The Unholy Alliance: Trump, Assange, Bannon, Farage, and “somewhere in the middle of all that, Russia.”
‘Nigel Farage, who visited Donald Trump and then Julian Assange.’ Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock
Today, October 29th 3:38pm
Last Wednesday, 11 months into Donald Trump’s new world order, in the first year of normalisation, a sudden unblurring of lines took place. A shift. A door of perception swung open.
Because that was the day that the dramatis personae of two separate Trump-Russia scandals smashed headlong into one another. A high-speed news car crash between Cambridge Analytica and Wikileaks, the two organisations that arguably had the most impact on 2016, coming together last week in one head-spinning scoop.
That day, we learned that Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data firm that helped Trump to power, had contacted Julian Assange to ask him if he wanted “help” with Wikileaks’s stash of stolen emails.
That’s the stash of stolen emails that had such a devastating impact on Hillary Clinton in the last months of the campaign. And this story brought Wikileaks, which the head of the CIA describes as a “hostile intelligence service”, directly together with the Trump campaign for which Cambridge Analytica worked. This is an amazing plot twist for the company, owned by US billionaire Robert Mercer, which is already the subject of investigations by the House intelligence committee, the Senate intelligence committee, the FBI and, it was announced late on Friday night, the Senate judiciary committee.
So far, so American. These are US scandals involving US politics and the news made the headlines in US bulletins across US networks.
But it’s also Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics company, which has its headquarters in central London and that, following a series of articles about its role in Brexit in the Guardian and the Observer, is also being investigated, by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The company that was spun out of a British military contractor, is headed by an old Etonian and that responded to our stories earlier this year by threatening to sue us. It’s our Cambridge it’s named after, not the American one, and it was here that it processed the voter files of 240 million US citizens.
It’s also here that this “hostile intelligence service” – Wikileaks – is based. The Ecuadorian embassy is just a few miles, as the crow flies, from Cambridge Analytica’s head office. Because this is not just about America. It’s about Britain, too. This is transatlantic. It’s not possible to separate Britain and the US in this whole sorry mess – and I say this as someone who has spent months trying. Where we see this most clearly is in that other weird Wikileaks connection: Nigel Farage. Because that moment in March when Farage was caught tripping down the steps of the Ecuadorian embassy was the last moment the lines suddenly became visible. That the ideological overlaps between Wikileaks and Trump and Brexit were revealed to be not just lines, but a channel of communication.
Because if there’s one person who’s in the middle of all of this, but who has escaped any proper scrutiny, it’s Nigel Farage. That’s Nigel Farage, who led the Leave.EU campaign, which is being investigated by the Electoral Commission alongside Cambridge Analytica, about whether the latter made an “impermissible donation” of services to the Leave campaign. Nigel Farage who visited Donald Trump and then Julian Assange. Who is friends with Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer. Who headed an organisation – Ukip – which has multiple, public, visible but almost entirely unreported Russian connections. Who is paid by the Russian state via the broadcaster RT, which was banned last week from Twitter. And who appears like clockwork on British television without any word of this.
This is a power network that involves Wikileaks and Farage, and Cambridge Analytica and Farage, and Robert Mercer and Farage. Steve Bannon, former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, and Farage. It’s Nigel Farage and Brexit and Trump and Cambridge Analytica and Wikileaks… and, if the Senate intelligence committee and the House intelligence committee and the FBI are on to anything at all,
somewhere in the middle of all that, Russia.
Try to follow this on a daily basis and it’s one long headspin: a spider’s web of relationships and networks of power and patronage and alliances that spans the Atlantic and embraces data firms, thinktanks and media outlets. It is about complicated corporate structures in obscure jurisdictions, involving offshore funds funnelled through the black-box algorithms of the platform tech monopolists. That it’s eye-wateringly complicated and geographically diffuse is not a coincidence. Confusion is the charlatan’s friend, noise its accessory. The babble on Twitter is a convenient cloak of darkness.
Yet it’s also quite simple. In a well-functioning democracy, a well-functioning press and a well-functioning parliament would help a well-functioning judiciary do its job. Britain is not that country. There is a vacuum where questions should be, the committees, the inquiries, the headlines on the TV bulletins. What was Nigel Farage doing in the Ecuadorian embassy? More to the point: why has no public official asked him? Why is he giving speeches – for money – in the US? Who’s paying him? I know this because my weirdest new hobby of 2017 is to harry Arron Banks, the Bristol businessman who was Ukip and Leave.EU’s main funder, and Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s comms man and Belize’s trade attache to the US, across the internet late at night. Wigmore told me about this new US venture – an offshore-based political consultancy working on Steve Bannon-related projects – in a series of tweets. Is it true? Who knows? Leave.EU has learned from its Trumpian friends that black is white and white is black and these half-facts are a convenient way of diffusing scandal and obscuring truth.
What on earth was Farage doing advancing Calexit – Californian Brexit? And why did I find a photo of him hanging out with Dana Rohrabacher, the Californian known in the US press as “Putin’s favourite congressman”? The same Dana Rohrabacher who’s met with Don Trump Jr’s Russian lawyer and – wait for it – also visited Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. And who is now interceding on his behalf to obtain a pardon from Don Trump Junior’s dad.
(You got this? Farage visited Trump, then Assange, then Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher met Don Trump’s Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Then Assange. And is now trying to close the circle with Trump.)
In these post-truth times, journalists are fighting the equivalent of a firestorm with a bottle of water and a wet hankie. We desperately need help. We need public pressure. We need parliament to step up and start asking proper questions. There may be innocent answers to all these questions. Let’s please just ask them.