Yesterday’s NYT included an article on Manafort deputy Rick Gates’ receipt of a proposal from an Israeli firm to “create fake online identities, to use social media manipulation and to gather intelligence” to help Team Trump. The company, Psy-Group, originally came to Gates’ attention at a March 2016 meeting. They submitted a proposal to run influence campaigns to ensure RNC delegates didn’t bolt from Trump to Ted Cruz. Psy-Group wasn’t hired for that job.
But the owner of the company, Joel Zamel, met with Trump Jr. in August of 2016 to propose a general election influence operation. Here’s the NYT’s report on the second proposal:
A second proposal focused on gathering information about Mrs. Clinton and 10 of her associates through publicly available data as well as unspecified “complementary intelligence activities.” Psy-Group promised to prepare a comprehensive dossier on each of the targets, including “any actionable intelligence.”
A third document emphasized “tailored third-party messaging” aimed at minority, suburban female and undecided voters in battleground states. It promised to create and maintain fake online personas that would deliver messages highlighting Mr. Trump’s merits and Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses or revealing “rifts and rivalries within the opposition.”
Though it appears that Trump campaign officials declined to accept any of the proposals, Mr. Zamel pitched the company’s services in at least general terms during a meeting on Aug. 3, 2016, at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. That meeting, revealed in May by The Times, was also attended by George Nader, an emissary from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and by Erik Prince, a Republican donor and the founder of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater.
The report says Nader paid Zamel $2M after the election but that the two have given differing accounts of whether or not Psy-Group provided services to the Trump campaign. Also, remember the witness tampering attempt that led to Manafort being jailed prior to his court date? The witness in question was Eckart Sager, the political consultant who first hooked Psy-Group up with Gates.
The report says it doesn’t appear that the Trump campaign used Psy-Group, and it’s unclear if it would have been illegal if they did. The $2M strikes me as a paltry sum considering the scale of the influence campaign we all saw with our own eyes in 2016, but the measures taken — including the use of trolls to foment dissent between opposition groups — sure looks familiar.
My guess is the Trump campaign chose the free — or quid pro quo — influence campaign provided by the Kremlin instead. The NYT article makes it clear the Mueller team is all over this. Maybe someday we’ll get the truth. But in the meantime, perhaps add “make it illegal for campaigns to hire troll farms to create fake social media identities and spread disinformation” to the post-Trump to-do list.