Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Narratology: What Polling Data?

The Grand Havana Room, New York City.

Remember how we've learned that Paul Manafort passed a lot of confidential Trump polling information ("'topline' data, which included the results of internal polling including state, dates, generic, decided GOP, and other such numbers") to his Ukrainian confederate Konstantin Kilimnik, culminating on 2 August 2016, when Kilimnik flew in to New York in the early evening and met with Gates and Manafort (fresh from a 5:00 meeting with Trump and Giuliani at Trump Tower) at the Grand Havana Room at 666 Fifth Avenue (yes, Jared's white elephant building), where Manafort explained, at considerable length, his plan for achieving a Trump victory?

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton's negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio 's polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a 'therm poll, ' were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. (Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Russian Election Interference, vol. 5)

And how Kilimnik relayed the stuff to various persons including their Russian patron Oleg Deripaska and some Ukrainian oligarchs, to the displeasure of Rick Gates, who didn't trust Kilimnik and didn't see the point?

I've struggled with wondering what exactly Russian intelligence might have been able to do with this information and what they wanted it for and found myself too ill-informed to think of anything that made any sense—it was all mixed up in my mind with the Facebook operation. So a few days ago I ran into something that's simple enough to be true, in a kind of summary by Rob Waldeck of material from his October book The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin's Disinformation War to America—that it was simply a presentation of polling data

Prior to the meeting with Kilimnik, Manafort sent Gates an email with the subject line "Print for SCh meeting." Attached to the email was a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, prepared by Fabrizio's firm, containing historical polling data and internal Campaign polling data derived from mid-July covering each of 137 designated market areas (DMAs) across Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The spreadsheet included voting data from previous presidential elections for the purposes of comparison with current internal Trump Campaign data for each DMA. 

making the case that Trump really could win the election by following Manafort's plan (which did no doubt involve the Facebook operation, pollster Tony Fabrizio, Brad Parscale, and the Cambridge Analytica firm which likely did not have any direct connections with Russians over the campaign), and presented to Kilimnik alongside a summary of what a President Trump might be able to do for Russia on the Ukraine situation: Waldeck writes,

On 2 August 2016, Manafort and the Trump campaign’s deputy chair Richard Gates met with Russian Intelligence Officer Konstantin Kilimnik in New York City. There, Kilimnik gave Manafort a copy of Russia’s plan for peace in Eastern Ukraine – seeking the return of disgraced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, to rule over an autonomous region of Donbas.

At the same time, Manafort provided Kilimnik with polling data from the Trump campaign, showing Trump could win and told the Russian to give the data to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

Two weeks after which, of course, Manafort got busted for his unlawful relationship with ex-president Yanukovych and the Party of Regions by the appearance of the Black Ledger showing the millions in payments he'd hidden from the IRS, and had to leave the campaign, and things got a bit messy.

But the discussions over a Ukrainian peace plan in which Russia would emerge as the overwhelming winner of its war on its smaller and weaker neighbor went on, as Waldeck explains in considerable detail, and so did the GRU and WikiLeaks help for the Trump campaign, which Waldeck doesn't discuss: in particular the John Podesta email collection, cryptically announced by Roger Stone on 21 August ("It will soon be Podesta's time in the barrel") and published by WikiLeaks on 7 October, with their lengthy excerpts from Hillary Clinton's paid talks of 2013-14, including full texts of three Goldman Sachs talks, and the campaign's own internal reporting of how the texts could be used to make Clinton look bad. 

Two days before the second presidential debate, on 9 October, as it happens, and that's not all:

Donald Trump first publicly called for the transcripts during a rally on October 3, 2016, four days before their publication by WikiLeaks: "I would like to see what the speeches said. She doesn't want to release them. Release the papers, Hillary, release those papers."

The excerpts came up in the two subsequent presidential debates between Clinton and Trump. In one of the debates, the moderator Martha Raddatz quoted an excerpt saying that politicians "need both a public and a private position" and asked Clinton if it was okay for politicians to be "two-faced". Clinton replied, "As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called Lincoln. It was a master class watching president Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th amendment, it was principled and strategic. I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do."[43] In the third presidential debate, the moderator Chris Wallace quoted a speech excerpt where Clinton says, "My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders," and asked if she was for open borders. Clinton replied, "If you went on to read the rest of the sentence, I was talking about energy. We trade more energy with our neighbors than we trade with the rest of the world combined. (Wikipedia)

I was very disturbed by these leaks at the time and wrote at some length in defense of what Clinton was quoted as saying, because it seemed clear that the thing was very specifically targeted at the youthful "left" and encouraging a particularly false picture of who Clinton was and what she stood for, as a tool of bankers (What's the Matter With Kansas literary hero Thomas Frank wrote that the emails were an "unprecedented view into the workings of the elite, and how it looks after itself"), and an effective way of persuading them to vote for Jill Stein, or more likely not at all, as many subsequently did in Madison and Milwaukee, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Which wasn't the only factor in the Clinton campaign's decline starting around then (different messages, also via Facebook, were being sent to discourage younger Black voters, and of course at the end of the month a mildly nauseous James Comey was to pull his famous stunt encouraging a pro-Trump vote everywhere by bringing together the incomprehensible private server story with the all-too-comprehensible saga of Anthony Weiner's penis), but it clearly was crucial in those specific places where the Electoral College was lost.

Thus did Manafort's plan accomplish itself, even though he himself had to step aside, replaced by his old comrade Stone for the Russia-WikiLeaks negotiation and Cambridge Analytica's Stephen Bannon for the day-to-day management of the campaign strategy and eventually Giuliani, perhaps, for Ukraine, while he followed his own business interests in Kiyiv. Trump was duly elected, with the various strands of Russian assistance, and after the election set about working on the ways he could help out President Putin in return, mitigating the sanctions and chasing that elusive peace deal in which Russia would be able to retain Crimea and Donbas both (which might well have happened had Ukrainians not intervened by voting unexpectedly for comedy over corruption).

This is the deal I've suggested was set up by Manafort and Akhmetshin in early June 2016, ratified at and around the Republican convention in July, and as we now understand sealed by Manafort and Kilimnik-for-Deripaska in August, when Manafort offered the Russians some serious proof he'd be able to hand Trump the victory and make it worth their risk, and they let him know more or less precisely what Putin was going to want in return for his help. There's nothing quite new about this, but I haven't seen it put together in a way I could understand before: it's the meeting where collusion ripened into conspiracy.

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