Saturday, August 20, 2016

Trump advisers waged covert influence campaign

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Trump advisers waged covert influence campaign

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FILE - In this July 17, 2016 file photo, Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters... Read more

WASHINGTON (AP) — A firm run by Donald Trump's campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine's ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country's pro-Russian government, emails obtained by The Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.
The lobbying included attempts to gain positive press coverage of Ukrainian officials in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. Another goal: undercutting American public sympathy for the imprisoned rival of Ukraine's then-president. At the time, European and American leaders were pressuring Ukraine to free her.
Gates personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms in the matter, the emails show. He worked for Manafort's political consulting firm at the time.
Manafort and Gates' activities carry outsized importance, since they have steered Trump's campaign since April. The pair also played a formative role building out Trump's campaign operation after pushing out an early rival. Trump shook up his campaign's organization again this week, but Manafort and Gates retain their titles and much of their influence. The new disclosures about their work come as Trump faces criticism for his friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump said Thursday night that, if elected, he will ask senior officials in his administration not to accept speaking fees, for five years after leaving office, from corporations that lobby "or from any entity tied to a foreign government." He said it was among his efforts to "restore honor to government."
Manafort and Gates have previously said they were not doing work that required them to register as foreign agents. Neither commented when reached by the AP on Thursday.
The emails show Gates personally directed two Washington lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group Inc., between 2012 and 2014 to set up meetings between a top Ukrainian official and senators and congressmen on influential committees involving Ukrainian interests. Gates noted in the emails that the official, Ukraine's foreign minister, did not want to use his own embassy in the United States to help coordinate the visits.
Gates also directed the firms to gather information in the U.S. on a rival lobbying operation, including a review of its public lobbying disclosures, to determine who was behind that effort, the emails show.
And Gates directed efforts to undercut sympathy for Yulia Tymoshenko, an imprisoned rival of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian leader eventually fled the country in February 2014 during a popular revolt prompted in part by his government's crackdown on protesters and close ties to Russia.
The emails do not describe details about the role of Manafort, who was Gates' boss at the firm, DMP International LLC. Current and former employees at Mercury and the Podesta Group, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they are subject to non-disclosure agreements, told the AP that Manafort oversaw the lobbying efforts and spoke by phone about them. Gates was directing actions and seeking information during the project using an email address at DMP International, which he still uses.
Manafort did not return phone and email messages Thursday from the AP to discuss the project. After the AP reported earlier this week that Manafort helped the Ukrainian political party secretly route at least $2.2 million to the two Washington lobbying firms, Manafort told Yahoo News that the AP's account was wrong. "I was not involved in any payment plans," Manafort said.
Gates said Thursday he was busy with Trump campaign focus groups and promised to review the AP's questions in writing, then did not respond.
Manafort also said in a statement earlier this week that he never performed work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia. Gates previously told the AP, "At no time did our firm or members provide any direct lobbying support."
Under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department. A violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The emails illustrate how Gates worked with Mercury and the Podesta Group on behalf of Ukrainian political leaders. None of the firms, nor Manafort or Gates, disclosed their work to the Justice Department counterespionage division responsible for tracking the lobbying of foreign governments.
"There is no question that Gates and Manafort should have registered along with the lobbying firms," said Joseph Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, a Democratic-leaning Washington law firm that advises Republican and Democratic lobbyists.
Manafort and Gates have said that they did not disclose their activities to the Justice Department because they did not oversee lobbying efforts and merely introduced the Washington firms to a Brussels-based nonprofit, the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, which they said ran the project. The center paid Mercury and the Podesta Group a combined $2.2 million over roughly two years.
The emails appear to contradict the assertion that the nonprofit's lobbying campaign operated independently from Manafort's firm.
In papers filed in the U.S. Senate, Mercury and the Podesta Group listed the European nonprofit as an independent, nonpolitical client. The firms said the center stated in writing that it was not aligned with any foreign political entity.
The 1938 U.S. foreign agents law is intended to track efforts of foreign government's unofficial operatives in the United States.
Political consultants are generally leery of registering under it, because their reputations can suffer once they are on record as accepting money to advocate the interests of foreign governments — especially if those interests conflict with America's. Moreover, registering under the law would have required Gates, Manafort or the lobbying firms to disclose the specifics of their lobbying work and their efforts to sway public opinion through media outreach.
Ina Kirsch, who runs the European nonprofit, has said the group's work was independent and its goal was to bring Ukraine into the fold of Europe. The center has declined for years to reveal specific sources of its funding.
Gates confirmed to the AP previously that he was working for Ukraine's ruling party, the Party of Regions, at the time.
The chairman of the Podesta Group, Tony Podesta — the brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — said his firm believed Gates was working for the nonprofit. Podesta said he was unaware of the firm's work for the Ukraine's Party of Regions, led by Yanukovych. On Thursday, his firm said it had nothing new to add.
Mercury's founder, Vin Weber, an influential Republican and former congressman, told the AP that his firm was aware of Manafort's and Gates' affiliation with Ukraine's political party and said Gates never participated in Mercury's lobbying work. Weber did not respond to questions after the AP said it had obtained emails contradicting this.

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America's Top Spies and Analysts Warn of Real Threat of a Trump Presidency: 5 Leaders Who Have Spoken out

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Michael J. Morell, former acting director and deputy director of the CIA
Starting next week, Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the two major-party candidates for the presidency of the United States, will begin receiving national security briefings from intelligence officials. 
One senior intelligence official, speaking to the Washington Post on August 3 on the condition of anonymity, contended “he would decline to participate in any session with Trump…citing not only concern with Trump’s expressions of admiration for Russian President Vladi­mir Putin but seeming uninterest in acquiring a deeper or more nuanced understanding of world events.”
The unnamed official’s defiance came during a week in which Trump expressed acceptance of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and was reported to have repeatedly asked a foreign policy adviser why the U.S. couldn’t just use nuclear weapons at will—and a week following his quip to reporters that he hoped Russia would hack into Clinton’s personal email server to unveil the 30,000 emails she said were deleted because they were personal in nature and not part of her conduct of government business during her tenure as secretary of state.
And those were just Trump’s latest unconventional utterances on matters of national security. He has, during the course of the presidential campaign, called for practices that defy international law, including (but not limited to) the execution of family members of ISIS fighters, waterboarding andother forms of torture, and the bombing of areas held by ISIS despite the fact these locations are largely populated by civilians (7:54). And despite his nuke-happy stance, at a Republican primary debate in December. Trump displayed ignorance of the military’s “nuclear triad” setup, which refers to the three delivery systems by which nukes can be launched: intercontinental missile, bomber aircraft or submarine.
Then there’s his backtracking on how he’d defeat ISIS. In March, Trump called for a commitment of between 20,000-30,000 U.S. troops to take on the terrorist insurgency; in an interview with theWashington Post editorial board two weeks later, he denied having done so.
As Trump’s foreign policy faux pas continue to pile up, former officials and military leaders are stepping into the light to express their concerns about the temperament and actions of candidate Trump, whom they contend to be unfit for the role of commander-in-chief. Here, we examine some recent statements by those who dare to be named. 
1. Michael J. Morell, former acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Morell is alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric—not just what it portends for the fate of America in the world should his bid for the presidency succeed, but also for the damage it is doing right now.
“The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president,” Morell wrote in an essay on Friday’s New York Times op-ed page. “[They are] already damaging our national security.”
Morell asserts that Trump has already been played by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, himself a product of the former Soviet Union’s infamous spy agency, the KGB. In fact, he says, "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation." Morell explains:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. [Trump] responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
It’s not just Trump’s backtracking on whether it’s OK for Russia to annex Crimea (Trump was against it before he was for it, as he is now), or his invitation to Russia to hack into the email server his Democratic opponent used when she was secretary of state, or a report that the GOP standard-bearer is eager to push the nuclear button that has Morell worried; it’s the very list of traits that form Trump’s personality. Morell writes:
These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.
Having worked for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Morell knows the pressures commanders-in-chief face. He says he is neither Republican nor Democrat, and has voted for politicians of both parties. This time around, he writes, there’s no doubt he will vote for the Democrats’ presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, citing her attention to detail and the views of others; he also says she leaves consideration of domestic politics outside the Situation Room door. (When others hesitated to launch the raid on the bin Laden compound on the eve of the annual White House Correspondents dinner, he writes that Clinton said, “Screw the White House Correspondents dinner.”)
Morell’s op-ed, with its character insights into world leaders, is the most powerful expression yet of the unease and alarm being felt by many in the national security establishment by Trump’s antics and obvious lack of foreign policy knowledge. With its publication, Morell joins a growing list of intelligence figures and former military leaders who are uncharacteristically speaking of what they see as the dangers to the nation posed by a potential Trump presidency. 
2. Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA director, former U.S. Air Force general.
In a July 27 interview with Eli Lake of Bloomberg News, Hayden took aim at Trump’s invitation to Russia to hack Clinton’s email server, saying:
If [Trump] is talking about the State Department e-mails on her server, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to steal sensitive American government information," Hayden said. "If he is talking about the allegedly private e-mails that she destroyed, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to violate the privacy of an individual protected by the Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution.
Perhaps he doesn't know what he's talking about. Just a theory.
3. John Allen, retired U.S. Marine general, veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Days after he spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, Allen sat down with George Stephanopoulos for an interview on the ABC News program, “This Week.”Acknowledging concerns expressed by some over the involvement of a former general in partisan politics, Allen said he was moved to make his DNC speech because of Trump's comments advocating torture and the killing of the families of terrorists. "That was the reason I came off the bench,” he told Stephanopoulos. “I don't intend to stay out there to be politically active."
Should Trump win the presidency, Allen said, the Republican candidate’s call for the violation of international law by members of the military “put us on a potential track for a civil-military crisis the like of which we have never seen in this country.” He continued:
You know, from the moment that those of us who are commissioned—and of course all of our enlisted troops as well—assume the mantle of our responsibility in uniform, when we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which is a document and a set of principles and it supports the rule of law, one of those is to ensure that we do not obey illegal orders.
It's an inherent responsibility in who we are. And so what we need to do is ensure that we don't create an environment that puts us on a track conceivably where the United States military finds itself in a civil military crisis with a commander in chief who would have us do illegal things.
4. John Hutson, retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, the Navy’s former top lawyer.
Hutson also addressed the Democratic National Convention, citing many of the same concerns as Allen. Here’s an excerpt from his speech:
Donald Trump calls himself the law-and-order candidate—but he will violate international law. In his words, he endorses torture—at a minimum. He’ll order our troops to commit war crimes, like killing civilians. And he actually said, you have to take out [terrorists’] families. And what did he say when he was told that was illegal? He said, ‘Our troops won’t refuse. Believe me.’ This morning, this very morning, he personally invited Russia to hack us. That’s not law and order; that’s criminal intent.
5. John Noonan, former U.S. Air Force captain and Minuteman III nuclear missile launch officer, former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s Republican primary opponent Jeb Bush.
Noonan, described by Mother Jones’ Becca Andrews as “a devout #NeverTrumper,” issued a tweet storm upon learning of a report by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough alleging that Trump repeatedly asked an unnamed foreign policy adviser why the United States couldn’t issue a first launch of nuclear weapons.
Here, we piece together a few of Noonan’s tweets (read the whole tweet storm):
I don’t know if Scarborough is telling whole truth here. Anonymous sources suck. BUT... if he is... buckle the hell up. Because Trump would be undoing six decades of proven deterrence theory. The purpose of nukes is that they are never used. Trump disagrees? This would be the single greatest strategic shift in U.S. national security in decades. In a Trump presidency, our foreign policy would be this. "Leave our alliances, fall back on a nuclear first use policy." Does he understand just how F'ing dangerous that is? But what really concerns me, as a former nuke guy, is the idea of a narcissist walking around with nuclear authenticators…[I]magine having to turn launch keys not knowing if we were under attack or if it was b/c foreign leader said a mean thing on Twitter.
Noonan also asserts that Trump “doesn’t have a clue about” the nuclear triad. In the December debate in which Trump seemed to prove that point, he punted with the following comment
The biggest problem we have today is nuclear—nuclear proliferation, and having some maniac, having some madman, go out and get a nuclear weapon. In my opinion, that is the biggest single problem that our country faces.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's senior Washington editor. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.
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Former CIA director fears Trump 'crisis in civil-military relationships'

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The nuclear chain of command is not built for debate, former CIA Director Michael Hayden said Wednesday, warning of the consequences of a Donald Trump presidency should the Republican nominee get elected and decide to push the button.
Echoing concerns from retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, who on Sunday predicted a "military civil crisis" if Trump is elected, Allen told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he feared that "we may be setting up the circumstances that create a crisis in civil-military relationships." Hayden quickly added that he did not mean "nuclear annihilation but steps far below pressing the nuclear trigger."
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"What happens within the armed forces when, we fear, perhaps these kind of decisions for a military that does defer to civilian leadership. What then happens?" asked Hayden, who also led the National Security Agency. "It may actually strain and test the fabric of our civilian military control."
Despite his strong concerns about Trump, unlike Allen, who endorsed Clinton, Hayden said he was not yet prepared to say he would vote for the former secretary of state.
Asked what concerns him most about Trump, Hayden responded: "How erratic he is."
"I can argue about this position or that position. I do that with the current president," Hayden explained. "But he's inconsistent. And when you're the head of a global superpower, inconsistency, unpredictability, those are dangerous things. They frighten your friends and they tempt your enemies. And so I would be very, very concerned."
Panelist Harold Ford then asked Hayden whether any of his peers whom he respects greatly is advising Trump, and he responded, "No one."
Co-host Joe Scarborough pressed on the timeframe between when Trump would hypothetically decide to launch a nuclear weapon and when they are launched. Hayden remarked that it would depend on the situation, but added, "the system is designed for speed and decisiveness. It's not designed to debate the decision."

In Maze of Trump’s Empire, Unknown Ties and $650 Million in Debt

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On the campaign trail, Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has sold himself as a businessman who has made billions of dollars and is beholden to no one.
But an investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.
For example, an office building on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, carries a $950 million loan. Among the lenders: the Bank of China, one of the largest banks in a country that Mr. Trump has railed against as an economic foe of the United States, and Goldman Sachs, a financial institution he has said controls Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, after it paid her $675,000 in speaking fees.
Real estate projects often involve complex ownership and mortgage structures. And given Mr. Trump’s long real estate career in the United States and abroad, as well as his claim that his personal wealth exceeds $10 billion, it is safe to say that no previous major party presidential nominee has had finances nearly as complicated.
As president, Mr. Trump would have substantial sway over monetary and tax policy, as well as the power to make appointments that would directly affect his own financial empire. He would also wield influence over legislative issues that could have a significant impact on his net worth, and would have official dealings with countries in which he has business interests.
Yet The Times’s examination underscored how much of Mr. Trump’s business remains shrouded in mystery. He has declined to disclose his tax returns or allow an independent valuation of his assets.
Earlier in the campaign, Mr. Trump submitted a 104-page federal financial disclosure form. It said his businesses owed at least $315 million to a relatively small group of lenders and listed ties to more than 500 limited liability companies. Though he answered the questions, the form appears to have been designed for candidates with simpler finances than his, and did not require disclosure of portions of his business activities.
Beyond finding that companies owned by Mr. Trump had debts of at least $650 million, The Times discovered that a substantial portion of his wealth is tied up in three passive partnerships that owe an additional $2 billion to a string of lenders, including those that hold the loan on the Avenue of the Americas building. If those loans were to go into default, Mr. Trump might not be held personally liable, but the value of his investments would sink.
Mr. Trump has said that if he were elected president, his children would be likely to run his company. Many presidents, to avoid any appearance of a conflict, have placed their holdings in blind trusts, which typically involves selling the original asset, and replacing it with different assets unknown to the seller.
Mr. Trump’s children seem unlikely to pursue that option.
Richard W. Painter, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota and, from 2005 to 2007, the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, compared Mr. Trump to Henry M. Paulson Jr., a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs whom Mr. Bush appointed as Treasury secretary.
Professor Painter advised Mr. Paulson on his decision to sell his Goldman Sachs shares, saying it was clear that Mr. Paulson could not simply have placed that stock in trust and pretended it did not exist.
If Mr. Trump were to use a blind trust, the professor said, it would be “like putting a gold watch in a box and pretending you don’t know it is in there.”

‘We Overdisclosed’

“I am the king of debt,” Mr. Trump once said on CNN. “I love debt.” But in his career, debt has sometimes gotten the better of him, leading to at least four business bankruptcies.
He is, however, quick to stress that these days his companies have very little debt.
Mr. Trump indicated in the financial disclosure form he filed in connection with this campaign that he was worth at least $1.5 billion, and has said publicly that the figure is actually greater than $10 billion. Recent estimates by Forbes and Fortune magazines and Bloomberg have put his worth at less than $5 billion.
The Republican presidential nominee has an interest in more than 30 U.S. properties, roughly half of which have debt on them.
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To gain a better understanding of Mr. Trump’s holdings and debt, The Times engaged RedVision Systems, a national property information firm, to search publicly available data on more than 30 properties in the United States. The Times identified these assets through Federal Election Commission filings, information provided by the Trump Organization and records, such as filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The search covered thousands of pages of public information, including loan documents, land leases and property deeds. It concentrated on Mr. Trump’s commercial holdings, including office towers, golf courses, a vineyard in Virginia and even an industrial building in South Carolina that he ended up with after a troubled business venture involving Donald Trump Jr. The inquiry also examined some of Mr. Trump’s residential properties, including his penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue and a house he owns in Beverly Hills, Calif. The examination did not include Mr. Trump’s dealings outside the United States.
That Mr. Trump seems to have so much less debt on his disclosure form than what The Times found is not his fault, but rather a function of what the form asks candidates to list and how.
The form, released by the Federal Election Commission, asks that candidates list assets and debts not in precise numbers, but in ranges that top out at $50 million — appropriate for most candidates, but not for Mr. Trump. Through its examination, The Times was able to discern the amount of debt taken out on each property, and its ownership structure.
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US Pentagon hires private intelligence contractor for Syria operations 

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The United States Department of Defense has released details of an agreement with a private intelligence contractor, which experts believe involves the provision of services to American Special Forces working clandestinely inside Syria.

Russian man faces US trial in lucrative hacking scheme

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Prosecutors describe Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker, as a master hacker who orchestrated an international scheme that resulted in about $170 million in fraudulent credit card purchases.
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Clinton's transition team grows as the Democrat eyes the White House 

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With an eye toward what happens after November, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, on Tuesday announced new members of a team.

Hotels in 10 states and DC may have been hit by hackers

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Computer systems at more than a dozen Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, Westin and other hotels in Texas, nine other states and the District of Columbia may have been hacked.

‘Auction’ of NSA tools sends security companies scrambling

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The leak of what purports to be a National Security Agency hacking tool kit has set the information security world atwitter — and sent major companies rushing to update their defenses.

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