Manafort, Wikileaks, and Trump's Long Bromance with Putin

Welcome to Gaslit Nation, a podcast to help cut through the noise in the most important midterm election year of our lives. The last most important election year of our lives was 2016, a gaslit election. In the first three episodes of Gaslit Nation, Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa take listeners back through that year. First up, we reflect on the surreal warning signs of Brexit, the fascist pageantry of the Republican Convention in Cleveland, and the Trump team’s open deference to the Kremlin—because it’s all still relevant today.

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Gaslit Nation Episode 01

Andrea Chalupa Sarah Kendzior

[Theme music]

My name’s Andrea Chalupa. I’m a writer and a filmmaker.

I’m Sarah Kendzior. I’m a writer and the author of the book The View From Flyover Country.

This is Gaslit Nation, with Dame Magazine.

[Theme music]

Andrea Chalupa: Here we are. Why are we going to have a conversation looking back on 2016 and Russia and Trump and how we got here? What’s the point now?

Sarah Kendzior: Well, I think we’re among many who are doing that. ‘Cause 2016 was a lie. If they say journalism is the first draft of history, we had then propaganda as the first draft of history and we have to unravel that propaganda - both in real time and look back now.

Andrea Chalupa: [Is] what you mean on propaganda the Harvard study on how mainstream media like the New York Times, namely the New York Times, amplified right wing propaganda.

Sarah Kendzior: There’s a lot we can do, we will do in an entirely different podcast, on what defines propaganda, but we have a unique situation in that we had a candidate, who was a demagogue, who lied constantly, who was given an unprecedented amount of airtime

Andrea Chalupa: -- a free reality show on CNN.

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah! We had a reality show candidate, who’s been embedded with corruption, and when you have that, you have to strip away multiple layers of that lie. And you also have to look at how did that lie affect people. How did it change expectations of behavior? How did it challenge the very notion of truth? And so, what I want to get to here –

Andrea Chalupa: So 2016 was a gaslighting election.

Sarah Kendzior: [Laughs] Yes, of course. This entire event of Trump entering our orbit has been a perpetual gaslighting.

Andrea Chalupa: Starting with Obama’s birth certificate.

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I mean

Andrea Chalupa: For many years, several years

Sarah Kendzior: We could go back, before that even I think with Trump ‘cause his whole career has been based on his persona and lying and tricking people to get what he wants. Yeah, in terms of his political rise, I would start it there. But with Trump, you know we’ve always had demagogues in American politics, you’ve always had corruption – especially within the Republican Party in the Bush years. And you’ve had this rising conservative movement in recent years, best embodied by the Tea Party. But with Trump I felt like we had something different, everything I’ve mentioned has been a distinctly American phenomenon, a distinctly American flaw. But Trump is new, he’s an anti-American President: he’s against his own country. He’s the first president about which we had to ask, to which country does your fundamental loyalty lie? And so that’s a new situation. And so Andrea, when did you first become aware that Trump was part of a greater and unprecedented threat to American democracy and sovereignty?

Andrea Chalupa: Well first I want to say I’m grateful we’re having this conversation. I’ve always wanted to record somewhere, the conversation of the two of us, going back and recording for history’s sake, what 2016 was like for each of us. I think it was an incredibly lonely--

Sarah Kendzior: Yes.

Andrea Chalupa: --terrifying year. I lived and still live this way to an extent, thinking my sister could be killed. You know, for the work she was doing. And researching –

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, why don’t you explain who your sister is and what her job was at the time and what her expertise is.

Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, I will certainly, I also want to get into why it’s so important to look back and have some time – right now we know it’s mainstream that Trump serves the interests of Putin. That’s widely known. Our allies openly talk – whoever’s left among our allies if we can still call them our allies – openly talk about it. Mainstream news talks about it. It’s just known that Trump is actively working against America’s interests and for Putin. If you said that in 2016 at any time, you were called crazy, and other things [laughs] and largely dismissed. Or you were Hillary Clinton, just trying to become President. And you were dismissed. But I think it’s so important to preserve a record of the fact that so many credible people would interview people like Paul Manafort as though he were just another political operative running a campaign. And not the head of a torture lobby, who helped commit some of the largest atrocities, human rights atrocities in many countries in the developing world. And another thing I really appreciate this conversation, I just worked on a feature film. Not a documentary, but a feature film with actors, and a brilliant director. And the film begins in March 1933. And so a really large challenge of the screenplay was trying to ground the audience in the fact that in March 1933, the world did not necessarily see Adolf Hitler as Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not yet the Hitler we’ve come to know him as. There are a lot of articles in the mainstream press at the time: “Give Hitler A Chance”! [Laughs]

Sarah Kendzior: “Hitler will pivot!”

Andrea Chalupa: Exactly. And then –

Sarah Kendzior: “Hitler’s becoming more Presidential every day.”

Andrea Chalupa: “That was such a Presidential speech by Hitler. He read off that teleprompter beautifully.” Of course, Stalin was Uncle Joe and was going to save mankind. So here you had the two greatest monsters in all of world history, at a time when nobody saw them coming, and nobody saw them for what they were. That was the major challenge of the screenplay, and trying to ground people in a place and time, when they were going to be hit by two massive asteroids at the same time. Eerily, it was a time like we’re living today, where I did not see that coming when I first started working on that script. Back to the conversation, of

Sarah Kendzior: When did you realize there’s something more to him than just your average, American, racist demagogue? [Laughter]

Andrea Chalupa: Obviously it comes down to March 2016, when Paul Manafort was announced as the campaign chairman. And anybody who followed Ukraine, like my sister and I had for many years; that was like Darth Vader coming over. That felt like the bigger, badder sequel of Ukraine’s revolution: Putin’s revenge. That’s what it was like, it was really scary. Just how my sister and I came into the Paul Manafort story. So in 2015, going into the 2016 election, my sister’s working on ethnic outreach for the DNC. So she’s mobilizing ethnic groups to go get out the vote. So she’s working with Indian Americans, Irish Americans, Ukrainian Americans, Russian Americans, so forth. And it was through events in DC with civic leaders and journalists visiting from Ukraine that she’s hearing Manafort’s very politically active in Kyiv. And so she starts digging into Manafort, she sees he has a long history with Donald Trump, who’s running for President. And so she starts to suspect through her research there’s a Russia connection with the Trump Campaign. And he was just a bad, bad guy. He helped elect Viktor Yanukovych, who’s very much a Trumpian candidate. So he had succeeded with this Trumpian candidate already in Ukraine. And what ended up happening to Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych: an estimated 100 billion dollars disappeared from the Ukrainian budget. And that money went to enriching what they called in Ukraine, “The Family.” Viktor Yanukovych, his kids and their inner circle. Sound familiar? [Laughter] So we have our own ‘The Family” under Trump. This was devastating having him here for a lot of reasons for us, because we watched very closely protesters being beaten and killed, fighting for democracy protesting on the streets of Kyiv. Turning the square, in Maidan, in central Kyiv into a fiery battle zone. We know people who were there, watching people gunned down by snipers. By government snipers working under Viktor Yanukovych. Immediately, when Ukrainians were able to successfully overthrow Yanukovych, he fled to Russia. A week after, very very quick – shortly after, Putin invades Crimea. And then, shortly after that, he invades Eastern Ukraine. And Russia’s continuing to invade Ukraine, the war is ongoing, and by the official conservative count, 10,000 people have been killed so far in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And Crimea is suffering from human rights abuses under Russian occupation. And this is all resulting from work done by Manafort, who helped get these forces into power that were serving Putin’s interests in Ukraine. But most Americans, especially American voters, did not know back then, did not care, what did Ukraine possibly have to do with the 2016 Presidential Election in the US, right?

Sarah Kendzior: Right.

Andrea Chalupa: December 04, 2013, I tweeted: “Paul J. Manafort is a political consultant who advised Bush 1 and 2, Reagan and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.” That tweet was shared only twice. What I found was the violence escalating in Ukraine’s revolution, protesters being beaten by riot police – I was struggling to get a basic explainer piece on Ukraine, the revolution placed in the mainstream press. One editor said to me, you know, “We’ve done enough Ukraine coverage.” A few weeks later, Kyiv was on fire. A few weeks after that, Russia invades. And it’s the biggest news story in the world.

Sarah Kendzior: It’s one of those things – I mean, when you look back at it, there was some coverage, I think we should point that out. Also you have a clear line –

Andrea Chalupa: It was minimal, it was print.

Sarah Kendzior: It was minimal,

Andrea Chalupa: Tim Mak and Betsy Woodruff in the Daily Beast. Frank Foer followed it in Slate. Two deep dives on Manafort. But then you turn on the major networks, even MSNBC: they’re interviewing Paul Manafort like he’s a regular person--


Sarah Kendzior: Like he’s a regular Sunday guest, like they’re interviewing Bannon now. This practice hasn’t stopped.

[Audio Clip]: Speaker: And joining me now is Donald Trump’s new Campaign Manager Paul Manafort. A one-time Delegate wrangler for President Gerald Ford, and Campaign Manager for Bob Dole, who’s been brought in to stop this delegate bleeding. Mr. Manafort, welcome back to Meet The Press.

Paul Manafort: Thank you.

Speaker: Look, there’s some talk about what’s been going on inside the campaign. Are you running this campaign now? Is that the fairest way to look at it?

Paul Manafort: Donald Trump is running this campaign. And, uh, I’m working directly for Donald Trump. And, I’m working with the whole team as well. And, you know, a lot of what is being talked is much ado about nothing. Yes there is a transition… it’s a natural transition. Trump is doing very well on a model that made sense. But now, as the campaign has gotten to its end stages, a more traditional campaign has to take place, and Trump recognized that, and is now reaching out – not just with me, but with others as well that you’ll see coming.

Speaker: Now, Donald Trump has hired you because he says he needs an insider, um to help him, who has experience in this. Some can argue it’s been a long time since you’ve been a Washington insider. You yourself have said that. Do you know these delegates? The selection process may be the same from ‘96 or ’76. Do you know these people?

Paul Manafort: You’d be surprised who’s been calling me over the last week. Where they’re from.

[End Audio Clip]

Sarah Kendzior: One thing I want to highlight with Manafort is there’s been a lot of lies not only about what you just discussed in his relationship with Ukraine, with Russia, working in that capacity, basically mobbed up. His relationship with Trump: Trump is trying to say that he just met Manafort, Manafort is a coffee boy, or apparently the barista who came in from the cold; I don’t know but the relationship between Donald Trump and Paul Manafort goes all the way back to the early Eighties where they were introduced by Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn. Who I can’t stress enough is an important figure, in this controversy –

Andrea Chalupa: Who is Roy Cohn?

Sarah Kendzior: That’s who I’m gettin’ to, girl. (Laughs)

Roy Cohn is one of the most despicable and influential and understudied people in American history. There’s no definitive Roy Cohn biography, because Roy Cohn was an innovator in the practice of suing everybody and threateningeverybody and blackmailing everyone and bribing everyone to get what he wanted, and part of that was a preservation of his reputation.

[Audio Clip] You revealed that Donald Trump is you need somebody to get vicious, hire Roy Cohn. And this Mafia boss man did just that. Tony Salerno, recently indicted, has long been one of Roy Cohn’s clients. Benson Ford wanted to sue his uncle, auto magnate Henry Ford, he hire Roy Cohn.

“I hired Roy Cohn because he is a tough son of a bitch.” [End Audio Clip]

Sarah Kendzior: Roy Cohn was Donald Trump’s mentor. Before that he started out as Jim McCarthy’s advisor. Where he pioneered a lot of tactics of lying, of attacking, of leading people to question: “Have you no decency?” – which is a question we’re still asking now. Roy Cohn went on to represent mafiosos, he was a Mafioso lawyer. He was also known as someone who bragged about not paying his taxes, who lived off of the wealth of his friends, and who was a very feared and notorious figure within New York City society. And while he was known for being awful – Wayne Barrett, who died the night before Trump’s inauguration, he was a journalist who studied Trump and Cohn in depth. He called him ‘reptilian’. He called him ‘satan-like’. He also noted the way that Cohn was able to infiltrate and even be beloved in parts of New York society. He was able to understand New York media. The tabloid media and papers of repute, like The New York Times. He was able to control the media. And so Trump and Cohn began their relationship and they were very very close in the late 1970s. Donald Trump is an interesting person in that he’s had no friends. He has no close friends with the exception of Roy Cohn, who he called 15 to 20 times per day. It’s a pretty unusual thing and Cohn took him under his wing, represented him legally but also taught him how to engage in politics. In 1984 – Roy Cohn was gay, he was a homophobic gay man, he was an anti-Semitic Jewish man, and he was so against the Soviet Union [laughs] I wonder if he as a pro-Soviet -

Andrea Chalupa: Self-hating Soviet sympathizer.

Sarah Kendzior: Yes! Yes, in retrospect, it makes me wonder. He died in 1986 –

Andrea Chalupa: Let me point out that as Roy Cohn was dying of AIDS in 1986, Trump abandoned him. Wanted nothing to do with him.

Sarah Kendzior: One thing that Roy Cohn did before he died was introduce Trump to Manafort and Roger Stone, who were working together in a political consultancy with Lee Atwater. And another person who was loosely involved with them at the time was Michael Caputo. And when you look at Trump’s campaign, in its early formation in 2015, it’s run by Caputo who took a little break from GOP politicking to be Putin’s image consultant in the early 2000s (which should have tipped us off) Roger Stone, of course, is linked to Wikileaks. Caputo and Stone are now under federal investigation. Along with Manafort who is now in jail. So you have a number of political actors surrounding Trump, who are linked to Russia and have been doing work with Russia basically ever since Russia became a free-for-all capitalist oligarchy – which is extremely beneficial if your work is propping up dictators and facilitating corruption, which is the kind of work Manafort’s consultancy has done. And has been involved in GOP politics. So this whole idea that Trump is new to running for President: that’s a lie. He ran (or almost ran) five times; 1988, 1996, 2000 he ran, 2012 he ran, 2016 he ran, withthe help of these same people. That’s a myth. The idea that he’s new to the GOP is a myth because he’s been hanging out with them. And the idea that he just happened to meet in 2015, one fortunate day, Paul Manafort, who lived in his building in Trump Tower since 2015, is just utter nonsense. They’ve known each other for a long time, they’ve been working together for a long time, and this presidential campaign (in many ways) is a ‘perfect storm’ but it’s also the result of long-term planning on their part. And Trump (true to his mentor Roy Cohn) managed to get articles – I assume that they’re planted, or that the person who wrote them is so fabulously stupid that they should be fired – saying things like “Manafort and Trump ran into each other in the elevator one day in 2015, where Manafort offered to work for Trump for free, and Trump was so dazzled by Manafort’s really awesome haircut and cool clothes that he said “cool, you can be my campaign advisor.” That is actually the story that Glenn Thrushwrote for the New York Times. That is actually how they’ve tried to present this a year ago, and it’s the same kind of lie that they’re trying to propagate now, as Manafort sits behind bars and Trump tries to keep his distance.

Andrea Chalupa: That’s like – I can’t even wrap my head around that. Just the fact that our media – as we will always say on this show - is at such a crisis in America. Our media – the newsrooms have shrunk so much and there’s this massive blending between the business side and the editorial side; it’s all about pageviews and clickbait and advertising, all of it, that the journalists that do remain are under so much pressure to file quickly, file clickbait, get stories going viral. Even though real journalism takes time and is public service.

Sarah Kendzior: This is something –

Andrea Chalupa: My god, how do you overlook something so obvious in your research as Trump and Manafort and their long-standing intimate relationship.

Sarah Kendzior: Right.

Andrea Chalupa: These guys were cut from the same cloth. They had the same values; shared interests, and that was money, that was corruption, that was personal gain.

Sarah Kendzior: Right. And in this case, the desire to use the mechanisms of government to enhance personal gain and to erase debt, which is something that both parties (both Manafort and Trump) seemed to have – something interesting about the media – you’re absolutely right the media has been under financial constraint for a very long time; it’s been decimated by the rise of the internet; it’s been restructured in a way that you have bubbles of media influence, largely conglomerated in expensive cities on the coasts. But what has always puzzled me is that these stories about Trump, a story that’s true – which is often a story that’s sensational – sells as well as a story that’s sycophantic and a lie. Like, Trump is screwing a porn star, Trump is secretly a Kremlin asset. Those are stories that would go viral. Those are stories that aren’t just relevant to the public but actually really interesting. The kind of things that the press would traditionally grab on to. Yet as you know, we’ve spent 2016 trying to bring attention to these Kremlin ties, which Trump himself was making more and more overt. Yet on the whole, the press was really playing them down and treating everyone who talked about them (including Hillary Clinton) as a lunatic.

Andrea Chalupa: It was there all along. Who Manafort was, was there all along.

Sarah Kendzior: What do you think the motivation behind that is? Do you have insight in how they treated your sister?

Andrea Chalupa: I think it’s just a simple fact. Being in New York City and having worked in newsrooms, my friends are journalists. I was constantly telling my own friends who were journalists “Please cover Trump and Manafort / Russia / Ukraine.” The smartest people today, writing for major outlets would say to me: “Andrea, American voters don’t care about Ukraine.” And now they do!

Ukraine was very much the laboratory for a lot of the tricks that worked successfully on hacking the US election of 2016. And so if you’ve followed Ukraine closely, if you had a diverse network of sources in Ukraine, if you knew Ukraine’s own history with the Kremlin: watching 2016, from March 2016 when Manafort comes over – you see where everything is going.

April was significant because you had two important print pieces come out; and yet television media was not yet jumping on who Paul Manafort actually was. One of these pieces in the Daily Beast, titled: “Trump Aide Led Torture Lobby” paints it very clearly for them, yet they failed to pick up on it. I’ll read from that now.

“Manafort was a principal at the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly (along with another top Trump ally, Nixon alum Roger Stone), a K Street powerhouse with close ties to the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, as well as top Republicans on Capitol Hill. But over the years, they made millions by representing a rogue’s gallery of clients far away from D.C.’s genteel corridors of power: dictators, guerilla groups, and despots with no regard for human rights—including one man responsible for mass amputations, and another who oversaw state-sanctioned rape.”

June 14th 2016: the news is announced that the Russians hacked the DNC.

[Audio Clip] A pair of teams of Russian hackers have apparently broken into the servers controlled by the DNC and has stolen their collected research. Their opposition research detailing the various dealings of Donald Trump. Yes, Russian computer hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, gained access to their entire database, of opposition research, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach. [End Audio Clip]

Andrea Chalupa: I missed this story and my sister’s at the DNC. This story barely registered for me. I think it’s because we were living with years of hacks. The Russians and Chinese were hacking us, there were headlines from 2014, “Russians hacked JP Morgan.” “The Russians Hacked The White House.”

Sarah Kendzior: The State Department, The DOD, Yahoo.


Andrea Chalupa: Everybody’s getting hacked, it’s just like a constant weather report of hacks happening, and you just sort of learn to live with it and zone it; block it out.

Sarah Kendzior: You just assume if it’s that bad, “Surely the government would be doing something about it to prevent – oh, I don’t know – taking down our entire system from within. But apparently not. Anyway, go on.

Andrea Chalupa: And then something tragic happens, incredibly tragic and heartbreaking on June 16, 2016 which was the murder of British MP Jo Cox.

[Audio Clip] Announcer: She was just 41 years old. A mother of two young children.

Jo Cox: “There was once a banana. It was a cheeky kind of banana.”

Announcer: Her life cut short. Police and emergency vehicles swarming the scene of the attack yesterday in a quiet Yorkshire town. Eyewitnesses described the horror which happened in broad daylight.

Observer: “I saw him pulling the gun out. And he went live at, with it, fired one shot.”

Announcer: Jo Cox shot and stabbed. Rushed to a hospital where she died shortly after. Minutes after the attack, police take down a suspect. A fifty-two year old man known identified as Tomas Mair who reportedly has a history of links to neo-nazi groups.

Observer: “The words I heard him say was ‘Britain First’ or ‘Put Britain first’.

Announcer: Jo Cox was a rising star in politics.

Jo Cox: “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”

Announcer: Her senseless murder plunging Britain into grief.

Observer: It’s just…. [sobs]

Announcer: And her husband Brendan tweeting this photo of her and issuing a statement. “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now. One, that our precious children are bathed in love. And two, that we all unite to fight against the hate that killed her.” [End Audio Clip]

Andrea Chalupa: Because Jo Cox was a beautiful, outspoken, brilliant smart woman with opinions, she was murdered for it. And that’s something we should never forget. That was terrifying, the fact that this, that the fake news, nuclear bombs being thrown by Rupert Murdoch, his Fox News in the US and whatever else he owns, The Sun, all these other papers in the UK that were pushing Brexit, pushing Trump. Fake news kills. Propaganda kills. So Jo Cox, that should have really given the world pause: We need to declare war now on propaganda, put an end to this and invest more in real journalism. But we didn’t. So that was an incredibly heartbreaking moment we must still keep in everyone’s memory.

Then on June 23rdyou have the Brexit vote. I went to bed that night to a sad Nigel Farage on television. And I woke up that morning, checked Facebook on my phone, and a journalist in Kiev posted a cartoon of a happy dancing Putin. And that’s how I learned that Brexit had passed.

[Audio Clip]

[Announcer] What words could be sufficient to carry the historical weight of events which unfolded on June the 24th. A divorce from the European Union was never meant to be in the script, nor the implosion of the Tory party. Tonight, the United Kingdom has left Europe, and is without an effective leader; no clear vision of how Brexit will work, or what the impact on the people will be. Across the political divide, there is a deepening civil war in the opposition Labour Party. Where leader Jeremy Corbyn is under siege, and blamed for running a lackluster campaign to remain in the EU. He has refused to go despite a vote of no confidence. In a time of crisis effective leadership is vital. The script remains open while the UK is in a political vacuum. [End Audio Clip]

Andrea Chalupa: So I happened to be in London the week before and the week after the Brexit vote. And I can’t tell you how incredibly fascinating that was. My heart goes out to people that were for Remain, and wanted to stay in the EU. And I know people whose lives have been upended by that. As an outsider, being glued to my television in my hotel room, not wanting to leave in the morning for all the meetings I had. What followed was the world’s worst House of Cardsepisode, you had Michael Gove stabbing Boris Johnson in the front. David Cameron resigned on national television and walked away singing to himself. You had people being interviewed on TV who were absolutely shellshocked after having voted for Brexit, not realizing “what have I done,” regretting their votes but it’s too late.

[Audio Clip]

Announcer: “House of Cards”

Michael Gove: Yes, I saw the British version, I didn’t see the American version.

Announcer: You are our Frank Underwood, a lot of people this morning are saying. If you turn to that camera and say something sinister it’d be perfect. That is the problem you face now Michael Gove. You brought down David Cameron, now you brought down Boris Johnson, people are saying that you’re some sort of political serial killer.

Michael Gove: I didn’t make the decision to call the referendum. That was David Cameron’s decision. He chose the timing and he chose the basis.

Announcer: Prime Minister David Cameron outside Number 10 Downing Street, choking back emotion with a surprise announcement he would resign in the coming months. This result to leave is monumentous, a political earthquake with the financial ramifications uncertain. The pound falling sharply, plummeting against the dollar which of course will impact Wall Street and global markets when they open. [End Audio Clip]

Sarah Kendzior: Nigel Farage, I remember, characterized the Brexit vote as ‘bloodless,’ as a vote that brought no violence. One week after Jo Cox was killed. Again, it’s the exact same pattern replicated in the United States with Trump, where you see -

Andrea Chalupa: Denial of reality.

Sara Kendzior: Yeah! Denying violence in reality. Both creating narratives to stoke violence – violence occurs – and then they deny that it happens. A very frightening thing to happen in a digital media age, where perception of reality could easily be manipulated. As you said, it’s important to never forget that people are victims of this are women like Jo Cox or Heather Heyer. Politically active women who end up in the line of fire in these situations.

Andrea Chalupa: There was a wave of hate crimes, the racists had been empowered by this vote and they came out, to harass Polish immigrants and other immigrants. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, emerged as the only adult in the room, determined to keep Scotland in the EU. She was very strong, very forceful in all of her remarks. And then you had Trump calling himself ‘Mister Brexit.’ And what’s interesting is we saw this entire operation like his own election. And of course Nigel Farage came out to the US to campaign for him.

So, 2016 was extra surreal for me, because I was focused on two film projects, a documentary, a feature film, both on the history of the Kremlin’s information war. How the Kremlin deliberately covered it up – with the help of Western press, Western media. Deliberately covered up Stalin’s genocide famine in Ukraine. So I’m totally glued to these two film projects, which added a very surreal layer to all of this for me. Because here you had a Republican presidential candidate who himself was walking, talking, Kremlin propaganda. Years of praise of Putin. So what was very weird, on this film project I was working on, was a scene that was about Hitler. And the RNC in Cleveland was on TV in the background. I look up and it’s just this fascist pageantry. At the RNC there were viral videos of Trump supporters, doing the Nazi salute. Including one elderly woman who definitely did it for the cameras. So throughout this year, 2016, as I’m working on these film projects, the film projects themselves are throwing me back to the 1930s. So is the Republican National Convention.

[Audio Clip, Republican National Convention]

Donald Trump: I am your voice!

Announcer: Trump cast himself as an angry and all powerful national defender.

Donald Trump: I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order to our country. I’m going to make our country rich again.

Announcer: Trump, announcing his firm approach to fighting crime, and terror.

Donald Trump: Crime and violence, that today afflicts our nation, will soon – and I mean very soon, come to an end.

Announcer: And offering new specifics on his Musilm Ban.

Donald Trump: We must immediately suspend immigration, from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.

Announcer: The GOP nominee hammering home nationalist themes, presenting the country as a dark place. The billionaire striking a populist tone.

Donald Trump: I have joined the political arena, so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people who cannot defend themselves.

Announcer: Clocking in at an hour and fifteen minutes, the longest speech in modern political convention history. Trump’s frequent target: his democratic opponent.

Donald Trump: This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton. Death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness. [End Audio Clip]

Andrea Chalupa: In mid-July the Democratic Convention gets underway, then we learn the GOP has watered down the party’s platform on Ukraine. They were working behind the scenes to make sure they include weapons, to fight Russia’s invasion. Now, Russia has the second most powerful military in the world. Ukraine’s military (like most everything else in the government), has been decimated by years of corruption. Severely weakened, especially under Yanukovich. Manafort’s client, who gets overthrown in a popular uprising, flees to Russia. So as Russia’s invading, Ukraine’s leaders are forced to use cellphones, which is easily intercepted by the Russian military, giving their positions and movements away. One military analyst from Berlin told me Ukraine was a testing ground for Russia’s advanced weaponry. Ukrainian soldiers are going up against weapons that no American soldier has had to fight against. Providing defensive aid to Ukraine is something Republicans and Democrats in Congress overwhelmingly agree with. There’s a rare bipartisan consensus here. Only Obama, he was against it, as his priority was fighting ISIS, and Secretary of State John Kerry kept trying to work with Russia and find a resolution on Syria. What’s more, Ukraine and the bipartisan support in Washington keeps arguing Ukraine must be armed, because the country gave up its nuclear weapons: the third largest arsenal in the world, in exchange for security guarantees. And this was all according to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by the US. So providing defensive aid to Ukraine united Republican and Democratic leaders. And the Trump campaign is like “No, we’re not doing that.” This is very much what Russia wants. Then I went home to DC, to see my family, in the middle of July, and my sister was telling us about these… strange things that were happening to her. There was an attempted break-in at her house in the middle of the night. There was a weird song that started appearing on her phone. And it was a song called “Regret.” And she googled the lyrics– it’s a death metal song by this band, Avatar.

[Audio Clip] “Regret,” by Avatar.

Andrea Chalupa: This song’s about a mother owl, who’s just been killed and feels anxiety as she lays dying

[Audio Clip] “Regret,” by Avatar.

Andrea Chalupa: I thought my sister was losing her mind. [Laughs] So I didn’t really think that much of that either. And I was being very polite and patient with her when she was explaining these strange things that were happening to her. “Oh, that’s nice, Ali.” And then she starts talking about Manafort, “Oh, interesting.” Okay. That was it. So I even dismissed my own sister, at first. And then my sister kept calling me, and said “The Russians are going to do something really big, before the Democratic Convention in Philly. They’re going to set off a bomb.” I’m like, “A BOMB bomb?” She’s like, “I don’t know, they’re going to do something big, to disrupt the Democratic Convention in Philly.” And then, Wikileaks happened.

[Audio Clip] Announcer: An email scandal as emails that were hacked from the Democratic National Committee were leaked on Wikileaks. That set a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters into the streets here in Philadelphia over the weekend. We saw significant protests here in Philadelphia, Bernie Sanders supporters, who felt that the Democratic was rigged against them all through the primary process. And now we see a Democratic Party going into its convention with the resignation of the Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schulz on Sunday night. This party is just as much disarray guys, as the Republican Party was last week. And we’re heading into a convention where they’re trying to bring this party together, and pivot towards the general election. We’ll have to wait and see what Bernie Sanders does during the convention this week. Do we see that kind of ‘Ted Cruz Moment’ like we did last week with the Republicans, but boy, what a different storyline than we thought we were going to have in Philadelphia guys. [End Audio Clip]

Andrea Chalupa: And then the convention’s happening in Philly and she’s freaked out at this point. What she had predicted had come to pass. At this point enough dots are connected that she’s recognizing that, because she went to Manafort’s home town to investigate him on her own account, on her own initiative. Because she started becoming really obsessed with what Manafort’s doing here running Trump’s campaign. “What is Putin’s Darth Vader doing here?” At this point she’s come to peace with the fact that the strange things that are happening to her on her phone, on her computer, at her home, that’s harassment. Somebody’s trying to silence her. And at that point, because what she predicted came to pass - this big “bomb” the Russians set off with Wikileaks – I believed her, finally. And she was really freaked out. She was like, “Come to Philly,” so I dropped everything and went to Philly and I ended up going to the DNC Convention. And the day we were driving in, the very last day of the convention, to see Hillary accept the nomination. As we’re driving in, I’m holding my sister’s cellphone. Because she’s overwhelmed. She’s getting calls from reporters. I’m seeing reporters that I know (some that I don’t necessarily like) pop up in her text messages trying to talk to her. Suddenly I’m my sister’s gatekeeper (laughs), which is great. And I see as I’m holding her phone, I see this song “Regret” pop up on its own. So I witness this. What I was laughing at her about, I witness it for myself, and it was the creepiest thing to see her phone was like a normal iPhone home screen. I’m just holding it. Holding it, manning her calls for her. And suddenly this song pops up. And she says, “Yep, there it is. I told you.”

[Audio Clip] “Regret,” by Avatar.

Andrea Chalupa: And then we start talking about where can this all go? Where could this possibly go? My sister was saying “They could hack the election results. That’s a possibility.” And that day, I wrote in that moment, I wrote on Facebook. I said, “Any journalist that doesn’t investigate the possibility of the Russians hacking the election results doesn’t understand the purpose of journalism.” I wrote that, that day. And got two likes. (Laughs.) No one’s paying attention.

Sarah Kendzior: At this point I didn’t know you, but that’s literally what I was doing. After this time, after the convention, as I mentioned before we had Trump’s final press conference where he explicitly showed his connection to Russia, his trust of Russia, and he was directly asking Russia to intervene in a presidential election. Which to me was essentially an admission of some form of guilt. So I started looking into this more in-depth than I had before. I can read Russian, I learned to read Russian in graduate school, ‘cause my focus was on former Soviet central Asia.

So I just decided to do a cursory search of Russian state media, and see what kind of narratives were coming up in there. It took me about – I don’t know – twenty minutes, thirty minutes to go back through a number of Russian state media outlets (including RT (Russia Today)) to discover they had been gushing about Trump since 2014, when he was notconsidered a viable 2016 candidate. He hadn’t even declared candidacy yet. He was still hosting ‘Celebrity Apprentice’, but they were writing about him as not just the future leader of the United States, but as someone who’s going to save Russia, was going to save civilization. So I followed some of the links from these Russian language articles back, and found a Fox News interview from February of 2014, which was incredibly incriminating on a number of grounds.

[Audio Clip] Fox News: You don’t want to want to work, say the Democrats? Fine, you don’t have to work. We’re going to have a, a system that supports you to not even work anymore. Democrats, Republicans have to have an uphill slog on this too, right?

Donald Trump: We do not claim that it’s tough for the Republicans, I think. Because a lot of people are in this category. You’re talking about a big category. And if anybody comes out against it, if anybody goes against it, due Democratic line and stuff, it’s going to be hard! In certain areas. Now, you know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have, you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.”

Donald Trump: I think we should give the Russians a little bit of leeway here. They spent all of this money. And I think we should not be knocking them at this point. Then we wonder why they don’t like us, why they’re eating our lunch, in every country that we’re dealing with against them. I really think we should say hey look, they’re really out there doing a job, every time a turn on a television we’re showing a guy knocking down a door because his door lock didn’t work, we’re showing all these things. I will tell you something. If I’m Putin, I’m not happy about it. And I know for a fact he’s not happy about it. When I went to Russia with the Miss Universe Pageant, he contacted me. And was so nice, and you know, I mean, the Russian people were so fantastic to us. I just say this: They are doing – they are outsmarting us at many turns as we all understand. Their leaders are – whether you call them smarter or more cunning or whatever. But they’re outsmarting us. If you look at Syria and other places, they’re outsmarting us. I really think that we should not be knocking that country with all of the money and all of the guts they put into it. [End Audio Clip]

Sarah Kendzior: I saw this, and I was just startled. He laid it all out. This [the interview] was about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. And I was like “Trump was on Fox News, as the host of Celebrity Apprentice, discussing Russian politics, bragging about his relationship with Putin, describing his desire to tear apart America, basically confessing everything. Why is this not everywhere? Why is this not in the media?” So I put this on Twitter. And it went viral. I wrote about it in Quartz, where I was writing at the time. A wrote a whole article also noting other Russian scholars in 2015. People who are foreign policy analysts had looked at Russian media, had noticed they were gushing about Trump, and thought “Well, that’s very strange.” They didn’t know the reason for it. Now we know. And I got the most incredible blowback, from the US mainstream media. People telling me, “leave this alone” or “this doesn’t prove anything” or “Trump was just rambling.” What kind of person -a game show host - goes on and rambles about Putin and Russia in this way two years ago? This is an answer to a question being imposed now.

I was being gaslit.

Andrea Chalupa