It’s not about ethics
We all know Trump is a ‘bad’ man—as in immoral, perhaps even amoral. If you’re in any doubt whatsoever on this rather elementary observation, you might refresh yourself on what the most revered religious figures and philosophers through history have said: lying is bad, stealing is bad, bedding down with your neighbor’s wife is bad, even looking upon her with lustful eyes is bad (Jesus, Mt. 5:28)… But poverty is fine (Lk. 6:20), giving away what you possess is fantastic (Mt. 19:21), and worldly riches are bogus (Mt. 6:19).
So, yes, Trump is a bad man. But he probably glories in his misdeeds. Certainly, the Donald is neither the first nor the last thief to get onto (or ‘steal’) a throne. I recall what he once said about his followers: “They get life.” Interpreted: realists know that life is not a morality play. This was after the lurid video surfaced of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the you know where. All this has some significance beyond ethics, however, because events show that the GOP has also moved across a line in the sand, a line over which the law is now for chumps, the Constitution for legalists, and true democracy for dreamers (see below). This is very disturbing. It is a major culture shift and, perhaps, a colossal betrayal of what ‘America’ is all about.What will bother Trump and his team—much more than being called “a bad man”—is the allegation that he was not legitimately elected—that is: he doesn’t deserve to be there. Why is this bothersome? Because, in the fundamentally amoral universe of politics, the accusation of a rigged election is the only real grounds for nullifying Trump’s election and, indeed, for questioning the GOP victory. Jill Stein of the Green Party was the only one to sense this early on and to push for a recount of the votes in the northern swing states. She said it wasn’t about questioning the actual vote tallies—she just wanted to restore faith in our electoral system. Maybe. Maybe not. But Stein has not given up. On January 13, 2017, she wrote to her supporters: “In Wisconsin, activists are still fighting for our right to examine the privately-managed electronic machines, so we can investigate potential malfeasance, error or hacking by any bad actor—domestic or foreign.”
“Hacking by any bad actor—domestic or foreign”? This, I submit, is where the Trump team is really vulnerable. In this post I will explain why the truth of the 2016 election may be far worse than Russian hacking, far worse than the public has been told. Read on…
The 35-page “Trump dossier”
“Unverified” but still explosive. That is how the American public is taking—and must take— a “Trump dossier” that BuzzFeed published on January 10, 2017. The dossier was allegedly compiled by a “reliable” British operative and had been circulating for months. It was provocative but never published because its claims simply could not be proven. It’s a little like Trump’s election: claims it was rigged can’t be proven, because the ‘authorities’ have made sure the votes would not be accurately counted and that the machines would not be forensically examined. (But see below.) The dossier made all sorts of stunning allegations:
– “extensive conspiracy between TRUMP’s campaign team and Kremlin, sanctioned at highest levels” (via Paul Manafort and Carter Page, p. 7);
– “TRUMP associate admits Kremlin behind recent appearance of DNC emails on WikiLeaks” (p. 7);
– “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine” (8);
– the “negative media publicity surrounding alleged Russian interference in the US election campaign… deflected media and the Democrats’ attention away from TRUMP’s business dealings in China and other emerging markets. Unlike in Russia, these were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign” (8);
– “Source close to TRUMP campaign however confirms regular exchange with Kremlin has existed for at least 8 years” (11);
– Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen allegedly met secretly with Russian government in Prague (18, 34); “COHEN’s wife is of Russian descent and her father a leading property developer in Moscow” (30); Cohen “heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russia being exposed” (32);
– “Anti-CLINTON hackers [in Eastern Europe] and other operatives paid by both TRUMP team and Kremlin” (34).
Hacking of the vote count took place
The above dossier was preceded by a 25-page official report from U.S. intelligence services released on Jan. 6, 2017, entitled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” It is a “declassified version of a highly classified assessment that has been provided to the President and to recipients approved by the President.” While the report concluded that Russia attempted (and indeed did) influence the election in Trump’s favor, it stated: “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS [Department of Homeland Security] assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying” (p. iii). Later, the report states: “Russian intelligence accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards. Since early 2014, Russian intelligence has researched US electoral processes and related technology and equipment. • DHS assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying” (p. 15).
In the PBS Newshour Special on Jan. 10 regarding the above intelligence report, anchorwoman Judy Woodruff stated: “Also at question: whether the hacks altered the outcome of the election. The Trump team has characterized the report as saying the hacking had no effect on the election results.” [13’20”] She continued: “But, in fact, the report explicitly said it made no judgment on that. It did say there is no evidence that voting machinery or counting was affected.”
This is very interesting. We have, on the one hand, knowledge of Russian hacking. On the other hand, we have the presumption that the hacking had no effect on the election results. It is a presumption because the report “explicitly said it made no judgment on that.” It merely stated that it had no evidence that voting machinery or counting was affected.
Saying you make “no judgment” on the question of hacking the vote count, and that you have “no evidence” such took place is very different from saying flat out that hacking the vote count did not take place. We have to say, then, that the American intelligence community left open the possibility that hacking of the vote counts in the critical swing states indeed occurred.
It’s no surprise. In the previous post, we already determined that the vote counts in the crucial swing states were hacked for Trump. We know this took place for the following four reasons that will be repeated:
(1) the machines gave voting results that were very different from numerous polls on the morning of the election
(2) efforts by the Green Party to inspect the machines were stubbornly resisted post-election
(3) the voting machines in the northern swing states are antiquated, leave no paper trail, are prone to error, and are easily hackable—yet for some reason they were still in use
(4) Trump himself was sure the election was going to be rigged, specifically in Pennsylvania
Now, the above four reasons may not amount to “proof” in a court of law, but hacking of the vote count is clearly the most logical conclusion to be inferred. It’s very difficult to propose another explanation, and they at least raise the strong suspicion of hacking. How could all the professional polls be wrong? That’s never happened before. Some last-minute polls gave the swing states to Hillary by 99%! And, then, there’s the obtuse, stubborn refusal to allow the Green Party to examine the machines, or to do a hand count in minority precincts. That’s also never happened before. As Stein said, “They looked everywhere except in the areas of greatest risk.” And perhaps most astonishing is number (4)—Trump actually predicted that the election would be rigged in Pennsylvania! That also has never happened before…
How could anyone not conclude there was vote hacking?
Let’s take a look at reason number (3) above: the old, vulnerable voting machines, and problems that have been identified. In Wisconsin, anomalies in the vote count indeed suggest tampering:
Ottagamie [County], where observers noticed that an early tabulation counted 1,500 more votes than actual ballots cast, will not be doing a hand count, which is very frustrating to election integrity activists…
Three counties [in Wisconsin] saw large discrepancies in votes between 2012 and 2016, with the margin of victory for Donald Trump in some cases being ten-fold higher than the GOP’s average in the last four presidential elections. Another statistical analysis, done by Stanford PhD candidate Rodolfo Barragan and Axel Geijsel of Tilburg University, finds that even when taking into account factors like ethnicity and education, there is significant evidence that counties with electronic voting showed higher support for Trump than counties using only paper ballots.
In Wisconsin, tampered seals were found on many voting machines:
Those who are observing the recount on behalf of Jill Stein, who requested the recount, have presented evidence to show the votes were indeed tampered with.
An individual, who is known only as “Wendy” has been on the ground in St. Croix County in Wisconsin. That county is performing both a recount of the machines used, and of all ballots which were cast by hand. As was shared by Wendy, she observed that five seals were broken on nine voting machines. The evidence which has been posted on Jill Stein’s official website shows that seals were indeed broken. The seals themselves come with a warning that “removal of seal voids warranty.”
As it turned out, Wisconsin tripled its fee to the Stein recount effort, but even then it refused to hand-count ballots in the most controversial jurisdictions.
In Michigan, a massive number of “undervotes” surfaced:
The initial “red flag” [indicating vote hacking] was the existence of 75,335 undervotes in Michigan, or ballots that were filled out except for the choice of president, Figueroa said. “That was a rate that happened 70 percent higher than the number of undervotes that were counted in 2012. Many of these are in Oakland and Wayne counties, which includes Detroit, raising this very real possibility that communities of color may have been disenfranchised by an unreliable counting of the vote.
Of the three northern swing states, Pennsylvania presented the most varied and intractable problems for getting an accurate count of the vote:
A federal lawsuit filed in Philadelphia called for a recount and a forensic examination of the aging electronic voting machines used in most Pennsylvania counties, saying both are necessary to determine whether the election results were manipulated by hackers.
…Pennsylvania’s paperless voting machines make it a prime target for hacking… Stein attorney Ilann Maazel was unable to offer evidence Pennsylvania’s election had been hacked. But he contended the state’s elections system is so insecure that a forensic examination of a sampling of the machines is the only way to know for sure that votes weren’t altered…
The machines store votes electronically and can produce a paper record of the overall tally after polls close. But there is no way for individual voters to confirm their choices were recorded accurately in the first place.
Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that make exclusive or partial use of electronic voting machines without a paper backup. Of 23,725 machines certified for use statewide, 22,123 record votes electronically and leave no paper trail, according to the Department of State.
Another clear sign of machine tampering in Pennsylvania was the disparity in the Trump-Clinton counts depending on whether the voting machine was paperless or not:
The closer activists looked at the reported vote counts, the more serious questions emerged. Academics not working for the Stein campaign said their analysis of the latest vote counts in ten Philadelphia-area counties found, as of Sunday night, showed that Clinton was ahead by 6.2 percent on the paper ballots—mostly absentee and overseas military votes—while Trump led by 6.8 percent on the paperless voting machinery.
The difference between 6.2% and 6.8% may not seem like much, but it is statistically significant when we realize that Trump won the entire state by less than 50,000 votes.
Can election hacking be undone?
When we realize that vote hacking (at the machine stage and/or at the electronic counting stage) actually took place in the critical northern swing states, then there is absolutely nowhere for the Trump/GOP camp to run. Their win involved foul play. It was illegitimate. There can no longer be any question regarding this. Hillary Clinton should have received 46 more electoral votes, and she should therefore be the country’s 45th president.
It is clear that, already on election night, Barack Obama—and the highest echelon of the intelligence community—were aware that hacking had taken place. They knew about the Russian meddling, they knew about the pro-Clinton polls from that very morning, they knew about Trump’s warnings regarding Pennsylvania hacking, and they had their own intelligence. Thus, when the numbers went weirdly in favor of Trump, beginning at midnight Nov. 8–9, they knew full well what was happening: The election had been hacked in favor of Trump.Here I think Barack Obama—and then Hillary Clinton, on his advice—made a very big mistake. They chose not to contest what was happening. As Barack himself said in a post-election message, however: “Reality has a way of asserting itself.” The truth will out—on blogs like this, for example.
On the face of it, there is nothing anyone can do to ‘unhack’ an election. It’s not possible to go to the machines and reprogram them to respond to the actual voters’ wishes. Unless there’s a new election, once the damage is done, it is irreversible at the machine level. And the machines said: Trump won. In other words, if the hacks were in the machines, there was no way Clinton could win.
Perhaps Obama realized this and saw the futility of contesting Trump’s victory. It didn’t matter that Clinton lost unfairly. Though she could prove hacking (at great cost to the country), she would never be able to prove that she won. Why? Because the hacked machines would always say that Donald Trump won!
So, Barack telephoned Hillary about 2:00 AM, as mentioned in a prior post. He no doubt told her what his intelligence directors knew, what had just happened, and that victory was out of reach. Her only recourse was to concede.
The problem here is dual: (1) the American people should make the final decision on how to proceed; and (2) the election may not have been hacked at the machine level but at the level of vote tabulation. In fact, the latter is more likely. In hacking the vote tabulation, a program could simply have delivered a false count. In this case, it would be a comparatively straightforward procedure to look at the machines and compare their digital/paper records with the tabulations. This would reveal any hacking at the tabulation level. After all, it is hardly possible to conceal a programmed deviation after the fact, as Edward Snowden once affirmed: “Hacking voting machines: not that difficult. Hiding a secret deviation in votes from after-the-fact statistical analysis: nearly impossible.”
Hillary should have contested this election right away. She should not have conceded on November 9. Admittedly, this would have plunged the country into a crisis. But the crisis that is now upon us will probably be much greater still—and more prolonged.
Who did it?
This is one final question—and a supremely important one—that is still to be addressed. Was it the Russians who hacked the machines/tallies in the northern swing states? Probably not. They have never been credited with such depth of reach into our complex and fractured voting system. Furthermore, our intelligence community itself denied that Russia did it: “Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying… DHS assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying” (pp. iii and 15 of the IC report noted above).
If not the Russians, then who? The answer to this question is as clear as it is disturbing: domestic operators hacked this election. Americans did this. Citizens who wanted Trump to win did this.
Of course, suspicion must principally fall on the GOP. After all, Trump is their candidate. Whoever would investigate the hacking of the 2016 election should look at the makers of the voting machines (e.g., ES&S), at the suppliers of voting hardware and software in Pennsylvania (e.g. Unisys), at companies dedicated to cyber security (e.g. Booz-Allen Hamilton), and at links between these corporations and the GOP.
In 2013, for example, Booz Allen had 25,000 employees, of which half carried top secret security clearances. Incidentally, Edward Snowden was a Booz Allen employee when he famously leaked NSA documents. Since 2014, Unisys has been heavily involved with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s computing and information technology services, including voting. Unisys has had a history of interesting and relevant problems:
Unisys overcharged the U.S. government and in 1998 was found guilty of failure to supply adequate equipment. In 1998, Unisys Corporation agreed to pay the government $2.25 million to settle allegations that it supplied refurbished, rather than new, computer materials to several federal agencies in violation of the terms of its contract. Unisys admitted to supplying re-worked or refurbished computer components to various civilian and military agencies in the early 1990s, when the contract required the company to provide new equipment. The market price for the refurbished material was less than the price for new material which the government paid.
… In 2006, the Washington Post reported that the FBI was investigating Unisys for alleged cybersecurity lapses under the company’s contract with the United States Department of Homeland Security. A number of security lapses supposedly occurred during the contract, including incidents in which data was transmitted to Chinese servers. Unisys denies all charges and said it has documentation disproving the allegations.
BLUE BELL, Pa., July 14, 2014 –Unisys Corporation (NYSE: UIS) today announced that it has been chosen through a competitive bid process by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to host and operate what is expected to be one of the largest secure, cloud-based, on-demand IT computing implementations by a U.S. state government.
What technology will Unisys offer? That depends, Curry says, on a number of factors, including as-yet undetermined standards to be set by the federal government… Whatever “solution” they ultimately provide will, however, certainly be “end-to-end,” encompassing “more accurate registration, identification, voting, tabulation and reporting systems,” Unisys says.
Finally, we must realize that hacking of voting machines is simple and has been recognized by experts as a very real possibility for some time:
Experts have repeatedly documented in peer-reviewed and state-sponsored research that both DRE and optical scan machines, which are essentially computers with reprogrammable software, have serious cyber security problems. In just a few seconds, anyone can install vote-stealing malware on a voting machine that silently alters the electronic records of every vote. Absent a thorough, sophisticated forensic examination by computer experts, it is not possible to determine the absence of malicious software hiding within many thousands of lines of legitimate software code.
An excellent article from last September begins: “You should be worried about the November election. Not so much that the candidates you support won’t win, but about the risk that the ‘winners’ may not really be the winners, due to hackers tampering with the results. Or, that even if the winners really are the winners, there will be enough doubt about it to create political chaos.” How prescient!
Blackmail is likely
Trump’s penchant for loose living, his disdain for ethical values and moral strictures, and his long-standing dealings with Russia, all combine to make it virtually certain that somebody, somewhere possesses material that is potentially damaging to Trump’s reputation. Salacious claims surfaced in the Trump dossier (page 2) discussed above. If true, actions ascribed to Trump and his associates in that report could also be interpreted as treasonous.
Trump’s rhetorical embrace of the Russian leader (“Putin is a better leader than Obama”) and Trump’s adoption of pro-Russian strategies (weakening NATO, ignoring Russia’s agressions in Ukraine and Syria) merit the emerging view that the American president-elect is a “Russian poodle”—a characterization now current. Is it possible to explain this rapprochement with Russia as a well-conceived strategy based on America’s interests? The answer is “No” according to military and foreign policy experts.
We must, then, look elsewhere for an explanation to Trump’s astonishing and enduring friendship with Russia. In my opinion, the most likely alternative explanation is blackmail. Putin has something on Trump, and it is something major. In short, Putin could destroy Trump’s reputation at any time. Trump knows it, and so he plays along—and drags the entire country along with him.
Support for the “blackmail” thesis comes from Trump’s violent disagreements with the American intelligence community. Why, for so long, did Trump refuse to accept the CIA information that Russia hacked Clinton’s emails and helped get Trump elected? To side with a foreign power against one’s own intelligence agencies (known to be among the best in the world) exposes a depth of allegiance to that foreign power that is frightening. Arguably, this also is treasonous.
The problem, however, is much deeper. Elements within the GOP—even high ranking members of the intelligence committees—have now sided with Trump in his astonishing friendship with Russia. “I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there’s clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence—even now,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team. He spoke those words on Dec. 9, 2016—a month after the election. “There’s a lot of innuendo,” he added. “Lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.”
The House Intelligence Committee is one of the agencies tasked with getting to the bottom of possible election hacking. But it appears that sentiment in government is divided on whether to investigate or not:
Though U.S. intelligence agencies were skeptical that hackers would be able to manipulate the election results in a systematic way, the White House feared that Russia would attempt to do so… And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests. According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
As with the moral decline leading up to the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, so also recent events in the U.S.A. signal that this country is unable (and hence unworthy) to carry out a free and fair election. I maintain that the problem is essentially moral. Democracy is precious. It requires that the major players accord each other basic rights under the law, and that they regard one another with the respect of “citizens.” When that respect erodes, then the system is gamed in favor of the 1%—as we have seen. We now have a corporatist in the White House with little or no regard for 99% of the electorate. He has no government experience, was elected illegitimately, and possibly has substantial threats of blackmail over his head going forward. Trump has shown himself to be unpredictable and to have no regard for the law. This latter is arguably most serious of all. For Trump’s victory shows that, in the U.S., power now overrides the law with impunity. This is not new. It has been gathering for some time. The GOP has, since the turn of the millennium, shown itself more and more disposed to break the law and even to contravene the Constitution when its interests are served. We recall the 2000 election debacle. We recall Bush’s war against Iraq under false pretenses. We recall the willingness to shut down the government. We recall, more recently, the GOP’s unconstitutional refusal to consider Obama’s appointment to the Supreme Court (Judge Garland). And now, we see (above) the GOP’s refusal to investigate possible hacking in their own election victory. All these are examples confirming that the GOP considers itself above the law—and even above the Constitution. Has not Mitch McConnell—the GOP standard-bearer—time and time again placed party over country?
Of course, this signals a sea change in the U.S… We are no longer “a nation of laws.” When one party leaves the law behind, it signals to the other players that the rules have changed, that laws no longer obtain—indeed, that there are no laws. Unfortunately, a nation without laws is also a nation in chaos.
The rogues are now in charge, and legal means are powerless to remove them, for rogues have no regard for the law. With the GOP now in charge of all branches of government, it is not likely that the U.S. will be able to mount a truly free election in the foreseeable future. The foxes are now guarding the chicken coop, and that’s likely to remain the case for some time.
Any thinking, concerned American must conclude that in the 2016 presidential election the wrong candidate—Trump—was elected. Clinton really won the critical swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. With those additional 46 electoral votes, she should properly be the 45th president of these United States. However, the vote in a sufficient number of precincts in those three states was hacked, probably in a coordinated and fairly sophisticated operation. Jill Stein and the Green Party tried mightily to access those machines and their tallies for forensic analysis and for hand-counts. But they were systematically prevented in this by powerful, entrenched political interests that included GOP judges, government functionaries, and ultimately an awful lot of “dark” money from the likes of the Koch brothers. The democratic expectations of the People were fundamentally betrayed.
The Green Party efforts continue. A communication to supporters dated January 13, 2017 reads:
In the wake of a divisive and bitter election, over 10,000 volunteers and 161,000 donors came forward to make this historic multi-state Recount possible. On Thanksgiving weekend, you launched this Recount as a key step we the people could take to help build the democracy we deserve. This remarkable citizen initiative is still going strong.
In Wisconsin, activists are still fighting for our right to examine the privately-managed electronic machines, so we can investigate potential malfeasance, error or hacking by any bad actor—domestic or foreign. Nearly half of Wisconsin voters were denied a reliable hand recount, largely in under-resourced communities of color, the very places voting machines are most likely to fail. To push for urgently needed legislative fixes, activists have launched a broad based “Count My Vote” coalition. [Emphasis added.]
We should all wish that the Green Party’s labors ultimately end in success. Now, two days before the inauguration—as I write these words—the Trump administration is already fighting for legitimacy. Upwards of fifty United States Representatives have decided to boycott the inauguration. On this Martin Luther King holiday they follow the stirring example of civil rights icon John Lewis, who recently stated simply: “I do not see this president-elect as a legitimate president… You cannot be at home with something that you feel is wrong.”
And with those truthful and powerful words I close this series of political posts, as we now enter the gathering darkness together, courageously and in the hope that the People will, some day, once again find their voice and bring about a new dawn of democracy.
Addendum: Since uploading the above post on Jan. 18, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-GA) has gone on record with the informed view that a “crisis of legitimacy” is coming down the pike. In the linked interview (also via video) Cummings states that congress has information on Trump that will shock Americans.
It’s only a matter of time…—R.S.