Trump aide's appearances on RT channel are focus for Russia inquiry

Source: The Guardian | December 6, 2018 | Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Jon Swaine

Ted Malloch, a Trump campaign adviser, has been questioned about his relationship with the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster

Robert Mueller is allegedly examining a Trump campaign adviser’s appearances on the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster RT, offering new hints about the investigation into possible collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump’s associates.

Mueller’s investigators have asked Ted Malloch, the London-based American academic who is also close to Nigel Farage, about his frequent appearances on RT, which US intelligence authorities have called Russia’s principal propaganda arm.

The special counsel’s alleged focus on RT is important because the Russian news channel also has a close relationship with the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who in 2016 published tens of thousands of emails stolen from senior Democrats by Russian intelligence operatives.

Malloch disclosed that he was questioned about RT to his friend Jerome Corsi, a rightwing author who is himself a target of the investigation. “They thought maybe he was coordinating with Russia – and RT is Russia,” Corsi told the Guardian. Malloch denies any coordination.

Draft legal documents and visitor logs from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where Assange is based, show that RT staff met and interviewed Assange on the same day – 2 August 2016 – that Roger Stone, the self-described “dirty trickster” and longtime Trump associate who had previously bragged about having special access to WikiLeaks, was passed information about Assange’s plans.

The timing may be coincidental and is not clear evidence that RT shared information with Stone or others. RT denied sharing any information about its interview and said it was “ludicrous, baseless” to make any claim that information was passed from RT staff to Malloch or Corsi.

According to a draft court filing drawn up by Mueller, Stone was in late July 2016 scrambling to obtain advance copies of additional emails that WikiLeaks intended to publish after its release of thousands from the Democratic party, which prompted the resignation of its chairwoman.

Stone emailed Corsi on 31 July 2016 to say Malloch, a mutual friend of theirs who was in London, “should see Assange”. Corsi has said that he forwarded Malloch a message from Stone explaining that Stone wanted to “get the pending WikiLeaks emails”.

On 2 August 2016, Corsi replied with what appeared to be intelligence about WikiLeaks’s plans to dump more emails. “Word is friend in [the] embassy plans 2 more dumps,” it said. Corsi estimated a schedule for the releases, and seemed to predict one would deal with Clinton’s philanthropic foundation. Corsi also proposed spreading speculation that Clinton was in poor health as a campaign tactic to help Trump.

Mueller is investigating how Corsi obtained the information about WikiLeaks’ plans. Corsi said he did not recall Malloch ever responding, and that he only pretended he had a secret source in order to appear well-connected. He may have been aware of a separate 25 July 2016 email from a Fox News reporter, which also privately suggested that the Clinton Foundation would be a topic of the Assange emails.

But on the same day that Corsi sent his email, Assange told an RT reporter during an interview at the embassy that he would be releasing emails that contained information relating to the Clinton Foundation. Assange’s interview with the RT reporter Afshin Rattansi was not broadcast publicly until several days later, on 6 August. Rattansi did not return a request for comment.

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Since Trump’s election victory in November 2016, Malloch has appeared at least five times on Rattansi’s talk show on RT.

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In an intelligence assessment published by US authorities following the election, Rattansi’s August 2016 interview of Assange was alleged to have been part of Russian propaganda efforts aimed at boosting Trump and denigrating Clinton.

The US intelligence report also noted a past relationship between RT and Assange, alleging that the Kremlin-backed channel had “actively collaborated with WikiLeaks” in an effort to denounce the US. RT has denied being controlled by the Kremlin and said its output is “designed merely to inform, not influence”.

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Mueller’s alleged focus on RT is noteworthy, too, because employees of the Russian broadcaster made several visits to Assange at Ecuador’s embassy – on 4, 8, 10, 17 and 23 June 2016, according to visitor logs – a time of high activity for Assange and for the Russian operatives alleged to have stolen the Democratic emails.

US intelligence officials also noted in their 2017 assessment that allegations Clinton was suffering “poor physical and mental health” featured prominently in RT’s coverage. RT has rejected claims it paid unusual attention to the subject, pointing to widespread coverage by other outlets after Clinton fell ill at a September 11 memorial event.

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But a Guardian review of RT’s output found it began raising the allegations at least a month earlier, soon after Corsi’s message to Stone predicting Clinton’s health would dominate the next WikiLeaks email release – and that it “would not hurt” to start suggesting she had suffered a stroke.

On 8 August, RT published a misleading article about a six-month-old photograph of Clinton slipping on a stair, which falsely stated she had “well-documented brain injuries”. The channel’s Spanish-language version cited unfounded allegations that Clinton had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

That same day, Russian intelligence operatives posted the first of almost 500 tweets or retweets featuring the hashtag #HillarysHealth, according to a study of three million postings by Russian troll accounts by the Clemson University researchers Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren.

From 30 August, RT itself began using the hashtag in tweets to promote its articles on Clinton’s condition.

RT also broadcast wild speculation about Clinton’s health on television. Michael Lebron, the broadcaster and conspiracy theorist who goes by the name “Lionel”, claimed on air that Clinton might be hiding a degenerative illness. He asked: “Where the hell has the mainstream media been regarding Hillary Clinton’s health?”

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