Reporting on the Russia-style disinformation campaign that benefited Doug Jones in Alabama's 2017 special U.S. Senate election continues to evolve, with a billionaire financial backer issuing a public apology yesterday. Meanwhile, 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has been unmasked as the recipient of a Russia-backed social-media blitz designed to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
Those two stories likely will soon merge, putting Jones' senatorial career at risk almost before it has begun, according to one of Alabama's most knowledgeable political insiders. It probably is too early to say where the Jones story is going, but here are some of the signs that could be alarming for Alabama's junior senator -- a Democrat in a red state, who pulled off a stunning victory last November over Republican Roy Moore:
(1) Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and an early investor in Facebook, largely funded the effort (to the tune of $750,000) and now has issued an apology, acknowledging that he finds the actions taken with his money are "highly disturbing."
(2) Where did Hoffman's money go? Mostly it went to American Engagement Technologies (AET), a firm headed by former Obama administration official and Google engineer Mikey Dickerson.
(3) Hoffman's funds apparently trickled down to Jonathon Morgan, chief executive at the research firm New Knowledge, who said he "created a Facebook page under false pretenses to test his ability to appeal to conservative voters." Facebook has suspended Morgan's account, plus those of at least four unnamed individuals who worked with him on the project.
(4) Jones claims he wants a federal investigation into New Knowledge's actions on his behalf, but the senator seems slightly unhinged in his public statements on the matter. Jones cursed multiple times in his initial reaction after The New York Times broke the Morgan story? How many times have you heard a U.S. senator curse while cameras and microphones were running? I don't think I've ever seen it happen.
How could the Jill Stein and Doug Jones stories merge? Jill Simpson (retired attorney, opposition researcher, and whistle blower) provides insight in a recent post at Facebook. Writes Simpson:
Some of the Stein folks showed up in Alabama to help Doug Jones with election machinery, and they had told us it would be better if republican Trump won in Wisconsin. We knew then Russian bots were on the way to probably help Jones, and we reported this to old press friends to watch closely. We have one family in America that has been funding these folks, and we and the feds know who it is, and their ties to Mother Russia involve money being made back to the early 1990s. That said, this bunch funded Stein to beat Hillary and to beat Moore. This is not about political parties, this is about one of America's richest families being in bed with Russians and certain politicians on both sides. It is huge. Stein was owned by this bunch, and it became apparent to us when we were in Wisconsin. The greens would be well advised to cut Stein and her Russian butt-kissing ass loose from the party.
As for Hoffman's apology, The Washington Post says it left key questions unanswered:
Hoffman named a group he funded, American Engagement Technologies, or AET, as being involved in the effort to spread disinformation targeting Moore. Hoffman invested $750,000 in the organization, some of which covered its work in Alabama, according to a person close to the matter but not authorized to discuss Hoffman's spending.
But the statement left key facts unaddressed, including a full accounting of everyone who crafted and executed the campaign. The effort was the subject of a presentation in September to a group of progressive technology experts who met in downtown Washington to discuss electoral tactics, according to documents from that meeting obtained by The Washington Post and one of the attendees. This person spoke on the condition of anonymity because those at the gathering were required to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Does it sound like multiple individuals are trying to cover for actions taken under what became known as Project Birmingham? It sure sounds that way from here. The Post reports, for example, hat Mikey Dickerson has failed to respond to multiple interview requests.
Jill Stein and her campaign also have been less than forthcoming. Reports Think Progress:
Stein has long been a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation. The environmental activist and erstwhile presidential candidate was in frequent communication with individuals inside Russia, and she herself made a trip to Moscow in 2015 to attend, among other things, a dinner hosted by Russian propaganda network RT, where she sat alongside future Trump campaign aide Michael Flynn and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Stein long has been of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and we now know her operatives were in touch with the Doug Jones campaign? Perhaps that explains Jones' recent public statements, which might best be described as bizarre. Consider this account from Politico:
Even though the effort was minor and was not used against him, Jones said he is “outraged” and that congressional hearings wouldn’t be enough: “It needs to not just be a congressional inquiry. People get called in front of Congress all the damn time. There needs to be a look to see if there were any laws that were broke.”
“What is obvious now is that we have focused so much on Russia that we haven’t focused on the fact that people in this country could take the same playbook and do the same damn thing,” Jones said. “I’d like to see the FEC and the Justice Department look at this and see if any laws are being violated or were violated. And if there were, do it. Go after them.”
Then, we have this from Yellowhammer News:
Jones expressed that he was “outraged” and called for the Federal Elections Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate the allegations and prosecute if necessary.
“Hell, I’m as outraged as everybody else about it,” Jones said. “I have railed against Russian interference in our election process ever since I started campaigning and during this first year in the Senate. I think we have all focused too much on just the Russians and not picked up on the fact that you know what? Some nefarious groups, whether they’re right or left, can take those same playbooks and interfere with the electors for their own damn benefit. I got to tell you, I’m not happy about it.”
Doug Jones can't discuss this subject without sprinkling in words like "damn" and "hell" -- for public consumption? Does he even have the class or dignity to serve in the U.S. Senate?
This kind of language from Jones was not a surprise to us. We've tried to interview him several times on serious matters and were treated to the smart-alecky, classless, dismissive, and duplicitous tone that represents the real Doug Jones. We invite you to check it out in the videos below: