The Comey Effect
This isn’t just a shutdown – it’s a hostile restructuring. As the longest shutdown in US history drags on, Sarah and Andrea discuss the incredible toll it’s taken on workers, the economy and national security. We discuss the apocalyptic vision of much of the GOP elite, including rapture-fiend Mike Pompeo and nuke-lover Trump, and how their destructiveness ties into the current goals of the shutdown. We also discuss the NYT non-revelation that Trump is a Russian asset (see every damn episode of Gaslit Nation for more on that, folks!) who is being investigated by the FBI, and ask yet again why the FBI didn’t do anything earlier. Andrea explains how “The Comey Effect” is the new butterfly effect. We also discuss Ivanka helping pick the leader of the World Bank, the yellow vest protests in Europe, the latest attacks on Andrea’s sister from acting Attorney General Whitaker (!) and more.
Sarah Kendzior: I'm Sarah Kendzior, I'm a journalist, and scholars of authoritarian states focused on the former Soviet Union, and the author of the book The View From Flyover Country.
Andrea Chalupa: My name is Andrea Chalupa. I'm a writer, activist and filmmaker focused on Ukraine and Russia.
Sarah Kendzior: And this is Gaslit Nation the podcast examining corruption in the Trump Administration and the rise of authoritarianism around the world, and now we are in week three of the government shutdown. We told you two weeks ago that this shutdown was intentional, that it was planned that it was beneficial to the Trump Administration and not just the result incompetence. It is now the longest shut down in US history, and there are a lot of, you know, dire consequences to that that we’ve discussed in the previous shows. this is not about a wall this is about stripping the government down and selling it for parts without any oversight or accountability. And what's important is that this is not just a result of Trump. it's true that Trump is holding the country hostage, but he's doing it in tandem with the GOP, and in many ways this is an extension of what the GOP had previously attempted to do in the 2013 shut down, and as evidence of that I'm going to read to you a little bit from my book The View from Flyover Country where I wrote about that shut down in an essay called “A Government Shutdown, a Social Breakdown”, and what this broader agenda of the GOP is, because while obviously, the political climate has changed dramatically with Trump, the base direction of what they're attempting to do hasn't, so here we go:
"We are passive subjects, held hostage to a vindictive minority divorced from public will.
Political scientist Daniel Drezner has noted that the government shutdown has no real precedent in American history. "The material interests on the GOP side appear to have zero influence over their party," he writes, noting the failure of the long-standing American tradition of pluralism. "Now it's the ideological interests that are ascendant — and this poses enormous challenges to the American body politic."
Rule by ideology is far more dangerous than it was in the 1990s because this shutdown takes place in extreme economic vulnerability. Like the current shutdown, the current unemployment crisis has no precedent. The great lesson of the past decade was that any employee can be arbitrarily deemed non-essential or unworthy of pay.
In an era when entry-level jobs become unpaid internships and full-time jobs turn into contingency labor, it is easy to imagine the cuts from the sequester becoming permanent. Shutdown furloughs may turn into layoffs, as elected officials, now marketing survival as the new American Dream, will assure us that we did fine without them.
The non-essential worker is the archetypal hire. Our worst case scenarios are simply scenarios."
Sarah Kendzior: And then a little more on that
"Today the attack on the poor is no longer cloaked in ideology – it is ideology itself. This ideology is not shared by most Americans, but by those seeking to transform the Republican Party into, as GOP operative Mike Lofgren describes it, "an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe."
These are the people who have decided that poor children should be denied food as a result of elected officials wanting poor people to have healthcare.
The government shutdown only formalizes the dysfunction that has been hurting ordinary Americans for decades. It is not a political shutdown, but a social breakdown. Fixing it requires a reassessment of value – and values.
When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatize those who let people die, not those who struggle to live."
Sarah Kendzior: So I wrote that in October of 2013 and unfortunately, you know, much of these conditions are still in play, certainly the exploitation of people who are suffering and this idea that it's deserved and I have more I want to say on this, but Andrea do you have anything you want to weigh in on in response to that or should I just keep ranting?
Andrea Chalupa: I don't think the shutdown's going anywhere, I think it's all part of Trump's orchestrated reality show of terror. He is desperately clinging on to it as leverage in this ongoing hostage situation. It's creating a huge distraction, it's consuming air time, of course, on cable news and all of that is intentional because we're seeing now bombshell after bombshell coming out reminding us again, but in new ways of saying it that Donald Trump, the president of the United States is a Russian mafia asset, and he knows the walls are closing in on him and so as we keep saying, this shutdown is very much a distraction of nearly a million lives being impacted across America, just for a criminal and his criminal family to protect themselves, that's what this is about. And I want to point to this latest absurdity where this president who likes to claim he's a billionaire, we don't know if he's a billionaire, but he boasts that he spent $3,000 catering, himself, because of the shutdown, the banquet for the Clemson University football team, the Champions, coming over the White House to be celebrated for their incredible season, and what is this Monopoly-style board game cartoon billionaire created by Mark Burnett, what does he do? He treats them to a banquet of McDonald's and other fast-food so I want to point to that because I just think it's it's just such a perfect metaphor. The president abuses McDonald's just like he abuses everything else in the world except for Ivanka. If I were McDonald's I would send the President a cease-and-desist letter at this point 'cause all of this points to reports over the years that he loves his McDonald's he sends people out to get him Big Macs or whatever and I that's honestly what he does all day is he eats McDonald's and he watches Fox News and he has Twitter meltdowns and look at the chaos that we're privy to, the chaos that is coming out and reports. Unfortunately, all the best leakers in the White House have gone, they've been pushed out, and we're not left with too many and so a lot of those stories of Mad King George that used to come out especially in the beginning of administration we have less of those, but we do see the crisis just because of the fact that our government is shut down and there's no end in sight to that, and the Twitter meltdowns are constant, and so if this is the chaos we see imagine the chaos we're not seeing behind closed doors. And we know this is a president that is pure chaos and all that chaos is there to, of course, be a weapon to protect himself and his family against their long history of crimes and self-enrichment and just general Kleptocracy now that they're all in power, but I think all of this points to, okay, if he cares more about McDonald's and Fox News and fighting on Twitter, then who is really in charge? Who is the president in the United States right now? And I think it's safe to say that the de facto Presidents of the United States are Jared and Ivanka.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: And I know we're going to talk about this on the show, but I think it's always a good time to pull this up higher in our coverage — Ivanka Trump was floated as a possible contender to lead the World Bank. Because as we're always saying on the show, if there's anything he's — that Donald Trump has any loyalty to, it's his daughter Ivanka and the end game for this is to make Ivanka Trump the first female president of the united states, and just to continue the kleptocracy and continue protecting themselves from any accountability. And you see Ivanka now, no, she won't be at the head of the World Bank, but she is helping decide who will be the next president of the World Bank. Ivanka Trump. That's as surreal as that photo of Donald Trump standing before a portrait of Lincoln in front of a giant banquet of McDonald's. That's the level of how surreal this has become.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, no I wish our problem was McDonald's we — honestly like having McDonald's in the White House is probably how I would operate as President as well — but that said, I think that that was a distraction that was something to get people away from the issues you know, both the suffering that citizens have endured under the shutdown, but also to your point, the kleptocracy, particularly the dynastic kleptocracy. And I think what we're seeing in the shutdown is, you know, at this point, you know, a unified agenda to shut the government down, deem essential services unnecessary, deem essential hires unnecessary. It’s for the Republicans to say, you know, we don't need this Government after all, you know, which is something that they've been saying since the 1980s but, you know, I do see a potential split here because while GOP has always sought to privatize federal industries and to profit off that pain of deprivation, Trump is distinct, you know, Trump has a distinct loathing for the United States and has utter deference to hostile foreign States and it's irrelevant to Trump whether the US continues to exist. He may also like the GOP want to strip the country down and sell it for parts, but he doesn't care who the buyer is and he prioritizes foreign buyer. And I kind of wonder how this is sitting, you know, with with American plutocrats. People like, you know, the Koch brothers who have long tried for this kind of initiative, but for their own benefit or people like Mike Pence that, you know, I think do have– they do value America in their own way. It's not a healthy way, it's not a way that's beneficial to Americans but, you know, they would object to the idea of America being broken into pieces and sold off to foreign markets which is something that Trump, Kushner and others in his inner circle are perfectly fine with as long as it benefits them financially. So I'm wondering if we will see, you know, some kind of tension. But the thing that I'm really worried about is that people keep throwing out potential solutions to the shutdown or should the Democrats compromise or are Trump's poll numbers falling or what does the base think? I feel like all of that is irrelevant because nobody has leverage in this situation, you know, the Democrats don't have leverage. Trump doesn't actually care what his base thinks, he doesn't care about what his voters think. This is the end game. The shutdown is not a means to an end, it is the end, and I'm worried given all of the developments in the investigation, you know, we're going to talk about the fact that the FBI has finally admitted that they got around to investigating Trump in 2017 that, you know, he to some extent if flaunting power and to another extent he's panicked, you know, he's backed in and I think that shutting down the government, basically destroying the country, was the end game. It was just a matter of when he would play that hand, when they would go that route and I think it's now. You know, I hope that by next week this shutdown ends and I kind of doubt it's going to. I'm not sure it's ever going to in a conventional sense like I feel like we've — we're headed into something, we are in something unparalleled to any situation we've seen before, like this is the moment that we've been dreading.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, it's amazing because both the US right now and Brexit – over in the UK they're dealing with the same sort of survival level uncertainty. They don't know what their country's going to look like if there is, for instance, a No Deal Brexit and that could affect everything from life dependent medications that need to come into the country from other European nations, air traffic control, and a whole list of basic needs that are taken care of every day that people often take for granted. All of that is going to be thrown into chaos and all that uncertainty, because of the potential now, because of the conservatives in the UK for a No Deal Brexit. And we'll see how that's all going to unfold over the next couple of months. And here in the US we have the same sort of level of the survival of crisis and what's fascinating is both the US and UK, of course, were thrown into this disarray by Kremlin asymmetrical Warfare of like pumping in fake news, the Kremlin aligning itself with corrupt conservatives in the UK, of course, Aaron Banks and Nigel Farage and others, and in the US the GOP and the NRA and, of course, the Trump Clan. And so before Russia was invading Ukraine, the UK and the US were united in standing up against Russian aggression and now both countries are completely hobbled and — their own Alliance has been strained to the point where the United States President attacked British intelligence, so how can we trust our longtime strong solid allies, the Brits, to share any important intelligence with us if they feel like they're giving that directly to the Kremlin by giving it to the White House. So this is an unprecedented crisis on both sides of the pond and it's stunning it's stunning.
Andrea Chalupa: [ad break]
Sarah Kendzior: Once again Trump has announced his intent to pull the United States out of NATO and people are freaking out even though this has been something that Trump campaigned on, it's something that he said repeatedly during the time that he was president, and that perspective where he basically viewed NATO as a flawed Mafia protection racket goes all the way back to the late 1980s when you started taking out ads in newspapers trashing our allies saying we didn't need them that includes not just NATO countries, but also Japan was a particular target and now we're seeing him put those views into practice, and it's so frustrating to watch this because, you know, he has been consistent in that just as he's consistent in his deference to Russia just as he's consistent in his racism, and people — I don't know how people just assumed that once he gets power, he's not going to actually enact after these platforms, that it's impossible, that he'll be checked, that he'll be held back, but that's the other great commonality to Trump's life is that no one checks him. You know, all of these forces, you know, law enforcement, intelligence, all of these different groups have been completely ineffective at holding him back or bringing any kind of consequences to acts of criminal impunity or to really destructive ideas and so I won't be surprised if we do leave NATO. And, you know, we'll talk about this more, but this is part of a broader global alignment, you know, what you brought up before with Ivanka potentially heading the World Bank or being a person who selects the person who heads the World Bank. This is filling a vacuum that they've created we've had weird abrupt resignations worldwide, you know, we had the situation with the head of Interpol happening before and we've had a series of elections that have put in extreme right-wing leaders all over Eastern Europe, in the Philippines, in Brazil. We've seen, you know, countries like Turkey transition, you know, into basically dictatorships and as you brought up we have this incredible– like the constant instability of Brexit in the US and so yeah I mean it's a lot to take in I'm sure our audience is like super thrilled right now. But, you know, I guess this might be a good time to talk to – well, why hasn't anyone stopped this? And also the kind of non-revelation story that came out in the New York Times this week, the New York Times who famously claimed that investigating Trump, FBI finds no link to Russia, has now said that yes, the FBI has found a link to Russia, in 2017! After this had all been widely discussed in the public domain, after Hillary Clinton called Trump a Putin puppet on stage and released a video laying out his Russian ties. After Harry Reid begged Comey to inform the public about the threat of Russia and the election which he didn't, after Paul Manafort had been fired from the Trump campaign because of his illicit ties, and we could go on, and on, and on! Just, you know, listen to any episode of this podcast you're going to get a long list of Trump's illicit dealings with Russia and his criminal ties going back 30 years, so the question is in my mind like why the hell didn't they investigate until 2017, and is that even true like do you think that that's the real story?
Andrea Chalupa: Well I know for a fact that my sister, when she took it upon herself as a consultant at the DNC to investigate Paul manafort and what was he doing here what was Yanukovych's hand of the king doing running Donald Trump's campaign for president? And my sister really stuck her neck out for that investigation and, as we talked about on previous episodes, experienced death threats, an attempted break-in on her house in the middle of the night, her car has been trashed several times inside, all these messages sending her violent threats to try to silence her. She took her research to the FBI during the election itself in 2016 and she did not hear a response really until Obama called his intelligence report after the election result came out in with the surprise victory of Donald Trump, and that was finally when Obama knew that he had to act on what he had known the entire time which is that the Russians were hacking our election to weaken one candidate and bring to power the other candidate, a candidate they had a long-standing mutually beneficial relationship with which, of course, is, Donald Trump. And so when Obama called his intelligence report that very day my sister got a call from the FBI basically saying what do you know, give us your information and she, you know, handed it to them because she was asked. But I do think the foot-dragging, the fact that Harry Reid, my sister, Christopher Steele — these are experts that were pressuring the FBI or calling, alerting the FBI and urging some sort of action what were we saying you and I Sarah– isn't somebody going to do something?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, that should be the tagline of this show.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes it is. And so I think all of this points to the fact that James Comey, where were you in 2016, other than obsessing over the search for Hillary Clinton's emails and holding that bizarre press conference where you called her careless for doing exactly what you were doing at the time which is — you, too, James Comey, you were using personal email for government business. And on top of that he sends that ridiculous letter right before the election like he creates his own October Surprise saying we're going to reopen this Hillary email case and he sends it to — to Congress and he knows that the rabid Republicans are going to leak that letter and they do and Nate Silver showed that James Comey's October Surprise letter probably had a very big impact on swinging the election towards Donald Trump. So you know, James Comey — write as many books as you want trying to glorify yourself. You can't hide from history. Any free society that has access to all the information of what's going on right now, they're going to know who you are and what you did, and what you didn't do. And you are the one, James Comey, you're like the Aaron Burr who shot our democracy and the Western Alliance in the heart. In fact, you know, there's something called The Butterfly Effect where there's like a little small change could have major repercussions. Well now we have the Comey effect, where you're so overcome by your own misogyny, you're so derelict in Duty that you basically bring the Republic to the brink and pretty much destroy the Western Alliance. It's amazing. So everyone, get that out there. We need like a white male in the mainstream media to repeat everything I just said so it goes so goes into the public record, okay? The Comey Effect — everyone start using it, that's who James Comey is. And I want to also call out the Cliff Clavin of the resistance. If you grew up watching a show called Cheers you would know who Cliff Clavin is. He's the regular in the bar Cheers where everybody knows your name and everyone sort of tolerates him and he sits at the bar with his little factoids, he's a mailman, he thinks he's a lot smarter than he actually is. He's basically a posterboy for white male mediocrity, that's Cliff Clavin. You know who I'm talking about right Sarah?
Sarah Kendzior: Oh yeah yeah I'm old enough for that.
Andrea Chalupa: So Ben Wittes is The Cliff Clavin of the resistance. Like, he's somebody who came into the spotlight on James Comey's coattails as his best friend. My first introduction to Ben was like, who is this guy basically being a mouthpiece or James Comey and what's going on? And it's like, James Comey's wingman — Ben Wittes, and that's sort have been his claim to fame and people have turned to this guy as an expert even though he has so many bad takes, even though he promoted and defended Brett Kavanaugh, and also promoted and defended William Barr. And one of the things that he's now getting called out for finally, Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly has a great piece about this where he writes:
"Wittes seems to be realizing for the first time that Trump's efforts to obstruct the investigation may be little more than an element of the underlying problem, which is that Trump has been working on the behalf of Russian interests all along."
Andrea Chalupa: ...yes!?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah no, shit man. Like, what the hell?
Andrea Chalupa: I almost feel like can I just say, I know you want to go off on the this, everyone wants to go off on this it's like suddenly Christmas morning for us and wanting to go off on this. Ben Wittes — his bad takes may have been fed directly to him by his friend James Comey. James Comey trying to defend his record his legacy by downplaying the danger.
Sarah Kendzior: Exactly
Andrea Chalupa: Because if — this entire time we were being invaded by Russia through Donald Trump which we were, which you and I pointed out, during the election itself which Hillary Clinton repeatedly pointed out during the election itself, then this happened on James Comey's watch as the Director of the FBI who was tasked to protect us, who was tasked to lead his agents to protect us, whose FBI was already investigating Yanukovych and the estimated tens of billions of dollars that disappeared, especially when Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia. And who was one of Yanukovych is top generals, politically speaking? It was Paul Manafort! Who is suddenly in the US running Donald Trump's campaign. So where were you, James Comey? We know where you are now, you're hiding desperately, rewriting, hiding from history.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah exactly and they're a bunch of things that I want to comment about this, I mean one of these is the claim itself that the FBI did not formally start investigating Trump in 2017 where you have to ask why not? But it also brings to mind to Steele Dossier which, of course, the FBI had a copy of before it was released through BuzzFeed in January 2017. In that dossier, it says that Trump has in fact been an object of FBI investigation since 2011 and that parallels very well with Mueller's famous speech about the iron triangles, you know, so-called iron triangles of corporate malfeasance, organized crime and government corruption. We read that speech and discussed it in detail in the third episode of Gaslit Nation, because it so clearly seemed to characterize, if not Trump himself, then certainly people like Trump and it named Trump's associates, it named, you know, the head of the Russian mafia Semion Mogilevich, you know, in that speech, you know, giving us the idea that okay at least Mueller seemed to be aware of what was happening although he did nothing about it. Then you get to Comey who came in in 2013 when the threat was much more severe, when US infrastructure had been repeatedly hacked by Russia, and Russian aggression had increased, where you had Donald Trump who should have been and maybe was in the eye of, you know, New York law enforcement and of that branch of the FBI and the FBI in general, running for president, getting access to classified intelligence once he became the candidate, having his whole circle of criminals, therefore, having access to that, I mean that should have been stopped. That is why Harry Reid was so desperate to have the situation explained to the public. I mean I think part of it is so we would just have a broader understanding, but it was a national security crisis and there were other intelligence officials who were speaking out at that time and I kept thinking, you know, if I can figure this out from Missouri with like a laptop and documents in the public domain, like what in the world are these people doing? And I, you know, I remember the panic we felt in October when it seemed clear that something was deeply wrong with the FBI, that something was deeply wrong with Comey, and that they were not going to stop this. They were, in fact, going to enable it. And then the other thing, you know, your theory about Comey potentially feeding information to Wittes or at least, you know, they're in the same kind of DC Social Circle, they want a certain narrative of what happened to be put out, I think that's possible and I think that, you know, there is something so unbelievably cruel about the way that this has been covered. Not just the gaslighting, but the cruelty of false assurances, you know, this endless array of, you know, with Ben Wittes it's like, you know, he puts boom and then it's usually something we already knew or kind of a formalization of something everybody suspected, like, Trump we know is a Russian asset, now he's being investigated as such, boom. And then the expectation is that there's going to be consequences, the expectation is that somebody is finally going to step up and put a stop to acts of criminal impunity that are destroying this country and that this nightmare will come to an end. And, you know, he's not alone in doing this — there were a lot of legal analysts, I think in part because they just had much more faith in American institutions than was warranted that did this. There were a ton of grifters who came out saying, you know, oh, there's a secret plan among, you know, former presidents and intelligence officers to end this and Trump will be out by next week, or with Louise Mensch, you have Trump is already out and Orrin Hatch is our secret president and he was taken away by the Marshal of the Supreme Court. You have all this out there because people so desperately wanted to hear that it wasn't true. And there's such an array of wishful thinking from the population at large which I think is completely understandable, and magical thinking from people working in law enforcement and intelligence, but what that added up collectively was a failure of imagination, and a failure to take responsibility. Comey has never taken responsibility for what he did, he's only profited off it, you know, his book A Higher Royalty he did very well for himself, and it's so frustrating and, you know, the same is true of the New York Times, you know, and their contribution to the disinformation that was spread about Trump and Russia and what exactly was happening, what exactly they were trying to accomplish in the election like it's such a mess. And I want to bring up the new article related to your sister but, you know, do you have other things you'd like to say on that?
Andrea Chalupa: Before we get to that 'cause that's they're always going after my sister. They're really trying to beat that dead horse against my sister just like they did with Hillary and her emails, and that, of course, I'm talking about the Trump regime. But I want to point out — James Comey, he spent years at the world's largest hedge fund pulling in millions of dollars and this hedge fund was — it’s Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. It was notorious for extreme surveillance, videotaping every meeting, that sort of thing. Like that would’ve been great for some sort of American Psycho Seque –– and some people pointed to the fact that James Comey came from that weird hedge fund where they had a culture of extreme surveillance and extreme transparency and that's probably why he was holding a press conference, breaking protocol to do that,to talk about Hillary's emails and then sending that letter to Congress that he was reopening the investigation Hillary's emails right before election day. Okay, if he had extreme transparency when it came to Hillary Clinton, why didn't he have extreme transparency about the Russian mafia asset running for President? Why did only Hillary Clinton so-called “benefit” from James Comey's "training and experience" at this hedge fund of being trained to act in the way of extreme transparency it — that doesn't make sense and it's just that his behavior, I mean the only thing that could possibly excuse it is that he just was overcome by his own misogyny like so many white men of privilege in 2016 in the media and the political arena. And I think also, the fact that they couldn't touch Trump and his Coalition of Corruption that was being driven by Kremlin money, Kremlin support on so many levels, from conduits like Maria Butina within the NRA to Paul Manafort himself passing on 2016 campaign data, election data, to Russians linked to the Kremlin. The reason why we're not seeing yet, we may never see, some big interaction between Putin and Trump themselves during the 2016 election is because they didn't need it. These are bosses, these are two crime bosses, they've got their foot soldiers going around doing this work for them. They have Manafort taking meetings in Europe, they have Michael Cohen possibly taking a meeting in Prague. We know now that there was like cell phone data linking him to Prague of when he would have been there. And so these guys could keep their — Putin himself is known to keep his hands clean from the murders of his opponents and, and hiding his money which he funnels all over through various oligarch foot soldiers. That's what they do. They're bosses and they run their operations like bosses. They bark, they delegate orders, but they know, like bosses, what is going on at any time. And that brings us to the kids. If you look at how Sally Yates warned us that Michael Flynn was compromised, that Michael Flynn was working with the Russians, that he was talking to Ambassador Kislyak, back and forth, and the Russians knew that, and therefore that made him compromised, well what about Ivanka Trump and Don Jr. and Jared Kushner? But mainly Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump. These two were compromised just like Michael Flynn was. Ivanka was all about creating the spa, the Ivanka Trump Spa inside the Moscow Trump Tower. She knew about this. So the entire time in 2016 when Ivanka Trump was going around smiling for everyone and waving and people were claiming that Ivanka Trump was going to be the moderating force and that “oh wow did you not love that Democratic speech she gave at the Republican convention?” When everyone was giving Ivanka Trump far too much credit and putting far too much faith in her the entire time, when her father was getting pressed about his connections to Russia and denying that he had any business deals with Russia. Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump knows damn well that she has a spa with her name on it in the Moscow Trump Tower should that deal go through. So, Ivanka Trump herself was compromised. Don Jr. said a big portion of our money is coming from Russia, he's going — the kids are going on trips to Russia. That is one way the Kremlin hooks you is they rope in your children. And we know that they harass and target the family members of dissidents and opposition leaders they did that to the Russian oligarch Khodorkovsky. They went after his father. Khodorkovsky, of course, being the one that dared to run for president against Putin and he ended up getting his entire fortune liquidated and thrown into prison. They did that to Alexei Navalny who's now one of the most viable opposition leaders against Putin and inspiring all those kids to go out to the street and protest corruption. They arrested his brother. So they like to target family members, and they also like to rope in family members of corrupt leaders to compromise them so they have leverage on the father, in this case, Trump, whoever the parent is who's in power. So just like Michael Flynn, Don Jr. and Ivanka are just as dirty and just as compromised and their dirtiness, their corruption, is the kompromat that the Kremlin had on Trump during the 2016 campaign just some of that kompromat.
Sarah Kendzior: And it's also something that the FBI, and I don't know how they could have not be aware of it, because the person who accompanied Ivanka Trump to Russia and Don Jr. was Felix Sater who was, you know, a Russian mafia operative who sometimes worked as an FBI informant. You know, it's unclear at this point what exactly, you know, his role is now, whether he's cooperating with the investigation, whether he's still just an active mobster who no one does anything about, because we have quite a few of those. He's a childhood friend of Michael Cohen. Both of them were basically brought up in the Russian mob and they emailed each other in 2015 about their plan to install Donald Trump as President of the United States and they were very proud of this plan. But one of the things that Felix Sater wrote in that email was a discussion of the trip that he took with Ivanka and Don Jr. in 2006 where he says, “I arranged for Ivanka to sit at Putin's private chair, and his desk and office in the Kremlin” and then, you know, they go on and they discuss the, you know, these real estate deals that they want to do and, you know, making sure that they arranged things for Trump's candidacy, like how in the world would the FBI not have that on their radar when this guy literally their informant? You know, he's their guy! In the midst of Trump doing things in 2016, for example, like asking Russia to give him Hillary Clinton's emails and saying that the media will reward him, like, how could that not have rung a bell? That's one of the reasons that I'm so suspicious, and then that brings us to the present day where we know that they know that he's a Russian asset. And they certainly know that he's ill-equipped in many many ways to be president, you know, mentally, in terms of his criminal ties, his exploitation of the office, you know, which he went on to do throughout all the things we listed last episode in terms of things that merit impeachment–– emoluments violations, obstruction of justice, high crimes and misdemeanors. Why are they not acting with any kind of urgency? Because what you have is a president who is, you know, an asset for a hostile State who is working to stack the courts, rewrite the laws, and now shut down the government. And yet they don't feel that it's necessary to indict? They don't feel like it's necessary to indict Jared or Ivanka or other deeply corrupt high ranking officials even though this literally could mean the end of our country? And it's certainly causing immense suffering and global instability. And so I just don't get, like, what are they doing? We know the FBI's been purged, that's been happening for the last few years, where Trump fired a lot of the best experts they had on the Russian mafia, that was predictable, so like why not act before your purge? Why not act before the country collapses? Like, I just I don't get it.
Andrea Chalupa: What I find really interesting is that one of the leading experts on Putin in the entire world, Fiona Hill, who wrote the book on Putin and how his mind works– it's called Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin– Fiona Hill is who you want when you're taking on the Kremlin. In fact, in that Helsinki Hell Summit over the last summer, when the US side is sitting down across from the Russian side, Fiona Hill is the only one from the US side who is staring down Vladimir Putin, because she knows that that's what you have to do. You have to stand up to bullies, you have to show strength to a former head of the FSB, you have to show strength towards a former KGB agent, and Fiona Hill was the only one representing any expertise, any decency, any strength on the American side in that Helsinki trip and I can't even imagine what's been going through her head working in the White House of the President who is a Russian mafia asset. And I don't even know how Fiona Hill got the job. I mean, that gives me some faith in the establishment, that Fiona HIll was hired by this White House somehow. That may have been some oversight by Trump. I think Fiona Hill has survived this long in Trump's White House, given that so many other relatively stable experts have left, because Fiona Hill wrote the book on Vladimir Putin, a autocrat who lives in his own warped reality and abuses his power, wants to kill journalists, all of it. That autocrat has been mentoring this Trump wannabe-autocrat. So I really believe that Fiona Hill has survived the Trump regime because she knows how to deal with Trump because she knows how to deal with Putin.
Sarah Kendzior: [ad break]
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah I mean it's possible. It is interesting 'cause we hardly hear anything about her. You know, I had to double-check that she is in fact still there and you know, I mean in terms of people in the Trump White House, she's obviously by far one of the better ones. She's written some things on Uzbekistan that I found a little bit questionable in the past, but nonetheless, yeah, I think it's worth looking into what she's been doing and whether she actually has any effect on this Administration at all. I know that overseas, you know, there have been a number of concerned officials in Eastern Europe. You know, in 2017 I spoke at a conference in Estonia which featured the president of Estonia and the president of Finland in the audience, and, you know, and I expressed my concern, you know, that Trump was an unstable leader that he was a Russian asset and that he intended to withdraw the US from NATO and intended to break off our traditional alliances with our partners in Europe. She was very skeptical of this, you know, ultimately I turned out to be right and I told her this time like I hope I'm wrong about all this, I hope you're right, but it's not how it turned out. But, you know, she mentioned that she had spoken to, you know, other officials in the White House that gave her confidence that the relationship between the US and Estonia, the relationship between the US and any country in Eastern Europe that's been historically threatened by Russia, would remain strong and that we would remain protected and I kind of wondered if she was one of them. Another one who was explicitly mentioned by her by the way was Mattis who, of course, is gone, so that kind of barrier has been removed and we are now left with warmongering John Bolton and a bunch of acting officials and a government that's openly deferential to a hostile state.
So today a new article came out in the New York Review of Books. It's by Murray Waas and it’s called Matthew Whitaker: The Ethical Mire of Trump's Top Law Officer and I'm going to read a little bit of this to you because as you can probably hear, Andrea is sick and is bravely toughing out this episode --
Andrea Chalupa: I'm sick of everything!
Sarah Kendzior: She's sick of everything! She is sick metaphorically, she is sick literally, and is hacking her way, in every sense, through Gaslit Nation. So I'm going to read one of the key paragraphs in this article which goes into the threats that Andrea’s sister Alexandra Chalupa, who is a researcher on Ukraine, who had discovered manafort's ties, you know, his illicit activity and informed the DNC about it back in in 2016 and then it was, of course, targeted by the Trump campaign in retaliation. We talked about this a lot in the first few episodes of the show for those who want to catch up. The article goes into that case in great detail. So here's one section:
"The complaint against Chalupa and the DNC was extraordinary for another reason: one former Trump administration official and one current one told me that Whitaker made the filing only after the White House encouraged him to do so."
And just to and break in, Whitaker is the acting attorney general who replaced Jeff Sessions.
"As a CNN legal commentator and the head of FACT, Whitaker was one of the most high-profile and outspoken critics of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. That caught the attention of President Trump. As a result, Whitaker was interviewed by then-White House Counsel Don McGahn and a second lawyer for the president about joining Trump's legal team. Although Whitaker did not get the job, he and White House officials discussed how Whitaker might serve the president's interests in a private capacity. They suggested specific arguments Whitaker could make in defense of the President. They encouraged him to attack Mueller relentlessly, and they identified other possible targets for him."
Sarah Kendzior: And so, you know, a couple of significant things of note. One is that the acting attorney general is, of course, opposed to the Mueller investigation and is a Trump lackey that's trying to impede democracy and a thorough investigation. The other is, of course, that one of those targets is Andrea's sister, who they've been using in their propaganda. So, what are your thoughts on that in waking up to this news?
Andrea Chalupa: Well, we knew that Whitaker was going to come after her 'cause that's what Trump brought him in to do, to protect Trump and his family at all costs, even if that meant persecuting innocent people. I mean it's the same sort of Banana Republic acrobatics that we saw Devin Nunes being put — doing on behalf of the president. He's got his German Shepherds, as all good Nazis do, barking at justice, coming for him. So yeah, no, we knew this was — when Whittaker was announced it was like, okay Ali, well, let's see what they try now. And one thing that people should know is, I think we've mentioned on the show, in June 2017 the harassment picked up again at my sister's house and we were wondering why they suddenly started harassing her again. And then we saw that they were — it turns out that they were trying to get inside her head and weaken her, destabilize her, so she would be off her game, so to speak, when they finally came out and tried to distract from the series of bombshells in the New York Times exposing that Don Jr. and Kushner and Manafort met with Kremlin representatives inside Trump Tower in June 2016 to do a quid pro quo deal — dropping Russian sanctions in exchange for campaign help. When that revelation came out, Don Jr. and the rest of the far-right propaganda machine successfully hijacked the media's attention and put it on my sister, this hit piece done by Ken Vogel in Politico at the time, trying to say that my sister colluded with Ukraine in 2016 which simply isn't true. My sister's acting as a whistleblower to alert her country that the Russians were here hijacking our election. And that, of course, has all been debunked by credible journalists. So right when Whitaker was taking over, my sister had her car broken into and trashed again, and so it was sort of a sign that they're coming for her, they're trying to scare, her 'cause they — they want they want to destabilize you, they want to terrorize you, they want to intimidate you. And so that's happening to my sister. Imagine all the other political targets including men and women in the FBI and other parts of government who have been forced out. Imagine the harassment they're living with. This is what the mafia does. Intimidating witnesses. That is what the mafia does. So, I'm glad that everybody is finally caught up. I'm glad that it's been revealed that the FBI was investigating Trump as working for the Kremlin's interests, and now we all need to catch up with the fact that this is– that Putin's Russia is a Mafia State and Trump has many well-known documented Russian mafia links and connections. Trump Tower's practically a dorm for the Russian Mafia. This is a Russian mafia crime family that is in the White House, and they're using those same sort of tactics to consolidate their hold on power. And that includes intimidating and threatening the lives of innocent people.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah and it's ongoing I mean a lot of times when we record the show, I feel like we're in like a live rerun, you know, like we have discussed this so many times. We discussed it when it was happening in 2016. Then we went back and did a recap of what happened in 2016 so our audience would know. Then we had to basically do a recap of the recap, like well why didn't anyone believe us the first five times that we told you and here we are, yet again, with it confirmed, with the FBI finally admitting that they're investigating, with your sister still being harassed, and, you know, that’s the point that I want to drive home is that none of this is in the past. This is an ongoing crisis, this is definitely an ongoing point of stress for us. And there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, at least not an end that will result in accountability, in rule of law, in the restoration of our rights and the restoration to our safety. We always saw it this way with Trump because that is how he operates, you know, he's a creature of Destruction. He preys on it, he waits for it, you know, every moment where he's benefited from something in his life it's been at the expense of, you know, usually the most vulnerable people. Whether it's the housing crisis, whether it's, you know, what he's done through his businesses and his casinos and his bankruptcies. And so, you know, for him to be in the role of the president, like, this was never going to end gracefully. This was never going to have some sort of Nixonian farewell of getting into a helicopter and talking about American values. But what's scaring me is that I know that they see it this way too, like, I don't think they see a way out. I don't think Trump sees a way out. It's like his mind is incapable of it. He either just sees sort of a permanent win, which I do think is a dynastic kleptocracy —
Andrea Chalupa: Definitely.
Sarah Kendzior: — it's the continuation of executive power put through Ivanka and Jared so that in one sense he never dies, he never dies as President. And you know that's something I kind of want to get into is Trump's idea of the end game, and the idea of the end game for those around him, and Trump's conception of death and mortality. Because we had some other disturbing things happening this week. We had more commentary about Mike Pompeo and his religious extremism. Mike Pompeo is waiting for the Rapture. He's described politics as a “never-ending struggle until the Rapture”, saying the “evil is all around us”. He's a religious fanatic. He's a islamophobe. Pence is also a religious fanatic. John Bolton is the same way and also sees us as locked in a war with Islam and so, you know, this is a widespread tendency among top people in the Republican Party who can actually hold the keys to this method of destruction, you know, we have fanaticism. I actually don't think it's his widespread in America among their electorate as people say and I say this as someone who lives in Missouri with a lot of Evangelicals. I think this very apocalyptic quality of the Republican party and of its top Representatives is unique, because for them, you know, it's a combination of a perversion of faith and a pursuit of power in which they benefit from this, in which they see a depopulated Earth as a place that's easy to conquer. And so, you know, when it comes to things that might actually bring about the end of human civilization, like, say climate change, they’re not going to act. And when it comes to things like nuclear war, they may well pursue them and, you know, and this is often guised in the pursuit of holy war, you know, that's why you see this intense interest in Israel from Evangelicals. So you have them and this has been a kind of growing movement within the Republican Party since the 1980s, but then you have Trump who's not a religious person, who has never expressed any particular interest God, or faith, or piety, but who has this very stark fatalistic view of human life and a real lack of regard for — for death and for suffering with the exception of his own. And this goes back all the way, you know, to interviews you see in the eighties and nineties. For example in the 1990 interview with Playboy Trump was asked what does he think of the future and he says “I think of the future, but I refuse to paint it — anything can happen. But I often think of nuclear war. I've always thought about the issue of nuclear war it's a very important element in my thought process. It's the ultimate, the ultimate catastrophe the biggest problem this world has and no one's focusing on the nuts and bolts of it. It's a little like sickness. People don't believe they're going to get sick until they do. Nobody wants to talk about it. I believe the greatest of all stupidities is people believing it'll never happen because everybody knows how destructive it will be, so nobody uses weapons. What bullshit! It's like thinking the Titanic can't sink. Too many countries have nuclear weapons, nobody knows where they're all pointed, what button it takes to launch them." And so you see this discussion of nuclear war. This obsession of Trump’s, you know, he once claimed he learned everything you need to know about nukes in an hour and a half. It initially started out as a fear and as a sort of weird desire for deterrence, for nuclear weapons to be eliminated and even a desire way back in the 1980s to partner with Russia, him as a private citizen, to end nuclear weapons. But it transformed into an embrace of them, you know, nowadays like during the 2016 campaign he said “if we have nuclear weapons, why aren't we using them?” And I think a lot of this has to do with his own mortality. In many ways, Trump is the ultimate baby boomer nightmare. He is so self-involved, he cannot — he literally cannot imagine the world continuing without him. He's so resentful of death that he wants to take everybody down with him, and I'm not saying most baby-boomers share this perspective at all. You know, he's like caricature of what people think of when they think of the narcissism of that generation. But what's really frightening is that now he has the capacity to assuage this fear of death and of his own mortality by being the one who pushes the button and he's being egged on by fanatics who share that as a viable goal, you know, who don't see it as a catastrophe, but as a boon.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah I think all of that points to the fact that there is no end in sight for Trump's shut down, for all the reasons that you stated. Like he's taking all of us down with him for his own selfish reasons, and because destruction is all he knows, and he's been able to evade law enforcement and all types of investigations over course of his destructive career that has included multiple bankruptcies and no credible financial institution lending to him. And the ones that did, you know, Deutsche Bank is now under serious investigation. I think Trump's shut down specifically is incred— I think we have to make this point. This is how dangerous it is for our country. Not only is it the cruelty of it, the cruelty of it– of what these families are being put through and all the needs that they have, the medical needs that they have, the medical needs of their children or whatever they're dealing with — even cancelling vacations, everyone has a right to a vacation. That's a matter of therapy. So, it's cruelty what Trump is doing with his shutdown, but on top of that, you have nearly a million people right now who are working right now for free. That’s slavery. That’s what we call slavery. And on top of that, you know how hard it is to find good talent and hire good talent. How many of these people are going to go someplace else permanently and therefore the US government is — undergoing a very serious brain drain now. Rightfully so because of how they're being abused by Donald Trump for his own selfish means. So I think if you want a metaphor that we're all living– what Sarah’s saying, it's the Trump shut down. And in terms of this destruction, whether it's Pompeo wanting to usher in the Rapture or the end of the world, the apocalypse, or Steve Bannon wanting to just smash it all down, or Trump wanting to smash it all down, I mean, what we're looking at today is the resurgence of ideology. Ideologies were very prevalent in the 1930s and in — in the decades leading up. You know, you had a belief system on how the future should be created and everybody picked a side and everybody argued for their belief system, and the ideologies would take sides in war. There was fascism vs. communism and how are we going to create the future, it's the fight for the future. And it just it just brought unimaginable destruction. So we're back in an age of ideology and it's and so you have as we said before you have the Pompeos, the people that I see this as — and Bolton — the ideology largely seems to white male quote-unquote Christian crusade that they're all leading and they don't mind who they destroy or how their policies hurt people in the process. So we had on the previous episode, a discussion of how the Yellow Vest Movement in France has been co-opted by the far-right. The Daily Beast just wrote a great piece on that. Highly recommend that you look that up. It gives a whole overview of how the Yellow Vest Movement, which sure, started off as a great populist uprising people, pushing back against income inequality and rising taxes and there's a lot of good people that were brought out certainly by this movement. But what you're seeing also is an ideology that works independent of the autocratic leaders and the elites that stand to benefit who normally push these things. So, for instance, you don't need to have Putin or Le Pen or Bannon or anyone like that out on the Square in Paris, handing big fat Publisher Clearing House checks to the Yellow Vest Movement, holding the puppet strings of the Yellow Vest Movement. Ideology doesn't work that way. What you have instead, a political infrastructure that was built by the Marie Le Pen campaign, bringing together her racist far-right supporters on all types of internet chat groups, Facebook groups, what have you– they're all organized. Just like we on the left built our own political infrastructure and we get organized, and we have our email list serves and chat groups, and Facebook groups etcetera, the far right is doing that as well. That's a powerful organizing tool. That's called political infrastructure. So, you saw very early on Marie Le Pen supporters jumping on this Yellow Vest Movement and now they successfully hijacked it to the point where official Facebook pages for the Yellow Vest Movement, as reported by the AFP Agence France Presse, is reporting that the Yellow Vest Facebook pages are promoting Russian propaganda. One article saying that the Russian economy is booming after Russia banned the Rothschild’s banks which isn't true. And, of course, the Rothschild’s banks are a dog whistle for, of course, the Jews, you know, that's that's what that means. And this Daily Beast article that just came out outlines how, across the UK and even in Canada, the Yellow Vests are now a symbol of this whole ideology of hate. A whole ideology of breaking down the Western Alliance and promoting this anti-semitic anti-Islam, anti-environment– just a hateful and destructive ideology. And you're even seeing former fighters from France who felt so moved by Putin's invasion of Ukraine and how Putin is this great underdog daring to take on the Western Alliance, which gave us globalization and income inequality all the other things that Putin's propaganda likes to blame the West on. You even see these Russian fighters from France who were in Ukraine, helping the Russians invade Ukraine, fighting in Ukraine, they're posting photos of themselves in yellow vests in France and they're holding up the flag of the People's Republic of Donbass which is a symbol of Russia's invasion in the Ukraine. So I'm sorry to anybody who was sympathetic to the Yellow Vest Movement when it first started out. It's been hijacked. And that is what we call ideology.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah and that sort of goes back, you know, this ideological component, you know, to what we led off the show with when I was quoting from my book about how, you know, what became clear during the 2013 shutdown is that ideology had completely trumped material concerns for the GOP. You know, they weren't worried about their voters, they weren't worried about who was being hurt, they weren't worried about whether it made sense and, you know, in some respects weren't even worried about whether it made them money. You know, it's about pure ideology and about pursuit of power. And I think, you know, what we have now is a number of sociopathic, dangerous, destructive individuals who've ascended to the fore, you know, who each want different things out of this arrangement, who are manipulating chaos for their own design, you know, and as you mentioned they glom onto pre-existing movements based on actual concerns in order to exploit it, and very few consequences for any of that behavior. And this is always why my concern has been time. I always felt time was the enemy, that's why we talked about this with such urgency in 2016 because, you know, people become acclimatized to it, the institutions that are supposed to stop it weaken, expectations among the public begin to change. People begin to accept the unacceptable or feel fatalistic that there's nothing they can do and to some extent, you know, there's not nothing you can do, there's always something you can do. But, you know, the situation has gotten worse and worse and you really have to be naive to deny that. And so yeah, you know, we're in a dark place, and part of me feels this obligation, you know, to say something like uplifting or to not terrify our audience, but I think part of the greatest terror people feel is the uncertainty. You know, it's being misinformed or uninformed or falsely reassured or thinking that a savior is coming and I don't know whether people get any kind of consolation out of me saying that that's not the case, you know, all I can kind of do is be honest with people and tell the truth and say what I really think is happening and this is what I think is happening. And in that kind of situation, you know, people throughout history have had to struggle with governments like this. They've had to struggle with war, with planned chaos, you know, with sociopathic officials with, you know, people commit crime with impunity. People have fought, people have survived this. So my only kind of advice is, you know, hold on to your values, keep your expectations high even if they're not going to be met and continue to fight it in whatever way you can. You know, often it's local. But don't deny it. I think we're — we're at a point now because of the shutdown that people cannot deny the widespread catastrophe of what has occurred and its potential to grow because, you know, the center has not held and, you know, the blood-dimmed tide is here, and yeah. On that note we should probably switch to you talking about something good or I'm really going to leave everyone with the bleakest closing ever.
Andrea Chalupa: Well, there've always been bleak times throughout human history and there have always been individuals men and women who chose to do something instead of nothing and that's why we have the freedoms we do today. So make sure that you are counted among those who chose to do something instead of nothing and that's where your hope comes from.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes
Andrea Chalupa: And on that note I have some exciting news.
Sarah Kendzior: Do tell!
Andrea Chalupa: Yes. Well, I'm thrilled to share that the film I've been working on for 15 years now, 15 years, inspired by my grandfather who survived Stalin's genocide famine in Ukraine, that film which is a journalistic thriller directed by the three-time academy award-nominated Agnieszka Holland, who herself survived Soviet occupation growing up in Poland. Her parents were both journalists and her father was arrested by the Soviet Secret Police and his official cause of death was suicide while under police interrogation. So talk about overcoming a lot– a bleak chapter in history. If she could keep going and fight and become a world-renowned master filmmaker and bring justice to the many victims of totalitarianism through her art then what excuse do the rest of us have? We all have to keep fighting and do our part. So I'm very thrilled to announce that our film, which is now being called Mr. Jones, is premiering in competition. It will have its world premiere in the opening weekend of the Berlin film festival in February and I'm thrilled, I'm thrilled about that.
The film is stunning. It stars James Norton playing the lead character Gareth Jones, a character based on a real life young Welsh journalist who risked his life and career to expose the truth of what was really happening in the Soviet Union. And it stars Vanessa Kirby, who all of you may know: she played Princess Margaret on The Crown. Vanessa’s a stunning artist and storyteller and you'll see that in this film. And, of course, Brooklyn’s own Peter Sarsgaard. Peter Sarsgaard plays Walter Duranty, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow Bureau Chief of the New York Times, who gaslit the world by writing in the New York Times “there is no famine”. Walter Duranty helped the Soviets bury the truth and discredit the young Gareth Jones and, for many generations the truth about this genocide famine in Ukraine was muddled and buried.
And finally, just in recent decades, a lot has been dug up thanks to the help of archives being opened up after the fall of the Soviet Union, and a lot of great historians like Timothy Snyder at Yale and Anne Applebaum and Norman Naimark at Stanford and many others digging into the latest available research and coming out and saying “Yeah, this was genocide.” So, the film, I'm very proud of it. I've seen it many times. James and Vanessa recently watched it in London and James wrote us a beautiful letter about that experience.
I want to share with you I hope some hope on what that journey was like for me to try to write my very first screenplay and get it produced and not having any idea of what I was doing this on this very long, harrowing journey. Back in 2015, after beating my head against the wall and trying to get this film made and no one seemingly wanting to make it – and this was before I met Agnieszka Holland or any of my producers, it was just me. It was just me and a screenplay, all alone in the world and I had no idea what to do or how to keep going. And I wanted to give up 'cause all of it seemed incredibly tough and impossible. And so back in 2015 I saw that here in America we have a wonderful program called Independent Filmmaker Project. And that program, known as IFP, has helped a lot of independent films like mine get made including Beasts of the Southern Wild and a lot of other great films. I was always applying to things and never winning anything. I was always a bridesmaid and never a bride. But I decided to apply for the development program at IFP. And I remember sitting there at my dining room table, the same table I’m recording from now thinking “I never win these things why even bother?” And a voice in my head said “what if this is the one time you finally win?” And I said “okay,well I'm going to follow you down the rabbit hole, Hope. And I hope that you're right.”
And so I ended up writing this miraculous first draft. What you're about to read is a first draft. It just came out of me just out of pure anger. And, lo and behold, through this first draft of a statement about why I was making this film, I was accepted into IFP and it completely changed my life and it brought together so many important people that I needed to make his film happen. At the same time I met Agnieszka Holland through the historian Tim Snyder and I met my wonderful, tenacious producers in Poland and we were off and running. And a few years later, we're all on set together and it's been a wonderful, passionate, creative marriage between all of us and it's been one of the most transformative testaments of faith that I've ever experienced in my life. And so it’s just a lesson and a reminder to all of you not to give up ever on anything that you believe in and to always be led by your heart, no matter how much you want to despair. So, I'm going to share the statement of what I wrote. And keep in mind this is me all alone in the world just desperate for anybody to read my screenplay and make my movie, and this is what I wrote that was sort of my turning point in my luck finally changing. So I wrote this:
A naive 27-year-old British journalist named Gareth Jones illegally entered Ukraine in March 1933 where he witnessed the ravaged countryside and interviewed survivors of Stalin's genocide famine. His eye-witness account shocked the world. Much like the Kremlin controls the media in Moscow today, it pressured American and British journalists to publish articles condemning Jones as a liar. quote ‘There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases or due to malnutrition’, Walter Duranty wrote in the New York Times. Ever a social ringmaster, Duranty lived in a luxurious apartment near the Kremlin, was beloved internationally as ‘Our Man in Moscow’, and had just won the Pulitzer Prize. Who would the world believe? Jones was silenced and two years later was murdered, research suggests, by the Soviet Secret Police. For the past 10 years now 15 I've worked on the script to pay tribute to Jones’ Fearless reporting. 10 years ago when I started this journey I never imagined this dark history would repeat. On a recent night while working on rewrites I followed Gareth Jones around the streets of Moscow as he risked his life to report the truth. When I took a break from writing to check my busy Twitter feed, my body stiffened and my mind was transported once again to a dark Street in the shadow of the Kremlin: the news had just broken that leading Russian opposition leader Borys Nemtsov had been shot.
Sometimes projects choose you. Dedicating my life to researching and writing the script has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. It has empowered me with historical knowledge and an arsenal of facts, the friendships of writers and historians and membership in a passionate community of journalists and human rights activists working together across different corners of the World as we expose the kremlin's billion-dollar propaganda war.
As dark as the world appears to be, I’m constantly heartened by the power of the internet and the work of tireless people who fight to make sure Gareth Jones, Boris Nemtsov, and too many others did not die in vain. The world may be evil, but it has been invaded by good.
So with this I want to inspire journalists, whistleblowers, artists, activists to fight like Gareth Jones, to fight like hell and not fear death or persecution because our work of pure intention lives on, helping others in ways we never could have imagined, creating a chain of human progress.
Sarah Kendzior: I think that's the perfect way to end the show and a reminder, you know, obviously we're going to talk about your movie more in the future because the themes are resonant now. I've read it. It reflects the historical moment, but I think in terms of how do people deal with this crisis, how do we deal with the weight of all of this bearing down on us, I think you've put it perfectly.
Gaslit Nation is produced by Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa. If you like what we do, leave us a review on iTunes -- it helps us reach more listeners. And check out our Patreon -- it keeps us going.