Cabinet of Horrors

There is treason in the treasury, nepotism in the government, and corruption everywhere – it may be a new year, but it’s the same sad story for the US! This week Sarah and Andrea discuss the cabinet shakeups that have left our government in the hands of a criminal syndicate bound by blood, marriage, and guilt; the retirement of James Mattis and what it means for US foreign policy, especially in Russia and Ukraine; the explosive Buzzfeed expose on how the Treasury was compromised by the Kremlin in 2015 with the help of complicit American employees, and how whistleblowers were the only people punished; the disturbing background of the Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and his ties to international kleptocrats; and the strange spy saga of Paul Whelan.

We discuss 2020 presidential contenders, and Andrea comes out early with her 2020 pick – but we both endorse one thing, and that is impeachment! Welcome back to Gaslit Nation – the podcast where women don’t have to be likeable at all.


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Sarah Kendzior: I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist and scholar of authoritarian states, focusing on the former Soviet Union.

Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa, a writer, filmmaker, activist, focused on Ukraine and Russia

Sarah Kendzior: And this is Gaslit Nation, a podcast that looks at corruption in the Trump administration, and the rise of authoritarianism around the world. And we are coming back from a two-week break because of the holidays, and a lot has happened —

Andrea Chalupa: It was one week — one week give us some credit. It felt like two.

Sarah Kendzior: Are you serious? It felt like two years (laffs) We're coming back from a two-century break in Trump years with a lot of news — all of it bad, because again Trump years, but yeah like, the government is gone, we have a lot of people in acting positions now so, we're going to open up by talking about that. The original Trump administration of 2017 is no more, and those who remain tend to share two traits — nepotistic ties, and complicity in a broad international kleptocratic plot, so just what you want in your government. And of course, those are not mutually exclusive categories. So I'm gonna give you a run-down of who remains. You have the Trump and Kushner families with Donald as president, and Ivanka and Jared still in senior advisor positions despite breaking the law and having no particular qualifications. You have relatives of other complicit actors like secretary of transportation Elaine Chao, who is the wife of Mitch McConnell, Trump and Kushner family with Donald as President and Ivanka and Jared still in senior advisor positions despite breaking the law and having no particular qualifications. You have relatives of other complicit actors like Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is the wife of Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who's the sister of mercenary Erik Prince. You also see nepotism with more minor players like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas Governor and general folksy jackass Mike Huckabee, and these corrupt officials are then covered by media figures who are themselves the sons and daughters of other media figures and politicians so just imagine the possibilities for America if the system of nepotism did not exist so you have that. But in addition to that, you have cabinet members who have led lives of white-collar crime and are therefore ideal candidates for the Trump camp's insular illegal schemes we're not related to anybody in the White House at least not by marriage or blood. examples of this include Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who, of course, was a key player in the Jeffrey Epstein underage rape case, Vice President Pence and white supremacist and all-around advisor Stephen Miller. Mnuchin and Ross are both white collar criminals with ties to networks both in the US and abroad. We're going to talk more about Mnuchin we discuss the infiltration of the US Treasury by Russia. Pence is kind of his own category he's a theocrat, a religious fanatic who is also tied to these criminal networks that emerged during the campaign. And we still need to question why exactly he was selected for this position by Manafort. Miller is interesting to note that he's still there 'cause he's basically the last ideologue left, you know, we no longer have Bannon or Sessions or other open white supremacist onboard and he's one of the cruelest participants in this regime. he was brought into the campaign by right-wing extremist David Horowitz. He worked under the tutelage of Jeff Sessions and his main goal is the implementation of violent white supremacist policies against the most vulnerable people in this country especially non-white immigrants. Miller is one of the main reasons we have children dying in concentration camps at the Texas border.  So it's notable that he has remained you’re really getting a sense of who is the inner circle of this administration and who is disposable and they apparently think he's important to have around. So basically what's happened is that our reality show president has created a bureaucratic Survivor where over the last two years, dozens of officials have been kicked off the island and now you see what's left. The makeup and shake-up of the Trump Administration is typical of an autocratic regime. The administration is packed with lackeys who are bound by family ties or by shared guilt, bound by kin and bound by complicity. The reason autocracies are structured in this way is because it makes them easier to control, as the inner circle is beholden to the leader. This is, of course, also the way that mafias are structured. Trump is an aspiring autocrat and like any autocrat, over time he's become more paranoid and insular. When this happens family and criminal ties dominate and that leads to the situation we have now. But where Trump differs from other autocrats or kleptocrats is in his total deference to foreigners. We can't call Trump a fascist because he doesn't care about the state. For Trump the state is just something to sell. So anyway, to sum all this up what you're likely to see over the next few years is a continuation of the Trump camp's original plan — to strip the US down and sell it for parts. The Trump and Kushner families will be the main beneficiaries. Meanwhile, you have the GOP with its own plan for a one-party State using Trump as a vehicle to pack courts, rewrite laws, and take both political and economic freedom away from the people. So that's where we are at the second day of 2019. What are your thoughts, Andrea?

Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, happy 2019 everyone! Yeah, it's another year for us to survive and what doesn't kill us makes us stronger that's like the new motto of being American today. So yes, Trump the reality show that thrives on conflict like all reality shows do. I think all of this points to what is now today the biggest news story which is the government shutdown which I think Trump created because that's what Jeff Zucker, Mark Burnett would call good TV. So to your points Sarah, if you look at MSNBC which is running this government shutdown clock, all very dramatic, if it weren't for this stunt of Trump claiming that we need this totally impractical and expensive border wall, our nation instead would be counting down to the next batch of Mueller indictments and Trump knows that, Trump knows that. Which is why he's essentially stealing money from hundreds of thousands of federal employees over the holidays including over the holidays so that he can buy this distraction for himself. That is a clear example of what you're talking about it's a clear example of Trump and enriching himself stealing from the state in order to buy himself a reality show style distraction, reality show style conflict and drama, and everyone's falling for it.

Sarah Kendzior: And it creates a void too, you know, we'll talk about this a little more in terms of personnel, but the government shutdown allows for a consolidation of power I think in ways that people don't necessarily expect. Life if you look at what's happening with the national parks which are basically cherished pieces of land and Heritage that Trump has no qualms about selling to, you know, to  foreign buyers or to fossil fuel industries they're getting trashed because nobody is working there and Trump is happy I think to let these parks die out. I worry what's going to happen if this keeps continuing. He also doesn't care if the economy is crashing, he doesn't care if federal employees are not getting paid. All of this creates a layer of panic and desperation that his entire life, you know, he has spent capitalizing on, and that's also true of all of these people in his circle in New York City, you know, some of whom like Mnuchin are in the government and I think where people kind of see weakness, you know, like, oh Trump's in crisis, stocks are falling, the government's shutdown, that's what he wants, that's his objective, and that leaves us in a frightening situation in the weeks to come.

Andrea Chalupa: That's good TV. And we should point out that Mark Burnett, there was this piece in the New Yorker confirming what we talked about before in the show breaking down how Mark Burnett tried to get a reality show off the ground with Putin that didn't go anywhere so instead he found his cash cow in Trump and repackaged Trump as this cartoon version of a successful businessman creating this mystique of success around the Trump brand promoting, Ivanka Trump and Don Junior in the process like these legitimate business people and how Mark Burnett really put that sheen to legitimize Trump and build up his name recognition and that quote-unquote likability through all the magic of carefully crafted, orchestrated reality TV.

Sarah Kendzior: I mean a lot of that article is kind of stuff that we knew already, and honestly like when The Hollywood Reporter first reported this years ago back in 2016, I felt like it should have gotten more attention. I felt like the archives of the New York Times for 2001 that described Burnett's aspirations to connect with Putin, I remember posting those and people accusing me of having fabricated the archives in the screenshot even though I had a link and I think what you see through this coverage is people coming to terms with what we know — that this was an orchestrated product that Trump did not appear at random that he's a PR professional that there is people that were hired to polish him to sell him and that those people are also connected to hostile foreign regimes and so okay good catching up there, but I hope that they dig deeper and I'm still wondering why those Apprentice outtakes are withheld, you know, they're all these celebrities that like threatened to let things be known and I'm kind of like, you know, the time to do that was three years ago, but really like any time is better than never.

Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. But about this whole government shutdown crisis was just so absolutely infuriating because, you know, Trump being like a destructive force in the world he's going to let this go on as long as he can. Because it's that tension it's that drama that he craves, thrives off of, and he uses like a cat laser pointer to control the media narrative. But what would be really funny instead of how the Democrats and the media deals with it is like, you know, Trump being a gaslighter in chief is it'd be really funny if people kept throwing back his face like you said Mexico is going to pay for it. You know, like Nancy Pelosi accurately called him out saying that, you know, this is something that he needs for as a symbol, it's like if it's for his -- the wall is the symbol of his manhood to compensate for notoriously small hands or whatever she said —, but I think Democrats need to be replaying that soundbite of Trump during the 2016 election saying that we're going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it. And so just throw his gaslighting back in his face, it'd just be so hilarious if Nancy Pelosi sat down with them and was like I'm here to find out what progress you've made to get Mexico to pay for the wall. When somebody's gaslighting you just like throw that reality back in their face push their logic as far as like they're willing to play along and just like that's just like the obvious way to deal with someone like that. We've come a long way with the media recognizing his lies finally, they're calling a lie a lie, but now it's like take his gaslighting, don't just dismiss his lies as being crazy and trying to like, you know, talk to him on your level of reality. Trump is somebody like Putin who likes to bend reality to his will and thinks that he can just say whatever and that's the truth you know. Oh, the sun came out when I spoke at my inauguration — no instead it actually started raining. So really like to talk to him sincerely in front of the cameras, Nancy should be like should we take a trip together to Mexico. You know, Mexico knowing what we're dealing with, Mexico will know that we're trolling him. I think all the leaders of foreign governments they're even trolling him like the president like the Japanese PM congratulated Trump on his historic election like it was historic just not in his — in Trump's favor of course.

Sarah Kendzior: Right, I think that's true and hopefully, you know, we'll see a real change in how Congress operates once Pelosi is in and the Democrats have the house. In the meantime we're left not only with the continuing shut down, but with a whole bunch of acting Representatives. I'm just going to name some of the new people who have been in place over the last four months due to resignations of others. We have acting attorney general Matt Whitaker who has publicly criticized the Mueller probe and who's going to be replaced probably by William Barr, an Iran-Contra lackey who also publicly criticized Mueller probe, so sensing a theme there. We have acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney replacing John Kelly, who once proudly called himself a right-wing nutjob, I guess for once we don't have a lie coming out of the Trump administration. We have acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan who has no military or foreign policy experience replacing Mattis whose departure we'll discuss in a second. And today we have acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, an oil industry lobbyist who is replacing Ryan Zinke who was also a fossil fuel industry lobbyists of sorts and that is who will be in control of our national parks crisis, but let's talk about Mattis because during our brief break Mattis resigned and initially they said that he would stick around until February — that was not the case he is now on his way out or is he out?

Andrea Chalupa:  Yeah I think he got he got fired earlier, he was pushed out.

Sarah Kendzior: Got fired or quit or -- anyway, he is now I believe departed it's like hard to keep up with this because they keep changing the dates of when things are going to play out, but — and, you know, then there were some a couple of resignation letters which people are reading. I don't know if they're reading too much into it, you know, this kind of a debate about how effective was Mattis at controlling Trump and, you know, I basically think that this whole adults in the room shit was a myth. I think John Kelly was a bigot and an incompetent and I'm glad to see him go. I felt, you know, similarly about McMaster, but Mattis was basically the closest thing we had and I've always believed that he was accidentally hired I think that Trump saw this military guy who had like a catchy nickname, you know, he was called Mad Dog and he had all these like badass catchphrases and he cast him he cast him in the administration and he accidentally hired a qualified person 'cause we know whether or not you agree with Mattis political positions or, you know, this is somebody who's had a lifetime of public service and experience and is qualified for the role and he is now gone, leaving the administration with the aforementioned nepotistic hires criminals incompetence and acting officials so what do you think the repercussions of this are, of the loss of Mattis?

Andrea Chalupa: I think it's a big loss because he was very good at what he did and he's very good for Ukraine and called a spade a spade when it came to Ukraine and he really did something that must have driven Putin crazy which was Mattis spent Ukraine's Independence Day in Kiev watching the military parade and by Putin's standards that's like a massive insult that must have infuriated Putin when Mattis did that. To have the Secretary of Defense showing such a strong statement of support like that right in Kiev during the independence day parade and he was very strong in saying that Ukraine finally needs this defensive aid  after having its military crippled by corruption underneath Yanukovych and he was forceful in saying that this was Russia invading Ukraine this wasn't so called Russian backed Rebels this is Russia, the Russian military invading Ukraine and so Mattis is very strong on Ukraine at so its a very big loss for Ukraine and so you kind of have to wonder with Mattis gone and somebody that without military experience in his place whether that is going to allow as we keep talking about this vacuum of power of the inner circle to come in and really enrich themselves whether Erik Prince and his private mercenary Army — very big business — whether Erik Prince's professional Army is going to be filling the void and so that's quite scary and remember Erik Prince wanted to set up that back channel meeting with the Kremlin and the Trump team in Seychelles that's stunning that they were going to get together and that's also stunning because Russia itself Putin has an ally that is one of his top oligarchs as a private Army that is expanding its business currently in Africa and spreading Russia's influence and involvement across Africa competing with China there as the US is pulling out. So all this is to point out this whole private mercenary army industry and this is where the competitions is heating up and it certainly Erik Prince sees that knows that and is trying to grab his market share of the world's chaos and the forever wars that are going on started it by George W Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld the whole — Condoleezza Rice Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Mattis also symbolizes that false hope that Trump could be contained. when the world ended when Trump won that surprise election with the help of, you know, that as we now know this massively corrupt coalition of support that included the NRA, the Kremlin and it's useful conduits and so like everyone was panicked you and I were on the phone with grown men Republican operatives who were like sobbing at practically 'cause they thought their lives were over that they were going to be on Trump's enemies list and going to be like liquidated, And then when Mattis was selected, when Mattis was hired and to your point likely hired because he fit Central casting of what a US general should look like Mad Dog Mattis it was almost like Trump was like, you know, we know that Trump has a thing for generals, but it's almost like Trump related to Mattis in the sense that the guy was so perfect so reality show TV perfect like Celebrity Apprentice level perfect the quintessential General coming in with the perfect nickname all of it. He was cast it wasn't like he — Mattis was hired for the job, he was cast for the job and a lot of these Republican operatives many in the media were comforted by Mattis coming and it was this stupid false hope that Trump could take instruction that Trump would be a smart businessman and surround himself by experts and allow the experts to do their job and he would learn on the job that way and he would delegate and that was just such a lie because if you look at everything in the public domain of Trump's track record it was a track record of destruction total destruction and essentially living above the law with all the things that he was getting — trying to get away with and in the world a real estate all of his nefarious connections, Trump Tower essentially being a dorm for the Russian Mafia, the FBI raids that were going on in Trump Tower to break up that Russian mafia link gambling den all of it and Hillary Clinton desperately tried to point out who this man was. She had at one of the debate's as one of her honored guests was this architect who was stiffed some insane amount for working for Trump. So he was stiffing contractors, working men and women left and right he was just stealing from people to enrich himself. That is who Trump is. Trump is destruction his trademark his brand, the Trump brand is a brand of destruction. People just really fooled themselves by thinking that Mattis would come in, that these adults would come in and babysit him or that it wasn't even babysitting they just they just thought that he's smart look he is here he is sensible he is bringing in these experts he's doing the right thing, but the reality is that he thrives off of this chaos he creates this chaos, he creates control through this chaos and he protects himself and his family through this chaos, and meanwhile as you have this power vacuum they're grabbing they're on a shopping spree they're grabbing what they can while they can and they're building their alliances within various people like Erik Prince and they're carving up their territories of the world market shares with people like that the Saudi Crown Prince that's what this is all about. so it's not just chaos for chaos's sake, it's chaos to protect themselves and enrich themselves and continue to escape the law.

Sarah Kendzior: Exactly and I think the fact that this is an international alliance -- this is an international kleptocracy is important and I'm glad you brought up Erik Prince in the possible privatization of the military 'cause I think they're going to try to privatize everything and we already saw kind of a move towards this during the Iraq War and during the war in Afghanistan and I think we're in for more of it, you know, and as for Mattis whether he was able to effectively control anything — one thing people keep saying is like oh, you know, it really could have been so much worse or you don't know what kind of horrors he prevented, you know, often alluding to the use of nuclear weapons which we know Trump has been interested in using for, you know, over 30 years. That's not confidence building, that's not an encouraging statement.

Andrea Chalupa: “You would all be dead if it wasn't for me,” says John Kelly.

Sarah Kendzior: It's like okay yay you get a little honorary plaque there because we all haven't died in a nuclear Holocaust yet. Like okay good. I'm glad he was able to prevent that, but then you think okay like what's coming down the line? Like what is going to happen to us now and again, you know, this is what drives me crazy when people are reluctant to talk about impeachment like, you know, first of all there are a million legitimate reasons to impeach Trump you can pick from crimes he did while in office, emoluments violations, high crimes and misdemeanors, obstruction of justice, lying on security forms etcetera. also look at the existential threat from the fact that we're facing from the fact that Trump has access to nuclear weapons which granted he did have under Mattis not sure how much this claim holds up at that Mattis could have prevented it, but whatever stabilizing ability he did lend to this Administration is now gone and people should be very concerned and they should be thinking about public safety and Public Safety right now is impeaching Trump and getting rid of him and sparing us from these horrors.

Andrea Chalupa: Well without question, I want to say on impeachment. the Democrats are very good at giving their power away. I don't think they really understand what power is and how to use it. They think that decency is being so-called the bigger person and being Noble and by being that way you hope the others will model their actions on you that you're setting a standard the others will follow. Obama very much did this thinking oh we'll go high, but the problem is they're going low and they're set to destroy you so there's no negotiating with terrorists there's no working with people who want to destroy you who want power for power's sake and so my big concern is that Democrats are very very good at giving away their power and already you're not seeing the spirit of the land right now like the big wave of the grassroots coalition that got this new historic class of Democrats into the house they want impeachment. Read the room. The people want impeachment, but you're not seeing Party leaders pushing for that and talking about that and giving the long list of reasons why the House at the very least should at least symbolically send a message to the world that there is this other America and this other America is standing up and we see what's happening and it's not normal and here are all the crimes that that are impeachable and so even though impeachment won't pass the Senate, of course, it won't, not in Mitch McConnel's senate, but at least in Nancy Pelosi's house they absolutely must symbolically as a as a matter of like standing up for human rights and human dignity they must vote for impeachment that should be like the first thing on the list because the list is long and that's what they're voted in to do because none of this is normal. And my concern is they're not going to do it to do it they don't know to — Democrats don't know how to own their power they're always giving their power away they're always apologizing for their power they're always apologizing for their values they're always apologizing for themselves. Meanwhile, Republicans are sinking lower and lower and they're proud of it.

Sarah Kendzior: And it's enormously frustrating because I feel like Democrats still have this sort of horse race partisan politics mentality of like oh we will look bad we'll look too partisan if we go after Trump instead of seeing it as a civic obligation and humanitarian move I mean I want Trump gone for the good of humanity and for the good of America and for the benefit of everyone even the people who voted for Trump because we are headed down an incredibly dangerous road. We're headed to, you know, an existential threat and I don't care who you voted for I don't care who you are I don't think any of us deserve this and so the only responsible thing to do is to move for impeachment and at least try and move, you know, shift the conversation, shift what we think of as acceptable and as normal in the same way that the Republicans and Trump have been doing it only shift it in a moral and responsible direction by calling for impeachment.

Andrea Chalupa: And all of us have worked so hard that we deserve the right to see Maxine Waters on the floor giving her speech of all the reasons why we have to impeach this guy like that would be so satisfying, that would get like, that would be like the highest ratings day for C-SPAN.

Sarah Kendzior: I used to think that the only way to impeach Trump would be calling it a ratings bonanza, but I think sadly even he is not stupid enough to fall for that. Speaking of people who do nothing about massive, massive problems we should talk about the news story from BuzzFeed that came out less than two weeks ago about how the Treasury has been compromised by the Russians and, you know, we've had a lot of Revelations come out since 2016 about what happened that year and in in the last years of the Obama Administration — I think that this story by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier it's just one of the most —

Andrea Chalupa: Love them.

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah — one of the most significant important pieces of reporting that I've read about this Administration in the last couple years. So if you haven't read this, Russian Agents Sought US Treasury Records on Clinton Backers it's a headline that's not actually representative of the article itself it's not so much about Clinton it's about the fact that our treasury is compromised and so I'm going to just read the opening paragraphs and give you a few highlights, but I encourage you to look at it on your own. So it starts, "US Treasury Department officials used a Gmail back channel with the Russian government as the Kremlin sought sensitive financial information on its enemies in America and across the globe, according to documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News. The extraordinary unofficial line of communication arose in the final year of the Obama administration — in the midst of what multiple US intelligence agencies have said was a secret campaign by the Kremlin to interfere in the US election. Russian agents ostensibly trying to track ISIS instead pressed their American counterparts for private financial documents on at least two dozen dissidents, academics, private investigators, and American citizens. Most startlingly, Russia requested sensitive documents on Dirk Edward, and Daniel Ziff, billionaire investors who had run afoul of the Kremlin. That request was made weeks before a Russian lawyer showed up at Trump Tower offering top campaign aides "dirt" on Hillary Clinton — including her supposed connection to the Ziff brothers... In an astonishing departure from protocol, documents show that at the same time the requests were being made, Treasury officials were using their government email accounts to send messages back and forth with a network of private Hotmail and Gmail accounts set up by the Russians, rather than communicating through the secure network usually used to exchange information with other countries." So what are your thoughts, Andrea?

Andrea Chalupa: This is horrifying. so when we talk about this historic level of departures about all these people leaving the Trump Administration when we talk about all these people who are now serving in an acting role whatever that means you, what you're basically seeing with this whole vacuum of power in the White House, you’re seeing chaos that's what it is that you have the experts are either not there 'cause they haven't been hired a lot of these roles have been filled or the people who are left behind or in these acting roles they don't have the experience, the temperament to be in such high-pressure, high stake roles that our national security depends upon. And so what we're really talking about these aren't like the historic turnover rate which yes it's hilarious we make fun of Trump 'cause he claims he hires the best people for the job. Ivanka Trump promised us in that speech that people praised at the Republican convention where she sounded like a Democrat she promised us her father hires the best person for the job when  all of that is proving to be not true clearly with all this first of all he hired like a cast of villains from like a Marvel movie to serve in his cabinet. even the good people relatively good people have left. I don't know if — Gary Cohn, I don't know if he even counts as good, but relatively expert-ish people have left. Those are not palace intrigue stories that is a major green light to our enemies to hostile regimes to come in and further infiltrate our government cause clearly this is shocking BuzzFeed investigation has shown infiltration in our treasury so it's a green light for our enemies to take advantage of this chaos and to worm their way in and infiltrate deeper steal what they can map what they can take what they can and come in deeper and establish themselves deeper and so it's not palace intrigue, it's not gossip, it's not funny it's a serious National Security crisis that's going on

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah!

Andrea Chalupa: And yes this story about the Treasury happened under Obama's watch which is fascinating 'cause under Obama let's talk about that there were a number of high-level security breaches that happened under Obama's watch you had, of course, Edward Snowden, the Russians hacking the White House and taking a lot of sensitive information, you had the Chinese hacking the personnel office which impacted over 20 million people which is like the largest breach I think in government history so a lot of his points to even under Obama the so-called Tech president who was supposed to be text savvy who in 2008 ran on this whole social media-driven campaign and that was his — the engine that helped get him elected and yet under his watch you had all these massive security breaches so all this is pointing to that the United States government is just not prepared at all for the threats of the 21st century I talked to — shortly after the election of Trump I talked to a guy who has his own cybersecurity firm. So private organizations pay him a lot of money to have his team of hackers break in to exploit and show all of their security weaknesses and then advise on ways to strengthen them and he's telling me he's like, you know, the United States is attacked in cyberwar every second of the day every single day by numerous enemies and we're always attacking back were so good that we're doing things you're not even going to hear about. So he was like, I don't want to say that he had bravado, 'cause he seemed like a very serious somber person and he had like a military background. But if the United States is the best in the world in cybersecurity and cyberwar and yes we've inflicted some damage there's that famous Iran case where we shut down a power plant in Iran with a cyber virus or something — at the same time, if we are supposed to be the best in the world then why are we getting beaten up so badly so badly to the point that it's like we're being exposed and it is again a matter of serious national security and this whole treasury story where employees in the US Treasury were communicating with Kremlin representatives using like Gmail accounts and other Hotmail accounts and it just like what were you thinking? It's just like the lack of security there and just like the disorganization and —

Sarah Kendzior: Well, it's beyond disorganization, I mean it's treason. That's why this story was so shocking cause it wasn't just a matter of we were attacked —

Andrea Chalupa: It's a cauldron of stunning stupidity and treason to your point. There's two people in this department who were suspected of working actively against US interests and one had ties to Ukrainians. There's bad elements in Ukraine that are connected to the Kremlin that want to undermine the US. Ukraine is a country is an ally for now, but they do have an election coming up, a presidential election it could flip could be a more pro-Kremlin candidate. But yeah it is treason to your point and this story is shocking we encourage everyone to look it up on BuzzFeed because if you read it your jaw will drop.

Sarah Kendzior: One of the things that shocked me it's not just a matter of hacking it was the complicity in the voluntary nature of the Betrayal from within the Treasury Department I mean first of all this goes all the way back to 2015. this was already happening officials at the financial crimes enforcement Network or FinCEN reported the breaches to the Obama Administration in July 2016 and they did nothing in response and there's been at least ten treasury whistleblowers who filed reports and now one of them Natalie Mayflower Edwards is in jail as though we see all the stuff with the Mueller probe of like oh it's so difficult to indict people it's so difficult to put government criminals Behind Bars is like wow, you know, you've got one whistleblower from the Treasury in jail you've got reality winner in jail apparently it's not that difficult. the two people that you mentioned before they were from FinCEN, you know, the people that are in charge of catching criminals in the Treasury are in fact criminals themselves and, you know, the article also left me with some questions as in, you know, are these people still working there? How did they get involved? And it took the reporters who wrote this a long time to do this because of trouble obtaining these documents, the lack of transparency, but also because the whistleblowers involved are terrified of talking to reporters as — this is it just a horrifying and frightening story of infiltration and it also made me wonder, you know, what other departments are infiltrated at this level?, you know, we've both suspected that the FBI was, particularly the New York branch of the FBI during the Trump campaign. And we also have to wonder why were we not told? Why was the public not told? Why was nothing done? And is this a form of Leverage? did the Obama Administration not act because of negligence or because they couldn't 'cause if you have control over intel or other aspects of the Treasury there's a lot of damage that you can potentially do and so when people talk about kompromat and leverage I've often wondered if it's not a personal thing relating to Trump or the Trump family, but a national security threat and this kind of strengthens that argument.

Andrea Chalupa: If this is what we know so far imagine what we don't know. if this one on under Obama's watch imagine what's going on now under Trump's watch. When you have all these unfilled rolls across the White House, when you have this vacuum of power, so this is go to BuzzFeed read the story and and as you're reading it consider it as a case study, an example, of more of what's to be uncovered as years go on we're going to hear more stories like this because again this chaos of the Trump regime is a green light for enemies to come in and infiltrate deeper and take what they can while they can the floodgates have been opened by Trump and his family. the most heartbreaking detail of this, of course, is that the Whistleblower Natalie Mayflower Edwards the article describes the steps she took working within a system to do her patriotic duty to our country to alert the system that it was malfunctioning and hurting itself and instead of being protected by that system and rewarded for her heroism for sticking her neck out for her patriotism she's in jail and meanwhile Kushner and Don Jr like, treasonous criminals inside of our government — Kushner's not inside of our government — but treasonous criminals are walking around free and Natalie Mayflower Edwards a patriotic whistleblower is being punished for trying to save us? That's cruelty. That's not his political persecution that's cruelty.

Sarah Kendzior: Like I said before it's similar to the reality winner situation and it makes me wonder, you know, who else is, like what message is this sending like who else is out there wanting to speak up wanting to reveal information and seeing this 'cause this is obviously being held up as an example and the kind of continuity of this plot between administrations, you know, that it was launched during the Obama Administration and was not addressed, and we don't know exactly why, but we know why for the Trump Administration and that's because they are in on the plot they are active collaborators they are traitors and, you know, a key example of this is the person who is now heading the treasury Steve Mnuchin who flies under the radar a lot because there's just been so many flamboyant assholes in the Trump Administration. He kind of had his moment during the eclipse where he and his wife went to, you know, the mint and held up a bunch of money like a bond villain, but Mnuchin is just as bad as all of these other individuals in the White House and so like a little brief background info on him to catch you up. Mnuchin is a financier who is one of the only people in America to benefit from Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. He was the finance chairman of Trump's deeply corrupt campaign and as the head of the Treasury has sought to delay the sanctions on Russia that were implemented by Congress and he recently lifted them on Paul Manafort's old boss Oleg Deripaska. Mnuchin is also linked to Len Blavatnik who is a favorite oligarch of Putin and yet another business partner of his is James Packer who is being investigated by Israeli police for his role in the Netanyahu corruption case so you see how Mnuchin is linked to multiple kleptocratic actors throughout the world and finally, you know, when you kind of look at the history of this and at New York City and the people who Trump has had in his business circle, Mnuchin was recommended for his position by corporate raider Carl Icahn who was once part of the Trump Administration himself before resigning due to an ethics breach and that happened at the end of 2017 gave me a fleeting moment of hope that there is going to be a serious clamp down on corruption, but I think nothing has come of this he was supposed to be investigated and I haven't heard anything about it since. Carl Icahn and Trump go back all the way to the 1980s when Icahn would bail Trump out of his financial troubles related to the casinos — I also want to say that this asshole bankrupted St Louis in the 1980s. He basically shut down TWA I meet people now that cannot stand this guy and the hurt and suffering that he's caused their family so yeah fuck all of you, I don't know what else to say. But anyway, this is who is running the show. This is who is in charge of the treasury, and is supposed to be clamping down on corruption and illegal transactions and of course, he's just enabling it.

Andrea Chalupa: It makes you question him that he's able to survive so long in the Trump regime and of course, Mnuchin had that infamous appearance with the Saudi Crown Prince shortly after — remember he flew to Saudi Arabia and met with--

Sarah Kendzior: That's right yeah. Well he's been in a few international roles he was also at the opening of the Israeli Embassy the one that Sheldon Adelson bought for himself. So he's put in these positions that are not really appropriate for the treasurer to be involved in.

Andrea Chalupa: Strange, very strange, but he flew to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince like right on the heels of that news breaking that Khashoggi was tortured, butchered murdered while his fiance waited outside in the car for the paperwork for their marriage license and he had no problem with that clearly so Mnuchin is somebody he's in the cabal he's in the Inner Circle with these guys and he's pulling his kleptocratic — he's pulling his strings to basically keep the show going protect themselves at all costs clearly, whoever they need to align with in order to do that whether it's the Corruption of Netanyahu's government or like the corruption of Saudi Arabia, he simply doesn't seem to care. and, of course, Blovatnik being a Russian oligarch who like all  Russian oligarchs who are thriving, you know, has ties to Putin so in that whole oligarch world that imprisons the Russian people, he's doesn't have qualms about where the money comes from or who he does business with clearly and so he's going to survive the Trump reality show he's adapting, he's fitting right in, he's practically, I'm sure family right now.

Sarah Kendzior: I mean it's very disconcerting because it goes back so far. I mean this is a point we keep coming back to in this show is that Trump has had political aspirations for a long time. He ran or nearly ran for president five different times going all the way back to 1988. He's had ties to Russia to the Russian government to Russian mafiosos and oligarchs going all the way back to the 80s as well and he's also had a fairly consistent Inner Circle going back to the 80s which included Roger Stone and included Manafort included Carl Icahn and by extension people like Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross and those people are now in the administration and it looks as though this is the culmination of a long-term plan, you know, made by different parties from a variety of States kind of the worst people of every country seem to have gotten together and pulled this off and so you're now seeing who is disposable and who is a key player and Steve Mnuchin is a key player and obviously they need someone like that for the treasury because this is largely about sanctions, you know, as we've discussed in previous episode they need somebody who's going to toe that line who's not going to do their job and he's going to allow Intel to flow freely to Russia and who's not going to punish the oligarchs that are holding up Trump.

Andrea Chalupa: And if you look at Steve Mnuchin's infamous wife who looks like a Stepford wife, if she were like designed by Tim Burton, and she's infamous in her own right as being just somebody Louise Linton like, she's just got this awful character and so she's very much of like that plastic Ivanka Trump variety so all these guys must be spending Thanksgiving together or whatever, but one thing I want to point out with all of this sort of kleptocratic news report that we always go through, everybody's been talking about the Mueller report coming up, it's almost like they're looking finally for some closure to all of this, some Hollywood happy ending that we as Americans seem to be addicted to, but the reality is given the nature of the corruption of kleptocracy given the nature of these people if we survive Trump if we dodge an Ivanka or Jared regime if we avoid that and we have somebody with decency in the White House and then we start fixing all these weaknesses and get our government completely fixed for the 21st century and meet all these threats, investigative journalists are going to be very busy for many many years to come just unpacking all of these little horrible cases of corruption and treason and espionage at our expense that took place under Trump's time in office so there's not going to be some closure. The Mueller investigation is so multifaceted alone that we're going to be unpacking that for many years to come still so Americans have to prepare themselves that there's not going to be closer through the report.  Whenever the report comes that's just one stop in this very long journey. we are on a marathon of confronting all the weaknesses and all the crimes that are threatening our democracy and it's going to take a very long time to crawl out of this hole and if you ever doubt that just look at Steven Mnuchin, you know, he's playing a really active role in all of that and the guy's an honorary Trump.

Sarah Kendzior: And especially because as we're talking about these crimes from the past, you know, whether you're going back to the 80s you're going back to 2016 there are crimes being committed right now, there are crimes being committed as you listen to the podcast. You know, it's like a constant ongoing circle of crime and so we’re always playing catch-up and that's just how it's going to go for a really long time until we finally have comprehensive reform and accountability within government, which again is another reason to push for impeachment.

Andrea Chalupa: And getting the truth, the BuzzFeed treasury investigation they come at great risk. The whistleblower was arrested because of alerting BuzzFeed and so if that's what we're up against it's going to take a very long time to unravel all this and to confront it yeah so next up we should have to talk about the so-called spy arrested in Russia, Paul Whelan, the former Marine and businessman who the Kremlin claimed as a spy.

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah I don't know we don't know a lot we’re recording this on January 2nd of God only knows what will happen by the time you hear this there's a lot of questions about Paul Whelan and his background and what role he's playing here, but it's one thing that’s not in question is what is the Kremlin's goal here and they want to do a spy swap and get Maria Butina back over there so that she is no longer useful to the Mueller probe and so the question that people are raising about Whelan has to do with his own background where they looked at his Kontakte profile this is like Russian Facebook which he has been a member of according to his profile since 2005, that's a little weird to me because the site didn't even launch until 2006, but anyway he was a very early adopter. He's someone who's deeply invested in Russian life he seems to speak Russian — there's nothing wrong with that, but the question is why is a person who is a huge Russophile and also a Trump mega-fan just like loves Trump hates Obama, this is the person who is being accused of being a spy and my first thought when I heard that there was a spy, but who is he a spy for? Is he a spy for the United States or is he a spy for Trump? And the fact that those are two different things is a very frightening phenomenon. And so I guess they know the question is there's like three possibilities here. One is that he could be an actual American spy working for intelligence services and he has been caught. Another is that he's just some random guy just a businessman who is in Russia for a wedding who has been captured by the Kremlin and held hostage in order to make this exchange or he could be some kind of patsy that's voluntarily participating in this operation because, of course, to get rid of Maria Butina its useful not just for the GOP and Trump, but for Putin and if this guy is a fan of both Putin and Trump perhaps he wants to play a beneficial role in that.

Andrea Chalupa: Yeah this is a hard one to read because the Putin regime has no problem taking anybody innocent off the street and throwing them in prison I mean they do that all the time to activists and historians and so on and they have like around a hundred political prisoners just from the war invasion of Ukraine alone, so it's why they would just take a guy whether he is pro Putin and Trump or not — I mean it’s clearly a symbolic gesture for sure in terms of we took one of yours 'cause you took one of ours even though Putin denied knowing anything about Maria Butina just like Trump denies knowing anything about everyone around him who has been getting indicted so Maria Butina was apparently the coffee boy for the Kremlin. So I feel badly obviously for his family this is a terrifying position to be in. It is very difficult to negotiate with the Kremlin period. And as prisoner swaps have gone with Ukraine and Russia those are very difficult to come by and there have been times where Ukrainians have had to release more Russians and then Russians had to release Ukrainians when they've done prisoner swaps so it's going to be tough this case either way and so I don't know how to read this in terms of the individual himself, but yeah his background is really interesting for sure.

Sarah Kendzior: We're just going to have to see how this goes, but I think we know what the ultimate objective is and again it's really frustrating to be in this position where you basically have the US, US interests versus Trump slash Putin working in Tandem and so I think once again in our reality TV president may be planning a production and it's a serious one, it's one that will hurt the Mueller probe that will tarnish our own standing and accountability in this case, but we shall see.

Andrea Chalupa: So we are on the eve of a historic moment where Nancy Pelosi's about to become the most powerful woman in America. The Democrats are taking back the house and if they know the definition of power they will vote for impeachment so let's look out for that and on that note there's been a lot of talk already because of the steaks because how desperate we are to get rid of him is for 2020 and it's going to be a crowded primary field. Elizabeth Warren announced that she's exploring running for president and already Politico is jumping on the "but she's just not likable" bandwagon because, of course, she's a female and I want to say just on that note I happen to be in Massachusetts right before the midterm election and I caught a debate with Elizabeth Warren and her opponent for the senate race and her opponent was some like frat brother of Brett Kavanaugh type that's how he came across, whereas she came across as completely presidential and any time she was speaking the debate room got completely hushed like quieter than quiet even her opponent listened respectfully 'cause she just carried herself already as a president. So with the advantage you have when you can catch the source footage so to speak 'cause I wouldn't have watched any debate footage of Elizabeth Warren, of course, unless I happened to be in her state, but the advantage of that is that you do see the appeal that she has the power that she has and how she is already very much ready for the Oval Office, certainly in terms of how she carries herself, certainly her positions she is very progressive she is a fighter, she is fearless like every single human being out there she does make mistakes some of them are dumb mistakes we all do that, it's The Human Condition. And unfortunately, the misogyny is still strong in America and the media is still dominated by white men of privilege so we are going to be up against the same stupidity that plagued us in 2016 which is unfortunate.

Sarah Kendzior: No, it is very frustrating to watch this play out yet again. Personally I'm not looking at any candidate too closely until we actually see their platforms and they actually have some debates I know this is a wild idea of mine, but it's just so early I wish that this stuff would only last a few months because it is very frustrating and I'm just sort of watching as campaign coverage once again is going to knock out really important stories from the news, but, you know, in terms of the elections there's I guess two points I want to stress, one is again we need to continue looking at voter suppression, we need to look at new ID laws at the same sort of dirty tactics that the Republicans used in 2016 and 2018, at the effect of the partial repeal of the VRA we need to look at foreign interference, and the other thing is, you know, I wouldn't necessarily look too closely at what candidates are going to do now because I think we're in for a very tumultuous year especially if the results of the Mueller probe are released, because even if they're not effective in removing anyone from office and at this point I'm not too optimistic about that they're going to have repercussions, they're certainly going to make Trump and his cohort more anxious and I think we're also going to see a lot of effort on their part to engage in destructive actions domestically and abroad. We're seeing that now, you know, before the Democrats are taking the house we see all of these dramatic movies being made with Syria and Afghanistan or on the Texas border. And so this is going to be another very chaotic and I think very destructive year. What I what I want to see in a candidate is somebody who understands that, who will just acknowledged the actual reality that we live in the dangers that we're facing and that has a plan to combat it. I don't want to hear that everything is going to be nice and good and that was just going to work itself out and so and we need to aim high and blah blah blah. I want someone who will be blunt and realistic and compassionate and who will fight and I hope that that's what we see as others declare their candidacy.

Andrea Chalupa: I hope the American voter and the candidates have learned is that there is no longer a separation between domestic policy and foreign policy. In the 21st century, it's all connected now. and so what that means is you have to take a strong position on Saudi Arabia and the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia what it should be because the Saudi Arabia just butchered one of our writers at the Washington Post, that's now a domestic issue. And journalists in America are now increasingly under threat and so all of this is interconnected now that whatever your foreign policy, is who you're willing to do business with, what your position on Netanyahu corruption, your position on Putin, all of this matters now because we've got for instance just on Putin, you have this Russian dark money going to the GOP to help them in 2016 and it's going to be there in 2020, of course, and so hostile actors are taking advantage of our weakness, taking advantage of Republican created loopholes, taking advantage of technology such as, you know, cyber weapons what have you, to influence us here at home in America, they are exploiting our social media platforms. So there is no longer a separation between foreign policy and domestic policy and candidates must be pressed on where they stand on all of these hostile actors, we need to get on the record. And that extends to candidates having strategists on their teams who collected blood money from some of these regimes — that has to be exposed and they need to be talking on record about that. you could love Bernie Sanders and maybe he politicized you and brought you in to the political process and then transformed you which is great, but Bernie should not be allowed to have Tad Devine running as part of this team again in 2020 like that should be, he should be persona non grata for having worked so closely with Manafort in Ukraine. And having worked so closely with Kilimnik a former GRU agent in Ukraine for the Yanukovych regime which was a brutal corrupt unimaginably corrupt regime so we have to really learn from 2016. Trump didn't win because it was Trump he has some magical powers, he won because of a criminal enterprise and because the American Media and American public was not educated, was not equipped to handle that kind of an enterprise coming at them. They weren't really aware of bots or how widely spread that social media operation was. the media didn't really have a full grasp of who Manafort was even though they should have and there's all these other stories that have just come to light, unfortunately too late for the 2016 election. So now we know, now know what we are up against. And I also do hope that America being a young country relatively young country we're practically a teenager as countries go, we have a tendency of needing rock stars in order to be excited about voting and getting involved and unfortunately most candidates are just not that way. You're not going to see and you shouldn't want to see another Obama figure from like 2008 when Obama was like this massive rockstar Messiah figure that everyone that got everybody out into the streets and everyone so excited about, but that's unusual and if you look at European candidates they don't have that allure. Europeans don't vote for the rockstar and if you want to see how surreal this is that Americans do this 'cause we are, you know, one of our greatest exports is entertainment. We did invent the Hollywood happy ending, we invented the internet meme, you know, we invented YouTube videos, so we have this pop-culture-ification of our public servants and that's bizarre and it's not normal as the rest of the world goes. But if you want to just really put this into its proper context take that Will.I.Am music video from 2008 where Scarlett Johansson is singing and replace all the clips and sound bites of Obama with Angela Merkel, somber Angela Merkel, and just watch that, and you will see what I'm talking about. so again in 2020 don't vote for a savior figure — politicians are deeply flawed, just like we're all deeply flawed, and that nobody's going to save us, we're going to save ourselves, and with that said I do want to say that I'm buying up all the merchandise and I'm buying up all the fan pages and I'm going to go all in very early on because I have a good instinct about this I am all for Kamala Harris. I'm all for Kamala Harris. And I'm going to go on record early, I know, I'm going to.

Sarah Kendzior: Woah

Andrea Chalupa: I'm all in and here's why because here are the very compelling reasons I think Kamala has to at a minimum just beyond the ticket, VP or president doesn't matter. So Kamala, first and foremost, she is from Northern California which is the Rebel Alliance like in Star Wars, Northern California is so progressive and forward thinking it leads the rest of country forward we're all behind Northern California, she is from Oakland born and raised in Oakland. Oakland is the center of everything good right now — in New York City they're selling T-shirts that say Oakland, like that's like the big artistic and activist moment that Oakland is having right now, culturally in America. She was the attorney general and the senator of California which is the fifth largest economy, now bigger than Britain, so it's practically being a leader of a significant influential country, okay, so that's enough experience to be leader of the world. The problem is that Democrats often-overlooked talent coming from California because their slaves to the electoral map. But look at Republicans — Republicans elected two presidents from California Reagan and Nixon and they did just fine with electoral map so we really have to give California a chance and not take it for granted — it's the most populous states in the union. Californian's happen to be everywhere they'll be electrified they'll be activated wherever they are across the union and, you know, if you get somebody — we can't be calculated anymore. You can't do a Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and name drop war criminal Henry Kissinger in a speech 'cause you think that's going to be a dog whistle to independents and Republicans. No, you're talking about a war criminal, like he should be stripped from any Democratic party platform speech ever given through like the rest of history, that should be like an official Proclamation by the Democratic party like that's how horrible that person is so, but that was a calculated move that she made. You can no longer afford to make calculated moves, its no longer politics as usual. Everything's been destroyed and now's the time to rebuild stronger than before and build a more progressive Union and to take Moon shots to take big chances to work hard and to inspire people with your message and a progressive that was great at this was Howard Dean when he led that 50 state strategy that got Obama elected in 2008. So as long as you have good strong messaging, good strong progressive values and platform, a 50 state strategy 'cause there's progressives everywhere, everywhere, then someone like Kamala Harris stands a very strong chance and yes she's not perfect, but she is a fighter she's done some brilliant fact-checking in Senate hearings that you could do a wonderful compilation of her of her of how much she sliced into people in the Senate hearings that would go viral and so I'm really excited about her and just, you know, to give a good example of what a fighter she is she refused to give a cop killer the death penalty even after Senator Dianne Feinstein at the time called her out for it at the cop's funeral and thousands of police stood up and applauded that, she would not back down she did not believe in the death penalty in that case, so Kamala Harris is somebody that stands by her values, yes she's made mistakes yes there's room for evolution, room for improvement like there is for all of us and I just think especially being a woman of color, you know, it's the women of color who are like a major part of the dam that are keeping fascism from flooding America right now it's not like the pundits on TV it's not Steve Schmidt and and David Frum and other so-called ally Republicans who get to see Joe Scarborough it's not up to Joe and Mika to determine who our democratic Challenger is going to be, they're not the ones who are going to be driving relentlessly day-in-and-day-out people to the polls, it's black women who are going to be doing that, so it's like I just think Kamala Harris is somebody that if she were a man, she would be spoken about more seriously as a serious threat and, you know, she has even more experience right now than Obama had when he ran for office. so I think that she's a major threat I think she's inspiring and tough and I would love to see her as President of the United States. But unfortunately since she's a woman they're going to be settling for her to be VP, but she should be President.

Sarah Kendzior: No I mean I'm not endorsing her or staking any claim on anyone until after the debates like I, I feel very cautious about this and I just want to see what people stand for and watch how this plays out, you know, but one thing, you know, if you're a listener of this podcast this may be your reprieve from the male-dominated media in that we obviously are taking the female candidates just as seriously as the male candidates and we're not going to be having endless talks about their likability, often it's the qualities that people deride in women that we actually like when women are outspoken when they're tough, when they fight, when they don't take any shit. So yeah if you want some reprieve from all that crap stay tuned to Gaslight Nation.
Andrea Chalupa: The show with zero likability.
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Andrea Chalupa