Sleeper Cell: The Fourth of July Traitors

Has Putin activated the "Prostrate Eight" to defend Trump?

IN 2018, EIGHT REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS celebrated the Fourth of July in Moscow, Russia: Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who led the delegation, along with Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana, Steve Daines of Montana, North Dakota’s John Hoeven, Jerry Moran of Kansas, South Dakota’s John Thune, and Rep. Kay Granger of the 12th District of Texas. The ostensible reason for the trip was “engagement”—the same tired excuse Senator Rand Paul routinely provides to justify his own shadowy meetings with our enemies.

The GOP octet was denied an audience with Vladimir Putin—a subtle and characteristically petty show of his dominance—but the group nevertheless met with a number of key Russians, including foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and former Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak—the two jackals who two months earlier were photographed by the Russian press yukking it up with Trump in the Oval Office, the day after Comey was fired. Perhaps the Americans’ intention was to lay the smack down? According to Daines, the delegation “sent a very strong message and a direct message to the Russian government,” in which they requested that Russia stop fucking with 1) our elections, 2) Ukraine, and 3) Syria. Kennedy echoed this claim: “I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year. I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”

Sounds grand—but we have no way of knowing if this is true, as the media was barred from the closed-door meetings, much to the delight of the “gloating” Russians:

Judging by the fact that Putin has completely ignored the alleged warnings to knock it off, Shelby’s recap of the meeting was likely closer to the truth. He told his Russian counterparts that their purpose was to “strive for a better relationship” with the country that sabotaged the 2016 election, and not to “accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.” Flaccid acquiescence to Putin is more on-brand for the GOP than Dirty Harry-style ultimatum.

The Russian response confirms the Shelby version of events. “We heard things we’d heard before, and I think our guests heard rather clearly and distinctly an answer that they already knew: we don’t interfere in American elections,” the multi-chinned Kislyak remarked, apparently with a straight face.

Even in the moment, the trip was met with derision, in the United States as well as Russia. Twitter had a predictable field day at the delegation’s expense. In his column in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank filleted them:

So, what do we call these Red Square Republicans? My interlocutors on Twitter suggest “Moscow Mules.” Or, given the position they put themselves in before our masters in Moscow, perhaps they should be called the Prostrate Eight.

The Russians were just as brutal in their analysis:

Daines, for his part, seems to have panicked at the optics of spending Independence Day fluffing Putin, tweeting out some savvy misdirection:

Kislyak and Lavrov were not the only major Trump/Russia figures who engaged the delegation. The lawmakers also had an audience with Rand Paul’s BFF Konstatin Kosachev, who, according to the Steele Dossier, is the Russian behind the (unverified) Michael Cohen meeting in Prague. We don’t know for certain if Prague took place, but from what I gather, Kosachev operates as an important backchannel to Putin himself. He is the smoke billowing from the bonfire of Trump/Russia collusion. President Obama obviously agreed, as Kosachev is on the US sanctions list—a fact the foreign affairs committee chair was quick to poke fun at:

Again, we don’t really have any idea what was discussed on the trip. The story in WaPo seems to contain much from Russian sources (boldface mine):

The American lawmakers discussed the upcoming Helsinki summit and other matters with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, his ministry said. At the meeting at the Federation Council—the upper house of parliament—Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev raised Russia’s grievances about new American sanctions and the U.S. seizure of Russian diplomatic properties. While some members of the U.S. delegation speculated before the trip that they might see Putin himself, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that the president had no time for the visitors. 

The delegation might have been as unremarkable as most Congressional delegations to foreign countries, and quickly forgotten, but for three things: First, the trip was not bipartisan; only GOP made the trek (“Since the Democrats actively accuse the Republicans of selling out to the Russians, it would naturally be strange if Democrats here were part of the group,” said Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov). Second, the US lawmakers spent the Fourth of July in Russia (symbolism of this kind is very important in Russian culture). And third, some of the members of that delegation have been increasingly vocal in their support of Donald Trump upon their return—and especially since the start of the impeachment inquiry.

Senator Ron Johnson has been the most outspoken, defending Trump—and his Russian whoremasters—so blindly and Kool-Aid-drunkenly that Chuck Todd of all people called him out on Meet the Press

The big takeaway here is Johnson announcing that he doesn’t trust the FBI or the CIA—a tacit admission that he does trust the GRU and his Russian comrades. But there’s more to it than that. The 6 October 2019 interview is so over-the-top bat-shit that it’s best to read it, rather than watch it, to fully appreciate the extent of its crazy. To me, Johnson presents as a desperate man making what he knows deep down is a losing life-and-death argument. He is Galileo in reverse.

John Neely Kennedy has been even worse. He just straight-up propagates unfiltered Kremlin talking points. The only way his GRU propaganda could be more Putinist is if it were delivered in the original Russian. In his Washington Post op-ed, James Downie calls Kennedy “the Useful Idiot from Louisiana,” concluding:

The term “useful idiot," usually attributed to Vladimir Lenin to refer to Westerners unwittingly repeating Soviet propaganda, has often been applied too broadly since its first use. But Kennedy has amplified a Russian misinformation campaign and willfully ignored warnings about said campaign. The result? Moscow’s attempt to “get people like [Kennedy] to say these things about Ukraine” has worked spectacularly. As a phrase, “useful idiot” has never been more apt.

On this last point, I beg to differ with Downie. Despite his aw-shucks appearance, John Neely Kennedy is no idiot. The guy has a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, with first class honors, from Oxford University—not exactly a hotbed of dummies. Not only that, he isn’t even really a Republican. He was a Democrat for years, and seems to have changed sides mostly to make himself politically viable in deep red Louisiana. It is true that Trump campaigned for him during the special election in 2016. But Kennedy was never his lickspittle, his Senatorial Matt Gaetz. Indeed, in his short stint in the Senate, Kennedy is one of the few Republicans who have dared to break with POTUS a few times—most notably to advance a bill intended to stop Trump from blocking sanctions on Russia. That was this past January—six months after the Moscow trip, at which Kennedy claimed to have talked tough to the Russians.

And yet now, not quite a year later, Kennedy has, quite suddenly, gone all-in with Putin and his White House puppet. While not quite as abrupt a conversion as Rand Paul’s or Lindsey Graham’s—he did go to Moscow on Independence Day, after all—the Senator from Louisiana is, as Downie suggests, pretty clearly working for Vladimir Putin wittingly or not.

It may be a coincidence, of course, that two of the eight lawmakers who went to Moscow for some vague reason on the fucking Fourth of July are now mouthpieces for the Kremlin. But if you ask me, this delegation of the damned has all the look of a GOP/GRU sleeper cell. Consider: Eight Republican lawmakers—and, notably, not a single Democrat—journey halfway around the world to spend Independence Day with Putin’s coziest cronies. We don’t really know what happens once they get there, but we do know that the Russians are really fucking good at both psy-ops and kompromat. In Moscow, at least two of them are turned. The “Prostrate Eight” come home, everything is cool for nine months, and then, all of the sudden—boom. The switch is activated. The sleeper cell awakens. Its mission? To fulfill the prime directive: defend Trump at all costs. Ron Johnson subsequently goes completely off the rails. John Neely Kennedy does a 180. Both Senators are both regurgitating vile RU propaganda. They return from Russia with love—or, if not love, blind allegiance to Putin. It’s The Americans, but with actual Americans.

That sounds like something from a spy novel, I realize, but I ask you: What’s the better explanation? That the damning testimony of Fiona Hill and Maria Yovanovich and Lt. Col. Vindman and Bill Taylor and George Kent and Gordon Sondland has somehow convinced Johnson and Kennedy that Trump is innocent?

For his part, the Senator from Louisiana does not deserve to share a first and last name with one of the champions of democracy, the patriot who wrote, but never got to say, these words:

We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.”

The Fourth of July traitors are not watchmen. On the contrary, they are who the watchmen are on the lookout for.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.

Obstructionism is the New Secession

Mitch McConnell is Jefferson Davis 2.0.

DEMOCRACY IS NOT, and was never intended to be, a zero-sum game. The winners are not supposed to take everything. Change comes slowly and incrementally—often frustratingly so, for progressives. But the flip side is that the United States has worked pretty damned well for a quarter millennium, becoming arguably the greatest nation the world has ever known, because of the willingness of its political parties to compromise.

In the run-up to the Civil War, Congress bent over backwards brokering one compromise after another, in a valiant attempt to preserve the union. These compromises infuriated Northern abolitionists (“This word compromise, when applied to human rights and constitutional rights, I abhor,” trumpeted Thaddeus Stephens in 1850), just as they vexed the Southern slaveholders. Ultimately, the peace did not hold—the differences between slave and free were irreconcilable—but the point is that, in an era when members of Congress sometimes kicked the shit out of each other, politicians still went to great lengths to compromise.

Compromise only works when both political parties are willing to budge. If one of those parties abdicates its responsibility to represent the American people, if it exists simply to obstruct the work of the other—if it flat-out refuses to compromise, ever, about anything—the US system of government, always a fragile thing, breaks down.

After the election of 1860, the Southern states said, “Fuck it. We’re not working with Abraham Lincoln no mater what,” and they seceded from the Union. After the election of 2008, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans said, “Fuck it. We’re not working with Barack Obama no matter what,” and proceeded to obstruct every single thing he tried to do, large or small, national security be damned. To avoid compromise, the South chose Civil War. To avoid compromise, McConnell allowed Moscow to sabotage the 2016 election. Both acts are tantamount to treason. (That the Party of Lincoln slowly morphed into the Party of Obstruction is a sad irony).

Obama, after spending most of his first year in office coaxing the recalcitrant Republicans to work with him, eventually gave up, and, like Lincoln, used the vast powers of the office to take action without the rival party’s input. This worked, sure, but it was not without consequences. As I wrote in “Obama the Terrible” in February of 2014, after the story broke about the president’s drone strikes on suspected terrorists:

If a terrorist can be blown to smithereens at the whim of a single individual, then so can I, and so can you. If a terrorist can be held indefinitely without trial, then so can I, and so can you….

Today, the man with his finger on the button is the genial Barack Obama, a man I voted for, a man I like and admire, a man whose judgment I trust. The president strikes me as grounded, guarded, pragmatic, and smart. Whatever some may believe, Obama is not Hitler. But the next guy might be. And therein lies the terror. Not recognizing this clear and present danger is Obama’s greatest failing as president.

While he has not yet gone to these terrifying lengths, the despotic Donald Trump has certainly exploited the “executive order” precedents set by the frustrated Obama. The GOP refusal to compromise—to so much as allow a vote on Supreme Court nominees and House bills!—begat both Obama’s executive power grab and the “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference in the 2016 election (in Mueller’s words), which McConnell through his cynical inaction aided and abetted. The result is Donald Trump—corrupt, venal, vain, petty, criminal, installed and controlled by Vladimir Putin—presiding over the most powerful executive branch in recent memory.

Many factors contributed to this outcome, yes. But the root of the problem is the Republicans’ refusal to compromise. The GOP are not small-d democrats any longer. Mitch McConnell and his confederates are the modern heirs of Christopher Memminger, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. Which should come as no surprise:

Fortunately, the Confederate States of America did not have a state TV network spewing pro-slavery propaganda to North and South. There was no Fox & Friends to normalize the brutal war crimes of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sean Hannity was not there to fawn over James Henry Hammond and extol the virtues of the Mudsill Theory. Nor did Jeff Davis have a Rudy Giuliani scurrying around Transylvania, calling into question Robert Lincoln’s ties with the Pullman Palace Car Company. If so, the Civil War might have played out quite differently.

The GOP does not want to Make America Great Again; it wants to make America white again—and, especially, to keep the White House white. This is a tall order. Like the antebellum South, the demographics do not favor the GOP. The country is becoming more diverse each year. White people will soon be a minority in the United States. The demographic shift could well turn Texas blue—which would be the death knell for the Republican Party. A blue Texas plus blue California, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey mean a Democrat POTUS for the foreseeable future.

McConnell surely understands this. He knows he’s running on borrowed time. If he can’t control the executive branch, or Congress, he has to infiltrate the judiciary—the only one of the three branches whose members, conveniently, serve for life. So far, this objective has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Obstruction has seen to that.

When it became clear that McConnell would never allow the Senate to vote to confirm Merrick Garland, President Obama should have gotten creative. FDR would have ordered Garland to take the seat after a waiting period of 60 days—something, anything to ensure not only that Garland took his rightful place on SCOTUS, but that the politics of obstruction failed spectacularly. Instead, Obama avoided a fight, assuming that Hillary Clinton would win and it would all be moot. This colossal error, an obvious blunder even at the time, guarantees a conservative judiciary—and perhaps, depending on the fragile health of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, an extremely conservative one—for decades.

The lesson is this: If the new president finds herself with a blue House and a blue Senate, she needs to be relentless. She needs to move quickly, decisively, and fearlessly. Yes, she should attempt to engage the GOP. But at the first whiff of obstruction, she should ignore them completely going forward. It is not her responsibility to beg them to do their fucking jobs. Let the Republicans go to Canossa if they want a seat at the table—and once they are at the table, let them do more than refuse to play along. The politics of obstruction must be eradicated, just as the Confederacy was. Traitors should have no voice in the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Lindsey Graham is Trump's Hostage

There is no other rational explanation for his complete 180.

“YOU KNOW HOW you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell!” This is what Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, told Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s New Day on 8 December 2015—four full years ago.

“He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” Graham continued. “He doesn't represent my party. He doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for….He's the [ISIS] Man of the Year.” The senator rightly pegged Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric as cold political calculus of the basest kind: “What Mr. Trump is doing—and I don't think he has a clue about anything—he's just just trying to get his numbers up and get the biggest reaction he can. He is helping the enemy of this nation.”

And then, the money shot: “I'd rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with with him,” Graham said. “I wish he would leave the party. I don't care if he runs as an independent. If we lose the 2016 election, so be it. I want to be in a category of the one percent who said ‘B.S., this is not who we are at a party, this is not who we are as a nation.’” Five months later, as Trump began his Russian-fueled ascendancy, Graham doubled down:

These were not isolated incidents, either. Graham pretty clearly despised Trump, during the campaign and well after the election, and he wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. To Democrats, he was one of the few Republicans who seemed to get it. I cited Graham and his good friend John McCain as “patriotic Republicans who have boldly stood up to Trumpism” in my first serious anti-Trump piece in January of 2017. Three months later, a friend who followed the Trump/Russia scandal wrote me: “I have to say, though I don't agree with his politics, I think Lindsay Graham is often hilarious.” Graham continued to hammer Trump well into 2017, especially after the hate rally in Charlottesville that August.

And then, quite suddenly, on 9 October 2017, it all changed. The conversion of Lindsey Graham did not occur on the road to Damascus, like Paul of Tarsus, but on the back nine of the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia. And he did not come to Jesus, but to the Antichrist.

At the time, I thought Graham was paying lip service to a pathologically insecure windbag—making a few complimentary remarks to woo the easily wooable Trump. Politics 101. Machiavelli stuff. Hadn’t Jimmy Carter tried the same thing? In hindsight, however, it is clear that Trump was the one who made the power move. Judging by Graham’s odd behavior since that fateful day, what went down on the links was the homeland equivalent of “I’d like you to do me a favor, though.” Since 9 October 2017, Lindsey Graham has become Trump’s unlikeliest champion.

But there is something off about the presentation, something inauthentic. To me, Lindsey Graham presents as Trump’s hostage. He is Jesse Pinkman, locked in Uncle Jack’s oubliette, forced by Todd to make meth all day. He is an American POW in an orange jump suit, kneeling before a hooded terrorist with a scimitar, mumbling that the United States is the Great Satan, and wow are his captors treating him well. Or, in more colorful terms:

LIKE HIS GOP colleague Rand Paul, who experienced a similarly dramatic reversal on Trump, Lindsey Graham now functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Vladimir Putin. For propaganda purposes, his support of Trump is particularly valuable, as Graham for years enjoyed a reputation as a reasonable, considerate Republican. He is not Jim Jordan or Devin Nunes or Matt Gaetz or even Paul Ryan. He was Robin to his late friend John McCain’s Batman.

And his job now, it appears, is to angrily pop off, to provide fodder for the Twitterati. The gambit works like this: Graham will say something completely insane about Trump, something we know damned well he doesn’t actually believe. The press will report it. An hour or so later, someone will post a video of a younger, more sober Lindsey Graham contradicting the crazy statement.

It’s quite the sad spectacle. When he speaks to the press, Lindsey Graham rants. His cheeks flush red. He sweats. To me, he looks like he’s three sheets to the wind. I can practically smell the booze through the TV screen. I wish the reporters would confirm my suspicions, because that seems like an important detail. “Graham, who appeared intoxicated, said…”

So many people pointed out the hypocrisy of the below tweet that “Jared and Ivanka”—brazen grifters who made a whopping $82 million last year trading on their family connections—trended on Twitter all that afternoon:

Fun as it is to pile on, poking holes in his flimsy arguments, we must instead ask: Why is Graham doing this? What did Trump say to him on the golf course? What is the dirt?

He’s in the closet, and he can’t get elected in South Carolina if he’s openly gay. This is the boilerplate explanation, but it rings hollow. First of all, it’s almost twenty fucking twenty. Does anyone actually care? Also, if every single person on social media is aware of Graham’s long-rumored sexual orientation, is it really feasible that residents of South Carolina are somehow in the dark about him being (allegedly) in the closet? No, that can’t be it.

So, like, what?

It’s true that the RNC emails were hacked by Russia but never released. It’s true that Graham thinks he’s been a victim of “unmasking,” and has grilled various IC heads about this. It’s true that there were dirty rubles pouring into his campaign. Alas, it’s also true that in this climate, when a third of the country is totally fine with seditious extortion by the president, kompromat’s gotta be way stronger than that. The guy is acting like members of his family are locked away in some dank Mar-a-Lago dungeon—like he’s getting severed fingers mailed to him.

We are left with this:

Before writing the Cartel trilogy and establishing residence on the New York Times best-seller list, Don Winslow was a private investigator. He really does have friends in federal law enforcement. He’s a smart guy, and he knows his stuff. Furthermore, that tweet has been up for almost two months, and Lindsey Graham—who is almost certainly aware of it, tagged as he is by a blue-check account—has made no move to have it stricken from the record. Why not? Unlike the bogus-lawsuit-loving Devin Nunes, who is suing a pretend cow, Graham is a good attorney, and thus familiar with the concept of discovery. He also understands that it ain’t libel if it’s the truth.

All of this is almost enough to make me feel sympathy for Lindsey Graham. Blackmail is a terrible thing. And he certainly looks like he’s been through the wringer. Then I remember his petty rant at the Brett Kavanaugh hearing—his Twitter picture is still the snapshot of him with the newest Supreme Court Justice, who remains in debt to mysterious creditors and, oh yes, is a sexual assailant—and his casual and dangerous attacks on the whistleblower, and I am forced to recalibrate my inner empathy meter. If Winslow’s source is right, then Graham did something so heinous, so beyond the pale, that he is willing to sacrifice his reputation, his health, his political power, the well-being of every woman in the country, and last but not least, the national security of the United States, to keep it under wraps. He isn’t worthy of sympathy—or mercy.

Graham’s Twitter prophesy has come to pass—but with an O. Henry-style twist. Yes, the GOP nominated Trump. But it’s Lindsey Graham who has been destroyed…and he deserves it.

Blacklisted: An Interview with Cheri Jacobus

The Never Trump conservative on blacklisting, catfishing, hacking & more.

In 2015, Cheri Jacobus (@CheriJacobus), a seasoned Republican political operative with a long and impressive resume, was asked to take a job with the Trump campaign. She declined. Months later, when she blew the whistle on one of Trump’s early lies—that his campaign was self-funded, and that he wasn’t in any way involved with a secret super PAC—the vindictive candidate and his goons did what they could to ruin her life. Trump denigrated her on Twitter. FOX stopped booking her. CNN blacklisted her. She was catfished. Her AOL account was hacked. She began to fear for her safety.

What happened to her is what many Republicans fear will happen to them, if they dare to defy Trump.

Jacobus was one of the first conservative Never Trumpers. She’s cultivated a large Twitter following—mostly by being right about almost everything for four years and counting—and parlayed that popularity into “America Reads the Mueller Report,” a project designed to expose Americans who may not have access to the Internet to the findings. You can read her work at A House United on the Maven Roundtable archive.

This is my discussion with one of the unsung heroes of the age of Trump:

Greg Olear: Your latest project is “America Reads the Mueller Report.” What is this all about, and why is it so important?

Cheri Jacobus:  “America Reads The Mueller Report” is a half-hour program for local television, with celebrities and some “real” people reading direct excerpts from The Mueller Report. No political commentary and no spin. Just the facts (and a few clips from Mueller’s testimony).

Most people have not read the report, and many who only watch FOX or heard Bill Barr misrepresent what Mueller found erroneously believe Mueller exonerated Trump. It is vitally important that every American understand at least the basics of what Mueller found.

GO: And this is intended for local television?

CJ: We’re a 501(c)(4) non-profit, raising funds to air this on as many local TV stations as possible. Not everyone is on Twitter, or online much, if at all. While some people don’t care about the facts or truth, many who are misinformed or are not accessing accurate information simply don’t know it.  

GO: You have assembled a great line-up.

CJ: We have now been on or will soon be on 25 stations in five states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Montel Williams, Jon Cryer, Morgan Fairchild, Willie Garson and Tom Arnold read key excerpts from The Mueller Report, where folks will catch it just before the big football game, after the morning farm show, or between their favorite game show and talk show.  

GO: That is a brilliant idea. Thank you for making that happen.

GO: You are one of the original Republican Never Trumpers. But unlike some of your colleagues, who have landed book deals and gigs running quixotic presidential campaigns for longshot candidates, your aversion to Trump has cost you professionally. This despite being right about almost everything for the last four years.

CJ: It has, indeed, turned into a “cottage industry” for some, and I do believe mission creep has set in to the point where there is an “Establishment” Never Trump that has lost sight of the mission. You can’t be “a little bit Never Trump”—it’s like being “a little bit pregnant.” It never occurred to me that speaking truth to power was a career move.  Maybe I’ll end up writing a book after all.

GO: I hope you do.

Unlike those Never Trump colleagues, you got to see Trump, or at least his campaign, up close and personal, and early on. In the spring of 2015, they actually tried to recruit you to be the campaign’s comms director. How did that come about?

CJ: A friend of 30 years was heading over to work on that Trump super PAC (the one Lewandowski and Trump later lied about, claiming they knew nothing about it, even though it was launched in Trump Tower). He was trying to get me to be Trump’s campaign communications director. As a courtesy to an old friend, I deflected and merely agreed to lunch. He brought along Corey Lewandowski, who I’d never met or heard of, and he did this without telling me in advance. It was a sort of an ambush. Lewandowski then admitted he was having a difficult time getting good people to meet with him. He said Kellyanne Conway  had “stood him up” (his phrase)  for a meeting and I later learned Ari Fleischer had turned down Cohen when he approached him to work for the campaign.

GO: Does Lewandowski smell overpoweringly of aftershave? He looks like a guy who routinely bathes in Drakkar Noir.

CJ: Stop it. 

GO: Sorry, dumb question, but I had to know.

CJ: But I do recall in that second meeting he stormed into the office and ripped off his tie, cursing out “Mr. Trump” for forcing all of the guys in the office to wear a tie at all times—even in the summer.

GO: That’s what Fred Trump made Donald do! So Lewandowski admits to you that he’s having problems arranging meetings. Not just getting people to work for him--just convincing anyone good to even CONSIDER doing so. Which is kind of a shitty sales pitch. “Hi, Cheri, no one else will meet with me, but do you want this terrible job?”

CJ: Well, that was why I was not told he’d be at the casual lunch I was having with an old friend and colleague. After stalling for at least three weeks, I agreed to a second meeting. 

GO: Why?

CJ: As a consultant, I take lots of meetings, and I speak with lots of campaigns, candidates, people thinking about running for office—it’s what I do. In fact, this was the second presidential campaign of that cycle that had approached me about working for them.  

GO: Makes sense. The essence of politics is working with people with whom we disagree. Why did you turn down the Trump job?

CJ: I witnessed extremely alarming, volatile and unprofessional behavior on the part of Lewandowski—behavior the rest of the world would witness later—and even called my mother when I left Trump Tower and was out on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, to tell her about this jerk. She advised me to be nice to my friend who tried to recruit me, and not to burn that bridge.

GO: How did your friend react the meeting?

CJ: My friend texted me to tell me how Corey really liked me, and was afraid he was too rough and liked that I didn’t get rattled or “flustered.”  

GO: In other words, “He liked that you didn’t object to him being a complete asshole.”

CJ: I’m not easily intimidated, so there should be no reason to expect I’d react in any way that should matter to him. I politely shifted the focus away from my reaction to Corey’s behavior, to focus on Corey’s behavior and meltdown, saying that Corey was an “emotional guy in a big job” (meaning, a hothead little jerk who was in way over his head).  A day later (still adhering to my mother’s advice to be nice) I let my friend know I didn’t cotton to Lewandowski’s “hazing,” thanked him for thinking of me, and wished him all the best working on the Trump super PAC. He left the Trump exploratory committee a few weeks later and never went to work for that super PAC.

GO: So: Corey Lewandowski told you in May of 2015 that Trump had a super PAC, despite denying that he had a super PAC. Can you explain why this detail wound up being so relevant?

CJ: Campaigns and super PACs are to have no collusion. It’s illegal. But the reason this Trump super PAC mattered was because Trump claimed that he had no sanctioned super PAC. He claimed he was self-funding because he was “really rich” and no one would own him or control him, and he smeared other candidates for having super PACs. He was lying to his supporters.

GO: It was one of the earliest in a campaign and an administration full of outright lies—and like many of his lies, it was pure projection: accusing the opponent of what he himself was doing.

CJ: When the Washington Post reported on the Trump super PAC in October 2015, Trump and Lewandowski lied and said they had nothing to do with it and knew nothing about it. In fact, Corey told me all about the super PAC in our meetings, and even was asking someone (while in my presence) to check on the status of the paperwork. (At the time I was a bit surprised he was being that reckless, even to the point of wondering if the FEC laws had changed and I had somehow missed it.) 

GO: Maybe the tie was cutting off the flow of oxygen to his brain. Who was involved in the secret Trump super PAC?

CJ: Longtime Lewandowski pal and associate Mike Ciletti (Colorado-based) was the executive director, and Trump had even attended two fundraisers for the super PAC (prior to his campaign launch) including one at Jared Kushner’s parents’ home.  Kushner’s mother seeded the super PAC with $100,000. (As a convicted felon, Kushner’s father is barred by law from contributing.)

GO: The Kushner family’s illegalities cannot be brought up enough. As I like to joke, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the treason.

GO: So you saw the WaPo story and knew what Lewandowski was saying was crap.

CJ: I saw that Lewandowski lied to the Post; he hung up on the reporter, and threatened to sue the paper. He claimed he didn’t know Ciletti. I then came forward to confirm that the Post report was correct, and that Lewandowski and Trump were lying. Lewandowski then had to recant, and Trump quickly shuttered the super PAC to make the story go away.

GO: You were, in a sense, a whistleblower. And you paid the price.

CJ: Apparently some in the media actually DON’T like it when people come forward to tell the truth when a public figure is lying. Not if said public figure is a good buddy and the goose that lays the golden ratings egg.

GO: Whoever could you mean.

CJ: I was immediately canceled on and blacklisted by FOX. Bill O’Reilly hopped on Gretchen Carlson’s show—midday—to lie for Trump and said Trump had no super PAC.

GO: Bill O’Reilly is a horrible human being. He’s there actively lying, in that angry, disrespectful way of his, on the show of a woman he was sexually harassing. What a disgrace. But for you, this only gets worse. Not only are you a PNG at FOX, but O’Reilly essentially put you on the hit list.

CJ: That’s when the targeting of me by Team Trump began. The “catfishing” of me began that day, where someone was trying to get personal info on me and also to find out what I knew about Trump and what oppo research was floating around about him.  We later found connections to Colorado with the catfisher, including a cyber security private eye for hire who used to be in DC and did work for DHS, NASA and other government cyber work. The catfisher was NYC-based but used a Colorado cell phone, and a DC phone number on a domain registration for a fake law firm that used to be associated with that Colorado private-eye-for-hire when he lived in DC. There were other Colorado connections, too, which the FBI has.

GO: Colorado, eh? Stomping grounds of Mike Ciletti, who ran the secret Trump super PAC. And also, it must be said, although the two are not necessarily related—a hotbed of Russian mob activity.

CJ: Yes—and more, which was rather interesting.

GO: After O’Reilly’s harassment, Trump himself went after you.

CJ: Trump targeted me on Twitter a few times, especially after TV appearances. When I brought up that super PAC a few months later on CNN, Trump tweeted out that I had “begged” him for a job—twice—and got turned down, and was hostile as a result.  This was, of course, a lie. And I could prove it was a lie (I always have receipts). His team came to me for two meetings, I did NOT come to them. And I said no way after the Lewandowski scene. I also defended Trump on TV after that (summer 2015), just as I defended other GOP primary candidates. My first public criticism of Trump was when he smeared John McCain’s POW status.

GO: One of many moments that should have spelled the end of his campaign. When did CNN ban you?

CJ: CNN banned me after the Trump tweets. They treated his lies as true and decided I was no longer credible as a political pundit—and had a “conflict,” as I was later told.   

GO: The network that still employs Rick “Here’s A Photo of Me With Maria Butina” Santorum came to this conclusion. SMH.

CJ: And don’t forget, CNN hired Lewandowski after he left the campaign, knowing he was a liar, and a violent misogynist who had harmed and threatened reporters and news outlets.

GO: Oh, right! I forgot about that.

CJ: I tried to let them know that Trump was lying, but they would not talk to me. Lewandowski had given the same lie about me on Morning Joe—they at least put a note on their website that I disputed Lewandowski’s claims.

GO: How did you fight back?

CJ: My lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to Trump Tower. Trump tweeted the lie about me again. I had very few Twitter followers at that time, and he had millions. I was deluged with hate replies. I had no way to respond. He’d had me blacklisted from TV by dishonest TV execs, and was ruining my reputation, livelihood—everything. I was completely helpless against this assault.

GO: In effect, Trump made an example of you. “This is what happens when people cross me by telling the truth about my lies!” This is something all cult leaders do, incidentally.

CJ: Yes. But the frightening part was—and still is—when others in positions of power do his bidding or cave into the demands of his thugs and allies.

GO: This may help explain why a guy like Lindsey Graham, who once seemed like the most reasonable Republican on Capitol Hill, suddenly reversed polarity to defend Trump at all costs: fear.

CJ: I knew Lindsey Graham when he was a House freshman member, and worked with him when I was Communications Director for the House Education and Workforce Committee (he was on the committee) after the GOP won the House majority in the 1994 “Contract With America” historic election. I adored him—and I don’t recognize this Trump/Putin monster he’s become.

GO: Readers may find it odd that you were blacklisted from CNN, ostensibly Trump’s adversary.

CJ: The summer before, Lewandowski, in an attempt to impress me so I’d work for the campaign, bragged that Trump was great friends with Roger Ailes and Jeff Zucker and had both of them “in his pocket.” (At that time I was not aware or was not remembering that CNN chief Jeff Zucker and Trump were best friends and that Zucker had greenlit The Apprentice for Trump when he was head of Entertainment at NBC). I didn’t believe him at the time, but by February, I knew he was telling the truth on that point.

GO: Was there anything you did for CNN that did not air?

CJ: One reason I know Zucker was actively protecting Trump was that not only did he ban me after I brought up that super PAC, but the transcript from only that segment was scrubbed from their archives. The rest of the show is there. I was told this by a reporter who checked. (There were several reporters looking at this behind the scenes).

GO: In true Trump fashion, these idiots wanted you to sign an NDA concerning the super PAC. How did that come about?

CJ: Don McGahn (a former FEC commissioner) contacted my lawyer about the cease and desist letter, and wanted to know how we could “dial this back”—they did not want me to sue for defamation. My lawyer noted that perhaps Trump’s response to the cease and desist letter being yet another defamatory tweet was not exactly helpful—Trump had doubled down on the lie. McGahn said Trump would delete the defamatory tweets about me if I signed an NDA agreeing not to sue, and to not give any details about discussions I’d had in Trump Tower the summer before (i.e., about that super PAC this former FEC commissioner was helping Trump lie about). 

I was inclined to sign. But then two things happened. I realized Zucker was banning me from CNN as a favor to Trump and had obviously been asked to do so by Trump, and so the damage was done. Trump deleting his tweets about me would do no good. Also, during that time, I realized I was being catfished, and it was likely and obviously Team Trump doing it. It was clear that I was dealing with some very bad people, and some unholy alliances with media, and I did not want to enter into any legal agreement with Trump where he would have any control over me and what I said or wrote. But he had successfully silenced me, and had me removed from the airwaves for telling the truth. By 2016, I’d been on TV as a political pundit over 1500 times since 1997. It was a marketing tool for my consulting business. As a single, self-employed woman, it was rather important. In one fell swoop by Trump, it was gone. And I’d done nothing wrong. 

GO: That really makes my blood boil.

Trump must hate when people don’t sign his stupid NDAs. Especially women.

CJ:  While I agree that Trump is a misogynist (we all know that), it’s clear that he fully understands that the men who run the media are very quick to believe something negative about a woman, and very quick to “punish” women, and make us simply disappear. We simply pay a higher price. Trump understood that implicitly—and still does. It still works for him.

GO: Frustrating, but true. We saw it recently with the Katie Hill resignation.

So you didn’t sign the NDA.

CJ: I refused to sign the NDA. I was told by my pal who had first approached me the summer before to work for Trump that McGahn was extremely upset and wanted to know “WTF was going on.” He thought we had a deal. There was now a target on my back.

A few months later I filed a lawsuit. I went to the authorities about the catfisher. They were watching it, but there was no federal crime yet, even though they knew what was going on and why. We even had a “who”—but the feds told me he was not working alone. Duh. 

GO: The catfisher targeted you and Rick Wilson, both Never Trump Republican political operatives.

CJ: Rick was targeted because of his association with me at that time.  We’ve known each other for years. When I was an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management for several years, I had him as a guest lecturer a couple of times, where he’s show his political ads and explain them to my class. He was hilarious and brilliant!

GO: Rick is great. Such a good writer.

CJ: In August 2016, POLITICO was coming out with an in-depth investigative piece on the catfisher that they’d been working on for more than four months. The final item was to call Team Trump for comment and to inform them that the investigative piece was about to be published.

No one but me, Rick and a couple of others and a few people POLITICO knew that this piece was being written. But as soon as Trump team were told—but before publication—my email was hacked and emails were deleted, including those from the catfisher with the IP addresses and other identifiers.  

GO: How would deleting those emails have helped Trump?

CJ:  IP addresses, lots of conversation and details. It was a way to immediately destroy evidence. The catfisher’s Twitter account was also immediately deleted, as a way to destroy the DMs. I’d already copied them, and my email provider was able to restore the deleted emails.  

GO: Did you call the FBI, or did they call you?

CJ:  Initially at the catfishing, I contacted Preet Bahara’s office. Later, once I was hacked, they got the SDNY (FBI) cyber crime division involved, and the investigation was officially launched—although there was activity prior to that. Now that the FBI had a federal crime, they officially launched their investigation. Little did I know that the other investigations into Trump people, hackings, WikiLeaks, etc., were already in play.

GO: Not for nothing, but hacking is all over both the Mueller Report and the Steele Dossier. The Internet Research Agency was not indicted for B&E, and Steele reports that he heard the Trump people actually paid Russian hackers—although that is still “unverified.” Hacking is the key to Trump/Russia, really.

CJ: Trump won, and there were then two instances (that I know of, although the FBI may have found more) where Trump team—high up, not bit players—were using information from my hacked emails. Later, the blanks were filled in. There was then a lot of activity and contact from the FBI, and they said they needed to meet with me.  We’d already had dozens of phone calls and lots of contact, and now had a 3 ½ hour long meeting. I knew it was serious.  

GO: So you knew this was going on but couldn’t talk about it. That must have been enormously frustrating, considering the adverse impact this had on your livelihood.

CJ: I had to sit on this for a very long time, could not publicly say there was an FBI investigation, as I got further ruined, smeared, and pounded by Trump and his allies and thugs—all while being blacklisted. I finally did start going public a little bit on Twitter, as I felt safer out in the sunlight rather than in the shadows. I had never experienced anything even remotely like this in my life, and it was terrifying at times. I also sort of figured out as time wore on that my case had likely become part of something bigger and broader. I knew the FBI “had” this around the time Trump was inaugurated and for sure a year later. So something was up. And I knew I had to take care of myself. No one really cared about my safety as long as there were bigger fish.

GO: Concern for your safety was paramount. You left your apartment and, indeed, New York.

CJ: I’d already been warned in February 2016 that Trump had “guys in Queens” who might come over and harm me.  FBI told me that if they came across any information that indicated me or my family were in any danger, they would immediately let me know. I gave up my Upper West Side brownstone apartment with its lovely Juliet balcony across from The Dakota and a few doors down from Central Park for another UWS apartment that I shared with someone who traveled a lot, but also would help keep me safe. I also spent a lot of time back in Maryland helping to care for my ailing father. I eventually did give up New York altogether.

GO: Do you know who hacked your email?

CJ: When the investigation by SDNY cyber crime division expanded into these other areas, Mueller’s investigation was now underway. Last year, they told me they were passing my info to Mueller’s team. And yes, I have a very good idea who has my hacked email. 

GO: A 400-pound man living in his parents’ basement? Seriously, though: Was the hacker American, do you think, or a foreign national? Say of a country like, I don’t know, Russia?

CJ: I believe Team Trump had me hacked, yes. And I believe he has had many others hacked and has long done so. Had I merely been hacked, I might not have known. I only found out because my emails were deleted. And remember, this occurred when POLITICO was letting Trump team know they had this big piece coming out, but before the piece came out.  So yes, of course Trump had it done.  

GO: Why does the hacking matter, in the grand scheme of things?

CJ: The reason this is important is that if Trump arranged for the hacking of my email and then was attempting to use my personal info against me (or try to) in court, this illustrates a pattern where he not only knows about the hackings once they occur and will use the information—as he did with the emails from Hillary and the DNC hackings as released by WikiLeaks—but that he is part of the planning of the hackings in advance. It means his presidency is over. 

GO: Pence resigns, and Trump has agreed to name a vice president of your choosing who will replace him when he, too, steps down. In other words: you, Cheri Jacobus, get to choose the next president. Who do you pick, and why?

CJ: I think if Trump and Pence have to go, (and it’s clear they do), we should go with the next in line, as per the Constitution, which would be the Speaker of The House.  She will not run in 2020, and we can rest easy that there is an adult at the helm as a democracy does its thing, and we can have a real election.

GO: I’m down with #PresidentPelosi.

Photo credit: Headshots by Barry Morgenstein
Hair & Makeup artist Rachel Bensimon

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