Florida Republican Recorded Threatening Opponent With ‘Russian Hit Squad, Close-Battle Combat, Mac-10s, Silencers Kind of Thing’

Republican attorney William Braddock was caught on a recording threatening rival GOP candidate for Congress Anna Paulina Luna, pictured here in October 2020 in Tampa, Florida.

Republican attorney William Braddock (not pictured) was caught on a recording threatening rival GOP candidate for Congress Anna Paulina Luna, pictured above in October 2020 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo: Chris O’Meara (AP)

William Braddock may have set some kind of Florida record: In the state’s crowded pack of Republican bozos running for Congress, he’s the only one in recent memory (and possibly ever) to allegedly threaten a political opponent with murder by a heavily armed Russian-Ukrainian mafia death squad.

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Politico reported on Thursday that Braddock, an attorney and long-shot candidate who was virtually unknown until now, threatened conservative activist Erin Olszewski not to support rival Republican Anna Paulina Luna for Florida’s 13th Congressional District because he had assassins working for him. During a 30-minute phone call—which Olszewski secretly recorded and subsequently handed to the police—Braddock violated the first rule of contract killing and explained his plan to pay for Luna’s murder in excruciating detail over the phone.

About three minutes into the audio, Braddock said “I have access to a hit squad, too, Ukrainians and Russians.” He added that when this Eastern European dream team struck, any bystanders who didn’t endorse him might get added to the kill count: “Don’t get caught out in public supporting Luna… Luna’s gonna go down and I hope it’s by herself.”

Luna has been endorsed by Donald Trump and describes herself as a “hybrid” of Sarah Palin and disgraced Representative Matt Gaetz (another Florida politician involved in a disturbing scandal). She won the Republican primary in the district in 2020 but lost to former Florida governor and incumbent Representative Charlie Crist, a Democrat, in the general by a 53-47% margin. Crist is vacating his seat in Congress to once again run for the governorship. That provides a potentially juicy special election opportunity for Luna and other Republicans to take back the district, which before Crist was elected in 2016 hadn’t sent a Democrat to Congress in 36 years.

As Politico noted, Olszewski herself is a shady character:

Olszewski, a nurse by training, became a conservative figure last year after penning a book called “Undercover Epicenter Nurse: How Fraud, Negligence, and Greed Led to Unnecessary Deaths at Elmhurst Hospital,” which some in the health care industry have called disinformation.

So this is all kind of a right-wing clusterfuck where everyone involved is some flavor of untrustworthy, but that’s Florida for you.

Braddock, who apparently did not consider the possibility he could be being recorded or that Olszewski might have been pressing him for more specifics for evidentiary purposes, explained on the phone that he would immediately send out the order if polls showed Luna in the lead.

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Politico wrote:

“My polling people are going to charge me $20,000 to do a poll right before the primary. And if the poll says Luna’s gonna win, she’s gonna be gone. She’s gonna disappear,” Braddock said in the recorded call, pledging Olszewski to secrecy. “For the good of our country, we have to sacrifice the few. … For the better or the good of the majority of the people, we’ve got to sacrifice the few.”

Later in the call, Olszewski asked what would happen if “Luna is gonna win” and Braddock assured her that wouldn’t happen.

“She’s gonna be gone. Period. That’s the end of the discussion. Luna is not an issue,” he said.

Olszewski pushed him, asking “how do we make her go, though? I just don’t understand that.”

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The voice identified as Braddock continued to clarify exactly on what timeline the killings would be carried out, how they would do it, and even what type of machine pistols would be used:

“I call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they’re sending me pictures of her disappearing,” Braddock said. “No, I’m not joking. Like, this is beyond my control this point… Russian mafia. Close-battle combat, TEC-9s, MAC-10s, silencers kind of thing. No snipers. Up close and personal. So they know that the target has gone.”

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At another point in the call, Braddock clarified that he doesn’t “want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America” and that it would “break my heart,” Politico reports. He continued, “But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a fucking speed bump in the road. She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”

Wow! That sure is one heck of a plan. Anyone else want to explain how else they could do it better directly into this microphone-sized box in my right breast pocket? No? Didn’t think so. Let’s move on, because that’s not all of it.

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Politico reached Braddock via text, because apparently just about anyone can get him to dig a hole deeper over the phone. He responded the recording is “allegedly me… there is no proof of that” and is “a dirty political tactic that has caused a lot of people a lot of stress and is completely unnecessary.”

Florida is a two-party consent state where recording a call without the other party’s permission is a third-degree felony, although Olszewski said police assured her she would not face charges for turning it in. Braddock threatened that whoever was in possession of or shared the recording would face civil suits over lack of consent, and he would also “file with the local police department” for “felony charges.”

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“The folks in possession of whatever recording they think they have of myself or someone else (which may even be altered and edited) will be facing civil damages suit(s) when the paperwork is file [sic] with the county and felony charges after I file with the local police department,” Braddock wrote to POLITICO. “I strongly advise not to get involved because the civil suits will continue to be filed until people stop sharing them because whomever is on the recording did not consent to be recorded in my humble opinion.”

While Braddock appears to think this non-admission is very clever, one would think anyone who didn’t explain their plan to hire hitmen in-depth would recall not doing so and simply deny it. For example, I have never done that. As a lawyer, he should also remember that criminal charges aren’t offered on-demand at police stations.

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Olszewski and Luna both received restraining orders against Braddock last week. In her request for the temporary stalking injunction, the Tampa Bay Times reported, Luna accused two additional Florida Republicans who failed to win seats in Congress in 2020, Matt Tito and Amanda Makki, of involvement. Makki lost a primary race against Luna in 2020; she told the Times that Luna was simply unable to handle running against another candidate and “exhibiting behavior that I would say is concerning.” Tito, who is considering running in the GOP primary against Luna, said the purpose of the injunction was to “embarrass us” and “keep us out of the race,” adding he barely knew Braddock and Makki. He suggested to local media he’s considering filing a defamation claim.

Braddock didn’t officially register his campaign until Monday, sometime after he would have been well aware the recording would become public.

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Biden Wags Finger at Putin Over Human Rights and Cyberattacks, Then Gives Him Crystal Buffalo

Illustration for article titled Biden Wags Finger at Putin Over Human Rights and Cyberattacks, Then Gives Him Crystal Buffalo

Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP (Getty Images)

Joe Biden held his first meeting as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin Wednesday in a get-together that seems to have gone surprisingly well.

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During a three-hour sit-down at a summit in Geneva, the world leaders apparently had a far-ranging conversation in which they discussed human rights, cybersecurity, and how to move forward while pursuing “mutual interests.”

Given the events of the past few years, one could’ve imagined it would be difficult to find that kind of common ground—and that Wednesday’s conversation would’ve been hellishly awkward. Just to review: The previous U.S. president was widely accused of basically being a sleeper agent for the Russian government—a bad actor in an apparent plot to bring down our democracy. Said government was also accused of having meddled in American elections (twice!). There have also been ongoing reports from the U.S. intelligence community of disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks emanating from within the Kremlin (or, at least, from inside Russia’s borders)—the likes of which include the widespread SolarWinds espionage campaign that apparently compromised dozens of U.S. companies and numerous federal agencies.

And yet somehow things went pretty smoothly on Wednesday.

“The tone of the entire meeting was good, positive,” Biden said in a press conference following the meeting, and Putin seemed to agree.

“There has been no hostility,” the Russian president said at his own press event. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.”

Biden even apparently gave Putin some presents. The Washington Post reports the president gifted the Russian autocrat with a pair of his beloved aviators, as well as a crystal statue of an American bison. Weird!

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Weird gifts aside, Wednesday wasn’t without its frictions—though they mostly came during Biden’s post-meeting press appearance during which he fielded questions from a cadre of confused journalists. Reporters seemed to want to know why, after four years of railing against Trump’s cozy relationship with the Kremlin and decrying Russia as a threat to American democracy, No. 46 seems to now want to kick things off with such a chummy, conciliatory attitude. One Associated Press reporter posited the following:

AP REPORTER: “U.S. intelligence has said that Russia tried to interfere in the last two presidential elections and that Russian groups are behind hacks like SolarWinds and some of the ransomware attacks you just mentioned. Putin, in his press conference just now, accepted no responsibility for any misbehavior. Your predecessor opted not to demand that Putin stop these disruptions. So what is something concrete, sir, that you achieved today to prevent that from happening again?

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Biden didn’t really have a great answer for that, offering that—unlike with Trump—Putin knows that “there are consequences,” he said. “He knows I will take action.”

The two leaders apparently discussed some potential strategies for cybersecurity moving forward—though the details weren’t immediately apparent. “I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack, period. By cyber or any other means,” said Biden, explaining that he had presented Putin with a list of the 16 sectors deemed “critical infrastructure” by the U.S. Those included “telecommunications, healthcare, food and energy,” and others.

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“Principle has to be backed up by practice,” Biden offered at one point. “Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory,” he said, while remaining vague on the specifics of what that “action” would be.


Unless we want to live out the rest of our days in subterranean fallout shelters, it behooves our country to maintain good ties with other nuclear powers—so it’s not a bad thing that U.S.-Russian relations stay solid. That doesn’t make Biden’s folksy “shrug emoji” re: Putin not somewhat funny given just how much shit Joe’s talked in the lead-up to this moment.

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In March, Biden called Putin a “killer” who will “pay a price” for his meddling in American democracy, ostensibly referring to ongoing cyberattacks and the alleged Russian interference in recent presidential elections. On the campaign trail, he was even more vociferous, leaning heavily on claims that his rival, Trump, was “cozy” with the Kremlin and implying that—by contrast—he would play hardball with the Russian leader when he reached the White House.

Granted, all of the allegations about Putin’s corruption and ill repute are true, though the ballooning of Russia’s significance into some sort of global puppet-master capable of manipulating U.S. domestic politics and threatening to take over the world, are not. Serious analysts take issue with the interpretation of Russia as an ambitious conquerer, with some claiming many of the country’s actions are more defensive against Western aggression than outwardly provocative of it.

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That doesn’t mean the image of Russia as a global bogeyman hasn’t been immensely profitable for politicians in America. For the past few years, Democrats have essentially used Putin and Russia writ large as a political foil to the values of the West, to liberal democracy, and to the Democratic Party. By inflating the stumbling petro-state-in-decline into a fiery geopolitical adversary—and aligning their political enemies somewhat cartoonishly with it (Trump, many members of the GOP and others)—they effectively scared the bejeezus out of many of their constituents, enough to get themselves elected (or re-elected) and to keep the political donations flowing. Conversely, Trump and the GOP have been just daft and craven enough to take the accusations of Putinism as some sort of weird compliment, laundering them into a bizarrely successful brand of sex appeal with their machismo-hungry, rightwing base.

Of course, now that Biden is in office, he clearly believes that reconciliation with a nuked-up oligarchy is probably better than a continued war of words and outward belligerence—a reality that Putin has likely understood and counted on all along. As much as we might have cultural or ethical qualms with one another, political stability and a lack of global hellfire are goals Washington and Moscow can both agree on.

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Trump Judges Are Already Screwing Biden’s Climate Agenda

An offshore rig near California.

Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

Retired blogger Donald Trump may be shrinking from public view, but his legacy will remain imprinted on the U.S. for decades to come, particularly when it comes to the judiciary. That could have huge ramifications on all types of policy, but particularly climate

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On Tuesday, District Judge Terry A. Doughty, who Trump appointed to the federal court in Louisiana’s western district, blocked President Joe Biden’s pause on federal oil and gas leasing. The preliminary injunction means that the case will wend through the courts, but the administration must unpause leasing. The judge ruled that Biden needed Congress to approve any moratorium.

In approving the preliminary injunction, Doughty wrote in his decision that “Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake” due to the pause. The ruling gives the 14 conservative state attorneys general who sued the administration a boost, but it’s a bust for the planet, particularly considering what the future could hold as Congress and the administration push other climate policies.

The lease pause is the barest of minimums when it comes to climate policy. The Biden administration has gone to bat for a Trump-era lease and the moratorium on new federal leases is small potatoes compared to the oil and gas wells already in the ground or along the seafloor. It was also only a moratorium, not a full stop. Yet Republican attorneys general opposed it, and they won in front of a Trump-appointed judge. There are 226 other Trump-appointed judges in the court system and a dramatically reshaped Supreme Court standing as the final boss.

Republican attorneys general have already put a full-court press on anything Biden might do. Hell, 17 of them backed the completely fabricated voter fraud case and tried to subvert the will of the people in choosing Biden as president. They’ve since filed a slew of lawsuits, including other, more consequential ones against Biden’s early climate policies. One of them challenges the federal government’s ability to set something called a social cost of carbon that’s essential to gauge the costs and benefits of climate policy.

“I get where [the plaintiffs] are coming from—you don’t like what this implies, so you think the concept should be thrown out—but that’s not correct,” Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University, told Earther at the time it was filed.

That appears to the rule of thumb with the moratorium as well. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, one of the states that sued the Biden administration, declared in a statement, “For our country’s sake, we must prevail over the Biden Administration’s radical, anti-fossil fuel, China First energy policies.”

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The statement misses the point that this isn’t anti-fossil fuel policy, but pro-habitable-planet policy. But even with these gaps in logic, the attorneys general looking to stall or outright block climate policy will now be doing so in a court system stocked with potentially sympathetic judges. While the conspiracy theory-riddled election fraud lawsuit never went anywhere even with those judges in place, it appears that climate policies could, unfortunately, be a casualty.

Parler Warned the FBI of Potential Violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 More Than 50 Times

Illustration for article titled Parler Warned the FBI of Potential Violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 More Than 50 Times

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY / Contributor (Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of angry Trump supporters, Parler — the online hub for bigots and far-right extremists — was quickly painted as an instigating force, one that zealots had used to mount their offensive. But during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday probing the security failures that led to the insurrection, it was revealed that on more than 50 occasions, Parler had attempted to warn the FBI of the growing potential for violence.

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According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Parler had uncovered “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol” on its platform and was apparently ready to sing like a canary in the weeks leading up to January 6, outing its own members and providing transcripts of the concerning communication to the feds.

When asked outright by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) during testimony whether or not his agency had received any intelligence from social media companies, FBI Director Christopher Wray was evasive and seemed to downplay the existence of direct evidence that would have pointed to a mounting insurrectionist threat.

“We’ve had so much information, I’m reluctant to answer any questions about the word ‘any,’” Wray said. “Certainly we were aware of online chatter about the potential for violence, but I’m not aware that we had any intelligence indicating that hundreds of individuals were going to storm the Capitol itself, to my knowledge.”

When pressed on whether or not the FBI had received intelligence from Parler specifically prior to the Jan. 6 attack, Wray conceded that it had, but declined to give specifics on what kind of intelligence had been relayed.

“My understanding is that they sent emails to a particular Field Office and that some of those contained possible threat information and some of them were referred to domestic terrorism squads,” he said.

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For what it’s worth, Wray’s testimony is seemingly in direct conflict with a letter Parler sent to lawmakers last March, in which it claimed in no uncertain terms that it had been trying desperately to relay the very real threat of violence to federal authorities for weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. In that letter, addressed to Maloney, Parler wrote that it had attempted to establish “formal lines of communication” with the FBI in light of record growth on the platform in the latter half of 2020, and wrote that it had sought to facilitate cooperation and forward instances of “unlawful incitement and violent threats.”

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“Far from being the far-right instigator and rogue company that Big Tech has portrayed Parler to be, the facts conclusively demonstrate that Parler has been a responsible and law-abiding company focused on ensuring that only free and lawful speech exists on its platform,” Parler’s lawyers wrote in the letter.

One post Parler said it forwarded to the FBI called for an armed mob of 150,000 to march on D.C. on order to “react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another sought recruits for “lighting up Antifa in Wa[shington, D.C.] on the 6th” because the user wanted to “start eliminating people.

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Five people were ultimately killed as a result of the pro-Trump rampage, including one police officer who was beaten and one rioter who was shot at close range.

Accused Capitol Rioter to Judge: Pretty Please, Let Me Out of Home Detention for a Classic Car Show

Richard "Bigo" Barnett, seen here after breaking into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's office during riots at the Capitol on June 6.

Richard “Bigo” Barnett, seen here after breaking into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office during riots at the Capitol on June 6.
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP (Getty Images)

One of the far-right goons awaiting trial for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6—who was infamously photographed inside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office—wants out of home detention to go to a car show.

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A lawyer for Richard “Bigo” Barnett wrote in a motion to United States District Court Judge Christopher Coopers that classic cars are their client’s “lifelong hobby,” according to the Daily Beast. Currently, “Bigo” is prohibited from traveling outside of a 50-mile radius of his home without permission from the court and has been “terminated from his career position as a window salesman.” His attorney, Joseph McBride, wrote the travel restrictions interfere with his ability to “buy inventory that he must inspect, appraise, negotiate, and purchase in person,” which is now his primary source of income. Barnett’s lawyers are seeking to have any work-related travel requests be handled by his pretrial services officer instead of the court, as well as that he be allowed to attend a car show in his home state of Arkansas on June 18 overnight.

“This is the only way that he has the opportunity to make ends meet, provide for his family and pay for his legal defense,” McBride said, according to the Daily Beast.

The Jan. 6 riots, stoked by Donald Trump as part of a doomed effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections, resulted in multiple deaths. Footage of Barnett putting his feet on Pelosi’s desk was widely broadcast in news reports about the riots. He also left a note in her office, which has been the subject of dispute.

While prosecutors say it said, “Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch,” Barnett’s attorneys have unconvincingly claimed it instead said, “Nancy, Bigo was here, biatd” (which in turn they say was a spelling error, as he was trying to write the slightly less offensive “biatch”). This defense has been undermined somewhat by court documents showing Barnett told a local news station the note indeed said “bitch.”

According to a prior Daily Beast report, Barnett posed with firearms in photos on Facebook and wrote on one account that he “came into this world kicking and screaming, covered in someone else’s blood” and was “not afraid to go out the same way.” In a separate post, he wrote he was “undeniably” white and nationalist, “so that makes me a white nationalist.”

Barnett, who faces charges of entering and remaining on restricted grounds, violent entry, and theft of public property, was released from custody into home detention with a GPS monitor in April. According to KWNA-TV, he recently set up a website asking for donations to fund his legal defense, offering signed photos of him in Pelosi’s office as a reward for a contribution of $100 or more.

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The Daily Beast reported that prosecutors have urged the court to reject the car show request, stating that Barnett has previously been involved in a “civil dispute” (hmm) at a prior show.

Trump Lackeys Asked DOJ to Investigate Random Italian Guy’s Claim Biden Stole Election With Satellites

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, left, seen outside the White House in DC in October 2020.

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, left, seen outside the White House in DC in October 2020.
Photo: Sarah Silbiger (Getty Images)

GOP complaints about voting procedures in Michigan, phantom “anomalies” on ballots in Georgia, and Italian satellite hackers: Emails released by the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday show to what ridiculous extremes officials in Donald Trump’s White House went to enlist the Department of Justice in its attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.

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There’s never been any substantive evidence whatsoever that Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race was due to fraud: It’s been debunked time and again, by everyone from Trump’s own DOJ chief to local election officials. Yet Trump spent the weeks after the election cooking up a series of fruitless, conspiracy theory-filled lawsuits in various states attempting to have the results tossed out, pressuring various state officials to do it for him, and signal-boosting hoaxes purporting to show he really won. The result, on Jan. 6, was Trump inciting a riot at the Capitol that failed to come anywhere close to its goal of preventing congressional certification of the results but ended with multiple deaths.

The newly released emails shed more light on the behind-the-scenes machinations in December 2020 and beyond by White House personnel, in particular chief of staff Mark Meadows, to cajole and coerce DOJ officials into abusing the department’s powers on behalf of Trump. At that time, former Attorney General Bill Barr was no longer in Trump’s good graces after failing to turn up widespread evidence of voter fraud (as it didn’t exist) and was in the process of resigning.

As CNN noted, the records show that on Dec. 14, 2020, Trump’s assistant emailed documents “From POTUS” purportedly showing “cover-up of voting crimes” in Michigan to senior DOJ officials Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, who forwarded them to U.S. attorneys for the state’s eastern and western districts. Within an hour, Trump had announced Barr would be leaving the DOJ and promoted both of those officials—Rosen to acting attorney general and Donoghue to his acting deputy. According to the New York Times, over the next few weeks, Trump pressured Rosen to have the DOJ join onto lawsuits seeking to have the election results overturned, floating the idea of replacing Rosen if he didn’t play ball.

Meadows was previously known to have been involved in a Trump-led pressure campaign to have the Georgia secretary of state somehow alter the outcome of the state’s election results, the Times wrote. But the newly released emails show he also repeatedly pushed Rosen and the DOJ to launch investigations of ridiculous claims, such as a tale about nefarious Italian operatives who had used military technology and satellites to remotely hack into voting machines and flip votes for Trump. This was despite a longstanding directive that virtually all White House officials do not discuss investigations or prosecutions with the DOJ.

Meadows cited this important finding to a translated letter, purportedly from a person in Italy and addressed to “Illustrious Mr. President,” that claimed “direct knowledge” of a “data switch” plot between the CIA, an Italian aerospace company, and a European Union military commander to rig the election for Biden using satellite transmitters of some kind.

“Our associates in the conservative part of the Italian secret services have been working since the beginning of November, 2020, to ensure that the truth is known and that the American people realize the result voted for: the re-election of President Trump,” the document, signed by “The Director Carlo Goria,” concluded.

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The Italian theory was promoted by Trump supporters under the hashtags #Italygate and #ItalyDidIt, according to Reuters, and was boosted in early January by a press release from a Sarasota, Florida-based organization called Nations in Action (which fights “the collapse of civil society”) that detailed a supposed deposition of an arrested employee of the aeronautics company. In reality, Reuters found, the employee had been arrested in December 2020 over an unrelated cyber espionage plot targeting unmanned fighter jet and military/police aircraft programs, with the documents alleging a connection to the elections being transparent bullshit.

Meadows forwarded the separate “Carlo Goria” document to Rosen and other DOJ officials on Jan. 1, along with a YouTube video of retired CIA official turned One America News contributor Brad Johnson endorsing the Italian satellite theory. Donoghue replied to Rosen that the email was “pure insanity.”

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Rosen wrote that he was pressured by the White House to have the FBI immediately meet with Johnson to begin investigating the Italian satellites, which he refused to do. He also said he told Rudy Giuliani, the president’s sweat-brained personal attorney, to stop bothering him on the matter.

“Yes. After this message, I was asked to have FBI meet with Brad Johnson, and I responded that Johnson could call or walk into FBI’s Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have,” Rosen wrote back to Donoghue. “On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as ‘an insult.’”

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“Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused and said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this,” Rosen added.

Other emails show that on Dec. 29, Trump’s assistant at the White House emailed the DOJ asking them to pursue a 54-page legal brief seeking to have election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada thrown out by the Supreme Court over “unconstitutional changes” in voting procedures, according to NBC News. Attorney Kurt Olsen, a private attorney and Trump ally, also emailed a DOJ official the brief, requesting a meeting with Rosen.

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In other emails from Meadows to DOJ officials on Jan. 1, the chief of staff urged DOJ officials to investigate a bullshit theory that “signature match anomalies” in a county in Georgia were large enough to flip results for Trump. Rosen also received courtesy of Meadows a list of complaints about the election process in New Mexico compiled by a local Republican Party official.

In response to Meadows’ email concerning Georgia, Rosen emailed Donoghue, “Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below.” Donoghue quipped, “At least it’s better than the last one, but that doesn’t say much.”

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Finally, other emails showed that Meadows messaged then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark with pleas to talk to a Georgia lawyer named Byung J. Pak who could allegedly back up the claims of voter fraud in the state. As NBC News reported, Clark was one of the candidates Trump considered as a replacement for Rosen in case the acting attorney general failed to cave to his demands.

According to CNN, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney sent letters on Tuesday to Meadows, Rosen, Donoghue, Clark, and other DOJ colleagues asking them to present themselves to the committee for testimony. Meadows told the network in response to a request for comment on the appropriateness of the emails, “I’ll let you answer that. Obviously, I’m not going to comment on anything that may or may not have happened.” He refused to state whether he would testify.

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“These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost,” Maloney wrote in a press release. “Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the Committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy. My Committee is committed to ensuring that the events leading to the violent January 6 insurrection are fully investigated.”

QAnon Is, Somehow, About to Get Worse, FBI Warns

QAnon rioters including Jacob Chansley, better known as the "Q Shaman," confront U.S. Capitol police near the Senate Chamber in the Capitol on Jan. 6.

QAnon rioters including Jacob Chansley, better known as the “Q Shaman,” confront U.S. Capitol police near the doors of the Senate Chamber in the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)

QAnon, the rabidly pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theory and future of the GOP, may have been seriously wounded by its godhead’s failure to ascend to transcendent levels of power this year. But they haven’t gone away, and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are warning Congress that disaffected believers may even become more violent, CNN reported on Monday.

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There are innumerable strains of QAnon, which is less a coherent set of beliefs than a massive, disorganized grab bag of conspiracy theorists ranging from Flat Earthers and anti-Semites to evangelical Christians and people who believe in time travel. What united all these fringe types into one semi-coherent movement was a belief in Q, an unknown individual or individuals who posted to image boards like 4chan and neo-Nazi hub 8chan claiming to be a highly placed intelligence official in the Trump administration.

Q claimed that Trump and the U.S. military were waging a secret, Underworld-style war against a cabal of cannibalistic, child-raping Satanists that just so happened to be made of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities; eventually, they said, Trump would launch a massive military crackdown called “the Storm” on the evil syndicate, which would entail things like mass arrests and executions. This mirrored Trump’s anti-“deep state” rhetoric quite well, and Q’s ramblings subsequently went viral among conservatives on sites like Facebook and Twitter as Trump helped cultivate QAnon’s growth. Over the past few years, numerous QAnon believers have been arrested for crimes ranging from the murder of a Gambino crime family boss and an armed standoff at the Hoover Dam to stalking and death threats.

QAnon groups were involved in attempting to overturn the 2020 election results in a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which resulted in multiple deaths and Trump’s second impeachment trial. While they reacted with disbelief and confusion after Joe Biden was sworn into office later that month, many of them quickly devised new rationalizations to keep believing in Trump’s secret puppet-master status. According to CNN, an unclassified FBI threat assessment sent to members of Congress last week, titled “Adherence to QAnon Conspiracy Theory by Some Domestic Violent Extremists,” warns some QAnon adherents may grow weary of serving as “digital soldiers” and instead turn to real-life violence.

Some of the movement’s more vehement participants now believe they “can no longer ‘trust the plan” set forth by its mysterious standard-bearer, known simply as ‘Q’,” the FBI assessment states. While a number of them might “disengage from the movement or reduce their involvement,” the FBI wrote, others who still believe Q on the whole pedophile conspiracy thing may seek to physically harm “perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition—instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred.”

“The participation of some domestic violent extremists (DVE) who are also self-identified QAnon adherents in the violent siege of the US Capitol on 6 January underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” the threat assessment warned.

It continued: “The FBI has arrested more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents who participated in the 6 January violent unlawful entry of the Capitol. These individuals were charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in a restricted building and obstruction of an official proceeding, according to court documents and press reporting based on court documentation, public statements, and social media posts.”

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According to the Associated Press, lawyers for some of the alleged QAnon rioters have tried to portray their clients as merely gullible, rather than committed wannabe insurrectionists.

Christopher Davis, counsel for accused rioter Douglas Jensen, wrote that his client was tricked by “very clever people, who were uniquely equipped with slight, if any, moral or social consciousness,” according to the AP.

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“For reasons he does not even understand today, he became a ‘true believer’ and was convinced he doing a noble service by becoming a digital soldier for ‘Q,’” Davis added. “Maybe it was mid-life crisis, the pandemic, or perhaps the message just seemed to elevate him from his ordinary life to an exalted status with an honorable goal.”

The report itself has hung in limbo for months, according to CNN. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, first requested the FBI produce a report on QAnon in December 2020, but the agency only handed over a version designated “for official use only” to legislators in February 2021. In April, FBI Director Christopher Wray committed to releasing a public version, though he was cautious to clarify the FBI’s only interest is in investigating federal crimes committed by QAnon members and not the movement itself.

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While the FBI and DHS are warning that QAnon could once again trigger violence and disruption, similar warnings have gone unheeded in the past. An elaborate nationwide network of offices called “fusion centers” that share intelligence between federal, state, and local police, proved conveniently useless in the leadup to Jan. 6, with the Trump-era FBI and DHS either sitting on intelligence about violent right-wing extremists or refusing to act on it. Those same fusion centers had often played a key role in crackdowns on protesters such as the Black Lives Matter movement or environmentalists demonstrating against pipelines.

Apple and Microsoft Say They Had No Idea Trump-Era DOJ Requested Data on Political Rivals

Department of Justice podium.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski (Getty Images)

Apple didn’t know the Department of Justice was requesting metadata of Democratic lawmakers when it complied with a subpoena during a Trump-era leak investigation, CNBC reports. Apple wasn’t the only tech giant tapped in these probes: Microsoft received a similar subpoena for a congressional staffer’s personal email account, it confirmed Friday. Both companies were under DOJ gag orders preventing them from notifying the affected users for years.

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These instances are part of a growing list of questionable shit the DOJ carried out under former President Donald Trump amid his crusade to crack down on government leakers. The agency also quietly went after phone and email records of journalists at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times to uncover their sources, none of whom were notified until last month.

On Thursday, a New York Times report revealed that a Trump-led DOJ seized records from two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee who were frequently targeted in the president’s tantrums: California Representatives Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff (Schiff now chairs the committee). The subpoena extended to at least a dozen people connected to them, including aides, family members, and one minor, in an attempt to identify sources related to news reports on Trump’s contacts with Russia. All told, prosecutors found zero evidence in this seized data, but their efforts have prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to launch an inquiry into the agency’s handling of leak investigations during the Trump administration.

Apple told CNBC it received a subpoena from a federal grand jury on Feb. 6, 2018. The DOJ requested metadata for a seemingly random group of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses and provided “no information” about the nature of the investigation, Apple told TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker. The company provided the outlet with the following statement:

“We regularly challenge warrants, subpoenas and nondisclosure orders and have made it our policy to inform affected customers of governmental requests about them just as soon as possible. In this case, the subpoena, which was issued by a federal grand jury and included a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge, provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts. Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”

A non-disclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge prevented Apple from notifying the affected users until the gag order was lifted on May 5, CNBC reports. Due to the nature of the subpoena, Apple added that it believed other tech companies received similar orders.

Microsoft confirmed as much to the outlet on Friday. The company said it received a DOJ subpoena related to a personal email account in 2017, but due to a gag order, it was unable to notify the affected user for more than two years. Once the gag order was lifted, Microsoft contacted the user and learned they were a congressional staffer. Moving forward, the company said it will “continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.”

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You can read Microsoft’s statement in full below:

“In 2017 Microsoft received a subpoena related to a personal email account. As we’ve said before, we believe customers have a constitutional right to know when the government requests their email or documents, and we have a right to tell them. In this case, we were prevented from notifying the customer for more than two years because of a gag order. As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer who told us they were a congressional staffer. We then provided a briefing to the representative’s staff following that notice. We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.”

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Over the years, administrations from both sides of the aisle have subpoenaed journalist records as part of leak investigations. However, it’s virtually unheard of for the records of lawmakers to be seized in these investigations, current and former congressional officials familiar with the matter told the Times this week.

Media outlets and lawmakers have put the previous administration and DOJ on blast in the wake of these revelations. In a Friday statement, Swalwell, whose data had been sought, strongly condemned the former president:

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“Like many of the world’s most despicable dictators, former President Trump showed an utter disdain for our democracy and the rule of law.”

Last week, the DOJ promised to stop quietly seizing journalists’ records in leak investigations moving forward.

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DOJ Forced Apple to Reveal Data from Two House Democrats as Part of Trump’s Leaker Crusade

Illustration for article titled DOJ Forced Apple to Reveal Data from Two House Democrats as Part of Trump's Leaker Crusade

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

It recently came to light that the Trump-era Department of Justice quietly seized phone records of journalists at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times to suss out their sources as part of the administration’s rabid crackdown on leakers. Well, apparently the witch hunt didn’t stop there: In 2017 and 2018, a grand jury compelled Apple to fork over metadata from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, according to a Thursday report from the New York Times.

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The subpoena also covered records from at least a dozen people connected to the committee members, including aides, family members, and one minor. Records of Representative Adam Schiff of California, committee chairman and a frequent target of Trump’s playground insults, were among those seized, sources familiar with the matter told the Times.

Apple provided the agency with metadata and account information, but did not share photos, emails, or other content, a person familiar with the inquiry told the Times. But that’s hardly a comfort given the well-demonstrated fact that you can still learn a shit ton about a person from their metadata—where they are, what they’re up to—especially when combined with publicly available info such as their social media posts.

All told, prosecutors found no evidence within the seized data that tied the committee members to leakers. Apple was under a gag order from the DOJ that prohibited the company from publicly discussing the matter, according to the Times. That order expired this year, at which point Apple contacted the committee members, who purportedly did not know they were even being investigated. The Post, Times, and CNN similarly had no clue their reporters had been under federal investigation until the DOJ notified each outlet in recent weeks.

Over the years, administrations from both sides of the aisle have relied on court orders to obtain journalists’ records as part of leak investigations. Even still, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry told the Times that they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers were also seized in these cases.

In the wake of the report, Schiff called for the Inspector General to investigate Trump’s “weaponization of law enforcement” in what he denounced as a “terrible abuse of power.”

“It also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests and political interests,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday.

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The DOJ promised to stop secretly obtaining the records of journalists on Saturday after coming under fire from media outlets, lawmakers, and President Joe Biden, who condemned the practice as “simply, simply wrong” in response to the agency’s latest disclosures.

Trump’s PAC Site Tricks Donors Into Recurring Charges With ‘Happy Birthday’ Dark Patterns

Pre-clicked boxes on Trump’s website make signing up for recurring donations to his PAC opt-out, not opt-in.

Pre-clicked boxes on Trump’s website make signing up for recurring donations to his PAC opt-out, not opt-in.
Screenshot: DonaldJTrump.com

It’s tough out there being a Donald Trump supporter. He makes you and your fascist compatriots chant “toilet” at plague rallies, then he leaves thousands of you freezing in the cold with no way to return to the parking lot. He tells you to try and overthrow the U.S. government then gets stingy with the pardons. Then his website starts charging your bank account on a recurring basis by default, even though you only intended to donate to democracy’s downfall once.

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Business Insider first reported on Thursday that the donation page on Donald Trump’s website for his “Save America” political action committee (PAC) is trying to pull a fast one over on his supporters. The leadership PAC’s donation page automatically ticks two boxes that might go unnoticed while a user is trying to send Trump cash. The first reads, “Submit your name on the Official Founding Member Donor List by making this a monthly contribution!” The second box prompts users who send donations to help “surprise” the former president with a “RECORD BREAKING FUNDRAISING DAY” on his birthday on June 14 by donating the same amount again on that date.

Neglecting to uncheck these boxes would triple the amount Trump is able to debit a supporter’s bank account or payment card over the next month. For example, a user who sent in $500 today (June 10) without reading the fine print would be billed $500 again on June 15 and $500 again on July 10, as well as the 10th of every month after that.

This is a method that falls under the category of “dark patterns,” a broad umbrella of various technical and UI tricks that website and app operators use to mislead users into authorizing unforeseen or recurring charges, hand over personal data, sign up for contact lists, or any number of other things. Dark patterns are used by everyone from Amazon (making it difficult to stop a Prime subscription) to mobile game developers (making it as easy as possible to keep buying jewels). In this case, the pre-clicked boxes and the “wish Trump a happy birthday” banalities of the text make it easy to miss that the additional donations are opt-out, not opt-in.

Anyone who has signed up to a mailing list or even just visited the website of a campaign candidate, political party, PAC, or nonprofit knows that they’ll be hit up for cash—that’s just the nature of the beast. It’s not particularly unusual for them to be annoyingly thirsty, spamming mail, email, and phone lists with frustrating regularity. But Trump’s operation is particularly aggressive even by those standards. Throughout the month of May, according to the Independent, Trump supporters received at least one text a day asking for donations to the “Trump Make America Great Again Committee.” That organization splits funds with the Republican National Committee (RNC), Trump’s Save America PAC, and Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign (which ended 2020 with nearly $10.75 million cash on hand and over $2.7 million in debt, half of it owed to a shell company operated by Trump campaign officials).

Despite a disastrous one-term presidency that ended with a devastating pandemic, two impeachment trials, and a failed coup on Jan. 6 that resulted in multiple deaths, Trump has signaled he intends to run for office again in 2024 and isn’t skipping a beat using that as an excuse to gobble up as many donations as possible. Save America PAC was created the day after Trump lost the 2020 elections and raised over $31.2 million by the end of the year, mainly billing itself as a vehicle to fund his long-shot, failed bid to overturn the election results via a series of failed lawsuits (and eventually, the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that resulted in multiple deaths).

One likely reason Trump’s team is boosting the PAC, in particular, according to Business Insider, is because it is under no obligation to share funds with the RNC, which distributes funds to Republican congressional candidates. The logic goes that if Trump is able to starve the RNC of funds while building his own war chest, that places him to maintain his considerable leverage over the Republican Party as an institution. That has the additional benefit of ensuring that the funds remain entirely under his control, with little in the way stopping him from dipping into them personally.

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The Independent reported Save America PAC’s most recent Federal Election Commission filings showed it has at least $85 million in cash. Although it’s not able to fund Trump’s anticipated 2024 bid directly or pay down remaining debts from his 2020 campaign, both CNN and Business Insider reported Trump could use the funds to pay for himself and allies to host and travel to pro-Trump rallies across the country, pay himself or family members salaries, or throw events at Trump-owned or operated facilities where revenue would flow into his own pockets. This would be entirely legal, Common Cause vice president of policy and litigation Paul Ryan told CNN.