The National Rifle Association’s 2016 annual convention was held in May of that year in Kentucky. Donald Trump Jr. attended, as he had in the past. So did Alexander Torshin, also a regular at NRA events. The two ended up speaking briefly at a dinner in Louisville, though details of that encounter are sketchy. Why does it matter? Because Torshin is a Russian government official, a representative of the country’s central bank and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. How Torshin and Trump Jr. came to be in the same room together and why is one of the smaller mysteries orbiting the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, but not an insignificant one: Mueller is reportedly investigating whether the NRA specifically was used as a conduit for Russians to support Trump’s candidacy. There’s an interesting detail to that Torshin meeting, though, which hasn’t received much attention. On Thursday, a Russian woman named Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court to having engaged in a covert influence operation on behalf of Russia — an operation in which Torshin was involved. Part of Butina’s plea included a statement of offense, in which her criminal actions were stipulated.
Over the last few years, the world has witnessed Russia’s interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries: from meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, to the military occupation of Ukrainian territories. In its subversive operations the Kremlin hacked into servers, subjected infrastructure and organizations to cyberattacks, and deployed legions of internet trolls on social media to spread lies and disinformation. In response to Kremlin threat, an international rapid-response team will monitor and expose any attempts by Russia to interfere in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections in 2019. The team is comprised of experts from the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank, the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, the Razumkov Center, a Ukrainian think tank, and Stop Fake, a multilingual volunteer project for debunking Russian propaganda.
Moldova’s parliamentary election campaign began Monday amid concerns that Russia is seeking to influence the results in the former Soviet republic. Citizens will vote on Feb. 24 ballot for the 101-seat legislature that is currently controlled by a broadly pro-European coalition. Concerns arose after Russia’s interior ministry on Dec. 3 said that Moldovans who have overstayed their residence permits in Russia can return to Moldova from Jan. 1 to Feb. 25 and re-enter Russia without being penalized. The ministry said Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon had requested the measure. Dodon enjoys close relations with the Kremlin and regularly travels to Moscow.
National: Prosecutors Effectively Accuse Trump of Defrauding Voters. What Does It Mean? | The New York Times
The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.
In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law.
The prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo filed on Friday that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump dismissed the filings, and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, minimized the importance of any potential campaign finance violations. Democrats, however, said they could lead to impeachment.
In the memo in the case of Mr. Cohen, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York depicted Mr. Trump, identified only as “Individual-1,” as an accomplice in the hush payments. While Mr. Trump was not charged, the reference echoed Watergate, when President Richard M. Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator by a grand jury investigating the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters.
New filings by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday provided fresh clues about where the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is headed. Mueller’s filing said President Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was contacted in 2015 by a “Russian national” seeking “synergy” between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. The special counsel’s team also said Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied about meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the U.S. government has linked to Russian intelligence. The Mueller filings made news, of course. But how much has what we know about Trump and Russia really changed since 2016? Not as much as you might think. On the Friday before the Democratic National Convention in July 2016, Russian agents released, through WikiLeaks, thousands of emails stolen from the DNC. The timing caused maximum harm at a critical moment in the Democratic contest. As campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, I appeared two days later on two Sunday political talk shows, ready for an avalanche of questions about the emails, which I got. But rather than focusing on the content of the documents, I thought it was important to discuss why they were released in the first place.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday said social media companies need to protect their platforms from disinformation campaigns and properly police false or misleading content or they will face government regulation. “I think the companies now do understand if they do not take it upon themselves to self-regulate — which is essentially the theme of my talk today — they will face the potential of government regulation,” he said. Rosenstein’s remarks come amid fears that Iran and other countries are looking to take a page from Russia’s 2016 playbook and carry out sophisticated disinformation campaigns in the next presidential campaign.
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told. Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. In a statement, Manafort denied meeting Assange. He said: “I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.” It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
UK voters are among the most concerned in Europe that elections could be sabotaged by cyber-attacks, according to a new European Commission study. The survey polled over 27,000 citizens across the EU with face-to-face interviews to better understand their concerns ahead of upcoming European elections in May 2019. While an average of 61% said they were worried about potential cyber-attacks manipulating the results of the election, the figure rose to 67% in the UK — one of the highest of any country. UK voters (64%) were also more likely than most Europeans (59%) to fear foreign actors and criminal groups influencing elections covertly. Across Europe, 67% said they were concerned that their personal data could be used to target the political messages they see — a reference to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that may have impacted the results of the US presidential election and Brexit referendum in 2016.
Taiwan: Beijing likely meddled in Taiwan elections, US cybersecurity firm says | Nikkei Asian Review
Beijing probably targeted Taiwan with cyber operations to help the pro-China opposition Kuomintang win a swathe of midterm elections across the island, according to a leading U.S. cybersecurity company. Fred Plan, senior analyst at FireEye, told the Nikkei Asian Review that while his firm is still investigating possible attacks that occurred ahead of last Saturday’s vote, experience shows that China conducts cyber espionage in Taiwan, especially ahead of major political events. “Elections are typically preceded by an increase in cyber operations targeting Taiwan and we expect this to be the case again,” Plan said. “Taiwan has always been a primary target of malicious cyber operations, especially from actors aligned with the People’s Republic of China.” “I’d be very surprised if China wasn’t doing that” in the recent elections, he added.
National: Russian hacking group ‘Cozy Bear’ likely responsible for phishing campaign, US security firm says | The Hill
A U.S. security firm on Monday said a Russian hacker group is likely responsible for a phishing campaign that used emails to impersonate a State Department employee. FireEye researchers tied the spear phishing campaign to APT29, a group often referred to as “Cozy Bear.” The hackers were targeting U.S. think tanks, the military, federal government and law enforcement, among other sectors, the security firm said in a blog post. Monday’s finding comes just days after FireEye and another U.S. cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike, publicly confirmed the phishing campaign. The companies did not attribute the actions to the hacking group at the time, but noted similarities to previous activity by Cozy Bear. FireEye said the hacking group created emails that gave the impression of coming from a State Department public affairs official who was trying to share an official document. The attached document included links and a file hosted on a domain that was likely compromised, FireEye said.