2020

Parnas, Impeachment and McConnell's Weak Hand

This essay was originally published on Medium on Thursday, Jan 16. 

In the coming days, Senator McConnell is going to discover there are three reasons getting his colleagues to acquittal will be far harder than he and the President hoped:

The President is clearly guilty, and the evidence is overwhelming — A reminder that every witness who has been called works/worked for the President, including Lev Parnas; the House investigation began only after two Trump appointees, the General Counsel of the CIA and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, raised alarms about what the President had done, labeling it a matter of “urgent concern;” and the current SDNY/FBI investigation which arrested Lev Parnas was launched by another Trump appointee, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

 

The scandal was discovered by people who work for the President; the investigations were originated by people who work for the President; every witness has been someone who works/worked for the President. All the House has done is let these people talk and tell their story — and a damning story of lawlessness and criminality it is, without peer or precedent in our history. In that regard there is no such thing as Democratic or Republican witnesses — there are only witnesses. And remarkably the President has yet to produce a single witness capable of rebutting the testimony of the cascade of Administration officials who have already testified. They may have people who can talk about things unrelated to the scandal but it would be wrong to call them witnesses to the crimes the President has been charged with.

Trump and “innocence” can’t be used in the same sentence — It remains difficult for us to understand what explanation a Senator will be able to use if they vote to acquit…..was the President innocent of the charges? Is it okay for a President to use the awesome power of the Presidency to threaten and shake down a foreign leader for his own political advantage? Did the Senator not believe the eyewitnesses including Ambassador Sondland who said it was a quid pro quo? Why did the President block documents and witnesses — and refuse to testify himself, as Bill Clinton did — if he was innocent? How could this man, already an unindicted co-conspirator in 2016 felony level election law violations, be considered “innocent” when 3 of his top aides — Flynn, Gates and Stone — will be joining Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen in being sentenced to jail; two more — Parnas and Fruman — were arrested; and there are at least two federal investigations looking into Rudy Guiliani?

As long time political players, it is really really hard to understand how one gets to “innocence” when talking about Donald Trump and what happened here; and we are sure that all the GOP Senators have taken note of how ineffective the President has been in recent weeks of convincing the American people about Impeachment and his recent skirmish with Iran, something we review in this new analysis.

The SDNY/FBI Parnas Investigation will make it impossible for McConnell to make the Ukraine scandal disappear — Last fall SDNY/FBI launched a new formal investigation into Trump and Ukraine that, like the President’s activities in 2016, has once again begun arresting his current set of his aides. The man at the center of this investigation, Lev Parnas, let it be known last night that he believes that not only was Trump directing the illegal shakedown of Zelensky, but Rep. Nunes, Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Rudy, and other top White House officials were involved in the illegal conspiracy too. What this means is that this SDNY/FBI investigation has become a federal investigation into the President and most of his senior team, including the Vice President; and even if acquitted, the President will be running for re-election while under another federal investigation which could at any moment begin arresting or indicting potentially dozens of people involved in these illegal activities including some of the most important leaders of the Republican Party.

Imagine voting for acquittal and then see Rudy, Mulvaney, Nunes, or Pompeo indicted? How do you explain that to your voters?

Impeachment, Biden Leads, McConnell's Carnage - Jan 13th Notes

Notes On 2020 – Iran/Iraq, Impeachment, State of the Union/Budget, IA/NH/NV/SC, Booker dropping out, many Democratic debates - our system is about to get overloaded and polling, which has been pretty stable in 2019, could get awfully bouncy and volatile in the days ahead.  But let’s look at what we know now. 

Biden remains in the strongest shape of any Democrat and given the increased sparing in recent days we should expect a feisty debate tomorrow night.  One note on the current “electability” discussion – the Justice Democrats, the group aligned with AOC and thus loosely with Sanders, only won 7 of 79 of its 2018 races and only 4 of 76 if you remove three safe incumbents.  They didn’t win in a single Trump district – only safe Democratic ones. 

Trump - we know he is an historically unpopular President, and was been beaten badly in the three elections from 2017 to 2019.  But what has been very suprising to us in the past weeks is the President's struggle to persuade the American people about the two big new issues he faces - Impeachment and Iran.  Look at the numbers which follow - lots of 20s and 30s, not so many 40s and no 50s. 

Highlights from recent polling on the Iran conflict:

      Approve of Trump’s handling 43/56

      Less/More Safe 52/22

      Trump's behavior w/Iran reckless 52/34

      Divert from Impeachment 47/39

      Congress should limit Trump's war powers 55/33

Impeachment polls taken at the end of 2019 tell a similar story (Politico/Morning Consult and Fox News):

      Approve Convict and Remove/Don't Approve 52/42 (P/MC)

      Witnesses/No Witnesses 54/27 (P/MC)

      More Likely to Vote for Member Who Vote to Impeach/Less Likey 43/34 (P/MC)

      Abused His Power?  Yes/No 53/38 (Fox)

      Obstructed Congress? Yes/No 48/34 (Fox)

      Committed Bribery Yes/No 45/37 (Fox)

      Wrong to Ask Foreign Leader to Investigate Rival Yes/No 60/24 (Fox)

      Democrats Running Inquiry Fairly? Yes/No 45/42 (Fox)

All of this suggests the President is a bit of a spent force now.  Failure to convince the public about these two issues, or even get close to parity, has to be extraordinarily worrisome to those running the 2020 elections for the GOP.  The public has grown weary of him, and a majority are ready for him to go. 

Impeachment - What is perhaps most shocking about the last few weeks is that the President is either so desperate or out of control that in the Iran conflict he did exactly what the House has Impeached him for – he appears to have once again broken US laws/abused his power in the conduct of US foreign policy; and is once again obstructing reasonable oversight into what took place.  Like the Ukraine affair, it is far easier to understand how the President’s recent actions in the Middle East have benefited Russia’s ambitions than our own, which is the principal reason NDN has called on the House to conduct a broad review of the President’s national security decisions over the past year. 

Given the totality of what has happened – serial lawbreaking by the President, his top aides going to jail and a new investigation and more arrests, years of clearly criminal obstruction, and behavior more befitting of a King than a President – it is just outrageous how Mitch McConnell is approaching the impending “trial.” How can one have a trial without witnesses? There is and has never been such a thing.  How can the Senate actively enable and encourage the suppression of testimony and witnesses given months of complaints from the GOP about reliance on hearsay? The whole thing is beyond absurd and beneath this great country.  Mitch McConnell is in the process of degrading one of the most important tools for advancing democracy mankind has ever created, the US Senate. There is no win here for McConnell, no claims of “innocent” for our corrupt and venal President; there is disgrace, dishonor, and what will be a far harder election this Fall than any of them currently understand.  

Protecting Our Elections, Countering Disinformation

In the 2018 election cycle, NDN's Simon Rosenberg built and oversaw the countering disinformation operation at the DCCC - the first ever of its kind at a national party committee. 

Over the past year NDN has been at the forefront of the discussion about how best the US and other nations can protect their elections, domestic discourse and citizens, working to prevent "Moscow Rules" from becoming the norm here and in democracies throughout the world.  While some progress has been made, we an awful lot of work to do.

There is a lot of material below, but if you are interested in learning more about our thinking start with national security expert Richard Clarke's interview with Simon on his Future State podcast (episode 20).  It does a good job at covering most of the major issues we are wrestling with these days. 

Top Lines

Congress, States, Cities Must Rise Up, Fight for the USPS – 8/13/20 - NDN is encouraging elected officials from across the country to rise up and help end the President's sabotage of the postal service. 

Taking Trump’s Ongoing Assault On Our Democracy Seriously - 8/10/20 - The President is on a political crime spree - breaking laws, cheating in the election, encouraging Russia to intervene on his behalf - again.   We cannot let him get away with it - again.

 

Trump Needs To Re-Open The FEC Right Now - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 10/9/19 - On the same day that the Administration learned about the whistleblower complaint alleging felony level US election law violations by the President in the Ukraine scandal, the independent body overseeing US election law was shut down.  It must re-open. 

Re-imagining the Parties In An Age of Hacking, Disinformation - Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 9/7/19 - New digital threats will require US political parties to start seeing themselves as front line actors in our national effort to protect our elections and discourse.  Some thoughts on how the parties can re-imagine themselves to meet these challenges head on. 

GOP Bringing “Moscow Rules” on Disinformation to American Politics - Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 7/26/19 - A series of events over the past several months raises questions about whether using Russian style disinformation tactics has become a core part of the GOP’s electoral strategy in 2020.

Simon In Richard Clarke's Future State Podcast On "The Future Of Hacking Democracy" - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 6/19/19 - Simon talks with Richard Clarke about what Russia did in 2016, new trends and threats we've seen in the past few years, and what steps we should be taking now to prevent foreign governments and domestic actors from manipulating our elections and discourse.

Biden, Democratic State Parties Embrace Call to Forgo Illicit Campaign Tactics - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 6/18/19 - Vice President Biden and the Chairs of the State Democratic Parties have now advanced the idea of a pledge to forgo illicit campaign tactics.  Is another encouraging sign that American has begun to take the necessary steps to combat foreign manipulation of our democracy.

Three Things We Need To Do Now To Protect Our Elections In 2020 - Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 4/10/19 - America’s leaders should prioritize three things to protect our elections in the run-up to 2020: require paper ballots and audits, protect candidates from hacking and disinformation, and enter a pact to forgo the use of illicit campaign tactics.

Protecting the 2020 Dem Primary from Disinformation, Bots and Hacking- Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 1/29/19-  Democrats must come together now to prevent what happened in 2016 from happening again this time.  NDN is calling for all 2020s to sign a pledge forgoing use of illicit campaign tactics in the Democratic Presidential Primary.

Trump Doesn't Take Russian Electoral Interference Seriously. This Is What Democrats Did To Oppose It In 2018 - Simon Rosenberg and Aaron Trujillo, NBC News, 12/18/18 - The U.S. and its politics are not powerless to stop the kind of foreign hacking and disinformation tactics we saw in 2016. In the 2018 midterms, the DCCC developed a series of tools and strategies for reducing the influence and impact of malicious actors. Far more can now be done to protect our democracy and our discourse — and doing so should be a very high priority for the new Congress in 2019.

Other Materials

ASDC Resolution on Protecting our Elections from Foreign Manipulation - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 6/19/19 - This is the resolution passed unanimously by the Association of Democratic State Chairs (ASDC) on June 15th in Santa Fe, New Mexico which addresses foreign manipulation of our democracy and elections.  

NDN Hails Progress Made Towards 2020 Pact on Disinfo, Hacking – Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 4/23/19 - This post is a roundup of all the recent developments in the establishment of a new pact or pledge to forgo the use of illicit campaign tactics in the 2020 elections.  It includes links to the pledge which many European political parties and Vice President Biden have signed on to, and recent statements from the DNC, State Parties, and the Gillibrand campaign. 

The Country Needs to Stop Downplaying The Enormity of the Russian Intervention in 2016 - Simon Rosenberg, Twitter Thead, 1/25/19.  In a widely shared thread Simon goes through what Russia did in 2016 and concludes that the campaign was far bigger and more impactful than conventional wisdom holds, and clearly delivered a very close election to Donald Trump. 

The RNC's Russia Problem - Simon Rosenberg, US News And World Report, 4/14/17 - The Republican National Committee has a particularly important role to play in future efforts to protect America's elections. For as we've learned over the past two years, the RNC was at the center of two of the most important components of the Russian campaign – the penetration of Trump's campaign by the Russian government, and the normalization and use of Russian disinformation.

Media Citations:

Our Next Election Is Dangerously Vulnerable, A Top Democrat Warns. Does Trump Care?- Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 6/25/19 - In a piece in which Greg Sargent links to NDN work on cybersecurity, he examines the question of whether Trump will warn Putin at the G20 against launching another attack on our political system. 

Will It Use Hacked Materials Again? Trump Campaign Will Not Say - Sean Sullivan and Michael Scherer, The Washington Post, 4/26/19 - Key passage: "Refusal to forgo both hacking and the use of hacking materials is a great start, but clear stances on use of fake social media accounts, fake websites and images, high-volume bots, troll farms, and other illicit tactics in common use today by Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and other authoritarian nations will also be necessary," said Simon Rosenberg, who was senior advisor to the House Democratic campaign arm in 2018 and helped run a program to search for online election interference. 

Simon Discusses How To Protect Our Elections On CNN's Situation Room - Simon Rosenberg, CNN, 4/24/19 - Simon appeared on CNN's Situation Room earlier this week to discuss how the Trump administration is actively hindering efforts to protect our elections in 2020, and what our political leaders must do now to prevent what happened in 2016 from happening again next year.

Trump, GOP Won't Act On Election Interference Warnings - A.B. Stoddard, Real Clear Politics, 2/25/19 - Key passage: “Trump’s denial the Russia attack ever took place,” [Simon Rosenberg] told RealClearPolitics, “has suppressed the normal immune response which would have kicked in to protect ourselves from future attacks.  Bills have been blocked, common-sense steps not taken, some important government capacities have even been unraveled. All of it has left us unprepared for what is coming this election cycle, and it is important that both parties in Congress come together in the days ahead around a few simple, achievable things which can make it less likely foreign governments can once again manipulate our elections for their advantage.”

Top Democrats Want 2020 Candidates To Sign Non-Aggression Pact - Natasha Korecki, Politico, 2/26/19 - Key passage: “If we know the campaigns aren’t doing it, it’s going to be much easier to find it and make it go away. If this becomes widespread, it will become truly impossible to root out what’s coming from foreign powers. There’s something bigger than all of us here, and that’s our democracy. Democrats should make a clear stand, understanding that if we don’t set clear norms and rules soon, we could see a proliferation of this illicit tactics that could do permanent and lasting harm to our democracy and other democracies throughout the world.”

Pelosi Just Challenged Trump's Corruption And Lies. Here's What Should Come Next - Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 2/22/19 - Key passage: Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, a leading advocate for this approach, argues to me that the 2020 Democrats should join in a pledge condemning all tactics of disinformation warfare, such as "fake accounts, trolls, hacking, and the use of hacked materials." He adds that this can be part of a broader project of making "the repair of our democracy central to the conversation they are going to have with the American people."

Simon Discusses Protecting The Democratic Primary From Disinfo And Hacking On MSNBC's Joy Reid - Simon Rosenberg, MSNBC, 2/2/19 - Simon appeared on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show last Saturday to discuss his ideas for how Democrats should be working to protect the 2020 Presidential primary from bots, disinformation and hacking.

Protecting the 2020 Dem Primary from Disinformation, Bots and Hacking

In a long thread this past weekend, I called on the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates, the DNC and the State Parties to band together to fight disinformation and illicit campaign tactics in the Democratic Presidential primary.  Among the things I called for is for the Presidentials to sign a pledge committing to forgo use of bots, trolls, troll farms, fake accounts, fake sites, deepfakes and faked images, hacking and use of hacked materials; and for the campaigns to be vigilant about reporting illicit activity to the proper authorities, the platforms and the Party, and to discourage the use of these tactics by their supporters. My hope is that either the DNC or the State Parties will demand they sign such a pledge, or for the campaigns to make their own pledges now, without delay, and not wait for the Party to get involved. 

I know the DNC is in the process of standing up a disinformation unit - it should be given ample funding and broad support to become a leader in this space and not a laggard.  This unit can help all the campaigns stand up their own disinformation teams, something which is now, unfortunately, a requirement in today's politics - a must to have, not a nice to have. 

Simply, we cannot let what happened in 2016 happen again.  As we learned at the DCCC in 2018, we are not powerless.  We got the social media platforms to do takedowns, refered illegal activity to the FBI and helped train our campaigns how to protect themselves and win in a fast changing information landscape.  Healthy democracies cannot accept the poisoning of their discourse, and must do everything they can to let the residents of their nation drive the daily debate not inauthentic voices from inside or outside the country.  

For more on the work we did at the DCCC this past cycle battling disinformation, see this NBC News op-ed I wrote with DCCC Chief of Staff Aaron Trujillo; this Washington Post article about our strategy to first "flood the zone" to make it harder for disinfo to work; a Reuters story which looks into one of our major take downs; and a great NBC News piece recounting right wing trolls complaining about the more aggressive countermeasures coming from the platforms - in this case the take down they were complaining about was a multi-platform campaign the DCCC found and worked with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to mitigate.  Here is a link to the DCCC's pledge" from the fall of 2018, and a smart deep dive from the Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand on the pledge and the GOP's refusal to sign on even after months of negotiation. 

NDN originally dove into this world through a paper we published back in the fall of 2017 on bots and disinformation, and I worked on a project in the fall of 2017 which deployed bot detection technology for the Democratic candidates in both the Virginia Governor's race and the Alabama Senate race.  Articles about that work in Virginia can be found in the Washington Post and Politico.  And this Alabama work should not be confused with the illicit campaign waged as a test by some Democrats - we were working for Doug Jones not the other guys. 

Finally, my vision for how we counter disinformation and illicit tactics goes far beyond a pledge.  What we learned in 2018 is that we are not powerless; using modern tools and being smart about hunting disinfo organizations and campaigns can provide an effective counter.  It is my belief that what must happen in the next two years is that parties, campaigns, governments, NGOs, and even the media must go on offense here, be louder and smarter on the Internet and social media, and learn how to better manage the discourse in their own particular areas of debate and discussion.  If all of us do our part we can together eliminate a lot of the low hanging fruit, the easy stuff.  The platforms while they have much more to do have made things harder.  But we can't wait for them, or for governments, to act.  We all need to do our part to clean up our areas of the Internet and social media, and ensure that authentic and well intentioned voices prevail.  The tools to counter disinformation are cheap and readily available - it is more about learning how this all works and making a true commitment to win debates in a very new and changing information landscape. 

Fri, 2/1 Update - Justin Hendrix has taken this pledge concept and turned into a thought piece on the Internet.  Go check it out and offer feedback.  He also discusses this idea in this new piece on Just Security.

Mon, 2/4 Update - Got to talk about all this stuff on Joy Reid's MSNBC program on Saturday.  Check it out - was a very good segment. 

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