I am back from a five day family gathering in Palm Springs, where my son, Tobias, has a second home. It was a grand event, made notable by the fact that my twelve year old grandson, Samuel, undertook at lunch one day to ask me about philosophy and religion! I am clearly entering a new phase of grandparenthood.
While I was away, Robert Mueller indicted a slew of unreachable Russians, detailing in the indictment something of the scope of official Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Also, almost as an afterthought, he announced a guilty plea from someone so obscure as to make George Papadopoulos seem like a media star. The talking heads are all going on about the Russian indictments. I want to focus on the nonentity. You will of course understand that what follows is the sheerest speculation. Nevertheless, I would be prepared to place a small bet that at least some of my speculation is on the money. Here are quotes from two news stories that give us what little information we have:
“Separately, Mueller’s office announced that Richard Pinedo, of Santa Paula, California, had pleaded guilty to identity fraud. Pinedo, 28, admitted to running a website that offered stolen identities to help customers get around the security measures of major online payment sites. It was not made clear whether his service had been used by the Russian operatives.”
“Though Friday's news linked Pinedo to the ever-expanding investigation into Russia's role in President Trump's election night victory, his attorney painted him as an unwitting accomplice who has been cooperative ever since he was contacted by investigators. ‘He was obviously shocked and his response was to acknowledge his wrongdoing, take responsibility and assist the special counsel's office in their investigation,’ attorney Jeremy Lessem said in an interview with The Times.”
Nobody has ever heard of Richard Pinedo, or so the news reports say. But I would bet that at least one person has heard of Richard Pinedo and is sweating bullets. Let me explain. The Trump campaign tapped a firm named Cambridge Analytica to handle its data mining operations. Here is what Wikipedia tells us: “Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a privately held company that combines data mining and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company SCL Group to participate in American politics.” Data mining is the new hi tech technique for micro-targeting voters in an election. The 2008 Obama campaign brought the tactic to a new height of sophistication, and it has since then been a standard part of big league political campaigns. Robert Mueller subpoenaed documents from Cambridge Analytica last December. The data mining effort in the Trump campaign was headed up by Jared Kushner.
The manipulation of social media undertaken by the Russians faced two problems: First, buying FaceBook ads and such leaves a money trail, and it is a crime for foreigners to engage in activities designed to affect an American election. The origin of the money can be hidden by identity theft. Enter Richard Pinedo. Second, the Russians needed extensive databases of voters in selected locales in order to micro-target their efforts. Enter the Cambridge Analytica Trump campaign.
If I am right, someone in Cambridge Analytica, working under Jared Kushner’s direction, recruited an efficient identity thief to steal some identities – credit cards and such – for use by the Russians, and then turned over data files to the Russians for their pro-Trumpm efforts. That person does indeed recognize the name “Richard Pinedo.” What is more, that person, and everyone involved with him or her, is guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime. Never mind collusion, which talking heads endlessly tell us is not a crime. Conspiracy very definitely is.
Which raises the obvious question: Will Jared Kushner roll over on his father-in-law, who was certainly kept apprised of everything being done by the Russians? Or will he choose to go to jail, as his father did?
I can hardly wait to find out.