Email #311: “protecting our electoral system”?

Do you know who your Friends are?

Your Facebook page has 14,098 likes and 15,549 followers. Your Twitter account @bobgoodlatte6 has 1,758 followers. I would have assumed they were all legitimate supporters, the vast majority of them constituents living right here in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. But the Senate Intelligence Committee warns otherwise.

Though its full report will not be completed for months, the Committee reinforced the federal intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia did attempt to sway last year’s election—and that they will continue to do in this coming election and next year’s too.

Republican co-chair Senator Burr said last week: “The Russian intelligence service is determined — clever — and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously. You can’t walk away from this and believe that Russia’s not currently active.”

Virginia Senator and co-chair Warner added: “There needs to be a more aggressive whole-of-government approach in terms of protecting our electoral system. Remember, to make a change even in a national election doesn’t require penetration into 50 states. You could pick two or three states in two or three jurisdictions and alter an election.”

This is why Russia focused its Facebook ads so aggressively in Wisconsin and Michigan, two of the three upset states that elected President Trump by margins of 0.7 (22,748 votes) and 0.2 points (10,704 votes). You, in contrast, defeated your Democrat challenger with a total of 225,471 votes to his 112,170. If you add in the votes from the third upset state of Pennsylvania, the President’s margin of victory was still only 77,000 votes. Yours was 113,301. You took your single district by more votes than the President took the forty districts in the top three battleground states combined. That’s how close the election was and how vulnerable future elections remain.

There is now conclusive evidence that Russia used Facebook and Twitter through ads and fake user accounts. The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining over 3,000 Facebook ads purchased at a cost of $100,000 by Russian agents disguised as U.S. citizens to influence the election. After creating fake news websites to disseminate anti-Clinton propaganda, Russians then used social media to promote them. Their fake U.S. identities included Facebook user “Melvin Redick,” an apparent father in Harrisburg, PA who posted: “These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US. Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!” Other Russian agents targeted Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page with comments like: “Those who voted for Bernie, will not vote for corrupt Hillary! The Revolution must continue! #NeverHillary.” Twitter is even more vulnerable with hundreds of fake accounts, including automated bots that drove the Russian propaganda hashtag “#HillaryDown” into a trending Twitter topic.

The Senate Intelligence Committee warns that many fake accounts are still active and new accounts are spreading across multiple social media platforms. What steps are you taking to ensure that your own Facebook pages and Twitter posts are not being used by foreign agents to heighten political discord? What steps are you taking to verify the legitimacy of your 15,549 followers? Facebook has removed “Melvin Redick” and dozens of other fakes. It’s a simple process. You look at the user’s homepage and if there’s something suspicious about it, you inform Facebook who sends a request to verify their identity. If the user ignores the request, as fake-identity users do, the account is closed. And, more importantly, our country is one more degree safer from foreign influences trying to profit from our political polarization.

Or are you disregarding the Committee’s warning because fake users would aid your election prospects as they aided the President’s last year?

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Email #243: “a speech about Hillary”?

I am concerned that President Trump is not being honest about whether he was informed of his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton acquired through the Russian government. Donald Trump Jr. responded to Rob Goldstone’s request for the meeting on June 3:

“Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?”

At 5:19 on Tuesday June 7, Trump Jr. confirmed the meeting for Thursday:

“How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.”

Later that same evening Donald Trump announced at a campaign rally:

“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend. Who knows?”

The New York Times recently asked the President about his announcement in light of what we now know about his son’s planned meeting: “Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?”

TRUMP: No, I didn’t know anything about the meeting…. It must have been a very important — must have been a very unimportant meeting, because I never even heard about it.

NYT: No one told you a word, nothing?

TRUMP: No, nobody told me. I didn’t know noth—— It’s a very unimportant — sounded like a very unimportant meeting.

NYT: But on the date you clinched the nominations with New Jersey and California and the primaries, when you give the speech that night, saying you’re going to give a speech about Hillary Clinton’s corrupt dealings with Russia and other countries, and that comes just three hours after Don Jr. —

TRUMP: Number one, remember, I made many of those speeches.

NYT: People wondered about the timing.

TRUMP: Many of those speeches. I’d go after her all the time.

NYT: Yeah, I know, but—

TRUMP: But there was something about the book, “Clinton Cash,” came out.

NYT: Yeah, a year earlier, though. But you were talking about—

TRUMP: But we were developing a whole thing. There was something about “Clinton Cash.”

Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” was published in May 2015. It wouldn’t be reprinted until July 2016, and the paperback edition included no new material for a “major speech” on the Clintons. When Trump gave the speech, he cited some passages but then focused on Secretary Clinton’s emails:

“Her server was easily hacked by foreign governments … While we may not know what is in those deleted emails, our enemies probably do. So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be President of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the Presidency. We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

While the statement does suggest that the President knew that Clinton’s “deepest, darkest secrets” were in the hands of Russia, like the timing of his “major speech” announcement, it is only circumstantial. If so, the coincidence is merely surprising. If not, then the President was personally involved in Russian collusion.

What’s your opinion? And, more importantly, what are you doing to verify it?

Email #240: “regardless of political affiliation”?

One year ago today, on August 4, 2016, former CIA chief John Brennan warned Russia not to interfere in the U.S. election:

“I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption. I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election.”

If you had asked me a year ago if Brennan’s assessment of Americans was accurate, I would have said yes. In fact, since Republicans have long fostered a reputation for patriotism and the need for strong national defense, I would have thought Republicans would have been especially outraged. I would have been wrong.

Based on the actions of Republicans both in and out of office since Russian election interference was first reported and then unanimously confirmed, it seems Republicans cherish their personal political agendas more than their nation’s ability to elect leaders without outside interference. You are a primary example. Instead of outrage, you are content with this new status quo. You would rather have a Republican than a Democrat in the White House, even if another country actively and significantly undermined the Democrat in order to promote the Republican.

Your loyalty is to party first, country second. Were CIA Director Brennan and I naive ever to think otherwise?

Email #238: “The president wasn’t involved”?

President Bush’s chief ethics lawyer Richard Painter told The Guardian yesterday that President Trump committed obstruction of justice when he dictated Donald Trump Jr.’s statement claiming his meeting with the Russian lawyer was about adoption policy and not Hillary Clinton. Painter said:

“You’re boxing in a witness into a false story. That puts them under enormous pressure to turn around and lie under oath to be consistent with their story. I think it’s obstruction of justice.”

Before Monday, we were told that the President had no involvement in the statement. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said on July 12:

“The president didn’t sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20, the statement that was released on Saturday, was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I’m sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.”

Sukelow repeated the claim four days later:

“I do want to be clear — that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.”

But on Monday, the Washington Post reported oppositely:

“The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged. But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed. Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations.”

And now, according to new Press Secretary Sanders, the President admits that he was involved:

“The president weighed in as any father would.”

According to the Washington Post, other advisers had warned the President against the statement he constructed:

“Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

This appears to be exactly the case–made worse by overt lies committed by the President’s lawyer on his behalf.

I would think that as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, this would be of concern to you. But you have already demonstrated your complete disinterest in overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump administration even though oversight of the Justice Department and its investigations is your primary responsibility. Still, forgive me if I ask yet again: how will you respond to this latest allegation?

Email #234: “we all agreed”

I want to thank you for voting for the Russian sanctions bill that passed both the House and the Senate this week. Speaker Ryan said on Thursday:

“The message coming from Congress on a bipartisan basis is these are hostile regimes and sanctions are warranted — sanctions are called for. And we want to make sure that they’re tough sanctions and that they’re durable sanctions. It took us a while to figure this out and come together to get the policy right . . . and we all agreed we believe these tough hostile regimes deserve sanctions and this is the bipartisan compromise that produces that.”

When Speaker Ryan said “we” and “us,” for once he meant the entire House, not just its GOP members. In addition to twice using the adjective “bipartisan,” he even echoed the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan “Stronger Together.” And the rhetoric was accurate. The bill passed in the House 419-3 and in the Senate 90-2 where even its opposition was peculiarly bipartisan with Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders joining against it.

While it is easy for Democrats to defy President Trump, I am more impressed by how the GOP resisted White House efforts to weaken the bill, especially the absurd assurance that the President needs the freedom to “negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.” Instead the bill increases Congressional review, requiring the President to notify Congress in advance of making any changes to the sanctions and giving Congress thirty days to block them.

This is Congress’ first, clear statement of distrust in President Trump’s ability to deal meaningfully with Russia after its interference in the election. In a form letter your office sent me last January, your assured me: “Our constitutional system of three co-equal branches of government and a Bill of Rights … prevent one branch from assuming too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.” This is the first instance of the GOP-controlled legislative branch challenging President Trump’s executive authority.

As a loyal Republican, you voted with your party because your party was voting against the President. While this makes you nothing like the Republican Senators McCain, Collins, and Murkowski who joined with Democrats to defeat all of the flawed health care bills in the Senate last week, it does mean you place party loyalty above Trump loyalty. While I would hope for more from you, this does suggest that as the GOP turns increasingly against the President, at least you will not block their efforts. You are no leader, but you are an obedient follower, and so you are bipartisan when your party tells you to be bipartisan.

Email #227: “That’s politics!”?

On July 22, 2016, one year ago today, WikiLeaks released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. The DNC had contacted the FBI about the hacks in April, and U.S. intelligence was already linking them to Russia. The emails revealed that Democratic party chair Debbie Wasserman favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and as a result Wasserman resigned two days later. The timing of the release—three days before the Democratic National Convention—was designed to damage party unity.

In response to the hacked emails, Rep. Pompeo tweeted: “Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by WikiLeaks.” Pompeo later deleted the tweet and is now serving as President Trump’s CIA Director. Donald Trump responded by encouraging Russia to hack Clinton’s emails next: “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” The FBI responded by opening an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

U.S. intelligence later concluded with high confidence that Russia had hacked not only the DNC but the Republican National Committee too. Russia had stolen similarly damaging emails by Republican officials but did not deliver them to WikiLeaks to be released publicly. Their goal was to aid Trump by harming Clinton—aid the Trump campaign accepted and encouraged.

During the previous election cycle, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney identified Russia as our “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney’s former adviser Stuart Stevens recently said: “The role of the Republican Party has been to tell the truth about what Russia and the Soviet Union was, not what it was pretending to be. Now some conservatives have gotten into the ‘let’s give Russia the benefit of the doubt’ business.”

Are you one of those conservatives? Do you, like the President and his supporters, want to downplay the findings of the U.S. intelligence community and continue to ignore Russia’s interference in the election?

Last week President Trump tweeted: “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!”

Do you agree with the President? Are you also one of those politicians who would have gone to a meeting to receive documents stolen by Russian operatives? By saying nothing in response to the President’s tweet, your silence confirms your complicity. When our grandchildren read about these events in their American history textbooks, will they see the actions of the Trump campaign as a reflection of today’s political norms or as violations of those norms?

Email #220: “sad, sad commentary”

George W. Bush’s former press secretary Ari Fleischer is defending Trump Jr on two points: “One: Was this bad judgment to take a meeting, or was it a crime? Seems to me it’s bad judgment. Two: Is it collusion, or is it opposition research? Seem to me it’s opposition research.” Trump Jr offered a similar self-defense, tweeting sarcastically: “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent.” While the circular weaknesses of these defenses are striking (all crimes require bad judgement, opposition research was the goal of the collusion), the historic precedent is even more striking. As the possibility for impeachment builds, the parallels to Watergate build too.

Members of the Nixon campaign team broke into the DNC offices to get “info about an opponent.” The break-in occurred the June before the fall Presidential election. Members of the Trump campaign (Trump Jr, Kushner, and Manaforte, who Trump Jr. called the “campaign boss”) took a meeting to get opposition research from the Russian government. Both attempts failed. Both attempts were also criminal. The Watergate burglars didn’t go free because their break-in didn’t produce anything useful for the Nixon campaign. Yet Senator McConnell’s former chief of staff Josh Holmes is defending the Trump campaign on the parallel fact: “There’s an awful lot of critics that are going to jump to the conclusion that this is a smoking gun. The reality is, as far as we know from that meeting itself, absolutely nothing came out of this.”

As of yesterday, we know that a former Soviet counterintelligence officer with continuing ties to the Kremlin was one of the eight people in the Trump Tower meeting–so the meeting itself, not what it might have produced afterwards, is the concern. We also know that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski lied about the meeting: “I wasn’t even made aware of the meeting. And what I do remember on that particular day was that was a day that Donald Trump was doing a rally in the state of Florida, so I traveled with the president that day.” But that rally took place two days later.

After refusing to answer the question on Thursday, yesterday the Vice President’s office released a statement: “The Vice President was not aware of the meeting.” After the arrests, President Nixon swore he knew nothing too: “I can say categorically that … no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” We are now receiving similar assurances from the Trump administration, and Trump Jr says he did not tell the President anything about the meeting.

Perhaps the parallels will stop there. If so, your job remains easy. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you can continue to ignore the scandal, arguing accurately that grounds for impeachment have not been met. But if the parallels continue, you will eventually be in Rep. Peter W. Rodino’s position when he lead the House Judiciary Committee to a bipartisan vote on impeachment in 1974. Even though he was a Democrat, Rodino said that he wept afterwards:

“this is our system that was being tested. And here was a man who had achieved the highest office that anyone could gift him with, you know. And you’re bringing down the presidency of the United States, and it was a sad, sad commentary on our whole history…”

Donald Trump and the collusion scandal is a sad, sad commentary too. Will you shed tears for him if you have to lead his impeachment?