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Archive for December, 2018

Russian Troll Farms Disproportionately Targeted African Americans, Congressional Reports Show

An image posted by a Russian troll farm, Black4Black.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Russia’s campaign to spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential race disproportionately targeted African Americans on numerous social media platforms, more than previously known, according to reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Two reports show the extent to which the Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, sought to divide Americans with misinformation and meme content during the election.

One of the primary goals of the campaign, which was launched on every major social media platform, was to support Trump and to stir up racial tensions, according to the reports. 

The social media accounts were designed to look like Africans Americans were running the accounts, when in fact Russians had created and ran them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube and Reddit. The reports emphasized that Russia made an extraordinary effort to target African Americans.

“The most prolific I.R.A. efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” one of the reports reads.

Black4Black, an account and website created by Russian troll farms.

The report adds that while “other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively with dozens.” 

Some of the examples include Facebook ads targeting users interested in black history, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. The most popular was an Instagram account called @blackstagram that gained more than 300,000 followers.

In addition, the troll farm created a dozen websites that looked like they were run by African Americans, with names like blackmattersus.com, blacktivist.info, blacktolive.org and blacksoul.us. 

Russian-created YouTube accounts played a big role in covering the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, creating channels called “Don’t Shoot” and “BlackToLive.”

Simultaneously, the Russians created “Southern pride” accounts with Confederate flags.

The tactic of sowing racial divisions is nothing new with Russians, who decades ago exploited the sensitive topic of race in the U.S. to turn Americans on each other.

Many Trump voters cited anti-brutality protests as a reason they supported the president.

Alarmingly, the reports warned that Russians continue to use the social media platforms and plant to launch similar propaganda during the 2020 elections.

Michael Flynn Associates Charged with Illegal Lobbying for Turkey to Help Dictator

Former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Two former business associates of President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have been charged with conspiracy in connection with a secret campaign to extradite an enemy of the Turkish government.

Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin were indicted on charges of conspiring to violate federal lobbying rules, according to court documents that were unsealed Monday, The New York Times first reported

The pair are accused of helping Turkey pressure the U.S. to expel Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of Turkish President Recap Tayyip Erdogan, who is widely considered a dictator because of a history of human rights abuses and overseeing the lack of fair and open elections. He also has jailed journalists and opponents. 

Despite the serious and well-documented allegations, Trump has forged a close relationship with Erdogan’s government. Trump also has used similar tactics of calling the American media “fake” and an “enemy of the people.”

The investigation began in 2016 after Flynn, who has since been indicted for lying to the FBI and is awaiting sentencing, wrote an oped for The Hill, criticizing Gulen. 

The conspiracy deepens because sources recent said Trump was considering extraditing Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania who has been accused by Turkey of helping instigate a failed coup of Erdogan’s corrupt government.

Turkish dictator Recap Tayyip Erdogan

The Washington Post reported Monday that Kian, who was a partner of Flynn’s Intel Group, appeared in court, but Alptekin, a Turkish businessman, remains in Turkey. 

Flynn, who has been convicted of lying to the FBI, is expected to be sentenced Dec. 18. He’s asking for no jail time for cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, whose 20-month investigation into Russia and Trump’s campaign aides have led to numerous indictments.

The new developments show that Mueller has broadened the investigation into unregistered foreign lobbyists and aides of Trump who had forged closed relationships with leaders with histories of human rights abuses.  

A Detroit DEA Agent Talks About A Case That Became the Subject of the Clint Eastwood film, ‘The Mule’

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — In 2011, Kent Kleinschmidt, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, headed an enforcement group in the Detroit office that was investigating ties between a local drug organization and the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico led by the notorious Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

The case eventually lead to some serious seizures of cocaine and  money and the arrest in October 2011 of Leo Sharp, an 87-year-old “mule” caught transporting 104 kilos of cocaine from Arizona to Michigan for the cartel. Michigan State Police, at the direction of the DEA, pulled over Sharp on I-94 in Washtenaw County and arrested him. Kleinschmidt was nearby watching.

Sharp was sentenced in Detroit to three years in prison. He got out early because of a terminal illness and died Dec. 12,  2016 at 92.

Now Sharp is the subject of a Clint Eastwood film, “The Mule.” (See the trailer.)

Kleinschmidt, an assistant special agent in charge of the Detroit DEA, talked about the film on Thursday, a day before the national debut.

Weekend Series on Crime History: The FBI’s Robert Hassen, An American Spy

7-Year-Old Guatemalan Girl Dies of Dehydration While in Border Patrol Custody

Border marker, via Border Patrol.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died while in Border Patrol custody after she and her father were taken into custody for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, federal authorities confirmed Thursday.

The girl died of dehydration and shock a day after she was arrested by Borer Patrol agents near Lordsburg, N.M., The Washington Post reports

The CBP said the girl began having seizures after being in custody for more than eight hours and had a body temperature of 105.7 degrees. She died at a hospital in El Paso.

In a statement, CBP said she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

CBP typically provides food and water to migrants, but it wasn’t clear if that happened in this case.

“Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Feds: Were Middle Easterners Promised Influence over American Policy Through Trump Donations?

President Trump’s inauguration, via White House

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether highly influential businessmen from the Middle East tried to buy influence over American policy by donating to President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC.

The investigation is examining whether people from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates used straw donors – or American intermediaries – to donate to the funds since federal law bars foreigners from contributing to political campaigns, The New York Times reports.  

Trump friend and billionaire Thomas Barrack

One of Trump’s closest friends, billionaire financier Thomas J. Barrack Jr., raised a significant amount of money for the funds. He’s known for having an extensive network of business connections in the Persian Gulf.

The PAC, Rebuilding America Now, was created in the summer of 2016 when Trump was struggling to raise money for his presidential run. Such PACs can raise an unlimited amount of money, but only if they’re not closely coordinated with the campaign.

Barrack told investigators a year ago that Trump’s campaign boss, Paul Manafort, treated the PAC as a fundraising arm of the campaign.

The PAC raised $23 million, primarily from big donors such as Linda McMahon, a professional wrestling executive whom Trump later appointed to head the Small Business Administration. She donated $6 million.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Barrack and Manafort went on a Mediterranean cruise together in August 2016, just three months before the presidential election. On the cruise, the pair met with several influential Middle Easterners, including Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar and one of the world’s wealthiest men.

Barrack denied any wrongdoing.

“Tom has never talked with any foreign individual or entity for the purposes of raising money for or obtaining donations related to either the campaign, the inauguration or any such political activity,” said Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for Barrack.

Prosecutors also are investigating whether Middle Easterners and others funneled money into Trump’s $107 million inaugural fund in exchange for access to the new presidential administration, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Federal law prohibits the exchange of money for political favors.

Trump raised more money for his inauguration than any previous president. The donations largely came from billionaires and corporations, including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co. 

Another donor was billionaire Dan Gilbert, whose Quicken Loans company has been under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly targeting, among others, lower-income African Americans for mortgages, many of which went belly up.

Michael Cohen Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison, Blaming Blind Loyalty to Trump

Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Trump.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

President Trump’s former longtime attorney and self-described fixer was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to nine federal charges, including making secret payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

The charges also included lying to congress about his involvement with a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow and failing to report millions of dollars in income.

Cohen, 52, told Judge William Pauley that his loyalty to Trump led him “to choose darkness over light.”

“Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak and it was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” Cohen said.

Cohen apologized to his family and U.S. citizens.

“I am truly sorry and I promise I will be better,” he said.

Cohen pleaded guilty as part of an agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Mueller wrote in a sentencing memo that Cohen provided “relevant and useful.”

It’s not year clear what information Cohen has provided.

Manafort May No Longer Challenge Mueller’s Allegations That He Lied to Prosecutors

Paul Manafort’s mugshot

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

After insisting Paul Manafort did not lie to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as part of a plea deal, attorneys for the former campaign chief for Donald Trump may no longer contest allegations that Manafort provided false information.

Manafort’s attorney Richard Westling met with Mueller’s team Tuesday before saying in federal court that “the certainty of the hearing is less clear,” Huffington Post and other media outlets reported.

Mueller rescinded the plea deal with Manafort in late November, saying he violated the plea deal by lying to prosecutors.

Manafort has until Jan. 7 to decide whether to contest the allegations that he lied. 

Manafort, who was found guilty in August of eight criminal charges lodged by Mueller, is set to be sentenced on March 5.

He faces more jail time for allegedly lying to prosecutors.