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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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    Eric Schmidt earlier this year.

    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    Two Google executives donated to senators serving on the senate intelligence committee that began investigating Russian election meddling in January.

    In March of this year, according to federal election filings, general counsel Kent Walker made four donations totaling $5,400 to both Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich and independent Sen. Angus King. In May, he donated $2,700 to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member of the intel committee.

    In April of this year, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and the executive chairman of Alphabet, also donated $2,700 to Heinrich.

    Silicon Valley tech companies like Google and Facebook have faced the scrutiny from Congress over the role of the platforms during the 2016 election, and how foreign actors may have tried to use them.

    Last month, Google and other tech giants (including Twitter and Facebook) were called to testify before the congressional intelligence committees. A Google official confirmed to BuzzFeed News that representatives from the company will testify before Congress on Nov. 1.

    Much like donations made by Facebook executives to intel committee members reported by BuzzFeed News earlier this month, the donations aren’t particularly large, are isolated to a small number of the committee’s fifteen members, and Walker has donated to Heinrich and Warner in the past. (He gave $1,000 to Warner in 2007 and $1,000 to Heinrich in 2012.) Both Schmidt and Walker have long track records of donating to Democrats. In this cycle both executives have supported Sen. Claire McCaskill (whose campaign has raised more than $2.9 million between July and September for the tough re-election bid she faces in 2018, according to the Associated Press), and Walker gave two donations totalling $5,400 to Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican from Arizona.

    “We have clear policies in this area. Employees can make personal political contributions in their own capacity, these personal donations do not represent Google support for a candidate or issue,” a spokesperson for Google told BuzzFeed News.

    Senators Warner and Heinrich also received donations from Facebook executives in 2017.

    A spokesperson for Warner declined to comment on the donations made to his campaign and offices for the other senators did not immediately respond for comment.


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    Roger Goodell

    Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

    Officials inside the National Football League are characterizing Tuesday’s meeting in New York City between players, league officials, and representatives from the NFL as an important step in a process that began 14 months ago — and are hoping that the league actively backing bipartisan legislation that seeks to drastically limit mandatory-minimum sentences will be a major change.

    But plenty of questions remain about the rest of the regular season and the relationship between players, owners, the league, and politics.

    The NFL will not require players to stand for the national anthem, and commissioner Roger Goodell has said publicly that the players who demonstrate are not trying to disrespect the flag. But he said it was his intention to get the number of players demonstrating openly to zero.

    The kneeling issue didn’t come up Tuesday, the league sources said. For all of the momentum going into today’s meeting, the league sources insist that it’s still up to each individual player whether to kneel in protest during the national anthem. Goodell said Wednesday that ultimately, a half-dozen players have been consistently kneeling and that the goal of the dialogue between the league and players is to get that number down to zero. “We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem. We think our fans expect us to do that.”

    The sources confirmed that the player coalition in the meeting invited former quarterback Colin Kaepernick but he did not show. The league sources said there was a sense in the room that they should focus on “who's in the room and not on who's not.”

    On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the NFL policy statement "a step in the right direction," before Trump chimed in with an authoritarian-style message that has irked NFL players and coaches around the league: “@NFL: Too much talk, not enough action. Stand for the National Anthem.”

    The meeting Tuesday was led by former player and executive vice president of NFL football operations Troy Vincent. According to a pair of league sources present in the meeting, the league and players’ coalition centered any progress moving forward around three main focal points: refining a policy platform and ways to amplify it as a follow-up to players’ protests; creating ways for NFL players and entities to participate and engage in education inside communities; and creating partnerships to assist players in addressing public policy.

    The pair of league sources said that over the past 14 months, Goodell has gotten “a great deal of clarity on what’s driving players to take a knee on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays,” and that one of the issues is criminal justice reform. To that end, Goodell went on a ride-along with police in Miami as well as a “listen-and-learn” session in Philadelphia.

    The league sources said the NFL had been particularly interested in one part of the bill that creates a commission that would review the entire criminal justice system. One player in particular, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, was the driving force behind trying to get the league to support the legislation, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Baldwin, a Stanford graduate, is said to have impressed league brass with his knowledge of the issue.

    Goodell, asked Wednesday at a press conference to address his understanding of the players’ concerns, failed to include anything in his answer anything about police brutality. In fact, police brutality — especially tragic encounters concerning black Americans like Philando Castile and Sandra Bland — has especially animated players in the NFL, and was the stated reason Kaepernick initially knelt during the national anthem.

    “Communities of color have also had to watch video after video of unarmed black men and women being handled without regard for their lives or well-being,” Eagles defensive player Malcolm Jenkins wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “As a black man, I see these images and I see myself; I wonder whether this will happen to me or one of my loved ones. In honor of their names, we are joining the fight for change. We are demanding police transparency and accountability so we can build trust and work together to make our communities safer.”

    The sentencing overhaul bill, by Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Dick Durbin of Illinois, aims to limit mandatory-minimum prison sentences, limiting the steepest penalties to drug and violent offenders and the most serious drug crime offenders.

    At the very least, the meetings this week add some new elements into the what has become familiar this fall: demonstrating during the national anthem. A source with knowledge familiar with the discussions told BuzzFeed News that the NFL might create something unheard of in professional sports: its own racial justice platform.


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    Fatido / Getty Images

    Protests after the death of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man killed by a police officer last year in North Carolina, were fresh on the minds of activists eager to change their community — so another rally didn’t seem unusual.

    “All the details are right here,” read the message from a group called BlackMatters — with a link to a Facebook event page. “It should start at 2 PM on Saturday.”

    In private Facebook messages that a source said they received from BlackMatters, the group sent a speaking schedule, the names and phone numbers of the coordinators, and a poster (“BROTHERS AND SISTERS! JOIN THE NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST”).

    The group only had one request.

    “Thank you for attending! It’s an honor to work together with you,” reads a private message sent hours after the protest on Oct. 22, 2016. “If you have any pictures, please share with us.”

    In reality, there wasn’t anything normal about the protest: A Russian troll farm is believed to be behind BlackMatters, according to a major investigation published by Russian outlet RBC.

    The Facebook page for the event is no longer online (though the source was able to access private messages they said the group had sent). Facebook suspended the BlackMatters account, which RBC reported was part of a sweeping crackdown on foreign accounts, something a Facebook spokesman said he “was not able to confirm.” The RBC investigation, based on interviews with current and former employees of the troll farm as well as a source close to its leadership and internal documents, found that BlackMattersUS was linked to the Internet Research Agency, and that Russians spent thousands of dollars before and after the 2016 election — including on the Charlotte protest — in order to show the United States in disarray.

    People who attended the rally were stunned by the reports.

    It’s “sickening” to think that anyone would use the social justice movement for their personal or political gain, said Percy Fleming, one of the activists who spoke at the October rally last year.

    Attendees were told that anyone who had something to say could speak, said Fleming, a member of JustUs LEAGUE, a local advocacy group. He said he didn’t know any details about who had invited JustUs LEAGUE to the event.

    Message provided to BuzzFeed News

    Raven Solomon, another speaker at the rally in Charlotte, said she was invited to speak at the event by the BlackMatters group Facebook page. She said the invite she received didn’t include any of the awkwardly-worded English found on some BlackMatters pages.

    Solomon was shocked when she learned that Russians appeared to be behind the event.

    “For any group to collude to take advantage of the pain & anguish that African Americans — or any group — are experiencing in this country in order to sow further discord is disappointing & revolting,” Solomon told BuzzFeed News in a Facebook message. “As an American who was simply seeking to inspire a better America for all citizens through shedding light on that pain, I feel taken advantage of and deceived by this fake group.”

    Another activist told BuzzFeed News earlier this week that the group had contacted him through a Facebook message. Conrad James, the activist, told BuzzFeed News he had (unaware of the group’s reported origins) helped organize the Oct. 22, 2016, rally in Charlotte, which was held in concert with protests all over the country, in addition to an earlier rally in September.

    The Russian efforts, first uncovered by RBC, also included recruiting and paying people to teach self-defense classes in black communities. Instructors were asked to take photos and videos, one person told BuzzFeed News.

    Some prominent activists reached by BuzzFeed News weren’t stunned by the reports this week.

    “Many people dismissed the allegations of Russian interference as a distraction or conspiracy theory,” said DeRay Mckesson, a leading organizer and activist of the group Campaign Zero, “whereas we are now uncovering new instances every week where the Russians clearly worked to influence the election.”

    Ashley S. Williams, the young activist who confronted Hillary Clinton in South Carolina over her past use of the racially charged and debunked term “super predators,” said that while she was skeptical over some of the circumstances of apparent Russian involvement in movement activity, that she, too had been approached by an individual who wanted to get involved.

    “I remember being reached out to by someone wanting to have a protest here but they didn’t live here,” said the Charlotte-based Williams, who added that she simply ignored the correspondence. “I wasn't alarmed. I thought it was strange.”

    But others reached by BuzzFeed News were surprised enough by the idea that Russians tried to exploit the larger black activist movements that they didn’t know what to say.

    So taken aback about Russian interference was Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online civil rights group, he told BuzzFeed News he was sending its report around to his staff as “mandatory reading.”

    LINK: These Americans Were Tricked Into Working For Russia. They Say They Had No Idea.

    LINK: Twitter Was Warned Repeatedly About This Fake Account Run By A Russian Troll Farm And Refused To Take It Down


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    Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    John Kasich is taking a subtle but significant step toward a possible 2020 presidential campaign.

    The Republican governor of Ohio met privately Thursday with several national security and foreign policy experts, several sources familiar with Kasich’s moves told BuzzFeed News.

    The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details, described the discussions in Columbus as the first in a series of meetings on domestic and foreign policy and aimed at keeping Kasich current in global affairs.

    Kasich, who competed unsuccessfully for last year’s GOP presidential nomination, has been one of President Donald Trump’s most persistent critics. He has not ruled out challenging Trump in a 2020 primary. He also has stirred speculation that he could run as an independent or even as part of a unity ticket with John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado.

    Sources would not divulge names of all attendees, though they described those on hand as veterans of past presidential administrations and political staffs. King Mallory, who advised Kasich's 2016 campaign on national security issues, helped coordinate the meeting, which went on for hours throughout the day.

    Two of the sources acknowledged that the gathering was to help prepare Kasich for another bid, should he decide to run again. But they stressed that nothing is definite.

    Kasich earlier this week joined Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for a forum at the University of Delaware. The topic: Civility in politics.


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    Then-candidate Donald Trump is joined onstage by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a campaign rally in Iowa on January 26, 2016.

    Brian Snyder / Reuters

    A federal judge on Thursday refused to toss out the underlying guilty verdict in former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal contempt case in the wake of President Trump's pardon of the sheriff.

    "The pardon undoubtedly spared Defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed," US District Court Judge Susan Bolton wrote. "It did not, however, 'revise the historical facts' of this case."

    Arpaio had been found guilty of criminal contempt for repeatedly refusing to halt a policing tactic to catch undocumented immigrants despite court orders to do so. He had not, however, been sentenced when Trump issued the pardon in August.

    After he received the pardon, Arpaio asked the court to dismiss his case and to vacate all of the earlier orders in the case — including his guilty verdict. Bolton had let it known that she was uncertain if she could go as far as that, asking in September for additional briefing in the case.

    Bolton earlier agreed to dismiss the case, but held off her opinion on whether the earlier orders also would be vacated. In Thursday's order, Bolton denied his request that she do more than dismiss the case.

    As to the effect of a presidential pardon, Bolton explained, "It does not erase a judgment of conviction, or its underlying legal and factual findings," citing a prior case from the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — where an appeal of Arpaio's request would be heard.

    LINK: President Trump Has Pardoned Controversial Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio



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    DNC chair Tom Perez and deputy chair Rep. Keith Ellison earlier this year.

    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    LAS VEGAS — A rumor that pro-Bernie Sanders Democrats have proposed removing three prominent black women as at-large members of the Democratic National Committee set off a fury here at the party’s fall meeting, lighting up tensions between anti-establishment progressives and chairman Tom Perez as Democrats rushed late Thursday to find out where the rumor had come from and what motives drove it.

    In the chandeliered ballrooms of Bally’s casino, Democrats spent the first two days of their meeting whispering in large part about Perez’s appointments to the DNC. His 75 chosen at-large members, a diverse selection that included a young woman protected under the DACA program as well as a black transgender woman, also became a point of contention and speculation when longtime Democrats were removed from their posts.

    James Zogby, a key Sanders ally and a longtime DNC member who found out he would lose his spot on the party’s executive committee, was among several progressives who cast the move as a form of retaliation against those who did not support Perez in his bid for chair earlier this year.

    By Thursday afternoon, two days after Perez announced his appointments, the rumor was this: Zogby and other pro-Sanders Democrats wanted to flout Perez’s picks for at-large DNC members by proposing an alternate slate, one that would swap out three prominent black women. The names circulating among Democrats were Leah Daughtry, former DNC convention chair; Minyon Moore, veteran Democratic strategist; and Symone Sanders, former national press secretary to Bernie Sanders. By Thursday evening, the rumor was Daughtry, Moore, and former DNC chair Donna Brazile.

    Zogby flatly denied the rumor in an interview early on Thursday evening.

    He has known Daughtry, Moore, and Brazile for years, he said, in large part through his work on the 1984 and 1988 Jesse Jackson campaigns. “I would never turn against those three women. That is not what I've done,” Zogby said. “These are friends of mine who I care about. And I simply find it deplorable that someone would start that rumor in order to create a deeper wedge to absolve themselves from the crappy decision they've made.”

    Zogby, a DNC member since 1993 and a member of the party’s Unity Reform Commission, said he will likely “reintroduce” his candidacy as an executive member later on in this week’s meeting. “We haven't worked out the mechanics of it,” he said. “But it was never these people instead of those people. It was never that at all, ever.”

    The rules require that the full body of the DNC be notified seven days in advance of a slate, according a party adviser.

    Two Democratic sources said Zogby and Jane Kleeb, another prominent Sanders supporter and the chair the Nebraska Democratic Party, discussed plans to introduce an alternate slate of 75 at-large members. One of those Democrats said the alternate slate would be less diverse than the one put forward by Perez earlier this week.

    Kleeb dismissed the rumor broadly as a smear attempt by establishment forces. “Whoever’s doing it [is] this little cabal of people who just love to create drama, especially around Bernie folks, who they see as some threat,” she said.

    In a statement, DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told BuzzFeed News, “We are proud of the unprecedented diversity of this year’s slate of at-large DNC members. We must come together in unity and embrace our diversity in order to win elections up and down the ballot.”

    The infighting comes at a sensitive time for the party, as Perez presides over his first party-wide meeting as chair after closely watched race against the candidate favored by progressives, Rep. Keith Ellison, who now serves as deputy chair in a still-divided party. The incident also comes off the heels of an open letter black women leaders sent to Perez titled, “There’s Too Much at Stake to Ignore Black Women.”

    “The Democratic Party has a real problem,” read the letter, signed by seven members of Congress. “The data reveals that Black women voters are the very foundation to a winning coalition, yet most Black voters feel like the Democrats take them for granted. The Party’s foundation has a growing crack and if it is not addressed quickly, the Party will fall even further behind and ultimately fail in its quest to strengthen its political prospects.”

    Zogby spoke with the three women on Thursday to try to clear up the rumor, which quickly reached Daughtry in Las Vegas — and even Moore and Brazile in Washington. As he talked about his history with Brazile, a relationship that dates back to 1983, her name lit up in a text to his phone, asking what was going on and why she was involved. Before the start of the DNC’s eastern regional caucus meeting, Zogby waited by the door for Daughtry. The two hugged and exited the room to talk privately. Later, Daughtry said she believed Zogby, and would support his bid for executive committee, but wanted to uncover the source of the rumor.

    “I’m gonna get to the bottom of it,” she said. “If my name isn't Leah Daughtry.”

    Moore, the longtime Democratic strategist named alongside Brazile and Daughtry, called Zogby an “honorable man” whom she respects. She said she didn’t believe would do something like this. But she also expressed concern about what it said about the Democratic Party’s feelings about its base if it feels that black women are disposable.

    “If they think targeting black women who have committed themselves to this party as an avocation and not a vocation and have given more than they’ve gotten, is a smart idea, then God bless them,” Moore said.

    After publication late Thursday, Symone Sanders told BuzzFeed News in a statement that “clearly" there is still work to be done when it comes to "respecting" the contributions of black women. “Perhaps if we stopped tying our politics to people and started to look at the issues, we could put the battles of the 2016 primary behind us. That’s what I did and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

    "But for the life of me I still can't figure out how black women continue to get the brunt end of the stick in this party," she added. "It's disgraceful."


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    Conyers

    Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

    A top Democratic lawmaker says the National Football League doesn’t seem to really be listening to what players are saying when they kneel before the national anthem.

    This week, after more than a year of escalating protests before games, the NFL endorsed legislation meant to ease sentencing laws around certain kinds of drug convictions.

    That move, says Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, is inadequate.

    “Biased-based policing was one of the motivating factors behind the NFL protests,” Conyers said. “The failure of the owners or NFL management to address them raises serious questions about whether they are really listening to what the players have to say.”

    During a press conference earlier this week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not mention policing at all when asked about his evaluation of what the players’ concerns were.

    A Conyers spokesperson pointed out that the major player-activists didn’t protest over sentencing in the criminal justice system. The player who first knelt — Colin Kaepernick — made it explicit his cause was police violence inflicted on black people. Michael Bennett, a defensive player for the Seattle Seahawks who has sat during the national anthem this year, has said he was targeted by a police officer in Las Vegas.

    Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has spent years working on criminal justice issues — especially in recent years as a bipartisan group of advocates and lawmakers tried to shift away from the tough-on-crime policies that dominated the 1980s and ’90s, and were again championed by President Trump as a candidate. Last year, for instance, Conyers and House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte formulated a working group to examine excessive force, police accountability, and targeted violence against police officers.

    The NFL has, partly in the hopes of moving forward as protests continue to dominate coverage of the season, backed the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. In a joint letter, Goodell and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin endorsed the bill.

    LINK: NFL Reaches Out To Players And Waits For Protests To End


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    DNC chief technology officer Raffi Krikorian last year when he was with Uber.

    Alex Brandon / AP

    LAS VEGAS — When Democratic state chairs gathered here in Las Vegas, they were met with a stern warning from the party's new chief technology officer: When it comes to cybersecurity, Raffi Krikorian told them in a meeting, "you gotta up your game."

    Krikorian, a leading Silicon Valley engineer who joined the Democratic National Committee as CTO this summer, has been working for months to strengthen electronic security at the party's headquarters in Washington, leading an ongoing internal assessment that will shape DNC protocol on email management and move staffers toward more office-wide encrypted messaging.

    This week, at the DNC fall meeting in Las Vegas, he gathered state chairs in one room to talk about the hacks that compromised Democrats in 2016 and could pose a threat to 57 party committees across the country, some of whom are dragging far behind in their own security practices, according to Krikorian.

    "The problem is that it's a pretty big spread. Some state parties are pretty on top of it," he said in an interview.

    "On the other end of the scale — and I'm not gonna name names — there are definitely state parties that will get on the phone with me and I'll be like, 'Wait, what? Can you say that one more time?' That's really a problem. There are 57 of them and the spread is pretty big."

    The 39-year-old former Twitter and Uber engineer cited the Minnesota Democratic Party as one state that is "seriously on top of all this stuff." The party there has hired a security firm and has worked to strengthen its email management, he said.

    Within the DNC, the national arm of the Democratic Party, Krikorian has tried to create a far-sweeping "culture change" around cybersecurity, increasing education, implementing regular simulated phishing attacks, moving the office's email management to cloud services, and weighing a move to what's known as end-to-end encryption for chat, voice, and video communication. The other Democratic committees have already made the move to Wickr, an end-to-end encryption software for the workplace that makes messages indecipherable to third parties.

    When it comes to the states, however, the DNC has no authority over those party entities. "My ideal world is that we're all on the exact same systems: that we all just use the same technology, and we're all in the same place," he said. "But the reality of the situation is that I don't have control of state parties. All I can do is make really stern recommendations."

    One of those ideas: simulated phishing attacks for state parties. The reception to that idea and others, Krikorian said, was largely positive, noting that state party chairs in the audience took pictures of his presentation and reached out to him afterward.

    Until a state party is secure, Krikorian said, he has instructed DNC staffers to communicate with them using apps like Signal rather than by email. "If I know they haven't implemented a lot of stuff, by default we have to treat them effectively adversarial when it comes to electronic communication," he said. "Do not trust anything that comes over the email lines."

    "Even if I secure my boundary, if one of them have a problem, they might be a way in."

    Krikorian said since he joined the DNC earlier this year, he's known of no state parties have been hacked or compromised. "I don't think anyone's explicitly been, but at the same time, it's arms race," he said. "It's just a matter of time. The DNC is constantly under some form of attack in some way. Generally, you assume that everyone is a target in this world."

    "It's the world we live in," he said. "Good times."

    LINK: The DNC Begins Cybersecurity Effort To Try To Make Sure 2016 Doesn’t Happen Again

    LINK: Email Was The Soft Underbelly Of The Democratic Campaign. It Still Will Be.


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    Doug Stroud / Via Danica Roem campaign

    Danica Roem, 32, didn’t want her campaign for the Virginia General Assembly to become about her being transgender. But to some extent, it was inevitable.

    Roem would be the first out transgender politician to win and get seated in any state legislature, and her opponent, Republican Del. Bob Marshall, recently sponsored a bill to restrict transgender people’s access to bathrooms. Plus, Marshall keeps bringing up the issue.

    On a conservative radio show last month, Marshall said Roem “clearly is a male,” calling her “he” and saying her behavior “goes against the laws of nature and nature's God.”

    Roem brushed off the jabs this week, saying data collected by her campaign shows her race is very tight, and noting she ran a TV spot that addresses being trans head-on. “I’m dealing with it,” the former journalist told BuzzFeed News. “I’m a big girl — I can take care of myself.” She’s also managed to out-fundraise Marshall by tens of thousands of dollars, and she’s welcomed help from state Democrats and labor unions.

    And now, she’s welcoming help from a new type of backer — the first of its kind in the United States.

    The Breakthrough Fund, which launched this week, is a political action committee run by transgender activists and tailored specifically to elect transgender people to office. It’s starting with $60,000 to spend in four races, including Roem’s, according to the group’s co-chair, Hayden Mora. The PAC, an offspring of the group Trans United Fund, is attempting to raise another $120,000 before Election Day.

    “We know what it’s like to have someone slam the door in our face and say, ‘I don’t vote for people like you, honey.’"

    “Because they are transgender, they face different obstacles,” Mora told BuzzFeed News of the candidates. The new group is not exclusively focusing on fundraising — Mora said the organization is assembling a small army of paid staff and volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls to identify likely Roem voters, then turn those voters out by Nov. 7.

    “We know what it’s like to have someone slam the door in our face and say, ‘I don’t vote for people like you, honey,’” he said.

    In this role, Mora said the PAC’s leadership can serve as both tactician and counselor. “We talk to our candidates after 10 o'clock at night, so they can get out the next day to make the case to be elected. We don’t let transphobia and bias get in the way.”

    “Most campaigns never have to manage an opponent, and an opponent’s allies, aggressively trying to disparage them for being transgender,” Mora said.

    In addition to spending money this fall in Minneapolis, where Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham are running for city council, the Breakthrough Fund will back Kristen Browde for town supervisor in New Castle, New York.

    Browde told BuzzFeed News that the Breakthrough Fund is “calibrated to deal with the pushback” inevitable for transgender candidates, adding by email, “We crafted a message that has largely taken gender out of the discussion.”

    Indeed, one challenge for trans candidates is shifting the focus toward traditional local issues. Roem, a policy wonk from her political reporting career, has oriented her campaign around unclogging Route 28, which runs from the suburban 13th District into Washington, DC.

    Roem's TV spot.

    youtube.com

    “While she has talked about her gender identity, she is also trying to focus on certain bread-and butter issues, like traffic congestion, which is a big deal in Northern Virginia in particular,” Kyle Kondik, who analyzes elections for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told BuzzFeed News.

    Any yet, it would be “historic” for Roem to prevail, he said, both because she’s trans and because incumbents are rarely defeated in Virginia House races.

    Marshall, an 11-term incumbent who won the seat in 1991, has sponsored a firehouse of bills appetizing to the Evangelical right. Among them was the state’s law banning same-same sex couples from marrying; he later introduced a bill to bar transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity in government facilities (it died in committee). But the district has shifted purple in recent years, going for Hillary Clinton last year by 15 points.

    “It would be symbolic if she were to win — a transgender woman winning this election against someone like Bob Marshall, who’s so diametrically different than her,” Kondik said.

    The absence of high-profile transgender politicians has created a self-perpetuating barrier, Mora said. The public’s lack of familiarity with transgender people can make candidates more vulnerable to smears, in turn making it harder to win elections — or discouraging them from running at all.

    “Increasing the representation of transgender folks in public office is crucial to help the public know who trans people are, and counter the fear-mongering and lies the far right tells about who we are,” he said.

    As an example, Mora pointed to an automated phone call early this month voters in the 13th District received from the American Principles Project. The robocall said Roem wants to “allow boys to play on girls’ sports teams and compete in girls’ leagues,” the Washington Post reported.

    Marshall did not respond to a request from BuzzFeed News to comment on his statements about Roem’s gender identity and the claims from his supporters.

    For her part, Roem is grateful for the Breakthrough Fund’s support in the final heat, in addition to support from other LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign. "Trans people are trying to give themselves a voice in politics when they have been shut out for so long,” she said. “Getting one of our own elected, it means we have a seat at the table, from transportation politics to civil rights.”


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    Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally in New York earlier this year.

    Afp / AFP / Getty Images

    The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, were sacred for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

    But for Russian trolls, the protests were another opportunity to sow discord in America — one of a series of social movements, from Black Lives Matter activism to pro-Trump populism, on which trolls appear to have seized.

    An Instagram account called @Native_Americans_United_ shared images related to Native American social and political issues — including the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the flashpoint for activists from all over the country, but especially Native Americans.

    RBC, a Russian outlet, identified that account as one of 180 connected to a Russian troll farm intent on exploiting existing divisions and social movements in the United States, based on a major investigation into the operations of Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

    So far, the accounts uncovered by RBC center around highly visible tension points in American politics: protests against police violence, protests against pipelines that have become a flashpoint between conservatives and progressives, and memes popular with the pro-Trump right.

    Those accounts are believed to include a fake Tennessee GOP Twitter account and payments to black activists to organize protests or hold self-defense classes. This, meanwhile, would be the first instance of Russians targeting Native Americans. RBC reported that at least 33,000 people followed the @Native_Americans_United_ account.

    A post from that account reads “IF AN OIL COMPANY DESTROYED THESE ‘SACRED’ BURIAL GROUNDS AMERICANS WOULD LOSE THEIR MINDS,” plastered over an image of a US military cemetery. “BUT WHEN AN OIL COMPANY DESTROYS NATIVE AMERICAN SACRED BURIAL GROUNDS NO ONE SAYS A WORD.”

    Via facebook.com

    Another account, @Native_Americans_United (no third underscore), discovered by BuzzFeed News, also shared political posts on Instagram using the same watermark as @Native_Americans_United_.

    “DEAR RACISTS IN AMERICA YOUR CAR IS JAPANESE, YOUR BEER IS GERMAN, YOUR ELECTRONICS ARE TAIWANESE, YOUR FASHION IS FRENCH, YOUR OIL IS SAUDI ARABIAN, YOUR VODKA IS RUSSIAN, AND NEVER FORGET THE LAND YOU LIVE ON IS MINE,” reads one of the posts from @Native_Americans_United that was reshared on Facebook.

    Via facebook.com

    Both Instagram accounts are now suspended. A Facebook official told BuzzFeed News that they aren’t confirming any accounts that were or were not related to Russian meddling that the company discovered during its investigation.

    Although the accounts supported the protests at Standing Rock, BuzzFeed News did not find evidence the group had contacted activists to organize protests similar to what was successfully done in Charlotte, North Carolina, with unwitting Black Lives Matter activists.


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    “Trump is treason!”

    The president was giving a thumbs-up when the flags were thrown.

    The president was giving a thumbs-up when the flags were thrown.

    Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

    Pictures from the scene showed a man in a suit being led away by Capitol Police.

    Pictures from the scene showed a man in a suit being led away by Capitol Police.

    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    The man identified himself to reporters on scene as Ryan Clayton with the group Americans Take Action. Clayton made headlines in July when he tried to get Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner to autograph a Russian flag.

    The man identified himself to reporters on scene as Ryan Clayton with the group Americans Take Action. Clayton made headlines in July when he tried to get Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner to autograph a Russian flag.

    Zach Gibson / AFP / Getty Images

    It was not immediately clear how Clayton managed to make his way into the press gaggle, as the area was not open to tourists.

    It was not immediately clear how Clayton managed to make his way into the press gaggle, as the area was not open to tourists.

    J. Scott Applewhite / AP

    Clayton didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but Capitol Police said he'd been arrested and "preliminarily charged" with unlawful conduct.

    Clayton didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but Capitol Police said he'd been arrested and "preliminarily charged" with unlawful conduct.

    Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    "You guys were hollering so loud that I didn't even notice," he told reporters.


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    Steve Bannon

    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    This week, one of the Democratic senators up for reelection next year in a state that Donald Trump won called Steve Bannon a white supremacist.

    Asked Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union if he agreed with an assertion by Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson that the White House is “full of white supremacists," Ohio's Sherrod Brown used the opportunity to bash Trump's former chief strategist.

    “I agree that Steve Bannon is a white supremacist," Brown began, before broadening his criticism to include current White House advisers.

    That’s the kind of exchange that establishment Republicans argue could be a preview of the future. Some are now casting Bannon’s endorsement as a liability in a general election — as Bannon continues to back challengers to incumbent elected officials.

    “In states where Trump is popular, Bannon gives Democrats an alternate pathway to fire up their base and appeal to swing voters who support the president but recoil at Bannon’s racially-charged worldview,” Steven Law, president and CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund, the group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a Tuesday statement to BuzzFeed News.

    Bannon, eager to force McConnell from power and stage an anti-establishment uprising, is recruiting a slate of candidates in next year’s Senate primaries. One of those candidates could be Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, the leading Republican in the race to take on Brown. (Mandel called Brown’s attack on Bannon “desperate, false, and beneath the dignity of this office” in a statement he gave exclusively to Bannon’s Breitbart News.)

    McConnell allies see Brown’s recent comments as a preview of a nightmare scenario for them: Bannon-backed candidates winning bruising primaries only to become softer targets for Democrats in a general election.

    Law’s warning follows a blast from longtime McConnell adviser Josh Holmes, who, like Brown, called Bannon a white supremacist in a recent interview with The Hill. Their comments escalate the war Bannon has declared on mainstream Republicanism.

    “They’re using the same false talking points that were used against President Trump in 2016,” Andy Surabian, a strategist who works closely with Bannon, told BuzzFeed News. “It saddens me to watch McConnell’s henchmen share notes with Sherrod Brown.”

    Bannon has made plenty of provocative comments that could be fodder for Democrats — or, for the time being, for his GOP adversaries. But Hillary Clinton and the Democrats had little success making Bannon and his alt-right ties an issue in the presidential election, where Bannon helped guide Trump to victory nationally, and in some of the same key states he hopes to be a factor in next year.

    Bannon has shown a particular interest in unseating incumbent Republican senators. One of his main targets, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, announced Tuesday that he would not seek reelection — an announcement that came a week after Bannon campaigned with his challenger, Kelli Ward.

    He also has raised expectations that he’ll be involved in states such as Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, where Republicans hope to pick up seats now held by Democrats.

    A Bannon-Mandel alliance may not be a done deal. Mandel has not agreed to what many believe is the price of a Bannon blessing: A promise not to support McConnell.

    Bannon’s allies were emboldened Tuesday by a Harvard-Harris poll showing that 56% of Republicans believe McConnell should resign his leadership post. (The survey also found that Bannon and McConnell are equally unpopular: Only 16% view each man favorably.)

    Mandel dodged the issue at a news conference last week in Ohio. And he and his campaign advisers have not responded to questions from BuzzFeed News.

    Those on both sides — Team McConnell and Team Bannon — suspect Mandel wants to keep a foot in both camps. Law’s Senate Leadership Fund supported Mandel in his unsuccessful 2012 race against Brown, but Mandel has since styled himself more as a mini-Trump. His campaign kickoff video included a vow to “drain the swamp.” And he has courted support from right-wing social media figures such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec.

    “This is about Mitch McConnell trying to protect his power,” Surabian said of the concern expressed by McConnell loyalists. “This isn’t about the Republican majority. If this were about the Republican majority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell would adhere to the wishes of Republican voters and candidates across the country and step down today.”


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    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    Howard University student activists say they believe they’ve been excluded from a lecture series with former FBI Director James Comey that begins Wednesday.

    In a statement, HU Resist said that the school’s administration “has done everything in its power” to ensure that students are “unable to challenge" Comey.

    Students protested Comey’s convocation speech at the school earlier this year, with activists contending that his FBI background makes him antithetical to the social justice movements championed by young black activists and Howard itself. The protest made national headlines and now the students claim Howard is going the extra mile to make sure their voices are silenced.

    As an endowed chair, Comey is set to give five lectures on public policy, with the first of those happening Wednesday. Comey pledged to donate his $100,000 salary to a Howard scholarship for students who grow up in foster care.

    But the student activists say Comey will speak to only a handful of members of the university community, with students carefully screened by administrators. A representative of the group said about three dozen students RSVP’d but that none had been approved. The group said this allows the university “to effectively ban student activists from participating.” HU Resist contends questions directed to Comey after his lecture on law enforcement and race will be carefully curated.

    After publication in a statement, the school told BuzzFeed News that admittance was done on first-come-first-serve basis and that questions would be selected by the campus newspaper editor who will be leading the Q&A.

    The full statement: "The King Lecture Series is always a highly anticipated lecture on Howard’s campus. Tonight’s lecture featuring former FBI Director James Comey is no exception. We are expecting a full house tonight comprised of Howard faculty, staff and students. Due to the popularity of Mr. Comey on campus, and space limitations, the lecture was organized to include a RSVP requirement from attendees. Seat confirmations were issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. We are livestreaming the event for those that cannot attend in person. Tonight’s lecture will indeed feature a Q & A session, led by the Editor of Howard’s student run newspaper, The Hilltop. The Editor is soliciting questions from the Howard community to be answered by Mr. Comey."

    A university spokesperson said Comey conducted a spirited discussion and meet-and-greet with a Constitutional law class at the law school Tuesday, presiding over a Q&A session for nearly 50 students.

    “There are plenty members of our community who are eager and excited to engage in rich dialogue with Mr. Comey, as evidenced by yesterday’s class,” Crystal Brown, Howard's vice president and chief communications officer told BuzzFeed News.

    But regarding Wednesday's event, HU Resist has questions. “How can we possibly engage in any real dialogue if the terms and conditions of the conversation are predetermined?” the group wrote. Added one of the activists, “It's interesting that Comey talked about freedom of speech at convocation, yet in order to attend the series you have to be pre-approved.”

    Wednesday marks the latest development in an ongoing back and forth between the administration and HU Resist, who contend that the university’s choices do not square with its professed values, or that of its students. After President Wayne A.I. Frederick met with President Donald Trump, a graffiti message was scrawled on campus: “Welcome to the Trump Plantation. Overseer: Wayne A.I. Frederick.” (HU Resist said it wasn’t responsible for the message.) The group has also strongly opposed administration contact with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    HU Resist said in the statement to BuzzFeed News that they met with administrators expressing their concern that Comey was so closely affiliated with Howard; during that meeting, they said, their concerns were “blatantly disregarded and dismissed.” They received Comey loudly last month singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” and chanting “white supremacy is not a debate.”

    “I love the enthusiasm of the young folks, I just wish they would understand what a conversation is,” said Comey. “A conversation is when you speak and I listen, and then I speak and you listen, and we go back and forth, and back and forth. At the end of a conversation, we’re both smarter.”

    HU Resist also expressed concern over a new extremist designation inside the FBI: “Black Identity Extremists.” It’s a new concept described in an internal FBI memo first reported by Foreign Policy, though the report doesn’t specifically mention Black Lives Matter. “Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence,” the report read. Critics say the new designation is demeaning, dangerous, and racist; Reps. Terri Sewell and Andre Carson, both members on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote in a letter to current FBI Director Christopher Wray that it was requesting a briefing explaining its rationale.

    “The FBI has a regrettable and troubling history of targeting black political activists and nonviolent civil rights leaders, and mislabeling them as domestic terror threats,” Carson and Sewell wrote. “Conflating American political activists with violent extremist with no obvious connection or hard evidence harms African Americans, harms the credibility of our law enforcement apparatus, and is an affront to our values as Americans.”

    On campus, the group is emphatic that bringing Comey to campus for lectures is an affront to the school’s values.

    “Comey, ironically, boasted many affronts to Black communities and communities of color during his tenure with the FBI, including the dismissal of racist state-sanctioned violence, and efforts to [dismantle] the growing Black Lives Matter movement, similar to the FBI's efforts to dismantle the Civil Rights and Black Power movements just a few decades prior,” the joint HU Resist statement reads.

    In a 2015 appearance, Comey said that the rise of “viral videos” was increasing scrutiny of cops and could be affecting police officers’ ability to do their work — remarks which bore a strong resemblance to the “Ferguson effect” theory, which suggested that anti-police sentiment over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police was resulting in an increase in crime because officers were hesitant to use some tactics in certain communities. (Then-President Obama offered a sharp repudiation of that idea, which was perceived as breaking with Comey.)

    The HU Resist statement goes on, saying Comey was “no ally to Black liberation,” and posited that Comey’s involvement with the “Ferguson effect” influenced the "Black Identity Extremists" designation. (Comey was fired by Trump in May; the FBI's counterterrorism division’s memo was published in August, per Foreign Policy.)

    “We find it both appalling and disrespectful that such a person is given a platform to discuss ‘law enforcement and race’ at our Historically Black University,” they wrote.

    “Our message is clear: James Comey is not welcome here.”


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  • 10/25/17--13:19: Who Is Yashar?
  • Yashar appearing on AM Joy on November 25th, 2016

    MSNBC

    His reporting has touched on major news story after major news story, from the Russia investigation to the Fox News sexual harassment scandal to the Harvey Weinstein saga. For Twitter junkies, he’s a constant presence blasting out the latest news story, cable news video, or elephant conservation effort to his 180,000 followers. And in media circles, he’s gone from a nonentity to a well-sourced journalist recognized by just a first name: Yashar.

    In an industry fascinated by unexpected newcomers, reporters and editors have been left wondering just who Yashar Ali — his middle, not last name — really is.

    Yashar says the pen name is meant to protect his family, but in practice, it also obscures his previous career: a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and an aide to former San Francisco mayor and current California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom. Now, he says, he is focusing on reporting — and says he didn’t vote in the 2016 election. Yashar is far from the first person to ditch politics for a media career, but the transition can be a fraught endeavor.

    Since the election, Yashar has broken all kinds of stories at the intersection of politics, media, and entertainment. For New York magazine, he reported per three sources present that George W. Bush remarked that Trump’s inaugural address was “some weird shit.” For HuffPost, he reported that Eric Bolling allegedly sent graphic pictures to female colleagues at Fox News. (Bolling has denied the claims and is suing Yashar.) In a detailed report earlier this month, Yashar and HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen dove into how NBC executives spiked Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein story, and he was the one who first interviewed Lauren Sivan, who alleged that Weinstein trapped her in the hallway of a restaurant, masturbated in front of her, and ejaculated into a potted plant. Yashar landed an interview with Kathy Griffin months after a photograph of her holding a faux Donald Trump head covered in fake blood ignited controversy.

    And he’s broken news on his Twitter feed, too, like when he tweeted, per a source in the Los Angeles FBI field office, that James Comey learned of his firing by seeing it on TV (a New York Times reporter tweeted the same tidbit 14 minutes later).

    "Yashar gets a lot of benefit of the doubt from people who wouldn't give reporters the benefit of the doubt, and I think he still handles the information like a journalist," said one political reporter who knows him. "Normally I object to people playing journalist, but I think he's taken the time. He gets it."

    People close to the 37-year-old describe him as a driven, wealthy Renaissance man who gets obsessed with various topics and finds a way to succeed at them — and they aren’t surprised that his new interest happens to be journalism. Other Democratic officials are dumbfounded by Yashar’s career change, and they wonder how someone could develop sources in the entertainment, media, and intelligence communities seemingly overnight (though Yashar’s reporting largely hasn’t been disputed). His background also hasn’t gone unnoticed by some conservative critics on Twitter, particularly given his reporting on Fox News.

    “You have to hand it to him. It's one thing to decide in your 30s or 40s that you always wanted to be a doctor,” said one Democratic official. “It’s another thing to go from being a somewhat successful political aide to an extremely prominent Twitter persona with no public acknowledgment of the shift.”

    Yashar was happy to talk about his life and career in an interview with BuzzFeed News. He grew up in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, where he said he was the target of bullying from a young age because of his Iranian heritage — particularly when stories like the Iran Contra scandal and the Salman Rushdie controversy dominated news coverage.

    Yashar, who comes from a wealthy and politically-connected family who has faced persecution in Iran, attended private high school and traveled internationally often with his parents, but skipped college for the entertainment business. He is credited as a production assistant on Never Been Kissed, the 1999 comedy in which a Chicago newspaper reporter played by Drew Barrymore goes undercover at a high school. After his high school graduation, armed with some entertainment contacts, Yashar moved to Los Angeles and began working in TV development.

    Friends got him into California politics — and he quickly became obsessed while working with Steve Westly, a California businessman running for state controller. “Politics had taken over my life. My head was not at work, it was in the political stuff,” Yashar told BuzzFeed News.

    In his own telling, Yashar’s career track often oscillates nebulously between informal advising, friendship, and formal employment. It’s in part a function of the fact that he is in a financial position, he says, where he doesn't have to worry about paying rent. Yashar has a way of making this sound not too snobby, but a luxury that has afforded him the ability to take professional risks throughout his 20s and 30s.

    By 2003 to 2004, Yashar was working full-time in politics. After winning the controller’s race, Westly’s focus soon shifted to the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, where Yashar served as a finance chair. But Westly lost the primary. “It was fucking devastating for me, because I had never been part of a professional failure,” Yashar said.

    Sources close to Yashar describe a rare ability to make fast friends. “He was the first person I ever DM’d,” Kathy Griffin told BuzzFeed News. (Unbeknownst to Griffin, but perhaps predictably for the well-connected Yashar, the two had previously met at a party about a decade before. They exchanged numbers after the Twitter DM and became close, with Yashar helping guide her through the Trump head crisis — and then writing about it.) This trait extended to politics: He says he considered Terry McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and current governor of Virginia, a mentor. By 2007, Yashar operated his own political consulting side business and was a registered lobbyist, on behalf of a government debt collector, according to public records. (Yashar said this was a precaution for conducting consulting work for them.) When in Washington, Yashar said he would work out of McAuliffe’s office. At the time, McAuliffe was about to become the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

    Yashar said that McAuliffe offered him professional advice — “You should learn and soak in what a presidential race is like” — and introduced him to Clinton. He served as a national co-chair for Clinton’s first ill-fated presidential campaign and became a “Hillraiser,” or prominent bundler. He said he would often talk to members of the press on background regarding campaign finance topics, and Yashar and Clinton developed a friendship.

    “Happy Birthday to you! You are a blessing and an inspiration. With Love, Yashar,” he emailed Clinton in 2012, according to documents later released by the State Department. In 2011, after Yashar shared a viral essay he had written, Clinton responded: “I love your blogging and am thrilled at your success both because it is YOU and because of the subject. Women all around the world need male champions and translators of their/our experiences. And I'm impressed and gratified that you have found your voice and an audience.”

    Those who have worked in politics with Yashar describe him as a hardworking operator with a good news sense, though something of an oddball. “He understands human relations and that translates to many different things,” said Buffy Wicks, a friend and Democratic political strategist. “Like when you’re trying to fundraise or put together a political strategy or deal with a press story.”

    Susie Tompkins Buell, a major California political donor and Yashar’s friend, said that “he’s very psychological.” He had enough political savvy, Buell says, to warn his peer group to take Donald Trump seriously as a candidate. “He would say, ‘Susie, look out, look out.’ I thought, he’s just being overly cautious,” Buell said. “I joked with him like, ‘How do you know these things,’ and he says, ‘Because I’m Iranian.’ He’s so smart and takes nothing for granted.”

    After Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama, through the connections he made on her campaign, Yashar went to work for Gavin Newsom, then the well-known mayor of San Francisco. (Yashar says the two first met years before in a meeting at Amblin Partners, Steven Spielberg’s entertainment company, but that Newsom enjoys teasing him that they did not.) Newsom had gubernatorial aspirations at the time, but pulled out of the race in 2009; Yashar went to work in his office at City Hall instead. A representative for Newsom did not return requests for comment.

    The move raised eyebrows in the local press, since Yashar was viewed as a young aide who “handled the logistics of Newsom's travel schedule and town hall events and was often seen encouraging the perennially late mayor to get to the airport to catch his flights,” according to SFGate. He also had donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates. “My parents have worked very hard. They've been very nice to their son,” Yashar told the news outlet. Newsom would go on to run, successfully, for lieutenant governor, and Yashar said he was expected to continue on in his statewide office. Instead, he was ready for a career change.

    “I was burned out because I worked really hard, probably too hard,” Yashar said. “I decided I wanted to write, and I didn’t know what I was going to write about.”

    After two or three months in Los Angeles, Yashar decided to move to New York, where he began crafting essays about politics and social issues. Yashar, who is gay, said he was in a dysfunctional relationship, and after a like-minded conversation with a female friend, decided to write an article about the “fucked up way that men can treat women,” he said. The essay — the one Hillary Clinton would later compliment — went viral, first on Yashar’s own website as well as when he licensed it out to other publications.

    “Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy,” Yashar wrote. “While dealing with gaslighting isn’t a universal truth for women, we all certainly know plenty of women who encounter it at work, home, or in personal relationships.”

    Yashar, who didn’t yet have a significant social media presence, said the reaction to the essay provided a lesson in the power of the internet.

    He moved back to California and spent a year working on various fundraising and advocacy projects, like a favorite cause he now tweets about frequently, elephants. But eventually he would end up back with Newsom. “Gavin and I were in touch this whole time,” Yashar said. “He was asking me about some policy, and all of a sudden I was working for him again, and I don't know how it happened.”

    By then, Newsom was preparing to run for governor, and Yashar says he spent 2015 as a “Swiss army knife” for his effort. But the media world still excited him, and he moved back to New York in the early summer of 2016 and began writing for New York magazine and the Daily Beast, where Yashar said he maintained social connections with editors. It was at that time, he says, that he began to focus on Twitter.

    Yashar developed a knack for the platform, often through the kind of viral cable news clip or quickly-posted news nugget that would help give rise to other flourishing Tweeters in the Trump era. An avid TV news viewer, Yashar was the first to catch Fox News host Jesse Watters appear to make a lewd gesture while discussing Ivanka Trump.

    As his tweets went viral, Yashar’s following grew by the thousands. “The Twitter thing was never intentional, it just snowballed,” he said. “If people respond to you, you only want to do it more.”

    Twitter also served as a reporting resource. After he tweeted about Megyn Kelly’s sit down for NBC News with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Russian email account sent Yashar unedited footage from the interview, he said. The clip “shows a nervous Kelly who asked the authoritarian leader softball questions and failed to hold him accountable on key topics,” he wrote in the HuffPost story that published the clip.


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    People believed to be Russians meddling in American politics swiftly chose a new target in the days after the 2016 election: trying to organize anti-Trump rallies, according to private messages from a page aimed at black civil rights activists that has been linked to a wider Russian effort.

    “We’re holding a protest against Trump on Saturday,” read a message obtained by BuzzFeed from the BlackMattersUS Facebook page to an activist who’d spoken at a previous rally organized by the group in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    Provided to BuzzFeed News

    The BlackMatters page also sent a poster for the “Charlotte Against Trump” rally on Nov. 19, 2016, and a now-unavailable link to a Facebook event.

    The page was identified in a bombshell investigation by RBC, a Russian outlet, as one of 180 social media accounts created by a St. Petersburg “troll farm.” BuzzFeed News reported last week that its activities extended well beyond trolling, to luring unsuspecting American activists into events and propaganda opportunities apparently aimed at seizing on and exploiting U.S. domestic conflicts across the political spectrum.

    Facebook suspended the BlackMattersUS page; RBC reported the suspension was part of a crackdown on Russian-linked accounts. A spokesperson has told BuzzFeed News he was “not able to confirm” the account was suspended as part of that purge. The pages are no longer accessible; private messages sent by the group are still accessible for those who received them.

    The pivot to an anti-Trump message was in keeping with the page’s broader strategy of piggybacking on an existing social movement to exploit divisions in American society. But it also offers a glimpse at a Russian campaign that was not simply aimed at American elections, but also at deepening rifts in American society that echoes century-old Soviet exploitation of domestic American injustice, and lines up more with the idea that Russian interference campaigns were about highlighting and deepening tensions in the West, rather than outright supporting Donald Trump.

    The source who shared the messages with BuzzFeed News said they didn’t respond to them, after becoming skeptical the group was really invested in the cause of racial justice because of an earlier, disorganized rally BlackMattersUS had put on: a protest after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, a black North Carolina man, in October 2016.

    But the post-election rally did take place, and at least two activists who spoke at that October rally were also present for the “Charlotte Against Trump” protest, according to fliers for the events posted with the BlackMatters watermark and cross-referenced with a report from the Charlotte Observer.

    View Video ›

    Facebook: video.php

    Kimberly Owens, one of the speakers at the November 2016 event, told BuzzFeed News that she wasn’t contacted by the group and the protest had an open invitation for speakers (anyone could speak). After learning a group believed to be backed by Russians promoted the event, she said she wouldn’t be surprised, noting how disorganized the protest was.

    There are a number of unresolved questions about the BlackMatters page, like who actually operated these social media accounts day to day. One activist who interacted with the group told ThinkProgress he would pitch BlackMatters on various events and BlackMatters would approve or deny those pitches.

    In its investigation into the Russian troll farm, RBC details how BlackMatters worked and some of the unusual aspects to the group’s accounts: The since-suspended BlackMattersUS Twitter account was registered to a phone number that begins with a Russian country code, according to RBC; the outlet also identified two staff members for BlackMattersUS, which had framed itself to some activists as a news outlet, but one account has been suspended, and the other not active since 2016.

    BlackMattersUS also scheduled a second rally for Nov. 26, 2016, which took place in Marshall Park in Charlotte; an article on the BlackMattersUS site detailed the event and linked to a petition on Change.org calling for North Carolina officials to open a 24-hour “hate crime” reporting hotline. The petition is sponsored by a group called Charlotte Against Hate. A Facebook page for that group is now unavailable.

    View Video ›

    facebook.com

    In New York, BlackMattersUS attempted to organize a protest on Dec. 3, centered around the electoral college.

    Via Archive.org

    “Trump won the Electoral College but is behind by almost 840,000 votes,” reads the description on a cached version of the deleted Facebook events page hosted by BM, another alias of BlackMattersUS. “Join us in the Streets to stop Donald Trump and his bigoted hateful agenda!”

    The event didn’t go as planned: 176 people were supposed to attend the event, but posts on another events page linked to the deleted event show protesters asking where everyone was.

    One protester told BuzzFeed News that around 15 people had shown up to the protest at Union Square, and they’d eventually joined an unrelated protest at Columbus Circle.


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    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the California State Senate, lost two key consultants after launching his bid to challenge a sitting five-term senator — departures his camp cast as unexpected and a reflection of a powerful political class that doesn’t “want to see Kevin de León succeed in this race.”

    The two former de León officials, his longtime election lawyer Stephen Kaufman and his fundraiser Stephanie Daily Smith, do not work for the incumbent candidate, Dianne Feinstein.

    But both work for leading California Democrats who support the 84-year-old senator, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, US Sen. Kamala Harris, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

    Kaufman, a prominent campaign lawyer in the state, had worked for de León for almost a decade, from late 2008 to July this year, according to financial disclosures for the state senator's ballot measures and campaign accounts, including the one that immediately preceded the 2018 race. Daily Smith, a former fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, also worked for de León from January to July of this year, filings show.

    Both have left de León’s team since the primary challenge, campaign spokesman Roger Salazar confirmed.

    Kaufman and Daily Smith declined to comment.

    In California Democratic politics, where a regular cast of elected officials share an overlapping network of in-state consultants and political consulting firms, conflicts and allegiances often tangle statewide elections. But with de León’s decision to challenge Feinstein, a state party mainstay and one of the longest-serving US senators, that complicated web runs deep, if not directly.

    Kaufman and Daily Smith both work for Padilla, Harris, and Garcetti, who are supporters of Feinstein. Garcetti shares the same longtime chief strategist, veteran operative Bill Carrick, as Feinstein. And Padilla and Harris both use SCN Strategies, the same leading consulting firm that is now running a pro-Feinstein super PAC, Fight for California, which launched within hours of a competing pro–de León super PAC.

    “It doesn’t surprise us that there are powerful people who don’t want Kevin de León to succeed in this race,” said Salazar, the de León spokesman. “He’s been told to wait his turn. It’s part of that mentality of folks who like things the way they are.”

    Spokespeople for Garcetti, Harris, and Padilla declined to comment.

    The shuffle did come as something of a surprise to the de León campaign, particularly in the case of Kaufman, who had done yearly work for the 50-year-old State Senate leader on campaigns and ballot initiatives since he served in the state assembly, de León aides said.

    It’s “not unusual” for consultants or vendors to be “conflicted out,” said Salazar. Here, though, with no direct conflict to Feinstein, “the tone of it is a little unusual,” he said. “But like I said, it's something we were expected based on whenever you challenge an institution of power.”

    De León, who is still assembling his campaign team two weeks after jumping in the race, has already brought on a number of national, Washington-based operatives. In California, where left-leaning activists reportedly encouraged him to challenge Feinstein, he may find it more difficult to hire tied up in-state operatives.

    The race has already been cast, in part through the de León campaign's own statements, as a fight between antiestablishment and party forces. Feinstein, who guided the city of San Francisco through the 1978 assassination of Mayor George Moscone and supervisor and LGBT activist Harvey Milk, is seen by some Democrats as a legendary but complex figure in the national party, with positions on foreign policy, privacy, and security that may be generationally out of step with the new influx of progressives. Both de León and Feinstein supported Clinton in the 2016 campaign.

    Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor, dismissed the idea that a Feinstein–de León race reflects an intraparty division. "People will overanalyze it that way," he said in an interview during the Democratic National Committee meeting last week. "But for the average voter, even the average supporter, that isn’t the prism we use."

    "They were both Clinton supporters. She’s the NRA’s number one enemy, helped repeal DOMA, helped write the torture report. So did she take a vote that also is different from my perspective 20 years ago? I’m sure," Garcetti said. "Does he take corporate dollars? Of course he does. He was the head of the Senate in California."

    "So to that hyper Bernie activist, he or she can probably find something to hate about both of them."

    LINK: California Democrats Have Changed. Their Senator Hasn’t.


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    House Speaker Paul Ryan

    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    Nothing will keep Speaker Paul Ryan from talking about tax policy, not even the indictment of President Trump's former campaign chairman.

    Ryan called in Monday for a scheduled interview with Jerry Bader of WTAQ in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The pre-arranged topic — the only topic, really, that Ryan seems to want to talk about, no matter the chaotic churn of Donald Trump’s Washington — was tax reform.

    Bader opened up the segment with a question about the big news of the day: indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. It also was revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, has admitted to lying to the FBI in its investigation of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

    Ryan's response?

    “I really don’t have anything to add other than nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress,” Ryan told Bader. The interview then switched to tax reform and other policy issues.

    Ryan has spent much of the last two years insisting that the agenda — from the "A Better Way" platform he repeatedly pushed last year — is the most important thing and no news will distract from it. His effort to sell changes to tax policy began in May under similarly distracting circumstances. The day before Ryan’s kickoff tour, a carefully choreographed factory visit with local lawmakers and a business roundtable discussion in Ohio, Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

    “The people in the press, they’re here because they want to listen to me talk about tax reform,” Ryan joked that day — an aw-shucks mix of defiance and self-deprecation. “So I want to tell my friends in the press: I’ll be making statements later about the questions that they all have.”

    He saved his statement for an appearance that evening on Fox News.

    Ryan’s efforts to deflect and stay on message have become a bit of a running joke.

    Via Twitter.com

    As of noon Monday, there had been no official statement from Ryan or from his office beyond his non-answer answer on home-state radio. On Twitter, in response to a question about Ryan’s quick and dismissive response, Ryan press secretary AshLee Strong replied: “It's an ongoing investigation and we need to let the professionals at DOJ continue to do their job.”

    And the speaker’s Twitter account had issued only two tweets as of noon — one of them a retweet of the House Ways and Means Committee’s post on tax reform.


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    Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

    The indictment Monday of Paul Manafort is, among other things, a spectacular exercise in prosecutorial discretion, a marker that Donald Trump almost inexplicably hired a man trailed by a dark, but widely known history and then fired him — less over what he’d done as campaign chairman than what he’d done in the last decade of his career.

    Our Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier reported Sunday — in a story that is a blueprint for today’s indictments — that the FBI was on Manafort’s case as early as 2012, an investigation that “lay dormant” for a long time:

    Manafort’s suspicious financial transactions were first flagged by Treasury officials as far back as 2012 and forwarded to the FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the Department of Justice for further investigation in 2013 and 2014, a former Treasury official who worked on the matter told BuzzFeed News. The extent of Manafort’s suspicious transactions was so vast, said this former official, that law enforcement agents drafted a series of “intelligence reports” about Manafort’s financial dealings. Two law enforcement officials who worked on the case say that they found red flags in his banking records going back as far as 2004, and that the transactions in question totaled many millions of dollars.

    But the FBI wasn’t alone in looking at Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, also indicted on Monday, long before they ever joined the Trump campaign. Way back in 2013, BuzzFeed News’ Rosie Gray reported in detail on the covert propaganda campaign being run by the European Centre for Modern Ukraine, the front group tied to Manafort and Gates’s operation. Their long-overdue Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) paperwork was — even if filled out truthfully, which it allegedly was not — an acknowledgment they’d failed to disclose what work they were legally required to disclose.

    Other reporters were all over the story, as well. Politico’s Alex Burns and Maggie Haberman documented Manafort’s strange career in 2014. That year, Roger Stone, another member of Trump’s feuding inner circle, blasted out an email with the question “Where is Paul Manafort?” and answers including, “Was seen chauffeuring Yanukovych around Moscow,” and “Was seen loading gold bullion on an Army Transport plane from a remote airstrip outside Kiev and taking off seconds before a mob arrived at the site.”

    When Manafort joined the campaign in 2016, Russia watchers were immediately alarmed: “With Donald Trump on the brink of receiving classified security briefings from the Central Intelligence Agency, US foreign policy figures of both parties are raising concerns about a close Trump aide’s ties to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” we reported at the time. Slate published a 5,000-word piece detailing Manafort’s work abroad.

    The drumbeat continued: The New York Times last year reported that Manafort’s name appeared in a secret ledger of questionable Ukrainian payouts. The AP early this year tied him more closely to Russia. The Atlantic reported that emails show Manafort writing a Ukrainian contact in April, asking him to make sure that a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin was aware of the work he was doing on the Trump campaign.

    So what does this all mean? It doesn’t mean Manafort colluded with Russians on Trump’s campaign; it does mean that Trump knowingly brought aboard a boatload of Russian baggage. It doesn’t say much about Jared Kushner or Steve Bannon; but it does suggest that if Gates or Manafort know more, they’re likely to cough it up, faced with the prospect of growing old in federal prison.

    The moves against Manafort and Gates stand in contrast to the other indictment unsealed today. George Papadopoulos was arrested in July; according to the filings on Monday, he lied to the FBI about the timing of meetings he took just weeks and months into his stint as a foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Trump. He has since been cooperating with Mueller, detailing contacts with sources he thought were close to the Russian foreign ministry and alleged attempts by Russian officials to reach the Trump campaign.

    There’s a lot that we don’t know about the Russia story, but there’s also a lot that we’ve always known, and the scramble for new information can obscure the obvious. We know that Russian state media openly attacked Clinton and boosted Trump, the overt arm of a media campaign that copious evidence suggests was also covert. We know that Trump hired men deeply connected to Russia’s allies to run his campaign; we don’t know much of what they did behind the scenes, if anything.

    We still don’t know everything about what took place in a closed-door meeting last summer between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, or if Trump allies ever were successful in their hunt for Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

    But we do know what the candidate said on stage in Florida last July: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

    Manafort’s alleged crimes have been in plain sight for years. So much of this story is.


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    President Donald Trump

    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    When James Comey testified before Congress in June, Donald Trump’s allies at the Republican National Committee unleashed a huge rapid-response effort designed to defend the president against fallout from the FBI director he had fired under questionable circumstances.

    Emails warning of “Comey Amnesia” landed in inboxes of political reporters across the country. Even state-based GOP organizations were loaded up with talking points to share.

    The war-room mentality demonstrated the value an aggressively on-message RNC can have for an undisciplined White House. But on Monday, amid the first big waves of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates, and a former campaign adviser’s admission that he had lied to the FBI about his contact with Russia — the party’s messengers largely avoided the fray.

    The president, for his part, appears to prefer deflecting to Democrats and to Hillary Clinton. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders incorporated some of that strategy during her Monday briefing.

    A sampling of state Republican Party tweets from Monday afternoon.

    TweetDeck (screengrab)

    But the RNC’s Twitter and Facebook pages talked up tax cuts, praised Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, and even wished Ivanka Trump a happy birthday. The only reference to the day’s big developments came in the form of a retweet of a Fox News segment with RNC spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany, who while speaking specifically of the charges against Manafort and Gates noted that the document made no mention of Trump or his campaign.

    The only Monday “press release” on the RNC’s website as of 6 p.m. was headlined “ICYMI: Democrat Women Senators Oppose Tax Cuts They Once Supported.” It linked to a Fox News column. The party’s only blog entry for Monday was about the Virginia race.

    Meanwhile, state parties, some of which were eager to piggyback off the RNC efforts in June, also ignored the news. Some of the state parties kept their focus on tax reform. It’s an issue near and dear to Trump and to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who in response to the latest legal and political distractions Monday vowed that “nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.”

    The silence from Trump’s allies is a departure not only from months ago, but also from last week. RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and others had been trying to turn the Russia story in their favor by questioning Democrats’ role in securing research on Trump.

    It's unclear whether the RNC will sing backup this time. Officials there did not respond to requests for comment.

    And while it's quiet, superficially, other Republican sources told BuzzFeed News that it’s quiet behind the scenes, too. Several said they had not yet seen the types of talking points the party typically circulates to supporters during times of high drama.

    “I just checked,” one Republican replied, “and nothing.”


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    Via facebook.com

    BlackMattersUS, a social media campaign believed to be Russians meddling in US politics, promoted a large anti-Trump march in New York City in the days after the election.

    A now-unavailable Facebook page for the Nov. 12, 2016, march shows the event’s host as BM, a known alias of the BlackMattersUS used throughout the group's promotional materials for other sponsored protests, and encouraged protesters to meet at Union Square at 12 p.m. to march to Trump Tower.

    The archived events page shows the event was shared with 61,000 people, 33,000 were interested in the event and 16,000 people marked themselves as going. “Divided is the reason we just fell. We must unite despite our differences to stop HATE from ruling the land,” a description of the event page reads.

    On Wednesday afternoon, after BuzzFeed News published this report, the House Intelligence Committee released a sampling of Facebook ads linked to Russia. One of the ads released was a sponsored post for the Nov. 12 anti-Trump march at Union Square.

    House Intelligence Committee

    In the weeks after the election, it wasn’t hard to convince people in New York City to attend an anti-Trump protest, which might help explain the size of the protest. It appears to have been much larger than many of the disorganized protests BlackMatters put on earlier. New York voted for Hillary Clinton by a large margin and this would be the fourth day of widespread protests in the city following the contentious election. The protests around the country prior to the event were so widely covered that they even elicited tweets from the newly-elected president.

    PBS reported last November that this event was organized by “BlackMatters, a nonprofit news outlet which focuses on black issues in the United States.” The description of the the group falls in line with language that was used throughout the BlackMattersUS website. And months later, that organization is believed to be part of a Russian-based scheme to further political divisions in America.

    Although it’s been widely reported that a large portion of the “Russian troll” efforts largely benefited the president, planning anti-Trump protests after he was elected fit in the broader strategy of the Russia-based “troll farm”: capitalizing on the legitimate feelings of Americans to create deeper socio-political rifts in the United States through propaganda and real-life events.

    RBC, a Russian outlet, identified BlackMatters as one of 180 social media accounts. BuzzFeed News has reported that the operation including luring unsuspecting American activists to protests, self-defense classes aimed at black communities, apparently aimed at exploiting existing US domestic movements, from pro-Trump memes to social justice activism.

    Facebook, Twitter and Google are appearing before congressional committees for two days of marathon hearings to testify on the content of accounts and advertisements linked to the Russia-based operation that meddled in the US election. Ahead of the hearings, the three companies revealed that the number of Russian-linked accounts was higher than previously disclosed and Facebook announced that 126 million people could have been exposed to content created by the propagandist accounts.

    Facebook has since suspended the BlackMattersUS page; RBC reported the suspension was part of a crackdown on Russian-linked accounts. A spokesperson has told BuzzFeed News he was “not able to confirm” the account was suspended as part of that purge. The pages are no longer accessible.

    The Russian campaign to influence American life has been portrayed as a virtual effort, rooted in social media. But over the past few months, evidence has emerged of Russian efforts to influence US activists to organize protests in real life. In September, The Daily Beast reported that Russian operatives attempted to organize over a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida and last week BuzzFeed News revealed anti-Trump rallies in Charlotte and New York that were organized by BlackMattersUS through Facebook. The Wall Street Journal this week reported on a rally in Minnesota after the death of Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer.

    The post-election New York rally would be the largest organized event promoted by one of the Russia-linked groups reported thus far. A New York Daily News report estimated that roughly 5,000 people met at Union Square to march on Trump Tower and linked directly to the suspended Facebook events page.

    A Facebook official told BuzzFeed News that they weren't able to confirm that the event was promoted by the Russian-linked group but that the company is taking issues related to any content on the platform seriously.


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