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Tuesday, February 20, 2018


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.


Giovanni said...

I don't think these Russian disinformation operation would need help getting stolen identities -- they could have done business with the identity thief directly. If there were a connection between the Russians and this Cambridge data company it might involve Cambridge making available lists of people to target with ads.

s. wallerstein said...

What did your grandson ask you about philosophy and religion?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

He wanted to talk about contractualism! Somewhat more than a year ago I gave him an autographed copy of IN DEFENSE OF ANARCHISM for his birthday, explaining that someday he could read it to find out who his grandfather was. It seems he has read it! Pretty cool.

s. wallerstein said...


Maybe you have a future philosopher in the family.

Ed Barreras said...

Can’t Kushner just say daddy-in-law had nothing to do with it, then accept his presidential pardon as a reward?

LFC said...

I recall reading a while ago that Jared Kushner is being represented by Jamie Gorelick, formerly in the Justice Dept (under Dem presidents) and a Wash DC insider. So whatever Kushner ends up doing, it's going to be w the advice of effective (and, no doubt, not inexpensive) counsel.

Anonymous said...

If what you say about ID thefts and data mining is correct in the unfolding of a crime, they seem to be clumsier than Watergate burglers. That is not surprising given that they were engaged in activities that an be easily reconstructed. Fingerprints not required. What is even more appalling is that they were engaged with our adversaries while being watched. They sure learned all the wrong lessons from Watergate.

Lindsay said...

You're taking Mueller... seriously?

We are to believe this all started with the Steele dossier, funded by Clinton supporters, but allegedly sourced (at least in part - most is no such thing) from "senior Russian intelligence officers". Brennan then leaked this dossier while calling it classified. The FBI then used it, allegedly straight from Russian intelligence, to mislead the court into allowing it to spy on the Trump campaign. And the result of this spying - Mueller (nice man with a stellar record).

And what has Mueller come up with? A click-bait marketing outfit - a mickey mouse outfit by comparison with US click-bait marketeers, with pin money for its budget.

Ex-CIA officers say incredulously that the US budget for interfering in foreign politics is bigger than Russia's total defence budget.

How many months and years have to pass without credible evidence of anything at all before it is recognised that there is nothing to see here - and politically-minded Americans can turn to trying to stop Israel and the Saudis interfering in the US political system?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, you obviously have no actual knowledge of what happened or of what Mueller has found. And I obviously have no actual knowledge of what happened or of what Mueller has found. So both of us are speculating. You and I have two options: to go on speculating until we find out, or to cease speculating and talk about something else in the interim. I think it is more fun to go on speculating. What about you?

Lindsay said...

I have recounted what Brennan et al. have told us. Steele's "dossier" has been widely reported (including the scarcely credible insistence by the CIA and FBI that they are acting on information supplied by Russian operatives to destabilise their own president). And I have read Mueller's silly indictment. I have not speculated. From the outside, this black farce looks like a national nervous breakdown.

As for talking about something else, I would like to say how grateful I am for your current lecture series, as for previous ones. You are doing a good deed in a dark world!

Ed Barreras said...

“How many months and years have to pass without credible evidence of anything at all before it is recognised that there is nothing to see here?”

As many months as Mueller takes to complete his investigation. And it’s not obvious that that investigation will turn up no “credible evidence of anything.” In fact, it already has. We know, for example, that a Kremlin-connected agent met with an advisor to the T***p campaign in April of 2016, informing him that Russia was in possession of dirt on Clinton in the form of emails, and attempting to arrange a meeting between T***p himself and Russian officials. We know this because that advisor, George Papadopoulos, copped to it in his guilty plea.

The Papadopoulos plea has nothing to do with the Steele dossier. Papadopoulos got caught because he drunkenly blabbed to an Australian diplomat at a bar one night. There’s also been wide reporting that Dutch intelligence has supplied valuable information to American intelligence vis-a-vis Russia and the T***p campaign.

But even on the subject of the Steele dossier, you seem confused. I don’t know where you got the idea that the FBI used the Steele dossier to mislead the FISA court into “spying on the Trump campaign,” nor that Mueller was the “result of this spying.”

Mueller was appointed as a direct result of the current occupant of the White House firing the FBI director because that FBI director wouldn’t swear a loyalty oath to him, and wouldn’t quash an investigation into whether his campaign may have been involved in some kind of criminal conspiracy with a foreign government — which, in addition to arguably constituting a crime in itself, is exactly what we’d expect a guilty person to do.

To say that the FBI used the dossier compiled by Steele (a former top-level spy with British intelligence whose credibility has never been confuted, and who has supplied the FBI with credible information in the past) to “spy on the Trump campaign” is a total distortion. If they had, surely Devin Nunes, the president’s faithful lapdog, would have shouted it from the rooftops by now. What Nunes did allege was that the FBI presented the Steele Dossier to the court in order to renew a warrant on Carter Page, which had already been renewed several times . Nunes alleged that the FBI failed to apprise the court of the dossier’s partisan origins — immediately proven false — and that former director Comey had called the dossier “salacious and unverified” — also false.

The one barely compelling claim Nunes made was that the Steele dossier was the only bit of evidence the FBI presented to the FISA court in order to obtain the renewal for the Page warrant. First, so what if it was? And second, even that claim was allegedly disputed by the Democrats in their rebuttal memo. But — surprise, surprise — T***p is refusing to let the public see that memo. Again, this is suspiciously close to how a guilty person would behave. And it’s yet another indication that no one can rightfully claim to have all the facts.

I’ll stop there. I’ll just point out that what seems to be the real motivation for your condescending dismissal of people who take the Mueller investigation seriously — namely, gall at the supposed hypocrisy in the fact that the U.S. has committed its own share of crimes — has been well addressed by Professor Wolff on this blog.

Lindsay said...

Condescending? No. Incredulous? Yes.

You really think what you describe part of a serious effort by Russia to subvert the US? A drunken conversation (alleged) and a guilty plea? If the FBI offered me a plea bargain, in the current climate, I'd bite their hand off. I would admit to anything. Rather that than hang as a witch.

You will know that there allegedly is indeed dirt on Clinton - documentary evidence of bribes from a Russian nuclear power company (never mind the rest of the Foundation's business). Why did Russia not publish this dirt? Why just sidle up to some lowly character given to drunken confessions at diplomatic parties?

Just how incompetent do you think the Russian security services?

You say Steele's credibility has never been confuted? Have you read his rigmarole of a dossier? One had rather hoped that one's agents were at least literate. I mean to say, they went to the best schools, after all. Not confuted, apart from the mistakes, of course.

You will be able to correct me, but I think that much of the report does not in fact come from Russian sources. Imagine if it had: the CIA and the FBI acting on information provided them by Russian agents! An ex-CIA man has said he'd be tearing his hair, losing sleep, pulling his face off in exasperation at the very idea of his bosses being so stupid. Tie the US government in knots on a tip-off from... the Russians. D'oh! (as he put it).

I'm curious why you think it important to emphasise that the FBI is going to all this trouble, and the CIA is leaking what it claims to be classified information, just in order to continue to pursue Mr. Page.

No, we may all wish Trump out of office, but is this really the way - a farce that makes the US ridiculous?

It might well be said that I shouldn't be relying on what ex-spooks say. If they were loyal, they would be silent - but at least they have a record for accuracy (see for example the Intelligence Veterans for Sanity). I'd rather listen to them than the mainstream media, which has demonstrably lied and lied again for decades, and types like Brennan and Mueller, serial liars to Congress...

The hypocrisy, by the way, is not "supposed", but very real - Brennan, Mueller and their kind know very well what they have been doing these last sixty years. But that is not my motivation.

Nor is it the irony of the USofA in the grip of an absurd fiction about Russia while the Saudis and Israelis go about their business in Washington.

No, my motivation is indeed incredulity: a mickey mouse click-bait outfit proof that Russia is undermining US "democracy" (scare quotes unfortunately required)? Even Mueller and co. admit the outfit had zero effect on the election and the indictment offers zero evidence of collusion between Trump's people and Putin's (according to the deputy Attorney General).

This, so far, is all there is to go on. Tittle-tattle and "dossiers"... the fearsome Russian security forces... collusion and conspiracy... a bit of patience and there may just be some evidence... or not.

You are an advocate of patience. If there were anything, anything at all, the NSA would have picked it up on the instant. The call for patience should tell us all we need to know - there is nothing to see here - other than the powers-that-be going about their business more openly than usual (but then Trump is a uniquely bizarre challenge).

I'll stop there. Not condescension. Not gall. Incredulity.

LFC said...

Putting aside all the other stuff, the details of which I haven't been following closely, I have no problem believing that there was in fact a Russian 'troll factory' operating out of St. Petersburg, with people employed full time to pose on social media sites, etc. as U.S. residents when in fact they weren't and to inject a certain amount of additional [pick your word -- chaos? division?] into the election.

Did it affect the outcome of the election? Probably not. Is it illegal under U.S. law? Yes. Which is why Mueller indicted 16, I think it is, individuals in connection w this plus the Russian Internet Agency or whatever its formal title is. Of course Russia won't extradite them so they won't stand trial. Did anyone in the Trump campaign know about this operation? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. But even for a visitor to certain parts (at least one in particular) of the 'serious' blogosphere, it was hard to miss that something was going on. (Not talking about this blog, obvs.) As for "the business" of certain foreign govts in Washington, there are ways to wield power and influence that, while one might deplore them, do not violate U.S. law. Are some illegalities going undetected? Probably, yes. However, everyone knows Israel and to perhaps a slightly lesser extent Saudi Arabia wield influence in the U.S. legislative and executive processes and have for decades. That's a somewhat separate issue from seeking to interfere directly in a presidential election. I don't doubt that other govts than Russia might have tried to do that on one occasion or another, but again that doesn't erase the issue. Far from being an "absurd fiction," attempted Russian interference in the election is pretty close to an established fact. All the US intel agencies seem to think so, from what one can tell. The open question is whether anyone in the Trump campaign had anything to do with it.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Trump himself had no direct involvement. And even if he did, I don't think this process will likely lead to his removal from office. The end result, prob. a report by Mueller to Congress, may further weaken the admin. politically. Remains to be seen.

LFC said...

p.s. I do think the mainstream media may be paying more detailed attention on a daily basis to the Mueller probe than is warranted, taking time away from other stories I wd consider more important/urgent/etc. But that's a separate issue from the merits of the investigation itself.

Ed Barreras said...

Have you read his rigmarole of a dossier?

I have read the dossier. And in order to convince us it’s been discredited you’ll have to come up with more than your subjective impression that it’s a “rigmarole” plus a few trivial misspellings and typos. You’ll have to both point to instances where it’s been substantially refuted and explain away the instances where it seems to have been corroborated.

Why did Russia not publish this dirt?

Maybe because there was no dirt. You seem to be working on the assumption that the Uranium One conspiracy theory has been proven. Where has your incredulity gone all of a sudden?

Why just sidle up to some lowly character?

Because he wasn’t a lowly character, despite what the right-wing media machine (and their unfortunate allies on the Left) have convinced you of.

Lindsay, your disjointed post at least clarifies your mindset on all this. You’re operating on the assumption that it’s actually Mueller and the FBI who are guilty of high crimes, by framing Papadopoulos and coercing a confession from him, all for the purpose of executing their witch-hunt to bring down T***p. Presumably Jeff Sessions is also part of the deep state conspiracy for failing to bring charges against the Clintons in the Uranium One “scandal.” And I notice that you didn’t address the points in my previous post about Nunes and T***p being bald-faced liars. But why should you object to what they’re doing, since presumably, by your lights, Nunes and his boss are simply playing defense against an illegitimate witch-hunt, which is their right? And given your evident global skepticism about law enforcement and media, what’s to prevent you from assuming that Mueller simply fabricated evidence, should he actually bring serious charges against higher-ups in the administration?

Of course, you’re free to believe all this. But you should know that if you do then there’s really no point in talking to people like us (Professor Wolff and myself plus the majority of commentors on this blog), nor in us talking to you, since we’re obviously working from radically different assumptions. Conspiracy theorists like yourself would rather contort themselves into ever more elaborate knots than acknowledge facts that don’t fit their conspiracy theory. And for what it’s worth, LFC’s comments above strike me as entirely sensible.

And by the way, the the hypocrisy I alluded to isn’t the hypocrisy of the American government, but rather the supposed hypocrisy of people on the Left who think T***p-Russia collusion/conspiracy is a genuine issue.

Lindsay said...

Although we disagree, I think what you say very reasonable. Two things. As I understand, all seventeen (!) intelligence agencies did not in fact endorse the collusion conspiracy. And I think you might be surprised at Israel's influence on US elections.

Ed Barreras
" point talking...". That is a dispiriting attitude to debate.

On the dossier, I rely on intelligence professionals as you perhaps do.

On dirt, I am as sceptical as can be (although maybe not so much about the Clinton Foundation and certainly not about Russian corporations).

Papadopoulos is lowly by any reasonable reckoning. And the Russian intelligence agencies are not as incompetent as his story requires.

That Trump is a liar should not need confirming. That Mueller is seems to have escaped you.

We can address the evidence of collusion by high-ups when it is finally presented. Scepticism about your law enforcement when politics is involved, and your media always, should be the default position.

Government is a conspiracy, as Carl Friedrich said. It couldn't function otherwise. "Conspiracy theory" as a term of dismissive abuse does not get us any further.

I'm not sure who accused "people on the Left" of hypocrisy.

With Trump dismantling any remaining protection for the poor and devastating the environment, and with the US continuing its drone killing spree across several countries, helping the Saudis decimate Yemen, bullying Venezuela and North Korea, and seeking confrontation with China, Russia, and Iran, I think surely there are more important things to be doing than fixating on a conspiracy about a conspiracy that didn't happen (or if it did by everyone's account had no effect).

I can only apologise for being disjointed.

s. wallerstein said...


I agree that there are more important things than fixating on a conspiracy that might have happened or not.

However, unless you have some kind of Peter Singer-type argument that we have a moral obligation to always focus our attention on the most ethically pressing issues (maybe global warming), then what's the problem with a couple of people trying to figure out what Trump's relation with Russia exactly was and whether that (hopefully) may finally topple him?

I'm always found Singer puritanical in his insistence that all our efforts should go towards dealing with (what he considers to be) the worst ills or evils.

By the way, for someone who considers the whole Mueller investigation and the supposed Trump-Putin connection to be of little or no importance, you've obviously put a lot of time into studying the details of it.

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