Blackmail for sale?
Cambridge Analytica, co-founded and largely funded by Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer, took a victory lap after Donald Trump’s victory for its role mining social media data to find and energize his voters in crucial swing states.
It turns out cutting-edge data analysis may be one of the more humdrum services in the global firm’s toolbox.
Britain’s Channel 4 News aired undercover video of CEO Alexander Nix boasting that Cambridge Analytica could entrap politicians from opposing campaigns in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers. The Channel 4 reporter was posing as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.
“We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows,” Nix said. “ ... We can set up fake IDs and websites.”
What’s it got to do with Trump? If nothing else, it depicts dealings with a company whose ethos, according to former executive Christopher Wylie, is “rules don’t matter for them.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller is examining the company’s work for Trump, according to The Wall Street Journal. Nix has acknowledged reaching out to WikiLeaks for hacked Hillary Clinton-related emails that hadn’t yet been published.
Trump’s 2016 data whiz Brad Parscale worked closely with Cambridge Analytica then. Parscale is now Trump’s 2020 campaign manager.
Janison: Big data is watching
Cambridge Analytica is already under scrutiny over revelations that its data-mining operation allegedly violated Facebook’s policy on information collected from its users.
It is hard to believe crowds of citizens showed up for Trump rallies on Long Island to chant “build that wall” and “lock her up” solely because of digital sorcery, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. But psychographic profiling, as it’s called, can still trigger fear of Orwellian brainwashing even among those not easily given to paranoia.
Here’s what Nix said in the undercover video about spreading misinformation: “It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be believed.”
Shouldn’t have to ask
Trump’s attorneys have provided Mueller’s office with written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview, The Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the situation.
The topics covered include the ousters of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey. The lawyers are trying to reduce the risk that Trump, who habitually makes erroneous claims, would be vulnerable to getting caught in a lie.
Lawyer down, lawyer up
On March 11, Trump tweeted an attack on a “false story” in The New York Times that he was “unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out.”
He waited a full eight days before hiring another lawyer. He’s Joseph diGenova, a frequent Fox News guest who has pushed a conspiracy theory of an FBI-Justice Department plot “to frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.”
Trump vs. drugs
Trump outlined his administration’s plan to tackle the nation’s opioid epidemic, which includes a proposal to execute some convicted drug dealers and considers “major litigation” against drug manufacturers.
“The best way to beat the drug crisis is to keep people from getting hooked on drugs anyway,” Trump said. He also called for “spending a lot of money on great commercials” as part of an anti-drug campaign aimed at children that would “scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials.”
See Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello, an early supporter of Trump’s 2016 campaign, was nominated by the president on Monday to serve as U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
Mondello endorsed Trump in March 2016, a month before New York’s presidential primary, telling Newsday at the time that Trump offered “somewhat of a new, refreshing approach.”
In an interview, Mondello said the offer to serve as ambassador came up during a conversation with Trump “a year ago.” He said he has never been to the two-island Caribbean nation, but had spoken to a previous ambassador, who told him “it was really a great position to be in.”
See Figueroa’s story for Newsday.
What else is happening
- Trump and Democrats are dickering over language in a spending bill to protect young immigrants from deportation, The Associated Press reported. Trump wants $25 billion for a border wall and security in exchange for a 2 1⁄2-year DACA extension; Democrats want a path to citizenship, too.
- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the number-two-ranking GOP senator, said it would be "appropriate" to hold a hearing on the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
- Trump has told two Republican senators that he supports adding proposals to a huge spending bill that would provide billions in federal subsidies to insurers to help curb Obamacare premium increases.
- Porn star Stormy Daniels’ suit to be freed from a hush-money agreement over her alleged affair with Trump has been moved from a state court in California and assigned to a federal judge appointed by former President George W. Bush.
- Trump considered naming his departing top economic adviser Gary Cohn to head the CIA, but changed his mind, Politico reports.
- Trump is preparing to impose a package of $60 billion in annual tariffs against China — double what his aides recommended — according to The Washington Post.
- The U.S. Supreme Court denied Pennsylvania Republicans’ request to stop the imposition of new congressional districts ahead of the 2018 midterms. Trump complained in a tweet last month that the new lines were “very unfair to Republicans and to our country as a whole.”
- New York magazine offers an engrossing profile of outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks. One of Trump’s closest and most capable aides, she was beaten down by infighting, intrigues and dysfunction. When she resigned, Trump told her: “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through.”