The White House denounced Elon Musk for “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate,” for his endorsement of what an administration spokesman called a “hideous lie” about Jews. All of which might make one think the Biden administration was going to try to pull back from doing business with the world’s richest person. Except that, in recent weeks, the U.S.
An investigation reveals missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of a campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.
Like another famous American election scandal, it started with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee. The first time, 44 years ago at the committee’s old offices in the Watergate complex, the burglars planted listening devices and jimmied a filing cabinet. This time, the burglary was conducted from afar, directed by the Kremlin, with spear-phishing e-mails and zeros and ones.
An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama Administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack. The DNC’s fumbling encounter with the FBI meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.
The low-key approach of the FBI meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top DNC officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems. In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the DNC, including Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private e-mail account was hacked months later.
AT&T, in addition to its billions of dollars of capital, has another arsenal at its disposal: one of the most formidable lobbying operations in Washington. The company’s list of nearly 100 registered lobbyists already on retainer in 2016 includes former members of Congress. AT&T is the biggest donor to federal lawmakers and their causes among cable and cellular telecommunications firms, with its employees and political action committee sending money to 374 of the House’s 435 members and 85 of the Senate’s 100 members this election cycle. That adds up to more than $11.3 million in donations since 2015, four times as much as Verizon Communications, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. AT&T has also spent decades building a national alliance of local government officials and nonprofit groups — particularly from black and Hispanic communities — that it will certainly be asking to weigh in again in Washington, as it tries to get the merger approved.
“We have seen our fair share of deals,” said AT&T’s general counsel, David R. McAtee II. “Our job is informing consumers what a good development this is for them.” But navigating this transaction will be a test of just how much influence AT&T has in Washington these days. That is particularly the case as AT&T’s lobbying team undergoes a transition after losing its longtime leader, James W. Cicconi, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush.
An examination of 75 think tanks found an array of researchers who had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes, with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles. With their expertise and authority, think tank scholars offer themselves as independent arbiters, playing a vital role in Washington’s political economy. Their imprimatur helps shape government decisions that can be lucrative to corporations. But the examination identified dozens of examples of scholars conducting research at think tanks while corporations were paying them to help shape government policy. Many think tanks also readily confer “nonresident scholar” status on lobbyists, former government officials and others who earn their primary living working for private clients, with few restrictions on such outside work. Largely free from disclosure requirements, the researchers’ work is often woven into elaborate corporate lobbying campaigns.
Over the many months that officials in Washington debated sweeping new regulations for internet providers, Jeffrey A. Eisenach, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, was hard to miss. He wrote op-ed pieces, including for The New York Times, that were critical of the rules. He filed formal comments with the Federal Communications Commission, where he also met privately with senior lawyers. He appeared before Congress and issued reports detailing how destructive the new rules would be. “Net neutrality would not improve consumer welfare or protect the public interest,” Eisenach testified in September 2014 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Intense advocacy by a think tank scholar is not notable in itself, but Eisenach, 58, a former aide at the Federal Trade Commission, has held another job: as a paid consultant for Verizon and its trade association.