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Seth Abramson @SethAbramson
, 34 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
This is an important story that is being reported, unfortunately, through some *terrible* journalistic writing that fails to *clearly* explain to Americans where the illegality lies and *why* this all matters. This is a textbook case of complex facts obstructing clear reporting.
2/ The allegation here appears to be—and again, I wish Gizmodo or anyone else had a clue how to report this story clearly—that Trump's digital marketing campaign was illegally funded through in-kind contributions by foreign entities, including intellectual property and software.
3/ Moreover, the claim *appears* to be that Trump's U.S. digital marketing company lied about the source of its intellectual property and software to hide the fact that its origin was a foreign entity (thus constituting an illegal foreign contribution to a presidential election).
4/ "Professional writing"—journalistic writing being a subgenre of professional writing—dictates that one give more consideration to an audience's ability to comprehend than one's own fixation on fascinating minutiae that prove one's intelligence. This story fails that standard.
5/ I mention this because every Trump-Russia story on digital malfeasance makes the same mistake, whether it's the Trump Tower-Alfa Bank pinging, Trump-Russia coordination on voter micro-targeting, or anything involving Cambridge Analytica—none of it is appropriately dumbed down.
6/ That's dangerous because Trump-Russia collusion has already been proven 35+ times over, but the stories that confirm it are so confusing that even the media can't explain them—so it resorts, instead, to allowing that collusion may *not* have been found.
7/ While it involves a Canadian entity rather than a Russian one—at least at this stage, for of course we *do* know Trump's digital marketing company was in contact with Russia and benefited partially from Russian university-funded data collection—this is another collusion story.
8/ The developing picture: the digital marketing company the Mercers and Bannon brought to Trump's campaign via Kushner was quite possibly a criminal enterprise illegally funded by—and benefiting from work done by—foreign entities. And the company says it won Trump the election.
9/ While that alone would be illegal coordination with foreign entities in violation of federal election law—so illegal coordination is credibly the reason Trump won—all this also intersects with the Trump-Russia probe, as it seems Russian hackers may have accessed the same data.
10/ It's already pretty clear Cambridge Analytica lied about its business model, what it did in the election, who it talked to, and who aided it. The question is whether it *also* lied about who it shared its data with—as there's evidence to suggest it may have been the Russians.
11/ So what Chris, Dell, and Gizmodo are saying—but are getting lost in their own research in saying it with clarity—is that we've just gotten one step closer to discovering that Cambridge Analytica intentionally or negligently let its data get into the hands of foreign entities.
12/ Cambridge Analytica tried to present itself as a law-abiding corporate entity whose intellectual property, software, and data was tightly controlled and—because it was entirely American in origin and legally obtained—in contravention of no U.S. laws. All that is now in doubt.
13/ But it's far worse than that, as the recent multi-part, all-videotaped undercover investigation by Channel 4 (UK) showed us *exactly* how former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix would have pitched his services to *Donald Trump* the "many times" Nix says the two men met.
14/ That undercover investigation confirms that Nix was pitching Cambridge Analytica as a company willing to violate the law to help its clients win. There is every reason to think that if Nix made that pitch to a "reporter" from Sri Lanka, he made it as hard or harder to Trump.
15/ So the chance the Mercers, Bannon, Kushner, Trump, and others in the Trump orbit—say Brad Parscale, for instance—didn't know the true nature of their digital marketing company (the one that privately claims to have won the election for Trump) seems to be approaching zero now.
16/ Given the 35+ other pathways we already have to confirm Trump-Russia collusion, it's stunning that the Cambridge Analytica angle—which in itself would probably constitute the biggest political scandal since Watergate—is just one inculpatory thread among several dozen of them.
17/ As ever, though, the question isn't just the journalistic research being done here and whether it's sound—it's the (a) WRITING UP and (b) CURATION of that research, and (c) CREATING A NEXUS between that research and other research to paint a picture and build a credible case.
18/ This feed isn't about original journalistic research—which, as I know from teaching journalism, is only step one (actually—in class—we consider it step two) of journalistic practice. It's about:

19/ So for instance, if we know this Cambridge Analytica story from Gizmodo, we also know (a) how much of a primary target Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner may be for Mueller, (b) who some other Mueller witnesses may be, and therefore (c) how Mueller might "flip" the men he needs.
20/ So when we read of the Saudis saying they have Jared in their pocket, or of Jared's FARA violations, or about contacts between Jared and Russians that we know he's hidden or lied about, what we're *really* talking about is, can Mueller charge Jared with something to flip him?
21/ If and when Jared is charged and flipped—assuming Mueller doesn't designate him such a top target, such that he won't use him to get to Trump, but try to get both men on a full set of charges—one of the areas Mueller will pump Jared for information on is Cambridge Analytica.
22/ By the same token, this Cambridge Analytica news could eventually uncover election-law crimes that would allow Mueller to charge and flip Jared and ask him about (say) the Trump Jr. Trump Tower meeting, the secret December 2016 Kushner-Kislyak summit at Trump Tower, and more.
23/ So at a "meta-" level above even the Gizmodo reporting on Cambridge Analytica is an *investigative* context Gizmodo isn't providing—nor, again, is it even explaining its own base reporting well—how can any of this information be weaponized by Mueller to get witnesses to flip?
24/ So my experience in criminal investigation makes me emphasize—in my own professional writing—that every new story *isn't* finally about "Who can be charged for this?" but "Where does this story lead?" and "Does it lead to *any* crime that can be used to find *bigger* crimes?"
25/ So this Gizmodo story is big not just for what it is, but because it implies a *base level of low-grade election-law criminality* that can and will be used by Mueller to scoop up low-level witnesses or even targets and—in so doing—get to Jared or Bannon and then *Trump*. /end
PS/ I know sometimes it seems I'm griping about a given act of journalism because it echoes my own—but with far more attention—or targets me personally. That's fair—I'm human, so I *do* act human (on occasion). But *many* of my complaints are really about contemporary journalism.
PS2/ The Trump-Russia story is being badly reported—has been from the start. And perhaps because they don't teach (all four of) legal advocacy, digital journalism, professional writing, and post-internet theory, professional (fulltime) journalists can't see *how* they're failing.
PS3/ Professional journalists aren't primarily failing in their sourcing or research—though they are indeed failing to abandon (confirmed) dishonest sources immediately and giving up entire avenues of research (e.g. Russian kompromat) without any effort (and much public disgust).
PS4/ What full-time journalists are *primarily* failing at is in educating the public in a way that (a) makes sense to the average reader, (b) connects old/new research, (c) contextualizes the situation, (d) avoids distraction by Trump's nonsense, and (e) contemplates the future.
PS5/ So when I aver that I—or someone else—was explaining a given part of the Trump-Russia probe days, weeks, or months before major media, the point isn't that major media couldn't have done so or didn't do all the original research, it's that they lost sight of their own story.
CONCLUSION/ So you'll (almost) never hear me say I discovered something *before* major media—it happened just a few times in 2017—because my feed is *drawn from major-media research*. But you *will* see me chastising media for fumbling around with or fouling up its own hard work.
NOTE/ Given the above, if you ever encounter an overly defensive major-media stringer claiming that Abramson is "a self-described Russia expert" or a "self-appointed Russia investigator," you know that person has *never* read this feed—that's not what I do or have ever done here.
SOURCES/ Links to three of the major (undercover) investigative videos published by Channel 4 (UK) can be found here:
CORRECTION/ Tweet #14 should say, in quotes, "politician" rather than "reporter." A man pretending to be a Sri Lankan politician, who was actually a reporter, managed to get Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix to give his typical "pitch" (likely what Trump got) on hidden video.
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