Robert Mueller and the Iron Triangles
In the final installment of our three-part series looking back at the 2016 election, we get into the hacking, the recount, the trail of dead Russians, and Robert Mueller's prescient Iron Triangles report, which predicted something like the Trump administration way back in 2011.
Gaslit Nation Episode 003 Transcript
Sarah Kendzior: Hi. I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist and a scholar of authoritarian states focusing on the former Soviet Union.
Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa, writer, journalist, activist, focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine, past and present.
Sarah Kendzior: And this is Gaslit Nation . We're a podcast that's looking at the horror show of the Trump administration. And for the last two episodes we've been doing a review of the events of 2016, in which Andrea and I spent futilely trying to convince others in the US that Trump is a Russian asset, an autocrat in the making, a mobster, a racist, a xenophobe, and other things which were lately obvious but people tended to deny.
So, if you're new to this podcast, I recommend that you go back and visit our first two episodes where we - in particular - talk about Paul Manafort and his arrival on the scene and how the Trump campaign is tied to Russia. This is relevant of course now, as Manafort is on trial and in prison. So, in celebration of that, we're going to be continuing our conversation not just of 2016, but of current events today and things that have happened in the last two weeks.
Sarah Kendzior: But I want to take us back a little further now, all the way back to January 2011. There's this idea out there that nobody really saw the Trump administration coming, that nobody was aware of the crimes he committed. That this was a secret thing that had been newly brought to light in part because the media coverage was so lack luster throughout his campaign. And of course this is offensive in a number of respects.
By “no one” they often mean people like me and Andrea, they mean women, they mean black people, they mean Latinos, they mean gay and lesbians, they mean immigrants. Basically, they mean all the people that are targeted by the Trump administration, because we were all screaming out throughout this campaign exactlyhow bad it's going to be. We did see it coming.
And of course because our media is dominated by wealthy white men on the coast, we fall into the category of “no one,” but there's another “no one” in this scenario. Kind of an interesting case and that person who did see it coming is Bob Mueller, who of course as you know is the lead investigator into Trump's misdeeds, the special council. And so what I want to do now is look back at a January 2011 speech from Mueller on what he called the Iron Triangles of organized criminals, corrupt government officials and business leaders who pose a significant national security threat.
The reason I want to read this is ... Well, you'll see. I mean basically it sounds as if he's laying out the exact group of people who have come to dominate not just our national politics in the US, but politics worldwide. And so this is a speech he gave on organized crime and in particular the rise of the Russian Mafia. I'm going to read some paragraphs of it so here we go.
"We are investigating groups in Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East. And we are seeing cross-pollination between groups that historically have not worked together. Criminals who may never meet, but who share one thing in common: greed. They may be former members of nation-state governments, security services, or the military. These individuals know who and what to target, and how best to do it. They are capitalists and entrepreneurs. But they are also master criminals who move easily between the licit and illicit worlds. And in some cases, these organizations are as forward-leaning as Fortune 500 companies.
This is not “The Sopranos,” with six guys sitting in a diner, shaking down a local business owner for $50 dollars a week. These criminal enterprises are making billions of dollars from human trafficking, health care fraud, computer intrusions, and copyright infringement. They are cornering the market on natural gas, oil, and precious metals, and selling to the highest bidder. These crimes are not easily categorized. Nor can the damage, the dollar loss, or the ripple effects be easily calculated. It is much like a Venn diagram, where one crime intersects with another, in different jurisdictions, and with different groups. How does this impact you? You may not recognize the source, but you will feel the effects. You might pay more for a gallon of gas. You might pay more for a luxury car from overseas. You willpay more for health care, mortgages, clothes, and food.
Yet we are concerned with more than just the financial impact. These groups may infiltrate our businesses. They may provide logistical support to hostile foreign powers. They may try to manipulate those at the highest levels of government. Indeed, these so-called “iron triangles” of organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders pose a significant national security threat."
Sarah Kendzior: So, that was Bob Mueller, at the head of the FBI in January 2011. So, Andrea, how do you think his description holds up today in 2018?
Andrea Chalupa: Bob Mueller, American hero. Yeah. No. Iron Triangles, that's exactly what we're up against and speaking of Iron Triangles, that leads us into a summary of the reality show of terror, the news poisoning we've been undergoing these last two weeks, and so I'm just going to give a quick rundown of some major events and then Sarah and I are going to hold each other, hold you and go into the last installment of 2016.
Sarah Kendzior: And weep and cry.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. This is like ... Okay, so I just want to say because it's been on my mind all day. Our first episode was the McCartney episode, Paul McCartney. The second episode was of course Lennon.
Sarah Kendzior: John, you guys. John Lennon.
Andrea Chalupa: The third episode. John Lennon. So, many Lennons involved in this story. So, the third episode, I wouldn't even say it's a Ringo, I think it's like Pete Best.
Sarah Kendzior: You know that I don't like The Beatles.
Andrea Chalupa: Don't tell them that, we're gonna lose listeners, we're gonna lose listeners! But, yeah, this episode is the Pete Best episode, 'cause it just does not end well. So, forgive us. But the best episode is still yet to come, the George Harrison episode, so stick around for that. And so we just have to get through the rest of 2016. We all know how it ends. Doesn't end well for anybody, certainly not American democracy, certainly not a string of Russian diplomats who mysteriously end up dead starting at the end of 2016.
So, with that, here is our news summary of the last two weeks. Three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic while working on a documentary of the activities of Wagner, the ‘Russian Blackwater’, funded by a successful caterer in St. Petersburg known as Putin's chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin. This is from Vox News.
Prigozhin was among the 13 Russian nationals indicted by special council Robert Mueller in February and is by far the most well known.
His ties to Putin go back to at least 2001. He's worked on everything from election interference to setting up pro-Putin newspapers, to setting up Russian mercenaries to Syria to fight on behalf of Bashar al-Assad's regime. A recent Washington Post report says that he personally approved a Russian mercenary attack on US forces stationed in Eastern Syria in early February. US Intelligence, per the post, intercepted a conversation where he promoted the idea.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. So next up we have, Russian hackers appear to be focused on hacking the US power grids and they're still hacking the 2018 midterm elections. One of their big targets are your Senator, Sarah.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, yeah. My Senator, Claire McCaskill.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. So, they're going after her hardcore. They're trying to really chip away at the Democrats in the Senate even more than we have already in there.
So, we have to focus on Syria 'cause that karma is on all the world, that's how horrible the atrocities are in Syria. We had over 400 volunteers and their families from the White Helmets, angels on earth volunteer medics, who were evacuated from Southwestern Syria, after an offensive by the Syrian military, backed by Russia. The US, UK and other European nations put in a request to Israel which oversaw the evacuation. The White Helmets were a subject of a short documentary which won an Academy Award in 2017. They're an incredible organization that is viciously attacked by Assad and Putin propaganda.
Tragedy in Oakland. 18 year old Nia Wilson was stabbed in the neck at an Oakland BART station by a white man. On the same day the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys were meeting in Oakland. Speaking of Proud Boys, Steve Bannon, the ultimate Proud Boy wants to unite the right, creating a coalition of European far right movements to bring down the EU. He's meeting with Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg on how they can further humiliate white people everywhere. Meanwhile, according to economists, the British economy has slowed down to a standstill largely because of Brexit.
After losing business over boycotts, Ivanka Trump shut down her business. Her name brand store in Trump Tower is still open, however, and she's continuing to apply for trademarks in foreign countries. And this is not great news, because this means she has more time on her hands. She and Jared are known to throw fancy parties which are like catnip to the “Chuck Todd industrial complex” in Washington DC ...
As we warned you in our previous episode, expect Ivanka and Jared to position her to be the first female President, and I totally predict that what they're gonna do is they're gonna have this whole charm offensive in the media when that time comes and they're gonna blame everything on her father: “It wasn't us. You saw how out of control he was. None of that was our fault.” But keep in mind that Ivanka is inside the White House advising the President of the United States. So, the responsibility is on her.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. They've already started doing that. You already saw that with Maggie Habermantrying to build them up and excuse them again and being the court stenographer and palace intrigue tale-teller, but yeah. Don't fall for it. We at Gaslit Nationwill be here to endlessly remind you of Ivanka's various crimes and immorality and lack of qualifications and the fact that she should not be in the White House at all, and that there's ample legal grounds to remove her for lying on her clearance forms.
Andrea Chalupa: Ivanka Trump is working at the highest level of the White House for her father. It's her White House that is separating families, that is putting babies on trial, that is leading to the sexual molestation and now death of innocent children escaping violence, coming here in the long tradition of the American story as immigrants. That's all on Ivanka. That's what's behind that plastic face of hers. Now, moving on with the news, Orange County Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, Putin's congressman. He got caught having meetings with Russian spy Maria Butina who was arrested. And he is one of the chief opponents to Magnitsky, trying to undo that legislation, the Magnitsky Act, which we'll talk about further in today's episode.
Sarah Kendzior: I just want to remind everybody that Dana Rohrabacher almost became the Secretary of State. I just need to throw that in there, 'cause everyone constantly forgets this, that during the time immediately after the election when people were even doubting that there was Russian influence over Trump's campaign and over his politics, Rohrabacher was floated as Secretary of State candidate before Tillerson. Tillerson of course having received the Order of Friendship medal from Putin was a better contender, but that was a giant red flag that Dana Rohrabacher, friend of tyrants worldwide and notorious Putin lackey going back decades. The guy who is rumored to be paid personally by Putin was nearly our Secretary of State. It is a terrible sign of the kind of sway that the Kremlin is holding over this administration.
Andrea Chalupa: But instead we got a more polished Putin lackey, Rex Tillerson who has a Medal of Friendship from Vladimir Putin and as the CEO of Exxon, his company would have made a lot of money by dropping those sanctions and joining the Russians in drilling in the Arctic. Rudy Giuliani, America's racist uncle tells Fox News, collusion's not a crime, so yeah, they colluded. According to his emails, transcripts, legal documents reviewed by the Associated Press, the Moscow lawyerthat promised the Trump Campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting has closer ties to Russian officials than we once thought. Michael Cohen says that the President knew about the 2016 Trump meeting where Don Jr, Jared Kushner and Manafort met with representatives of the Kremlin and he knew in advance.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. Of course he knew. The idea that all these people like "Wow, Trump knew?" I mean, my God. It is such an incredible, it's just an insult to intelligence, it's a literal danger how dense people are about this, how gullible and naïve they are and trusting in this individual who absolutely in no capacity deserves the benefit of the doubt or our trust. This is why I'm worried about our national security issues, is because of course Donald Jr is going to tell his father. And of course state secrets are being shared within the family just as criminal secrets are shared within the family. This is an ongoing pattern. This is how a criminal enterprise operates. It is how the Trump family operates, and… I don't know. I just cannot believe the presumption of innocence can be applied to Donald Trump after 40 years. It just blows my mind.
Andrea Chalupa: He's the perfect example of the “Iron Triangle” that Mueller was warning us about.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes! Yeah. I mean, on his own, but also this entire administration is everything that he warned coming to pass in the news items that you just ticked off are examples of that, of these transnational alliances and all these other various formations that I think were unthinkable maybe a decade ago, but due in part to technology, have risen to the fore in a really frightening way.
Andrea Chalupa: Mueller ... So, I'm gonna finish up the wrap up here of the reality show of terror. Mueller wants to interview Trump about obstruction of justice, meanwhile Trump is on Twitter, essentially obstructing justice, ordering his Attorney General to end the Russian investigation right now, quote, unquote, right now.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. For like the fifth time on Twitter. Like, how many times you have to confess to obstruction of justice on Twitter or on TV with Lester Holt before anything is done. And I love that everyone tiptoes around this. "Gosh, should we charge him? Should we talk about his ..." It's like he did it. He did it openly, and that's honestly one of the things that frightens me and even to touch on this Mueller quote for a while, it's like okay.
We see here a description of this new conglomeration of crime in business and government from 2011 that is dead on, that seems to describe the Trump family, their collaboration with the Kremlin, the collaboration with white supremacists' movements on the rise worldwide, collaboration with corrupt businesses, a lot of the banks that were bailed out in the financial crash in 2008 are now being implicated, players from those banks. And so, he knew. Everyone knew.
Mueller, of course left the FBI in 2013 and was replaced by Comey. One of Comey's actions was to take the head of the Russian mafia off the most wanted list in 2015, which is an odd decision. Anyway, my point about this is people knew about this. Officials knew about this problem.
Mueller was out giving speeches about it and they know about Trump. They knew about him before he came into office, and when he was in office for the last 18 months, he has been doing things, like not just committing obstruction of justice, but doing it blatantly and flagrantly and bragging about it on Twitter. And in response, they have done nothing. They've done nothing but offer condemnation, sometimes strong from the Democrats and tepid from the Republicans, but no actual consequences. And when there are no consequences, there's going to be no political change.
Andrea Chalupa: The Trump admin is looking into lifting sanctions against Rusal, a major Russian aluminum company founded by one of Putin's closest allies, a name familiar to all of us, Oleg Deripaska, who worked close with Paul Manafort for years furthering the interests of Putin's government in Ukraine and in the West. And finally, Manafort has a $15,000 ostrich jacket, which is gross. (Laughs) And it probably looks terrible on him. That's how prosecutors started the first trial that began at a Federal Court in Alexandria Virginia on bank and tax fraud charges. Manafort earned 60 million in Ukraine, laundering 30 million through offshore bank accounts.
He is taking the Nuremberg defense, his team claiming that collecting blood money in Ukraine is just how business is done there. Another fun fact, Manafort spent $500,000 on clothes, meanwhile Sarah and I can't resist a good TJ Maxx. That's the truth.
Sarah Kendzior: Dude, I think he's like in his cell screwing with our podcast.
Andrea Chalupa: (Laughs) Motherfucker, Manafort, I knew it.
Sarah Kendzior: They gave him a computer. They gave him a phone. We know he's not fond of your sister. I mean ... (Laughter)
Andrea Chalupa: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Okay. We need to let our audience to know why we're laughing hysterically.
So, I'm on vacation. I've been talking to Sarah, 'cause I'm catching up talking to my friends on vacation, that's what you do. You catch up on some lost time. We've had conversations no problem. It's been great. Suddenly, we're doing this podcast, we're getting interrupted left and right. Guess what this is bringing flashbacks of? Okay, so since, I would say January 2017, Sarah and I could not talk on the phone without some weird something happening.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. And only each other. It would work when we would talk to other people.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. So, yes. We tried using Signal[app], but we were so disillusioned at that point, we figured, they're in our phones anyway.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. That's honestly one of the reasons that we did this podcast, is 'cause we felt that we were having all these interesting conversations that probably someonewas listening to, so we might as well let everybody in and make it equal access for all, not just for those interested for not so benevolent reasons.
Andrea Chalupa: We're not joking. For an entire year, you would have Sarah's voice slow down, unnaturally slow. You'd have weird clicks. You would have suddenly like a really loud screeching beep, constantly interrupted. I would be about to make a point - getting to the point of the story that was very dramatic that was building, and then suddenly, I would get cut off or she would get cut off, and that would happen to her. It was very clear that somebody was messing with us because the pattern of these weird interruptions was just constant. It was just constantly happening. And guess when they stopped? They just happened to stop when Manafort was arrested.
Sarah Kendzior: I feel so sorry for everyone that had to listen to those conversations.
It was just like our rants and stuff about ...
Andrea Chalupa: No. It was like our focus group. We're like, "They keep listening. Maybe we should start a podcast...”
Sarah Kendzior: Of what we ate for lunch of binged on Netflix, plus Russian politics.
Andrea Chalupa: George Michael, a lot of George Michael.
Sarah Kendzior: George, oh, my God. Yeah. The day George Michael died and we were really, really crying. That must have been incredibly boring for whoever had to listen in, unless they were grieving. Maybe they're with us in some way, but yeah. If this sounds a little choppy to you. That's why. Do we have anything else we want to say before bring everybody back to 2016? Oh, you're gone again. Jesus Christ. Ridiculous. Are you there?
Andrea Chalupa: Our calls are dropping right at some really great punchlines at Manafort's expense.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah! If I say the M word, goodbye call.
Andrea Chalupa: The name that shall not be mentioned. Moving forward. Okay, so we have a great episode for you today. It's great in the sense that it's the last one where you have to relive 2016 with us.
And we go into a controversial topic, election hacking. Some people, their faces melt off when you discuss whether or not Russians were able to change the vote count. The bottom line is whether they did or didn't, for me, it simply does not matter: our election system with racist voter ID laws, gerrymandering, we're already in a big fat mess to begin with. So, and the election was so close for a number of factors, of course you had this Russian propaganda blitz that very much helped the Trump campaign.
You had this whole coalition of stupidity that we were focused on in our show, from a mainstream media that just wasn't ready for an authoritarian-like candidate like Donald Trump, not knowing how to cover him, taking him at his word early on. Really quite frankly, my opinion, what matters more than anything is that the Russians were determinedto hack into our election, and for that very reason, we need to take election security very seriously and we're going to be unpacking that on future episodes with leading experts.
Sarah Kendzior: One thing, you know I agree with everything Andrea was saying, that we had domestic voter suppression methods already in place. We get into this in the episode about the effects of the partial repeal of the VRA [Voting Rights Act]. We also obviously had interference. And then we had this very contentious debate about whether votes themselves were altered. You know, one thing that's interesting to me is that as I mentioned in the previous episode, this is what Harry Reid explicitly warned about. He warned that Russia intended to falsify results, and that's a pretty severe statement coming from a Senator. We do not have any conclusive proof that this happened. We also don't have any proof that this didn't happen.
I think we have a lot of indication that this is something they were trying to accomplish. We know that they hacked into voter roll data bases for example. And I think it's possible that this may have happened, but what this all points to was the need for an audit, immediately after the election, which is something that me and Andrea and Leah McElrathand a lot of other people, basically women, on Twitter, were demanding. We didn't get it. You know, so we don't have the answer that we deserve you know as Harry Reid said, the public has a right to know and we still have the right to know.
But in terms of the 2018 midterms, there are a few things to keep in mind. We need transparency. We need objective proof of how ballots are cast and counted because we know that Trump may try a variety of strategies. They may actually hack the election. They may not hack the election, but if the Democrats win, saythe election was hacked and therefore, a Democrat win is delegitimate. Or they just may not ... They may refuse to concede Roy Moore style, across the board.
I think it's not controversial to say the GOP at this point is trying for one party rule, and that they're going to do everything they can to try to gain that in the midterms. And so we need to have election integrity. There are groups like Let America Votethat are looking into that, and also a very, very high turnout. That's something that even if there is manipulation of our electoral system, that's something that will possibly outweigh even machinations or attempts to manipulate that system. If people come out in droves, cast your vote, don't take it for granted. Definitely don't let the talk of this discourage you from getting out to vote.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely. And if you want to combat the Iron Triangles that Mueller warned us about, if you're looking for hope, 'cause people have tweeted at us asking, "Well, what can we do? Where's the hope?" And we'll tell you: Vote. Talk to other people about voting. Get involved with Swing Left, Flippable, Sister District. Make a plan. Adopt a Swing District. There's so many wonderful great groups now that make it easy for you to get involved and to come up with a strategy to create the ‘Blue Wave’ this November that works with your talents, your busy schedule. Just be a part of it, be a part of the change that we desperately need, because this is really our last chance, America. This really is. And once they get in, the corruption is going to accelerate and we need to all stand strong and work our hearts out right now like never before.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I agree. And I think people who know me know I'm not really one for hope, but I'm also not one for hopelessness. I don't really think about it one way or the other. I like pragmatic action. You should vote like this is the last election you may see in your life, because it might be. And I'm not kidding about that. I'm not saying that lightly.
This is how autocracies are formed. They don't form overnight. Freedoms and rights are chipped away gradually over time and this is a landmark moment, so it's really important. If you believe in the future of this country, if you want a good future for your country, if you want a voice in your country, if you want your children to have a voice, to have rights, to have freedom, to have the things that we are granted through our Constitution, but are being stripped away from us, then get out and vote and try to protect those freedoms.
Andrea Chalupa: Get involved and vote. Now, on with our show. This is Gaslit Nation with Dame Magazine.
Trump: Instead of being held accountable, Hillary is running for President in what looks like a rigged election. It looks to me like a rigged election. The election is being rigged by corrupt media pushing completely false allegations and outright lies in an effort to elect her President.
Speaker 1: Trump has also told people to monitor polling stations.
Speaker 2: They should.
Speaker 3: As Donald Trump has kind of started to go wilder and wilder, I think by all accounts losing the first two debates, he's started to make wild claims, kind of scorched earth claims about the election being rigged, et cetera. So, we have to keep putting out a message and we need to call on everybody to speak out about the fact that we run elections and we run them well here.
Speaker 4: In 2014 in Ukraine, attackers moved to Russia, hacked into the central election counting system and tried to make it so they'd report the wrong results in order to discredit the election. That's a realistic threat here too.
Andrea Chalupa: November 4, 2016, you have a mysterious tweet from Paul Manafort who everyone sort of just assumed was gone because he resigned from the campaign. But Manafort being Manafort and Trump being Trump and operating from this mafia loyalty doctrine, Manafort never really went away. And so on November 4, 2016, he reemerges, breaks his silence on Twitter and tweets, "Battleground states moving to Trump en masse. Media not liking the pattern. By Sunday Trump will be over 270 in polls." It's like saying that the earth is flat. That's how ridiculous this tweet sounds. So, what is Manafort doing here?
Sarah Kendzior: He's giving up his game.
Andrea Chalupa: He knows that they threw everything at the wall to see what would stick. They had the stolen Facebook data. They were pumping out all these social media ads. They're using Cambridge Analytica which was this social media nuclear weapon out of London directing all this anti-Hillary hate and pro-Trump nonsense, targeting voters across America that fit an authoritarian profile. So they were driving out the vote, bringing out voters that are authoritarian. Then you had Russian hackers infiltrating US election systems across the country, targeting nearly 50 of our states (that we know of so far at least).
Sarah Kendzior: And targeting the voter databases because in 2013, the VRA [Voting Rights Act] was partially repealed. We had new voter ID laws that everyone knew were going to disenfranchise voters. And I do think that voters were disenfranchised through the traditional way. But I kept saying at the time, if I were Russia, what I would do is just exploit that pattern, because we all know what's going to happen. It would be very hard to prove. You would say, "Oh, this is just a result of American racism," which I'm sure there was some that was a result of American racism. But I also think it's quite likely that some of it was a result of Russian hacking and people being turned away and it's untraceable. And finally, a couple months ago, after I've been saying this for like a year and a half and called a lunatic, they admitted, the government admitted that that is probably a thing that happened or at least the investigatory committee has admitted that.
Andrea Chalupa: Exactly. And then you have a Kardashian candidate that knows how to manipulate the pressand turn CNN into his own reality show.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. Turns basically all the networks. I mean there really wasn't an exception.
Andrea Chalupa: And everything he's saying is amplifying Russian propaganda. They're all in lock step with each other. And then you had Wikileaks that is like a hero of the Left, Ed Snowden left, who's dropping all these bombshells in the name of transparency, even though it's like he's getting all this hacked material from the Kremlin which is one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world today. So, all of this created ... And then you had these well-funded backers of Betsy DeVos and others, these billionaires. We have deep systemic rot that allowed this perfect storm to happen in the first place. Sarah and I aren't seeing Russians everywhere. We're seeing the American cancer everywhere. And the fact that a determined hostile regime was able to take advantage of our many weaknesses that for so long [have] gone untreated. That's it.
Speaker: As we come down on the ice and right now it's 168 Trump, Clinton 109.
You've been watching Florida. You don't think it's going well for Clinton.
Speaker: I don't. And I think North Carolina's trending Trump here. Look, first of all, Ohio, little historical nugget. Last time somebody didn't win the White House while winning Ohio was in 1916, Richard Nixon. Ohio is -- and no Republican -- you have to win Ohio to win the White House, Trump has done it.
Andrea Chalupa: Finally, Election Day. The day when we're all like, "Finally it's over.
Hillary is going to be President. First woman President. Victory.
Sarah Kendzior: Although even those who thought Hillary, people were bracing for civil war. I wasn't sure. I felt like it was going to be like 2000, which is what it was. It was like 2000. But I thought that it was gonna linger on in a new horrific way even if Hillary won.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. You're exactly right. Thank you so much for yeah ... Because what we had was the same thing you had in the UK under Brexit.
You had the right wing media getting their racist deplorable base frothing in the mouth. They really triggered the racism in their base and you had - and that resulted in the murder of Jo Cox who was a bright star, who could have really done a lot of good for her country and was taken too soon. So we had one murder as a result of their operation. And so what we feared in the US, they were repeating, the right wing propaganda machine was repeating the same formula.
Sarah Kendzior: And they were arming up. And that's the thing.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes.
Sarah Kendzior: I live in Missouri-
Andrea Chalupa: Their base were like Brown Shirts.
Sarah Kendzior: I was watching people, 'cause I was covering the campaigns, you know, people invest money in all of this gear. They go to stores. There's a store here called Tactical Shit. People were going there and buying weaponry for what they thought was a new civil war. And I'm not saying a lot of people were doing this. It really wasn't that many people. You don't need that many people to cause an incredible amount of trouble.
Andrea Chalupa: Exactly.
Sarah Kendzior: There were Trump fans off you know, near Kansas City, who were planning to blow up an apartment of Somali immigrants in retaliation for what they thought to be a rigged election.
So, that's what I was sort of bracing for unless Trump won and then if Trump won I was like, "We are going to be ..." And I don't wanna say a Russian proxy state, but I was like, "We are going to be dominated by Russia." And the country freaks out.
Andrea Chalupa: But you have Pizzagate already in effect, so when the Russians stole the Democrats emails and leaked them through Wikileaks, there were doctored emails claiming that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, was part of this pedophile ring being ran out of a popular family pizza parlor called Comet Ping Pong in Washington DC, in a neighborhood where a lot of influential people in media and in government happen to live nearby. And one of the owners had a connection to Clinton.
And even though this place had no basement, this whole massive whirlwind of a conspiracy theory that was being inflamed by Michael Flynn and his son on Twitterand elsewhere and being amplified as well by Russian bots, you know, Russian propaganda and far right propaganda. And all of it led to of course a violent conclusion, where a young man from North Carolina drove up and shot up the pizza place with families inside eating, and someone could have been killed. So, that is Pizzagate which shows that once again, as we've seen in Ukraine, as we've seen in Syria, as we've now seen in America and as we saw of course in the UK, with Jo Cox. Propaganda kills. And again we have to go back to that Harvard study that said that far right media controlled the narrative in this election. And that the New York Times played into that and amplified far right media and helped legitimize it.
Sarah Kendzior: Well, at this point, also, a number of publications including the Times, unfortunately, Mother Jones, or generally like the New York Times, were writing puff pieces about Nazis. This became a thing.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. The ‘Dapper Nazi Chronicles.’
Sarah Kendzior: The ‘Dapper Nazi’ began to appear everywhere as fashion sense, the fact that he's “just like us.” And amazingly, I think that they all thought Hillary was going to win and then we'd be dealing with this sort of Nazi uprising on the fringe, trying to move towards the center. Instead, we get Nazis in the White House. We get Steve Bannon, we get Steve Miller. We get people...
Andrea Chalupa: The Stephen Miller who's still in the White House ... And they're destroying lives and they're destroying families.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. They're dictating policy, dictating policy that is very much like Nazi Germany in terms of how they treat immigrants and it's a serious problem. The New York Times does not think it's a serious problem. They wrote an article praising Steven Miller and published purposely on Holocaust Remembrance Day. That was this year.
Andrea Chalupa: It's impossible. So the thing is the fact that we keep jumping to the present, even though we're trying to talk through 2016 just underlines the fact of how everything from that year is unfortunately still so current.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: We're still repeating these patterns of abuse in the media and the Nazis are still in power. That's why when you talk about 2016, you're talking about 2018 and unfortunately, I'm sure, 2019.
Sarah Kendzior: And a lot of it has to do with how people accept different narratives and what they're willing to believe is true, and I think that there's this unwillingness to believe that the worst can happen in every respect, that Trump could win the primary, that he could win the general [election], that he would carry out these policies. And here we are two years later with I think the most viscerally upsetting of all of his policies, which is the separation of children from parents, you know the abuse of children in these camps.
Andrea Chalupa: You know, I cried today talking about this.
Sarah Kendzior: So of course we can't get past that because you look at these moments and how it was preventable and it's been preventable for two years, but people continue to refuse to admit the truth. They refuse to admit the worst can happen, and in doing so, they ensure that it does. And that's what, I'm hoping at least, with this podcast, with other stuff we do, we at least can get across that yes, the worst can happen, yes it will happen from people you think you trust. Institutions you think you trust.
Andrea Chalupa: Democracy is fragile. Institutions are fragile.
Sarah Kendzior: Unless people step up and part of stepping up is simply telling the truth and educating people but also there are, we can only do so much. There are people in positions of power who need to act on behalf of the most vulnerable and on behalf of babies who literally do not have the capacity to speak for themselves. You know, and on behalf of American citizens. And they're just refusing to do it for a number of reasons, but let's... We'll get into this election. So election night happens and then I...
Andrea Chalupa: Election night. Okay. So, this is what happened. So, my sister had a hell of a year, as we all know. And so I insisted that she come with me to Miami, Florida, where I thought that that would be a nice sisterly thing to do. We would knock on some doors, get out the vote for Hillary. No matter what I was doing with my life, I would take a few days off for the election and get out the vote, and I chose Miami for us and I thought we need a vacation from this hell. And I was so confident Hillary was going to win that I left my laptop at home. Which gets interesting given what we had to do within hours of the election.
But so, November 8, 2016, my sister and I are in South Beach, knocking on doors and we watch the results rolling in from a gay bar in South Beach. And I happened to be standing with some British MPs watching the map and the map is turning red. And I say to the British MPs, "Get the hell away from me. You're bringing your bad luck from Brexit." 'Cause they were in town 'cause they wanted to stop ... They were liberals of course, they wanted to stop Brexit happening in the US. They came over to help us…
Sarah Kendzior: Valiant attempt.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. At a certain point I was like, "I need to get away from these guys." You know? And as I was leaving them, I turned back around and I said, and this was before the map was called for Trump. This was before. And as I was leaving them I turned back to them, and I said, "Hey, how did it feel that night when Brexit was called?" 'Cause I needed some help. I realized that things could really turn. And they said, "You know what, you're gonna be shocked tonight if the worst happens and then tomorrow you're gonna wake up screaming." And I was like, "Okay. Well, now get away from me." And I ran off with my sister.
And we got home and I remember the first phone call, watching it come in and the first phone call came from a female friend who's also black and one of the strongest people I know, and it was this was the first time in my life I ever heard her cry. And then, my sister, God bless her, and something that people have to understand about my sister, 'cause I know she's written about in the press and she's written about in books, and it’s that she has this very cool, calmness that's so admirable. And she had it that night.
This is a woman whose life I feared for of course, and I knew with Trump in power, that meant Manafort's in power. And I knew they were gonna come after her and they did. The entire White House focused on her, went after her and tried to get her arrested.
Like in the FBI confirmation hearing of Christopher Wray: Lindsey Graham, that GOP senator, that people in the resistance like to point to as their one hope who's not. He asked Christopher Wray whether he was gonna investigate my sister. That was brought up in the FBI Director's confirmation hearing, okay? That was what the future held for my sister, and in that moment on election night, my sister, who knew her life was in danger, her future was in danger, she was so calm and cool headed. And she took it upon herself to write a memo to Hillary Clinton as top as she can go. She doesn't have direct access to Hillary. She's not a Hillary operative by any means. She had already resigned from the DNC at this point because of everything that was going on.
And she just took it upon herself as a citizen to write this memo and I want to read some of it now because it's like I have to tell you, this is a woman who knows that her future's completely under threat now and she's a mother of three little girls. And yet, when the unthinkable happens, she's lucid enough to really put out the Bat-Signal. The other thing you have to understand about her is that she's the well behaved one out of two of us. She's a very private person. And she's very sensitive. And she's very careful, cautious. That's what makes her a perfect person for DC, where everything is all about discretion. So, she's not like some flashy social media person, by any means. And the fact that she not only sent her memo to as high as she could go in the Clinton organization, but also put it on Facebook, is unheard of. That's not my sister. My sister like, overthinks things, is so careful and she put it on Facebook. That's massive. And that went viral, 3:00 AM on election night, and that's when the resistance to Trump officially begins.
"Regardless of Hillary Clinton’s concession, a close analysis must be done of the actual voting results (machine tabulations and paper ballots cast) versus the vote reporting (to the board of elections and Secretary of State offices). Some important facts collectively warrant this:
1) Russians have heavily influenced this election for the past six months and have successfully hacked into the election systems of more than half the states in the country;
2) Major public polls and the Clinton campaign's internal polls were historically off the mark, and in the campaign's case, didn't match the voter file records, which is unheard of to this level. This is especially odd considering that Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook is one the most brilliant in politics when it comes to micro-targeting and voter analysis. Even GOP strategist and pollster Frank Luntz called the 2016 exit polls “the worst and least accurate we’ve ever seen,” in a Tweet sent on election night.
3) Homeland Security/DOJ teamed up with a group that is part of Anonymous based in Washington, D.C. called “The Protectors.” This group saw a lot of activity during Election Day from the Russians and believe that the voting results projected don’t match the internal and public polls because the voting results were manufactured in favor of Trump in heavily
Republican counties in key states, and voting results may have been decreased for Clinton in key Democratic counties via malware that was placed by the Russians when they hacked the election systems of more than half our states.
4) Trump/Manafort set-up the “rigged election” narrative months ago preparing for exactly this
scenario. This is straight out of Manafort’s playbook, and Putin’s, too — accuse the other side of doing what you’re doing so that you cannot be accused of doing it. There is no short supply of examples of this: Putin regularly accuses the US of meddling in Russia’s affairs when he annexed Crimea, invaded east Ukraine, and holds sham elections in Russia.
5) Kellyanne Conway, an expert conservative pollster, was selected as Trump’s campaign manager when Paul Manafort took too much heat about his Russian connections and “resigned” (though he has likely continued to be involved behind the scenes and continues to have a residence in Trump Towers), and Conway helped lead messaging that polls were all wrong and that Trump has “shadow supporters,” a term that mainstream journalists echoed as the election results began to favor Trump.
6) Paul Manafort, who has heavy ties to the Kremlin, is being federally investigated for his work in Ukraine, was virtually silent since resigning from Trump’s campaign a few months ago, but sent his first tweet since resigning last week saying that by the Sunday before the election Trump would have the 270 votes needed to win (despite internal and public polls saying otherwise).
Something seems very off and needs to be closely examined. Homeland Security/DOJ should be able to verify this, even though Clinton conceded.”
Sarah Kendzior: So, it's all there on November 9.
Andrea Chalupa: November 9, 3:00 AM when she published that.
Sarah Kendzior: All the things that the media struggled for two years to try to even acknowledge, much less piece together was there. You know, and that was the same thing ... I was thinking the same thing in part because I was watching the results from Missouri and I know my state well. I know what kind of margins to expect, and that more than even the national results, made me wonder about whether votes were suppressed, about whether this was manipulated. And so that's when I called you at 3:00 AM.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes. You and I were on the phone.
Sarah Kendzior: 'Cause we did not go to sleep that day. (Laughs)
Andrea Chalupa: Right. Yeah. So, we were on the phone. My sister was crafting her memo and that was the start of the resistance as far as I'm concerned.
Sarah Kendzior: I just remember we were like, "Is anyone doing anything about this? Is anyone looking into any of this?"
Andrea Chalupa: Where are the adults?
Sarah Kendzior: Where are the adults?
Andrea Chalupa: Where are the institutions that are supposed to protect us?
Sarah Kendzior: And then it's like, "No one's gonna do anything are they?" It was the same conversation we'd been having for a week when we were noticing about the behavior of the FBI, when we were looking at Harry Reid’s letter and the lack of response to it, we were looking at people proclaiming that there had been a coup, we're here looking at Russian actions.
Andrea Chalupa: We're like, "Where's mom and dad?"
Sarah Kendzior: And then of course that same day, a Russian official said, "Yes. We did it." Everyone forgets that, you know, that that happened on November 10. That they outright admitted it. And it's the same mentality.
Andrea Chalupa: The Trump campaign, throughout the election like the Russian -
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. And they were telling the truth about that. It's the same mentality that led Manafort to tweet in advance and brag of the results, it's the same mentality that leads Trump and Trump Jr. to confess to so many crimes. They love to flaunt it as long as they don't think that any actual punishment awaits.
Andrea Chalupa: Right.
Sarah Kendzior: And why would they think that any punishment awaits. No one did anything. Nobody did anything to stop it with the exception of basically Harry Reid and Christopher Steele. They allowed this mafia manifestation that had been in operation for a decade that Mueller has warned about.
Andrea Chalupa: It's a mafia coalition essentially.
Sarah Kendzior: Since 2011.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah.
Sarah Kendzior: To win. To capture the country and it still has it.
Andrea Chalupa: Corruption is a powerful force. Corruption's the norm. The fact that Americans are so shocked by this just shows how shelteredwe are as a country.
Sarah Kendzior: It's about how we think of corruption I think. People have to reevaluate what they're willing to accept and what they expect, but yeah. I guess we can get to ... Then we start demanding a recount because nobody else is. So we're like, "Well, we'll do it."
Andrea Chalupa: (Laughs) This is where things become like a bad romantic comedy.
Sarah Kendzior: Really weird. Oh, God.
Andrea Chalupa: With geopolitical consequences. November 9, 2016, at 5:30 AM, my sister posts, hits publish on her memo on Facebook. It goes viral. Two days later, Buzzfeed runs a story that says, "Election officials say there is “no basis” to rumors that Russia rigged the vote for Trump." And my heart sank. I was like, "How can they write this? This isn't true."
Sarah Kendzior: How can they write it so definitively? I mean we weren't even ... We were just saying, we want an investigation to make sure the election integrity is upheld, to make sure that our system is in order, to find out whether all of these actions that had happened of Trump having various linkages to Russia.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. And [Buzzfeed Editor-In-Chief] Ben Smith was like, "Guys, it wasn't hacked. Like here's the article on it." And again, this was just like the October 31, New York Times article saying, "The FBI sees no links between Russia and Trump." It was that definitive.
Sarah Kendzior: And it's like if you ask questions, you then become a conspiracy theorist, and I'm like, "I don't have a theory per se. I have questions." Questions as an American citizen that we deserve to have answered. And they're very basic questions and they're reasonable questions and we were ... It was put forward that to even broach the topic was to be unreasonable, to be a sore loser. And I'm not someone who's sentimental at all about politicians. I don't have any ... I think of them as public servants. It's their job to work for me. And so I wasn't like, "Oh, my God. Hillary's not in. It's not a woman president, blah, blah, blah." These things that people try to assign to me because of my gender and to you because of your gender, it wasn't about that. It was about the integrity of the election.
Andrea Chalupa: Our conversations that you and I ... You and I basically forgot about our husbands for the entire month of November and just talked to each other religiously. And my husband kept asking me, "Who is this Sarah. What's going on?" And so you and I are constantly on the phone. And it was never about Hillary with us.
Sarah Kendzior: No. It was about America.
Andrea Chalupa: We were like: America is deeply diseased, and we had a determined hostile regime, totally take advantage of our weaknesses and now we may not have sovereignty and what does this mean? How bad are the laws gonna get here? How restricted will we now be as a republic?
Sarah Kendzior: And we felt this urgency. We didn't know what would happen ...
Andrea Chalupa: We felt the walls closing in.
Sarah Kendzior: ... the minute that he would be inaugurated. We didn't know. We knew it was gonna be a kleptocracy, we knew it was going to be repressive. We knew the most vulnerable would be targeted first and that's not us. That's immigrants...
Andrea Chalupa: So for me, people have to understand that I lived, I had to save my sister. I had to save my sister. And so, I was calling everybody. The smartest people I knew saying, "Could you please help me dig into the numbers to compare the polls and look at the actual, the voting data, can we please look at this?" And one friend who's brilliant, who works as a data scientist for elections, for campaigns, he was saying, "Andrea, you have to be so careful with this. I'm not saying you're not right, but you have to be so careful because you know there was that secret server story."
The Alpha Bank server was communicating with the organization in New York. What was that? And that was debunked. (Now we know it wasn't.) “But like that was debunked. The New York Times debunked that, you have to be so careful and really write, whatever you do, make sure it's above reproach.” And I was like, okay. So understand that that New York Times story was still hurting us from October 31. That was not some benign story that came and went. That was what was making us look crazy to everyone when we were trying to scream about Trump and Russia.
Sarah Kendzior: Exactly. Yeah. It was constantly thrown back at us and it was a lie. And this whole thing-
Andrea Chalupa: It was one of the biggest lies in journalism.
Sarah Kendzior: And they never explained it. They fired the public editor. They removed the position. [crosstalk] For commenting-
Andrea Chalupa: They banned their public editor who called them out for their Trump and Russia coverage and said, you know, we really were asleep on that.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. On November 5, before the election.
Andrea Chalupa: Right.
Sarah Kendzior: They called out the New York Times on it and they warned that this was the biggest untold story of the year and that somebody needed to tell it and that the New York Times had failed the public. That public editor is gone and then they said the public would be the new public editor, but whatever we criticize [laughs] we get a mob attack from New York Times reporters, which is a really... You know, I've written for the New York Times a few times, it was fine. It was a pleasant enough experience and it was very weird to see this mob mentality emerge, where if you criticize them they all...
Andrea Chalupa: It's bizarre.
Sarah Kendzior: - convulse on you because there are still many good reporters there. Their op-ed columnist, Charles Blow, Paul Krugman that I really like. And I can't imagine what it's like for them, working in this kind of environment, because as you say, it's conformity. It's a kind of rigid conformity, it's stomping down questions, it's ignoring issues of national security and it's denying issues that are hurting the most vulnerable Americans, people who often, like these little kids, don't even have a voice and stomping that out so that Trump's interest can be served. Like I don't understand another objective but anyway so then we launched ‘audit the vote.’
Andrea Chalupa: So, within days, within days of the election, I'm calling the smartest people I know, and I'm saying please help me research this, dig into these voter files. My sister is not sleeping. She's digging into the numbers with her husband, and I'm trying to pull more people into this 'cause it's such an overwhelming task. And I'm getting different reactions.
Sarah Kendzior: Part of it was fear of looking stupid, which I don't care about, but the other part was legit fear for their lives.
Andrea Chalupa: Exactly.
Sarah Kendzior: 'Cause they were dealing with a lot of the same things as your sister.
Andrea Chalupa: Another friend in Kyiv, American documentary film-maker, at first he's like, "I wanna do a documentary on this. I wanna do a documentary of your sister." And then he calls me back, he's like, "I can't do it." 'Cause he's too scared. He was too scared. And then another guy who is brilliant, he was like, "I talked to my wife about this and how dare you ask me to do this?" And so again, I felt totally alone, and then I go to Twitter, and I forgot about the magic of Twitter, when Twitter does work out -
Sarah Kendzior: Right.
Andrea Chalupa: - and people across America, complete strangers, took it upon themselves just because of my sister's memo, to dig into these numbers themselves, and Americans started crowdsourcing and creating all of these DM groups and I was calling the computer scientists who had warned us about this during the election, and one of them connected me to his grad student who was like, "Let's talk."
And so I was funneling the research that was coming off of Twitter to the computer scientists who were begging the Hillary campaign, the Clinton campaign to step forward and call recounts in the states. And so everybody that I called, election data scientists, had just talked to Mark Elias- the lawyer for the Democrats and Obama and Hillary - and John Podesta. So, the Clinton campaign was looking into this and we were making so much noise on Twitter because we needed Hillary Clinton to step forward and call a recount, because these numbers were so widely offfrom what all the polls were saying.
Sarah Kendzior: And there was legitimate reason to ask questions.
Andrea Chalupa: Legitimate reasons. This was not a normal election.
Sarah Kendzior: Completely reasonable questions. Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: It was not a normal election. So we were constantly on the phone like, "Who did you talk to? What did you hear?" My sister, God bless her, calm throughout all of this, all of this. And the intel that she was collecting from all types of experts who were also calling. Everybody was calling everybody.
Sarah Kendzior: Right.
Andrea Chalupa: I was talking to so many Republican operatives.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. That was the other weird thing. We were both talking to all these Republicans… [laughs]
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah.
Sarah Kendzior: …that hated Trump because it was sort of like if you can find someone who understood Russian history, who understood that this really could get this bad. People kept saying, "He'll be checked. Congress will ..." The people who I trusted the most were like the ones that realized this was extremely abnormal. That the normal limitations and regulations were not going to hold. That Trump would get in. He would rewrite the laws. That it would only be about enhancing them. That he wouldn't care here. Those were the people I trusted and it didn't matter what kind of party they were from. They were often people I disagreed with in every other facet, but there you go.
Andrea Chalupa: For years computer scientists have been telling us we have to do something about election security. Our election systems are vulnerable to hackers. Here is Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, just days before the election in an interview with Voice of America.
Alex Halderman: We were able to develop a voting machine virus that would silently spread from machine to machine going from a single point of infection to compromise an entire county maybe even an entire state.
Narrator: Alex Halderman is a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. He's been studying electronic voting machines for more than a decade.
Alex Halderman: When I started working in election systems, the concern was somewhat academic. Someone could hack in and tamper with votes. But over the last 10 years, the rise of nation state attackers has really upped the ante.
Narrator: And attackers don't have to steal votes to taint an election he adds.
Alex Halderman: In 2014 in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia hacked into the election counting system and tried to make it so they'd report the wrong results in order to discredit the election. That's a realistic threat here too.
Narrator: Or hackers could tamper with voter rules, preventing registered voters from casting ballots.
Alex Halderman: I just hope the election isn't close.
Narrator: But polls in Ohio and some other battle ground states are close as election day nears.
Speaker: Nearly three weeks now after Election Day and the recount set to begin in Wisconsin and perhaps two more battleground states, Michigan and Pennsylvania. A little more than a 100,000 votes in those three states deciding this election, ABC's David Wright is in Madison with the President-Elect, outraged over the recount and the Clinton team very careful to point out they are not leading this charge.
Andrea Chalupa: We were really trying to stop him from taking office, because we saw where we were all headed, obviously.
Sarah Kendzior: And the thing is once somebody like that gets in ... This is what I kept telling everyone. Once an autocrat gets in, it is very, very hard to get them out because they will rewrite the laws in their own favor. And then it also becomes impossible to investigate the corruption that they've committed, which we've seen firsthand as he's fired Comey, and has shot down this investigation.
So we basically felt like we had two months. And I was tweeting that. I was like we have two months to solvewhat happened, to try to get some sort of system that has integrity and objectivity in place to check him which is obviously not happening with Congress 'cause we were watching everybody just fall in line. So, yeah. We thought an audit would be an objective process that could maybe shed some light on what had occurred and then ...
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. And to be clear, Sarah and I were just on Twitter and trying to collect whatever information we could from anybody of any influence of any expertise and share it with the public 'cause we felt that they had the right to know because people were desperate to understand what was happening. And we had nothing to do with the recount campaignsthemselves, which were being driven by computer scientists across the country.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. We were just amplifying them.
Andrea Chalupa: Like Alex Halderman at the University of Michigan. He was an intrinsic person at the heart of all this, of the recounts. And you know, out of her own opportunism, Jill Stein stepped up. She called a recount and people threw money at it and yes I shared the link to raise money for her. I'm sure you did too, Sarah, because ...
Sarah Kendzior: I did not actually.
Andrea Chalupa: Share the link?
Sarah Kendzior: I did not share the link to raise money. I shared the audit the vote hashtag over and over because I wanted to audit the vote ... I mean, I just couldn't. It was Jill Stein and I don't ... I mean, I totally understand why people did, because it's like if you get the audit, then it doesn't matter who brought the audit about. I wasn't sure what Jill Stein was going to do with that money. Yeah. I don't know. I mean, maybe I might have retweeted it, but I was mostly like it's the principle of this. We need an investigation into what happened. We need an audit. We need an objective process to measure this. And I was glad at the time, "Okay. She's bringing this to a greater number of people. She's publicizing the issue. She's calling for it. That's good." I didn't trust her from the election as an individual.
Andrea Chalupa: I kept texting a computer scientist who was involved in compiling the research. The research that went before the Clinton campaign to try to convince them and the research that went into calling for the recount. And I was like, "Jill Stein? Are you kidding me?"
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I remember we were both just like JillStein?
Andrea Chalupa: We were ... I said dbefore we go public with this ... It had already been announced, but before we ... Like, before we ... You know. Jill Stein? And it was ...
We were trying with every candidate like Evan McMullin.
Sarah Kendzior: It can't even be Gary Johnson. It has to be Jill Stein.
Andrea Chalupa: It was like anybody that had any standing in the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania – those three key battleground states that mysteriously turned for Trump in the final hours. And yes, Hillary didn't go to Wisconsin. And Paul Manafort advised Trump to go to those states and he did which also looks like they were setting up the narrative.
Sarah Kendzior: Anyway. That didn't work. We didn't get an audit as we all know because we're still stuck with only now little bits and pieces being revealed by people who examined the technology of the election. First it's 21 states that were compromised and it's 39 states that are compromised. And they're finally admitting what we had suspected all along, that this wasn't just a mass propaganda operation which might have been immoral, but technically legal, I suppose, unless that you look at the finances were illegal. But that there is actual interference into how we voted, which is a really frightening thing because as we know they've done nothing to address those problems for the 2018 midterms, but we're planning to do another podcast devoted to that and what awaits us in November.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. Election security. The thing is that what was amazing about the computer scientists that were at the heart of the recounts, that led the recounts, drove the recounts, that provided Jill Stein what she needed to go to court, who finally had their moment in the sun after warning us for years that something like this could happen. And so, you know, you can't blame the computer scientists for ... They just needed a candidate to come forward. They were really pushing for Clinton, Clinton being very ... This is very unprecedented, no one knew how to react to this election year.
Andrea Chalupa: People were in a fog of war and plus Pizzagate, which was terrorizing a neighborhood in Washington DC. That played a big part of it because it was driving this hate filled propaganda targeting a family pizza parlor, saying that there was a sex dungeon in the basement driven by Podesta and Clinton. And it was the propaganda around it was so disgusting, so aggressive that you really felt that there could be a Jo Cox murder-type murder happening during this time. People just did not feel safe. Trump's base was active as Brown Shirts. You know, we felt like militias could come out and just...
Sarah Kendzior: And there's also a lot of Russian activity. There were also a continuation of the death threats that had prevailed throughout the campaign.
Andrea Chalupa: The bots were still very active.
Sarah Kendzior: Happening to a number of journalists, a number of officials. I think we still don't know the full story about that.
Andrea Chalupa: So, I don't blame Clinton for not stepping forward. I think there's huge disappointment and it's unfortunate we had such a terrible person as Jill Stein who lacks credibility especially given that she was at that RT [Russia Today] dinner at Moscow with Michael Flynn, seated with Michael Flynn and Putin. You know and during the recount I was getting updates from a computer scientist who was involved and also with organizers on the ground in Wisconsin and basically what happened was Trump outspent us. He got his goon lawyers there on the ground and really intimidated people that were recounting the ballots.
There was like three Trump lawyers for each person counting the ballots. Crazy stuff like that we were hearing. And he just did whatever he could, flooded those states with money to shut down the recounts and the recounts laws were such that you really couldn't get ... It turns out you really couldn't get a thorough vote audit anyway. And so, I mean the only silver lining to this is that those computer scientists finally had the attention of the world and so there is an ongoing movement now to strengthen our election security and more states are shifting to paper ballots. You have Virginia, Pennsylvania and others.
You know, if there's any silver lining that came out of the failed recounts, it's really that we recognize now that just like voting rights, just like fighting the racist voting laws that Republicans are pushing across the country, fighting gerrymandering, we also need to really, really fight for election security and that includes getting rid of voting machines and moving everything to paper.
November, this terrible month of November ends for me on really surreal note. My sister at this point isn't sleeping. She's working on a report that pieces together all of it, including Cambridge Analytica. She was very early on that. And she was very early on really tying it to Jared Kushner who brought in the firm, which was on public record. So all my sister did was look at what was on public record and what had already been reported, and just put it together in one comprehensive report, which she was showing to people on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and saying, "This is how they did it." And it was just like a coalition of idiots that just got really lucky, 'cause they're deep pocketed and corrupt and determined.
And so she was not sleeping and working on that report. So she sent me to go to our friend's fashion show in Washington DC. It was a fashion show of Ukrainian designers that were flown in to celebrate the cultural side of Ukraine, the wonderful side of Ukraine and put another face to Ukraine other than this horrible war that's killing thousands of innocent people in the east. And so the event took place in the Society of Cincinnati, which is an old organization founded by veterans of the Revolutionary War.
And I show up to this thing listening to Hamilton on my phone, listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and looking at these oil paintings of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington and thinking, "Oh, my God, we failed you and the American experiment is over." And what was really unusual about this evening was that I was catching up with a friend who is a staffer in Congress, the Democratic side, and he was like, "Oh, God. Don't look now. There's this really annoying FSB agent here."
I'm like, "What?" He's like, "Oh, God. Here he comes. Let's hurry up and grab our seats for the fashion show." And as we were walking trying to avoid this FSB agent, my friend knocks over some display and he quickly scrambles to pick it up and the FSB agent pops up, and he goes, you know, with his thick Russian accent, he goes, "Blame Putin," Laughing. And my friend's like, "Hi, Rinat. Good to see you." Totally talking to this guy and introduces me to him. And it's Rinat Akhmetshin who is the Kremlin linked operative at the heart of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Speaker: There were in fact six people who met on the 25th floor of Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. NBC News exclusively reported this morning, that a Russian American lobbyist and a former soviet counter intelligence officer, Rinat Akhmetshin joined Don Jr, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and the Russian lawyer.
Speaker: To quote President Putin himself on the subject, "There is no such thing as ex-KGB." That's President Putin's own remark. So this fellow may have worked in the soviet intelligence services and he may no longer be officially affiliated with the Soviet Intelligence services, but there's no such thing as ex. That both means that the mentality is formed and the availability to the government if need be. That's one thing to remember. The second thing that's important to know when thinking about Russia is crime, the Secret Services, business and government which in the United States are more or less four separate and discreet things, easily flow one into the other in Russia. You can be doing any mix and match any of those combos at any time. So, this person may have been acting in a semi-official capacity. But you don't need a little ID card to be helping out your formal organization. So, when I heard that he was in the room, my hackles and my red flags went up immediately.
Speaker: Michael Cohen claims that then candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. Crucially, these sources tell us that Cohen is willing to make that assertion to the Special Council, Robert Mueller. Cohen alleges as well that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer. He was informed by Donald Trump Jr about that offer, by Cohen's account, Trump approved going ahead with that meeting with the Russians.
Speaker: It goes back to a law, this man, Bill Browder helped pass in 2012 called the Magnitsky Act. It was named after Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky who exposed a 230 million tax scam involving Russian officials. He was later found beaten to death in a Russian jail. The Magnitsky Act punishes Russian officials accused of committing human rights abuses, freezing their assets and blocking their visas. This law infuriated Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Speaker: For years it's been a top priority for him to get those sanctions lifted.
Andrea Chalupa: I'm meeting the guy in this moment who offers the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. And so, I don't know it at the time. No one knows it at the time. And so, I'm talking to him and he's like ... What immediately strikes me is he's laughing easily, he's warm and friendly. And I think, what a great attribute for a spy to have, making you feel like you're the funniest person in the world. I'm like, that's great. And so my friend and I take a seat at the fashion show and we're sitting there pretending to watch the fashion walk by and applaud it and all that and meanwhile we're talking about him.
And he's telling me all about how he's linked to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, as we call him Putin's puppet. He's like a congressman out of California who's so pro-Kremlin and so pro-Trump and how Akhmetshin tends to show up where there's any activity, any discussion around the Magnitsky Act. And the Magnitsky Act, of course was an act that was launched, passed by Congress, overwhelmingly, to sanction anyone inside of Russia who was guilty of human rights abuses and it was to honor Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian who was tortured when he was in prison for being a whistle blower.
And he was a lawyer for Bill Browder, and Bill Browder has really championed his case and really fought for the Magnitsky Act in Canada and across Europe and is risking his life to do so. And the Russians are constantly trying to arrest Bill Browder under Interpol. And so as I'm sitting with my friend getting the dirt on Rinat Akhmetshin, I look over my shoulder, and across the audience directly behind us is Rinat Akhmetshin, against the wall, no longer smiling, no longer laughing, but glowering at us, like scowling at the back of our heads and I catch him doing that.
And the first thing that comes to mind is like, "Do you recognize me 'cause I look like my sister? Are you recognizing me as that must be ... You think I'm my sister? Or were you involved at all with harassing my sister? Were you part of that whole operation to break into her house, break into her car twice and trash the insides, hack her phone, hack her computer?"
And so, the look he's giving is like a look ... It's awful. And to me, I didn't know who he was fully at the time. I'm just getting a bit on him and he turns out to be at the center of Russiagate.
So, December starts with the young kid from North Carolina, finally shooting up the pizza parlor, that's what the Pizzagate propaganda leads to.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: You have the mysterious murders of Russian diplomats and Russians who resemble people in the Christopher Steele report which we don't have yet, but we later realize match people in the Christopher Steele report. So, the Russians start dying.
Speaker 19: On Tuesday, an attorney for Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS's co-founder said that someone was killed as a result of the firm's Trump-Russia dossier. The attorney reportedly made the comment in an interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee back in August.
Speaker 20: On Thursday, former FBI agent Clint Watts told lawmakers investigating Russia that Putin may be trying to hide his tracks.
Clint Watts: Follow the trail of dead Russians. There's been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation who have assets in banks all over the world.
Speaker 20: Last week exiled Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkovwas gunned down in broad daylight outside a hotel in Kiev. The former security minister has shared closely guarded state secrets about Russian actions in Ukraine with investigators. Ukraine's president calls his murder, quote an act of Russian state terrorism. And he's just one of several mysterious deaths since Russia became a target of investigation for meddling in the US election. In December, Russia's ambassador to Turkey, was shot dead at point blank range at an art exhibition. The shooter, a Turkish police officer, shouted do not forget Syria as he pulled the trigger.
Speaker 20: The same day, Petr Polshikov,a senior Russian diplomat, found shot in the head in a bedroom of his Moscow home. And November 8, US election day. New York police were called to the Russian Consulate to find Sergei Krivovunconscious. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Russian officials changed their story of how he died three times, from falling from the roof to a heart attack before an autopsy said he died of a tumor. In all, eight prominent Russians found dead since the US election. Five of them diplomats, including Ambassador to the UN, VitalyChurkin, who died suddenly of a heart attack last month.
Sarah Kendzior: And then in December 9, the Obama administration finally issues this announcement that they're going to be investigating not only this election but previous elections, Russian interference, basically everything they should have been looking at this whole time.
This is when you see figures like Lindsey Graham being very forthright about Russian interference, admitting his own email was hacked. These are people who of course later did a complete 180 and turned the corner on it. But I think this is the time where people nationally were looking for Obama, looking at Obama who was still the president for some leadership, for some guidance. We'd seen corruption openly, we'd seen bigotry, hate crimes, as Andrea mentioned, Pizzagate. All of this really frightening stuff.
And so I think people were expecting that Obama would treat this with the seriousness that it deserved and recognize that time was limited, that once Trump got in, these issues would not be looked at in a thorough or objective way. And instead, Obama told us that everything was going to be fine.
Obama: The Russians can't change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don't innovate, but they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. And I have to say working on the recount and seeing ... Working with Americans across the country, American volunteers, crowdsourcing information for the data scientists in the recount, just organically, just trying to do their bit to help, just throwing numbers at me, throwing numbers at anybody hoping that it would help, seeing that type of urgency, working with Americans reminded me so much of working with Ukrainians during the revolution, reminded me so much of Syrians desperate calling for the world to help them.
And so we know what happened with Syrians, we know what happened with Ukrainians. They did not get any help. They had to save themselves. And it succeeded for Ukrainians, the revolution. It hasn't worked for Syrians at all and the civil war is ongoing. And so just feeling those echoes of seeing Syrians and Ukrainians among the organizing frenzy of Americans was just so chilling to see those parallels and just knowing in the back of your mind, they didn't come for the Syrians, they didn't come for the Ukrainians. They're not coming for us. We're on our own. We were on our own. December, we ended December--
Sarah Kendzior: --on our own.
Andrea Chalupa: We knew it. It was confirmed. I think November we had some hope that the cavalry would come, and then by the end of December when Obama had that lackluster press conference where he just looked beaten down and worn, and nothing was really done except some diplomats were kicked out and intel reports were called. Hillary didn't join the recount at all and we just felt like...
SarahKendzior: Then we just have to take up the fight. And that's what has been the last few years.
Andrea Chalupa: And that's what we have done.
Sarah Kendzior: And we're still here.
Gaslit Nation was presented by Dame Magazine and produced and distributed by Critical Frequency. I'm your producer Amy Westervelt. To send us a note or ask a question about this or any other Gaslit Nation episodes, please send a note to email@example.com. You can listen to Gaslit Nation across all podcast listening platforms. If there's one you like that you don't see it on, just drop us a note and let us know. Please remember to rate and review the podcast wherever you listen. It always helps us find new listeners.
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