Putin’s War on American Democracy and Why It Matters

On Saturday, June 3, 2017, many American’s took to the street for the #MarchForTruth. It has come to that. Amid the chaos and distrust sown by Putin’s attack on our election, we the people have no other recourse than to publicly demand transparency from a GOP-controlled government intent on keeping us in the dark. News regarding collusion between Donald Trump and Russia has reached a boiling point. Trump’s own callous disregard for optics only further damages a vulnerable electorate with his obvious attempt to obstruct justice by firing FBI Director Comey on May 9. Trump further shocked the nation by meeting with Russia’s ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the very next day – a meeting that prohibited the American press, while allowing access to the Russian press. During this meeting, Trump disclosed highly sensitive information from a Israel regarding an ISIS operation to Kislyak and Lavrov. To say this is not normal is an understatement.

Yet, in March, a CBS poll showed 33% of Americans didn’t think it was necessary to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government. Let that sink in. Sure, it’s a minority and mostly GOP, but still…when confronted with the possibility of treason, 1 out of 3 people responded with a resounding, “meh.” Ironically, this level of indifference creates exactly the type of climate in which a coup could be staged.

As Americans, we tend to believe we are somehow protected from the horrors of other countries. It’s why the attack of 9/11 was such a transformative moment in our country. We know these things happen—but not here, not to us. Similarly, most Americans don’t harbor a realistic fear that our freedom could be eroded by fascism. We would never allow that, right? But, here’s the thing. Fascism doesn’t come in like a scene from Red Dawn. It’s a gradual and subtle shift to authoritarianism and kleptocracy. It happens when we’re not looking, and, clearly, we were not. Some of us, however, were paying attention.

Long before Election Day, questionable connections between the Trump campaign and Russia were identified. Largely due to the diligent research of independent and citizen journalists, the dots have been exposed and connected, ranging from the undeniable to the unbelievable. The plot that has taken shape involves espionage, back-room deals and relationships spanning decades – essentially hijacking American democracy, leaving our freedoms and public trust damaged in its wake. The sheer amount of circumstantial evidence is vast, but what follows is a basic overview of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.” – Former CIA Director John Brennan

The Campaign
Russian Connections

The Trump campaign came out of the gate with ties to Russia. Calls intercepted by foreign intelligence agencies identified Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Boris Ephsteyn as campaign members who had repeated contact with Russian intelligence and government.

Paul Manafort, a longtime business associate of Roger Stone, was asked to step aside from his official role in the campaign due to his work with pro-Russian regimes in Ukraine, including former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and has since been forced to register as a foreign agent. Russian born, Boris Ephsteyn, Trump’s former foreign policy advisor, also advised him on the campaign. Heavily immersed in Russian business interests and and well-acquainted with Russian officials, he is known to parrot Kremlin talking points. It’s notable that when it was leaked that allied intelligence had three Trump advisors on tape, Ephsteyn was quick to step down from his position.

Carter Page, an advisor to Trump, is the subject of an FBI investigation along with Manafort. It is believed that he was advising Trump as an agent of the Russian government. Like several Trump associates, Page met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States. As he is an extension of the Kremlin, there’s no way not to view contact with Kislyak as highly suspect given Trump’s continued praise of Putin, the Russian hacking of the DNC, and Russia’s active measures in our election. To make matters worse, according to theFBI,Page was approached to be a Russian asset in return for business opportunities in 2013. Then there’s the matter of Page’s trip to Moscow in summer of 2016, which may have been a cover for meeting with Kremlin officials on behalf of Trump. Sources have said the FBI is in possession of recordings of Manafort, Ephsteyn, and Page discussing a plan to bring a pre-recorded tape to Moscow. The pre-recorded message is Trump offering political favors to Russia in exchange for Russia hacking the election.

US agencies were first made aware of suspicious connections between people close to Trump and Russian intelligence in late 2015. Over the subsequent 6 months, similar intelligence was shared with the US from several other Western allied countries.

The FBI officially began their investigation in July 2016 by getting a warrant for surveillance on Carter Page based on the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, the reputable M16 agent who was initially hired for oppositional research by the GOP’s Never Trump faction. Other than Steele and, possibly, Ephsteyn, witnesses from the dossier are difficult to come by given that Putin has steadily been killing off the sources. The FBI procured their second warrant to investigate two banks (Alpha Bank was one of them) they suspected as being part of Russia’s influence operation in October. A second Steele dossier reports that four Trump representatives traveled to Prague in August or September to meet with Kremlin representatives and hackers to find ways to cover up the operations targeting Democratic leadership and hide payments to the hackers. According to the dossier, the hackers worked for Putin, but were paid by the Trump Organization.

The Alt-Right and Russia

After Manafort stepped aside, Robert Mercer- decided to financially back the Trump campaign. Not surprisingly, the money came with strings attached—specifically, that the Trump campaign would be helmed by Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. In hindsight, it’s difficult to buy the narrative that Rebekah Mercer, considered the ‘queen’ of the alt-Right, happened to talk daddy into backing Trump at a dinner party just as Manafort was exposed for receiving a substantial payoff from pro-Russian Ukranians. There’s too much history here.

Patrick Caddell, Steve Bannon, and Robert Mercer share an anti-establishment ideology when it comes to government. They want destabilization and the destruction of government as we know it, ostensibly for something new to take its place. Caddell has known Trump since the 80’s and advised him during his campaign. It was he who declared the main-stream media as the enemy of the people, a talking point Trump has dutifully run with. Of course, this a gold standard for fascists, but also one well touted by the propaganda outlet, Breitbart, which has a key role in this. Caddell has worked as a contractor for Mercer since 2013 and one of his projects was determining how the American people would respond to electing an outsider.

Mercer connected with Conway and Bannon through the the ultra-conservative Council for National Policy and Andrew Breitbart. Mercer was so enamored by Breitbart that he became his media outlet’s biggest investor and placed Bannon in control. Mercer also invested $5M in Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and psychological profiling company purposed to target and influence voters. He placed Bannon on the board there as well.

Aggressively against Hillary Clinton, Mercer and Bannon had Breitbart test-market anti-Clinton propaganda with the highly successful rubric they deemed, “Black Crime”. Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica targeted the Brexit vote, pushing the agenda of European Far Right nationalists. Putin is clearly pro-Brexit as it destabilizes the European Union, a needed goal for Russia to regain power.

Cambridge Analytica is a subsidiary of SLC whose main shareholder was British billionaire, Vincent Tchenguiz. Enter the world of oligarchs—a well-connected league of tycoons existing in the overlap of espionage, deep-state and organized crime. Tchenguiz is linked financially with Dmitry Firtash, Manafort’s business partner. He’s also tied to Russia’s Alpha Bank which is closely associated with Putin. It also happened to have a server communicating with the Trump Organization. In fact, Alpha Bank’s server makes up 80% of the connections to Trump’s server. About this time, another oligarch, Dmitry Ryblovlev, a friend and business associate of Trump, begins coincidentally showing up near key people, starting with anchoring his yacht near Mercer’s in March, and meeting Trump’s plane multiple times throughout his campaign.

It should be noted that ties to Russian business interests, for Trump (Donny Jr. and Eric have assured us there are many) and those surrounding him, are significant because rich Ukrainian and Russian business people often not only have great political influence, but are often used as assets to carry Russian intelligence.

Brexit succeeded, vetting Cambridge Analytica’s psy-ops micro-marketing method. Shortly after, Mercer and Bannon take over Trump’s campaign utilizing the methodology and data from Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart. This is what they’ve been planning for, right? So, why get in bed with Russia?

For one thing, they already were. Long histories of Russian business interests are a common theme among those orbiting the campaign. Also, Putin already had a plan in place. As early as March 2016, Putin had launched a campaign to interfere in the US election. According to US officials, Putin was presented with a plan in June by his think tank, the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS). These documents outline swinging the election in Trump’s favor and undermining faith in the US electoral system. Another consideration is that where there are deals with Russian/Ukrainian deep-state and mafia, there’s Kompromat, or compromising material that could be used for blackmail. If some GOP actors needed ‘nudging’ to comply with collusion, so be it. Russians utilized cyberwarfare to hack the RNC and GOP leaders, as well as the DNC. The Kremlin had intelligence, and an outlet to leak it-they would use it however they needed to suit their interests. Julian Assange was clearly using (likely doctored) material from Russian hacks and publishing it on WikiLeaks. Roger Stone’s intimations of forthcoming material before it’s release suggests that he was in direct contact with Assange. It has been suggested that Alpha Bank’s servers may have been used to launder data. Russia’s DNC hack gave them access to voter rolls and profiles which could have been transferred to and from Russian state servers through the Alpha Bank server and incorporated into Cambridge Analytica’s database for use by the Trump Campaign.

Putin had a vested interest in Trump as a controllable President, and he feared Hillary Clinton. He wanted Trump to lift sanctions, destabilize NATO, and allow for a rebuilding of Russian power. This agenda fits well with the isolationism of the alt-Right-and, for some, Make America Great Again really is a referral to Cold War economic and foreign policy—when there were dual Superpowers. Still, with Trump being so grossly unqualified, his win was still a long shot and to truly take control they needed Congress, not just the Presidency. Between Cambridge Analytica, Breitbart, Russian hacking and a dedicated army of Russian trolls to carry out active measures, they did just that. With Putin’s help they operated a massive cyber ground-game, targeting swing states. The GOP turned a blind eye, despite our own intelligence agencies stating Russia was interfering in the election, and bolstered the coup with gerrymandering and crosscheck purges.

The Trump Administration

Once Trump was installed in office, it was time for quid pro quo. Trump owed favors to the people who put him there, namely Putin and Mercer. His staff choices clearly reflect that debt. As one might expect, Mercer ensured that Bannon had a seat at the table, and he was appointed Trump’s Chief Strategist. Trump continued to nominate an alarmingly unqualified selection of Cabinet staff, most with traceable ties to Russian business interest, including Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Sebastian Gorka, and Betsy DeVos.

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State and Trump campaign advisor, received the “Order of Friendship” award from Putin for negotiating a partnership between ExxonMobil and the Russian oil company, Rosneft. ExxonMobil has applied to the Treasury Department to waive sanctions against Russia. This is a significant deal that could direct up to $500 billion to Putin.

General Michael Flynn was Sr. Advisor on the Trump campaign and appointed as Trump’s National Security Advisor until he was forced to step down over lying about his conversations with Kislyak. Flynn accepted money from Turkey to lobby the Trump administration, and has received payments from the media outlet Russia Today (RT). While acting as NSA, Flynn was given a proposal to remove sanctions against Russia from Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who had met with Felix Sater and Andrey Artemenko to discuss the matter.

Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, spoke out about her concerns about Flynn’s Russia contacts, but was fired by Trump for not enforcing his travel ban against Muslims. Vice-President Pence was notified on November 18 of Flynn’s arrangement with Turkey, yet he still went through with Flynn’s appointment as NSA. The idea that the White House would appoint a National Security Advisor who could so easily be blackmailed should be disturbing to everyone.

Russian Ambassador Kislyak was popular guy in Trump’s circle. Jeff Sessions denied meeting with him during his confirmation hearings for Attorney General, but has actually met with him on at least 3 occasions. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also met with Kislyak during Trump’s transition period. Flynn was in attendance at that meeting.

Erik Prince, brother to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the founder of Blackwater, was not technically part of Trump’s transition team, but is close to Bannon and was seen in the transition team offices. According to Arab, Europe and US officials, Prince arranged a secret, 2 day meeting in the Seychelles islands between Trump and a Putin surrogate on January 11.

Sebastian Gorka, Trump Administration’s counter-terrorism expert, and J.D. Gordon, Trump campaign’s National Security Committee advisor, are not only tied to Russia, but also noteworthy for their Hungarian connections. Budapest is a hotbed of Russian secret agents, primarily because it is easy to purchase illegal passports there. Gorka has been linked to Nazism and the pro-Putin Hungarian Far Right going back at least 15 years and has recently stepped down from Trump’s administration. Gordon, like Carter Page, met with Kislyak during the Republican convention. He also altered the Republican platform to reflect a pro-Putin agenda. Two days after the convention, WikiLeaks dumped a trove of hacked emails from the DNC.

Not only is it easy to travel in and out of Hungary, but anything that transpires there is outside of the jurisdiction of US intelligence agencies. This makes it interesting that Arthur Finkelstein, a Trump advisor, spent the majority of the campaign in Budapest. Arthur Finkelstein, known as the ‘Merchant of Venom’, has a reputation as a silent mastermind. Closely associated with Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, and Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohen, he shares Mercer and Bannon’s hatred for Hillary Clinton and is known for destroying his political opponents. Like Stone, he is also close with Manafort and introduced him into the world of Ukrainian oligarchs. Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, is an ardent loyalist to Putin. Finkelstein has been his chief political strategist for 10 years.

The criminal investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia, at this point, actively includes Page, Manafort, Flynn, Kushner, Sessions and Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen – that we know of. With Comey scheduled to answer questions before Congress on June 8, we can only hope more information will be forthcoming, but due to GOP partisanship and classified information we may not learn much.

This is NOT what Democracy looks like

Free and fair elections are central to our freedoms and democracy. Allowing collusion and interference by a foreign power will only ensure that it happens again. The relationship between Russia and the far-Right didn’t just play out in our election, but England and France, as well. They will continue.

Manipulation of the electorate undermines public trust of media, politicians, and each other. It creates a scenario where everything can be drawn into question. There is no way to determine how far the compromise reaches. The attack on our election was on multiple fronts and included hacking, division, propaganda, suppression and what appears to be an ever increasing likelihood of vote tampering, with evidence surfacing showing direct attacks on voting systems prior to the election.

Consider the division caused by the Democratic primary. Voters in multiple states complained of changes to their voter registration. Most people affected were Bernie supporters. We know that Russia hacked into the voter databases. The DNC emails were leaked and the idea of ‘Bernie or Bust’ and the protest vote was born and nurtured—likely as a well-orchestrated plan created in a Russian think-tank and executed by Russian hackers and online trolls. Americans reacted as predicted and this division is still played out daily. We have to learn to recognize the ways we were weaponized against each other.

Now that the GOP and Trump have taken power, how do we the people take that power, which is rightfully ours, back? We demand the truth. Every. Single. Day. Without an Independent Commission, there will be no transparency to these investigations. We demand accountability. Trump will do everything he can to squash the investigations against him. He fired Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and James Comey, but the people must not let up. Call, write, protest, and VOTE! Get involved in Resistance efforts. Fight gerrymandering and voter suppression. This is not a partisan issue, nor is it one Americans can afford to remain in darkness on. We deserve to know whose interests Trump and his administration are serving – American or Russian. If there was ever a time Americans needed to stand together and fight for our democracy, this is it.

Call or write your representatives and demand the following:

1. Independent bipartisan commission.

2. Transparent and open to the public.

3. Release of Trump’s tax returns.

4. If collusion is found, crimes must be prosecuted.

An Open Letter to Tom Perez and the Women of the Party

We are the women of the Resistance, but we are more than that. Likewise, we don’t characterize our work as a Revolution. Despite the intensity and magnitude of the current battle, we know it is a continuation of the war we have been diligently fighting for decades. We are the women of and behind the party. We are the women on the ground who work quietly and steadfastly in our communities through countless campaigns, changing issues, and crises. In our wake, our hard-won progress stretches behind us, always precarious, and we work every day to protect and build upon it. We are grassroots activists, fundraisers, community organizers, advocates, writers, marchers, protesters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters. We are both teachers and students and know that the struggle for relevancy necessarily happens on the ground. It is in this spirit that we write this letter and raise our voices to be heard.

Two critical issues that cannot be separated are unity and messaging. While we understand the intent behind appointing Bernie Sanders as Democratic Outreach Chair and showcasing him on a Unity Tour, it was always a self-defeating endeavor because Sanders has not actually had control of his ‘movement’ for quite some time. Yes, his words matter, insofar as they reinforce the division of the Left, as they often do, but attempts to bring strategy, unity, or coalition building fall on deaf ears. This is primarily because Sanders is not only a man; he’s also a symbol. Of course, he didn’t start out that way. Sanders, the man, ignited the excitement and political interest of a great many people — especially Millennials. He appealed to them emotionally on issues that resonated with them. He tapped into the passionate idealism of youth. He stoked the fires of righteous indignation and it was largely successful, for good reason. In fact, there is a great deal to learn here in terms of effective messaging. Unfortunately, he also roused the image of a revolution, and the implied instant gratification that accompanies it. We, of course, knew better. Bernie’s idealism is no different from the idealism in our own hearts, but we can’t afford to behave as if we don’t understand the battlefield and the spectrum of views and circumstances that span the nation.

The normal outcome, if there even is a normal anymore, would have been for Sanders and his supporters to refocus their efforts on electing the Democratic nominee after his primary loss. We appreciate that many did, but several factors came together to transition Sanders into a symbol of division in the Left, not the least of which was Bernie’s own constant criticism of the party from which he ran for President. Russian interference acted as an accelerant, simultaneously chipping away at the Democratic Party and fostering division by targeting the Far Left. Human nature being what it is, the Far Left is no more ready to admit they were targeted than the Right. If anything, knowledge of Russian influence is resulting in even more obstinance and ire. Post-primary, a single image of Bernie speaks volumes about one’s political frame of reference, not just on issues, but against what they have come to believe about the Democratic Party as an obstacle to and adversary of their goals. For those of us who have actually fought in the trenches for equity and justice, this is extremely frustrating, yet we acknowledge the need for change and improvement in messaging, outreach and visibility.

We know what we have worked for, what we defend, and what we work toward. With heads bent and shoulders set we have quietly battled year in and year out against the GOP to protect and lift up all of our communities. Bracing against the anti-intellectualism and vitriol employed by the Right, however, has dampened the passion and clarity of our message to the casual voter and newly political. In our commitment to the inherent ‘rightness’ of our work, we have relied too much on what we see as common-sense. In the field, particularly for the politically inexperienced, our message has been reduced to ‘not-GOP’, ‘not-Trump’, or, even more disappointingly, ‘the lesser of two evils’. In a democracy, pragmatism is crucial and idealism without pragmatism will yield nothing – this is a sobering reality learned on the battlefield, but we can all look back to a time when our own passionate idealism was unfettered by the complexities of real change-making. The need for compromise, strategy and diligence does not alter our core ideals. However, we have failed to convey that.

The weaponization of Sanders’ supporters against the Democratic Party combined with a GOP trifecta in the 2016 election makes our outreach and messaging critical. We can’t afford to simply wait for political maturity to set in. Our core values are emotional: Morality, Integrity, Justice, Compassion, Truth. This is the language of the Democratic Party, the party of the people. This is the language we must use to engage with the electorate from campaign stump speeches to small group discussions. And it’s time for the women behind the party to step into the light and into the public eye. The influence of social media and mainstream media is paramount. This is the world of the Millennials and we are all along for the ride. The GOP understands this as do Berners. Memes, symbols, even people, become branding. A single emoji of a frog or a red flower communicates a world view. Bernie Millennials, like Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, become walking billboards by branding themselves into the imagery of political events, and, like Bernie, their image speaks a message and resonates emotionally. We lack those visuals. We lack that public face. It’s time for that to change.

We write this letter for two reasons. First, to express to the DNC that unity cannot be achieved by showcasing a person who exemplifies our division, specifically a division rooted in a political fairy-tale that shuns the realities of American democracy. We ask the DNC to lift up, instead, those who have shown perseverance, and unwavering commitment to doing the most good for the most number of people. To this end, we suggest a second Unity Tour that reflects all that we represent and more. Secondly, to ask the women who have given so much, working tirelessly toward positive social change, to step forward into public roles as leaders and social influencers. We are women of all colors, with and without disabilities, united for the sole purpose of preserving our party and America’s integrity. The public needs to see who we are, what we’ve worked for, and why we’re Stronger Together.

Sincerely,

Rachel Murphy Azzara
@RachelAzzara

Beverlee Hughes
@BeverleeHughes3

Nancy Ervin
@Nurse4allPeople

Sudha Mohan
@sumoh7

Gayle Asher
@gayleasher1

Pat Fuller
@bannerite

Rebecca Galles

Katherine Erwin
@kjoerwin

Jamie Thompson
@luvman33wife

Janice L. Park
@alaskawater

Sheila Brady
@SheilaBrady16

Joanne Gucciardo
@Jgucciardo2

Donna R. Miller
@AgitatorsNeeded

Rama Dey-Rao, PhD
@ramadeyrao

Barbara Schneider
@barbls23

@deejay90192

Sophie Travis
@SophieinCT

Karen Blunt
@_KJRB_

Randy Prine
@randyprine

Dee Flaherty
@Deemoney521

Diane Straub
@didkins4life

Geneva Boulianne
@politicalgeneve

Christine Szumacher
@imanemerald

Donna Becker
@Samnsara1997

Danielle Cahn
@d_cahn

S Bishop
@CAGoldenBear

E James
@jawja100

Suki Graves, M.Ed.
@freeandclear1

Kathy Christopherson
@kachristo

Michele Moen
@MoenMikey

Maggie McBride

Betty Harry
@Earnest_One

Sally P.

Sheri A Farinha
@xoSheri

Molly U.
@plantflowes