Posts Tagged ‘Russians’

Russian hackers: Conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election

July 17, 2018
Russian government hackers on American technology companies such as Twitter
Exactly seven months before the 2016 presidential election, Russian government hackers made it onto a Democratic committee’s network.

One of their carefully crafted fraudulent emails had hit pay dirt, enticing an employee to click a link and enter her password.

That breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the first significant step in gaining access to the Democratic National Committee network.

To steal politically sensitive information, prosecutors say, the hackers exploited some of the United States’ own computer infrastructure against it, using servers they leased in Arizona and Illinois. The details were included in an indictment released Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, who accused the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, of taking part in a wide-ranging conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The companies operating the servers were not identified in the court papers.
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President Vladimir Putin looks at the Main Intelligence Directorate’s symbol while on a visit to its Moscow headquarters in 2006. The agency, known by its acronym GRU, has been blamed for embarking on information warfare campaigns as Russia tries to boost its influence.
President Vladimir Putin looks at the Main Intelligence Directorate’s symbol while on a visit to its Moscow headquarters in 2006. The agency, known by its acronym GRU, has been blamed for embarking on information warfare campaigns as Russia tries to boost its influence. PHOTO:DMITRY ASTAKHOV/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Russians are accused of exploiting their access to inexpensive, powerful servers worldwide — conveniently available for rental — that can be used to commit crimes with impunity. Reaching across oceans and into networks without borders can obfuscate their origins.

The indictment painstakingly reconstructs the hackers’ movements using web servers and a complex bitcoin financing operation.

Two Russian hacking units were charged with tasks, including the creation and management of a hacking tool called “X-agent” that was implanted onto computers. The software allowed them to monitor activity on computers by individuals, steal passwords and maintain access to hacked networks. It captured each keystroke on infected computers and took screenshots of activity displayed on computer screens, including an employee viewing the DCCC’s online banking information.

From April to June 2016, the hackers installed updated versions of their software on at least 10 Democratic computers. The software transmitted information from the infected computers to a GRU-leased server in Arizona, the indictment said. The hackers also created an overseas computer to act as a “middle server” to obscure the connection between the DCCC and the hackers’ Arizona-based server.

Once hackers gained access to the DCCC network, it searched one computer for terms that included “hillary,” ‘’cruz,” and “trump” and copied select folders, including “Benghazi Investigations.”

In emails, the hackers embedded a link that purported to be a spreadsheet of Clinton’s favorability ratings, but instead it directed the computers to send its data to a GRU-created website.

Meanwhile, around the same time, the hackers broke into 33 DNC computers and installed their software on their network. Captured keystrokes and screenshots from the DCCC and DNC computers, including an employee viewing the DCCC’s banking information, were sent back to the Arizona server.

The Russian hackers used other software they developed called X-Tunnel to move stolen documents through encrypted channels to another computer the GRU leased in Illinois.

Despite the use of U.S.-based servers, such vendors typically aren’t legally liable for criminal activities unless it can be proved in federal court that the operator was party to the criminal activity.

A 1996 federal statute protects internet vendors from being held liable for how customers use their service, and except for a few exceptions, provides immunity to the providers. The law is considered a key part of the legal infrastructure of the internet, preventing providers from being saddled with the behemoth task of monitoring activity on their servers.

“The fact that someone provided equipment and or connectivity that was used to engage in data theft is not going to be attributed to the vendor in that circumstance,” Eric Goldman, a professor of law and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, said. A notable exception, however, is if federal prosecutors are bringing a criminal charge for violations of a federal criminal law.

In that case, “we’re going to require a high level of knowledge of their activity or intent,” Goldman said.

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When the DNC and DCCC became aware they had been hacked, they hired a cybersecurity firm, Crowdstrike, to determine the extent of the intrusions. Crowdstrike, referred to as “Company 1” in the indictment, took steps to kick the hackers off the networks around June 2016. But for months the Russians eluded their investigators and a version of the malware remained on the network through October — programed to communicate back to a GRU-registered internet address.

“We do not have any information to suggest that it successfully communicated,” said Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director.

As the company worked to kick them off, GRU officials allegedly searched online for information on Company 1 and what it had reported about its use of X-Agent malware and tried to delete their traces on the DCCC network by using commercial software known as CCleaner. Though Crowdstrike disabled X-agent on the DCCC network, the hackers spent seven hours unsuccessfully trying to connect to their malware and tried using previously stolen credentials to access the network on June 20, 2016.

The indictment also shows the reliance of Russian government hackers on American technology companies such as Twitter, to spread its stolen documents.

The hackers also accessed DNC data in September 2016 by breaking into DNC computers hosted on the Amazon Web Services’ cloud. The hackers used Amazon Web Services’ backup feature to create “snapshots” that they moved onto their own Amazon cloud accounts. Amazon also provides cloud computing services for various government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Follow Tami Abdollah at https://twitter.com/latams

Associated Press

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Syria regime takes control of Naseeb border crossing, a key passage

July 6, 2018
Syrian government forces reached a vital border crossing with Jordan on Friday, state media reported. The capture of Naseeb border crossing comes as another victory for President Assad.
© Mohamad Abazeed / AFP | Smoke rises above rebel-held areas east of the city of Daraa during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018.

State news agency SANA said the capture of the Naseeb border crossing happened Friday afternoon after a deal was reached between rebels and Russian mediators to end fighting in southern Syria. Syrian government forces raisend the national flag there, for the first time in years.

Earlier on Friday, rebels said they reached an agreement with Russian mediators in the southern province of Deraa and surrender the Naseeb crossing point. The agreement was reached following an intense aerial campaign by government forces and Russian allies, and the capture of new areas along the border.

Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels’ joint operations room, said they have reached an agreement with the Russians in which insurgents will begin to hand over some of their heavy weapons in return for a government pullout from several villages.

Jabawi added that Russian military police would deploy along the border with Jordan, including the Naseeb border crossing, and that rebels opposed to the deal will be evacuated to rebel-held regions in northern Syria.

The capture of the Naseeb border crossing is another victory for President Bashar Assad’s forces, who have regained control of most of the area’s key cities from insurgents in recent years with the help of Russia and Iran.

Rebels seized control of the crossing in 2015, cutting a major lifeline for Syrian exports and disrupting a major trade route between Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich gulf counties.

Syrian government forces launched a wide offensive on June 19 to retake Daraa and the nearby Quneitra region that borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The attack has displaced some 330,000 people and left dozens dead.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 159 civilians have been killed since the offensive began two weeks ago, including 33 children.

Nabaa Media, an opposition activist collective, said the latest government assault on the area killed several people including a woman and her four children in a rebel-held village in Daraa. The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said in a statement Friday it received “horrific reports” of an entire family including four children being killed.

Earlier on Friday, the government-controlled Central Military Media said government forces now control most of the towns and villages on the eastern side of southern Daraa province.

(AP)

Assad denies presence of Iranian forces in Syria

May 31, 2018

Dictator says upgrading air defenses ‘with Russian help’ the only way to deter Israel, Moscow averted ‘direct conflict’ with US

Times of Israel
May 31, 2018

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Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria, in this photo released May 10, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday denied the presence in his country of any Iranian troops.

Much of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria has been set up on Syrian military bases, Israel says, and the IDF has frequently hit Syrian air defenses during strikes on Iranian targets.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Air Force carried out its biggest operation in Syria in 40 years when it attacked more than 50 Iranian targets in response to an Iranian rocket barrage at the Golan Heights, amid warnings from Jerusalem that it would not tolerate Tehran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily on Israel’s northern border.

But according to Assad, Iran’s presence in his country is limited to an advisory capacity.

In a wide-ranging interview with Russia’s RT television, Assad said that “not a single Iranian” but rather “tens of Syrian martyrs” had been killed in recent Israeli airstrikes on his country and that claims to the contrary were “a lie.”

A tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag is seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

“We do not have Iranian troops. We never had, and you cannot hide it,” he said, adding, “Like we invited the Russians, we could have invited the Iranians.”

Long-simmering tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria stepped up considerably in recent months, beginning in February when an Iranian drone carrying explosives was flown from the T-4 air base in central Syria into Israeli airspace and was shot down by an IAF helicopter.

On Wednesday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman set off for Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to discuss Iran’s growing military presence in Syria.

“The primary focus of the defense establishment is preventing the entrenchment of Iran and its proxies in Syria,” Liberman wrote in a tweet before his flight.

In an apparent reference to Iranian forces, on Wednesday Russian state media outlet TASS quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying foreign militias should leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible.

Lavrov echoed comments he made earlier in the week, when he said that only Syrian troops should be stationed in the rebel-held Daraa province, a region adjacent to the Israeli border that has emerged as a flashpoint in a wider standoff between the Jewish state and Iran.

Plea for Russian air defenses

During the interview with RT, Assad also said that the only way to stop Israeli airstrikes on his country was to beef up its air defenses with Russia’s help.

Assad seemed to contradict himself by saying, “Our air defense is much stronger than before, thanks to the Russian support,” but also conceding that “[anti-government militias and Israel, according to his claim] destroyed a big part of our air defenses.”

“The recent attacks by the Israelis and by the Americans and British and French proved that we are in a better situation,” he said. “The only option is to improve our air defense, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that.”

Illustrative image of Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems deployed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, December 16, 2015. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Earlier this month, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that a decision had not yet been made on supplying Syria with advanced air defense systems, a development that Israel fears could hamper its efforts to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syrian territory and transfers of arms supplies to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Assad also said that Russia had averted “direct conflict” with the US in Syria and a far greater attack than the one launched in April by the US, UK and France on alleged Syrian chemical sites, following a chemical weapons attack on civilians attributed to the Syrian government — a charge that Assad denied.

“We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership,” he said.

Threat to attack US-backed Kurds

Assad also warned US-backed Kurdish forces he would not hesitate to use force to retake the third of the country they control.

“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad said, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces which has spearheaded battles against Islamic State group jihadists.

“We’re going to deal with it by two options,” he said. “The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners.

“We have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort… to liberating those areas by force,” Assad added. “It’s our land, it’s our right and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave. Somehow they’re going to leave.”

Assad said that his generation had been forced to live under the threat of Israeli attack since they were children, but that it was “nonsense” to say that they were afraid.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/assad-denies-presence-of-iranian-forces-in-syria/

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Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko shot dead in Kyiv

May 30, 2018

Arkady Babchenko, a Russian war correspondent and veteran who fought in Chechnya, was shot in the back at his Kyiv home. Police believe he was targeted for his “professional activities” after receiving death threats.

    
Police cars are seen parked in front of an apartment block where Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was shot and died of his wounds in an ambulance,

Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who voiced criticism about Russia’s “wars of aggression” in Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria, was reportedly shot in the back at his Kyiv apartment on Tuesday. He died before paramedics could get him to the hospital.

Ukrainian police believe he was likely targeted for his work. “The leading and obvious line of inquiry is that of his professional activities,” Kyiv police chief Andriy Kryshchenko told the Interfax Ukraine news agency

Babchenko’s murder was quickly condemned in Ukraine and across Europe.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman accused “the Russian totalitarian machine” of murdering Babchenko, telling his supporters in a social media message on Tuesday that the Kremlin had not forgiven him for “his honesty and principled stance.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed his displeasure on Twitter, saying: “Appalled to see another vocal Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko, murdered. We must defend freedom of speech and it is vital that those responsible are now held to account.”

Boris Johnson

@BorisJohnson

Appalled to see another vocal Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko, murdered. My thoughts are with his wife and young daughter. We must defend freedom of speech and it is vital that those responsible are now held to account.

Harlem Desir, the representative on media freedom for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said he was “outraged by this horrific act.”

“I call on the authorities to swiftly and thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this assassination and to bring the perpetrators and those who ordered it to justice.”

OSCE media freedom@OSCE_RFoM

I strongly condemn the murder of journalist in and call for swift and complete investigation. ➡️ See my full statement here ➡️ https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/382831 

Meanwhile, Russia’s FSB intelligence agency insisted on Wednesday that suggestions that it was behind the killing were nonsense and a provocation, the Interfax news agency reported.

Concerted campaign

Arkady Babchenko (Reuters/V. Nosach)Babchenko had been living in Kyiv since 2017

Babchenko left Russia in 2017, facing calls for his citizenship to be revoked and a growing number of threats for voicing his indifference to a December 2016 plane crash that killed a Russian military choir en route to Syria to perform for air force pilots.

Writing on the subject, he called Russia an “aggressor” and criticized the air force’s indiscriminate bombing campaign in Aleppo.

Read more: Opinion — Easy game for Vladimir Putin

Babchenko was accused of lacking patriotism, something he called ironic considering he fought for his country in the first separatist war in Chechnya in the 1990s. Nevertheless, pro-government politicians began to denounce him and call for him to be jailed for his views. This was followed by a media campaign against him on state-run television.

Death threats

Shortly thereafter, aggression toward Babchenko began to snowball on social media platforms, and he no longer felt he could stay in the country. He said his address had been published online and that he and his family had received thousands of threats. He also pointed to similar incidents in which colleagues had been brutally beaten as a result of such online campaigns.

Babchenko served as a war correspondent after leaving the army and wrote a book about his time in Chechnya titled, “One Soldier’s War.” He went on to write for a number of outlets, including the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Most recently, he had worked as a host at the Crimean Tatar TV station ATR.

mm,js/cmk (AP, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/russian-journalist-arkady-babchenko-shot-dead-in-kyiv/a-43986851

Obama’s spying scandal is starting to look a lot like Watergate

May 28, 2018

F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims,” read the headline on a lengthy New York Times story May 18. “The Justice Department used a suspected informant to probe whether Trump campaign aides were making improper contacts with Russia in 2016,” read a story in the May 21 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

So much for those who dismissed charges of Obama administration infiltration of Donald Trump’s campaign as paranoid fantasy. Defenders of the Obama intelligence and law enforcement apparat have had to fall back on the argument that this infiltration was for Trump’s — and the nation’s — own good.

It’s an argument that evidently didn’t occur to Richard Nixon’s defenders when it became clear that Nixon operatives had burglarized and wiretapped the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in June 1972.

Op-Ed By Michael Barone
New York Post

Until 2016, just about everyone agreed that it was a bad thing for government intelligence or law enforcement agencies to spy — er, use informants — on a political campaign, especially one of the opposition party. Liberals were especially suspicious of the FBI and the CIA. Nowadays they say that anyone questioning their good faith is unpatriotic.

The crime at the root of Watergate was an attempt at surveillance of the DNC after George McGovern seemed about to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, just as the government misconduct in Russiagate was an attempt at surveillance of the Republican Party’s national campaign after Trump clinched its nomination.

In both cases, the incumbent administration regarded the opposition’s unorthodox nominee as undermining the nation’s long-standing foreign policy and therefore dangerous to the country. McGovern renounced the Democrats’ traditional Cold War policy. Trump expressed skepticism about George W. Bush and Obama administration policies on NATO, Mexico, Iran and (forgetting Barack Obama’s ridicule of Mitt Romney on the subject) Russia.

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The incumbents’ qualms had some rational basis. But their attempts at surveillance were misbegotten. Back in 1972, my brief experience in campaigns left me skeptical that you could learn anything useful by wiretapping the opposition. If you were reasonably smart, you should be able to figure out what a reasonably smart opposition would do and respond accordingly. Subsequent experience has confirmed that view. It’s a different story if you face irrational opposition. It’s hard to figure out what stupid people are going to do.

Similarly, it’s hard to figure out what the Obama law enforcement and intelligence folks had to gain by spying. Candidate Trump’s bizarre refusals to criticize Vladimir Putin and Russia were already a political liability, criticized aptly and often by Hillary Clinton and mainstream media.

But neither the Obama informant/spy nor Robert Mueller’s investigation has presented additional evidence of Trump collusion with Russia. None of Mueller’s indictments points in that direction, and Trump’s foreign policy over 16 months has been far less favorable to Russia than Obama’s.

Both the Watergate wiretap and the Obama appointees’ investigator/spy infiltration were initially inspired amid fears that the upstart opposition might win. The Watergate burglary was planned when Nixon’s re-election was far from assured. A May 1972 Harris Poll showed him with only 48 percent against McGovern. It was only after the Haiphong harbor bombing and Moscow summit in early June made clear that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was ending that Nixon’s numbers surged — just before the June 17 burglary.

In March 2016, it was conventional wisdom that Trump couldn’t be elected president. But his surprising and persistent strength in the Republican primaries left some doubtful, including the FBI lovebirds who instant messaged their desire for an “insurance policy” against that dreaded eventuality.

Image result for comey, arm raised for oath, photos

Their unease may have owed something to their knowledge of how the Obama Justice Department and FBI had fixed the Hillary Clinton emails case. Clinton wasn’t indicted but was left with a disastrously low 32 percent of voters confident of her honesty and trustworthiness.

There are two obvious differences between Watergate and the Obama administration’s infiltration. The Watergate burglars were arrested in flagrante delicto, and their wiretaps never functioned. And neither the FBI nor the CIA fully cooperated with the postelection cover-up.

That’s quite a contrast with the Obama law enforcement and intelligence appointees’ promotion of Christopher Steele’s Clinton campaign-financed dodgy dossier and feeding the mainstream media’s insatiable hunger for Russia collusion stories.

Has an outgoing administration ever worked to delegitimize and dislodge its successor like this? We hear many complaints, some justified, about Donald Trump’s departure from standard political norms. But the greater and more dangerous departure from norms may be that of the Obama officials seeking to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

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Clapper: Trump Should Be “Happy” That The FBI Was “Spying” On His Campaign — “Not Spying”

May 24, 2018

 

Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper used the word spy while discussing the Trump campaign surveillance scandal in an appearance on Tuesday’s The View. Clapper said the spy was there for Russian meddling purposes and that Trump should be happy such a person existed.

President Trump has claimed for months now that his campaign for president was surveilled. Many did not take him seriously, however, last night law professor Jonathan Turley said he was right.

“With the informant business, well, the point here is the Russians,” Clapper said. “Not spying on the campaign but what are the Russians doing? And in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign.”

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“But the FBI started to look into Trump’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016. Trump tweeted that this spring — this spying, rather, this spying that he claims is spying, other people say it’s a whistleblower or informant. He says it’s spying, it’s bigger than Watergate. So I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?” Co-host Joy Behar asked.

“No, they were not,” Clapper answered. “They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence which is what they do.”

“Well, why doesn’t like that? He should be happy,” Behar said.

“He should be,” Clapper responded.

“Right,” Behar said.

Trump said it would be a “disgrace” and “make every political event ever look like small potatoes” at an Oval Office meeting with South Korean President Moon.

“If they had spies in my campaign for political purposes that would be unprecedented,” the president added.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/05/22/clapper_trump_should_be_happy_that_the_fbi_was_spying_on_his_campaign.html

Trump claims a ‘spy’ on his campaign tried to help ‘Crooked Hillary’ win

May 23, 2018


President Trump claimed on Tuesday night that a “spy” was embedded in his presidential campaign as a means of aiding Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

“If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal,” he tweeted Tuesday night.

“Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win – just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!”

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Trump claims a ‘spy’ on his campaign tried to help ‘Crooked Hillary’ win
© Getty Images

BY JULIA MANCHESTER

Trump said earlier at the White House on Tuesday that it would be “illegal” and a “disgrace” if the FBI had spies embedded in his campaign. He has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that the FBI has sought to spy on his campaign for political reasons.

“A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country,” Trump said. “It would be very illegal, aside from everything else.”

“I hope they weren’t,” Trump added, because “that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.”

The comments follow the president’s demand this past weekend that the Department of Justice launch a probe into whether the FBI used improper surveillance to infiltrate his campaign during the 2016 election.

That tweet came after a New York Times report that an FBI informant had met with two of Trump’s campaign advisers to look into possible ties with Russia.

The Department of Justice, in turn, asked its Inspector General (IG) to look into the claims. On Monday, the department agreed to expand an already existing probe into alleged FISA abuses to include the latest probe.

The FBI and Justice Department are set to meet with lawmakers to review highly classified information related to the Russia investigation as a means of appeasing the president and his allies.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/388920-trump-claims-spy-on-his-campaign-helped-crooked-hillary-win

U.S. Special Councel Robert Mueller Sent Agents To Israel in Trump Probe

May 22, 2018

At least two of the figures – Israeli specialist Joel Zamel and the Gulf emissary George Nader – visited or worked with the Russians during the campaign.

BY MICHAEL WILNER

 Netanyahu-Trump meeting a respite from probes and chance to focus on Iran

 Trump replaces White House lawyer in Russia probe

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Trump Jr. met Gulf princes’ emissary in 2016 who offered campaign help, May 20, 2018 (Reuters)

Trump Jr. met Gulf princes’ emissary in 2016 who offered campaign help, May 20, 2018 (Reuters)

WASHINGTON – Three months before the 2016 presidential election, an Israeli social media specialist joined a Gulf Arab emissary and a former Middle East security contractor for a meeting with Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to discuss ways they could help the Republican nominee beat his opponent.

The existence of the meeting in Trump Tower in New York City, first revealed on Saturday by The New York Times, has prompted US special counsel Robert Mueller to send investigators to Israel to probe the activities of the Israeli social media firm, which allegedly employed former Israeli intelligence officers and collects user data to help manipulate public opinion. The Israel Police is cooperating with the probe, the Times found.

Mueller is investigating whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in their efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee. Trump Jr. was known to have taken a similar meeting with a Russian government employee who was offering dirt on Clinton months earlier.

But the August 3 meeting with Mideast figures demonstrates the campaign’s willingness to accept foreign help in its uphill battle to victory at a time when polls consistently showed them losing the presidential race. US law prohibits foreign organizations and individuals from any involvement in its election campaigns.

At least two of the figures – Israeli specialist Joel Zamel and the Gulf emissary George Nader – visited or worked with the Russians during the campaign. Both visited the White House after Trump’s inauguration.

Zamel said through his lawyer that none of his companies “had any involvement whatsoever in the US election campaign.” But he is accused of proposing a covert, multimillion-dollar online manipulation project on behalf of Trump, and according to the Times, was paid by Nader roughly $2 million after the campaign ended.

Two of Mueller’s agents have traveled to Israel to conduct interviews, and the Israel Police has helped them seize computers related to the probe, according to the report.

Zamel says he is fully cooperating with the Mueller inquiry.

Nader is suspected of working on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to elect Trump, who they believed might take a tougher stance against Iran. Nader grew close with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, throughout the presidential race, when Kushner was leading the campaign’s social media strategy. They have since remained in touch.

For years, Nader has pitched a strategy of economic warfare and sabotage against Iran, both to US and Gulf leadership. Trump has sharply aligned his administration with Sunni Gulf powers. He pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran earlier this month, snapping back all US sanctions that had been in place before 2015.

The former head of Blackwater, an American private military company, is at the center of this meeting and several others under investigation by Mueller, including a secret meeting in the Seychelles after Trump’s inauguration, which involved the president’s associates and those of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A lawyer for Trump Jr. acknowledged the August 3 meeting, but – similar to his earlier Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin agent – claims it went nowhere.

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Erik Prince

“Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with [Blackwater founder] Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel,” the lawyer said. “They pitched Mr.

Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.”

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In the middle of a furious lobbying campaign last year, convicted pedophile George Nader had a big request—a photo of himself with president Donald Trump, the AP reports.

Nader, a close associate of the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had allied with Elliott Broidy, another convicted felon who was then deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, to lobby Trump’s administration against Qatar. The administration had initially banned Nader from meeting Trump—the exact reason why was unclear, the AP reports—so, the photo request was a big one.

Broidy reportedly told Nader, who served a year in Czech prison in 2003 for ten counts of sexually abusing children, that a donation of $100,000 to $250,000 to the RNC could secure the photo. A picture of Nader and Trump in front of the American was duly taken. On Nov. 30, Broidy made three donations to the RNC, totaling $189,000—more than he had donated in over two decades of fundraising, the AP writes. Earlier in the year, Broidy had invoiced Nader $2.5 million (pdf, p.9) for “consulting, marketing and other advisory services.”

Adam Pasick

@Adampasick

“Nader wanted a photo of himself with the president — a big request for a convicted pedophile … Broidy suggested a donation between $100,000 and $250,000 … The result: a picture of Nader and Trump grinning in front of the American flag.https://apnews.com/a3521859cf8d4c199cb9a8567abd2b71/The-princes,-the-president-and-the-fortune-seekers 

Nader, a Lebanese-American, has reportedly been complying (paywall) with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into foreign influence over Trump’s election campaign, with new questions emerging over whether Middle Eastern powers helped Trump win election. Broidy recently resigned from his RNC role after the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that he had paid $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who said he had impregnated her.

End Robert Mueller’s investigation: Michael Mukasey

May 21, 2018

It sounds harmless to suggest that the Mueller investigation be allowed more time to finish its work. But is it?

Let’s review some history.

Recall that the investigation was begun to learn whether the Trump campaign had gotten help unlawfully from Russia. Justice Department regulations permit appointment of a special counsel only if (i) there is reason to think that a federal crime has been committed, and (ii) investigating it would present a conflict of interest for the Justice Department or there is another overriding public reason to take the investigation outside DOJ.

By Michael Mukasey
USA Today

May 20, 2018

Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had worked on the Trump campaign, he recused himself from the matter, and so the deputy — Rod Rosenstein — took the decision to appoint a special counsel. The regulations require that such an appointment recite the facts justifying the conclusion that a federal crime was committed, and specify the crime. However, the initial appointment of Robert Mueller did neither, referring instead to a national security investigation that a special counsel has no authority to pursue.

OUR VIEW: Mueller’s investigation is so serious, let’s hope he finishes soon

Although Rosenstein apparently tried to correct his mistake in a new appointment memo, he has thus far refused to disclose, even to a federal judge, a complete copy of it. In other investigations supposedly implicating a president — Watergate and Whitewater come to mind — we were told what the crime was and what facts justified the investigation. Not here.

Nor have any of the charges filed in the Mueller investigation disclosed the Trump campaign’s criminal acceptance or solicitation of help from the Russians. The one indictment that relates to Russian criminality charges that the Russians hacked Democratic Party computers and committed other social media abuse, but says specifically that if the Trump campaign got the benefit of it, that was “unwitting” — i.e., without criminal intent.

Since then, although the White House has produced documents in the tens of thousands, the investigation has gotten further from anything suggesting Trump campaign criminality involving Russian influence, not closer. Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, however fascinating, have nothing to do with Russian campaign influence.

What’s the harm in letting it go on?

First, the law requires that a special counsel investigate a specified crime based on specified facts, not try to be the second coming of the Lone Ranger.

But further, the ongoing investigation saps the resources and attention of the Trump administration. If the administration cannot function, the burden of this constantly shifting investigation will give rise to a narrative that any failure was due to the Mueller diversion — that the Trump administration was stabbed in the back. That is potentially more damaging to our politics than any salaciousness that might be tossed up by Robert Mueller.

For both legal and political reasons, the end of this investigation is overdue.

Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge, was attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.

Trump Should Get Details on Informant Before Mueller Interview, Giuliani Says

May 20, 2018

President’s lawyer seeks information about person said to have been used by U.S. investigators

Rudy Giuliani in November 2016.
Rudy Giuliani in November 2016. PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump shouldn’t agree to talk with special counsel Robert Mueller without knowing more about a man said to have approached Trump campaign aides in 2016 as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian election interference, his lawyer said Saturday.

Rudy Giuliani said Mr. Trump could be “walking into a trap” unless federal prosecutors make clear the role played by the suspected informant and whether the person compiled any “incriminating information” about Mr. Trump’s associates.

Mr. Giuliani’s comments suggest the Trump legal team is seeking leverage in the latest rounds of monthslong negotiations with Mr. Mueller about the terms under which the president would testify.

“What we intend to do is premise it on, ‘If you want an interview, we need an answer to this,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview.

In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have been moving more aggressively to try to discredit the Russia investigation, edging closer to a collision with the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. They have seized on reports about the informant as evidence in their view that the Russia probe is motivated by political animus toward the president and not Russia’s efforts to influence the election outcome.

In a tweet on Saturday, Mr. Trump suggested that federal agents had been “infiltrating” his campaign “for the benefit of” his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. For his part, Mr. Giuliani in the interview said before agreeing to talk, the Trump team would seek to learn more about what he described as a breach of the campaign’s “private communications.”

But former law-enforcement officials have said informants in a probe involving a presidential campaign could be used for law-enforcement or foreign-intelligence purposes, but not for political ends.

The suspected informant met with Trump campaign aides Carter Page and Sam Clovis. Mr. Page had been on the radar of U.S. counterintelligence officials for years over his dealings with Russia, and Mr. Clovis has met with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors over his involvement with a onetime campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Neither Mr. Page nor Mr. Clovis have been accused of wrongdoing.

Congressional Republicans are demanding records from the Justice Department about both the informant and other aspects of the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump, has gone so far to threaten to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t supply information about the person—an extraordinary threat from a committee chairman to an attorney general of his own party.

Last week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to turn over the requested information, a person familiar with the matter said. The Justice Department disputed that account of the meeting but declined to elaborate.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), who co-signed a letter to the president on Tuesday asking him to direct the Justice Department to release the records, said in an interview Saturday: “Any instruction that the Justice Department may have gotten from Gen. Kelly is consistent with where I’ve come to understand the president’s position to be.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Rosenstein has at times shown a willingness to meet congressional requests for information. But the department has resisted Mr. Nunes’s latest demand, even during a classified briefing with the congressman last week with intelligence officials. Mr. Nunes didn’t respond to an invitation from the Justice Department to meet with intelligence officials again this week.

Officials have told Mr. Nunes that providing him with the requested information would put lives in danger, hurt investigations and damage international partnerships.

A former senior Justice Department official familiar with the department’s thinking said the requests for information about confidential human sources are a red line for Mr. Rosenstein and others who believe providing such details would set a dangerous precedent.

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Mr. Rosenstein have been making increasingly pointed public statements about the dangers of giving too much access. Mr. Rosenstein has said the Justice Department wouldn’t be “extorted” or succumb to threats, and Mr. Wray this past week added that “the day we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”

People close to the White House are dismissive of that argument, saying broadly that Justice Department is merely trying to suppress potentially embarrassing information.

Reports of a government informant have migrated in recent days from conservative news outlets to the mainstream press, with the Washington Post and New York Times publishing articles on Friday.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have spent the past several months discussing with Mr. Mueller’s team the parameters of a possible interview, which Mr. Trump had said he is eager to do. The special counsel is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election meddling.

Mr. Page, who was a Trump foreign-policy adviser, said he met with a person who is now believed to be the informant in July 2016. The event, a symposium on the 2016 election, was held at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. on July 11 and 12.

The suspected informant asked to meet Mr. Clovis, a Trump campaign co-chairman who had initially helped assemble the foreign-policy team, in late August 2016, presenting himself as a professor and foreign-policy expert who wanted to help the campaign, according to Victoria Toensing, a lawyer for Mr. Clovis.

The two met just outside Washington, D.C., and discussed China, Ms. Toensing said. “Russia never came up,” she said. “The conversation was only about China.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com and Sadie Gurman at sadie.gurman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-should-get-details-on-informant-before-mueller-interview-giuliani-says-1526814000