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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Russia Infiltrates US Religious Groups

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Katherine Stewart at NYT:
Does it seem strange that, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Monday by the Justice Department, a Russian woman stands accused of “acting as an agent of a foreign government” in part because she hoped “to establish a back-channel of communication” with American politicians at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington?
It shouldn’t. As Jeff Sharlet, an associate professor of English at Dartmouth, has pointed out, the National Prayer Breakfast has long offered “a backdoor to American power.” And America’s homegrown Christian nationalists have evinced an admiration for Russia’s authoritarian leader that appears to have grown apace with his brutality.
On Tuesday, Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian whose name was spelled Mariia in court papers, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Russian Federation. According to the complaint unsealed on Monday, Ms. Butina’s promotional activities for Russian political interests included attending the National Prayer Breakfast twice.
...
In the run-up to the 2016 election, the passion for Russian values among America’s religious extremists grew still more ardent. In 2013, Bryan Fischer, then a spokesman for the American Family Association, called Mr. Putin a “lion of Christianity.” In 2014, Franklin Graham — the politically influential evangelist and vocal Trump supporter — defended Mr. Putin for his efforts “to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda,” even as he lamented that Americans have “abdicated our moral leaders

Friday, July 20, 2018

Rohrabacher's Bad Week

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race

David Lauter at LAT:
One of California’s most hotly contested congressional races — the campaign between incumbent Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and his Democratic challenger, Harley Rouda — is starting off as a dead heat, according to a new poll that shows a Democratic edge on enthusiasm countering the Orange County district’s Republican leanings.

Rouda, who barely squeaked through the June primary to emerge as Rohrabacher’s opponent, has a 46%-43% edge among potential voters, the poll found — a nominal lead well within the survey’s margin of error.
inRead invented by Teads

The survey by Monmouth University is the first public, nonpartisan poll of the district since the June primary. The poll is one of a series that Monmouth, in West Long Branch, N.J., is conducting of key congressional races nationwide. The nonpartisan survey has compiled one of the country’s best records for accuracy in recent years.
Jordan Graham at The Orange County Register:
Orange County GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher met in Russia in 2015 with a woman later charged by federal officials for allegedly acting as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin in a covert endeavor to shape American politics.
News of the 2015 meeting — confirmed Tuesday by Rohrabacher’s office — came the same day he told Politico that Monday’s indictment of 29-year-old Maria Butina was “bogus” and “stupid,” saying he believes the allegations are part of a larger plot to undermine President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia.
The Justice Dept. accused Butina of establishing back-channel lines of communications to American politicians in recent years “to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”
The indictment states that as part of that plot, Butina had discussions with a Russian official – reported to be Alexander Torshin, an influential deputy governor of the Russian central bank – about his plans to “meet with a U.S. Congressman during a Congressional Delegation trip to Moscow in August 2015.”
 Gideon Resnick at The Daily Beast:
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) lashed out Monday against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen after appearing in a damning segment featured in Cohen’s new Showtime series Who Is America?

The segment in question features a number of Republican members of Congress endorsing a fictional program to train preschoolers to fire guns as a means to preventing school shootings. All Rohrabacher says in the segment is: “Maybe having many young people trained and understand how to defend themselves and their school might actually make us safer here."

Among the other members featured are freshman Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who remained skeptical of the proposal from Baron Cohen’s character, Col. Erran Morad, a self-proclaimed Israeli anti-terror expert.
Rohrabacher, who is viewed as an endangered incumbent in an Orange County district won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, wrote in a statement: “Cohen’s people apparently used footage from an interview I submitted to earlier this year for a bogus Israeli television company supposedly celebrating the country’s 70th anniversary.”

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Infiltration


Philip Ewing at NPR:
Charges accusing a woman of trying to build bridges between the Russian government and American political leaders via the National Rifle Association have delivered a breakthrough in understanding one aspect of the attack on the 2016 election: "infiltration."
After months of questions and speculation as to how or whether the NRA connection might have worked, prosecutors proffered an answer on Monday: The Russian woman, Maria Butina, was the intermediary between Russian government officials and Americans, both in the NRA and elsewhere in politics, according to court documents.
The government says she was acting as a foreign agent without registering. Her attorney called the charges overblown, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reported.
A grand jury in Washington D.C. returned an indictment against Butina on Tuesday afternoon.
Butina allegedly serves or served as the deputy to someone identified in court papers only as a "Russian official," who is probably Alexander Torshin, a now-sanctioned Kremlin official who cultivated relationships with American political leaders and the NRA over several years.
The two "took these steps in order to infiltrate these groups and advance the interests of the Russian Federation," FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson said in an affidavit that accompanied the criminal complaint.



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Profiles in ... Something Other Than Courage

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.
Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan at Axios:
Yes, almost every elected Republican we talk to privately thinks President Trump’s warm embrace of Vladimir Putin was unexplainable, unacceptable and un-American. Yes, they wish they could say this publicly. No, they won’t — not now, and probably never.

The cold, hard reason: They see no upside in speaking out — and fear political suicide if they do, numerous Republican officials tell us.
  • Why it matters: This is the mind-control power Trump has, thanks to 90 percent of Republicans approving of his tactics and performance.
  • These 90 percent empower and are empowered by Fox News and a pro-Trump social media ecosystem that always comes to the president’s defense, even if they flinch for a moment or two.
We just witnessed this power on full display:
  • You had a rare moment where virtually every Republican was aghast at Trump’s words.
  • But almost every Republican — except those leaving the stage — softened their direct criticism of Trump and ran from TV or reporters like the plague.
GOP lawmakers' immediate complaints about the press conference were quickly tempered. Trump’s cleanup and turnaround yesterday ("I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'") had one audience: Capitol Hill.
Senior staff saw a real risk of backlash — worse than after Charlottesville — if the brewing rebellion wasn’t nipped in the bud quickly, per sources close to White House.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Surrender Summit

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.


From the transcript of the instantly-infamous Putin-Trump presser in Helsinki:
  • "As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct."
  • "No, actually I called him a competitor and a good competitor he is. And I think the word competitor is a compliment.:
  • "I  hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time frankly before I got to office. And I think we're all to blame."
  • :I think that the, the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it's kept us apart, it's kept us separated."
  • "My people came to me, Dan Coats, came to me and some others they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have, I have confidence in both parties."
  • "I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer."
And Putin:
REPORTER: Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
PUTIN: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S. Russia relationship back to normal.
A non-denial denial on kompromat:
Yeah, I did heard these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow. Our distinguished colleague, let me tell you this. When President Trump visited Moscow back then I didn't even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect. But back then, when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.

But let's take St. Petersburg economic forum, for instance. There were over 500 American businessmen - the high ranking, the high level ones, I don't even remember the last names of each and every one of them. Do you think that we tried to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them? Well, it's difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this.

Well, please just disregard these issues and don't think about this anymore again.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Putin Wins

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

The Russian Foreign Ministry:

From Russia with Love

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

At The Guardian, Lloyd Green reviews Sean Spicer's book:
For three consecutive pages, The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President graphically details how Manafort beat back the efforts of Never Trump Republicans to steal the presidential nomination. Spicer gushes: “How Manafort and company did this was a scene out of 1950s politics – alternating between carrot and stick and sometimes bat.”
Time flies. In March 2017, Spicer was spinning a whole other yarn. Back then, at the White House podium, he was channeling the president, telling the press there was nothing to see: “Obviously there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
Manafort now sits in prison, having violated the conditions of his bail, awaiting trial on money laundering and tax evasion charges.
Jonathan Swan at Axios:
President Trump no longer doubts the basic intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — he just seems incapable of taking it seriously, and tells staff that is simply what nations do, several sources close to Trump tell me.
Between the lines: There is no evidence that could ever change Trump’s mind, the sources said.

Why it matters: To the extent that Trump does confront Putin over meddling at tomorrow's summit in Finland with Vladimir Putin — and the president has publicly promised to — it's not with any genuine seriousness or enthusiasm, the sources say. It'll be purely for domestic/media consumption. Trump has signaled as much in the sarcastic way he's talked about this with the press.