Er, okay. So basically, Clovis told someone to do something he opposed and was against campaign rules because he was only being a polite Midwesterner and he couldn’t technically prevent him from doing it. (As a Minnesotan, I’ll gladly try to use this excuse going forward.)
The strained explanation speaks to just how problematic this could be for Clovis. The campaign and the Trump transition team claimed over and over again that it had no contact with Russians during the campaign. Here we have a former Trump foreign policy aide actively setting up a potential meeting with the Russians, and Clovis giving him the thumbs-up. At one point, Papadopoulos specified that the meeting was requested by the Russian MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), so there was no mistaking who was requesting the meeting.
This isn’t a hayride at the Woodbury County Fair where help the ladies off the wagon before we rush off for walking tacos. Clovis was part of a Presidential campaign. He’s now asking to be part of a Presidential Administration. We don’t do things we shouldn’t do just to be polite. We promote the policies that make sense and nix the policies that don’t. We don’t need kindly, fuzzy-brained Cousin Sam offering lemonade to every passerby; we need serious policymakers who can tell good from bad, fact from fiction, and sensible policy from threat to national security. Clovis’s polite approval of Papadopoulos’s falling for Russian counterintelligence operations shows that neither he nor his nominator are fit for their jobs.
Victoria Toensing, an attorney for Sam Clovis, confirmed that several references in court filings to “the campaign supervisor” refer to the onetime radio host from Iowa, who served as Trump’s national campaign co-chairman.
At one point, Papadopoulos emailed Clovis and other campaign officials about a March 24, 2016, meeting he had in London with a professor, who had introduced him to the Russian ambassador and a Russian woman he described as “Putin’s niece.” The group had talked about arranging a meeting “between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump,” Papadopoulos wrote. (Papadopoulos later learned that the woman was not Putin’s niece, and while he expected to meet the ambassador, he never did, according to filings.)
Clovis responded that he would “work it through the campaign,” adding, “great work,” according to court documents.
In August 2016, Clovis responded to efforts by Papadopoulos to organize an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials. “I would encourage you” and another foreign policy adviser to the campaign to “make the trip, if it is feasible,” Clovis wrote.
Toensing said Clovis “always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump and/or the campaign.” She said his responses to Papadopoulos were courtesy by “a polite gentleman from Iowa” [Rosalind S. Helderman, “Who’s Who in the George Papadopoulos Court Documents,” Washington Post, 2017.10.30].
Lederman said he’s glad to have Clovis, “one of Siouxland’s most prominent conservative leaders as a guest speaker for the first lunch of this election cycle” [Bret Hayworth, “Clovis Appearance Is First in PAC Group Series,” Sioux City Journal, 2014.03.21].
An eager reader gets me thinking about a connection between Russian efforts to hack American democracy and the Internet-Age-old topic of anonymity and identity in online discourse.
The Russians created thousands of fake Facebook and Twitter profiles, complete with bogus personal details and pilfered photos, pretending to be Americans spreading propaganda to influence the 2016 Presidential election. The Russians would have found such a propaganda operation impossible thirty years ago, when most Americans’ sources of information were either well-known media outlets with trained journalists held accountable by editorial boards concerned with corporate reputation or friends and neighbors with they interacted in person. To spread messages outside those channels, the Soviets would have had to drop leaflets from planes or buy a truckload of stamps and try starting chain letters. The airdrop would have failed immediately: we’d have heard planes coming and charged the Russians with littering. The chain letters would have had little more success: even the scant few who did not immediately disregard and dispose of a political letter from someone they did not know would still have little motivation to burn up their own stamps and envelopes. In the old days, chain letters needed to offer some financial gain to really catch fire.
Social media changes the propaganda calculus completely. The Russians spent a measly $100,000 to promote propaganda from fake Americans. With Facebook’s ridiculously easy targeting, the Russians could plunk their propaganda in front of willing dupes who could then do the Russians’ work for them at the trivial cost of clicking Share or Retweet. The Russian-favored occupant of the White House has lowered the cost of spreading such propaganda even further by demonstrating that there are no consequences to spreading false and vile content.
To make matters worse, we’re still not used to checking our sources. Back when the Soviets were the greatest foreign threat to American democracy, everything we heard and read either came from people we knew or came from reporters who were vetted regularly by their editors. Now the Russians can set up a propaganda website, then set up fake profiles and Facebook ads promoting that website, and far more Americans than they ever could have reached on paper lap it up and spread it around, lending their own credibility to this foreign propaganda.
Could some agency that could issue a “Good Newskeeping” Seal of Approval? Even if we could reach consensus on a group we’d trust to rate sources (how about the American Library Association? Everyone trusts librarians, right?), would such an agency have time to review every news source on the Internet? Technologically, how would that agency issue and police its seals of approval?
Thinking about such an unwieldy system makes me harken back to my conservative roots: the best firewall against online propaganda will come from good practices from the bottom up, not ratings or regulations from the top down. We trust journalists not because the government licenses them but because the market creates penalties for journalists who do shoddy work. We trust our friends and neighbors because we know them and where they live and because they know that if they spread lies, we’ll see them again and again around town and have plenty of chances to catch them and rub their noses in those lies.
Anonymi online—whether just sneaky jerks who won’t share their real names or Russian agents hiding behind bogus social media IDs—face no such consequences. In a wildly expanding infoverse, why waste any time reading text from people we don’t know and can’t hold accountable?
I’ve tried to foster that ethos in my own online presence. I use my real name, a pretty Googlable name, on my blog posts, comments, and anything else of substance I write online. My online persona is not some alt-life; it is who I am, consistent with the ideas and ideals I express in person. I own my words and, whenever possible, back them up with linked and fully cited sources so you can see for yourself.
Plus, I do not lie.
For twelve (!) years, I’ve blogged under the notion that, while I’m almost never the story, the story is made more reliable by letting you know that I’m a real person, a fellow South Dakotan, with a real name, a real face, and a real chance of seeing you at the grocery store (or, swear to Gaia, at the top of Black Elk Peak, where a reader I’d never met recognized me and said hi).
The Relativist-in-chief has preached a nihilist gospel delegitimizing journalists, scientists, and any other authority that threatens his power. Unfortunately, declaring that everyone is equally untrustworthy opens the door to trusting anyone who says what one wants to hear. The proper response to both this cynical relativism and foreign propaganda is to get back to trusting someone. Specifically, we need to acknowledge that some people really do know sh** from Shinola (capitalized! It was shoe polish!) and that those Shinola vendors tend to be the folks offering real names, real sources, and real accountability.
Want to beat the Russians and save democracy? Read before you Retweet. Check names and sources. And model the integrity, online and off, that you expect from your friends and neighbors.
At Russia’s request, the U.S. military on Friday called off its surveillance of a convoy of Islamic State fighters that has been stuck in the Syrian desert for the past 10 days, saying it is now up to the Syrian government to resolve its fate.
…The original convoy of 17 buses loaded with Islamic State fighters and their families had already broken up, with six managing to head back into Syrian government territory and 11 getting stuck after the bombing of the road. The U.S. military did not bomb the convoy itself, because of the presence of women and children [Liz Sly, “U.S. Warplanes Are Called off Surveillance of ISIS Convoy, at Russia’s Request,” Washington Post, 2017.09.08].
Yet when Trump signs the Russia sanctions bill (and the White House says he will), he will be affirming this Congressional finding:
On January 6, 2017, an assessment of the United States intelligence community entitled, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections” stated, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the United States presidential election.” The assessment warns that “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. Presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes” [H.R. 3364—”Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” Section 211(6), as approved by U.S. Senate, 2017.07.27].
Senator John Thune was supposed to be among the lucky “leaders” dining with the President last night. That Trump® Steak must not have gone down well: South Dakota’s senior Senator is on the news today saying Americans “deserve an explanation” from his steak-hoster about Russian election-meddling and Russian meetings with Team Trump:
“I think that the American people do deserve a full explanation of what happened in all these various meetings,” he said in reply. “I think that the Intelligence Committee here in the Senate is looking into that. The Mueller special counsel is looking into that. I think we’re going to get those answers in due time, but I think that more is better. To me, the administration is served by getting everything out there and being as transparent as they possibly can. Because, this issue, in order for it to go away, I think that is the best way to just cleanse it, and get it out there, and let the American people decide.”
“More transparency is good,” he added.
“More transparent than they are now?” [CNN’s John] Berman asked.
“I think there has been a reluctance for whatever reason, I think, by the administration, in some cases, to get all the information out there, and I think they’re well served to do that, frankly,” Thune replied. “My guess is that they’ll probably find — and the intelligence committees and the others that have looked at this have not found any evidence of collusion to this point, and I think that the administration would be able to turn that page and move forward and focus on other things if they would get this issue behind them. And I think that that sort of transparency would enable that to happen” [Matt Shuham, “Thune: ‘There Has Been a Reluctance’ from Trump to Be Transparent on Russia,” Talking Points Memo, 2017.07.18].
When the director of the FBI decided not to bring charges against a Presidential candidate for transmitting classified information on a private server in a way that could have allowed the information to be intercepted by the Russians or adversaries, Senator John Thune still demanded consequences:
“Access to classified information is a serious responsibility; at a minimum, they should not be trusted to handle this sensitive national security information in the future,” Rounds said [Ferguson, 2016.07.07].
When the FBI found evidence of more questionable transfers of classified information by the same Presidential candidate, Rep. Kristi Noem jumped in to expound on the importance of protecting classified information:
“Careless mishandling of classified information jeopardizes our national security and the safety of our troops and diplomats abroad. With significant questions remaining, further investigation is not only warranted, it is required for the public’s trust to ever be restored,” Noem said [“Source: Clinton-Related Emails Came in Weiner Investigation,” AP via KELO-TV, 2016.10.28].
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies” [Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, “Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassdor,” Washington Post, 2017.05.15].
Before you start chanting, “Lock Him Up!” Miller and Jaffe note that the President “has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.” Of course, I’ll understand if you feel uneasy that Trump has now replaced the formal process for declassifying intel with thoughtless bragging to Russian officials.
But hey, how does Senator Thune feel about Trump’s loose lips?
Concerned—that’s a notable step down from consequences.
Senator Rounds declared three months ago that we need to get tough with a “confrontational” Russia. Rounds is apparently still digging for “share classified intel” in any thesaurus entry for “get tough.” Rep. Noem said in February she hadn’t seen any evidence that the Trump Administration “has been influenced by Russian authorities or those within the Russian government” but said she’d “continuously watch… to see if real evidence comes forward.” She has not yet commented on this real evidence that has come forward.
Related: Thune and Rounds are among 27 Senators who, by FiveThirtyEight.com’s count, have voted 100% so far with Trump. Noem is only at 96.6%, having voted against Trump on one major bill, the appropriations bill for the rest of this fiscal year.
Also Related: The Washington Post reminds us of what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail:
Greenville, N.C., September: “This is really, if we bring it up, this is like Watergate, only it’s worse, because here our foreign enemies were in a position to hack our most sensitive national security secrets. We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘confidential.’ ” [Donald Trump, quoted in Philip Bump, “On the Campaign Trail, Trump Was Very Worried About Revealing America’s Secrets,” Washington Post, 2017.05.15]
“She betrayed her country by exposing national security information to risk by our adversaries. That is a criminal offense. That makes it an impeachable offense. She probably has committed an impeachable offense, therefore she probably should be impeached. But in all likelihood she won’t be because Congress doesn’t have the political will to do so,” Brooks told AL.com in a phone interview Friday. “Looking at it from a strictly legal standpoint, Hillary Clinton has, in my opinion, committed a high crime or misdemeanor or treason, which is the constitutional standard. Which, under those circumstances, she probably should be impeached if she’s elected president. But at the same time, impeachment is a political matter, and I don’t see based on my observations of this Congress … I don’t see it happening” [Howard Koplowitz, “Mo Brooks: Hillary Clinton Should Be Impeached if Elected, but Congress Lacks Political Will,” AL.com, 2016.09.09].
And remember, Brooks made that argument based solely on exposing information to the risk of leakage, not actually recklessly handing over the information directly to a foreign power.
But if I’m Vladimir Putin, supreme ruler of the biggest country in the world, I dream big. I dream of forcing the global hegemon, the United States of America, which defeated my empire in the greatest geopolitical struggle of the 20th century, out of my sphere of influence. To do that, I dream of destroying NATO. To do that, I dream of driving a wedge between the United States and Germany, those bastards who invaded us twice in the last century and who now host the largest deployment of U.S. troops in Europe.
Ах, может быть ничего… Ah, perhaps nothing. I just sit back and let the President of the United States do that for me. What did Chancellor Merkel learn from her meeting with my friend Donald this month?
This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, “You are terrific” but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.
Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful….
Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.
Trump’s United States of America has become an unserious country, the offender of the free world [Roger Cohen, “The Offender of the Free World,” New York Times, 2017.03.28].
If I were Putin, I’d be laughing just like Jabba. If I were Putin, I’d be thinking, East Germany left us; united Germany will leave you, Donald. You, Donald, shall understand what we felt in 1989. You shall see your NATO curtain fall. You shall see your former friends play Molotov to our Ribbentrop, making friends to forestall conflict in the absence of reliable friends in the West. You shall be America’s Gorbachev, the man with the funny thing on top of his head who leads his empire to ruin in six years… or less.
Here’s mud in your eye, Donald—oh, forgive me! I see you have already muddied yourself and your—how do you say in America?—hashtag-Sad, hashtag-Failing empire.
Антон! Дай мне телефон! Надо позвонить Ангеле—Anton! Give me the phone! I must call Angela….
Butina asks about American sanctions on Russia that are “damaging” both countries. Trump says, “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what: we get along with Putin…. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well.”
In September 2010, Erickson organized another business from that same 305 office at 4904 Oxbow, Investing with Dignity LLC. He must have gotten distracted with the Romney campaign and other projects, since after 2012, he failed to file his annual reports, until Secretary of State Shantel Krebs dissolved his corporation in April 2015. Erickson got Investing with Dignity LLC reinstated in 2016.
Butina posted these photos publicly on Facebook on May 13, 2015. However, the banner lists the 2013 sponsors. If you zoom into the classroom picture, just over the grey-sweatshirted student, the red ink by his head appears to refer to a semester test taking place “Fri May 15”, and May 15 was a Friday in 2015. The green ink on the board reads “Paul Erickson Investing with Dignity LLC.”
Butina’s acquaintance with Erickson precedes these 2015 events. On November 1, 2013, the day before she posted the picture of herself with David Keene in Moscow, she posted a photo of herself with Erickson:
I can’t get this photo any bigger, but at the center of the back row, that looks like TAR camp leader, now U.S. House candidate, Dusty Johnson.
I’m betting Dusty is taking this photo… and hey! look to the far right of this photo. There on the back bench in those star-spangled shorts is, I’m pretty sure, TAR camp advisor, then-freshman, now-resigned state legislator Mathew Wollmann.
And who’s holding up that world map for Butina? That hairline looks much like that of Paul Erickson.
I’m not positing any grand conspiracy; I’m just having a lot of fun playing the Two Degrees of South Dakota Separation. In Maria Butina, we appear to have someone who can bring together Mathew Wollmann, the South Dakota Teenage Republican campers, Steve Sibson, and Paul Erickson and connect them all to the National Rifle Association and one practical rubles-and-kopecks reason some Russians wanted Trump to become President.