Several commentators have raised once again questions about critiques of Piketty’s work, and I would like to address them, but that will take a while since the questions are complicated, and a little later this morning Susie and I will be going to meet a cat we are interested in adopting [the central question is whether the foster parents approve of us as adopters], so let me start this morning with the guilty plea of somebody named Sam Patten. Why may it matter?
The central question of the Mueller investigation is whether the Trump campaign, and Trump himself, conspired with the Russian government to try to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. This is not an investigation of whether the activities of the Russians affected the outcome. No one can know the answer to that. However, we do know that Clinton lost for two reasons: She was the worst candidate imaginable, and she ran a godawful campaign. So why do I care? Because if Trump’s complicity can be proved, it will deal a death blow to him and also to the Republican Party.
Mueller has now established, I believe, that the Russians did two things to influence the campaign. First, they hacked into the email accounts of Clinton, the DNC, and others, and leaked the hacked emails in ways designed to hurt her chances. Second, they used social media to target swing voters with messages ostensibly from Americans.
Most attention has focused on the first of these actions, in part because of the public discussion of the Trump Tower meeting at which Russian agents offered the hacked emails to Trump campaign representatives. So everyone wants to know whether it can be proven that Trump himself had advanced knowledge of the meeting and approved its purpose.
The second Russian effort was more complicated, for two reasons. First, to pay for ads on social media platforms, one must provide an authenticatable identity, and the Russians wanted to keep their involvement secret. Second, to be effective, such a social media campaign just have access to a huge database of voters, identifying them by location, gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, income, past voting behavior, and party registration, a database of the sort that political parties in the United States now develop and maintain. [In my own local efforts, I have encountered the Obama campaign program VoteBuilder, and it is extraordinary.]
In February, Mueller indicted a host of unreachable Russians for the social media actions, along with one American nonentity. On February 20th of this year, I wrote a post in which I quoted this bit from a news story: “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.”
Poor Mr. Pinedo, just an enterprising young man stealing online identities, had gotten swept up in the biggest legal case of the century. That answered the first question: How did the Russians get the false identities? That left the second question: Where did they get the fine-grained voter data for their efforts? Enter Cambridge Analytica, whose records Mueller subpoenaed. Cambridge Analytica did data work for the Trump campaign? And who headed up the Trump campaign’s data efforts? None other than golden boy Jared Kushner, husband of Trump’s Number One daughter and secret passion, Ivanka.
But that left one link missing in the chain from Trump to Putin. Enter Sam Patten. Sam Patten, in addition to working for the pro-Russian Ukraine faction, also had links to Cambridge Analytica.
Aha! If Patten, who is now cooperating with Mueller, can connect Cambridge Analytica to Pinedo and to Kushner, then the chain is complete.
That is why it matters that on the last day before the magic September 1 deadline, Mueller’s grand jury handed up an indictment against obscure Sam Patten.