Trump Impeachment: A Week in Review

Minneapolis 3/19/18 Edition –  News of the past week featured the continuing roll out of President Trump’s new “trade war” initiative – prominently including Trump’s decision to fire his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson – widely seen as a White House “de facto adult supervisors.”  While there wasn’t major direct news regarding the Mueller investigation – that was also prominently in the news due to two closely related stories.  One was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to fire former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, based on the reported recommendation of the Justice Department’s Inspector General.  McCabe, and many others, believe the underlying reason was Trump’s desire to discredit both McCabe, and the FBI.  Another major and still-emerging story is the extent to which what really amounts to a full-fleged internet “Psy Ops” campaign, run by the 2016 Trump campaign, relied on both psychological profiles based on tests that large numbers of Facebook users took up to the 2016 campaign, combined with massive amounts of data on over 50 million Americans, including their record of “liking” from Facebook, and other data from their Facebook accounts.  On Monday, this caused stock markets to plunge, led by a one-day drop of over 7% in Facebook stock.  There is also evidence the company behind this, Cambridge Analytica, briefed a major Russian oil company in 2014 about their “Psy Ops” techniques, with specific reference to interfering in elections.  Although the latest word from the White House is that President Trump does not plan to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or end the investigation, the entire situation is more volatile than ever.  Amid these developments, the Stormy Daniels 60 Minutes interview still appears to be heading for a broadcast next Sunday.


Mueller Investigation / Psy Ops / Facebook / Stock Markets   

After the New York Stock Exchange closed March 19th, CNBC reported:  "U.S. stocks pulled back on Monday as a decline in Facebook pressured the technology sector. Wall Street also paid attention to Washington after a Twitter meltdown from President Donald Trump.  The Nasdaq composite dropped 1.8 percent to 7,344.24 in its worst day since Feb. 8 as Facebook dropped 6.8 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 335.60 points to close at 24,610.91, with Caterpillar as the worst-performing stock in the index. The S&P 500 declined 1.4 percent to 2,712.92, with tech dropping 2.1 percent. Facebook was the worst-performing stock in the S&P 500 and posted its biggest one-day decline since March 2014.  Facebook fell after reports said political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect data on 50 million people's profiles without their consent. Cambridge Analytica worked on Facebook ads with President Donald Trump's campaign in 2016."

This week the NY Times re-published an op-ed piece from Nov. 20, 2016, by Mckenzie Funk, titled: "Cambridge Analytica and the Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz," describing what was known then about Cambridge Analytica's 2016 campaign role for Trump.  Funded by Republican hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, by late 2016 hundreds of thousands of people had responded to ads offering a free personality test score.  Cambridge Analytica matched the test results with information about each person from Facebook, including their pattern of "liking" content.  Cambridge Analytica's data base of 230 million American adults, with a per person average of 3,000 to 5,000 data points, was coded to produce psychological profiles on each person.  Funk writes: "What’s new is the efficiency with which individually tailored digital ads can be tested and matched to our personalities. Facebook is the microtargeter’s ultimate weapon... One recent advertising product on Facebook is the so-called 'dark post': A newsfeed message seen by no one aside from the users being targeted. With the help of Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Trump’s digital team used dark posts to serve different ads to different potential voters, aiming to push the exact right buttons for the exact right people at the exact right times... Facebook is no longer just a social network. It’s an advertising medium that’s now dangerously easy to weaponize."

Carole Cadwalladr, writing for The Guardian (UK), has extensively interviewed 28 year old Christopher Wylie, who is credited with coming up with a foundational idea that led to Cambridge Analytica.  Today, Wylie appears to regret what Cambridge Analytica led to -- which quite possibly includes being a decisive factor in the election of President Trump.  This article is worth knowing about partly because the Guardian is obviously devoting significant resources to it.  An apparent Russian tie-in merits emphasis -- here's an extended excerpt from the article:  “There are other dramatic documents in Wylie’s stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: ‘We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business.’ Nix said that ‘they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections’ … The work, he said, would be ‘shared with the CEO of the business’, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.  ‘It didn’t make any sense to me,’ says Wylie. ‘I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?’  Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook... The presentation had little to do with ‘consumers’. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a ‘rumour campaign’ spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which the company worked – by spreading the idea that the ‘election would be rigged’. The final slide, branded with Lukoil’s logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its ‘deliverables’: ‘psychographic messaging’.  When I asked Bill Browder – an Anglo-American businessman [knowledgeable about Russia] what he made of it, he said: ‘Everyone in Russia is subordinate to Putin. One should be highly suspicious of any Russian company pitching anything outside its normal business activities.’”

Mueller Investigation

CNN reports former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, fired Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions,  has "fired back."  McCabe was scheduled to retire Sunday with a full pension, but was fired instead, reportedly based on a recommendation from the Inspector General at the Department of Justice.  McCabe issued this statement: "This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally... It is part of this Administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel's work."  McCabe is reported to have taken notes of his own meetings with President Trump, which could collaborate what former FBI Director James Comey -- fired by President Trump lasts May -- has said about Comey’s meetings with Trump, culminating in Comey being fired.  McCabe is reported to be considering an employment offer from a liberal Democrat in Congress -- even a few days of federal employment would apparently qualify him for his full pension."  The Justice Department's report and recommendation to fire McCabe has not yet been made public.

The latest addition to President Trump's legal team -- Joseph E. diGenova, a veteran Washington lawyer hired Monday -- has been promoting a conspiracy theory featuring anti-Trump bias in the FBI.  The NY Times reports: "Mr. diGenova has endorsed the notion that a secretive group of F.B.I. agents concocted the Russia investigation as a way to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president. 'There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime' he said on Fox News in January. He added, 'Make no mistake about it: A group of F.B.I. and D.O.J. people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.  Little evidence has emerged to support that theory."  White House lawyer John Dowd, saying he was speaking for the President, called for the Justice Department to end the Mueller investigation - Dowd later said he was only speaking for himself.

According to The Hill, three quarters of people responding to an on-line Drudge Report poll say President Trump should fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller – a visit to the Drudge Report showed this was at 76% as of Monday afternoon (3/19/18), with about 750,000 people responding.  This kind of poll is notoriously unreliable -- however, because Drudge only runs them infrequently, it suggests Drudge may currently have a heightened level of interest in the fate of the investigation.  During many points in the 2016 campaign cycle, Drudge ran this kind of a poll -- it appears subjectively to this journalist to have been, in part, a way to rally Trump's supporters.  As of Monday PM, about 750,000 had responded (who knows if this includes bots?!) -- this journalist believes (going from memory of past polls, that is higher response number than for past polls centered on Drudge during the campaign.  In 2015 and 2016 the Drudge Report appears (again subjectively) to have played a crucial role in advancing Trump's campaign, and ultimately electing him President.

Polling -- Democrats hold a ten point edge in voter preference for who should controll congress after the 2018 election, but President Trump's approval rating has edged up slightly, to 43%, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  The approval from January comes from Republicans (up 6%,) white men (up 7%), and independents (up 12%).

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