By Eric Vandenbroeck
I will herewith for the first time tread a path I have not gone before. I have avoided US politics or/and anything to do with the Trump/Mueller investigation. One of the reasons why I haven't commented on this before is because the latter is very much a moving target. For example, currently, the first Manafort trial is running, whereby the second will be the more interesting because there the charges will include conspiracy against the United States.
But while most US Republicans agree with Trump that FBI’s investigation is a ‘witch hunt’, and while U.S. President Donald Trump continues to argue on Twitter that the Steele Dossier, which was paid for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is what started the special counsel Russia investigation in reality, it had begun before the Steele Dossier was made public.
For a number of yours already it has been demonstrated that Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia.
Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics.
Some of the money flows that the above linked to Financial Times article has established raise questions about Trump’s vulnerability to undue influence now that he is in the White House. These include evidence that Trump’s billionaire partner in the Toronto project authorized a secret $100m payment to a Moscow-based fixer representing Kremlin-backed investors. That payment was part of a series of transactions that generated millions for the backers of the Toronto venture, a project that, in turn, made millions for the future president. A month after the 2007 groundbreaking, Trump wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal citing the financing for “our” Trump Toronto project as “a testament to the strength of the Trump name and brand within the financial community”.
Another reason why I initially remained somewhat skeptical and thus didn’t write about it on my website yet is that in that was in 1987 when all of this supposed to have started, how I thought could it be, that in 1987 Trump had no U.S. government position and was not, as far as I know, privy to any unusual information that would have been sought-after by Russia. No one could have guessed that one day he would be the U.S. president…
1986 Trump was seeking a government position and wanted to be placed in Moskau
Having attended a meeting on 12 August with some of the people that have actually looked into this I, however, came to realize, that it not just in 1987 but already in 1986 that Trump was seeking a gov. position and wanted to be placed in Moskau, and that by 1987 he wanted to be viewed as something more than a glam real estate speculator, someone of substance politically (that year Trump was seen claiming to take a call from Sen. Bob Dole, then the Senate minority leader). Giving the detailed source material here is also no doubt that Soviet/Czech intelligence was spying on him in 1987.
A CSSR Stasi dossier that Trump’s company is absolutely safe, economically speaking since it receives commissions from the state. One other juicy detail: “Another advantage is the personal relationship with the American President and the fact that he is completely tax-exempt for the next 30 years.”
On October 21, 1988, a source with the cover name “Milos” reports that Trump is being put under pressure to run for the US presidency. Concerning a visit by Ivana to the CSSR, the source says that “any false step of hers will have incalculable consequences for her husband’s position, who intends to run for President in 1996.”
Details of how the Trumps were to be spied on are also held in the StB’s archives. One order dated 1979 states that the phone calls between Ivana and her father are to be tapped at least once a year and their mail is to be constantly monitored. It is noted that Ivana speaks to her children in Czech even when she is in the US as well as detailing the friends and acquaintances of the Czech branch of her family. Meaning the Trumps were apparently also spie'd on also in the US itself.
How the case unfolded and Trump was able to pull it off
Current and former US officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters that Michael Flynn and other Trump advisers made at least eighteen calls and emails to Kremlin operatives during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential campaign. Even before he attended the December 2015 dinner in Moscow with Putin, and before Guccifer 2.0 took credit for the DNC hacking in 2016, General Flynn and his son had met secretly with Kislyak at the ambassador’s residence in Washington. And Flynn’s correspondence strongly suggested that he was very much in the loop with regard to Russia’s hacking operation. In mid-July 2016, he emailed an unnamed Trump communications adviser, “There are a number of things happening (and will happen) this election via cyber operations (by both hacktivists, nation states and the DNC).”
In the wake of the Trump Tower meeting in June, and the weakened Ukraine plank, Russian support came pouring in-in the form of money, strategic advice, and newly forged alliances. Simon Kukes, a Russian-born American citizen who had replaced Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky as head of Yukos, gave a total of $ 283,283 to various Trump entities, including a joint fund-raising committee called Trump Victory, whose beneficiaries included the Trump campaign, the RNC, and several state-level committees.
At about the same time, even before his firm had finalized a contract with the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix reached out to Julian Assange and asked him to share the DNC emails so CA could help disseminate them.
On July 14, George Papadopoulos sent an email to a contact with Kremlin ties asserting that top Trump officials had agreed to a pre-election meeting with representatives of Putin in the UK that would include the campaign’s “national chairman and maybe one other foreign policy adviser.” “It has been approved by our side,” Papadopoulos wrote in the email.
Four days later, the Heritage Foundation staged a seminar which Jeff Sessions attended, and took the opportunity to speak with Kislyak. A number of Sessions’s conversations with the ambassador were intercepted by US spy agencies, which characterized them as “substantive” discussions on US-Russia relations in a Trump administration and Trump’s positions on various issues concerning Russia. During the Republican National Convention, Kislyak had also met with Carter Page.
Then, on July 22, three days before the Democratic National Convention was to open in Philadelphia, WikiLeaks released nearly twenty thousand hacked emails from the DNC. Though they revealed nothing illegal, the emails showed that party officials, who are meant to remain neutral, favored Hillary Clinton and had discussed ways to undermine Bernie Sanders, leading to the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Typical of much of the mainstream press, the New York Times mentioned allegations “that Russian hackers had penetrated [the DNC] computer system,” but focused on the internal bickering within the Democratic Party. That was more important than the fact that a hostile foreign power was assaulting America’s electoral system.
And so, one of the most unusual political campaigns in American history was under way, with Trump putting forth a right-wing, nativist, protectionist, anti-immigrant populism, all under the umbrella of “making America great again.” Again and again throughout the campaign, contrary to every expectation, Trump’s transgressions worked to his advantage, not his disadvantage. Thanks to his showmanship, Trump benefited enormously from getting more free media attention than any other candidate. Indeed, according to analysis from SMG Delta, a firm that tracks television advertising, from the beginning of his campaign through February 2016-still early in the campaign cycle-it was estimated that Trump received nearly $ 2 billion in free media, twice what Clinton got.
Mixing the aesthetics of professional wrestling and reality TV, he threw red meat to his base. It was good-not bad-to demean Mexicans as rapists; to say women who have abortions should serve time in jail; to deride Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War hero who was tortured and spent six years as a POW, because he had been captured; to ban immigrants solely on the basis of their Muslim religion; even to urge a supporter to “knock the crap out of ’em [anti-Trump protesters].” “I promise you, I will pay the legal fees,” Trump added. And the crowds loved it. Even then, Trump upped the ante. When she was secretary of state, Clinton had used a private email address and server, rather than State Department servers, thereby raising concerns about security and the preservation of emails, and leading to an FBI probe. That had ended on July 5, with a recommendation that no charges be filed.
But Trump wouldn’t let go. In Doral, Florida, on July 27, Trump said he hoped Russian intelligence had successfully penetrated Hillary Clinton’s network and stolen her emails, and urged Russia to release them, as a way of getting to the bottom of it. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during a news conference. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Now, as the Times reported, Trump was explicitly encouraging “a foreign adversary to conduct cyber espionage against a former secretary of state.” He had openly urged Russia to interfere on his behalf in a presidential election.
Soon, Russian support for Trump flooded in from all over. The Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization that, according to a Justice Department indictment, aims “to interfere with elections and political processes,” had started producing, purchasing, and posting pro-Trump ads on American social media. By July it had hired more than eighty employees to put out ads to social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Not everyone was in the dark. On July 30, the Guardian reported on Trump’s ties to Russia and Manafort’s to pro-Putin forces in Ukraine as they may have related to the changed Ukraine plank in the GOP platform. In addition to the DNC hack, additional hacks against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Clinton campaign had been reported. “The FBI is investigating, with all signs pointing to Russian involvement,” the Guardian reported, adding that “experts argue Vladimir Putin has attempted in the past to damage western democracy, saying Russian security agencies have made cyberattacks on French, Greek, Italian and Latvian targets during elections.” On September 5, the Washington Post published a story by Dana Priest, Ellen Nakashima, and Tom Hamburger reporting that “U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions.” The article added that the Russian campaign used cyberwarfare to hack computers used in politics and to spread disinformation.
At about the same time, Malcolm Nance published The Plot to Hack America, exposing how the Russians were using cyberspies and WikiLeaks to hack the DNC, the Clinton campaign, their friends and allies in the media, and voter registration systems in no fewer than twenty-five states. In the 19 October 2016, the Financial Times presented evidence that Trump SoHo had multiple ties to “an international money-laundering network.” But the article, which was published behind a paywall, was not widely picked up, and with so much other reporting grabbing headlines, the issue of Trump’s laundering money never dominated the national conversation.
But these reports were the exceptions. The ongoing drip, drip, drip of thousands of emails being released throughout the campaign by Guccifer and WikiLeaks commandeered the news cycles far more than the revelations of the Russian intelligence operation.
Meanwhile, contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign continued unabated, under cover of news instead of night. In August, Manafort met with longtime aide Konstantin Kilimnik at a Manhattan cigar bar, the Grand Havana Room, and “talked about bills unpaid by [their] clients, about [the] overall situation in Ukraine . . . and about the current news,” including the presidential campaign, according to a statement by Kilimnik. In Ukraine, political foes charged that Kilimnik might be working with Russian intelligence, but Kilimnik told the Washington Post that his meetings with Manafort were “private visits” and were “in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the U.S.”
Yet suspicions were raised when a jet linked to Oleg Deripaska landed in New Jersey within hours of a meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik.
(A Deripaska spokeswoman told Vice News the billionaire was not offered and did not receive briefings from Manafort.)
In mid-August, Manafort resigned as campaign manager after it was revealed that he’d received secret payments from Ukraine. A few days later, however, on August 19, one of Manafort’s daughters, Andrea Manafort Shand, texted a friend that the resignation was merely for show. “So I got to the bottom of it,” she wrote, in texts published by the Huffington Post. “As I suspected, my dad resigned from being the public face of the campaign but is still very much involved behind the scenes. He felt he was becoming a distraction.”
As for the campaign staff, Trump’s team merely shuffled the deck. The media spotlighted newcomers Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, but Manafort continued to have influence. His deputy, Rick Gates, who had been with him in Ukraine, moved to the Republican National Committee, where he soon established himself as a player in Trump’s circle.
Delighting in the transgressions underlying the apparent chaos, Roger Stone broadcast his complicity, appearing by phone on the Alex Jones show, hosted by the noted conspiracy theorist/ radio broadcaster in April, and predicting that “devastating” revelations would be forthcoming from WikiLeaks about the Clinton Foundation. On August 21, Stone tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
In August, Stone, in an appearance at the Southwest Broward Republican Organization in Florida, answered a question about what he suspected would be the campaign’s “October surprise” by saying: “I actually have communicated with [Julian] Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”
“I expect Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks to drop a payload of new documents on Hillary on a weekly basis fairly soon,” Stone said later, in September, on Boston Herald Radio. He added he was in touch with Assange “through an intermediary.”
Stone was not the only Trump operative working with WikiLeaks. Representatives of the site coordinated points of attack directly with Donald Trump Jr. as well, with WikiLeaks emailing him on October 12, “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications.” (A couple of days earlier, Donald Trump had proclaimed, “I love WikiLeaks!”)
“Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us,” WikiLeaks wrote, directing Don Jr. to a link that suggested it would help Trump supporters sort through the stolen documents. “There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it,” WikiLeaks went on. “Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”
Don Jr. didn’t respond to that message, but as the Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau pointed out, just fifteen minutes later the candidate himself. tweeted, “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”
By this time, Donald Trump’s ties to WikiLeaks and the Russian bots were fully operational and more than capable of coming to Trump’s rescue when necessary. That became apparent on October 7, when the Washington Post released the infamous video of Trump with Billy Bush, then-host of the television show Access Hollywood, in which Trump says about women that you can just “grab ’em by the pussy.”
Within an hour of the story’s release, WikiLeaks was fighting to win back control of the narrative by releasing hacked emails from the account of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. In addition, at least 2,752 Twitter accounts from Russia’s Internet Research Agency went into action on Trump’s behalf whenever they were necessary. On September 17, Trump reversed his lies asserting that Obama had been born in Kenya and declared instead that Obama “was born in the United States, period.” Russian tweets came to the rescue, with various Russian accounts now asserting that it was Hillary who started the birther controversy.
And so it went, Russian hackers and bots leading a supine press corps by its nose. After all, it is far easier to write stories about hacked emails that are delivered on a silver platter than to probe a multifarious political conspiracy to sabotage a presidential election.
The sensational Cambridge Analytica Case
Thanks to now well known Cambridge Analytica case, Clinton’s campaign may have faced an even bigger problem with Facebook than with Twitter bots. That’s because the British data-mining company had made a deal with a Russian-American academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who harvested no fewer than fifty million people’s raw profiles from Facebook without their permission, roughly thirty million of which contained enough information to build psychographic profiles. The profiles had been assembled with the premise that big data enabled clients to drill into the psychology of individual voters, thereby allowing them to identify the different types of American voters and shape their behavior.
It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica’s approach of microtargeting narrowly tailored messages to the electorate. But, according to the Intercept, Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, has claimed to “have a massive database of four to five thousand data points on every adult in America.” Nix also claimed that Trump campaign online ads were seen at least 1.5 billion times.
In the end, more than 126 million Facebook users were shown Russian-generated election propaganda. “They were using 40-50,000 different variants of ads every day that was continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response,” Martin Moore of King’s College London.
“It’s all done completely opaquely and they can spend as much money as they like on particular locations because you can focus on a five-mile radius or even a single demographic. Fake news is important but it’s only one part of it. These companies have found a way of transgressing 150 years of legislation that we’ve developed to make elections fair and open.” Absurd as some fake news seemed, much of it went viral when it triggered Facebook algorithms that pushed the buttons of impassioned Trump supporters. A case in point: a story that became known as “Pizzagate” suggested that certain phrases in John Podesta’s hacked emails were actually code words linked to a Democratic Party pedophilia ring based in the basement of a Washington, DC, pizza parlor. Ludicrous as the story was, it went viral on sites such as Infowars.com, parts of Reddit, and various alt-right sites.
The story, like others, had first started on Facebook. Which shined a new light on a 2012 meeting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow. They talked about Facebook’s role in politics, and according to the Times, they joked about its importance in the American presidential campaign. Suddenly, the joke was on America, and though most Americans didn’t yet realize it, it had deadly serious consequences.
“Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”
As he campaigned across the country, Trump occasionally addressed the issue of his ties to Russia. “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia,” he said told CBS Miami on July 27, 2016. “I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia. . . . I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
None of which placated Clinton. On September 26, when she and Trump went head to head in the first presidential debate, Hillary attacked: “I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is just unacceptable.” 55/56 Nonetheless, Trump’s off-kilter response was enough for his supporters. “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the D.N.C.,” Trump said. “She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, O.K.?” Finally, in the third debate, on October 19, about three weeks before the election, it came to a head, with Clinton asserting that Putin liked Trump “because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.” Trump: No puppet. No puppet. Clinton: And it’s pretty clear . . . Trump: You’re the puppet! Clinton: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit . . . Trump: No, you’re the puppet. Clinton: . . . that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race. So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17-17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.
But the Russia issue got no traction, and was buried by sensational but relatively insignificant reports of Trump’s horrifying transgressions against women, Muslims, and immigrants-not to mention the never-ending reports about Clinton’s emails.
For the most part, political pundits thought Clinton was so far ahead that it didn’t matter, anyway. But on October 28, eleven days before the election, then-FBI director James Comey announced in a letter to Congress that as a result of an unrelated case, the FBI had obtained additional emails that might relate to its investigation of Hillary’s use of a private email server. It was soon revealed that the emails were obtained as the result of an investigation into former congressman Anthony Weiner.
Suddenly, the Hillary Clinton email case-and conversation-had been reopened. In the end, after reviewing the new emails, Comey said the FBI had not changed its conclusions. But so far as the general public knew, Hillary was the only candidate being investigated. 57/58
On October 27, polls were showing her with a reasonably comfortable margin of six to nine points over Trump. But Clinton later said, “Our analysis is that Comey’s letter-raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be-stopped our momentum.” 58 ( https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/22/us/politics/james-comey-election.html )
To complicate matters further, on October 31, just nine days before the election, a New York Times headline-“Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia”-seemed to exculpate Trump entirely, when, in fact, the investigations were just beginning.
But the electorate didn’t know that. Voters only knew that Hillary was being hammered in the press, and Donald Trump always seemed to skate free. The polls tightened. By November 3, that 7 percent margin had closed to less than 3 percent.
In the closing week before the election, Trump used Russia-backed WikiLeaks as a battering ram against Hillary day after day. On October 31, in Warren, Michigan, Trump told a rally, “Did you see where, on WikiLeaks, it was announced that they were paying protestors to be violent, $ 1,500? . . . Did you see another one, another one came in today? This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
Then, on November 2, in Orlando: “Out today, WikiLeaks just came out with a new one. Just a little while ago. It’s just been shown that a rigged system with more collusion, possibly illegal, between.the Department of Justice, the Clinton campaign and the State Department.” 62
And on November 4, in Wilmington, Ohio: “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”
On November 5, three days before the presidential election, Ivanka and Jared Kushner made a pilgrimage to the grave of the Chabad rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson in the old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York. Known as the Ohel, the rebbe’s grave is considered holy by followers of Chabad and is visited by tens of thousands of people annually. Jared and Ivanka reportedly made a special prayer for Ivanka’s father there, at the grave of a man whose adherents believed he had not really died, that he was the messiah; a man who had been the leader of a movement that somehow led directly to Vladimir Putin.
On November 8, Election Day, Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least twenty-one states, mostly in the form of “assaults on the vast back-end election apparatus-voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, e-poll books and other equipment.”
Initially, the impact of these attacks was unclear. Typical of the complaints, according to an election-monitoring group called Election Protection, in a Democratic-leaning county in a swing state, dozens of voters in Durham, North Carolina, were being told they were ineligible to vote, even when. they displayed valid registration cards. Others were sent from one polling station to another, only to be rejected again, or were told, incorrectly, they had already voted. Months earlier, VR Systems, which provided information about voting via ebooks for Durham, had been hacked by Russians. Without VR’s information, which is used to verify voters’ eligibility, voters would be unable to cast ballots at all.
If necessary "create a new media network"
Still, all over America, the consensus was that Hillary would win. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight election site, nine of the top ten pollsters had Hillary winning. Silver gave Trump a 28.6 percent chance of winning, but that was far more generous than most of his colleagues. Others gave Trump less than a 1 percent shot.
Trump impressed friends as being relaxed and at ease with what he characterized as a no-lose situation. “He was like, ‘Look, what do I have to lose?’” Pastor Darrell Scott, CEO of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, told GQ. “‘I’m gambling with house money. You know what I mean? If I win, great, I want to win; if I lose, what’s my default position? The CEO of Trump International.’” Even WikiLeaks was making plans for President Hillary Clinton. At 6: 35 p.m., WikiLeaks wrote to Don Jr., “Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred-as he has implied. implied that he might do.”
If Trump contested the election, WikiLeaks reportedly argued, that would help Trump discredit the mainstream press and create a new media network to serve his agenda. Uncharacteristically, the Trump campaign had booked its “victory party,” if that’s what the evening held, not in a Trump property but at the midtown Hilton just three blocks from Trump Tower because its massive ballroom could hold three thousand people. According to GQ, the setup, which was dominated by risers for camera crews and a large press pen, looked as if it had been set up for a press conference more than a celebration. By five p.m., the insiders at Fox News had begun working on the corresponding narrative: Hillary Clinton was the forty-fifth president of the United States. Within the network, all this was a closely guarded secret that was shared largely with people who had to prepare graphics and other materials. “Fox News declares Hillary Clinton elected president,” read one graphic. - At 5: 03, Fox News exit polls had Hillary winning Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two critical states that Trump needed. Fox political anchor Bret Baier recalled, “They were saying, ‘You know, this is not definitive, but it really looks like Clinton will pull it out by about 11 p.m. Eastern time.’” At 8: 22, things still looked good for Clinton. As the votes rolled in, the New. York Times tweeted that Hillary had an 82 percent chance of winning.
But suddenly, the narrative changed. The exit polls, after all, were not final tallies. At 9: 30, it was clear that key states like North Carolina and Florida were too close to call. By 9: 40, the Times had lowered Hillary’s chances of victory to 55 percent. Then, by 10: 50, Trump had captured two of the most important swing states, Ohio and Florida. Then Utah and North Carolina went for Trump. By 11: 36, his supporters had begun chanting, “President Trump, President Trump.”
In some ways, it seemed that everything had come together better than Putin could possibly have dreamed: three decades earlier, Mogilevich and the Russian Mafia’s compromising of Trump had begun by possibly using Trump real estate to launder their money. They had bailed out Trump when he was bankrupt. They had ensnared him with some form of kompromat, most likely, though in exactly what form is unclear. They had ensured that he was beholden to Russia’s money, and its power. Meanwhile, the Gerasimov Doctrine had been implemented, and with it a new kind of asymmetric warfare using hackers and cyberattacks, disinformation and media manipulation. All done at Putin’s behest, often by thinly disguised state actors, working hand in hand with the FSB. All largely unseen. All done with deniability. Accompanied by an almost Surkovian attempt to destroy the entire notion of truth via cries of “Fake news!,” pathological lies, and right-wing propaganda, fueled with the gasoline of social media, real and robotic. As to the impact of all the “active measures” undertaken by Russia leading up to the 2016 election, it is difficult to quantify exactly how much they changed the outcome of the presidential race. However, according to the study by the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University in Wales, automated tweeting alone by thousands of bots added 3.23 percentage points to Trump’s vote in the US presidential race.
Given Trump’s narrow victory in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan states that were predicted to vote Democratic but were won by Trump with a margin of less than 1 percent, and which put him over the top in the electoral college-it is more than likely that the Russian interference made the difference.
As midnight neared on election night, things were going so well for Trump’s forces that an unlikely personage emerged at the Hilton. Even during the campaign, Felix Sater had continued to work with Michael Cohen in an effort to get Trump Tower Moscow going well into the presidential campaign, all the while cultivating contacts ranging from intelligence officials to Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, the two billionaire brothers who had been Putin’s judo sparring partners. But on July 26, Trump tweeted that he had “ZERO investments in Russia” and the Trump Tower Moscow project was dead. Trump, of course, had claimed in a deposition that he barely knew Sater. Now, though, on the most significant night of Trump’s political life, Sater was back in his good graces and was a guest at the invitation-only victory party for the next president of the United States. At 1: 50 a.m., Trump took Pennsylvania, meaning his election was all but certain. Finally, at 2: 29 a.m., came Wisconsin, a state that had not gone Republican since 1984. Then, in a statement that had been unexpected only hours before, the Associated Press officially called Donald Trump the next president of the United States. Three minutes later, at 9: 32 local time in Moscow, Deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov of the pro-Putin United Russia Party, the grandson of the namesake of the Molotov cocktail, was greeted by enthusiastic applause when he announced Trump’s victory in the Duma.
Vladimir Putin’s implementation of one of the most audacious intelligence operations in history had been successful beyond his wildest dreams. Later that day, Vladimir Vinokur, Putin’s favorite comedian and a longtime associate of Mogilevich and the Solntsevo gang, posted a collage of two photos on Instagram. One of the photos showed Vinokur chatting amiably with Putin. The other showed the Russian comic with Trump. “We won!” it said.
“Congratulations!” A new era had begun.