Festivus Special: Mueller's Low Hanging Fruit
At Gaslit Nation, every week is Festivus because we have so manygrievances to air! Our Feat of Strength is that we survived 2018. This week, Sarah and Andrea’s Airing of Grievances includes an in-depth look at Russian spy Maria Butina and her NRA “lover” Paul Erickson; a recap of the many criminal acts of Michael Flynn and some speculation as to why he may be eluding punishment; and a long, hard look into the way the mainstream media has covered – or shall we say covered up – the Trump-Russia case, sometimes at the behest of mafia operative and propagandist Paul Manafort.
[Audio Clip] Crowd: Lock her up Lock her up.
Michael Flynn: You guys are good. Damn right. Yeah. Exactly right. There's nothing wrong with that. And you know why. And you know why. You know why we're saying that? We're saying that because if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did I would be in jail today. [End Audio Clip]
Hi. I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist and scholar of authoritarian states focusing on the former Soviet Union and the author of the book The View from Flyover Country.
I'm Andrea Chalupa, a writer, filmmaker and activist focused on Russia and Ukraine. And this is the Gaslit Nation Festivus Special.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes, we will be airing our grievances, as we do every week on Gaslit Nation, but this is a particularly grievance-heavy episode we're gonna—I don't know, all the crime, crime, crime. There's too much crime for one hour. So, Andrea, where do you want to begin?
Andrea Chalupa: Well I would like to kick off this Festivus with a feat of strength [laughing] basically confronting this horrendous news cycle. As always, I think the conclusion we've just made, Sarah, is that every week is Festivus at Gaslit Nation, which is fine by me.
Sarah Kendzior: It's true.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah.
Sarah Kendzior: It's true.
Andrea Chalupa: The theme of this year's bigger December Festivus is conduits and all their many shapes and forms, because the Russians could not have succeeded in helping install Donald Trump, the Russian mafia asset, President without their American conduits. And so, we've got a couple in this most recent news cycle to focus on, and the one I want to start out with is a Russian conduit. She is a 30-year-old former graduate student, which is in Washington, D.C., Maria Butina. What do you have to say about Maria Butina before I go on my little my little trip down that rabbit hole?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. So, Maria Butina, I'll let you talk it out. I guess one thing I want to say about her is of course when you look at her you're looking into the NRA; when you're looking into the NRA, you're looking into dark money. This is the same point I made last week, but as we know from Trump, repetition works. So, I think that when we're examining what she did with Paul Erickson, although not everything she did with Paul Erickson, we need to sort of dive into this dark money hole, look at states that took a lot of contributions from the NRA, like Missouri, look at players who are implicated. But yeah, I'm going to let you just rant for a little while because I know you've got some thoughts on this.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, so a lot of our grievances are all on the conduits who made all this possible. Without them, Trump would probably not be President. So, what was really interesting in 2016 was how outspoken Hillary Clinton was as a candidate against the NRA. She had a lot of big speakers featured at the DNC, the party did, on confronting gun violence in America. This has been a horrendous epidemic of gun violence. None of this is normal. None of this is normal. It sort of reminds you of Orwell's 1984 where Winston Smith is walking and there are just bombs dropping everywhere. It's sort of you know we go about our daily lives and there are mass shootings everywhere, in malls and movie theaters, in kindergarten classrooms and places of worship. And so none of this is normal. It's been allowed to go on for several years now. It's the stuff of a horror film. It's terrorism. The NRA is a terrorist organization. And so, it was really interesting what stood out to me in 2016 was here you had Hillary Clinton taking on the terrorist organization of the NRA, and the entire time I was wondering, "Well where is the NRA in response? Why aren't they going after her?" Because they felt very, the NRA felt very low key, publicly, in 2016.
Sarah Kendzior: Mmmhmm
Andrea Chalupa: And so you felt their absence.
So, it turns out the NRA was very active, incredibly active, in 2016, and the NRA turned out to be an incredibly important conduit for helping this whole Russiagate coalition coalesce, come together, and allow all this to go through. Because of course you know Putin and Trump can't talk directly in 2016, but they have their agents, like Trump's children, Trump's son-in-law, talking to the Kremlin and in Trump Tower in 2016, and then you have Maria Butina, a young woman who is infiltrating the NRA by becoming this gun rights darling inside Russia, by being in all these glamorous photo shoots and just being this really sexy sort of figure showing up in Washington, D.C. and hobnobbing with all these GOP leaders, and speaking out as like this voice of quote-unquote "freedom," and all those other Orwellian words that Republicans like to use when it comes to gun rights. It's at the point now where yes, we all want gun rights, like I enjoy going to go to a shooting range every now and then, but it's what they've allowed to happen are military-grade weapons on the streets with minimal background checks, if any in some cases, and it's just allowed for this epidemic of gun violence that we're all terrorized by.
So yes, so we're going to start there. And I want to stress about this sort of anatomy of how a conduit works. Alright, so let's start with romance. If you want to see what a clown looks like, for instance, without the clothes and makeup, that is GOP operative Paul Erickson. [laughter] You know, the guy is built like a giant inflatable cello. Like if there was like a going out of business sale for cellos, they would put up, like, Paul Erickson with streamers tied to him to try to draw people in. [laughter] I'm really sorry to say that if that offends anyone, but that's what I think when I see this person. And so Paul Erickson is the type of guy that when a woman like Maria Butina comes along and starts flirting with him, he would say, you know, "Take my wallet. Take my 401K. Here's the deed to my house. Here's the sovereignty of my country." You know. That's what's going on here. This is a classic honey trap. And yes, you know, they have that cheesy video where Maria Butina and Paul Erickson are looking in each other's eyes adoringly and singing Beauty and the Beast.
[song clip plays] Both a little scared, neither one prepared, Beauty and the Beast. [End song clip]
Andrea Chalupa: You know, I'm incredibly romantically cheesy. I love all that stuff. But I would never, ever drag my, demean my husband or my marriage with something like that. That's like repulsive, what they did. And it's the kind of stunt that you would do to try to fool U.S. immigration. That, "Yes of course I fell madly in love with this giant inflatable cello. Our love is real."
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, who goes to a Styx concert? [laughter] I still can't get past that. I mean, no one was gonna question that. I don’t know, he's sailing away, he set an open course for the FSB. [laughter]
Andrea Chalupa: He's clearly sailing away in this in this freaking video where they record—okay, if no one knows what I'm talking about. There's a video where Maria Butina and Paul Erikson are singing Beauty and the Beast in a studio while staring into each other's eyes. Like it's the most ridiculous thing ever. Ever. And so, they're trying to argue that their love is real, and it looks so incredibly staged. I have no doubt that Paul Erickson is madly in love with her because it's Paul Erickson. But in Maria Butina's case, she's really taking one for the motherland here. [laughter] This is some, like, surviving the siege of Leningrad level of sacrifice that she's making for her country.
Sarah Kendzior: Mmhm
And so, there's a reason why her handler, the former Russian Senator Aleksandr Torshin, who's a big conduit himself in advancing Putin's interests, there's a reason why you know a court filing said that you know an official who's like, you know, who we believe is likely him, was praising Butina in a private Twitter message. You know, comparing her even surpassed Anna Chapman, the sexy Russian spy who was working as a New York, working in New York real estate and was caught and back in 2010. So that's really interesting that the Russians put this sexy honey pot Anna Chapman in New York real estate back in 2010 which of course is Donald Trump's world. So yeah. So, the Russians know what they're doing when they develop agents like Anna Chapman and Maria Butina. They know the weaknesses of men, how easy they are to exploit here, and that's how they collect kompromat. Remember, Christopher Steele said that Trump got lured into something in his Moscow visit in 2013 and they collected kompromat on him there. So federal prosecutors, when they brought their case against Butina, they tried to make the case that she used sex to advance the Kremlin interests. MSNBC reported the judge was tough on both sides, and made the prosecution throw this out. It doesn't mean it's not true. I mean the prosecution has access to the full scope of this conspiracy and how it was carried out. They know more than we do. And so, whatever they, whatever charges they first bring against her, they're telling us what's going on here. They're telling us the true nature of this story. And so the judge is not the law. The judge interprets the law. So. And then of course this plea deal is struck hoping that Butina is going to bring more, you know, testifying, and allow for more indictments coming down the line.
And so, one thing you want to pay attention to with what the prosecution is trying to tell us: there is a really interesting mistake that was made recently, as the Washington Post reported, and I'll read from this article. "U.S. Prosecutors on Friday, December 14th, asked a federal judge for permission to move Maria Butina to and from jail for ongoing interviews, including potentially to testify before a grand jury. In a filing intended to be sealed that appeared on the public docket for her case, Butina, 30, pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, and the wider conservative movement to set up backchannel communications with leading Republicans around the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As part of her plea deal, she agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. In a seven-page document filed to a judge, prosecutors said they were making their travel request under seal because disclosing Butina's movements from Alexandria City jail, where she has been held since July, may jeopardize the defendant’s safety and may jeopardize the ongoing investigation." That's really interesting. Why is that interesting? Because we've had deaths, murders, mysterious deaths and blatant murders. Attempted murders of agents of the Kremlin that have flipped against the Kremlin. You had Mikhail Lesson, the founder of the Kremlin TV network RT, Russia Today. He was found dead, bludgeoned to death in a D.C. hotel room. Christopher Steele told the FBI this was a hit by an oligarch close to Putin. You have the Skripal poisoning, of course, in the U.K., the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in the U.K., and then a string of mysterious diplomat murders following the 2016 election. So, if former Kremlin agents, and these are all former Kremlin agents, Litvinenko and Skripal were both for intelligence officers, Lesson of course founded a Kremlin propaganda TV network, and the Kremlin operates propaganda falls under the military. So, this confirms what we already know, that Butina is a Kremlin agent, and Kremlin agents who turn on the Kremlin get killed eventually. She struck that plea deal, that makes her vulnerable here. The feds know it; that's why they're trying to protect her movements. So, getting the less malicious sounding title of a registered foreign agent, and we kid you not, journalists and pundits, some of them in the media, are jumping on this as proof that she's not a spy, which is ridiculous. Butina is, frankly, a spy and the feds are worried for her life, that she'll face the same fate as turned spies before her.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, it's interesting how they're trying to play this down. They’re trying, a certain class of journalists is trying to find any excuse to frame her as just a typical lobbyist or not a national security threat or a helpless young woman where you know this is a professional. This is somebody who went in with a plan. She was the first person to confront Trump about sanctions. She infiltrated the NRA, she infiltrated the National Prayer Breakfast, she infiltrated American University, and she did it for years and years and years, which of course brings me back again to the question of, you know, how did you not catch this person, especially after the Anna Chapman fiasco? You know, you would have thought like eyes would be on the ball, and also things like Aleksandr Torshin just flat out saying, you know, "Maria Butina is now in the U.S.," and bragging about it on Twitter. I can't remember. I think this is from around like 2015. It was before the election it was when she was on the ground engaged in this activity. And so, you know, ugh, God. I mean that's the other thing, it's like when you're looking at conduits, they're not slick.
They're often out there being like, you know, "Hi, I'm a conduit for the Russian Federation, infiltrating U.S. politics on the ground. Here are photos of me with all the people with whom I'm collaborating." Including, you know, people like Scott Walker, Paul Erickson. You know, all these Republican and NRA big shots, and of course Donald Trump, Jr., and they're not subtle about it. And so, this again, like this is the question that's just been bothering me the most, is that if all this is in the public domain, literally being shown on Twitter and on social media and this flagrant brazen way, where were the people who were supposed to protect Americans from this activity?
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[music fades out]
Sarah Kendzior: Although, I guess on that note, you know, unless you got more to say about Butina, one of the Americans who was supposed to be protecting us from that activity at this time was Michael Flynn, who was the DIA during part of the Obama administration, and now I guess we should say we're recording this Tuesday morning. Flynn is sent to get his nonexistent sentence, as it's being reported sometime today. What are your thoughts on that before I go off?
Andrea Chalupa: Well, Flynn should never have been elevated to the level any major presidential candidate elevated him to. Like, he was fired from the Obama White House for a reason. He was so driven by conspiracy theories that there was a nickname for that. It was called Flynn Facts. And as we've seen, Russian propaganda networks back in Russia and the ones they broadcast in other languages, they like to have these conspiracy theorists on the air all the time on RT. That's what they peddle in. They have a war on the truth. The Kremlin and authoritarian regimes generally have a war on the truth, and they want to muddle facts, and they want to give voice to people that are so on the deep end and are enemies of the truth, like Michael Flynn was and I'm sure still is. They're useful. They're useful in their campaign to create so much confusion, and to blatantly promote lies to further the Kremlin's interests. So, you had Flynn saying lock her up, and furthering this far right, American far right and Kremlin narrative of Hillary Clinton being like the greatest evil ever and just riddled with corruption and she deserves to be in prison and investigated. And so the fact that Flynn was able to be in the Oval Office, working in the Oval Office, being an important member of the Trump transition team, all of that is very terrifying. That is terrifying. None of that is normal. Somebody has to be held accountable to allowing somebody so irresponsible to be in the highest office in the land. Being in the seat of power that's supposed to belong to the leader of the free world, to have a RT, Russia Today-sponsored conspiracy theorist directing American foreign policy.
That's a that's a very, very deep low, America. That's, we shouldn't, you know, we have to hold people accountable for that having been allowed to happen.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I mean honestly it amazes me that he's not still there, because he's the only one that was taken out right off the bat, like I remember that day. I remember waking up in the morning and being like I wish I could wake up every day with a Trump administration corrupt official being removed, and at that point people thought it may just continue on down the line, that you're gonna get, you know, you're gonna get Kushner and Sessions next, for example, for not filling out their clearance forms properly, for lying on them, which is, you know, an offense. But then, you know, you basically got nothing. You got people burning themselves out and eventually leaving, and I just want to review, because, you know, Flynn is being sentenced for, you know, he pled guilty to a single felony count of willingly and knowingly making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements to the FBI, and he is allegedly cooperating with the Mueller probe and that is why he's supposed to get a lenient or nonexistent sentence. I don't necessarily believe that this is what's happening. I'm getting like very much a Paul Manafort-George Papadopoulos vibe from this kind of thing. You kind of see it from how Trump has been treating Flynn. He has not blown up at Flynn like he did at Michael Cohen. He's actually wanted Flynn to come back to the administration. He thinks that this is an unjust prosecution. Flynn, meanwhile, after pleading guilty, has shown no remorse. He is a national security threat as you just said. You know, this is a completely corrupt individual who served in the highest level of power, is full of secrets and intelligence, and, you know, instead of cooperating with Mueller, he's doing things like running around to my city, the city of St. Louis, and showing up at a right-wing extremist conference held by Gateway pundit Jim Hoft. This happened just a couple months ago. This was this fall. You know other attendees. It's like a you know who's who list of total pieces of shit. It's like, Joe Arpaio, Steve King, James O'Keefe, a Polish fascist. I mean, this is not, when you're joining in on something like this, this is not a sign that you're the kind of guy who's like, you know, wants to write his wrongs and do the right thing, even though you got people from like Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg singing his praises this morning, saying, "Oh poor Michael Flynn. What a tragedy. This is just a mistake in prosecution. He Should be set free." And so just real briefly I just want to review some of the shit that Flynn did that landed him in trouble, because it's amazing. It is not just lying to the FBI. He lied about meeting with Kislyak, the ambassador for Russia, multiple times he lied about that. He worked illegally as a foreign agent, not just for Russia, but for Turkey. He attended the RT gala in 2015, sat next to Putin, was paid forty-five thousand dollars for that speech, which honestly I find like a little on the low side. You know it’s like a dirty deed done dirt cheap kind of situation, like I don't know why he would not aim higher.
Anyway, moving on. He planned to abduct and possibly kill the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who was in the United States. This is part of a broader conspiracy to do that, probably Khashoggi style. Here's a big one: he planned to partner with the Russians and the Saudis to sell nuclear reactors in the Middle East on the black market. I mean, that is the kind of thing that Flynn is gonna do if he's out there running around, you know, not held accountable for his crimes, and not monitored by anyone. Like anyone [who] thinks he's going to go and, you know, be a useful, helpful, noble American citizen is completely deranged. This is a lifelong bigot, Islamophobe. He fantasizes about war in Iran. His supporters also want war in Iran. And then final points: Flynn is somebody who is, you know, deeply tied to all the other players of the Trump administration, which is why everyone's got their hopes so high about this. They think, "Alright, he's cooperating with Mueller. He's obviously going to give up some big players." You know, if that happens, then that's fabulous. But a couple of those who he's particularly close to—Pence. Pence was warned about Flynn by Elijah Cummings before Flynn took office. So, if Flynn is, you know, guilty of all the things they just named, which he is, this is, you know, publicly documented cases, then Pence is guilty by association of knowing about this and he should also be investigated. And Kushner. Kushner had Flynn out and about doing dirty deeds, meeting secretly with Kislyak to try to sway a U.N. vote on Israeli settlements. So yeah, there's a lot going on there and I am displeased. You know, a lot of folks are like, "Alright. You know, it's cool that he got this nonexistent sentence, or this short sentence, because he's giving up all these criminal players." That itself, the lack of indictment there, is an indictment of our entire system. You know if you rat on other corrupt individuals after committing that laundry list of crimes, you know that should not exonerate you either morally or legally.
You know, if you look at low level criminal cases, this is not what happens. If you're like a street drug dealer, and you give up, you know, the drug lord, you don't get praised by the national media, and called a hero, and walk away free. You know you maybe get a reduced sentence for helping out the prosecution and that's basically it. But Flynn, he's the next Oliver North, only much more dangerous, because the crimes that the Trump administration has committed are so much more dangerous than the Reagan administration. You know, this is an administration that serves foreign countries. This is an anti-American administration, and Flynn is an anti-American political operative, and we are in jeopardy if he's out on the run.
Andrea Chalupa: Mmhm. And everything you listed about Flynn's crimes—these guys just could not wait to get in and let the kleptocracy party get started. They couldn't even wait to get sworn in. They started probably even before they won the election. Like, they did. We know for a fact that they were like wheeling and dealing and it's just shocking. And thank God that our system, as strained as it is, our systems still work. Imagine what would have happened if we didn't catch these guys in their long list of crimes. Imagine like what kind of shape our country would be in and the world would be in if they allowed all these autocrats to come in and have their way. Certainly, they have been allowed to do that to a certain extent. I mean, you look at the Khashoggi murder. The Crown Prince, who the CIA is confident ordered that, hasn't been held accountable yet for that. I mean, just the long list of crimes. I mean, you had Flynn trying to kidnap, working to kidnap--this is just so, so surreal—a cleric, who was an opposition figure living in exile here in the U.S., trying to kidnap him and send him back to Turkey, where he would of course face a horrible fate, and he's serving Erdogan. Erdogan, recall, had his security detail beating up people on American soil right in the heart of our capital. Do you remember that?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I feel like people forget all those incidents. You know, there's such a large volume of corruption and scandal, and people have normalized this. I think that that's why you're seeing this kind of psychological reaction toward Flynn, toward Butina, this desire to play down the crimes themselves because they don't want to think, one, that so many people got fooled, two, that so many people got caught, yet remained unpunished. They want to believe that institutions are stronger than they are. And I think there's also a serious savior complex going on with Mueller. It's unhealthy.
I mean you know yes you should support an investigation of these criminals, and it's good that Mueller is doing his job, but the level of worship, it's just not healthy to worship any human being in that way, especially a person in a position of authority. I mean, I, you know, I'm not implying that that Mueller is corrupt. I just think that that kind of instinct to look at a public servant and view them as inherently flawless, and to just put this blind faith, this blind trust, no demands for transparency or accountability. This kind of expectation that they're incapable of making a mistake even an honest mistake, it's just unhealthy. You know, we need a more critical look at this case, not a hostile one, not the kind that Trump is doing, you know where you're baselessly smearing him and just wanting to shut the investigation down for its own sake, but just a healthy, critical relationship about, "Hey, you know, we are American citizens who have been badly hurt by this administration. You know, we have a criminal syndicate essentially operating as a government and we're entitled to, you know, information about that and protection from these people." And I've seen, you know, very little demand for that. I've seen a lot of fear and that fear is being shown in this kind of, you know, [inaudible] Mueller kind of situation of, you know, he will save us, all will be well. I just don't think that's the case.
Andrea Chalupa: No, not at all. And there's just too many– Mueller’s up against a lot. First of all, there's just, the institutions that we're supposed to protect us are supposed protect us were in many ways complicit in allowing all this to happen. We should never have gotten to this point in the first place. That's what we keep trying to point out again and again and in Flynn's case, going back to Flynn, the Eric Trump of the allies that are not family members, we always said that Flynn was so stupid he probably flipped without realizing it. And he was probably such a great witness, such a great resource for Mueller's team because he probably just spilled so many things out there Eric Trump-style, innocently, not even realizing what he was saying. They go like, "Oh yeah, this guy's useful and he's probably he's probably too dumb to survive prison, so let's just be lenient there." So we'll see how that all plays out. But Flynn was low hanging fruit. He was low hanging fruit. And Mueller has gone around and harvested all the low hanging fruit. He indicted, you know, the Russians. That was symbolic of course because they're all in Russia. He's indicted Butina, the honeypot spy that was going around pollinating these relationships as big corrupt coalition, and he's going after Paul Erickson her lover, now, quote-unquote big quotation marks around that word "lover." And so all of this is playing out.
So, who is left? Once you have a low hanging fruit, who is left? The family. You have Don, Jr. You have Jared Kushner. Both In that quid pro quo Trump Tower June 2016 meeting. You have Ivanka who was a leader of the Trump transition team, working with Paul Manafort and Gates, who are on that as well. And Flynn said that he was told by the transition team to reach out to Kislyak when working on U.S. foreign policy with Russia before they even took over yet officially, and that of course included subverting America's position at the time that went under Obama and calling sanctions for Russia, all those phone calls that Flynn made to Kislyak that day. And so, the family is in trouble. We've known that for a very long time. But the big question on everyone's mind is--will they be brought to justice? When will Mueller make his move when it comes to the family? That Is very dangerous. So, what we're looking at here is a situation where we have a mortally, like again, in any horror movie, you have a mortally wounded monster. And when the monster’s mortally wounded he's more dangerous. He lashes out. Just when you think the monster is dead, no. He comes and grabs you by the ankle and the fight continues.
So, expect things to get worse before they get better, because the Trump family is desperate to save themselves, and they're desperate to surround themselves with people who are willing to break the law to protect them. And we know that. That's their track record. Trump tried to pressure Comey to, you know, drop the investigation. That's obstruction of justice. And then Comey of course was fired. So, we are in for scary times. Don't think just because we've had a couple of good days, we're seeing justice, you know, being carried out in the courts, don't for a minute think that this is all going to be wrapped up soon. It's simply not. 2019 and 2020, and especially the 2020 election, they're going to be absolute roller coasters. So just prepare yourself for the worst.
Sarah Kendzior: Yep, and as you said before you know one of the greatest consequences I think of this whole situation is that the crimes they committed are going to endure longer than this administration ever could.
You know, these are mercenaries. These are people for hire now, you know, if Flynn does walk away free, you have people like George Papadopoulos, you know, who had access to this high-level knowledge to some extent, and certainly you know intel about relationships between U.S. officials and other parties now running for Congress. You know, all this bullshit about how they are repentant, how they have learned the error of their ways, how they are cooperating, has really never borne out with anybody except for Michael Cohen. The rest of these criminals are doing just fine, are probably going to have books, TV shows, but more importantly, you know, on the down low are gonna be selling intel, are going to be giving away state secrets for money, for power. And so this pattern, you know that you've seen for decades. You know last show we were talking about how so many players from Watergate, Iran Contra, the war in Iraq, the financial crisis, you see the same names coming up over and over again, because nobody is punished for their crimes. They are caught, but they're not punished. They're instead rewarded.
We may be in for more of that. Only as I said before the stakes are higher.
So, you know, as we're talking about Flynn and all the things he was doing in the transition period in late 2016, I was thinking about what you and I were going through at that point after the election, when we were trying to tell the world that this was an illegitimate president, that this was a hijacked election, that Russia had infiltrated our government at its highest levels and that we were in for a kleptocracy unless action was taken, and then we were immediately greeted with a barrage of hit pieces about us, as well as more serious things. You know, harassment, threats, threats of physical violence, you know. Someday we'll have to do that episode where we get into the extent of that.
We had an interesting article appear on Friday in Vox that mentioned your sister and what Paul Manafort had been trying to do to her throughout not just 2016 but 2017, after Trump had already been placed in office. You want to do a little recap and tell the audience about that?
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, definitely. I mean none of this is comfortable. [laughter] when you're like personally involved in one of the biggest crimes in human history. Personally involved in the sense that you have a sister who was a whistleblower who risked her life and career to warn the American people. So what Vox reported on Friday was something that we already knew. We've been telling you for a very long time, and we're grateful to Vox for putting it out there and confirming this. And that was, I'll read from the article itself.
The headline is "Paul Manafort advised White House on how to attack and discredit investigation of President Trump...We now have details as to how the indicted former campaign manager worked with the president to undermine federal law enforcement." So Manafort worked for the White House to have a strategy to attack the FBI, attack Christopher Steele and attack my sister. So, this is from the article: "Second, Manafort counseled the White House to allege, albeit with no evidence to back up said charges, that the pro-Western Ukrainian government had colluded with the Democratic National Committee to try to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 presidential election. A source with direct knowledge of the matter told me that the White House adopted Manafort's recommendation in the summer of 2017 to specifically target Alexandra Chalupa, a political strategist consultant for the DNC, for allegedly working with Ukrainian officials to hurt Trump's candidacy. Despite A torrent of allegations, no evidence has surfaced that Chalupa or the DNC did anything wrong." No kidding. And that article is written by Murray Waas. Thank you so much for that great piece. This is so important that we you know just keep pushing the truth and promoting the truth, because really what we're up against, it's a war of lies that they're attacking us with, and there's a reason for that. They want to wear us down. They want to confuse the truth. They want to victimize patriots like the good men and women in the FBI, like our wonderful ally Christopher Steele, former British intelligence, who didn't have to try to save our country, but he did, at great personal risk to himself and his family. And then my sister.
You know, I have to tell you, this is, you know, Sarah knows, you know, Sarah first and foremost being a dear friend of mine that I've depended on so much to get through all of this, she has the unique privilege of witnessing all of this as it's been unfolding and she knows the full scope of the hell my sister and her family have been put through. And my sister as I've always said this show, is a very private person. She doesn't like to talk about, she's a behind the scenes person for a reason. She's made a career being somebody that, you know, helps the DNC—you know she's spent most of her career there--she's has always been a behind the scenes private person. She's not a showboat, flashy person by any means, which is why what she did by sticking her neck out in 2016 is so extraordinary, because she's shy. I'll tell you, my sister's a shy person. She's very friendly, she's outgoing, but she's private. So, Sarah knows the full hell that she's been through. And there's things that my sister has asked me not to talk about publicly, but I do hope it does get out eventually, because I think it's a matter of, you know, American history at this point, and of course national security for people to know the full story of what this Russian mafia asset and his family have put average American citizens through just to seize power, just to enrich themselves.
And so, you know, my sister has gone through hell, and she suffered greatly more than people know. But I do hope they do get her full story one day. I think it's for all of us for them to know. But it has been heartbreaking, and I feel very badly for her to watch all of this. But I do want to stress in November 2016 when Trump won the election, my reaction was that I went dead inside. I did not cry. I could not cry. Like everyone I knew around me was sobbing and melting down. The only time in November 2016 that I would have meltdowns was when my sister would call, you know I'd get off the phone with my sister. And she would call me with some new revelation that she uncovered in her research connecting the dots with publicly available information piecing it all together. Looking at Cambridge Analytica, looking at Kushner, looking at the real estate deals and money laundering the Russian mafia, other foreign allies that may have assisted in this. She was looking at all of it, and she knew back in November 2016. She said they could not have done this without people on the ground here helping them. And one of the things we always said back in November 2016, where we said, you know the show the Americans? That's real. They had to have some sort of apparatus like that, some sort of infrastructure in place like the Americans, spies here on the ground making these connections, because they couldn't have done it alone. The whole narratives that they were piecing together, the very specific state targeting, all of it. Now imagine getting the full, sprawling scope of Russiagate downloaded all at once. That was a lot to take in in November 2016. That was what made it so hard for me to pick up the phone when my sister called, because my stomach would just go into knots every single time.
So if you think about everything that we now know, that information has been fed to the media fed to the public gradually. We haven't been given the whole full scope of Russiagate all at once, like I received it, through my sister's brilliant research and dot connecting. We as a public received it bit by bit, bit by bit. Month after month, you know, these stories would come out. Some seemed stupid, like, oh what are the bots have to do with anything? Americans didn't not vote for Hillary because of bots. Well now, you know, that case is really built over time, and we saw how sprawling that bot operation alone was. You know, they were on every single social media platform available, and they had a sophisticated level of targets and messaging. They understood how America worked and what our pressure points were and our weaknesses and how to exploit that. Again, people knew. People knew the full scope of this. People in the intelligence community knew the full scope of how this crime went down. They knew it, but they had to deliver it to us in a way that would be gradual enough for us to absorb it and fully come to accept it, and to be educated around this very sophisticated, asymmetrical warfare. You know, when everybody was melting down in 2016, everybody around me, my sister was calm, like she would call me like marveling over it. Like, "Oh my God, you wouldn't believe this. This is so...."
She was like really impressed that she was digging more and more stuff up. I asked her finally, because you know during this time Sarah and I were on the phone with everybody trying to figure out, "What are you hearing? What do you think's gonna happen next?" And we were on the phone with, like, big Republican operatives. Famous Republican operatives. And a couple of these guys were like breaking down on the phone with me. One was screaming that we're all going to be killed because Trump has an enemies list. These guys were losing their minds. Meanwhile my sister is completely calm, and so I finally asked her, I'm like, "How are you so calm?" And she said, "Because, look at what they've done to us." That's when she got frustrated. She's like, "We allowed this to happen, and I'm not afraid to die for my country." That's what she said. She had made...because She had been harassed, they attempted to break in her house the other night. They broke into her car twice and trashed it. They sent her death threats. They hacked her phone; they hacked her computer. She knew her life was in danger, and she still kept going because she felt that she had to for the sake of her country, for the sake of our sovereignty. She felt that no one was...like, she had been calling the FBI during the election, and the only and the FBI really finally listened to her was the day Obama called his intelligence report.
On that day she got a call from a woman at the FBI, saying, "Okay, tell us what you know." And so, you know, my sister took great professional and personal risk to do what she did and stick her neck out. She did that for, she did that for you, for all of us, because she really felt that this had to be stopped, that this was an invasion, plain and simple. As a result of that, it was a very painful process, because as we now know, we got confirmation from this great reporting on Vox that Manafort targeted her. Manafort had it out for her. Manafort was going to punish her for exposing him, and that could have gotten incredibly ugly.
Sarah Kendzior: [Yeah, and we should emphasize the timeline here, that the Vox article refers to actions that were taken by Manafort in 2017, particularly in the summer. You know, as more details of what he had done were coming to light to delegitimize her, to threaten her to smear her. And his mechanism for that was the U.S. media. And you know the Vox article describes how of course Trump's propaganda network, Fox News, was a key player in this, in trying to build false equivalencies between what the Trump team had done with Russia. Remember this is right around the time that Don, Jr. was posting evidence of that Trump Tower meeting on his Twitter account with, you know, Andrea's sister's research into Paul Manafort and his life of crime, which, you know, let it be said this was all on, like, Wikipedia.
Sarah Kendzior: I mean, Paul Manafort was a professional Republican operative who had openly aided dictators and oligarchs, and your sister is looking at materials that are in the public domain.
So there's just there's nothing remotely equivalent in that, which you know has been noted by everyone of conscience, but within the mainstream media there are some individuals who also seemed to have it out for her and for you and for me, and went to great lengths to smear her. And, you know, it's much more serious in her case, because she was the canary in the coal mine. You know, she's a central figure in exposing...you know, it was probably the most successful, hostile intelligence operation taken towards the U.S. in its history. And so, you know, do you want to talk about some of those folks who, you know, wrote some questionable shit?
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. No, intelligence expert Malcolm Nance, he wrote the book on this crime as it was happening, The Plot to Hack America. He opens his second chapter on my sister, and Malcolm's always called my sister's case as patient zero. And so all these active measures that they are using to create chaos to weaken us to spread this gaslighting, my sister was targeted with active measures in 2016, and it was a very, very incredibly scary time. There were times when my mother would call me at odd hours, and I would the first thing I think is, "Okay, something happened to my sister. That's why my mom's calling, with the news finally." I was ready to hear that.
So back in during the period of the Trump transition team, my sister got word through a friend that the transition team was asking about her. They were trying to dig up dirt on her. And then around this time, Politico came calling, and there was two reporters there at the time, Ken Vogel and David Stern, and they wanted to interview her, and I don't think, my sister at this point was hoping that the American media was finally catching up to Trump and Russia. And she was desperate for anybody to take her information and put it out there. So, I don't think she'd ever in a million years suspect that an American outlet like Politico or reporters like Ken Vogel and David Stern would want anything else other than truth. And what ends up happening is they publish a story framing my sister as colluding with Ukraine in the 2016 election. And Ken Vogel even tweets it, by saying, you know, "There is no evidence. There is no proof of Trump-Russia collusion, but there is proof of Ukraine-DNC collusion," or whatever the hell he said. But he was really pushing this story as something there there, and she was shocked. She was just absolutely, she felt completely, she was just shocked. I think she just never expected that if...she thought that there was finally a turning point where the American media was gonna take Trump and Russia seriously, and she did not expect to be thrown under the bus like this by an American news outlet that was very much furthering Kremlin propaganda, as we're about to see here. Kremlin interests, rather.
So when this story first came out, the day before Buzzfeed published the Steele dossier, Christopher Steele himself was having a hard time getting anybody in the media take him seriously. And finally, thankfully, BuzzFeed publishes it, and we'll always be indebted to Ben Smith and BuzzFeed for doing that, because thank God they did. The Steele dossier has largely been proven to be correct.
And so people didn't really pay attention to Ken Vogel's piece in Politico about my sister, that hit piece, because it was overshadowed by the Steele dossier. What then happens is you have Putin's Sean Hannity, Dmitry Kiselyov, the chief propagandist. He used to show on NCO 1, which is considered to be like the Kremlin's talk show. He's like Putin's chief guy there, pushing the Kremlin's reactions, talking points and strategy for whatever is going on in the world. Whether it's spreading lies about Ukraine, Obama or the so-called "Gay Illuminati Takeover." [laughter] Kiselyov is like notoriously homophobic. So he runs this segment blaming my sister for making up this Russia-Trump conspiracy, and claims that I helped her, so I make a cameo in this. This is on the heels of Ken Vogel's piece. Fox News jumps on this. Trump's Dmitry Kiselyov, Sean Hannity, is pushing this, framing my sister as being this Illuminati figure who created the Trump-Russia scandal. The bots and social media are pushing this. They still push this. The Kremlin-funded network Sputnik hires Lee Stranahan, a propaganda assassin. He comes from Breitbart, and he's known for terrorizing a small U.S. town with fake news, according to a New York Times investigation. So we could even play a little bit of who Lee Stranahan is, and his ongoing obsession with my sister, which he's paid to be obsessed with her. He's paid by the Kremlin to be obsessed with my sister, and he's relentless in talking about her, and she's even, like, caught like weird cars driving by her house, and other weird things around her home. So we'll play a little bit of Stranahan. We can. And then also a Rachel Maddow segment breaking down who this monster is.
[First audio clip begins] Lee Stranahan: January of 2017, Politico magazine, not a right-wing source, published a story by Ken Vogel and David Stern, not conservative writers, about the DNC-Ukraine collusion. And they detailed how a DNC operative who worked in the Clinton White House named Alexandra Chalupa went to the embassy in March or April of 2016. Right? And said, "I'm here, I'm with the Hillary Clinton campaign." [First audio clip ends]
[Second audio clip begins] Caitlin Dickerson: People who live in town, they were reading online that their town was under assault by dangerous sexual deviants, so they were scared, too.
Rachel Maddow: This is something that, as you say was promoted heavily by a Breitbart you describe in the piece about how Steve Bannon on his Breitbart radio show talked about this daily.
Caitlin Dickerson: Yes.
Rachel Maddow: For a long time. They dispatched a full-time reporter to go to Twin Falls, to not necessarily report on the story, but at least to hype it.
Caitlin Dickerson: Yeah. The reporter's name is Lee Stranahan. Steve Bannon described him as a pit-bull on Breitbart radio and said he was going to let Stranahan loose on the town, and the idea, the conceit, they said, was to reveal the true story, because they were writing and saying on the radio that the local police, the prosecutor, even the local newspaper were involved in a cover-up, that they were trying to conceal the crime, when actually they were just trying to say, "Look, something did happen. It was very unfortunate and very sad. But it doesn't have anything to do with Islam or ISIS or refugee resettlement. It's something sad that happened between two kids.".
Rachel Maddow: Mr. Shanahan has now ended up working for Sputnik?
Caitlin Dickerson: Yes. He quit his job at Breitbart. After Steve Bannon left Breitbart, he said it was being mismanaged, and he now hosts a drive-time radio show.
Rachel Maddow: For Sputnik.
Caitlin Dickerson: For Sputnik, yes.
Rachel Maddow: And one of the things that we've since learned about this incident is that this is this is one of the, for lack of a better term, fake news stories in the United States that Russian operatives latched onto and promoted. But they also appeared to have tried to organize demonstrations around in Twin Falls. They tried to make real life events happen in Twin Falls around this story and those organizing efforts were traced back to Russia.
Caitlin Dickerson: They were. In fact, it's the first known attempt that the Russian government made to conjure up a political rally on American soil, that took place in Twin Falls, in addition to these accounts having spread, again, these false details that we talked about. The protest itself wasn't massively attended. It turns out that a lot of people who were upset about the case were in other states, even other countries. But nevertheless, it happened, and people did show up, and they protested, and all of it was at the behest of these Russian-linked accounts.
Rachel Maddow: Caitlin Dickerson, national immigration reporter for The New York Times. It's an on one level just disgusting, on the other hand absolutely fascinating story. [End second audio clip]
Andrea Chalupa: And then another interesting thing happened. On February 23rd, Ken Vogel releases another hit piece attacking another Manafort opponent. This time it's Ukrainian investigative journalist turned reformer member of Parliament in Ukraine, Serhiy Leschenko, who gave us the Black Ledger story in August 2016 that forced Manafort off the campaign. That was a very key moment. That was when the world was finally waking up to Manafort, thanks to this Ukrainian investigative journalist. But Vogel published a very odd piece, which I called him out for at the time, where he says that Manafort faced blackmail attempts, hacks, just of all these stolen texts were found appearing to be Leschenko trying to blackmail Manafort's family, and saying, "I've got more stuff coming. You know, pay me money and I won't release it." Or something like that.
Well first of all, you know, I've happened to meet Leschenko through my work. Leschenko and I were both speakers at a summit in Prague through funding from the State Department confronting corruption in Ukraine. It was basically a summit that brought together experts on Ukraine, and we were brought into a room to give different presentations on the ongoing fight against corruption, what was working, what wasn't working. And Leschenko of course was there, because he's a leader in the fight against corruption in Ukraine, and I met him, and he's wonderful. He's like a future president of Ukraine material. He's very presidential. He's wonderfully impressive, sophisticated and incredibly intelligent. He was one of the leaders of Ukraine's revolution. His best friend, the investigative journalist Mustafa Nayyem, launched the revolution with a Facebook post. He has lost friends. He's had friends murdered for their reporting, for their activism. His mentor was beheaded by an incredibly corrupt former president of Ukraine. So Leschenko is somebody who has risked his life to do the work that he does. There is no way in hell somebody like that, with that reputation, who has lived this fight for many years now, who has lost friends in this fight, there is no way that he would write text messages that sound like a Nigerian email scam. If you look at these text messages which Vogel writes about, they had the weirdest broken English like a Nigerian email scam. And Leschenko doesn't speak in broken English. He's articulate, he's passionate, he's a grounded, credible investigative journalist, who is a leader of what's good in Ukraine today. So, this was very odd that Ken Vogel is the source of two hit pieces in Politico at the time that both attack opponents of Manafort, two people, my sister and Serhiy Leschenko, that both contributed greatly to bringing down Manafort in the 2016 election.
Sarah Kendzior: And then it keeps going.
Andrea Chalupa: Oh, it keeps going. So, then what happens in June 2017. The harassment at my sister's house picks up again. She calls me and describes all these weird things that are happening around her home, and we were both puzzled as to why the harassment was picking up. And at the same time, you had all these Republican pundits on cable news saying that, "Oh collusion is not a crime." Suddenly they're all saying that. Like, why? And then it turns out we have these bombshells in the New York Times, where it's revealed for the first time that Don, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with representatives of the Kremlin in Trump Tower in June 2016, and it's very clear what would have gone on in there. [It] would have been the quid pro quo meeting, the collusion meeting. And so that explains it. They saw this exposé coming. Of course, the New York Times had to reach out to Trump's team for comment. They were, you know, shaking around looking for information. Of course, the GOP, the far right, got wind of this, and they were already ahead of this story, trying to counteract it with these talking points, saying collusion is not a crime. And at the same time the harassment against my sister picked up. Why is that? Well, we're about to find out.
And so she got spooked again, and at the same time this month, June 2017, I had to go back to Ukraine, so she and I debated whether I should even go at this time, whether it’d be safe for me, because she's being targeted again. I ended up going. It was a quick trip. It was fine. And so just a few weeks later these bombshells then come out, and we see. Okay, so interesting, but why are they harassing you again? So, Don, Jr., being caught in this Trump Tower meeting, everybody thinks, "Oh wow, okay so they've got Don, Jr. now. This is not only a smoking gun. This is a smoking cannon. It's game over for the Trump family. They finally got him." He breaks his silence on Twitter by posting this conspiracy theory that my sister colluded with Ukraine in the 2016 election, and suddenly the Trump family cat laser pointer points to my sister, and the media just jumps on it. And so, for weeks—and Sarah and I watched this in real time—for weeks, the media is debating whether my sister broke laws, whether this claim of Ukraine collusion is credible. Do you remember that, Sarah? What a nightmare that was? Just watching people that are credible in the media and think tanks actually debating this.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, it was awful, and I mean, there are a lot of things people don't understand about, you know, what that kind of experience is like. You know, I think we need to remind everybody about, you know, at the end of 2016, we really saw, you know, very dangerous conspiracy theories being vouched for by people at the highest level of office, or by, you know, their family members or other figures in power.
For example, Michael Flynn, Junior and others pushing the pizzagate conspiracy theory, which nearly led to murder. So, if you are the target of these kind of propagandists, if there is this information about you floating around, getting pushed by trolls, by bots, by paid operatives, and most importantly by the mainstream media, then you have a threat to your life. You have probable cause to be extremely alarmed, and in this administration, you have nowhere to go. There is nowhere that you can go to get protection. You know, that was one of the things that I learned in the fall of 2016, you know, where, as we were both talking about Trump and Russia before that was an acceptable thing to do, and it was during the transition time where I think there was some anxiety on their part about the story getting to the masses. This is why they tried so hard and succeeded at suppressing it at the New York Times. You know, that article, the infamous New York Times article about how the FBI says there's no connection between Trump and Russia—that's not what it originally said. The reporter who did it, Eric Lichtblau, tried to get that information out, and it was basically clamped down on from above, you know, at the highest levels of the New York Times, where they rewrote it so it didn't reflect the truth. And that was when Christopher Steele said, you know, enough with you. I do not trust the Times. He generally didn't trust American media. And it's these sorts of tactics used by the press to demonize or smear people, they have real repercussions for people's lives. And I think your sister is an incredible example of this. And I think it's awful that it continued with no regard for evidence, no regard for facts, no one coming to really get her side of the story. You know, you become a commodity. You become an object.
And I guess, you know, my question remains: why? You know, for people like Ken Vogel, you know, who are climbing this careerist ladder of New York City journalism, why is there even an incentive to do this? Why would it be beneficial to do Paul Manafort's bidding, to print things that were, you know, simply untrue or that could cause a U.S. citizen, a whistleblower, real harm? Like, why is that the way to go? Because that's what we saw over and over throughout 2016 and 2017, is that there is an incentive for people to do that. You know, it was coordinated. The Vox article confirmed that Manafort was directing it. We know Manafort has directed propaganda pieces to be placed in major U.S. outlets before. We know this because he got in trouble for not being able to convert a Word document into a PDF. But, you know, he was trying to do this from jail. This is what he does. He's an operative. He's a propagandist, and he's got his hooks into the mainstream media.
And I don't think that the, you know, there are certain reporters who I think will be outed later as bigger players in that kind of, I don't know if it's a crime, but it's certainly wrong. They were his helpers.
Andrea Chalupa: Well they're certainly complicit.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, they are complicit. You know, they were aware of the repercussions of their actions for the subjects in question. They were aware that they were putting your sister's life in even greater danger, and that they, you know, at times put our lives in danger, and they did not care.
Andrea Chalupa: No. And I think it's important to remember journalists, people, the media may see themselves as Woodward and Bernstein, but there are very few journalists today who actually come to that level of Woodward and Bernstein during the Watergate Era. Very few. And it takes a lot of great personal risk and determination and tenacity to be at that level. I mean, there is a lot of excellent reporting being done, don't get me wrong, but what we're having is this horrible decimation of newsrooms, including very expensive and time-consuming investigative units that have been disappearing steadily over the last several years now. And so, you're left with a much smaller weaker watchdog, and the journalists that remain, they're under pressure for– many media organizations are all about page views and pivoting to video, and, you know, feeding the beast to social media.
But does that feed the public, does that protect the public good? Are you a watchdog against corruption? Which can be very dangerous to be if you're doing it well. And so, you have someone like Ken Vogel who– what was really interesting was that he finally did come out in May 2017 and write a piece that Manafort was directing the Trump strategy in regard to trying to smear Ukraine and turn the tables there. But you know, it was it was too little too late. His damage was already done. I mean, that hit piece he wrote about my sister, it's still going. Trump just the other day was tweeting about the need to investigate the DNC, and, you know, Clinton. And it's as Mueller moves in on the family, as he inevitably must, because, you know, legal experts have said that they should be seriously worried, they're gonna be milking this Ukraine-DNC collusion story because they're desperate. And my sister is still not out of the woods yet by any means. And so, you know, whatever she needs to do to protect herself and feel protected, because we have William Barr now coming in as A.G., William Barr who has been incredibly dismissive towards Mueller's investigation and has said that Hillary Clinton should be investigated. That's dangerous to have someone like that as A.G. I don't care how respectable he looks in a suit and glasses. He's somebody that's going to be furthering, clearly, given where he stands on these incredibly important issues to our democracy. He's somebody that's gonna be protecting this regime and their interest, because he's aligned with them. And so it is a dangerous time. As we keep saying, it's going to get worse before it gets better, and people like my sister are very much targets of what they're going to try to do to protect themselves and distract from all this. And it's incredibly irresponsible and immoral for anybody in the media to further their interests, to be on the side of page views and attention and sensation and furthering your career against uncovering what the truth is. You know, first and foremost, get out of journalism if you can't do that. This isn't about social climbing, it's not about career advancement. Sarah and I were viciously labeled and attacked, and we received death threats, and we had hit piece after hit piece against us in the media for speaking out about the truth, about what was really going on. Meanwhile Ken Vogel writes these manipulative hit pieces and he gets rewarded with a job at the New York Times.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I mean there's an interesting aspect to this, and this has bothered me from the very start of the Trump campaign. Because first of all, you know Trump is a very well-documented public figure. You've got, you know, archives you know 35 years’ worth of scandalous stories. You have the work of people like Wayne Barrett, you know who were on his case from the very beginning, documenting all of the terrible things that Trump had done.
And the thing is this: when you talk about ratings or clicks or a financial incentive to cover Trump, what sells? Sex sells. Crime sells. The Mafia sells. Spies sell. You know, these are like the classic tropes of tabloid media. These are stories, you know Trump, like basically anything in the Steele dossier would have been a blockbuster story had the New York Times told the truth about what the FBI was looking at in terms of the connection between Trump and Russia. That would be a blockbuster story. You see this now. You know, you see very high ratings for people like Rachel Maddow, who has been consistently covering this. You can look at bestselling books, you know, where it's endless fascination with Trump and Russia. So there really wasn't a financial incentive to cover this up. There was something much worse going on. I think there was a political incentive. I've been wondering about the ideology of a lot of the players involved where you see promotion of a white supremacist agenda, promotion of a very conservative agenda. You have that. But what I've really wondered about is that, you know, Trump is a guy who is embedded in business, in entertainment, in politics and in New York City for his entire life. And his family was very much part of New York City you know high society and culture for his whole life. And what that means is that he knows everybody's shit. You know, I did a thread on this. It's got to be at least two years old, I guess it was after Access Hollywood, called the Billy Bush principle, which is basically, you know, for every asshole, you get an equal and opposite asshole, which is what...so you know, you'll get Trump saying something terrible or admitting to some sort of crime or committing a crime with somebody, and then that person also becomes implicated in the conversation or in the act. You know, in the case of Billy Bush, when that tape was finally released, he got fired. Trump went on to become the president. And I think, you know, there's something very wrong in this media culture, in this political culture of New York, and D.C. for that matter. I think that as you said, you know, since the financial crisis, you've seen a gutting of journalism. You've seen outlets desperate to stay afloat. And you've seen a lot of shady people rising to the top, and a lot of nepotism.
If you look at the reporters who have covered Trump in the most favorable light, or covered Kushner in the most favorable light, they are often products of nepotism. They are people that think it's totally normal for Jared and Ivanka to be in the White House due to the fact that they're related to Trump. Because this is, you know, very likely how they got their job as well. And this is their status quo. Trump is their status quo and they want it to continue. You also see things like the influence of PR groups. You know, you could look at Rubenstein PR, which represents Kushner, represented Trump, and also has spent a great deal of time defending some of the worst figures in Trump's orbit, like Jeffrey Epstein. And they often are linked to some members of the press. I mean, it's this awful conflagration of interests that never really gets taken apart because it would cause the media to implode. They would have to look inward. They would have to criticize themselves.
I think, you know, there's a decent chance that many members of the media are afraid of Trump. We know Michael Cohen, for example, threatened to physically hurt reporters. We also know of reporters who were blackmailed. You could look at Mika and Joe, you know on Morning Joe. Trump blackmailed them because of their affair openly on Twitter. We all got to see it. We all got to know about it. That's just what's in the public domain. So, you know, I don't want to speculate exactly on what's driving this. I think it's different things to different people. You know, sometimes it's fear, sometimes it's favor, sometimes just people are screwing up. You know, there are people just making honest mistakes, but the result is an incredibly dangerous environment for anybody who wants to get to the bottom of this corrupt administration and of this campaign. It means that, you know, you risk your life, you risk your career, you risk your family, the people you know I sometimes see on Twitter who seem to think that this is fun, or that this is some sort of race, like who broke it first, or who did it first. I'm just like, I want to live in your world. I want to live in a world where this is abstract and theoretical, and I'm not worried about my safety, or my friend's safety, or my friend's sister's safety, because that's been the reality of the situation for the last two years, and it's enormously stressful. And when I see people kind of immune from that level of stress, I kind of wonder what is going on with them. Do they just not see it or not experience it? Or are they in on it. You know, and I just don't know.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. I think a lot of it is that they're cloistered in privilege and ignorance. And so, if you look at when Ken Vogel put his article out there, he tweeted, I mentioned this earlier, but I want to read the exact words: "There's no proof Russia worked with Trump to hurt Clinton. There is proof Ukraine worked with the Clinton team to hurt Trump." That's how he sold his article framing my sister as working, quote-unquote "colluding" with Ukraine in 2016, which of course we all know is false.
And so he says that after Obama's had the intelligence report come out. So even here, he's going against the assessment of America's intelligence agencies just like Trump, in saying that yes, there was an orchestrated effort to damage one candidate, Hillary Clinton, to help another candidate, which was Trump. And we all know why now. All of this has come out in the open now. And I am relieved that we are now—It's been a painful few years. It's been an absolutely heart-wrenching few years. And so, I am grateful that we’re at least at the point now where this is all mainstream. All the stuff that got Sarah and I attacked and labeled, stupidly, is all now mainstream. And so, there is more to come out. There certainly is more to come out. There's more for the American public and media to wrap its head around. And in the process, it's going to get very ugly, because you know, a wounded monster is going to be lashing out and fighting to the very end. And there's no telling how desperate, what kind of desperate moves the Trump regime is going to make to save themselves. So, don't take any of this for granted. We still need to be organized and ready to fight for 2020, because it's still very dangerous times, and the Kremlin does not care that we know that they're helping him. The Kremlin never cares. That's part of how they operate. They're absolutely brazen. They invaded Crimea with, they had armed combat units in Crimea. And they're like, "Oh no, that's, those aren't our soldiers. We've no idea who that is." They do these things out in the open and just blatantly lie about it. And so, they don't care that we know. And now, you know, Putin has gone on to like admit, "Oh yeah, we took Crimea." So it's like, we're dealing with, our enemies are absolutely shameless. So, prepare for the worst. And you have to do that, because the war is in the mind. They want to psychologically debilitate us. They want to demoralize us. Our greatest power is hope because hope is what keeps the fight alive. Hope is what keeps us vigilant and engaging, because they want us to turn off and just carry on with our business and living our comfortable numbing lives instead of, you know, being involved and trying to stop them. But the minute we stop, you have this this kleptocracy taking hold. All our efforts so far, you know, all of the justice we've seen so far with our system working as well as it can or has been, that stopped Flynn. That took Flynn out of a position of power. Flynn that was, you know, willing to kidnap people with a business partner and send him back to Turkey to be likely killed. Our democracy depends on us staying engaged and fact checking and staying vigilant. And we have to also fact check reporters who are getting it wrong, because these guys, as Sarah pointed out, have all types of motivation. And so I've always sort of, you know, I needed to forgive Ken Vogel. I needed to move on from that, because he has done some good reporting. And so, but then there was a moment this week where a friend of ours, Olga Lautman, who was a researcher on Craig Unger's book, you know Craig Ungar, a contributor Vanity Fair, he wrote this brilliant book called House of Trump, House of Putin. Olga was a researcher on that.
And so Olga DMed us to say, "Oh my god, I'm furious." Because here you have Ken Vogel on Brian Williams show on MSNBC saying that--we can play the audio clip of what he exactly said so you can judge for yourself.
[Audio Clip] Ken Vogel: For the duration of the Trump presidency and even during that campaign, we did have questions about whether Trump was willing to stand up to Russia, even before we knew a lot of these allegations that were laid bare by Mueller and the congressional investigators over the last several months. But the administration has in fact been tough on Russia, and has been in Ukraine's corner steadfastly, providing it with lethal arms, you know, issuing additional sanctions against Russian oligarchs including some who were very close to Vladimir Putin, like Oleg Deripaska. Really unprecedented sanctions in fact. [End audio clip]
Andrea Chalupa: It’s very clear that this is not true. If Trump were tough on Russia, then Russia would have never openly attacked Ukraine in international waters. If Trump was tough on Russia, then Rusal, a company of Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch close to Putin who had Manafort on a 10-million-dollar-a-year contract to advance the Kremlin interests and business and media in the West, who was involved in the whole Russiagate conspiracy, you wouldn't have his company negotiations, ongoing negotiations, to try to avoid U.S. sanctions. You would have had these sanctions that Obama insisted on, the punishment that Obama passed before leaving office to hold Russia accountable for its attack on democracy in 2016, which namely, you know, terrifyingly for the Kremlin and for Russian oligarchs, was the promise of a substantial report exposing corruption in Putin's inner circle. Russians were terrified of this. It turned out they had nothing to worry about because Trump had their back. The Trump administration just basically copied and pasted a Forbes article that was already out there listing rich Russian oligarchs essentially, and not much else. If this report would have been done well and done right in exposing the widespread network of corruption and naming names and embarrassing all of these Russian oligarchs that spread their blood money and their influence throughout Western nations, and send their kids to schools and set them up with trust funds, and you know money laundered apartments in Western nations, naming and shaming them, that could have really changed the course of things, especially leading up to the March 2018 presidential elections in Russia. So, there were all these missed opportunities. Trump--oh, and by the way, no new sanctions against Russia for openly attacking U.S. sailors and kidnapping 24 U.S. sailors and bringing them back to Russia. There are now around 100 political prisoners being held in Russia just out of the Ukraine crisis alone. And the West is doing nothing about that, including Ukrainian filmmaker celebrated by leading filmmakers across Europe and the rest of the world, Oleg Sentsov, who's still on a hunger strike.
Okay, so no, Trump is absolutely not tough on Russia. And on top of that you have the EU, being, the EU is in crisis, because of Russian-backed Brexit. There's now an investigation going on, and there've been wonderful reporters who have been labeled and viciously attacked in the media for putting the dots together, and in exposing the Russian involvement, the Russian influence, including Russian financial backing for Brexit. So there's still a lot more to come to the surface of Russia's involvement with Brexit, which very much serves Russia's interests, because what they want is not chaos. Stop saying that the Kremlin just wants chaos. That's like saying the Kremlin bombed Syria and props up Assad's because it just wants chaos. No. We have an imperialistic Kremlin now. They own Syria now. There was never gonna be a peace deal. John Kerry completely wasted his time trying to negotiate that with the Kremlin. What the Kremlin wants is to have Syria be a vassal state because now they have this geopolitical base there in Syria right on the Mediterranean and that serves their interests. No, the Kremlin does not want to invade Ukraine because they want chaos. No, they want Ukraine. Ukraine is a jewel. They wanted to have a Eurasian Union to compete with the European Union, and that would have fallen apart without Ukraine. They want all those rich gas reserves off the coast of Crimea. They want the rich natural resources and the and all the influence that comes with colonialism, that comes with expanding imperialism.
The Kremlin did what they did to the U.S. not because they want chaos. Chaos is a means to an end. They can't bomb the US like they bomb Syria. They can't have combat units showing up and annexing Brighton Beach like they did with annexing Crimea. So instead they had this asymmetrical warfare that was done thanks to complicit people in the media and the Republican Party, and they were successful because we allowed them to be successful. And what they want, it's not chaos. They want control, and now that the floodgates have been opened, and they've infiltrated the highest levels of the U.S. government, they're gonna go as deep and as far as they can to map us, to understand us, to take all they can so they can further their control and further their influence. So, what does the Kremlin want? They want to serve their own agenda. They don't they don't just want to neutralize their enemies; they want Trump to be like a Yanukovych. They want Trump to be like an Assad and be another Kremlin puppet. That's what they want. And chaos is a means to an end. So, no, Trump has not been tough at all on Russia. You have an EU that's in shambles now because of the Brexit crisis, because the rising threat of the far right, and they can't even pass new sanctions against Russia for openly attacking Ukraine, because there is no strong U.S. leadership, as there was with Obama directing the EU to be united in isolating Russia and passing those sanctions. So anybody that tells you the Kremlin just wants chaos, anybody tells you that Trump's been tough on Russia, they don't know what they're talking about. They're gaslighting you, and we have to continue to expose and hold accountable people in the media for whatever reason getting this story wrong and targeting, targeting innocent people in the process.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah exactly, and I think there are a lot of people because the tactics of Russia are so brazen, you know, they're so in your face, and so are the tactics of Trump. You know, Trump tactics are Kremlin tactics. You know, and those are mafia tactics, and Trump has been using these exact same patterns of behavior, whether threats or bribes or blackmail or just openly confessing to the crimes that he's engaged in in a kind of theatrical way, in a way that covers crime with scandal and that sells this to the masses as spectacle. He's been doing that since his days with Roy Cohn.
And I think in a kind of perverse way that because things are so open, because they are out in people's faces, and the explanation is often so obvious, you know, for example, in the case of sanctions, that people, paradoxically, they refuse to believe it. You know if it's a secret, if it's something that's unearthed by an intelligence agency, then for some reason that has more credibility than Trump just openly confessing to obstruction of justice with Lester Holt, or Donald Trump, Jr. just posting all of his incriminating emails on Twitter. Or Trump prostrating himself to Putin at Helsinki. You know, it causes people to doubt themselves.
You know, that's why we have a show called Gaslit Nation, because people are doubting their gut instincts. They're doubting their own eyes. They're doubting their common sense, and part of the reason they're doing that is because of the coverage, because of the slant of it, because reporters are reluctant to just openly address an alarming situation, because they're so terrified of being labeled as an alarmist. But you should be alarmed, and it's very frustrating. So, you know, I encourage our audience to trust your gut, to look at things clearly, you know, look at them through your own eyes. Look at history, research the parties involved. I'm not saying, you know, dismiss all of the media, because there are people who are working very hard. They're doing a good job. But just, you know, trust your gut, and also think critically about this, because it is weird for people to treat this situation as normal. You know, none of this is normal. Jared and Ivanka being in the White House is not normal. The rotating merry-go-round of horror that is the White House administration is not normal, and your president being a Russian asset is not normal. So, when reporters try to put forth these false equivalencies, this both sides behavior, or just play down the danger that's at hand, either to make themselves feel better or to make their donors and backers feel better, don't buy it. You know, use common sense, because it's all right in front of you.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, I agree, and I think we're gonna close off this episode with some news coming out of Flynn's sentencing. That's still ongoing as we're recording. We have Evan Perez at CNN tweeting this: “Judge Sullivan tells Flynn that serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as national security adviser means, quote, ‘arguably you sold your country out.’ Judge says he can't hide his, quote, ‘My disgust, my disdain.’ Flynn and his lawyers seemed stunned.”
[Audio clip] General voices: Lock him up! Lock him up! [End audio clip]
Andrea Chalupa: Gaslit Nation is produced by Andrea Chalupa and Sarah Kendzior. If you like what we do, leave us a review on iTunes. It helps us reach more listeners. And check out our Patreon. It helps keep us going. Our editor for this was Karlyn Daigle. Original music on Gaslit Nation is produced by David Whitehead, Martin Disenburg, Nick Farr, Damian Arriaga and Karlyn Daigle. Our phenomenal logo was designed by the genius that is Hamish Smith of the New York-based design firm Order. Thank you so much, Hamish. Gaslit Nation would like to thank our supporters at the producer level on Patreon: [names]. Thank you all so much. We could not make the show without you.