In our look back at 2016 it's clear Trump has wanted Russia as a military ally. No surprise that he's now picking a fight with Iran.
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In the two weeks since our first episode dropped, a lot has happened: A dozen Russians were arrested and charged with hacking the 2016 election; Russian spy Maria Butina was arrested for working with Russia and the NRA to install various Republican politicians, including Trump; Trump and Putin made their autocratic union official in Helsinki; Trump invited Putin to the White House; and now Trump is all-caps tweeting at Iran.
It’s as shocking as it is expected if you’ve studied Trump, Putin, or authoritarian states. In the second episode of Gaslit Nation we continue unpacking 2016, from August through the end of October, connecting what happened then to what’s happening now. Disturbingly, we mused that Trump would like to go to war alongside Russia and Iran would be a likely target a few days before he started rage-tweeting at Iranian President Rouhani. Listen here:
If you missed episode one, you can listen here
And if you’d like to help us get to weekly episodes, you can support Gaslit Nation on Patreon.
About the hosts:
Andrea Chalupa is a journalist and the author of Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm. She has written for TIME, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, and Forbes. She is a founder of DigitalMaidan, an online movement that made the Ukrainian protests the #1 trending topic on Twitter worldwide. Her first film, about the story behind George Orwell’s Animal Farm, just finished shooting in Europe.
Sarah Kendzior is best known for her reporting on St. Louis, her coverage of the 2016 election, and her academic research on authoritarian states. She is the author of The View from Flyover Country, a regular commentator on MSNBC, and an op-ed columnist for The Globe and Mail. She was named by Foreign Policy one of the “100 people you should be following on Twitter to make sense of global events.”
TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
Gaslit Nation Episode 002
Sarah Kendzior: Hi, I’m Sarah Kendzior. I’m the author of the book “The View from Fly-over Country”, which studies the erosion of social trust and the collapse of institutions in the years leading up to the election of Donald Trump. I’m also an anthropologist with a Ph.D. I studied the former Soviet Union and use of digital media in propaganda. These are all, unfortunately, topics and skills that came into play as I was studying the 2016 campaign, in a very unexpected way.
Andrea Chalupa: Hi, I’m Andrea Chalupa. I’m a writer, filmmaker and activist. I’ve been writing about Ukraine and speaking about Ukraine since 2011, with a focus on Stalin’s genocide famine in Ukraine in 1933, and the information work in the Kremlin that covered it up. And also the revolution in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014, and the Kremlin’s information war that tried to cover up what was really happening in Ukraine at the time. So all of this has prepared me for the rise of Trump, the big welcome mat for the Kremlin in the White House.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. Really fun times, really fun podcast lies ahead for you.
Sarah Kendzior: If you’re new, this is Gaslit Nation. This is the second episode of our podcast. We taped it a month ago, so what you’re going to hear later on is the second part of our overview of 2016. Throughout 2016, Andrea and I futilely tried to convince the American public that Donald Trump was a Kremlin asset; that he, Manafort, and others were implicated in a vast international scheme to subvert US democracy. We were called hysterical. We were called alarmist. Now, we’re called right, especially because of the events of this past week. Today is July 18th. A lot has happened in the last five days, so I highly recommend, if you’re new to this podcast, going back and hearing our first episode. Today, we cover roughly from about the Republican Convention up to the election itself, so a lot of real fun and exciting stuff.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes. Sarah and I are going to be gloating all the way to the Gulag.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, exactly. People keep asking, you know, “Oh, you must feel good you’re right.” I’m like, “Why in God’s name would I feel good for being right about this? This doesn’t end well for anybody.” It certainly doesn’t tend to end well for people like us, as Andrea and I have both learned throughout our studies of authoritarian states.
Andrea Chalupa Yeah. I’m gonna give a quick run-down of what’s happened in recent days, because some of it is just a lot to take in. We saw the alliance of the Russian mafia in the east, and the Russian mafia and its associates in the west took place in Helsinki. Followed by an arrest of a young woman, Maria Butina, a Russian spy who socialized among politicians and media in Washington, D.C., including offering sex to advance Russia’s interests in D.C. And she was an important conduit between the Trump campaign, Republican campaigns, the NRA’s dirty money, Putin’s government, and Putin’s dirty money. We saw the indictment of twelve Russian intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic Party, not only taking emails, documents, but their analytics and the Democrats’ playbook on how and where they’re targeting voters, which just, for one thing, provides a major advantage to the Trump campaign on how to counter that. We also have the UK government prosecuting Cambridge Analytica, the British militarized propaganda firm, which the RNC and Jared Kushner worked closely with on getting Trump elected, and Republicans elected to Congress in 2016. And the UK government is helping the Mueller investigation there. So it may be Kushner’s time in the barrel soon, and it may also be Roger Stone’s time in the barrel, ’cause he knew John Podesta’s hacked emails were about to be weaponized. Stone bragged, also, to CNN that he had a back-channel contact to [Julian] Assange in August that it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. Most recently, Trump has invited Putin to Washington, D.C. I do see a state dinner coming on. What do you think, Sarah? What are your predictions? State dinner time, is Ivanka gonna show off some of her gown?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I mean the whole thing is so appalling. I think this is the week even the most reluctant skeptics finally can conceded that, yes, Trump is a Russian asset; yes, this was a plan; and no, no one is doing anything to stop it; and yes, they’re going to rub it in our faces. And I think that this little invite of Putin to the White House is yet another example of that, and you know, considering it’s hard for me to envision how things are going to be next week, by the time this podcast comes out, I really can’t tell you what’s in store for November other than tough times.
Andrea Chalupa: So, I want to say the most interesting thing about the Maria Butina filing is that she was active, with her eye on the prize; she was getting Republicans elected to Congress; getting Donald Trump elected president in 2015. And there’s a lot of other reporting looking at how active Russian agents were with the NRA, with other Republican leaders leading up to the 2016 election. This was a very long operation, and obviously in your reporting, you’ve covered the long history between Trump and the Kremlin going back 30 years. But it really accelerates when Russia’s invading Ukraine. So as tensions between the US and Russia come to a boiling point over Ukraine, what’s essentially happening is at the same time Russia’s invading Ukraine, it’s also invading the US. And as we were screaming in 2016, Trump is an invasion of the US by Russia, given all of his close ties, given how embedded he is there with Russian interests. And people have to understand that what Putin wants more than anything is to restore the might of the Russian Empire, and he does that through invading other countries.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: He invaded Ukraine. He invaded Georgia. So this is an invasion. It’s an invasion, plain and simple. And people have to start talking about it like that.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: And so what are your thoughts there, Sarah, on what faith you have in people to wrap their heads around that reality?
Sarah Kendzior: I mean, I think this reality was clear for decades. Putin was never shy about thinking that the collapse of the Soviet Union was both a personal affront and a great tragedy. He’s been trying to reclaim free countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union. He sees NATO as a fundamental obstacle to that. He sees the EU and the US as fundamental obstacles to that. And not so coincidentally, that’s exactly the kind of platform that Donald Trump has embraced. Trump has embraced the dissolution of NATO all the way back to the 1980s. I think this is something that made him attractive as a Russian asset, and now we’re seeing both Putin’s vision and Trump’s dream realized.
Trump dreamt for 30 years of partnering with Russia in a military alliance. He did that back when it was the Soviet Union, and he did that during the campaign, with Russia as an independent state. And so there’s all this kind of bullshit-talk about, “Oh, gosh. What are the alternatives? We’re either friends with Russia or we go to war with Russia.” And what people fail to grasp is that it’s not a question of going to war with Russia and Russia being our opponent; it’s going to war with Russia as a partner against God knows who. Although, I think we have some ideas based on what you just said. I think they’re gearing up for more military activity in Ukraine. I think, possibly, as part of this agreement, this alliance, the US is going to withdraw from supporting Ukraine and Russia is going to give US a pass on invading territory that it wants. For example, the long-sought after invasion of Iran that Trump and John Bolton have craved. And I think, also, it’s important to point out that Netanyahu met with Putin before this meeting, and he has his own ambitions. And I think that coming to an agreement, a sort of three-way partnership, about Syria, about Iran, this is what’s happening. It’s a new order, it’s an alliance of autocrats, and it’s exceptionally dangerous for the world.
Andrea Chalupa: Speaking of autocrats, leading up to the meeting with Putin, Trump does a fist-bump with Turkey’s Erdogan who kills in jails innocent people in Turkey in order to maintain his hold on power there. This brings to mind that 1990 Vanity Fair piece where Ivana is reported to have told her lawyer that Trump keeps a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed, in his bedroom, and he essentially studied it to learn how to be like a master propagandist, how to manipulate crowds. And that’s what we’ve seen him do, playing on people’s emotions and the scapegoating that racists do, that Nazis do which got Putin … sorry, Hitler, Freudian slip there … that got Hitler into power.
Speaking of Putin, my God, that press conference! Putin was like a kid in a candy store during that press conference. He was like, “Bring me Bill Browder. Bring me Michael McFall. Bring me Kyle Parker.” That one really freaked me out. Kyle Parker, I’m like, “Wait. That’s a Facebook friend. Everyone knows Kyle.” He’s a policy-wonk in D.C. He’s the kinda guy you run into on a panel in D.C. or … It’s shocking, Putin, arguably the richest man alive, now arguably the most powerful, is calling out Kyle Parker by name. And it’s like he has this wish list up there, and he’s just demanding it all.
I think what people are sort of need to be prepared for, and I think writing is very clearly on the wall, is that Putin’s terrorist tactics where he arrests journalists and jails opposition leaders, or the family members, arrests and harasses historians who try to challenge Stalin, he’s now seeing the US as fair game where he can come after our opposition leaders. And Sarah Sanders said that they’re willing to look into Bill Browder’s case, for one thing.
Which all of this is incredibly chilling, and people are wondering whether it could happen here in the US, whether Russia could have people killed here in the US. It’s already happened. You had Mikhail Lesin, the founder of RT [Russia Today], who was found bludgeoned to death in his hotel room in D.C. in November 2015, and Christopher Steele wrote a report to the FBI saying that was a hit by the Russian government. And so it’s happening here; it could continue to happen, and yeah, the writing’s on the wall. This is a very dark turn for our country and our sovereignty’s at stake.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, when they brought up Michael McFaul, the Trump administration is absolutely willing to hand him over. And this is a former US ambassador to Russia who’s committed no crime. I think that Trump sees himself as a servant to Putin, but also, you know, he has his own self-protection to consider. I agree that he draws from foreign dictators. He cites his love for foreign dictators all the time, not just Hitler, but Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, I could go on and on. That’s a quality he admires. But he was trained as an operative in the United States.
As I mentioned in the earlier podcast, his mentor was Roy Cohn. They used brutal tactics. Trump is also a mafia associate. They will get rid of people who get in their way, and I think there was a time earlier, in 2017, where they were trying to at least keep some kind of pretense of democracy. They were really cashing in on those pundits who kept claiming he was going to pivot, it was going to be okay, checks and balances. They didn’t wanna rock the boat too hard. Now they truly don’t care; now they’re flaunting their complete disregard for democratic norms; they’re flaunting the dissolution of US sovereignty and I think this is the point where they’ll try to make an example out of people by killing them, attacking them, turning them over to Russia.
I don’t exactly know which tactics they’ll embrace, but I do think that the danger went up a lot this week. I’m very concerned for the weeks to come.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, for all of us. And, you know, the day after the Trump-Putin-Helsinki ceremony to make it all official now, the day after you and I got on the phone, and we were going to record a podcast, what we’re doing now, to tack onto the next episode, just summarizing the latest for people. And what that turned into, what that recording turned into, was you talking me out of taking a flight that night, which I had scheduled to take for weeks, to Ukraine.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, and I’m very glad you didn’t go.
Andrea Chalupa: For the first time ever. I’ve gone to Ukraine for quite a bit since all of this has been going down. I was just there for a month back in March. You and my sister, for the very first time, said, “Do not go to Ukraine. Do not go right now.” And I canceled the trip hours before my flight, and that pained me because I love Kiev in the summertime. I was gonna go to Odessa. I was gonna swim in the Black Sea. I was gonna have the time of my life and just see friends, record an interview for the podcast, a very important one which will air later. I was so looking forward to that trip I can’t even tell you, and it felt like the terrorists won by having to cancel it, but it was the thing that I had to do because what’s emerged is this pattern.
My sister was the DNC staffer who, very early on, warned everybody about Manafort, Trump and Russia. No one would listen for a very long time, and she was harassed as a result. The pattern that has emerged is, when the Steele dossier came out at the start of 2017, right after that the Russians, Putin’s chief propagandist [inaudible 00:14:04] did a segment on my sister, saying that she created this whole Russia-Trump scandal and they tied me into that segment. This is on Russian State TV, one of the biggest networks, TV networks, in all of Russia. And they have a photo of her three little girls that they pulled from her Facebook page. Saying, “This is a woman, a Ukrainian-American that orchestrated this whole Trump-Russia scandal.” And they pull me in as her accomplice, so they’re targeting me too.
Then you have that June, the big bombshells coming out, that Don[ald Trump] Jr. met with Russian spies inside Trump Tower to do a quid pro quo deal to get dirt for Hilary Clinton in exchange for campaign help to get Trump elected. So when those bombshells came out, Don Jr. retaliates by pinning it all on my sister, and the White House, Seb Gorka at the time in the White House, Republican surrogates on cable shows, et cetera, start attacking my sister and trying to claim that she and Ukraine meddled in the election for Hilary, which is all, of course, not true. So there’s a pattern that every time they’re cornered, they go after my sister.
Right now, Devin Nunes, an attack dog for the President, who has his own corruption issues that he’s now … should be investigated for, he has put together a list of about a dozen of Trump’s political opponents he wants investigated by the House, and my sister is, of course, on that. So given this pattern, I decided I should stay in the US and be here for my sister, should they do anything to her, and it breaks my heart that … I don’t feel safe to travel anymore in Putin’s neighborhood, ’cause he really wants Ukraine, and he has his agents and Manafort has his agents all over Ukraine. And it doesn’t make me feel great that, knowing that Manafort has access to email and a staff while in jail.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: And so all of that. And also, the Russian government likes to take people hostage and trade them in prisoner swaps. We have one of their Russian spies, and all the Russian Twitter accounts are going wild supporting her as, oh, she’s some great freedom-fighter now. And I wouldn’t wanna be over there at this time where they nab me as being some foreign agent, ’cause that’s how they tried to frame my sister, that’s how they try to frame me in their propaganda, following the Steele dossier. So I wouldn’t feel comfortable going over there, considering that people have been kidnapped from Ukraine, that people have been killed in Ukraine for opposition towards Putin.
I just wanna give one important example, just to show how far Putin’s terrorism reaches in ways that aren’t even reported widely at all in the west. There was a Ukrainian teenager who went to Belarus to visit his girlfriend, and he was snatched there for some anti-Russian government social media post. He was snatched in Belarus while on vacation, and taken to Russia, and he’s being held there as a political prisoner now. And he’s got health issues, so we don’t know if they’re being addressed or not. Stuff like this happens that goes under the radar for the western audience. Ukraine’s a great place to go if you’re not messing with anybody’s political interests or financial interests, so if you’re a tourist, I highly recommend it. It’s an enchanting, gorgeous place, but right now, given this political climate, it’s just this new terrorism has taken hold.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, and it’s frightening. You know, in some ways this week, I felt like we were back where we were in November 2016, which we talk about in the third episode of this podcast, the kind of election aftermath. Where we were both besieged by death threats, where Jared Kushner’s newspaper instantly wrote a hit piece on us, and other things happened. I don’t know if we’ll ever go into the full story. But I just remember the feeling of that time, that there’s no one that we can really trust because we don’t know who’s been compromised. We don’t know how people are being surveilled, and it was a very strange feeling for me because of course I was familiar with these kind of tactics from so many years of studying Uzbekistan. These were the sorts of tactics used on dissidents there.
I’ve definitely seen them used in the US before, you know, when I was covering Ferguson. I saw abuses by police. I saw illicit surveillance of activists by police. But I never really had this particular situation of an American government that had basically been co-opted by a foreign power, by a criminal syndicate. This is a frightening time and I do hope that people stick together down the road. I hope people forge relationships. I hope people in professions that are being persecuted, whether they’re civil servants, journalists, activists, that we just recognize that we’re all in the same boat, and that collectively, if we stand up for each other, it doesn’t matter if we like each other or not, when the government is inflicting unconstitutional threatening policies on citizens and singling them out, we need to have each other’s backs.
I think people finally kind of grasped that this week. I saw a little of that at the White House press briefing, where one journalist who’s dismissed, another one picked up their question. That’s what they should’ve been doing all along. It shouldn’t’ve taken this for people to realize it, but now they do.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. I just wanna close off this intro summary by saying, yes, things are incredibly bleak right now, and if you want some sort of silver lining solution, the way to take power back in your own hands, I would say first and foremost, absolutely do not trust the Republican party inside Congress to save us.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, God, no!
Andrea Chalupa: Anybody who … Anybody who pushes the Republicans and puts pressure on them, and says, “Well, here’s the legal path on what Republicans can do,” it’s all pointless. They’re gaslighting you. It’s like … it’s not even a matter of party above country. They’re saving their own selves. It’s a matter of personal interests above their own country. We saw that the Russians were not only helping Donald Trump, they were helping the Republican party. Cambridge Analytica was working with the RNC. The Russian hackers stole from the RNC and has yet to weaponize those documents, those emails, whatever they have. We don’t know. Imagine … We know how dirty the Republicans are from everything that’s been reported on them. Imagine what they’re like privately in their emails and their documents and their strategy memos, et cetera. But the Russians are holding onto that.
And then we have all this great reporting on how Russian dark money has been spreading to the GOP. So you have members of Congress that are in power, clearly, with everything that’s been out in the public record, thanks to the Russians’ help. So if Trump goes down, they’re going down too. That’s why they’re not coming to our rescue. And if you want firm proof of that, look at the fact that the Senate, every Republican in the Senate approved Ryan Benczkowski to the DOJ, and he’s never tried a case in his life, and he came from Alpha Bank, advising Alpha Bank. He was on the Trump transition team, which Robert Gates worked actively on; which Manafort worked actively on. And he was hired to clean up Alpha Bank’s image in the west because all the sanctions are hitting Russia, et cetera, and the tensions between the west and Russia. And every single Republican voted yes on Benczkowski, even though he hasn’t tried a single case in his life, and he’s somebody that could easy go into the DOJ, worm his way through and undermine the investigation of Trump and Russia, and that’s who the Republicans overwhelmingly voted on to head the criminal division of the DOJ.
No, they’re not coming to our rescue. Don’t listen to anyone who talks about political solutions, and what the Republicans can do, ’cause they simply will not do it. They’ll sound angry, they’ll issue statements, but that’s just all gaslighting.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I agree.
Andrea Chalupa: Now, welcome to our show.
Sarah Kendzior: Hahahaha
Andrea Chalupa: So yeah. But if you want a solution, get the Republicans out. Get them … Get your plan for 2018, this November. Figure out which swing district you’re going to. Figure out which candidates you are adopting in 2018, and get these Republican criminals outta Congress. That is how you’re going to save your country, and save our sovereignty.
Andrea Chalupa: This is Gaslit Nation with Dame Magazine.
[2016, Part 2]
Andrea Chalupa: To fully appreciate what happens in August 2016, we have to go back to November 2013, to Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych, the President of Ukraine who came to power with Manafort’s help, who’s closely advised by Manafort, rejects signing the EU Association Agreement which would help integrate Ukraine into Europe politically and economically. Instead he accepts a $15 billion bailout from Russia. What happens next changes history.
A young Afghani-born investigative journalist by the name Mustafa Nayyem launches a revolution through a Facebook post, calling everyone out to the Maidan, the main square in Kiev. Over the next three months, December through February, in the freezing cold, protestors risk their lives facing off with riot police and government snipers, all under the banner of not wanting to be a Russian proxy state. Dozens of protestors were killed. EU officials come in to broker a peace deal. Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight champion of the world, who has joined the revolution, is on stage to deliver the news that a peace deal has been reached. Yanukovych can stay in power, and then there’ll be an election at the end of the year.
A guy in his twenties comes up from the crowd, grabs the mic from the heavyweight champion of the world …
Andrea Chalupa: And says that his friend was killed in the protest, leaving behind a wife and child. The President has until 10am to leave, or they’ll make him leave. The next morning Yanukovych is gone. He’s fled to Russia. That spring, there are new elections. Mustafa Nayyem, the investigative journalist that launched the revolution, gets elected into Parliament and so does his close friend, an investigative journalist he often works with by the name of Serhiy Leshchenko, who in August 2016 comes crashing into our election in a very big way.
Andrea Chalupa: Okay, so August, something big happens. Serhiy Leshchenko alerted the New York Times of a book that was found with handwritten payments down to Yanukovych’s people, including his image maker, his confidante, his “hand of the king”, Paul Manafort. And this became known as “The Secret Ledger Story”. It ran in the New York Times in August 2014, and this is what it had to say.
Handwritten ledgers show 12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort for Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012. According to Ukraine’s newly-formed National Anti-corruption Bureau. Investigators are certain that the disbursements were part of an illegal, off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of off-shore shell companies that helped members in Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course, and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in, was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Valdimir Putin.”
Manafort resigns. That day, Andrea goes shopping in the streets of Brooklyn, looking very much like Belle in the opening scene of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.
I’m telling the woman at my favorite boutique, “Did you hear about Paul Manafort?” I’m singing the news to her. I go to my butcher, ’cause of course I pick up a steak that night. I’m like, “Did you hear about Paul Manafort?” I go to the wine shop. I tell the lady there. I’m like, “Did you hear about Paul Manafort?” I have my basket of goods, whole new wardrobe, by the way, and I cooked dinner. Steak, bottle of red wine, I’m wearing my new clothes. I’m like, to my husband, “Did you hear about Paul Manafort?” That was my August 19, 2016.
Sarah Kendzior: Brava.
And then, at the end of August, along comes the sole person who I think handled this horrible situation in 2016 well, which is Senator Harry Reid. If I have a list of people who did things well, that is literally … it is Harry Reid, the end. And on August 27th, he released a letter. It was a public letter to James Comey that he put online, anybody could’ve found it. It got very little play. I’m just gonna read the first paragraph of it now, but I encourage you to go look it up for yourself because, in retrospect, it’s extraordinarily damning.
It says, “Dear Director Comey, I’ve recently become concerned that the threat of the Russian government tampering in our presidential election is more extensive than widely known, and my include the intent to falsify official election results. The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to mount, and has led Michael Morell, the former acting Central Intelligence director, to call Trump an ‘unwitting agent of Russia and the Kremlin’.
The prospect of a hostile government actively seeking to undermine our free and fair elections represents one of the gravest threats to our democracy since the Cold War, and it is critical for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to use every resource available to investigate this matter thoroughly and in a timely fashion. The American people deserve to have a full understanding of the facts from a completed investigation before they vote this November.”
There’s more where that came from, but that sentence, “The American people deserve to know the facts.” That has guided me more than anything that I’ve done. I felt, “Finally, someone gets it!” You’re obligation as a politician is to serve the people. A journalist’s obligation is to serve the people. And there’s obviously something major going on here if a Senator would write this kind of open letter to the FBI. It wasn’t that he just wrote the letter, but that he wrote it expressly so that the American public could see it, and so that even though we were being denied information from the Obama administration, from of course Mitch McConnell and the GOP who actively suppressed it, from Comey who both suppressed it and, months later, made the situation even more confusing by putting out the letter about Clinton.
He still wanted us to think for ourselves, the go out and find this information, and so there was some solace in that, but I also found it very, very unnerving ’cause it made me know that I was right. That this was serious. That this was important, and that our government and our agencies were absolutely blowing it in a way that could have incredible and possibly permanent consequences for the freedom and sovereignty of the United States.
Andrea Chalupa: I watched Hillary’s press conference in 2015 about her emails. The reporters were backing each other’s questions up over Hilary’s emails. They were acting … They were showing that same level of aggression towards Hillary which they have failed to show towards Trump for many months now, and it was just so surreal to watch.
Sarah Kendzior: I mean, yeah, well it was a coordinated attack. I mean, they had Clinton Cash used as a document by the Washington Post, by the New York Times, by Fox News. You have reporters working directly with people that were associated with the Trump team. They were told what to print, they were told what to run, and they did it. And so these were all ripe targets for, you know, any kind of dis-information or manipulative release of information that was to emerge in the future.
They behaved like sheep. They have a pack mentality, and it’s this conformity that you see both in the style of reporting, which often resembles stenography, whether it’s stenography of the White House or stenography from leaks that are handed to people. There’s a general lack of curiosity and that’s alarming. I don’t wanna sort of blast the press on whole, because I do think there are individual reporters who’ve done a very good job being thorough reporters who did a brave job and should be commended. But on the whole, in 2016, particularly over this email ‘nontraversy,’ they really should be ashamed of themselves.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely. And just to sort of frame it all, the Department of Interior was hacked. The Office of Personnel Management, where the records of the civilian workforce of the federal government were kept, was hacked in 2014. Russia hacked the State Department. Russia hacked the White House. Russia hacked the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Guess what was not hacked? Hilary Clinton’s private email server.
I know that there were technicalities. There were rules that were broken, and she apologized for that in 2015. She apologized. She took responsibility, and yet the press would not let it go. And as you mentioned, there were good reporters that tried to point out the fact that, “Look, the US government, the federal government’s been under these aggressive cyber attacks.” And so one could argue that Hilary’s own server has to’ve been hacked. It’s like she had to take matters into her own hands to protect herself.
I want to point out, in 2015 Hilary apologizes for any rules that she broke when it came to her emails, private email server, using a private email account, et cetera, for government business. And then in the third Democratic debate, Sanders apologizes to Clinton directly for his staffers who accessed private voter data belonging to Hilary’s campaign. And I’m not bringing this up as a reflection of Bernie Sanders, ’cause what he does here is the right thing. He takes responsibility and apologizes. What I’m really blasting here is the media accepted Sanders’ apology, let Sanders go on this issue but still hounded Hilary Clinton for her emails, even though she took responsibility and apologized back in 2015. They simply would not let it go.
We’re going to now play a montage of how the media was covering Hilary Clinton’s emails in 2016. Listen to the inflection in the voices of these cable news hosts as they think they’re Edward R. Murrow hot on the trail of Hilary Clinton and her emails.
Jake Tapper: Hey, everybody. It’s Jake Tapper from CNN State of the Union and FactCheck.org, and today we’re going to take a look at a comment made by former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton about her private email server that she used for official state business. Take a listen.
Hilary Clinton: As I have said many times, there was … that was absolutely permitted and I did it, and it turned out to be a mistake. It wasn’t the best choice.
Jake Tapper: Is that true? Was Hilary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business while she was Secretary of State absolutely permitted? No. That’s not true. She says that because she permitted herself and there was no one absolutely prohibiting her.
Speaker: In October, while they were investigating, the President of the United States who runs the Justice Department, no evidence. She did nothing to jeopardize national security. That’s not what Comey said yesterday, and here you have the chief law enforcement officer of the United States deciding almost a year before the findings come out that there’s nothing to see. That is frightening.
Speaker: Convenience isn’t it. ‘Cause it’s not a convenient thing to have a server in your house. No, it’s making it so that it is outside the reach of the Federal Records Law. You cannot look at it any other … That’s the only logical reason to do it.
Speaker: The original sin, if you will, is having a private email system.
Speaker: And that’s … It’s unfixable.
Sarah Kendzior: As you pointed out before, Hilary’s server was the one thing that remained impenetrable. And so I think it’s very clear that this media obsession had nothing to do with national security, had nothing to do with cyber security. If that were the case, they would’ve been reported endlessly on the very serious hacks that were done throughout Obama’s second term of government institutions, as well as private corporations like Sony, of all of Yahoo Mail. I mean, those are major stories-
Andrea Chalupa: J.P. Morgan, LinkedIn. Yeah.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely.
Sarah Kendzior: There’s so many, and those were successful hacks. The hacks of the DNC, the RNC, those were successful hacks. This was not actually anything that violated our national security in a pragmatic way. It was a violation of protocol, and I think it’s very interesting that a woman violating protocol, but in a way that, in retrospect, whether inadvertently or purposefully protected our national security’s considered a more severe threat than all of these institutions and businesses which jeopardize people’s private security, which probably provided material for blackmail, for foreign enemies. That is the real story.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, I mean, even if you … If you look at the Office of Personnel Management, the millions upon millions of private records taken of civilians who applied for jobs in the federal government or work for the federal government, the background checks done on many of these people, including spouses, including friends, including health records, financial records. This is a whole dossier on who this individual is, their private lives. Their private lives! And that was taken by the hackers.
One person inside the State Department in 2015 who was impacted by the hack of the Office of Personnel Management told me that she was experiencing identity theft constantly because of that hack. It was just like she was just living with constant identity theft happening to her. Another critical sensitivity about these hacks, especially with of the OPM, China, which has been accused of that hack, they have these elaborate psychological personal footprints on people who work in the United States government, which they can then use to target our people working out in the field anywhere in the world. So that was the big story that the press really should’ve been hounding Democrats, the Obama White House for if they wanted to both-sides this thing in the 2016 election, instead of beating the dead horse of Hilary’s emails which, looking back now, embarrasses them if you listen to how they covered it.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s new campaign CEO, joins Team Trump from his job as Chairman of Breitbart News where, as Vanity Fair reports, Bannon helped create, quote “the political philosophy, and the political army-in-waiting, that has been the engine for Trump’s astonishing rise in American politics”. The announcement was welcomed by members of the so-called Alt-Right, who the Daily Beast writes this week, ” See in Bannon, a media friendly, ethno-nationalist fellow traveler”.
Andrea Chalupa: September 2016.
Sarah Kendzior: One thing to understand about how Trump operates is that no one ever really leaves. You see the same cast of characters coming up again and again, and part of that is because of the “loyalty”, quote unquote, that Trump values, which is really a mafia-style loyalty of omerta, of blackmail, and of control. And so Manafort is official gone-
Andrea Chalupa: Mafia loyalty.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, it’s mafia loyalty. Trump has kept this lifelong kind of coterie of miscreants surrounding him ever since the late ’70s onwards. He values loyalty, if you want to think of it that way. But it’s not loyalty that’s based on respect; it’s a mafia-style loyalty based on mutual corruption, intimidation, and fear. So while Manafort is technically gone, he resurfaced in December and was still lurking in the background, but we’ll get to that.
Steve Bannon came in to officially replace Manafort two days before Manafort departed. That was significant in that Bannon, of course, knew how to really work the media because of his history in Breitbart, and so these kind of propaganda tactics that we’d seen throughout the campaign of lies, of constant attacking, of manipulation of media entities, went into just full throttle. One of those tactics was to ramp up the contribution of yet another former campaign manager, Roger Stone, who played an important role at this time. It’s important to remember that by August the majority of America was convinced that Trump was going to lose. I was not in this majority. I thought he still had a chance, but I definitely thought he had hurt himself through the disastrous Republican National Convention, and through just a series of missteps, insulting veterans, feuding with babies, you name it. He did it.
Sarah Kendzior: I know. It’s like we forget he feuded with a baby.
Andrea Chalupa: Could you unpack that a little bit more? What was the-
Sarah Kendzior: He feuded with a damn baby!
Andrea Chalupa: What was the feud again?
Sarah Kendzior: I mean, who the hell-
Sarah Kendzior: The feud was that the baby … I mean, actually, I mean this is horrifying in retrospect of what’s happening today with these children. A woman brought her baby to a Trump campaign rally. Trump yelled at the baby, said, “Get that baby outta here.” People thought he was joking because who the hell says that to a prospective voter with a child? And he’s like, “I’m not joking.” And that is how Trump treats children, so it’s … I mean it’s, unfortunately, it’s worth pointing out. It sounds absurd, but the seeds of his attitudes were always apparent.
On that note, this is a somewhat frightening time. This is the time people started discussing the “alt-righti”, which is a nice word for white supremacists, in detail. Roger Stone had become very active in proclaiming that if Trump loses it’s, one, because the election is rigged, and two, therefore there will be a bloodbath. So people were looking at the rise of militias; they were looking at the rise of hate groups, and they were predicting that Trump would lose and that this would happen. But what’s important to remember about this is that … this was, I think, one of the savviest moves the Trump campaign made, which was to say that the election would be rigged. Because in response, every Democrat made a grave error, which is that they came out and said it is impossible for an American election to be rigged. That our integrity is impenetrable.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. We were terrified that Hilary was going to win, and then Trump would refuse to concede –
Sarah Kendzior: Yes, because he said that. They asked him, “Would you concede?” And he said, “I don’t know.” And that was what they were putting forth, but what it did was prompt Democrats to say our elections of the utmost integrity, you cannot rig them, they are unriggable. Whoever wins this election is the winner and that’s that, and that was to stop Trump from doing that. But the thing is-
Andrea Chalupa: Which is really irresponsible for them to say, because even during the election it was being reported that the election infrastructure was being hacked.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. There’s the election infrastructure being hacked. We knew that there were attempts in all these states. They were pub … In Arizona, for example, they were publicly reported throughout in these sort of sporadic themes.
Andrea Chalupa: Illinois.
Sarah Kendzior: We knew that Russia wanted to send election observers to each state, not through an international organizational body that traditionally monitors elections, but unilaterally, and they were shot down by Texas. They were shot down-
Andrea Chalupa: Wait, so basically by Russia saying we wanna send election observers, what they’re doing is amplifying Trump’s claim to the election being rigged.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, they were contributing. And then, of course, you have traditional American voter suppression that was a result of the partial repeal of the VRA [Voting Rights Act] in 2013, people being turned away.
Andrea Chalupa: Right, the Voting Rights Act.
Sarah Kendzior: In other words, there are a million ways that you can rig an American election. And of course Obama and others who were saying it was impossible were saying it on the assumption that Hilary was going to win, and that they needed to preserve that win, that Trump had no chance. But it’s a dangerous thing to say ’cause one, it’s simply not true. It ignores all these structural problems. But two, it backs them into a corner when Trump actually won under what appeared to be illicit means. The very things that Harry Reid warned about when he said that-
Andrea Chalupa: Which appeared to be a rigged election.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: And of course, Democrats can’t use that word, ’cause that was loaded.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, they cannot use … Harry Reid outright said they’re going to falsify the election results. He was quite frank. No one else was able to speak about it in those terms because they’d been constantly saying it was impossible and they would just look like sore losers, they would look like hypocrites if they were to embrace that. So that’s what was going on in September.
Donald Trump: I move on her, you know. She was down in Palm Beach. I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where there’s some nice furniture.” I moved on her like a bitch. I couldn’t get there. And she was married.
Donald Trump Sheesh, you’re girl’s hot as shit! In the purple.
Donald Trump: Whoa!
Billy Bush: Yes!
Donald Trump: Whoa!
Billy Bush: Yes! The Donald has scored! Oh, my man!
Donald Trump: I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. I’m automatically attracted to beautiful … I just start kissing them; it’s like a magnet. Kiss, kiss. I don’t even let anyone… if they let you do it, you can do anything.
Billy Bush: Whatever you want.
Donald Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Sarah Kendzior: So October begins with a pivotal day of October 7th where three things happened. First is the Access Hollywood “Grab ’em by the pussy” video gets released. Then immediately after that, WikiLeaks drops … What was it exactly?
Andrea Chalupa: It was like hours later! It was just instantaneous. They had … They had the Podesta emails locked and loaded, ready to go. It’s like they had an entire strategy in place.
Sarah Kendzior: And they’re … and then the other thing that’s interesting is that was the day that Obama, or the Obama administration, came out and officially declared that Russia had hacked the DNC. And of course that story was immediately buried by the other two, which were much more interesting, especially the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape. I remember that day. I remember on Twitter everyone being like, “Finally, it’s over.” Like, “Finally there’s a thing that no one will be able to get past because this is him. There is video. There is audio. It’s disgusting. He was already down in the polls. This is the end of him.”
Andrea Chalupa: And Hilary had to debate him right after that, and yet-
Sarah Kendzior: I was there! It was in St. Louis. I went to that debate.
Andrea Chalupa: You were in the debate?
Sarah Kendzior: I was covering it! Yeah. I was on the campus at the debate. I was there sitting next to Wash U, Washington University undergrads as they were crying. I wrote about it for the Globe and Mail. It’s one of the most disgusting experiences, as a reporter, I’ve ever had. It’s like you walked around that campus, it felt like it was covered in slime. There were people from InfoWars wandering around talking to students, Breitbart. And then, of course, Trump and Hilary, and a lot of very traumatized people, just people in the audience, both male and female, who seemed incredibly uneasy.
I actually did a panel, a pre-debate panel, that day, and I’ll never forget this because I was answering questions with other people who studied politics and stuff for undergrads. And a undergraduate came up to ask a question, and she’s like, “This sounds really stupid, but I was wondering if you could answer this for me. How do you tell fact from fiction? How do you tell fiction from reality, because there’s so much news, there’s so much information and so much out there in the media. And I look at it and it’s all contradicting each other and some of it seems so wild, and some of it seems so improbable, and I try my best to make sense of it and I can’t.”
And I remember thinking this is one of the top schools in the country. This is a very difficult school to get into. This is an intelligent young woman who’s just asking, “How do I tell what a fact is?” And there was so much after the election about media literacy, about how this is a problem of uneducated people, and I really do not think that that’s the case.
Andrea Chalupa: It’s abuse. We’re being abused. Yeah.
Sarah Kendzior: I feel like it’s gaslighting, it’s psychological abuse, it’s a propaganda operation. There’s no reason that anybody should be able to discern with ease what’s going on. We spend all day analyzing this, and trying to analyze in a historical framework-
Andrea Chalupa: Right, we have historical references. We have cultural … regional references.
Sarah Kendzior: And we struggle.
Andrea Chalupa: Right.
Sarah Kendzior: We struggle to make sense of it, and we’re constantly bombarded with the sheer volume of it, so I can’t [crosstalk] at all, but yeah, it was … I was there for that.
Andrea Chalupa: Holy smokes! That was like … Hilary looked like she did not even wanna touch his hand.
Sarah Kendzior: Right, and it was gross. At that point, I think people really did feel like this might be the end for Trump. Even I was like, “Okay,”
Andrea Chalupa: This is the end. Of course that was the end.
Sarah Kendzior: I didn’t think it was the end, but I thought … I felt more confident than I did at any other point in the campaign that he may lose.
Andrea Chalupa: It was over. We were just buying … We just had to get through. Everyone was just … watching the clock. Just get through it.
Sarah Kendzior: Right. And then-
Andrea Chalupa: We’re gonna get this election over with.
Sarah Kendzior: And then, of course … Well, we’re not there yet. You wanna go through-
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, I wanna say … As somebody who survived sexual assault myself, like my first year out of college, I lived with that shame. It was such a deep shame. It was like my greatest horror. That was my own personal compromi- … If you wanted to destroy me, talk about … I was like … Somebody’s objectified me and treated me like I was … didn’t matter. And I … It is interesting. When I got married ten years later, the trauma came back in a very big way, and I … For the first time since the trauma, I had to go into therapy ’cause something about the wedding triggered it.
And I carried that shame for a very long time, and it wasn’t until actually October 2016 when women on the internet, like Elizabeth Plank and several others, took back their power and started sharing their sexual assaults in reaction to Trump’s Access Hollywood tape. And I put my sexual assault on Twitter, and I suddenly felt released, and all that shame I’d been carrying for so long, just the fact I’m able to talk about this right now, is astounding. This would not have been possible prior to October 2016, but I think that’s so significant.
The resistance starting by women, led by women, and because it was such a heaviness … It’s abuse, what they’re doing to us. And just the heaviness. I knew so many women that felt like they were just being held down by this heavy weight, like they’d been submerged in quicksand, and they just were not able to do anything. Which means that they weren’t able to call voters, get the vote out, knock on doors. It was just like walking through a swamp and just becoming a zombie because of this abuse that he was inflicting on us. And forcing us to confront all the things … how men have treated us like second-class citizens …
Sarah Kendzior: Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: … and how women have to carefully tone-manage their emails, tone-manage themselves in all type of situations. The reason you and I have clung to each other from the get-go, is because it’s rare to find women that talk about the things we do.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: It’s been transformative to really have a fellow woman in the trenches. It was just me and men for a very long time.
Sarah Kendzior: Right, and I wanna bring up … You sort of talked about it a little bit before, but up to that point, we had Hilary Clinton supporters, or just women in general, hiding in Facebook groups, hiding in lock-sequestered areas.
Andrea Chalupa: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Sarah Kendzior: And I think that that was the moment where people finally started to come up, because one of the main weapons that these men were using, regardless whose campaign they were working for or where they came from, was rape threats, was constant, constant rape threats.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah.
Sarah Kendzior: And I’d been having that constantly thrown at me since 2014, and I think every woman who writes about politics was undergoing this. And it was … you were always taught, if you talked about it that that was bad. Even if you talked about the threat. Even if you showed evidence of it. Then you wanted attention. Then you were causing trouble. And I think that this was finally the moment when it reaches this level of the Executive Office, and you see this kind of microcosm of our … what we’ve gone through as individuals playing out on a national stage, I think that was the moment where women were just like, “I’ve had enough.”
It took a while. Took basically a year from that to Me Too, where this incredible outpouring of grief and anger and organization and activism that’s continuing, but I think that’s the beginning of it. Because with that tape, he couldn’t lie anymore. He did. He did try to lie, and I think since then he’s like, “Oh, that’s not me,” but we of course know. And he was … he implicated himself and there’s sort of a power in that kind of objective truth being revealed in a campaign that was so full of lies. But also it was horrific because that is the other candidate. That is someone who may have executive power. And I think, even though we all, or most people thought he would lose at that time, it’s still in the back of your mind that he could win. And if he wins what does that mean for us as women? What does that mean for girls in general, and that’s the questions that we’re still trying to deal with now.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. Right. And parents are grappling with.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: But I have to say, one of the most revealing things, there was a profile that ran on Ivanka Trump in Vanity Fair, and there was this little nugget buried in the article where they describe how her reaction to the “pussy” tape was to hit back harder.
Sarah Kendzior: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andrea Chalupa: Ivanka Trump’s reaction to the fact that her father has no problem grabbing women by the pussy, and his long history of sexually assaulting women, being a sexual predator …
Sarah Kendzior: Raping her mother.
Andrea Chalupa: … raping her mother, Ivanka Trump’s reaction was to hit back harder.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: That was like … only confirmation you need that Ivanka Trump is her father in a prettier package.
Sarah Kendzior: Absolutely.
Andrea Chalupa: And that makes her far more dangerous, because Americans love shiny little things.
Sarah Kendzior: Mm-hmm.
Andrea Chalupa: And we have to be so vigilant. I know we’re talking about 2016, but we have to be so vigilant of an Ivanka Trump presidency emerging from all of this. ‘Cause that’s the end-game.
Sarah Kendzior: [crosstalk].
Andrea Chalupa: The only thing he loves, if he comes close to loving anything other than himself, the only thing he loves is Ivanka.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: And the end-game of all of this is going to be making Ivanka Trump the first female president of the United States. Mark my words, that is the nuclear bomb that’s ticking in the center of all of this.
Sarah Kendzior: Yep. No, I agree. Yeah. We had that. We had to Podesta emails, which of course began to eat away at Hilary’s –
We had people beginning to kind of ignore the Russia story because I think that there was this sense of assurance that Trump was going to lose, until, of course, Comey put out his letter saying that there was an investigation into Hilary Clinton.
Andrea Chalupa: Which gets leaked by-
Sarah Kendzior: Which gets leaked by Jason Chaffetz, who at that point had said he was unable to look his daughter in the eye if he voted for Trump, so I’m kinda wondering how that’s going because he, of course, then did.
Andrea Chalupa: But he helped get Trump elected by leaking this letter.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. Yeah. So he leaks it, it comes out.
Andrea Chalupa: We should ask him if he can look his daughter in the eye.
Sarah Kendzior: I’m still wondering. Has it been a year and a half, and you haven’t seen your child? How’s that working out for you, Jason Chaffetz?
And then, of course, the sole person who I respect in this entire tale that is an elected official, Harry Reid!
Andrea Chalupa: Comes back!
Sarah Kendzior: Harry Reid re-emerges. This first letter to James Comey, he got no response. James Comey ignored this plea, which again was a plea about relaying vital information to the public before the election, when it actually matters, when it actually might have some effect both on votes, but also just we were in a democracy where such concerns could be dealt with.
I’m gonna read a little bit of this letter that was published by Harry Reid on October 30th, two days after. And he says to James Comey,
“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government, a foreign interest openly hostile the United States which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago, calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it, and yet you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.
“By contrast, as soon as you came into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicize it in the most negative light possible.” And then he goes on a bit again. He accuses Comey possibly of violating the Hatch Act and concludes with, “The clear double standard established by your actions strongly suggest that your highly selective approach to publicizing information, along with your timing, was intended for the success or failure of a partisan candidate or political group. Please keep in mind I’ve been a supporter of yours in the past. When Republicans filibustered your nomination, delayed your confirmation longer than any previous nominee to your position, I led the fight to get you confirmed, because I believed you to be a principled public servant. With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong. Stone Cold. Harry Reid.”
Sarah Kendzior: But, you know, that’s … In all that’s happened-
Andrea Chalupa: Why, Comey? Why?
Sarah Kendzior: Exactly. If Comey’s book “A Higher Royalty” … sorry, “A Higher Loyalty”.
Andrea Chalupa: Ha! “Royalty”, ’cause he was cashing in on what he did, destroying the republic.
Sarah Kendzior: One hundred percent! Some of Comey’s emails have been revealed. It’s been revealed that the FBI did play this partisan role.
Andrea Chalupa: Oh, he was even pressed to release information about the Russian investigation, and he wrote this long-winded explanation email saying, “No, because that would make us look partisan and it would raise all these questions. Why were we doing anything about it?” Et cetera, et cetera. But then he goes, rushes to …
Sarah Kendzior: And he made sure-
Andrea Chalupa: Make Hilary look like “Crooked Hilary”.
Sarah Kendzior: And he’s not … I agree with Harry Reid. This is not a principled public servant. It doesn’t mean that Trump firing him was the right thing, too. That’s not the grounds on which Trump fired him.
Andrea Chalupa: No, of course. No.
Sarah Kendzior: Trump admitted he fired him to keep Comey from investigating Russia and Flynn and all these things, but at the same time this was just extraordinarily damning. And this was the moment, as you remember because we finally became friends, soon after that I was like, “This looks like a coup.” There were a number of things happening at this time. I began to suspect that the New York FBI in particular had gone rogue. That there’s something wrong at the FBI with Comey. I didn’t think that it was universal across the FBI. I mean, there’s a variety of people working there. I didn’t think it was some sort of organized plot or anything like that.
But there was corruption in it. The FBI Twitter account began tweeting out praise for Fred Trump, for Donald Trump’s father.
Andrea Chalupa: Which was bizarre. Why would [crosstalk 00:57:58].
Sarah Kendzior: Which was bizarre. It began tweeting out criticism of the Clintons. Bringing up things like Clinton’s pardon of Margaret, which of course I disagree with, but nonetheless why … This account had been dormant for such a long time. I wrote about this for the Globe and Mail. There’s an article, and I also found that there were a number of people dismissed at the time as wackos who were former state officials. One of them had worked for the State Department, and had become a Trump aficionado, went on, made YouTube videos saying, “We have carried out a coup.”
Speaker: As we’ve talked before, there was a counter-coup initiated by those of us in the intelligence community, in the FBI, the New York police department, and many other institutions, both civilian and military, who were concerned about what Hilary and her friends were doing. That coup came out, not through bullets or guns or tanks or soldiers; it came out through the egress of countless numbers of emails, literally in the thousands, that were exposed by many of our friends in the government who were concerned about the nature of the republic and what was happening to it, as Hilary and her cohorts were corrupting our system.”
Sarah Kendzior: So at this point, you and I pretty much knew what was going on. Other people I talked to, especially people who had lived in authoritarian states, were basically like, “Your country’s undergoing a coup.”
Andrea Chalupa: It was a slow-motion coup.
Sarah Kendzior: And then, Halloween happens and I’ll never forget-
Andrea Chalupa: Let’s slow … Let’s slow this down. We’re both totally hyped up right now. Let’s take … This is a huge day.
Sarah Kendzior: Huge, huge day.
Andrea Chalupa: October 31st, 2016, Halloween. Appropriately Halloween. It is a massive day in American history. We have … not only do we have a number of huge stories that hit almost like bullets …
Sarah Kendzior: It was one night of …
Andrea Chalupa: We have a number of stories fighting each other. (Laughs) It’s like the news starts fighting [crosstalk 01:00:05].
Sarah Kendzior: Yet they tell a common tale.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah.
But you have Franklin Foer writing in Slate: “The Secret Server Story.” Why is this Alpha Bank server communicate- … It was Russian Alpha Bank, with ties to the Kremlin, why is it communicating with the Trump organization in New York City? What are these weird message … mysterious messages going back and forth. And he interviews computer scientists. Is there something there? Is there not something there? It’s all so mysterious.
Andrea Chalupa: On that same day, you get Franklin Foer’s mysterious server story completely canceled out and laughed at because the New York Times, the newspaper of record publishes the infamous, (now infamous story) with the headline “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI sees no clear link to Russia”.
Sarah Kendzior: This is after, of course, Trump’s done a press conference in which he literally asks Russia to help interfere with the election. Right. So it’s like …
Andrea Chalupa: Trump himself is like, “Russia, come on in.”
Sarah Kendzior: Trump’s like, “Come on, man. I did it.”
Donald Trump: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
Andrea Chalupa: And then, at the same time, you have David Corn who goes on to write, with another investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff, a definitive book on the Russian act in the election called “Russian Roulette”. So you have David Corn being one American journalist who’s willing to take Christopher Steele seriously and publish, (though anonymously) an interview with him about how he compiled his now famous Steel dossier, all about the compromat that the Kremlin has been collecting on Donald Trump, including some fun sex stuff he did on a trip to Moscow.
Sarah Kendzior: And the most seminal point of that, I think, is the information that the FBI has been investigating as a probable Russian asset since 2011, and that’s an important year to look at. We should bring this up in later podcasts, because Mueller gave a speech that year about this new interception of organized crime, politics, and business in which he basically describes Trump, Manafort; he directly talks about the Russian mafia and the head of the Russian mafia; and lays out this as an incredible threat, a threat that American democracy might not survive. We’ll go back to this, but it makes sense and it gives some credence to the Podesta and Steele dossier that we know that Mueller, then head of the FBI, who’s looking at things on these lines.
So yeah, as Andrea said, all this stuff comes out at once.
Andrea Chalupa: It’s all just … At its heart, “Russiagate” is all just organized crime. That’s all it is. There’s nothing sexy to it. It’s just … the mafia in the 21st century.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: And Putin’s Russia is a well … it’s well-documented that it’s a mafia state.
Sarah Kendzior: And when you … Well, yeah, and when you get organized crime at the level of government, you get kleptocracy and in order for kleptocracy to be maintained, you have political repression that comes in different forms. You have autocracy; you have white supremacy used as a bludgeoning tool. You have all these different methods, but the motivation is primarily greed. It’s money, and it’s filling the Trump family coffers.
Andrea Chalupa: And what American voters did not understand, what American media, what Americans did not understand in 2016 is that around the world, throughout history, corruption has been the norm.
Sarah Kendzior: Mm-hmm.
Andrea Chalupa: Corruption is the norm. The center of gravity in the world today, and throughout human history, has been corruption.
Sarah Kendzior: And in America too. It just played out differently. What we haven’t had … We’ve had people exploit patriotism as the way to enhance their own corruption. That’s like an age-old story of American history.
Andrea Chalupa: Right.
Sarah Kendzior: And we’ve had grotesque and inhumane acts committed in the name of America. You know, western expansion, things like that. What we haven’t had is a group of people with no loyalty to country who are willing to threaten our national security, who abandoned our sovereignty purely for greed. There’s not even a definitive ideology behind this, although white supremacy plays a role. I don’t know anybody who’s in this administration who’s not a white supremacy –
Andrea Chalupa: Manafort got caught because of his crazy shopping sprees and like $100,000 shopping sprees.
Sarah Kendzior: Manafort also can’t convert Word into PDF. Manafort’s got some issues for someone who’s been in the game this long. (Laughs)
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, and so that night, I remember I took my kids trick-or-treating, and I came back to Twitter and it was like a John McCray novel was my timeline, and all this stuff that I’d been talking about, mostly in DMs, because it seemed so out there although I’ve written some articles trying to use publicly available sources to reach the American public. And then, of course, one of the things everyone was talking about from David Corn’s article in Mother Jones was the idea of a Trump sex tape. And I had heard about the existence of multiple sex tapes at this point, just through the grape vine, through DMs. There were people that kept insisting that at a critical juncture, it would seem like Trump was really likely to win, this would be dropped.
I kept thinking, “Why the hell is anyone waiting?” Not that I wanted to see a Trump sex tape, ’cause that’s like my nightmare, but you know, if such a thing exist, and the things I heard about were not sex, they were coercive sex, illegal sex. Things that had a legal issue. Why was this not being revealed to the public? Why … If this is like carpet-bedding a candidate, why would this not be out there.
And then, of course, I found out that you had heard the same thing, if you wanna talk about …
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, so how I met Sarah was through the hashtag, #TrumpSexTape.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, God.
Andrea Chalupa: I was having … Halloween is my favorite day of the year.
Sarah Kendzior: Not anymore!
Andrea Chalupa: I love Halloween so much. I watch “Arsenic and Old Lace”, the classic Cary Grant film. I love it. But this had been a miserable Halloween for me because, you know, it was just a really rough 2016. We’re on the verge of are or are we not –
Sarah Kendzior: One week from the election.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, one week from the election. I read the David Corn interview of Christopher Steele and I shared it on Twitter, with … something like “Yup, this is how it all ends.” I said something like, you know, “As we hear” … if you’ve been covering Russia and anything that covers Russia, it’s kinda well-known that there … that there’s a hashtag #TrumpSexTape. I’m like, “Yep, that’s how it all ends. With a Trump sex tape.”
Sarah Kendzior: Right.
Andrea Chalupa: And then I log off. I go get my Ben & Jerry’s, ’cause I can eat my emotions for the night, and I come back, and the tweet’s been shared like 2000 times.
Sarah Kendzior: ‘Cause I wrote-
Andrea Chalupa: Sarah’s in my DMs, like, “What do you know? Tell me everything. I’ve heard this, too.” And I’m like, “First of all, Sarah Kendzior, calm down. I’m eating Ben & Jerry’s.” I’m like spooning this carton of ice cream, DMing with you, not realizing it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: But I think it’s so perfect for our first … our friendship that we met on Halloween, ’cause I know you said no personal stories and no feelings-
Sarah Kendzior: This is fine. This is okay. This is public; everyone got to see the beautiful friendship that comes from Trump having sex or peeing on people.
Andrea Chalupa: And a good wedding photographer, New York Magazine covered it and has my tweet. [crosstalk 01:07:16]-
Sarah Kendzior: Our first hit-piece, Andrea. Yeah, our first “Oh, my God. Look at these lunatics” piece appeared where they were like, “These idiots on Twitter think that there’s a sex tape involving Trump.” And we were among the idiots that were listed. And of course, there probably is.
Andrea Chalupa: We Thelma and Louised it. As soon as … I can jump ahead to November, but Sarah and I met that night and would not stop DMing and kept sharing, “Do you see this? Do you see that?” It was like I finally felt like I’d met somebody that understood. I finally met somebody-
Sarah Kendzior: It’s really hard to be a girl alone in the world with the Trump sex tape. You really need female support at a moment like that when you’re confronted with that kind of information. So very glad that I found Andrea through that, the beautiful hashtag of #TrumpSexTape.
Gaslit Nation is a production of Dame Magazine. If you’d like to support Dame’s production of Gaslit Nation, please go to Patreon.com/gaslit. That’s Patreon.com/gaslit. That’s it for this episode of Gaslit Nation; this is the second episode in a three-part series looking back at the 2016 election. If you missed Episode One, go back and take a listen. Our next episode will carry us through the election and the immediate aftermath. In future episodes, we’ll be bringing on guests to discuss some of the key issues to be paying attention to for the 2018 midterms.
Gaslit Nation is produced and distributed by Critical Frequency. Our producer is Amy Westervelt. Original music and sound engineering is by David Whited. We’ve also used music from Martin Wissenberg. Our cover art was drawn by Lucas Lysakowski. You can listen to Gaslit Nation anywhere you get your podcasts, and please remember to rate and review the podcasts wherever you listen to it. It always helps us find new listeners. If you have feedback on this podcast, questions, or ideas for a future episode, please send us a note at [email protected] Thanks for listening. See you next time.
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