led to data organization and predicted which candidates the polled individuals would most likely prefer when it came time to vote.
Then CA organized voters into different categories and determined the best way to influence them through marketing. With these audience segments identified, CA created and implemented a marketing strategy for Trump fundraising. Get Out the Vote programs, heavily laden with persuasive motifs, included targeted advertisements in key battleground states that were directed to the most persuadable voters.
Designing Algorithms for Social Media Manipulation
What’s essential to understand here is that CA collaborated with “30+ ad tech partners.” Cadwalladr at The Guardian wrote that “Google’s search results on certain subjects were being dominated by right wing and extremist sites.” CA’s marketing operation utilized a number of platforms, including social media, search engine advertising, and YouTube. By using the social media that polled individuals tended to frequent most often, CA was able to appeal to voters using language and imagery in ways very familiar to this audience — ways they would understand and to which they would respond strongly.
“We used our data infrastructure to target voters who could be influenced in the most meaningful way. For example, if they cared about healthcare, targeted adverts directed them to websites explaining Trump’s views on the matter.”
Trump’s views on healthcare, according to a October 9, 2016, Business Insider article, were criticisms about the Affordable Care Act as having “resulted in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, greater rationing of care, higher premiums, less competition, and fewer choices.” Words like “runaway,” “don’t work,” “rationing,” “higher,” “less,” and “fewer” worked to demoralize persuadable voters who may have already been struggling with health care costs in addition to other living expenses.
If, as Albright’s research indicates, millions of links between right-wing sites were responsible for “strangling” the media, CA’s data mining and categorization during the Trump campaign may have worked as triggers to persuade undecided voters that the Trump Republican narrative was normal, sensible, and fiscally responsible.
CA kept polling and assessing the Trump campaign progress in an real-time basis, with 17 states pinpointed as essential battleground states and 1500 people polled weekly in those key areas. More important than any other element, CA could also identify which voters were likely to support Donald Trump. Through social media portals that rerouted right-wing messages in deeply complex cycles, potential voters viewed right-wing rhetoric so frequently that it became a familiar message.
Dr. Jonathan Rust, director of Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre, says,
“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behavior. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behavior can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”
So, CA influenced voter intention, and it also inspired people to take specific actions. What were the results? “Donations increased, event turnouts grew, and inactive voters who favored Trump were motivated to get out and vote on election day.”
In the final months, reports based on the new data that emerged from polling were sent daily to the Trump campaign. Those reports demonstrated how voters might be shifting their perceptions of issues and candidates. What might that have looked like? Well, with CA’s ability to assess state-by-state reactions to any political event, they were able to understand any unexpected shifts in voting intention. The constant FBI Director Comey announcements about Secretary Clinton’s emails come to mind.
With great pride, CA argues that its “work informed the campaign strategy and meant key voters, who might otherwise have stayed home, were reached in their own backyards. This ultimately contributed to the extraordinary victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.” CA’s efforts toward the Trump campaign, with data-driven marketing techniques, changed behavior in target populations. In other words, CA assisted the Trump campaign to use technology platforms to give voice to racists and xenophobes, according to Cadwalladr in another story in The Guardian.
And the results continue to snowball. Trump boasted that Apple CEO Tim Cook called to congratulate him soon after his election victory. “And there will undoubtedly be pressure on them to collaborate,” says Moore at the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication, and Power.
There are other reasons to be really concerned over and above Google right-wing search domination and CA’s 30+ media technology partners that have contributed to social media manipulation.
What if one person has donated $45 million to different Republican political campaigns and another $50 million to right-wing, ultra-conservative nonprofits? Is he, as Cadwalladr suggests, “trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs?”
Hedge Fund Billionaire Robert Mercer: The Man behind the Trump Data Mining & Manipulation
He’s a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He made his fortune in language processing science that fed into today’s AI. Afterward, as joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets, he became a billionaire.
What has Mercer done to single-handedly promote right-wing agendas? He:
- funded the Heartland Institute, renowned for its climate denial and across-the-board fight against regulation;
- donated to the Media Research Center, which has a mission of “correcting liberal bias;”
- propped up Steve Bannon with $10 million for Breitbart; and,
- reportedly holds a $10 million stake in Cambridge Analytica (CA), which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group.
The Guardian claims that, “with links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Nigel Farage, the right wing U.S. computer scientist is at the heart of a multi-million dollar propaganda network.” And we are its tools: our social media conversations and interests are being redirected to win votes through ideological mechanisms that are invisible to us. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Greg Gianforte, a Republican technology executive who was charged with assault, defeated Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate, in a special election for Montana’s at-large House of Representatives seat. Or maybe not.
Emma Briant, a propaganda specialist at the University of Sheffield, says that CA and other data mining sites like it have the technological tools to effect behavioral and psychological change. The social media sites where we go for leisure and relaxation are a new space where international geopolitics is being played out in real time, and we’re pawns in the game.
It’s a new age of persuasion and social media manipulation, and, if Cadwalladr’s research stands up in court, we need to be hypervigilant about the sources we believe and the inferences we make based on those sources.
Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.
About the Author
Carolyn Fortuna Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She’s won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. She’s molds scholarship into digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+
“The extent to which they were helping candidates online was a surprise to us,” said co-author Daniel Kreiss, from UNC Chapel Hill. He called the assistance “a form of subsidy from technology firms to political candidates.”
The study was published Thursday in the journal Political Communication.
Kreiss and the University of Utah’s Shannon McGregor interviewed tech company liaisons to the Trump and Clinton operations as well as officials from a range of campaigns, including those of former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
The researchers’ findings add to the many questions surrounding the part that the country’s biggest tech companies played in the 2016 election. Facebook, Google and Twitter already face heavy criticism for allowing the spread of disinformation, “fake news” and divisive advertising during the campaign — much of which targeted Clinton. All three companies are set to testify at congressional hearings beginning next week on Russian use of their platforms to interfere with the election.
The idea that the tech companies were so deeply enmeshed in the efforts to elect Trump in particular could also complicate the companies’ reputations as political actors. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is among those in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley who have roundly condemned Trump’s actions as president on topics like LGBT issues and immigration.
As Trump emerged as the likely Republican nominee, staffers from each of the three companies set up shop in a strip-mall office rented by the Trump campaign in San Antonio, Texas, home to the campaign’s lead digital strategist, Brad Parscale, the study reports. It attributes that information to Nu Wexler, a Twitter communications official at the time, who is explicit about the value of the arrangement for Trump.
“One, they found that they were getting solid advice, and two, it’s cheaper. It’s free labor,” Wexler said in the study.
While the paper does not detail the specific tasks Facebook carried out for Trump, it describes the sort of work the company did generally for 2016 candidates, including coordinating so-called dark posts that would appear only to selected users and identifying the kinds of photos that perform best on Facebook-owned Instagram. Twitter, meanwhile, would help candidates analyze the performances of their tweet-based fundraising pushes to recommend what moves the campaigns should make next. Google kept tabs on candidates’ travels to recommend geographically targeted advertisements.
Digital experts interviewed by the researchers concluded that the tech company employees, who would work in San Antonio for days at a time, helped Trump close his staffing gap with Clinton.
The White House referred questions to the Trump campaign, and Parscale did not respond to requests for comment. Parscale said in an Oct. 8 episode of “60 Minutes” that he actively solicited the companies’ support, saying that he told them: “I wanna know everything you would tell Hillary’s campaign plus some. And I want your people here to teach me how to use it.”
A source close to the Clinton campaign rejected the notion that her team failed to take advantage of a valuable resource, arguing that her operation was in regular contact with the tech companies to tap their expertise. The source, who would only speak anonymously because of the sensitivity around attributing causes of Clinton’s defeat, said there would have been no advantage to having tech company employees sitting at desks at Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters.
One unnamed tech company staffer is quoted in the study as saying, “Clinton viewed us as vendors rather than consultants.”
Story Continued Below
Asked about the arrangement with Trump, the tech companies were quick to point out that they make their services available to all political players regardless of party.
“Facebook offers identical levels of support to candidates and campaigns across the political spectrum, whether by Facebook’s politics and government or ad sales teams,” a spokesperson for the social network said in a statement.
That sentiment was echoed by Twitter, which said it offered help to both the Clinton and Trump campaigns, and by Google, which stressed that it is up to each candidate to determine how extensively to work with the company. During the primary season, Google made available to each candidate an eight-hour session with the company’s creative teams, but only Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign took them up on it, according to the study.
But at least one tech veteran said he can see how it would raise alarms that the bulk of Silicon Valley’s hands-on campaign support went to Trump rather than to Clinton.
“It can be confusing from the outside looking in when it appears one campaign or another is getting more support,” Adam Sharp, a former Twitter executive who led the company’s elections team from 2010 to 2016, said in an interview. But while the companies strive to be balanced, they cannot inform voters “when a candidate doesn’t heed the help,” he said.
An intimate relationship between tech companies and candidates has considerable upside for both. The campaign gets high-quality advice and advance notice on cutting-edge products. The company gets national exposure for its products and builds relationships with politicians who might be in a position to regulate it once they get to Washington.
Silicon Valley had additional considerations during the 2016 campaign. The big tech companies were eager to fight the perception they were unfair to conservatives — and few in the liberal-leaning industry expected Trump to win, with or without their assistance.
Kreiss and McGregor recount one interview in which a pair of Facebook reps struggled to come up with a shorthand way of describing the support they provide candidates. Katie Harbath, head of Facebook’s elections team, suggested “customer service plus.” Ali-Jae Henke, who as an account executive at Google worked with Republican campaigns, including Trump’s, described the role as “serving in an advisory capacity.”
The history of the tech companies’ campaign outreach dates back to the 2008 presidential contest. That year, Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook’s CEO, traveled to both the Democratic and Republican conventions to pitch the political utility of the then-4-year-old social network. Around that same time, the company began offering congressional offices one-on-one guidance on how to use Facebook.
The outreach didn’t always work at first. “I was, like, begging people to meet with us,” Randi Zuckerberg said of the GOP’s 2008 convention. But as political spending on Facebook’s ad products and elected leaders’ dependence on the platform skyrocketed over the years, so too did the company’s close work with politicians.
One constant in the dynamic: The companies break down their political outreach teams along party lines. Facebook’s point of contact to Clinton’s 2016 White House run, Crystal Patterson, was a veteran of Democratic politics, and Henke — Google’s liaison to the Trump operation and other 2016 Republican bids — was once the director of operations for the Western Republican Leadership Conference.
That partisan matching is needed, company representatives say, to allow all involved to speak freely when providing advice. Caroline McCain, social media manager for Rubio’s White House bid, is quoted in the paper saying that when tech company staffers have a similar political background as the campaign they’re assigned to, it raises the campaign’s comfort level in working with them.
“When you realize, ‘Oh yeah, the person I’m working with at Google, they actually worked on Romney back in 2012,’ like, ‘Oh, okay, they actually might have our best interest at heart,’” McCain said. After the campaign, McCain took a position at Facebook.
Kreiss, the paper’s co-author, said the symbiotic relationship between Silicon Valley and political campaigns demands further examination.
“It raises the larger question of what should be the transparency around this, given that it’s taking place in the context of a democratic election,” he said.
SiliconBeat–14 hours ago
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