DURING A FOX BUSINESS INTERVIEW IN MARCH, Donald Trump’s former campaign advisor Jeff Ballabon called Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar “filth.” When host Stuart Varney suggested that, perhaps, “filth” might have been too strong a word for the Muslim congresswoman and Somali refugee, Ballabon doubled down. “She is a filthy disgusting hater,” he spat. It had been over a month since the start of the media fracas over Omar’s tweets criticizing the pro-Israel lobby, for which she faced calls to resign as well as death threats. By April, a 55-year-old Trump supporter was calling the congresswoman’s office and threatening to “put a bullet in her fucking skull.”
At first glance, Ballabon’s Fox appearance might seem like just another iteration of what has become a sad, dangerous routine in American politics—another Trump surrogate spewing invective and riling up the base on daytime TV. But Jeff Ballabon is not just another Trump surrogate.
A former media executive—he once headed communications for CBS News—and a veteran Republican operative, Ballabon has worked for roughly two decades to turn Orthodox Jewry into a mature political force allied with the Republican Party. Now, under Trump, that alliance has begun to pay big dividends—not only on Israel, long a focus of Orthodox politics, but on domestic issues as well. Indeed, never before has Orthodox Jewry, and the Jewish right more broadly, had such access to a president.
With this increased power and influence has also come a change in political style—one that Ballabon’s comments in March, as well as his Twitter feed at all times, exemplify. Angry, vitriolic, even vulgar, contemptuous of “political correctness” and unafraid to traffic in racist tropes, this is Jewish politics in a new key—and Ballabon wants to be a leading composer. His transformation from behind-the-scenes campaigner to aspiring movement leader reflects the emergence of an assertive, aggressive Orthodox Jewish right that has already reshaped American politics—as well as intra-communal Jewish politics—and could continue to for years to come.
Ballabon’s path from political fixer to Trump proxy maps the Republican Party’s trajectory from the “compassionate conservatism” of the George W. Bush era to the gleeful cruelty of Trump. He began his career not on the fringes of the right but at its center—as legislative counsel for Missouri Sen. John Danforth, who by today’s standards would be considered a moderate. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Ballabon cultivated close ties with the Christian Right, then at the apex of its power, which he identified as both a potential model for a new Jewish politics and a more natural partner for Orthodox Jewry than liberals in the Democratic Party, which was (and remains) the political home for the majority of American Jews.
After Bush’s victory in 2000, Ballabon became, as the right-wing Jewish paper The Algemeiner put it, the administration’s “unofficial liaison to Orthodox Jews.” In 2004, he worked on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, during which he devised a strategy to turn the Orthodox into reliable Republican voters. He succeeded. In Long Island’s heavily Orthodox “Five Towns,” for instance, support for Bush jumped from less than 30% in 2000 to more than 60% in 2004; in the ultra-Orthodox Rockland County enclave of New Square, which went for Al Gore in 2000, Bush won in 2004 with roughly 98% of the vote. The Orthodox communities that shifted to the right in 2004 have, for the most part, heavily favored Republicans ever since.
Having made his name as the keeper of the keys to the Jewish vote—Ballabon was the subject of a fawning 2005 New York Observer profile by Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News—he would go on to work for several Republican campaigns, among them Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.
Today, Ballabon has become one of President Trump’s most prominent Jewish surrogates, making regular appearances on various Fox News shows and weighing in on Jewish-related matters as an authentic, kippah-wearing spokesman. (Ballabon comes from a non-hasidic Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community.) He has appeared on the America First radio show hosted by Sebastian Gorka—a member of the Viteszi Rend, a racist Hungarian nationalist order founded by Hungary’s antisemitic, Nazi-collaborationist leader, Admiral Miklos Horthy—and he has defended Gorka from charges of antisemitism. While Instagram grifter Elizabeth Pipko has played the face of the bungled “Jexodus” initiative—which claims to be leading American Jews out of a Democratic Party turned irrevocably antisemitic—it is Ballabon who has led the astroturf movement from behind.
According to the indictment from Robert Mueller’s office, Roger Stone was an active participant in attempts by WikiLeaks to cause chaos in the 2016 Presidential election.
Photograph by Mark Peterson / Redux
On Friday morning, Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime political adviser and ally, who has been a fixture in Republican politics since the Nixon Administration, was arrested by the F.B.I. The office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, issued a seven-count indictment, which charges Stone with obstruction of an official proceeding, false statements, and witness tampering. It also makes the case that Stone acted as a conduit of information between the Trump campaign and Julian Assange as Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, released e-mails that the Russian government had stolen from the Democratic Party and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an effort to help Trump win the Presidential election.
The charges stem not from the original acts themselves but from Stone’s alleged lies about them. In September, 2017, Stone testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he had “no e-mails, no texts, no documents whatsoever” or any other materials that discussed hacked documents or conversations about Assange. As in the case of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager (and Stone’s former business partner), and that of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, we see that it is not wise to lie when asked, under oath, if you have any specific e-mails and texts. Once again, the government had all the incriminating receipts.
Perhaps the most surprising detail of the indictment is that Stone, a famous braggart, often downplayed the significance of his role as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Assange. He was not, as he has previously said, simply guessing and making vague predictions about the actions WikiLeaks was likely to take; he was an active participant in its attempts to cause chaos in the 2016 Presidential election. In texts sent on or about October 2, 2016, Stone expressed confusion that WikiLeaks had not released e-mails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as he had expected. That same day, he sent an e-mail to a friend, who is identified in the indictment as Person 2 and appears to be the radio host Randy Credico, with the subject line “WTF?,” in which he asked why Assange had cancelled a press conference.
The first week of October, 2016, was a crucial one for the Trump campaign and for the country. Trump was trailing Clinton by about four points in the polls, and the conventional wisdom was that he had no chance of winning the Presidency. In the e-mails quoted in the indictment, Stone began that week by complaining that a high-ranking official on Trump’s campaign wouldn’t return his calls. By October 4th, the official—who has been identified by CNBC and in previous reporting by the Times as SteveBannon, who was the head of Trump’s campaign at the time—had contacted Stone directly, asking when Assange planned his next e-mail release. Stone reassured him that Assange would release “a load every week going forward.” On October 7th—shortly after the Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women—Assange began releasing e-mails stolen from Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. An unnamed associate of Bannon wrote, in a text to Stone, “well done.”
Nearly a year later, in September, 2017, Stone not only lied to the House Intelligence Committee about these communications but also sent messages to others who had been asked to testify before the committee, encouraging them to lie as well. To Person 2, he wrote, “Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ . . . Richard Nixon.” In other exchanges, according to the indictment, Stone “told Person 2 that Person 2 should do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before HPSCI in order to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony,” a reference to a character in “The Godfather: Part II,” who had planned to testify against the Corleone family but was pressured to deny any recollection of key events.
In 2008, Stone, a proudly self-described “dirty trickster,” described his political “rules” to Jeffrey Toobin, one of which was “Lay low, play dumb, keep moving.” For decades, Stone has alternately played a clownish buffoon and serious political insider. It’s a surprisingly effective strategy, forcing the public to wonder if a man who says so many wild things and behaves so flamboyantly can also be a potent force, shifting the world according to his will. A frequent guest on InfoWars and other fringe conspiracy-media outlets, Stone has presented himself as somewhat desperately trying to foster communication between Trump and Assange. But the e-mails in the indictment show that Stone may have played a crucial role in the election, intervening with both the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks to influence the timing of key events.
From Stone’s indictment and other documents released by the special counsel’s office, including Manafort’s indictment and Cohen’s sentencing memo, we now see that, from at least November, 2015, through October, 2016, key figures in the Trump campaign and on the business side of the Trump Organization were in regular contact with a variety of actors close to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. The figures on Trump’s side were often falling in or out of his favor. Stone was close to Trump until August, 2015, and then was forced to fight for relevance. Trump’s business associates Felix Sater and Michael Cohen were intensely engaged in developing a Trump Tower Moscow project until, by June, 2016, they, too, seemed to step away. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign from June to August, 2016, while also communicating with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, before he, too, was tossed from Trump’s inner circle.
Were these contacts largely disorganized, or could they have been coördinated by someone within Trump’s orbit?
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Michael Cohen has taken “ownership” of his illegal actions because “he feared for his country and his family,” attorney Lanny Davis said on Sunday.
Speaking on CBS News’ Face the Nation, Davis, who represented President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, highlighted the motivation behind his client’s guilty plea. Cohen’s attorney said that the former Trump lawyer had cooperated with investigators due to a “genuine transformation.”
“Michael Cohen is now taking ownership in his statement to the court of his personal responsibility for his behavior when he worked for Donald Trump,” Davis explained. “Now that he saw Donald Trump as president, he underwent a genuine transformation because he feared for his country and his family,” he said.
Davis also said that his client had authorized him on several occasions to refuse any pardon from Trump, if it was offered. The attorney also pushed back against the president’s and his legal teams’ attacks against Cohen, often attempts to paint his client as a liar.
“Let’s remember that Michael Cohen has corroborating evidence for everything that he has said,” David pointed out. “Mr. [Robert] Mueller [who is leading the special investigation in Trump and his associates] certainly does,” he added.
On Wednesday, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to numerous crimes, including lying to Congress.
“Today is one of the most meaningful days of my life. The irony is that today I get my freedom back,” Cohen said during his sentencing hearing. “Blind loyalty to this man [Trump] led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” he added.
A sentencing memo for Trump’s ex-lawyer implicated the president in leading a criminal conspiracy, which involved paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal using campaign funds. Analysts have also speculated that evidence provided by Cohen could reveal new details that link Trump or members of his campaign team to collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Dozens of individuals and several companies have been indicted by Mueller’s team in the ongoing probe. None have been charged for colluding with Russia, but various other crimes have been uncovered. Mueller’s final report is expected soon, and the most recent conviction of Cohen has led many politicians to suggest the president could be impeached, or even criminally indicted and jailed.
With Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives in January, they are expected to ramp up pressure on the White House. Republican leaders of the current House Judiciary Committee had appeared reluctant to push for a thorough investigation into the president’s alleged crimes, but that’s all expected to change with new leadership.
Lanny Davis and Michael Cohen. (Photos: Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images – Mary Altaffer/AP)
Veteran political consultant and attorney Lanny Davis said that his embattled advisee Michael Cohen is taking personal responsibility for his bad behavior and would refuse any pardon offered by President Trump.
Davis was Cohen’s attorney last summer when he pleaded guilty to fraud and violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels. Cohen, who was Trump’s personal attorney for many years, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday.
“That’s the language of a mobster, not of the president,” Davis replied. “But Michael Cohen took ownership and personal responsibility for lying and he’s going to jail as a consequence and he authorized me, several times, to say he wouldn’t take a pardon from Donald Trump if it was handed to him,” Davis said.
Davis told the show’s moderator, Margaret Brennan, that they never discussed the possibility of taking a presidential pardon. He said that Cohen has corroborating evidence for everything he disclosed to Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.
“So, Michael Cohen is now taking ownership in his statement to the court of his personal responsibility for his behavior when he worked for Donald Trump,” he continued. “Now that he saw Donald Trump as president he underwent a genuine transformation because he feared for his country and his family when Donald Trump was president.”
Davis also took issue with Trump’s claim that federal agents had broken into Cohen’s office and residences in New York in April. He said Cohen consented to the search and even thanked the federal agents for their courtesy as they left. Cohen later described the agents to CNN as “extremely professional, courteous, and respectful.”
“You have a president denouncing the FBI, lying about a warrant in a legal search, and he’s the top law enforcement officer of the country and who does he praise? He praises his people who have lied and refused to cooperate. The opposite of what a president should do,” he said.
Davis said there are some questions he cannot answer publicly as Cohen’s former lawyer and current adviser because he does not want to “get in front of Mr. Mueller’s findings.” He urged the public to exercise patience so that Mueller’s investigation isn’t compromised or hindered.
However, he did point out that the sentencing memo by Mueller described the information provided by Cohen as important to the investigation, as it relates to Trump’s attempts to build a large project in Moscow, and contacts with Russian officials.
“There’s a lot in the Mueller memo that tells you how forthcoming, for 70 hours in seven meetings, Michael Cohen was with Mr. Mueller.”
Michael Cohen exits the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse on Wednesday in New York. (Alec Tabak / for New York Daily News)
Michael Cohen says “of course” President Trump was aware that hush-money payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election were wrong — and that the secret payments were arranged due to Trump’s election fears.
“Nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump,” Trump’s former lawyer told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in his first interview since being sentenced Wednesday for a range of crimes.
Cohen has admitted to arranging the payments to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the presidential election — and implicated the President in the process.
“He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters,” he said Friday.
The 52-year-old “fixer” said his former mentor was “very concerned with how this would affect the election” if the alleged affairs came to light.
Cohen said he acted out of “blind loyalty” to Trump.
While prosecutors from the Southern District of New York have not charged Trump, they have made clear they believe Cohen’s claims that he worked “in coordination and at the direction” of the President to pay off McDougal and Daniels, who both claimed to have had trysts with the former reality TV host a decade earlier.
Trump is apparently referred to in court documents as “individual one.”
Cohen, 52, was given a three-year prison sentence Wednesday for a “veritable smorgasbord offraudulent conduct” that includes the hush-money payments as well as bank fraud, lying to Congress and tax evasion.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong,” Cohen told Stephanopoulos. “I stood up before the world and I accepted the responsibility for my actions.” Trump — who initially claimed he didn’t know about the payments and has denied the affairs — is now denying that they were campaign contributions and tweeted Thursday that he “never directed Michael Cohen to break the law.”
Cohen countered that claim.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump,” he said. “He directed me as I said in my allocution.”
The embattled barrister also said that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team — investigating the Trump campaign and administration’s Russia ties — possess a “substantial amount of information” that corroborates Cohen’s statements.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his work on a possible Trump real estate project in Moscow and said he did so to be consistent with Trump’s “political messaging.”
Those charges were brought by Mueller’s office.
Investigators for the special counsel’s office also found that Cohen was in contact with a Russian national during the lead up to the 2016 election who offered to establish “political synergy” with Trump’s campaign.
The former fixer said he is continuing to cooperate with investigators.
On the same day that Cohen was sentenced, the Southern District of New York announced it had reached a non-prosecution deal with American Media Inc., the publisher of National Enquirer, in which AMI “admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with (Trump’s) presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that (McDougal) did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.
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LET US NOT FORGET THAT RUBASHKIN WAS NOT PARDONED. HIS SENTENCE WAS, FOR SOME UNG-DLY REASON COMMUTED. HE IS NOW THE SHINING EXEMPLAR OF A COMMUNITY’S PLEA FOR “CHARIDY” TO HELP CREATE LAWS WHICH WOULD ALLOW WHITE COLLAR CRIMINALS TO ACT WITH IMPUNITY.
Can you believe it’s already been one year?? Baruch Hashem, it’s been an incredible year of simcha, achdus, hodaah and of course emunah and bitachon! We are forever thankful and grateful to Klal Yisroel for your extraordinary love, support and for your teffilos that made this geulah and ness a reality.
But we cannot forget about those who are still in a place called prison. There’s a critical prison reform legislation underway, the First Step Act, and your help is needed to get it to the finish line. Please participate in the very important Pidyon Shvuyim campaign which will help so many!Go to www.charidy.com/pidyon to partake in this incredibly important Mitzvah.As Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky of the Aleph Institute put it: “Moshe Margaretten is a hero for his remarkable, selfless and tireless efforts in championing this vital effort, which b’ezras Hashem will bring so much hope and relief for many thousands of families. Moshe deserves all our support.”We wholeheartedly agree!! Moshe Margaretten was there for us when we needed him, and indeed helped in his signature Mesirus Nefesh way, and we encourage one and all to support him so he can be there for so many others as well.Your donation to to www.charidy.com/pidyon will be doubled, and your s’char for helping in this Mitzvah will be multiplied infinitely so!Besuros tovos,Leah Rubashkin