How the Trump campaign (and Russia) used Facebook to win in 2016

From a recent interview Terry Gross did with Christopher Wylie,  former research director for the voter profiling outfit Cambridge Analytica, later acquired by Steve Bannon, with financing by Libertarian billionaire Robert Mercer, who threw his support to Trump after Lyin’ Ted dropped out of the race.  The work of this data-mining company was of incalculable value to Trump’s surgically precise 78,000 vote Electoral College victory in November 2016.

Here’s a bit of how the deal worked, how the Bannon-run Trump campaign mobilized marginal, alienated voters to cast their anger-fueled votes for plain talking Man of the People Donald J. Trump:

TERRY GROSS:   My guest became a whistleblower, exposing the role of the British voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica in the Trump presidential campaign and the Brexit campaign.  Christopher Wylie revealed how the company had harvested the information of tens of millions of Facebook users and combined that with other data to create psychological profiles and then use those profiles to target people susceptible to disinformation, racist thinking and conspiracy theories.   Cambridge Analytica then helped shape the disinformation narratives and pushed them out.

Wylie also revealed Cambridge Analytica’s links to Russia. Wylie had the documents and tapes to back him up.  He’d served as Cambridge Analytica’s research director for a year-and-a-half, then quit in 2014, disturbed by the direction it started taking after Steve Bannon became a major player in the company.

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE:  The basis of Cambridge Analytica’s work was essentially to take large amounts of highly granular data about each individual voter in the United States – a large bulk of that came from Facebook, but it came from many sources – and to look for patterns in that data to essentially infer different psychological attributes and, from that, to find target groups of people, particularly on the fringes of society, who would be more vulnerable to certain kinds of messaging.   They focused a lot on disinformation; They targeted people who were more prone to conspiratorial thinking.

And they used that data and they used social media more broadly to first identify those people and then engage those people and really begin to craft what, in my view, was an insurgency in the United States.

GROSS: Feeding them disinformation, sometimes conspiracy theories in support of the Trump campaign.

WYLIE:   Yes. And more broadly, you know, the – when Steve Bannon took over, he wasn’t just concerned about particular elections. He followed sort of this notion of the Breitbart doctrine, which is that politics exists downstream from culture – so don’t just focus on the day-to-day politics, try to actually make an impact on an enduring change in culture because politics will just flow from that.

GROSS:  When you say when Steve Bannon took over, he had a big role in Cambridge Analytica and then became campaign manager for Trump.

WYLIE:  Yes, he did. He found us in London. He convinced a billionaire to acquire the company, and then he transformed that company into, you know, a set of tools that he would be able to use to, in effect, manipulate a certain segment of the American voter population.

source

Is anything unclear about this pattern?

Let’s try to keep this as simple as possible, to show Donald Trump’s consistent pattern of behavior as it goes to his motives.  A pattern of behavior can be used to establish corrupt motive– if the person does the same suspicious looking thing every time he is challenged you can infer the motive from that behavior. 

The current Ukraine drama/scandal is pretty easy to follow.  Trump, feeling elated after Mueller’s live testimony didn’t move the needle a tick about the findings of the investigation, called the newly elected president of the Ukraine the very next day to ask him for a favor: dirt on one of his top political rivals for the 2020 presidency.  The appearance of impropriety shocked several administration officials enough to make them hide the records of the call.   A whistleblower report about the call, vetted, found credible and urgent and legally required to go to Congress within a week, was buried on orders of Mr. Trump’s top people.   Since then Mr. T has vowed over and over to resist this new shameful, vicious, desperate, illegal and unconstitutional witch hunt against him.    The question is: did Mr. Trump act with corrupt motive or merely, as Barr insisted in regard to his repeated efforts to shut down the Mueller investigation, as an innocent man understandably outraged by the vicious unfairness of his enemies? 

I will take the high road today and resist starting the pattern prior to Mr. Trump’s presidency.  It would seem dirty and gratuitous to mention, for example, Trump’s well-known infidelity to each of his three wives — his affair with Marla Maples while married to Ivanka, the affairs while married to Maples, the dalliances with the two women he paid off to dummy up about sexual trysts they had while third wife Melania was recuperating from childbirth.  Bad, bad and bad– but NOT ILLEGAL.   Don’t worry about legal/illegal, though, let’s just look at the pattern of behavior.   Forget I mentioned this, or the large eve of 2016 election payouts to a Playboy model and a porn star (a quid pro quo— more than $100,000 each in exchange for non-disclosure agreements) that were at the center of what landed longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen in prison.

November 2016, Donald Trump is elected during an investigation of Russian meddling in the election.   This meddling would be detailed in  Mueller’s report and later confirmed in a bipartisan Senate report that also documented what Mueller called “sweeping and systematic” Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the election in favor of Mr. Trump.   

Trump was adamant in his denials of knowing anything about Russian help and insisted he was clearly joking when he looked into the television cameras and said “Russia, if you’re listening…” and then asked for the Hillary Clinton emails that magically were produced, hacked by Russians, a few hours later.  Plus — in fairness to DJT–  lifelong Republican partisan witch hunter Mueller was unable to find sufficient evidence of a chargeable criminal conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia, numerous incidental indictments and convictions notwithstanding.

Now, follow the events after Trump is elected president.   National Security Adviser Flynn lied about speaking to the Russians about lifting sanctions during the transition period.   He apparently lied to Mike Pence and then to the FBI.   Trump immediately fired him.   In Flynn’s defense, and as Sean Hannity makes clear, the FBI trapped Flynn, they never told him he needed a lawyer or that lying to the FBI was a federal crime.   Total entrapment!   I’ve excerpted a section from an AP analysis that puts a lot of flesh on the hideous bones [1].   

So first big scandal of his new administration had this response from Trump: have somebody write an email denying the White House had anything to do with Flynn’s lying or his talks with Russia about lifting sanctions for election meddling.   (see bottom of FN 1]

Flynn is out and, to Trump’s disbelief, the FBI simply won’t let it drop.   Trump meets alone with FBI director James Comey, tells him Flynn’s a good guy, asks him to drop the investigation.   Comey is taken aback, tap dances a bit, makes detailed notes of the troubling conversation on his ride home.  Trump fires Comey to end the Russia witch hunt thing, as he later nonchalantly says on TV and claims as his prerogative.  But not before having AG Sessions and Deputy AG Rosenstein (the man soon to be in charge of the Mueller investigation) write letters urging him to fire Comey for his unfair handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.  

THE PATTERN:

The firing of Comey, while legally within the president’s sole discretion, raised flags when Trump met with Russians in a closed door oval office meeting the following day.  When Sessions told Trump the DOJ had opened an investigation into the president’s possible obstruction of justice, Trump, after a moment of despair, lashed out.    He ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, he later ordered McGahn to write a memo saying the president never ordered him to do it.   He also drafted Corey Lewandowski for purposes of getting Sessions to “unrecuse” and shut down Mueller’s probe.  Trump repeatedly tried to curtail the scope of  Mueller’s investigation.  POTUS prevented the disclosure of evidence and testimony, even refusing to answer the most pressing of the written questions his legal team was at a loss to answer without perjury.   

He later, at AG Barr’s recommendation, argued blanket presidential immunity to resist all subpoenas for anyone he’d ever had contact with.  Trump, before publicly humiliating Sessions and obtaining his forced resignation, repeatedly pressured him to “unrecuse” and put a lid on Mueller.   Trump tried to dissuade Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, both facing slam dunk charges of lying to investigators,  from cooperating with Mueller, dangling pardons if they remained loyal.   He had encouraged Michael Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow project, which continued well into the presidential campaign.   

Before the Mueller Report was finalized the president put a new Attorney General in, a man who’d auditioned for the job by pledging loyalty and protection to the Unitary Executive, to act as his unappealable spokesman and fixer.   Barr, the most openly corrupt AG this country has ever had, lied about Mueller’s findings while throwing dirt on Mueller’s good name and vowing to investigate the investigation itself.   Since then, muscular attempts by Trump dead-enders to resist all subpoenas for documents and testimony.  The latest is eight pages of Trump’s temper tantrum over the impeachment inquiry, thinly disguised by a shameless White House lawyer as a legal argument for why Congress can’t compel Trump to do shit.

What is unclear about this pattern?  How does it show anything but corrupt intent?   How do AG Barr, and Mr. Hannity, explain it away today?

Stay tuned.

If you’d like a dramatic guided tour of just the obstruction outlined in the Mueller report, you’ll find it here.    Here’s a nice quick guide to Trump’s lies about his perfect call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. 

 

[1]  The story [that Flynn had lied to him about discussing the lifting of Obama’s sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak] shook Pence, who had been in the dark. A review of Justice Department documents sealed it. Flynn couldn’t have just forgotten. He had lied. McGahn and Priebus told Trump he had to fire Flynn.

That weekend, Flynn flew to Mar-A-Lago with the president. On the plane back to Washington on Feb. 12, Trump asked him whether he lied to Pence. Flynn said he may have forgotten some things but denied lying. “OK. That’s fine,” Trump responded. “I got it.”

The next day, Flynn was out.

Priebus delivered the news. In the Oval Office, Trump embraced Flynn and shook his hand. “We’ll give you a good recommendation. You’re a good guy. We’ll take care of you,” he said.

Flynn had spent just 25 days as national security adviser.

Trump had lunch with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the next day, which was Valentine’s Day. “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump told him. Christie burst out laughing. No way, he said.

“What do you mean?” Trump responded. “Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”

Flynn is going to be like “gum on the bottom of your shoe,” Christie said.

___

In the Oval Office later that day, Flynn was still on Trump’s mind. The president was being briefed by his top national security team. That included FBI Director James Comey, who Trump was intent on making part of “his team.”

As the meeting wrapped up, Trump cleared the room and asked Comey to remain behind. “I want to talk about Mike Flynn,” Trump said, according to Comey. There was nothing wrong with Flynn’s calls with the Kislyak, he said, but he had to fire Flynn for lying to Pence.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey awkwardly sidestepped the issue. But over the next few weeks, Flynn remained on Trump’s mind.

Trump praised him publicly. Privately, he turned to McFarland, who had covered for Flynn before. On Feb. 22, 2017, McFarland, now the deputy national security adviser, was asked to resign. But Priebus and Bannon, who conveyed the message, suggested it came with a soft landing. The president could make her ambassador to Singapore.

The ask came a day later.

As reporters questioned whether he directed Flynn’s Russia contacts, Trump told Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email saying that the president didn’t order Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak.

source

 

A pattern of corruption and obstruction

We live in an age of emotion.   The facts, increasingly, are ignored as strong opinion, fanned by sensationalism and spread by the wildfire of instant “social media”, reigns.   If something happens once or twice, a wide range of plausible sounding reasons can be advanced to explain it.  It’s often hard to know which explanation is closer to the truth.   When a strong pattern emerges it becomes much easier to rule out doubtful excuses.  Look at the pattern of behavior then apply Martha Kavanaugh’s  judicial maxim, her jury instruction to fact-finders:    ‘Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?’

One of the techniques Trump (and the right) got from Roy Cohn, a notoriously evil and self-loathing man, is to accuse the enemy of exactly what you are doing.   If you are accused of being homosexual (at one time a powerful and damaging, career and even life-destroying charge), deny it strongly and threaten enemy  homosexuals with public outing and shaming.   If you are charged with corruption– the person making the charge is obviously corrupt!    If there is an investigation into you, or people in your administration — investigate the investigators!  If anyone close to you is called on to resign– tell them to fucking resign!  Like so:

screenshot_20191014-145608_chrome.jpg

A ‘seditious conspiracy’ — that means treason and hangings, make no mistake.  And of course Nancy Pelosi should resign– she’s in the middle of this sinister cabal of death-worthy traitors.  What else is Trump’s 2020 campaign manager going to say?  Come on.  He’s a loyal guy with a very important product to sell.

There is a clear pattern in the Trump administration, an appearance of winking at corruption, being above the law and a pattern of protecting wrong-doers.   A number of Trump’s cabinet appointees had to leave under investigation for illegal or unethical misuse of their powers.   Point this large number out at your peril.  Whenever he feels attacked, the President hits back harder, as he learned to do from his mentor Roy Cohn.  

This unalterable pattern of behavior speaks to Trump’s singleminded motive, as set out in volume two of the Mueller report, which his defenders attack as an unfair partisan hit job that nonetheless, and against all odds, completely exonerated him.   When he learned he was under investigation for obstruction of justice his first words were “I’m fucked…”  Then he quickly recovered his fighting spirit.  When he feels attacked, the president fights back, hard, a practice his supporters, like Bagpiper Bill Barr, find completely appropriate in any situation.  If you’re innocent, scream it loudly, angrily and attack anyone questioning it!

It is fair to point out that only three close Trump administration associates have actually been convicted of any real crimes — his long-time personal lawyer, his first national security advisor and his 2016 campaign manager–  and that he only fired two FBI directors and one Secretary of State — and has so far only had two appointed, and one acting, Attorneys General.  

The Communists at Business Insider have compiled a list of all the resignations and firings of top Trump officials (as of September 10, 2019) a long list in the less than three years of his administration, but, take that list with a grain of salt and a shot of penicillin.   Fake news is everywhere and it is easy to accuse rich political appointees who allegedly use their government positions to enrich themselves further of being corrupt.   As Trump himself might reason:  who among us would not take a $120,000 trip to Europe on somebody else’s dime?  Duh!

The New York Times reported that Trump’s father was a tax cheat who engaged in a decades-long pattern of fraud to increase his wealth and enrich his children while avoiding taxes.   Trump’s attorney threatened to sue the Times when the story was being reviewed for publication (as reported in the Times)   20181029_184055 (3)

but no law suit was ever brought.   This means the NY Times had evidence to prove that facts of the story were beyond dispute and no defamation suit could be credibly brought against the Times.   You know Trump would have sent his lawyers after the Times if he could have.   The New York Times later reported that Trump lost over a billion dollars during a decade as the result of bad business decisions, and also that he had received the 2018 equivalent of $400,000,000 from his father.    Trump did not sue the Times over this fake story, though he angrily dismissed it.

Corrupt.  Look up the word in the dictionary and you will find Trump’s face next to it.  What? Nothing to see here!  Nothing whatsofuckingever to see here!   Lock her up!   Lock her up!

L’espirit d’escalier

A saleswoman, just now, making small talk as she showed us samples before working up the estimate of a price, asked me what I did before I retired.  I told her I was a lawyer, and that I hated it.   Her daughter is a litigator, she said brightly, works for Aiken Gump [1], presumably litigating on behalf of corporate clients.  I smiled, sort of.  A moment later, l’espirit d’escalier [2] caught me and I had to shrug, with almost Gallic resignation, thinking of my missed much better answer to “what did you do before you retired?”– about my law career, my teaching career, about my life in general:

I conspicuously lacked the serenity to accept the things I could not change.

 

1] oy, my achin’ gump, as Sekhnet and I reflexively say whenever we hear the name of that law firm

{2]  L’esprit de l’escalier or l’esprit d’escalier is a French term used in English for the predicament of thinking of the perfect reply too late.

George Conway and Preet discuss Trump’s unfitness for office

I would recommend this conversation for anyone who may still be on the fence about whether Mr. Trump is fit for office.   The recent long, detailed  George Conway article takes a good bit of reading to get through.  The recent affable conversation between Preet Bharara, former United States Attorney for the Southern District  of New York, and corporate lawyer George Conway is snappy.   Check it out here.   The transcript of their conversation, thankfully, is here.

A few nice moments from that transcript (I was ready to transcribe this myself):

Calling it what it actually is:

George Conway:           In fact, one of the descriptive terms in the psychological literature for narcissistic sociopaths such as Trump, narcissistic sociopaths who have elements of paranoia and sadism, there’s a term called malignant narcissism, and that was a term coined by a psychoanalyst named Erich Fromm, who was a Holocaust survivor. And he spent a lot of time writing and thinking and writing about what explains these tyrants like Hitler. What is it about their personality traits that is common?

George Conway:           The point is that, if there was a psychological designation for evil, it would be malignant narcissism. It coincides with moral failings. So there’s nothing, in any of these psychological terms, even if you had a full-out actual diagnosis of the parallels, what I wrote in the article, that would not excuse his moral failings. Not at all. Not for a moment.

Part of The Case for Impeachment:

George Conway:   You don’t want to impeach somebody for one isolated incident that wasn’t so bad. I think particularly when you’ve got an election coming up, and there’s a bit of judgment involved in weighing the seriousness of what I call a breach of fiduciary duty that amounts to a high crime and misdemeanor. Part of that is looking to patterns of behavior. And in the case of Trump, there is a pattern of behavior. He does tend to use his office for personal gain in many respects.

George Conway:           I mean, you can point to his threats to Amazon and you can point to his apparent determination to have the next G7 summit at Trump Doral. I mean there are so many different things, I list many of them in the article, his vendettas against ambassadors and allies and so on. I mean, you can point to so many things, areas and ways in which he puts himself before the country. Not all of those things individually would amount to an impeachable offense, but they do fit a pattern. The reason why they fit a pattern is because that’s who he is, and the reason why that’s who he is is because of these personality disorders.

On Trump/White House Counsel’s double down obstruction letter to Congress about the” illegitimate, unconstitutional impeachment inquiry”:   

Preet Bharara:   I don’t understand this on a strategic level, forget about moral and character-

George Conway:   Because Trump’s, his theory is never to give ground on anything and he never shows remorse for anything.

Preet Bharara:    Is that part of his personality disorder or is that just, he’s a tactical genius?

George Conway:   It’s part of his personality disorder, and it relates to both his narcissism and his sociopathy. As a narcissist, he completely lacks empathy. He can’t see the world the way other people see it. It’s not just, “I feel your pain,” kind of empathy, but it’s also he can’t put himself in the position of how other people see him or see the world. Then there’s the complete lack of remorse. He’s not capable of remorse in any way. You don’t see him apologize or feel guilty about anything. The only time you ever saw him apologize was for the Billy Bush tape.

Preet Bharara:       The Access Hollywood, right.

George Conway:     Right. And that was within weeks, he was telling people, according to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, he was telling people that the thing was doctored. Which is completely-

Preet Bharara:      After he had admitted it was [inaudible 00:40:07]. (him talking)

George Conway:   After he admitted it was [inaudible 00:40:08] (him talking) and there was no evidence of doctoring and he was telling the United States senators that the thing was doctored, which is just completely insane.

Preet Bharara:    So the polls have been shifting a little bit.

George Conway:  Right. A lot, actually.

Preet Bharara:    What is the significance and what weight should be put on public sentiment in connection with impeachment?

George Conway:     Well, I think it’s … it is very significant and I think a bunch of different things are going on here. One is obviously there’s movement because I think some people are following Nancy Pelosi’s lead, but I also think people are influenced by the brazenness of the conduct that they see, that he engaged in with respect to Zelensky. I also think the bizarreness and the extremeness of his response has triggered a reaction, particularly with those press conferences, with the Finnish prime minister or president or whatever.

Preet Bharara:    I always feel bad for those guys.

George Conway:     It’s just incredible. I mean, I guess … I hope they get a warning before they go in there. And then finally I think, and I don’t think … I think you can’t underestimate this, there’s an exhaustion factor that’s starting to set in among the marginal Trump supporters, I think. That like, “When is this going to end? What is it with this guy? He continually does this. It’s just, I can’t take it anymore. It’s like the volume’s up at 11 all the time.” He keeps digging himself in… It’s not the fake news. He did this to himself. He does it to himself. He’s his own worst enemy.

Preet Bharara:      It’s even worse because you’re like, “Oh God, I just want some light entertainment. Maybe I can watch Dancing with the Stars. Oh my God, there’s Sean Spicer.”

George Conway:   And I think that the other thing to understand about it, too is, I mean, first of all, you have the independent voters, some of whom I think are probably former Republicans, he needed in 2016, remember, he … I mean, the two most important numbers in American politics today are 20, which is the number of Republican senators it would take to remove him from office, and the other number is 77,744, which is the aggregate number of votes by which he won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

A few things POTUS denies today

The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for abandoning the stateless Kurds who had helped the U.S. fight ISIS.

source

Trump: fake news, false, a complete and total lie, they love me, my people, plus the Kurds didn’t help us at Normandy during World War Two

Both Republicans and Democrats affirm that Russia, not Ukraine, was responsible for tampering with the U.S. election.

source

Trump: complete partisan shit job from Shifty Shitt and the “squad”, a total lie by very corrupt and treasonous traitors who are going to lose some primaries, I can tell you for sure

One from the give me a fucking break department:

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This totally, totally fake “bipartisan” “Senate Report” confirming “Mueller” “finding” of “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election below [1]:

85 fake pages worth

Trump: they make this crap up because they can’t touch me — and they’re jealous, and corrupt kangaroos, sick and dangerous “people”.  Article Two, nobody talks about it, Article Two, look it up, bitches.

 

[1]  From (U)REPORT OF THE REPORT 116-XX S ELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE UNITED STATES SENATE ON RUSSIAN ACTIVE MEASURE;S CAMPAIGNS AND INTERFERENCE IN THE 2016 U.S. ELECTION ‘ VOLUME 2: RUSSIA’S USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA WITH ADDITIONAL VIEWS

I. (U) INTRODUCTION In 2016, Russian operatives associated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) used social media to conduct an information warfare campaign designed to spread disinformation and societal division in the United States. •••••••REDACTED  ••••••• Masquerading as Americans, these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States. This campaign sought to polarize Americans on the basis of societal, ideological, and racial differences, provoked real world events, and was part of a foreign government’s covert support of Russia’s favored candidate in the U.S. presidential election .•••••••••••