The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far

From today’s New York Times:

ON AN OCTOBER AFTERNOON BEFORE THE 2016 ELECTIONa huge banner was unfurled from the Manhattan Bridge in New York City: Vladimir V. Putin against a Russian-flag background, and the unlikely word “Peacemaker” below. It was a daredevil happy birthday to the Russian president, who was turning 64.

In November, shortly after Donald J. Trump eked out a victory that Moscow had worked to assist, an even bigger banner appeared, this time on the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington: the face of President Barack Obama and “Goodbye Murderer” in big red letters.

Police never identified who had hung the banners, but there were clues. The earliest promoters of the images on Twitter were American-sounding accounts, including @LeroyLovesUSA, later exposed as Russian fakes operated from St. Petersburg to influence American voters.

The Kremlin, it appeared, had reached onto United States soil in New York and Washington. The banners may well have been intended as visual victory laps for the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.

For many Americans, the Trump-Russia story as it has been voluminously reported over the past two years is a confusing tangle of unfamiliar names and cyberjargon, further obscured by the shout-fest of partisan politics. What Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in charge of the investigation, may know or may yet discover is still uncertain. President Trump’s Twitter outbursts that it is all a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, have taken a toll on public comprehension.

But to travel back to 2016 and trace the major plotlines of the Russian attack is to underscore what we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.

To many Americans, the intervention seemed to be a surprise attack, a stealth cyberage Pearl Harbor, carried out by an inexplicably sinister Russia. For Mr. Putin, however, it was long-overdue payback, a justified response to years of “provocations” from the United States.

And there is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved. In an election with an extraordinarily close margin, the repeated disruption of the Clinton campaign by emails published on WikiLeaks and the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference, a possibility Mr. Trump flatly rejects.

Read the complete article here.

Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos pleads guilty to lying to the FBI agents in Mueller probe

From today’s LA Times Update on #RussiaGate :

A former foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians who claimed to have “thousands of emails” on Hillary Clinton, in the latest charges filed in the investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

George Papadopoulos, 30, of Chicago, has agreed to cooperate with the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, according to a plea agreement unsealed on Monday.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to making false statements to disguise his contacts with Russians whom he thought had “dirt” on Clinton, according to court papers. He was arrested in July as he got off a plane at Dulles International Airport.

After he was contacted by an unnamed Russian professor in March, Papadopoulos exchanged emails with an official in the Russian foreign ministry, court papers say. Among the topics he discussed was a possible visit by Trump to Russia.

“As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” one Russian emailed him.

In April, after he had become an advisor to the campaign, Papadopoulos met with the Russian professor at a London hotel. The professor said he had just returned from a trip to Moscow, where he was told “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

Papadopoulos told other leaders in the Trump campaign that he was in contact with Russians, and said there were some “interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip.”

Read more about the collusion of Trump’s campaign with the Russian government here.

Trumpism: The Dangers of Disruption

From today’s New York Times (Opinion Section):

by Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow, Stanford University

In Silicon Valley, where I live, the word “disruption” has an overwhelmingly positive valence: Thousands of smart, young people arrive here every year hoping to disrupt established ways of doing business — and become very rich in the process.

For almost everyone else, however, disruption is a bad thing. By nature, human beings prize stability and order. We learn to be adults by accumulating predictable habits, and we bond by memorializing our ancestors and traditions. So it should not be surprising that in today’s globalized world, many people are upset that vast technological and social forces constantly disrupt established social practices, even if they are better off materially.

Of course, globalization has produced enormous benefits. From 1970 to the 2008 financial crisis, global output quadrupled, and the benefits did not flow exclusively to the rich. According to the economist Steven Radelet, the number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries fell from 42 percent in 1993 to 17 percent in 2011, while the percentage of children born in developing countries who died before their fifth birthday declined from 22 percent in 1960 to less than 5 percent by 2016.

Yet statistics like these do not reflect the lived experience of many people. The shift of manufacturing from the West to low labor-cost regions has meant that Asia’s rising middle classes have grown at the expense of rich countries’ working-class communities. And from a cultural standpoint, the huge movement of ideas, people and goods across national borders has disrupted traditional communities and ways of doing business. For some this has presented tremendous opportunity, but for others it is a threat.

Mr. Trump’s ascent poses a unique challenge to the American system because he fits comfortably into the trend toward illiberal democracy. He validated himself through popular support, but his entire career has been spent trying to bypass inconvenient rules — like the requirement to pay his own subcontractors. Much of his popularity rested heavily on his willingness to break existing customs about political correctness. This seemed politically bracing at first, but quickly became worrisome when Mr. Trump suggested that as president, he would “open up our libel laws” to initiate civil suits against his media critics. His pitch to the American voter was “I alone” can fix the country’s problems through sheer force of personality, and not through a reform of the country’s institutions.

That Mr. Trump expressed admiration for Mr. Putin, and that Mr. Putin returned the favor, should come as no surprise. Like Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump seems to want to use a democratic mandate to undermine the checks and balances that characterize a genuine liberal democracy. He will be an oligarch in the Russian mold: a rich man who used his wealth to gain political power and who would use political power to enrich himself once in office. And like Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump was able to create alternative narratives that often went unchallenged by his supporters.

Read the full article here.