козырь: Trump Treason Power Rankings (Week 38)

In the tradition of Amy Siskind’s (more exhaustive and better) weekly list of subtle authoritarian changes, козырь is a weekly ranking of who in Trump’s circle of corrupt associates has committed the most treason in the past seven days. H/t to Mark Listanti, late of Grantland, whose brilliant format for “Mad Men Power Rankings” I have appropriated. Updated every Tuesday until Mueller saves the Republic. 

1. Paul Manafort
Trump’s campaign chairman at the time of Peak Treason, Manafort is in hock to the Russians by at least 3,780,018,000 rubles. That’s $66 million, which buys a lot of borscht. And his spokesman ain’t even denying it:

Last week: #2

2. Carter Page
Long the enigma of Trump/Russia, Page is either the key to the whole puzzle or a red Russian herring. Trumpers claim his plan to plead the Fifth before the Senate Subcommittee hearing is to protect himself from government overreach, like Loretta Lynch and the dude in charge of tech support for HRC. We believe it’s a de facto admission of guilt. Certainly it doesn’t make Trump’s “fake news” defense any more plausible.
Last week: not ranked

3. Donald Trump
He’s had such a shit-awful week, even by his lowly standards, but roiling the markets, unilaterally raising the nation’s healthcare premiums, ignoring the servicemen killed in Niger and the Houston-sized fire in northern California, and actively sabotaging the relief effort in Puerto Rico, while genuinely Evil with a capital E, are not treason per se. Generating all this cruel and harmful chaos to deflect from his otherwise-inexplicable delay in issuing new Russia sanctions? That’s treason.
Last week: #7

4. Jared Kushner
Another week, another egregious non-disclosure from Boy Blunder. Also: he worked with Manafort and the Russians to rig the election.
Last week: #7

5. Facebook
You know how you can’t ever fully delete anything from Facebook? You can if you’re Mark Zuckerberg, and the deleted data will help make the case for your treason. Ah, but there’s a catch…or, rather, a cache, and the NSA has it. Mark’s Zucked.
Last week: #5

6. Twitter
See #5. Also, Trump is almost daily in violation of Twitter’s opaque Terms of Service, and his account never gets suspended. Why? First, Trump brings a lot of users to Twitter. Second, @jack fears presidential retribution. Whatever. These dudes can stop the Putinbots, and they choose not to. Plus they gave Julian Assange 240 characters. #treason.
Last week: not ranked

7. Dana Rohrabacher
He’d like Trump to pardon Assange. That’s like a Congressman lobbying Truman to save the Rosenbergs.
Last week: #3

8. Robert Mercer
Billionaire donor, GOP whoremaster, and co-owner, with Putin, of Donald Trump. He stays on this list until his name replaces Benedict Arnold’s in the American lexicon.
Last week: #8

9. Mike Pence
Gays will not be hung. Neither will the jury.
Last week: #11

10. Ivanka Trump
She was the one who brought Flynn into the transition team, we found out this week, and Flynn is one of two active Russian agents who began this mess.
Last week: #10



Not Ranked: Donald Trump’s greatness, Kim Jong Un, Steve Bannon, Values Voters, Julian Assange, Harvey Weinstein whataboutism, Cambridge Analytica, the fart smell in Julian Assange’s basement room in the Ecuadorian embassy, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, Devin Nunes recusing himself but then calling backsies, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Tom Price, Steve Mnunchin, Wilbur Ross, Reince Priebus, Reince Priebus talking to Mueller for 10 hours, Sean Spicer, Mike Flynn, Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince, Cyrus Vance, Jeff Sessions, Eric Trump, Ivana Trump’s move to be ambassador to the Czech Republic, Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, Rex Tillerson, Sean Hannity, Felix Sater, “Doctor” Seb Gorka, RU’s list of “Russophobes,” Melania Trump,  Brad Parscale, Stephen Miller, Sarah Huckebee S[l]anders, and anyone who thought Trump’s Rose Garden press conference was a net positive.

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козырь: Trump Treason Power Rankings (Week 37)

In the tradition of Amy Siskind’s (more exhaustive and better) weekly list of subtle authoritarian changes, козырь is a weekly ranking of who in Trump’s circle of corrupt associates has committed the most treason in the past seven days. H/t to Mark Listanti, late of Grantland, whose brilliant format for “Mad Men Power Rankings” I have appropriated. Updated every Tuesday until Mueller saves the Republic. 

1. The NRA
The National Russia Association has deep ties to Vladimir Putin, a staunch foreign supporter of this domestic terrorist organization that buys and sells politicians like they’re penny stocks. And why not? Most Americans don’t own guns; the overwhelming majority of Americans want more gun control; politicians refuse because of pressure from the NRA, which is basically one of those Russian nesting dolls that fits inside the Kremlin. This is not how democracy works. This is not even how lobbying works. This is mob tactics. Right down to the corpses.
Last week: not ranked

2. Paul Manafort
Things went from superbad to astonishingly worse for Paulie Walnuts, whose emails to a Russian intermediary of Putin BFF and oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska reek of the sort of sad desperation primarily found in characters played by William H. Macy and videos of alt-right protesters post-arrest. “Does OVD like that I’m campaign manager? What did OVD say? Does OVD like my green tie? Would OVD like to sleep with my wife?” There is a term for this sort of sad-sack submissive beta male, a term quite popular with the MAGA crowd; it starts with a C and rhymes with suck.
Last week: #1

3. Dana Rohrbacher
The known FSB asset and California Congressman (Republican, if you can believe it!) was in Moscow a few months before the Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, Kushner, Junior, and the Russians. While there, he met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who you might remember from such meetings as The Meeting Junior Arranged with the Jolly British Publicist at Trump Tower. Did they discuss “adoptions?” Nah, they took a page out of the Trump playbook and went right past the dog whistle to the literal and rapped about those pesky sanctions.
Last week: not ranked

4. Jared Kushner
The odds that the son will follow his father to the hoosgow rose yet again this week, as details emerged that the Manhattan district attorney maybe, just maybe, took a campaign contribution in exchange for dropping a case against him and his soulless wife, and that he probably should have gone to jail a while ago, before all this treason business. As to the treason business, yeah, so it turns out that after he went to Washington he started using a private server, and there are classified documents on a server at the Trump Organization. Look, I get his penchant for secrecy—I’d be secret, too, if I were actively committing treason—but he sucks so bad at it. He’s like a little kid playing hide and seek who thinks that because his face is buried in the blankets you can’t see his legs. If he’s as bad at negotiating Middle East peace settlements as he is at hiding emails, we’re lucky Iran hasn’t nuked Jerusalem by now. Also: he worked with Manafort and the Russians to rig the election.
Last week: #7

5. Facebook
I can’t hit refresh on my Facebook feed without more bad news for the Good Ship Zuckerberg. As the known numbers of ads purchased by Russians in places like Michigan and Wisconsin continues to skyrocket, it’s becoming clear that Facebook was weaponized by Putin to rig the election. And Zuck not letting us all see the ads is not about free speech, but about concealing the extent of his treachery.
Last week: #8

6. Private email servers
Note to Chris Cillizza and other HRC haters: change the emphasis from “but her emails” to “but her emails.”
Last week: #3

7. Donald Trump
The calm before the storm? Our nation’s top diplomat called him a “fucking moron.” Which is perhaps too generous, as Orange Hitler hasn’t had a legit hard-on since Russian whores wet the bed in Moscow. Which, by the way, really happened.
Last week: #4

8. Robert Mercer
Billionaire donor, GOP whoremaster, and co-owner, with Putin, of Donald Trump.
Last week: not ranked

9. Donald Trump, Jr.
Big NRA supporter. Wants kids to play with guns. Twitter troll. None of this will help him at his inevitable public hearing before the subcommittee, when the world will know for sure that the fucking moron acorn did not fall far from the fucking moron tree.
Last week: #6

10. Ivanka Trump
Forget that the New York’s DA’s office had a fat case against her for outright lying about her shitty Soho property, and she avoided this only by buying him off. Any time Trumpy does something egregiously awful to women, the Women Who Work author and self-proclaimed feminist icon makes the Treason list.
Last week: not ranked

11. Mike Pence
Whether or not his leaving the Colts game after 49ers players took a knee was a publicity stunt, he a) left immediately to do a fundraising event for Dana Russiabacher, and b) was joined at the hip with Manafort for months and lied his ass off about it. He’s going down. Hard. You know, like in his fantasies.
Last week: #11

12. Richard Spencer
You know he’s a Nazi. You know his face is temptingly punchable. You know he has some weird fetish about the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. You may not know that his wife is basically Colonel Klebb of From Russia with Love fame. Motherfucker works for SMERSH.
Last week: not ranked

Not Ranked: Vladimir Putin’s birthday, Kim Jong Un, Steve Bannon, Julian Assange, Harvey Weinstein whataboutism, Cambridge Analytica, the Geraldoification of Chris Cillizza, Carter Page, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Tom Price, Steve Mnunchin, Wilbur Ross, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Mike Flynn, Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince, Cyrus Vance, Jeff Sessions, Eric Trump, Ivana Trump’s move to be ambassador to the Czech Republic, Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, Rex Tillerson, Sean Hannity, Felix Sater, “Doctor” Seb Gorka, RU’s list of “Russophobes,” Melania Trump, James Woods, whatever barely legal woman James Wood brings to his antiquing shows, Brad Parscale, Stephen Miller, Sarah Huckebee S[l]anders, and Second Lady Karen “Mother” Pence for being the beard for a sanctimonious fake Christian antifeminist Putin collaborator.

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An Interview with the Paranoid Style’s Elizabeth Nelson

ELIZABETH NELSON IS frontwoman for the DC based garage-punk band the Paranoid Style and belongs on any short list of the most gifted contemporary songwriters. While essentially grafting Warren Zevon’s dark aura and indelible hooks onto Sleater-Kinney’s punk and political heft, she has produced a laudatory share of the best music of her era, most recently on 2016’s funny and desperate full-length LP Rolling Disclosure. Angry, literary and sonically profane in equal measure, Nelson’s work often feels like the explosive socialist rage of David Mamet’s early plays set to song. Tunes like the joyously-crazed “National Sunday Law” or the judiciously wry rave-up “The Thrill Is Back” are spiky life-rafts on the rocky sea of Trump’s America.

In the run-up to the 10/27 release of the band’s remarkable new EP Underworld U.S.A. I had a chance to sit down and interview Nelson regarding her background, inspirations, and eventual endgame.


OWEN KING: How has it come to this? How did our country get here?

ELIZABETH NELSON: Well, there obviously is no one simple answer. You know what they say: practice, practice, practice.

OK: Can you talk a little bit about “Hawk vs. Prez,” and especially about the upbeat shape of the tune? It’s a song that I find cheering, in spite of the fact that it includes lines like, Ain’t it just grand when you stop growing old?/ And then the noise just ends and you’re restored to the ground. The voice of the song seems to be a step away from leaping, in the best possible mood, off the edge of a deathly precipice. In that way it reminds of Harry Nilsson’s great “Don’t Forget Me.” And when we’re old and full of cancer/ It doesn’t matter now, come on get happy!

EN: In many ways it’s a song I intended as a celebration of things that are beautiful in the world or at least to me, things that are restorative. In the case of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, who the song is named after, they were these two saxophonists who were friends and rivals and just made the most beautiful music I can imagine in the middle part of the 20th century. And it’s sort of their story and sort of the band’s story all set against the backdrop of how our culture becomes commodified and degraded and packaged and sold. But you can’t diminish things that are authentically beautiful. Certain things transcend the pursuit of wealth and vanity. When Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, he said, “My father’s house is not a market.” Some things aren’t for sale, you know? As for Nilsson, that moment in “Don’t Forget Me” is so powerful. It gives me chills just thinking about it. And it’s kind of true, right? The promise of our lives and our struggles is peace at the end, don’t you think? At least that’s what I like to think.

OK: “I Believe U Believe U Can Fly” really captures the moment: it seems like our country is on the verge of collapsing beneath the weight of bullshit conviction – i.e. there are people who earnestly believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and so on. Did any particular thing inspire the song?

EN: Our country has a weird fetish for upbeat maxims that mean literally nothing. I first noticed this growing up in the 80’s where there was this bizarre, very artificial Reagan-era positivism that felt incredibly stage managed, and seemed to be barely masking a profound cultural despair. And that sense has only deepened and become almost omnipresent in our political culture. Trump is really kind of the apotheosis of this – having run an historically successful campaign that literally consisted of nothing other than vague slogans. It’s comical really. But by and large I don’t think the Clinton campaign did much better. It’s often remarked that at no point was she ever able to articulate in a specific way why she should be president, other than that it was “her turn” and she wasn’t Trump. And certainly I voted for her and would do again without a moment’s hesitation. She was self-evidently the better choice. But I still don’t know what “I’m With Her” is supposed to mean. I wasn’t with her when she was taking those speaking fees from Wall Street. I wasn’t with her when she was abandoning the industrial base to try and pull in the investor class. I wasn’t on board with a lot of that stuff. Anyway, long way around to saying the song was just wanting to have some fun with the longstanding tradition of delusional songs masquerading as inspirational anthems.

But it was also about complacency. When I was writing the Rolling Disclosure record, my feeling as a person of the left was that we were becoming inured to the rising tide of nationalism and corporatism. It wasn’t that I had any special insight, lots of people were saying this, but to me it wasn’t being heard. Sleater-Kinney is my favorite band, and they made an album in 2015 called No Cities To Love. I wrote a review of that album in The Stranger – it’s a great album – and I talked about how they were trying to wake us up. Because this threat was looming. And everyone ridiculed Trump – everyone thought he was so asinine – but that’s the way it always is with these guys. They seem ridiculous until they don’t. Elvis Costello has a song about this called “Night Rally”. He says, You think they’re so dumb/ you think they’re so funny/ wait until they got you running/ to the night rally. Some people thought Rolling Disclosure was too cynical, but I didn’t mean it to be cynical. I meant it to be alarming. I keep hearing about how we need all these punk rock albums now that Trump is in power. Talk about closing the barn gate after the cows are out! I mean, sure, we still need protest music. But where were these people before? Coachella?

OK:  There’s a lot fat, swaggering sound on this album. This album really feels like it’s buying a round for the whole bar. Will you walk us through how you got from rough demos to these big burly things?

EN: Well, a song usually starts on acoustic guitar and piano and I’ll record it in Garage Band and maybe embroider a few parts that I think are cool. But basically I present the band with the full skeleton of the music and then allow them to embroider during the tracking. I’m fortunate to be working with guys like Peter Holsapple from the dB’s and Bruce Bennett from the A-Bones and William Matheny from the Strange Constellations. These are heavy hitters, so I’m excited to let them go off the island and see what they come up with. It’s one of the true pleasures. It’s not the most common now, but we always record in a dedicated studio, with live playing and even some live singing on the albums.  I tend to write ten verses for a song that only needs three, so I wait sometimes to decide which three on the fly. I really value spontaneity in recording.  So much current stuff by other bands is done at home on Logic or whatever and overdubbed endless times and edited to a sort of flawlessness. That’s good too, but we aren’t that kind of band. As Ray Davies said: “I like the mistakes too.”

OK: What’s your approach to reimagining/reproducing the songs live? I think of “The Ambassador’s Morning Lift” from Rolling Disclosure, for example, and the wonderful call and response parts (You: My old friend had a saying. Chorus: What was that?) and I wonder how easy it is to make something like that happen without a huge band. On a related note, have you been cooking up any special treats for the road show? Jams? Covers?

EN: I always think that people coming to see a punk band like the Paranoid Style should expect an energetic, off hand version of the songs we play on the record. The way I grew up – if I went to see Pavement or, like, he Toasters or whomever – I didn’t consider that it would sound just like the album. I assumed the live shows should be pure Wild West.  I spent my teens in the punk club ABC No Rio, where nobody ever seemed to know what they were doing. Having said that, with the Paranoid Style I’m lucky to be surrounded by some killer musicians and we don’t play bad shows. By which I mean: jams and covers.

OK: Everything is loaded with political meaning at this moment. It’s a dangerous time for a tenderhearted rock and roll record to venture out into the world. Is there anything you hope people don’t read into these songs?

EN: It’s okay for folks to read in whatever they want. We’re a political band and that won’t change. Sometimes I heard some people say around the last record “I like the sound okay, but I don’t like it when she theorizes about politics.” I remember one guy said that specifically. I won’t be calling him to apologize or anything. What I would say about the new release is that the idea of Underworld U.S.A. has two connotations. One is the corporate criminal cabal of monsters and mobsters like Trump and the Wall Street hucksters and the pharaohs building up the temples on the backs of the people. And then the second meaning is a positive connotation: the underground of artists and freedom fighters and working people and lowdowns on the social hierarchy that ultimately invest our world with so much meaning. Some songs are about the former and some are about the latter. That’s what Underworld U.S.A. is about.

OK: You come from a background in classical piano. How did you end up leading a rock and roll band?

EN: To be honest I never thought of that as a big lift.  John Cale was a classically trained pianist who co-founded what is arguably the best rock group that ever was. I definitely studied classical but it’s not as if that was the extent of my exposure to music. On my off hours I was a full on, Two Tone and Moon Records-obsessed ska girl. I loved They Might Be Giants and X-Ray Spex. I always felt comfortable writing in the rock idiom. The bigger problem for me was getting my songs heard. I was around a lot of music scenes when I was younger:  Louisville, San Francisco, Bloomington, Brooklyn. I knew a lot of pretty prominent songwriters and musicians who always wanted to play me their songs. But none of those guys ever asked to hear one of my songs. I finally realized no one was going to ask. I just had to start my own band and not worry about being asked.

OK: You’ve worked as a music critic, correct?

EN: I sure have. I’ve worked in that capacity for NPR, Washington Post, Stereogum, The Stranger, Aquarium Drunkard and many others.

OK: Let’s test your music crit skills, see if you still have the stuff. I sense that there’s been a renewed evaluation of Noel Gallagher’s merits as a songwriter, and the general view is trending upward. Where do you stand?

EN: I think he’s a good craftsman. The highs are very high. I like that one “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” That’s great. And the early Oasis records are great fun. I reviewed one of his solo records for the Washington Post, I think. It was pretty good. He’s sort of a hedgehog rather then a fox, but that’s okay. Lots of good songwriters are like that.

OK: I don’t want to take you too far afield, but what’s the difference between a hedgehog and fox in your eyes? These are both adorable animals. I mean, sometimes foxes are rabid, so there’s that. Who’s a songwriter that you would consider a fox?

EN: Basically, hedgehogs excel at doing one thing, while foxes can do a lot of things – even things like contracting mange or getting rabies – and this has been an imperfect theoretical distinction that has been around since time immemorial, so I hope no animal rights folks are offended here. As far as songwriters go, well, Bowie’s a fox. Bolan’s a hedgehog. Damon Albarn is the ultimate fox. And I’m not even trying to make this a Blur vs. Oasis thing; He’s just so creatively restless and experimental compared to so many of his contemporaries, including the Brothers Gallagher. Plus he’s foxy to me – is he foxy to you?

OK: Yes, Damon Albarn is foxy to me, but I’ll ask the questions here, damn it. What’s your favorite NRBQ song? You can only pick one.

EN: That’s a trick question and you know it is because there are so many great ones. I guess if I had to choose I’d go with “It Comes To Me Naturally,” just because it gets at something really important. To me this is a great opening couplet: All around town my name is mud/ But I can’t help it cause it’s in my blood. You know, Big Al can’t help it! He can’t!! You can only do what you can do. That’s a very poignant sentiment to me.

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козырь: Trump Treason Power Rankings (Week 36)

In the tradition of Amy Siskind’s (more exhaustive and better) weekly list of subtle authoritarian changes, козырь is a weekly ranking of who in Trump’s circle of corrupt associates has committed the most treason in the past seven days. H/t to Mark Listanti, late of Grantland, whose brilliant format for “Mad Men Power Rankings” I have appropriated. Updated every Tuesday until Mueller saves the Republic. 

1. Paul Manafort
We now know that the shady character at the helm of the Trump campaign during its maximum treason period (i.e., March-July 2016) has either been indicted or will be soon. The feds did a no-knock raid of his house, after getting permission to tap his phones; both of these things can only be done by presenting a judge with a shit-ton of incriminating evidence. Now he wants to go to Iraq “on business;” one hopes his passport is in Mueller’s back pocket. Although I’m sure Putin would give him hurry-up Russian citizenship. Or promise same before feeding him polonium tea.

2. Roger Stone
Dirty trickster/Gotham City supervillain made a public appearance before the House Intelligence Committee and gaslighted the place so much, they had to call Con Ed. Stone claims to have had no contact with the Russians, despite playing DM footsie with a known Russian hacker…and then going on TV and predicting dirty tricks before they happened. “Never pass up a chance to have sex, be on television or testify before a House Congressional Committee,” he tweeted (I can’t link because Captain Courageous blocked me), before accusing Adam Schiff of being Batman.

3. Private email servers
You’re not gonna believe this, on account of how vehemently the Trumpers attacked HRC’s use of a private server, but a number of Trumpers have private servers, and/or use private email accounts to conduct government business. I know. Who would have seen this coming? (Answer: people who knew that healthcare was, in fact, this hard).

4. Donald Trump, Kim Jung Un (tie)
Like one of those Magic Eye puzzles, the pattern is easy to spot, once you know what to look for. 1) A bombshell Trump/Russia story breaks. 2) North Korea launches a missile. 3) We all forget about said bombshell Trump/Russia story. It’s almost like Kim and Trump are two Grimace-sized puppets being controlled by Putin. Certainly they look like props from some poisoned production of Avenue Q. And as I’ve said before, Trump could not be more of a puppet if Putin’s fist were halfway up his ass.

5. Michael Cohen
Trump’s longtime personal attorney has never been to Prague, has never been to Russia, has never colluded, has never worked as a liaison between Trump and the Russians, did not attend any forums, did not accept any invitations, never emailed Putin’s PR guy Peskov, and rejects the notion that it’s creepy to post pictures of one’s own daughter in lingerie. Perhaps he will tell Mueller that it was all an Edie Sedgwick homage?

6. Donald Trump, Jr.
Ducked his Secret Service detail to kill animals in Canada. Next up: Ducking Secret Service detail to defect to Russia? One thing’s for sure, he’s got plenty of friends there.

7. Jared Kushner
That he registered to vote as a woman in New York, combined with his frequent screw-ups on his security clearance forms, suggests that he’s maybe not very good at paperwork. This doesn’t change the fact that he worked with Manafort and the Russians to rig the election. We echo the indefatigable patriot Ted Lieu: Why does this little shit still have a security clearance?

8. Facebook
Zuckerberg must be wistful about the time when his social media behemoth was used primarily to poke and throw sheep at other users, rather than, you know, spread Chekist propaganda and undermine both the election and our democracy. How do you say “dislike button” in Russian?

9. Anyone who claims there is “not a shred of evidence” connecting the Trump campaign to the Russians
This Caitlin Johnstone person who keeps popping up in my daily Medium email, insisting that I’m a fool for believing the narrative, is but one such example. Because the thing is, we’ve known about the Trump/Putin bromance at least since Hillary brought it up at the debate (“You’re the puppet!”). Since then, every single story that’s come out has corroborated the Trump/Russia collusion narrative. Every story. Every last fucking one. There’s never something that breaks that makes you go, “Oh, wait, maybe they’re totally innocent.” It’s exactly the opposite. Every. Fucking. Time. If you’re holding out for the pee-pee tape, you’re part of the problem.

10. Jill Stein
Vlad and Jill went up a hill / For dinner at the Kremlin / Jill came back / Went on the attack / She’s now a Trumper gremlin.

11. Mike Pence
Remember: Ol’ Blue Eyes was Manafort’s hand-picked choice to be VP, and since Paulie Walnuts doesn’t wipe his ass without Vlad’s say-so, this means Pence enjoyed Putin’s endorsement. And despite the aw-shucks routine, he knew exactly what was going on from the gate. Because he talked to Manafort every fucking day. Prediction: Pence goes down before Trump, and right after Manafort.

12. Reince Priebus
His name is an anagram of “took money from Russia while at RNC.”

Not Ranked: Steve Bannon, Julian Assange, Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon’s gin blossoms, Carter Page, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, Tom Price, Steve Mnunchin, Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon’s enormous ass, Ivanka Trump, Jared registering to vote as a woman, the hotel in Baku Ivanka Trump built with Iranian terrorist money that’s shaped like a giant butt plug, Mike Flynn, Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince, Jeff Sessions, Eric Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Rex Tillerson, Sean Hannity, Felix Sater, the slew of Russian oligarchs with long names I’m too lazy to Google who gave many rubles to the RNC, “Doctor” Seb Gorka, RU’s list of “Russophobes,” Melania Trump, James Woods, Scott Baio, Brad Parscale, Stephen Miller, Sarah Huckebee Sanders, the more than 100 Dalmatians killed and skinned so that Mnunchin’s princess of a wife could make her a dog-skin coat.

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Russia: Why You Gotta’ Hate?

IT ISN’T A SPOILER to tell you that roughly 10% of my upcoming novel, Travels and Travails of Small Minds, takes place in a vast and troubled land of vodka and pickle chasers, provincial cannibalism, extreme oligarchical excess, tweaked-out Phil Dick-ian hackers, and witch house DJs with eerie contact lenses.

That’s right, Russia, currently the most hated place on Earth. Rush-a. Just whispering those two syllables in a crowded elevator will cause shivers to run up necks and eyes to narrow with suspicion. Try saying it out loud at a dinner party sometime and watch the invective and spittle fly. Or worse, try defending the place for its rich literary history and surreal nihilist vibe and you may have to duck some reactionary punches. What is clear is that the land of Dostoyevsky and steaming borscht is currently far more hated and feared than even during the Cold War.

So why is everyone hating on The Motherland these days? Is it not true that in today’s “be politically correct or die” sanitized culture that it’s a definite no-no to single handedly dismiss an entire country of 144 million individuals? Why clamp the blinders down on a rich and vibrant culture stretching back to the year 862? Like with any prejudice, it all starts with negative imagery that has been implanted on the collective minds of all haters. After all, racism and prejudice are generally learned traits, and there has been a lot of hateful learning implanted on the thought processes of otherwise open minded and accepting liberals for many generations.


Beware! The Commies!

For those alive today who were born in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s, the images planted in your mind concerning Mother Russia most likely fall under the “Cold War Shit” category. You envision long breadlines with snowflakes falling over hunched babushkas with gypsy headscarves.  You envision some weight challenged drunk with a satanic birthmark on his bald head threatening to nuke your home. Your mind recoils at the thought of heartless KGB squads in dark suits making people disappear in the dead of the Siberian night. You think of tapped phones, of honey traps, of atheist comrades willing to live spare for the good of The State. You think of the unsettling, bold visuals of a propaganda flag involving an intertwined hammer and sickle.

Even those cultured enough to be into history have their minds polluted with images of insanely bloody revolutions and cunning assassinations, of dead-eyed mystics leading the empire astray, of genocidal dictators and free thinkers cast into eternal exile.

Like with nearly all stereotypical or flat out racist concepts, much of this imagery has strong footholds in the truth. But is this imagery alone enough to convince you to nonchalantly dismiss 144 million living and many billions of deceased individuals spanning hundreds of centuries as evil Vlads and Kashas? When it comes to Russia, the answer has always seemed to be, “Fuck yes, it is.”


2017: Russophobe Overdrive

If the Russophobe instinct was strong before, then the extremely lame events of the past couple of years have really just kicked this thing into complete, uncontrollable overdrive. The flimsy dam is fully broken and the hate spews forth in waves. Much like with the historical aspects haters can latch on to, these current prejudicial footholds certainly do have truthful elements. Vladimir Putin, for example, is a person who actually exists (we think) and t.A.T.u. really are a Lolita-inspired pop sensation coasting on incestuous imagery. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right?

As if this new wave of Russia hate wasn’t enough already, then along comes The Donald. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Of course I am in agreement that if the asshole was indeed conspiring with other assholes such as Putin or Assange then he should be cast into a supermax facility where his jumpsuit will perfectly match his complexion. But if you take just a slight step back and truly observe the situation from beyond your initial reactionary instinct, it’s easy to see that the hip new wave of Russophobia has been going, and is likely to continue going, just a bit too far. It seems that any politician, businessman, postman, or factory worker that has ever been photographed, anywhere, with some sort of Russian is being called out for having (cue the sinister music) “Russian Ties”. And once you have “Russian Ties” you can pretty much assume that this will follow you for the rest of your life as if you were on the sex offender list. So think twice before Instagramming that shot of you with the half-drunk bottle of Stoli and you may want to ditch that significant other of yours with Russian ancestry. After all, that person will understand. It’s not them. It’s the times.

The two headed Trump/Putin beast has cast forth a whole new wave of negative imagery that makes it easy for otherwise PC and accepting liberal individuals to actively promote the abject hatred of an entire nation and all of their ancestors. This is, after all, a land chalk full of seven-foot-tall Nazis wearing strange medals, of mass homophobia and uprisings squashed with blood in the streets. Neighboring countries are randomly attacked and swallowed into the fold. Gangs of skinheads descend on Halal food vendors in random strikes. Obscure border wars rage on for decades. Dissenting journalist accidentally fall out of 20th story windows or drown in bizarre hot tub accidents. Protesters are locked in provincial prisons to protest away until the end of their days.

In some very striking ways, your average modern day liberal RESISTter has become today’s cold war era Republican. Not only is there an instant dismissiveness and suspicion of any and all Russian-related individuals, objects, or ideas, but there are even hints of downright racist or even low key genocidal thought patterns creeping into play. If you were to go on Twitter right now (I’m not suggesting to actually do this, so please don’t feel obligated to visit this cesspool. Just take my word for it, please.) you will be confronted with a full force front of hatred on the Russian people which, if it were against any other people or country, would come off as extremely racist and get the tweeter blacklisted to the fringes of society. Take for example the simple insult of referring to a Russian individual as an “Ivan”. Just taking a cruise of Twitter right at this moment (yes I’m taking the hit for you) I’ve found the following missives. The handles have been omitted to protect the woke as fuck REISTers in question:

“He’s just your average Ivan-come-lately.”

“I wonder how many Ivans he knows. LOL”

“Oh great, another Russian tie. How many Ivans do we need to dig up on this guy before he has to go?”

“Of course these Russian hackers will work for the campaigns offering $$. Starving Ivans go to the highest bidders.”

Now what would happen if you substituted that “Ivan” with, say, “Habib” to refer to all Indians or “Abdul” to encompass all individuals from the Middle East? That would be rather prejudicial and wrong, wouldn’t it? Much like with the right wingers during the cold war, right now it is simply seen as a fine and admirable thing to viciously slander many millions of individuals just because of a handful of assholes associated with them. And just where exactly does this all stop? Where is the line drawn? Are proudly liberal individuals actually going call for a return of the cold war? Or will they just go all the way and advocate a real war on the “Ivans”? Will nukes be brought into the dialogue, perhaps? And if so, then what exactly separates today’s lib RESISTers from yesterday’s right wing?


Why Russophobia Is Dead Wrong

Although it’s never been proven that hate causes cancer, it certainly can’t help, can it? But this isn’t the only reason to not spew feral hatred at the land of borsch and striking blond tennis stars. It isn’t even the fact that that smirking the word “Russia” in political discussions at dinner parties makes you appear incredibly unattractive. No, the true reasons to not sneer at the Motherland have nothing to do with your health or general unattractiveness. Even in the midst of an era when you are being told by various facets of the press and late night TV that Russia as a whole is responsible for the rapidly declining fate of your country, please take a moment, take a breath, practice some deep sea visualization, and consider the following.


You Can’t Judge An Entire Nation Just Because Of Their Leader (Ahem)

Starting in January of this year, this isn’t too tough of a concept to sell anymore, is it?

You Can’t Judge An Entire Nation Because Racism and Misogyny Exist In That Nation

This is another argument we don’t really need to make, but let’s just humor ourselves here. Is every Russian man an Arab-attacking skinhead or a wife beating, vodka pissing brute? Is every Russian woman a honey trap green card seeking gold digger? There are some people who fall into these high profile categories, of course, but for each bear-fisted abuser there are many thousands of people just trying to make it through another day. Some are blond, others brunet. Some are old, others young. Some are in good shape, others overweight or malnourished. Some are of chipper dispositions, others brooding. Some are artistically inclined, others practical and scientific. Some are horrified by current events, others apathetic. Some feel their lives are stable and on track, while others are searching or lost. In other words, they are just like you or I. And you shouldn’t dismiss them because some hackers from their country that they’ve never even met stole a few emails.


Lots Of Cool Literature and Art Has Come From Russia

Do you remember the hair metal band Gorky Park? No? Well that’s ok because tons of cool cultural awesomeness has boiled up from the frozen ground of the Motherland. I’ve already mentioned the literature, but really, what a rich legacy this is. Not only do you have indisputable literary titans you’ve heard of from your undergrad world lit elective such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin but you have left of center oddballs of the Gogol and Bulgakov variety. You have Nabokov. You have modern dissidents like Eduard Limonov, a man who makes Hunter S. Thompson seem like Chuck Klosterman. The post apocalyptic, Blade Runner vibe of Moscow seems to bring out good things in expat writers as well, as anyone who read The eXile in the 90s could attest to, and even though Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi continue to slog away in the American journalistic abyss, it doesn’t take too keen of an eye to see that they are shadows of their former selves since they stopped covering Russia.

It is often overlooked that Russian artists played a significant role in the surrealist movement of the 20s and 30s. Cubists Jeffim Golyscheff and Mark Slodki were even displayed in the earliest Parisian Dada exhibitions, and it has been pointed out that futurists such as David Burliuk, Kazimir Malevich, Ivan Puni, and Vladimir Mayakovsky most definitely preceded the movement with their absurd and exaggerated works. There was indeed a recognized and popular Dadaist journal founded in Moscow in the early 20s espousing such rhetoric as “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi etc. overboard!” and “Read nothing, write nothing, publish nothing. No more manifestos. Stop talking.” Pretty punk, huh? And if you’ve never checked out the tripped-out works of Boris Zemenkov, the headless drawings of Pavel Fedotov, or the flat-out bonkers works of the over-the-top mystical Mikalojaus Cuirlionis then you are certainly missing out. It only makes sense, since Russia is now and has always been an incredibly surreal and mystical land. There has never been a more fertile ground for surrealist, mystical, nihilist, and just plain trippy art and literature.


These are strong people who have lived through everything

The “Russian spirit” has long been spoken of, and it boils down to a festive, resilient endurance of even the harshest of day-to-day conditions. This is a history chalk full of Siberian gulags, tyrannical leaders, exiled or executed artists and dissidents, flat out genocides, bloody uprisings, brutal winters, food shortages and rationing, blatant governmental corruption of an almost comical extreme, mass murderers, joy killings, mafia ultra-violence, lawless provinces, cannibalism, oligarchical godheads, oppression of minority groups, and dated fashions (people still wear stonewashed jeans there, and not ironically). These are individuals who have, ancestrally speaking, lived through nearly every imaginable horror.

And there you are ready to nuke them all just because their current tyrant supports your current tyrant.

Chill on that. Russia may not be for the faint of heart, but neither is any current or past non-neutral superpower. Your average citizen living within those vast and contended borders has absolutely nothing to do with any of the horrors that  came before and will have nothing to do with any of the horrors still to come. A little sympathy and understanding in the face of a mass hysteria lynch mob would go a long way.

And besides, commie hating is soooooooo 1986.

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Pillory Clinton: Stop Blaming Hillary, It’s Not Her Fault

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED in the 2016 Election. Hillary Clinton, who as the media loves to point out was a “flawed candidate,” as if Donald Trump somehow were not, had the following working against her:

Her own reputation as a liar and a crook, which was nothing short of character assassination by the media, as she was the most truthful candidate on either side during the campaign.

Her opponent’s public persona as a likable, decisive, “alpha male” leader, cultivated entirely from his performance on a scripted TV show, and divorced from reality.

Her husband’s well-advertised taste for lechery, which seemed to negate every heinous sexual assault charge against Donald Trump (“Sure, Trump did X, but Bill did Y, and Hillary stayed with him!”).

A rogue primary opponent whose followers comprised an extremely vocal minority of left-leaning voters; who blamed the extant primary system of the Democratic Party for his loss rather than his own enormous shortcomings; who would not campaign on her behalf with the necessary vigor; and who still attacks her, almost a year after Election Day.

A mainstream print media, most notably the supposedly liberal New York Times, whose negative coverage of her, especially over the email server bit (n.b.: Pence did same thing as Indiana governor, Colin Powell had private server, and Hillary’s server is the only one the Russians didn’t hack!), was, to put it charitably, disproportionate.

A TV news media, if we can call what CNN and Fox’s programming during the campaign “news,” which gave Trump’s Mussolini-esque rallies billions of dollars’ worth of free airtime for the sake of ratings (CBS CEO Len Moonves: Trump “may not be for America, but he’s damned good for CBS.”).

Facebook and Twitter and other social media outfits, which allowed illicit “ads” and “bots,” respectively, to contaminate the feeds to an extent that is not yet fully realized.

Institutionalized sexism, with its insidious double standard, that did its dread work in a race between the most qualified person to ever seek the presidency who happened to be a woman and the very epitome of rich white male mediocrity.

Institutionalized racism, to the extent that Hillary was running under the aegis of Barack Obama—as Ta-Nehisi Coates explains in the Atlantic, “an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white.”

Active voter suppression (speaking of racism!) by Republican legislatures in places like Texas, North Carolina, and oh yes, Wisconsin.

Then-Director of the FBI James Comey releasing his infamous letter re-opening the email case a few days before the election.

An active and ultimately successful operation by Russian intelligence, working in concert with the Trump campaign, to tamper with the election—an op that included manipulation of social media, coordination with Trump’s people on how best to target the attacks, and, probably, actual hacking of machines and tampering with the results in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Despite all of these forces working against her, Hillary Clinton received 65,853,516 votes—more than any white male candidate in American history, including Donald Trump, who lost by 2,868,691 votes, which is more than the the total population of New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, the District of Columbia, Vermont and Wyoming.

Despite all of these forces working against her, she lost in the archaic Electoral College by fewer people than can fit in a college football stadium (this assumes that the election returns were legitimate, and not the result of tampering by the Russians).

And still, almost a year after the election, everyone under the sun tries to pin the loss on Hillary. Parasite hacks like Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes blame the campaign. Others suggest Clinton should have visited Wisconsin. Tucker Carlson is still talking about the email “scandal” on Fox, blithely ignoring the fact that the actual president is guilty of far worse. Bernie Sanders won’t cop to his own culpability in the defeat. Susan Sarandon and the Jill Stein crew have moved on. Mark Zuckerberg downplays Facebook’s role while preparing his own presidential run. And Trump uses her still to deflect his coordination with Moscow.

It’s all still, somehow, Hillary’s fault, and hers alone, because…she didn’t go to Wisconsin?

No one blames the manager of the 1919 White Sox for losing the World Series to the Reds, because we know the games were rigged. And yet still we pillory Hillary.

In the not-too-distant future, when the full extent of Russian voter contamination becomes undeniable, Hillary Clinton will not be given a White House that was rightly hers. I hope that she at least gets an apology. But I’m not holding my breath.

She got screwed.

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How Russia Infiltrated the Trump Campaign & Stole the Election (Abridged)

THE UNABRIDGED STORY OF TRUMP/RUSSIA is long and complicated—like a Tolstoy epic, but written by the content creators at the National Enquirer. The dramatis personae alone runs to half a dozen pages. We may never know the full extent of it. So this is by no means an exhaustive examination.

The best way to explain Trump/Russia, it seems to me, is to focus on one key player (Jared Kushner) and one key moment in time (March-July, 2016). That was when the Faustian bargain was made between the Trump campaign and Russia—when it was decided that Donald Trump would accept help from Vladimir Putin in order to win the White House.

This account, drawn entirely from mainstream news reporting, is an attempt to shape what seems like a slew of disparate stories into a cohesive narrative.

This is how we got to where we are.

Manafort = Bond villain

I. The Count

Jared Kushner was living large two years ago. He was young and fabulously wealthy. His wife was gorgeous and well known. He’d acquired one of the hippest New York newspapers, the Observer. He was a Millennial one-percenter, a rich Manhattan Democrat, enjoying his lot in life. He was not interested in politics, much less politics involving Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Then, in November of 2015, he formally joined his father-in-law’s seat-of-the-pants campaign—and all of that changed.

Fast-forward to the following March. Jared Kushner had been an active member of the Trump campaign for almost five months. His work with social media had been a smashing success, impressing his Luddite father-in-law. After he took over, “the Trump campaign went from selling $8,000 worth of hats and other items a day to $80,000,” according to the profile at Forbes, “generating revenue, expanding the number of human billboards–and proving a concept.”

Moreover, by March, Trump had sewn up enough delegates that the nomination looked like a sure thing. Maybe it wasn’t 50/50 he’d win the White House that November, but a victory was still in the realm of possibility.

But then reports trickled out about unhappy delegates, a disgruntled GOP establishment, and the unthinkable prospect of a contested convention that July. Could Ted Cruz or John Kasich somehow pull the chair right out from under Trump?

So Kushner did a little research on contested conventions, and learned that the last time that had happened to the GOP was back in 1976, when President Ford managed to stave off a challenge by Ronald Reagan. (This was ancient history to him; Kushner was not even born until 1981.) The man in charge of Ford’s effort back in ’76 was a young Republican strategist and lawyer named Paul Manafort, who later brokered the conventions for George H.W. Bush in ’88 and Bob Dole in ’96.

Not only did Manafort have truck with the GOP establishment, but he was uniquely qualified to lead Trump to the nomination. That Manafort owned an apartment in Trump Tower, and was thus a known commodity to Candidate Trump, was an unexpected bonus (we’ll assume it was unexpected). So on March 28, 2016, at the urging of Kushner, Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign.

Although Manafort had not worked on a U.S. race in 20 years, the consensus in the media was that this was a smart hire. Almost certainly, Kushner was impressed by the guy. Nicknamed “The Count” during his days as a convention broker, on account of his charming manner, the 67-year-old Manafort was well-educated, worldly, independently wealthy, and smart—in stark contrast to the provincial mouthbreathers comprising most of Trump’s inner circle, especially loutish then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

What Kushner did not realize (let’s again give him the benefit of the doubt) is that during those two decades spent away from convention-brokering, Paul Manafort had been spending most of his time with a host of unsavory characters: despots, mostly, from foreign dictatorships—and, more recently, a pair of Russian oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska and Dmytro Firtash. His most recent client, Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, was a particularly noxious fellow. All three men had very close ties to Vladimir Putin.

Kushner did not know that Manafort had been paid many millions of dollars by Yanukovych, illegally. He did not know that Manafort was in big financial trouble, and that Russian intelligence has made a cottage industry of “turning” powerful Americans with money problems. He had never heard the word kompromat. He did not know that Manafort was, in effect, an agent of Vladimir Putin.

So when the charming, debonair, non-mouthbreather Paul Manafort suggested that he, Kushner, take a call with Sergei Kislyak, Kushner did so. And he was glad he did. Kislyak, like Manafort, was smart and charming and funny.

And when Manafort suggested that they move the big foreign policy speech on April 28 from the National Press Club to the Mayflower Hotel, so that Kislyak and some of his cronies could attend, Kushner not only agreed, he helped organize the event. That late April night, after a cocktail party at which Kislyak hobnobbed with virtually every key Trump campaign figure (Sessions; Donald Trump, Jr.; neo-Nazi creeper Stephen Miller; J.D. Gordon; oil bigwigs and Russia apologists Richard Burt and Bud McFarlane; Manafort; Kushner; and Trump himself), Trump in his speech promised a “good deal” for Russia while dutifully refraining from any criticism of Putin.

This all seemed on the up and up to Kushner. He was following the lead of Manafort, after all, whom the Republican establishment still respected, and not some rogue idiot like Lewandowski.

What Kushner also may not have realized is that Kislyak was a spymaster in addition to being an ambassador, and that already, he was being recruited.

II. The Autocrat

Russia is an autocracy. Its elections are a sham, its government riddled with corruption, its human rights record deplorable. The purpose of its lousy economy, almost exclusively based on petroleum, is to enrich the despotic Vladimir Putin and his cronies, who are collectively called oligarchs.

A vast segment of Russia’s total wealth is in the hands of these oligarchs, much of it gained through corrupt means, much of it secreted away overseas, in quasi-Western places like Cyprus. The sanctions imposed on Russia by Barack Obama target the oligarchs directly, which is why they are so brutally effective—and why Putin, who may be the world’s richest man, wants them lifted at all costs. For Putin to continue to stay in power, he needs a stronger economy. He also needs to use propaganda to paint the West as just as weak, corrupt, and authoritarian as Russia. The sanctions hurt him badly on both fronts.

A Donald Trump presidency, as unlikely as it seemed in early 2016, would be a godsend to Putin. Trump was a man with the heart of an autocrat, an easily-flattered weakling who would screw up America’s standing in the world, and who, crucially, would almost certainly lift the sanctions. Here was a man who already openly admired Putin, who was actively trying to start a massive real estate project in Moscow…and whom Putin could easily blackmail. Kompromat had already been collected on Trump during his visits to Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2013, in the form of strange sex tapes; the campaign was sure to produce more lurid dirt.

To achieve his aims, Putin enlisted his intelligence service, the FSB (formerly the KGB), to compromise key Americans and turn them into pawns in his own little chess game. Usually this involved money: one of his oligarchs would do a shady business deal, or help finance a campaign illegally, and boom, an American was in his thrall. One of his compromised American assets, the general Mike Flynn, had already penetrated Trump’s inner circle. Another, Carter Page, had ingratiated himself into Trump’s foreign policy adviser team.

But on March 28, 2016, Vladimir Putin could not believe his luck. The Trump campaign, more or less on its own, had taken one of his most compromised American assets, the Yanukovych consultant Paul Manafort, a man who was almost comically in Russia’s back pocket, and inserted him directly into the campaign!

Putin already had dirt on Trump. He already had Flynn in his pocket. He already had Carter Page listed as a foreign affairs adviser for the campaign, as well as the likes of Felix Sater in his thrall. He had the Green Party’s Jill Stein, unwittingly or not, poised to siphon votes from Hillary Clinton on the left. He’d already hacked into both the DNC and RNC servers, and had emails of both to release through Wikileaks, which Russia was now supporting, at the moment of his choosing. He knew he could unleash his army of social media “bots” to manipulate the election in Trump’s favor…but he needed help on the inside. Manafort would provide that inside help.

All that was needed, as Putin saw it, was to turn Jared Kushner. If he had Trump’s son-in-law, the presumed brains of the operation and the director of Trump’s social media operation, he was in like…well, like Flynn.

III. Boy Wonder

Jared Kushner was impressed. The phone call with Sergei Kislyak had gone well, and meeting him in person at the Mayflower had been even better. The ambassador was funny, charming, insightful, and eager to help. “We really want to improve Russia’s relations with the United States. Think of the good we could do in Syria, where people are suffering! Whatever Russia can do to help your father-in-law take the White House, you can count on us!”

Kislyak also seemed to know about his own company’s financial pickle. See, Kushner needed another $1 billion in loans in order to retain ownership of 666 Fifth Avenue, and stave off possible bankruptcy. American banks had exactly not been lining up to help, but the ambassador hinted that banks in Europe might be more sympathetic to his predicament.

Meanwhile, Manafort was giving him excellent advice on the social media front, steering him and his tech expert Brad Parscale to a British firm, Cambridge Analytica, which in less than a week was already making massive inroads. Per Forbes:

Kushner’s crew was able to tap into the Republican National Committee’s data machine, and it hired targeting partners like Cambridge Analytica to map voter universes and identify which parts of the Trump platform mattered most….Kushner built a custom geo-location tool that plotted the location density of about 20 voter types over a live Google Maps interface.

Before Manafort came aboard, Kushner never thought Trump could pull it off. But now that he was in such capable hands? The idea of President Trump was not so far-fetched. He’d come this far, staked his own reputation. Unlike everyone else at the campaign, he liked Hillary Clinton well enough. But he wanted to win this thing.

So when his brother-in-law, the doltish Donald J. Trump, Jr., sent him an email about a meeting with a Russian attorney who promised incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Kushner’s interest was piqued. True, he wished Junior had not sent such a thing in email form. He wished his colleagues were more careful. It would be bad optics if this got out. But if this attorney could deliver what she promised, it might be a game-changer.

IV. The Adoptions Attorney

One thing made Jared Kushner nervous: the people Trump favored tended to be loudmouths. Corey Lewandowski, for example. Junior. Kellyanne Conway. And of course Trump himself. If he were going to entertain the idea of working with the Russians, he needed to be able to trust that his comrades would keep their mouths shut. Loose lips, dot dot dot. He also had to make sure not to leave a paper trail, if these meetings were to continue. Sending an email, he decided, was an unwise thing for Junior to have done.

He took these concerns to Manafort, who agreed, but assured him that the meeting would be okay to attend. How could they know what the attorney would say? What was important, however, was to keep Trump himself away from the gathering. It was bad enough that he knew about it at all. Given that the meeting was to take place at Trump Tower, and that Trump would be in the building, right down the hall, keeping him away was a tall order.

“He can call in if need be,” Manafort said, “but he can’t be in the room.” Kushner agreed. Manafort further suggested that they bring Reince Priebus, the chair of the RNC, to Trump Tower to babysit Trump while the meeting took place—to mitigate the temptation for him to crash the meeting. Kushner thought this was legit genius.

The fateful meeting took place on the afternoon of June 9, 2016. In attendance were Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist who used to write for the tabloids; Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney; two Russian representatives of Trump’s friend Aras Agalarov; and a Putin-picked translator. After some pleasantries, Veselnitskaya went on a long tirade about adoptions: apparently some U.S. law, the Magnitsky Act, was preventing Americans from adopting Russian children. Her arguments were passionate. Then one of the men piped up, mentioning some amazing way a Russian tech company could “weaponize” social media against Hillary Clinton. All they needed was more information about exactly where and how to do so—information Kushner was intimately acquainted with.[1. Nota bene: This detail is speculation on my part, although Mueller’s investigators have speculated along similar lines.]

Were the Russians proposing some sort of quid pro quo without explicitly saying so? Kushner glanced at Manafort, who was fiddling with his phone; he, Manafort, seemed to already know what was going to be discussed. Junior was saying something with much bluster and no meaning. Kushner decided that the Russians did indeed have something worthwhile to offer, but if word of this ever leaked out, he would personally hang for it. The rest of his crew were blithe about legal risks, but his father had gone to prison; Kushner would not make the same mistake. So he quickly excused himself.

An hour later, after the Russians left, Manafort didn’t give Donald Trump the full details. He only told him what to say next: “Hit Hillary about the missing emails. Hit her hard. Don’t stop. People don’t like her, people don’t trust her, and the email thing confirms their suspicions. That private email server is going to give you the White House.”

Trump took to Twitter and tweeted:

This was the first mention of 33,000 “missing” emails. It would not be the last.

Kushner, meanwhile, knew that such an operation would have to be done in secret. He set about dreaming up ways to keep the dialogue with the Russians open without the press—or, worse, the Democrats—finding out.

V. All In

The capabilities of the Russian cyber agents was astonishing. Given the proper data, they could use social media to hammer home whatever narrative they wanted to promote, and make sure that the only ones who saw were the micro-targeted audience. It was like a turbo boost on what Kushner’s people were already doing. It was like fixing the 1919 World Series.

After the meeting, Kushner knew he’d need the Russians to win the election. Every subsequent move he made aimed to achieve that result. On June 21, the mouthbreather Lewandowski was fired as campaign chairman and replaced by Manafort. Manafort immediately arranged a VIP meeting on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the primary purpose of which was to soften the party’s platform on Russian involvement in Ukraine—a symbolic gesture, perhaps, but the symbolism was clear: Republicans heart Russia. That this was the ONLY substantive change made to the 60-page platform is telling.

The reclusive Kushner, meanwhile, sought out secret ways to communicate with the Russians. His audacious proposal of using the Russian embassy as a backchannel was so fiendishly clever that it shocked even Kislyak. And when he met with Kislyak and other Russians, he did his best to do so in private, whisking his guests into Trump Tower via private entrances (perhaps through the offices of Carter Page, which were in the building right next door, conveniently accessible without going through the TT lobby).

Was it worth lifting some sanctions on, basically, his and his father-in-law’s indirect creditors, in exchange for all that help with the election? Of course it was. And the beauty part was, because of the clandestine nature of the internet, it would be impossible to say for sure whether Russian hackers were involved. Oh, the intelligence agencies may say so, but this was complicated stuff. Who would the American people believe, Washington spies or “straight shooter” Trump?

Ever the businessman, Kushner never forgot about his own financial pickle. So it was that in October, he secured a nick-of-time $285m loan from Deutsche Bank, staving off the collapse of his family’s company. He’d need more, a lot more, in another year, but if he was consigliere to the most powerful man alive, he could figure that out later…

VI. End Notes

The story of Trump/Russia is really the story of Jared Kushner, the only player in the Trump camp in June of 2016 with the brains and the computer savvy to make proper use of the Russian hacking operation.

At some point—probably under the influence of Russian asset Paul Manafort, whose involvement in the campaign was a fluke of the contested convention—Kushner decided that the White House, and all the power and prestige that promised, was worth coordination with Putin and the FSB.

Maybe he didn’t realize what he was doing was illegal. Maybe by the time he did, it was too late to turn back. Maybe this version of events is too sympathetic to Kushner, and that he was on board well before the spring of ’16.

Whatever the case, the Trump team comprised those who came on board with deep and in many cases illicit ties to Russia (Manafort, Flynn, Sessions, Michael Cohen, Steve Bannon, Page, and Trump himself), and those who were clean when they signed on (Priebus, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, etc.) and only became complicit later. But make no mistake: they ALL became complicit. They ALL chose to accept aid from Moscow. They are ALL traitors to our country.

(One of the reasons Congress has bent over backwards to scuttle the Russia investigations is because its Republican members are terrified that their own crimes, lesser though they may be, will be exposed. A lot of rubles were pumped into various campaigns in 2016.)

Kushner may have joined the conspiracy innocently, but by Election Day, he had become the linchpin of the entire treasonous operation. Whatever his own denials, there is good reason that the active investigations all regard him as a person of interest.

At some point, Jared Kushner will have to choose between protecting his father-in-law and saving his own skin. And that is the moment when Trump will fall.Save

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