The Strange Alliances of Tulsi Gabbard: Bill Browder and others highlight odd affinities

I was first exposed to Tulsi Gabbard when I read, along with every­one else, about her legit­imiz­ing vis­it to Assad in 2017, where she claimed she was already in the coun­try when she received an oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with him. 

Tulsi Gabbard and Dana Rohrbacher with Egypt’s President Sisi

From the Guardian:

Initially I hadn’t planned on meet­ing him,” Gabbard told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “When the oppor­tu­ni­ty arose to meet with him, I did so, because I felt it’s impor­tant that if we pro­fess to tru­ly care about the Syrian peo­ple, about their suf­fer­ing, then we’ve got to be able to meet with any­one that we need to if there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that we could achieve peace. And that’s exact­ly what we talked about.”

The prob­lem with that line is that her trip was paid for by AACCESS: the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services that since 2006 had report­ed no finan­cial rev­enue to the gov­ern­ment, and whose exec­u­tive direc­tor, Bassam Khawam, trav­eled with Gabbard and has con­nec­tions to the pro-Assad group, SSNP- the Syrian Social Nationalist party. 

Her com­ments about the trip were chill­ing, and not in the way that one would imag­ine after see­ing a coun­try so dev­as­tat­ed by war. 

Adam Kinzinger, a fel­low con­gress­man, commented:

She has the audac­i­ty to say that every­where she went peo­ple sup­port­ed Assad,” Kinzinger said. “Of course, when you have an Assad-led tour, he’s only going to take you to places where peo­ple like him”.

Josh Rogin, Washington Post reporter, wrote on Twitter:

In an arti­cle just a few months ago, Rogin con­tin­ued:

In fact, what she did was tour Aleppo after it had been dec­i­mat­ed by Assad and Russia, and declared it a vic­to­ry for peace. She made videos that regur­gi­tat­ed Assad pro­pa­gan­da from Assad-friend­ly Syrians and blamed the United States and the rebels for the destruc­tion Assad’s regime wrought. She helped a mass mur­der­er white­wash mass atrocities.

Strangely, she has also allowed her 2017 trip to dri­ve her nar­ra­tive about Assad, rather than her 2015 trip that she took with a con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion to the Turkey-Syrian bor­der. There, the del­e­ga­tion met with oppo­si­tion groups to Assad and met with sur­vivors of the war. According to Rogin in that same article:

But Gabbard nev­er talks about her oth­er trip — to the Turkish-Syrian bor­der with a group of law­mak­ers in June 2015, when she met with authen­tic oppo­si­tion lead­ers, vic­tims of Assad’s bar­rel bombs and mem­bers of the vol­un­teer res­cue brigade known as the White Helmets. Their sto­ries, which don’t sup­port Assad’s nar­ra­tive, nev­er make it into Gabbard’s speech­es on the cam­paign trail.

For all of Gabbard’s talk about end­ing for­ev­er wars, she doesn’t seem to pri­or­i­tize talk­ing about the auto­crats who instill them upon their coun­tries. She blames the US for the destruc­tion in Syria, and that Russian airstrikes on Syrian civil­ians are wor­thy of praise:

In an ad pro­mot­ing her can­di­da­cy for President, she decried “regime change wars” (sound famil­iar?) and then used footage of Assad’s forces in Syria drop­ping bar­rel bombs on civil­ians. An arti­cle in the Daily Beast explains:

Democratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D‑HI) used footage of Syria’s Assad regime drop­ping bar­rel bombs on a Syrian city in a cam­paign ad blast­ing “regime change wars.” The ad fea­tures Gabbard telling view­ers that “The cost of regime change wars have been car­ried out under the guise of human­i­tar­i­an cause in coun­tries like Syria” amid bar­rel bombs falling on the city of Daraya in February 2016. Human-rights groups have crit­i­cized the use of bar­rel bombs for their indis­crim­i­nate effect on civil­ians and Syrian dic­ta­tor Bashar al Assad has denied using them. Gabbard has gar­nered crit­i­cism from Democrats for her friend­ly approach to the Assad regime. She expressed skep­ti­cism that the Syrian mil­i­tary used chem­i­cal weapons to kill civil­ians in 2017, as the UN sub­se­quent­ly con­firmed and met with Assad dur­ing a del­e­ga­tion to the coun­try in 2017.

That last sen­tence — which I bold­ed — is also what drew my atten­tion to Gabbard. After the bruis­ing 2016 elec­tion, in which some online acquain­tances of mine vot­ed Jill Stein because Clinton was a ‘war­mon­ger’, I watched them par­rot­ing that crap about Assad not hav­ing been the one to have used chem­i­cal weapons on his own peo­ple. I pushed back and was accused of being a pro-Hillary war­mon­ger myself (guess I didn’t go to all those anti-war ral­lies in 2003), and clear­ly blind to who was actu­al­ly using the chem­i­cal weapons in Syria: the CIA, apparently. 

As John Haltiwanger of Business Insider noted:

Tulsi Gabbard has repeat­ed­ly refused to call Assad a war crim­i­nal and after vis­it­ing the Syrian leader in 2017 expressed skep­ti­cism he used chem­i­cal weapons on his own cit­i­zens, despite sub­stan­tial evi­dence. She’s since accept­ed that Assad used chem­i­cal weapons #DemocraticDebatehttps://t.co/ifBYrT2aiU— John Haltiwanger (@jchaltiwanger) October 16, 2019

That she came around on this top­ic is nei­ther her or nor there; it was a talk­ing point that she repeat­ed­ly used to gar­ner online sup­port from the fringes. 

Bill Browder and observations on a smear campaign

When the accu­sa­tion from Clinton land­ed like a megabomb in the cam­paign this week­end, Bill Browder — quite famil­iar with smear cam­paigns and Russian tac­tics post­ed his take:

Browder con­tin­ued:

So to recap:

  • First, we find out that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya used Chris Cooper — the CEO of Potomac Square Group — to smear Bill Browder in his cam­paign to bring about the Matgnitsky Act. 
  • Second, a lit­tle dig­ging reveals that Chris Cooper had also been retained by Gabbard as a consultant. 
  • Third, Gabbard’s leg­isla­tive vot­ing record on anti-Putin actions in the US House has been neg­a­tive or absent. 2016 Magnitsky Act as part of the broad­er Defense Reauthorization Act? vot­ed no, stat­ing that she didn’t want to arm ter­ror­ists in Syria. In the House vote to call for jus­tice in the unsolved killing of Putin’s polit­i­cal oppo­nent Boris Nemtsov? Did not vote. In the vote to pre­vent US recog­ni­tion of Putin’s annex­a­tion of Crimea? Didn’t vote.

Here’s more on Chris Cooper from the Hawaii Free Press:

Gabbard’s con­sul­tant, Chris Cooper of the Potomac Square Group, is no ordi­nary Russian agent.  Cooper is alleged­ly one of sev­en iden­ti­fied as being at the cen­ter of ille­gal Russian lob­by­ing efforts reach­ing into the Trump cam­paign and Congress.

In a 106-page doc­u­ment sent to the US Department of Justice and shared by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Browder writes:

I. Executive Summary

 1. There is an ongo­ing lob­by­ing cam­paign to repeal the Magnitsky Act (the“Campaign”) and rewrite the his­to­ry of the Magnitsky sto­ry. This cam­paign has been con­duct­ed by the fol­low­ing entities

     A. Prevezon Holdings Limited (“Prevezon”) — a Russian owned Cyprus reg­is­tered company

     B. The Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (“HRAGIF”) ‑a Delaware NGO cre­at­ed on 18 February 2016.

 2. To assist them in the Campaign, based on infor­ma­tion and belief, the fol­low­ing peo­ple have been hired to lob­by on their behalf:

     A. Rinat Akhmetshin – Russian nation­al liv­ing in Washington D.C.

     B. Robert Arakelian

     C. Chris Cooper – CEO Potomac Square Group     D. Glenn Simpson — SNS Global and Fusion GPS

     E. Mark Cymrot – Partner, Baker Hostetler

     F. Ron Dellums — Former Republican Congressman

     G. Howard Schweitzer – Managing Partner of Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies

Cooper’s role was, in part, to pro­mote a Russian-made doc­u­men­tary titled, The Magnitsky Act, that was cre­at­ed by film­mak­er Andrei Nekrasov, to dis­count Browder’s sto­ry about what hap­pened to Magnitsky and to exon­er­ate Russian offi­cials. The film, orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled to be shown in the spring of 2016 to the European Parliament, had its screen­ing can­celed there because of its con­tro­ver­sial con­tent. By that time, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who we’d come to learn more about after Trump was elect­ed, was involved with the pro­mo­tion of the film. In the United States, Chris Cooper would secure a screen­ing at the Newseum. The New York Times report­ed at the time,

In the United States, Mr. Nekrasov has retained the Potomac Square Group, a small pub­lic affairs and lob­by­ing firm that has worked for Bahrain, Kuwait and Azerbaijan, among oth­er for­eign gov­ern­ments. It is run by Christopher Cooper, a for­mer Wall Street Journal reporter. Mr. Cooper rent­ed the the­ater in the Newseum and declined to say who was pay­ing his company. 

Members of Congress were invit­ed to attend, although only a few sent staffers. 

Chris Cooper is, appar­ent­ly, a pub­li­cist hired to make unflat­ter­ing sto­ries go away. Christine Gralow, a writer who began pub­li­ciz­ing a sto­ry about Gabbard’s his­to­ry with the Kailua-based Science of Identity Foundation. I’m less inter­est­ed in this aspect than I am about Cooper’s involve­ment. According to Gralow,

Then, Gabbard’s D.C. pub­li­cist, Chris Cooper of The Potomac Square Group, sent a ram­bling email to an edi­tor at Honolulu Magazine about me. Cooper’s gen­er­al M.O. is to use his sta­tus as a for­mer Wall Street Journal reporter to rake in mon­ey from politi­cians who want sto­ries buried. He is tied to Fusion GPS, which is also run by for­mer Wall Street Journal reporters turned eth­i­cal­ly chal­lenged D.C. dam­age fix­ers. Per Politico, Cooper is also being inves­ti­gat­ed by the Senate Judiciary Committee around his 2016 work for Kremlin attor­ney Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Gralow notes that she had to estab­lish her own non­prof­it news group and pub­lish inde­pen­dent­ly after expe­ri­enc­ing cow­ardice from an edi­tor, who was appar­ent­ly swayed by Cooper’s email. 

Cozying up to dictators

It’s not just Assad; it’s not just Putin. She also vis­it­ed Sisi in Egypt with the Kremlin’s favorite con­gress­man, Dana Rohrbacher. 

If you want to know why Tulsi Gabbard is accused of being a sup­port­er of mur­der­ous dic­ta­tors who fit her ide­ol­o­gy rather than a sim­ple peacenik reminder she did a sol­i­dar­i­ty vis­it to Sisi after he mas­sa­cred 800 pro­tes­tors in one day. Don’t think Egypt was fac­ing “regime change”: pic.twitter.com/HhoyS2fNGd— Murtaza Mohammad Hussain (@MazMHussain) August 1, 2019

There is a lot more that jour­nal­ists have dug up, but this is all I have time for today. Share your find­ings below, if you have them. The bots are out in force on Twitter to boost her campaign. 

Wendy in FL Community (This con­tent is not sub­ject to review by Daily Kos staff pri­or to publication.)