Democratic Official: DNC Stopped Hack Attempt of Voter File

The Democratic National Committee says it has thwarted an attempt to hack its database that houses information on tens of millions of voters across the country.

A party official said DNC contractors notified the party Tuesday of an apparent hacking attempt. The committee notified law enforcement. The official said no information was compromised.

 

The party official said it’s not clear what third party was attempting the hack.

Bob Lord is the DNC’s chief security officer. He briefed the leaders of state parties on the matter at a party gathering this morning in Chicago. The DNC distributes the voter file to state parties for Democratic candidates to use the information.

 

Lord said in a statement afterward that the Trump administration is not doing enough to protect American democracy.



Facebook, Twitter Remove Accounts Linked to Iran, Russia

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter said they have removed hundreds of pages and accounts linked to Russia and Iran ahead of the midterm elections in the U.S.

Facebook said it had removed 254 Facebook pages and 116 Instagram accounts that originated in Iran and were part of a disinformation campaign that targeted countries around the world, including the U.S. and Britain.

 

The social media companies acted on a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye, which said on Tuesday that the accounts were promoting Iranian propaganda, including discussion of “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian themes.”

“We’ve removed 652 Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran and targeted people across multiple internet services in the Middle East, Latin America, UK and US,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a blog post.

The removals comes weeks after the company took down several pages of disinformation originating in Russia. On Tuesday, Facebook said it had found more such pages and had removed them. But the company said the Russian pages don’t appear to be linked to the ones originating in Iran.

Also Tuesday, Twitter said it had identified and removed 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation” that it said “appeared to have originated in Iran.”

The announcements come after Microsoft said it had taken control of websites it said were trying to hack into conservative American think tanks and the U.S. Senate.

Microsoft said it executed a court order to gain control of six websites linked to the group behind the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee.



Under Investigation or Convicted — Current and Ex-Trump Aides Facing Scrutiny


In the most dramatic day yet in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, federal prosecutors on Tuesday secured the conviction of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and a plea agreement from the president’s longtime attorney.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues his Russia probe, the following is a list of people who have indicted or convicted or are being investigated.

The court documents related to Mueller’s investigation are at https://www.justice.gov/sco.

Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign and has long denounced the Mueller probe as a witch hunt. Mueller told Trump’s attorneys in March he was continuing to investigate the president but did not consider him a criminal target “at this point,” the Washington Post reported in early April.

In federal court in New York on Tuesday, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges, saying he made payments to influence the 2016 election at the direction of a candidate for federal office. The deal included a possible prison sentence of up to five years and three months.

Also on Tuesday, a jury in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia found former Trump election campaign chairman Paul Manafort, guilty on eight of 18 charges of filing false tax returns, failing to disclose his offshore bank accounts and bank fraud. The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining 10 counts and gave prosecutors until Aug. 29 to decide whether to retry him on the deadlocked charges. Manafort still faces separate charges brought by Mueller in federal court in Washington.

Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to Trump who was also a close campaign aide, pleaded guilty in December to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. On Tuesday, Mueller and Flynn’s defense team asked for more time before Flynn is sentenced.

George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, pleaded guilty in October to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia. According to documents released with his guilty plea, Papadopoulos offered to help set up a meeting with then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has been cooperating with Mueller. On Aug. 17, Mueller’s office recommended that Papadopoulos serve up to six months in prison for lying to federal investigators and impeding the investigation.

Rick Gates, a former deputy campaign chairman, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy against the United States and lying to investigators, and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe.

 

​Alex Van der Zwaan, a lawyer who once worked closely with Manafort and Gates, pleaded guilty in February to lying to Mueller’s investigators about contacts with an official in the Trump election campaign. Van der Zwaan, the Dutch son-in-law of one of Russia’s richest men, was sentenced on April 3 to 30 days in prison and fined $20,000.

Twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted by a federal grand jury on July 13, accused of hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the presidential election to help Trump. The Russian government has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.

Thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were indicted in Mueller’s investigation in February, accused of tampering in the 2016 election to support Trump.

Richard Pinedo, who was not involved with the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in a case related to the Mueller probe in February to aiding and abetting interstate and foreign identity fraud by creating, buying and stealing hundreds of bank account numbers that he sold to individuals to use with large digital payment companies. Pinedo “made a mistake” but “had absolutely no knowledge” about who was buying the information or their motivations, his lawyer said. Sources familiar with the indictment said Pinedo was named as helping Russian conspirators launder money as well as purchase Facebook ads and pay for rally supplies.

Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort aide in Ukraine and political operative with alleged ties to Russian intelligence, was charged on June 8 with tampering with witnesses about their past lobbying for Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government.

 



Jury Convicts Ex-Trump Campaign Chair, Ex-Trump Lawyer Pleads Guilty

U.S. President Donald Trump is lamenting Tuesday’s conviction on federal criminal charges of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who now faces the possibility of decades in prison.

“It’s a very sad thing that happened,” Trump told reporters on the tarmac of Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, adding he felt very badly for Manafort, who a jury found guilty of eight fraud charges.

The jury in Alexandria, Virginia, after four days of deliberation, could not reach a unanimous decision on 10 other charges and the judge declared a mistrial on those counts.

“This started as Russian collusion … this is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace. But this has nothing to do what they started out, looking for Russians involved in our campaign. There were none,” Trump told reporters, prior to speaking at a campaign rally in Charleston.

“We continue the witch hunt,” he added.

Longtime personal attorney

A more serious potential legal development for Trump came around the same time as the Manafort verdict when his longtime personal attorney and fixer entered guilty pleas to multiple charges and stated that hush payments to two women “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” were ordered by the presidential candidate in 2016.

“The factual basis of the plea, potentially implicating the president in illegal campaign finance violations, adds to the president’s legal jeopardy,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, who is the top opposition member on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said his client is fulfilling a promise “to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump.”

Davis, on Twitter, said if the payments by Cohen to the two women – who have said they had a sexual relationship with Trump – were a crime, “then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

Cohen’s plea was entered in a federal courtroom in New York City but did not include an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, but attorneys say it does not preclude him from assisting the investigation of the special counsel, which brought the charges against Manafort and is examining ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Trump has frequently criticized the probe, led by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, and called for it to be shut down. But the president has refrained from taking action that could lead to the dismantling of the investigation.

White House reaction

Asked to comment about Tuesday’s courtroom actions involving those formerly involved with Trump, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders referred reporters to the president’s tarmac comments about Manafort and to Trump’s outside counsel for reaction to Cohen’s plea deal.

David Abraham, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said the Manafort conviction shows “the Mueller investigation has discovered the rot at the core of the Trump circle and though this conviction is on the basis of Manafort’s pre-Trump engagement, it demonstrates the kind of activities and the kinds of people who are at the heart of the Trump campaign.”

“What was important for the Mueller inquiry about this trial is that an across the board acquittal would have fed the resources of the Trump circle who were trying to discredit the inquiry altogether. This is clear and definite proof of the rot,” Abraham added.

One of Trump’s lawyers, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, issued a statement after Cohen’s plea, saying, “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.”

Giuliani’s statement accused the longtime loyal aide of Trump of “lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”

Paul Schiff Berman, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School, said Cohen’s plea could endanger Trump legally.

“Certainly so in the Cohen guilty verdict, he is potentially now an unindicted co-conspirator and could be indicted,” he said. “Now there is an open question as to whether a sitting president can be indicted for a criminal wrongdoing.”

“In terms of a direct political consequence, I’m not sure that there is one, but that doesn’t mean that the pressure doesn’t get stronger and stronger and stronger on Trump,” Schiff Berman added.

U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami, who prosecuted Cohen, said in a statement that the disgraced lawyer’s “day of reckoning serves as a reminder that we are a nation of laws, with one set of rules that applies equally to everyone.”

Asked about the possible legal consequences for the president, Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by Trump, said on CNN that “there’s something called impeachment if there’s evidence of a crime.”

Even on the Fox News Channel, which is consistently supportive of Trump, there was brief discussion of the possibility of impeachment proceedings if Democrats are able to take control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm election.

“It’s all crumbling on top of the president’s head,” NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd said as he came on air on the MSNBC channel just moments after details emerged about the Manafort convictions and the Cohen plea deal.

Manafort faces a second trial next month in Washington, where he will face charges focused on allegations of lying to the FBI, lobbying for foreign governments and money laundering. If convicted, Manafort could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Abraham said Manafort’s trial in September “comes closer to the lobbying for foreign powers and in that sense it comes much closer … to the core of the Trump campaign activities than this trial did.”



Trump’s Low Polls Concern Republicans for November

As the November midterm congressional elections draw closer, Republicans are keeping a close eye on President Donald Trump’s public approval rating, which now stands at an average of about 42 percent.

Trump remains in the low 40s in two new surveys. The Gallup weekly poll has him at 42 percent approval, while 52 percent disapprove of his performance in office.

A new Monmouth University poll has Trump’s approval at 43 percent and his disapproval at 50 percent, which Monmouth says is consistent with where his poll numbers have been since January.

Three recent surveys, however, showed the president’s approval rating falling below 40 percent, a possible red flag as Republicans look ahead to the midterm elections. Last week’s Gallup poll had the president’s rating down to 39 percent. July’s Quinnipiac poll had Trump at 38 percent approval, while a recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll showed the president at 39 percent approval.

Historically, the president’s party loses more seats in midterm elections when the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both lost more than 50 House seats in their first midterm election, and their approval ratings were slightly better than Trump’s are at the moment.

Economic focus

The president is hoping a strong focus on the thriving U.S. economy will help Republicans keep both the House and Senate in November.

“Our economy is doing better than it ever has before. It was going in the wrong direction when we came on board, and now it is doing better than ever before,” Trump said at the opening of his recent Cabinet meeting in the White House.

Chief Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow also tried to drive home the message in front of the Cabinet. “The single biggest event, be it political or otherwise this year, is an economic boom that most people thought would be impossible to generate.”

Despite his overall weak poll rating, Trump is getting some credit from voters for the economy.

“We know that Trump’s highest approval rating is now for handling the economy,” said Gallup pollster Frank Newport. “Fifty percent approval rating on handling the economy in our latest poll, and that is pretty good, relatively speaking.”

Opposition Democrats are trying to poke a few holes in the Trump record as November approaches.

“While the stock market is up and the president brags about job growth, what we don’t hear said, which is true, is that workers’ wages have been stagnant or gone down,” said Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. “Workers are actually making less than they were a year-and-a-half ago.”

Numerous distractions

Trump has been unable to stay focused on the economy, to the dismay of many Republicans.

The recent White House distractions include more presidential venting about the Russia probe, Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance for former CIA Director John Brennan and his spat with former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Democrats were alarmed by Trump’s move on Brennan. “To me, it smacks of Nixonian-type practices of trying to silence anyone who is willing to criticize this president. That puts us again in unchartered territory,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

Trump’s controversial immigration policies and criticism of his recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin may also be keeping his poll numbers low, according to University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato. 

“And he is not a 50 percent president. He has never been over 50 percent in the polling averages for one single day of his presidency,” Sabato told VOA via Skype.

Impact in November

A number of analysts said Trump’s low approval rating could have an impact on Republicans trying to keep their congressional majorities in November.

“The party of the president typically loses seats in a midterm election,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak. “That is enhanced by a president who is unpopular, and President Trump’s approval rating has historically been unpopular and it continues to be so.”

Trump supporters believe, and in some cases perhaps hope, that voters will give the president credit for the strong economy in November.

“Unemployment in our country, not just among middle-class white Americans like me, but Hispanics and African-Americans, are at their lowest levels since recorded history in 1973,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told VOA’s Georgian service. “This president should be praised for that.”

Trump remains popular with his base, but whether that can stem a Democratic wave in November remains to be seen.



Microsoft Uncovers More Russian Attacks Ahead of US Midterms

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting U.S. political groups ahead of the midterm elections.

 

The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the U.S. Senate.

 

Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.

 

The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.

 

The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which U.S. intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.  

 

This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.

 

Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.

 

“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”

 

The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.

 

Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russia’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

 

“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.

 

Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.

 

Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.

 

Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all U.S. political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.

 



Trump Wasn’t Briefed by Pentagon on Military Parade Costs Before Deciding to Cancel

The Pentagon says defense officials did not brief U.S. President Donald Trump on costs associated with a military parade that he has since canceled.

“No member of the Department of Defense briefed the president on any pre-decisional costs associated with the parade,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning told reporters on Monday. “As far as the president’s thought process, I just have to refer you to the White House.”

President Trump had called for a military parade after he and first lady Melania Trump watched Bastille Day events in Paris in July 2017 as guests of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte.

The U.S. military parade initially had been set for November 10, but the Pentagon issued a statement last week that it had agreed to “explore opportunities in 2019.”

Trump on Friday blamed “local politicians” in Washington who “wanted a number so ridiculously high” that he decided to cancel it.

“I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th,” the president wrote on Twitter.

The announcement followed media reports that said the estimated cost for the parade had gone from about $12 million to $92 million.

Manning added Monday that cost analysis figures for the parade had not been given to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis or Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a statement that collaborated Mattis’s comments to reporters traveling with him last week.

Speaking to reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft on Thursday, Mattis said he had given initial guidance for the parade, but had not seen any cost estimates.

“I haven’t received an estimate of $10 million or $92 million,” he said.

“Whoever told you that is probably smoking something that’s legal in my state but not most states,” he joked, in an apparent reference to the use of marijuana, which is illegal in most of the United States but not in the secretary’s home state of Washington.

According to a Pentagon memo released in March, the military parade had been expected to go from the White House to the U.S. Capitol and focus on “contributions of U.S. military veterans throughout history.”

Military parades in the United States are generally rare. In 1991, U.S. troops paraded through Washington to celebrate the ousting of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.



Erik Prince Again Touts Plan to Privatize US War in Afghanistan

A plan by billionaire American businessman Erik Prince to privatize the U.S. war in Afghanistan is reportedly receiving renewed interest within the Trump administration, even though Afghan officials continue to criticize it as misguided.

Prince is mounting a media campaign to convince President Donald Trump that his plan will reduce the cost and the burden of the U.S. military’s role in Afghanistan by turning over training of the Afghan army to Prince’s security company. Prince has outlined the proposal in new videos explaining the plan in English and Dari. 

The former Navy Seal first drew international attention when contractors for his Blackwater security company were accused of numerous abuses in Iraq. He later sold Blackwater but started other companies that provide security services for the United States and other governments.

2017 privatization plan

Trump was said to first consider Prince’s plan a year ago during his administration’s review of the Afghanistan strategy. But the plan failed to gain any traction in Washington or Kabul.

Instead, Trump decided to largely maintain the status quo when he rolled out his Afghanistan strategy in August 2017.

Tuesday marks one year since Trump’s Afghanistan announcement, and Prince is hoping to use the anniversary to capitalize on frustrations that the plan has led to little tangible change in the 17-year-old war.

NBC News reported last week that Trump again became interested in Prince’s plan after watching a video in which the former Navy Seal laid out what he sees as the failures of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

 

​Prince’s plan would replace thousands of U.S. troops with fewer private contractors, who would be backed by a 90-plane private air force. The war would then be coordinated by what Prince calls a “viceroy.”

Asked about Prince’s plan on ABC’s This Week, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said, “There are always a lot of discussions. I find them helpful. I’m always open to new ideas. But I’m not going to comment on what the thinking is. That’ll ultimately be the president’s decision.”

Afghan opposition

The U.S. currently spends about $45 billion a year in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. Prince has claimed he could do the job for less than $10 billion, though some experts have disputed that notion.

Critics say the plan could lead to less accountability and fear a repeat of incidents in which security contractors like Blackwater guards were accused of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both Afghanistan’s government and its people oppose the privatization plan, Afghan presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansoori said Monday.

“Giving away the responsibility of waging war to a private company increases the risk of civilian casualties,” he said. He also called the plan a “conspiracy against President Trump’s South Asia strategy that has had good results.”



AP Sources: Prosecutors Preparing Charges Against Cohen

Two people familiar with the federal investigation of Michael Cohen told The Associated Press prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer that could be brought before month’s end.

 

These people confirmed reports Cohen could face charges including bank fraud related to his financial dealings with the taxi industry. The people weren’t authorized to discuss the probe and spoke Monday on condition of anonymity.

 

The New York Times reported Sunday night, based on anonymous sources, that prosecutors have been focusing on more than $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that Cohen and his family own. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis declined comment.

 

Investigators also have been examining payments arranged by Cohen in 2016 to women to silence them about claims they had extramarital encounters with Trump.

 

 



Brennan Threatens to Sue Trump to Stop Revoking Security Clearances

Former CIA Director John Brennan is threatening to sue President Donald Trump to stop him from stripping security clearances from other officials who criticize him.

“If my clearances — and my reputation, as I’m being pulled through the mud now — if that’s the price we’re going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me, it’s a small price to pay,” Brennan told NBC television’s Meet the Press Sunday.

“I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future and if it means going to court, I will do that,” he added.

Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance last week because the president said he had to do something about what he calls the “rigged” investigation into alleged collusion between his campaign and Russian election interference.

Trump said he believes Brennan, who served during the administrations of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is one of those responsible for the investigation.

Brennan was among a group of intelligence officials who spoke with Trump before his inauguation about evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The president also said he plans to or is thinking about stripping nine other current and former senior intelligence officials of their clearances.

More than 75 U.S. intelligence officers have spoken out, saying they have the right to criticize and administration without having to pay a penalty.

Brennan, CIA director during President Barack Obama’s second term, has been a familiar face on television talk shows as one of Trump’s severest critics.

He called Trump’s behavior at the joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “treasonous.”

He said on NBC that he is not a Democrat or a Republican, instead calling himself just someone who wants to be heard like any private citizen.

“(Trump) is bringing the country down on the global stage. … He’s fueling and feeding divisiveness within our country. He continually lies to the American people,” Brennan said on Meet the Press.

Appearing on the same NBC broadcast, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani called Brennan’s charge that Trump committed treason “extraordinary” and said Brennan has no information on whether Trump conspired with Putin.

Giuliani called Brennan a “totally unhinged character who shouldn’t have a security clearance.”




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