As one of the first victims of Donald Trump's thuggery during the election, and the first person to experience the influence he has on his media friends who control what the public is fed, I am no longer surprised or the least bit fazed by the sleaziness of all things Trump.
It's clear to me that Trump team had the ability to have my email hacked. It's clear to me that they then tried to launder information from my hacked emails through other sources so that they could use it against me. Importantly, it's clear that if this is what Trump and his team of thugs could do to me -- have me hacked, launder the info, and then try to use it against me without having their paw prints on it - they certainly are capable of doing it to Hillary, the DNC and others.
I believe that not only did Trump know WikiLeaks had the hacked emails of his political "enemies", but that it's likely Trump and his associates arranged in advance to have the emails hacked, or at the very least were involved in the planning and coordination of the hackings -- just as in the hacking of my email.
In May of 2015 I received a request from a long-time professional acquaintance to consider being Donald Trump's campaign communications director. The friend had informed me he was soon heading over to work on the Trump SuperPAC and was, at that time, working for the Trump presidential exploratory committee.
Knowing little about Trump other than his reputation as a cartoonish buffoon, I politely dodged answering the request by suggesting my friend and I sit down and talk about it, and agreed to meet him for lunch the next day, as a courtesy. (As a consultant for many years, I routinely meet with people, and certainly did not want to burn any bridges with political operatives, donors, or potential sources for future business.)
He brought along a guy named Corey Lewandowski, who I'd never heard of. He was to be the Trump campaign manager after the campaign official launch.
Lewandowski told me all about the Trump superPAC. In my presence a few weeks later he even asked someone at the Trump HQ if the superPAC papers had been filed.
As they courted me and asked me for a second meeting (which I stalled for 3 weeks) I then witnessed a Lewandowski temper tantrum and let my friend know that while I appreciated him thinking of me for this, I did not appreciate Lewandowski's "hazing". I wished him good luck working on the superPAC and told him I hoped he would have fun in his new role. He left the campaign shortly thereafter, but did not work on the superPAC.
Despite being turned off by Trump and Lewandowski, I defended Trump on TV, giving him the benefit of the doubt, just as I did Jeb, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and the other GOP primary candidates.
My first public criticism of Trump came when he maliciously smeared Senator John McCain's POW status, indicating that he preferred "people who don't get caught." For me and millions of others who spoke out on this, it was a bridge too far and was evidence Trump was not fit to be the nominee, let alone president.
Months later in October, The Washington Post published a report that Trump had a superPAC even though he'd been claiming he had none, slammed others for having them, and lied to voters as he told them he was self-funding and therefore beholden to no one. Lewandowski and Trump denied it all. Lewandowski hung up the phone on the reporter after threatening to sue the paper. But Trump had attended two fundraisers for the superPAC -- including one at Jared Kushner's parents' home -- with Jared's mother seeding the superPAC with $100,000 and Trump casino owner pal Phil Ruffin giving it $1 million.
I tweeted several enumerated tweets confirming The Washington Post report, confirming Lewandowski was lying and that he'd told me all about the superPAC.
The Washington Post then mentioned this to Lewandowski, where he then confirmed that he'd had meetings with me (at Team Trump’s request, not mine). After initially claiming he did not know Mike Ciletti, the guy running the superPAC, Lewandowski was then forced to admit that in fact he knew him -- and knew him well, as they had worked together previously. Ciletti had also been seen at Trump Tower for meetings in the weeks leading up to the official campaign announcement. (Ciletti is a Colorado GOP operative and long-time Lewandowski pal.) The Washington Post ran a follow-up piece.
The super PAC was ostensibly shuttered in order to kill the story, but the FEC refused to allow it to close until some mysterious bookkeeping was accounted for. As it turns out, according to The Daily Beast, The Strange Case of the Original Trump Super PAC in late 2016 the PAC ”refunded $50,000 to one of its donors, Florida real-estate developer Michael Dezertzov (who also goes by Michael Dezer). Dezertzov has partnered with Trump on a number of high-profile real-estate projects, and made bank selling Trump condos to, among others, wealthy Russian buyers.”
I confirmed The Washington Post’s report was correct and that Lewandowski and Trump were lying. I was immediately canceled on by FOX News where I'd been a regular for many years (and nine times after that until the invitations stopped altogether other than one rear-end covering appearance months later.) The odd catfishing of me (as later reported by POLITICO) began that day. Months later when I brought up the super PAC on CNN, Trump defamed me in tweets, as did Lewandowski on TV, and after many years and 180 appearances, I was suddenly banned from CNN.
Since I could prove Trump lied about me and caused me damage, my lawyer sent him a cease and desist letter. Trump's response was to defame me again in a tweet, claiming I'd "begged" him for a job -- twice -- and was turned down, and that was the reason I was going after him. In fact, I show communication proving that Team Trump approached me, asked to meet with me, and asked for a second meeting, and my stated distaste for Lewandowski after witnessing his meltdown. And, I’d defended Trump well after my Trump Tower meetings and telling them thanks but no thanks, again proving Trump was lying about me.
Don McGahn, a former commissioner for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was Trump's campaign counsel and later chief White House Counsel. Upon receipt of the cease and desist letter, he contacted my then lawyer and wanted to know how they could "dial this back" to avoid a lawsuit by me. My lawyer said we wanted the defamatory tweets by Trump taken down immediately, and an apology.
Trump agreed he would delete the defamatory tweets about me. HOWEVER, I would be required to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) whereby I would be prohibited from publicly discussing anything about my meetings at Trump Tower where I was told all about that Make America Great Again Super PAC by Lewandowski.
McGhan drafted the NDA which interestingly, along with my silence, was to last only until just after the election -- an indication that Trump and his team obviously were confident they would never win. But negotiations took more time than I was comfortable with, and the damage was done. CNN had banned me and would not talk to me despite the fact I could prove to them that Trump had blatantly lied about me. I later realized that Jeff Zucker clearly knew good and damned well Trump lied about me, but was doing his ratings gold old pal from their "The Apprentice" show a favor as a way to continue their long-time mutually beneficial relationship. I also later got confirmation from a CNN employee that indeed, the order to ban me came from the top.
At that time, I'd also just discovered that the person pretending to represent GOP donors opposing Trump who wished to hire me was a fraud -- the catfisher -- and it was clear to me it was Trump team doing it.
I shut down all discussions and negotiations on NDA language with McGahn. I refused to enter into any legal agreement that gave Trump any power over what I said or wrote. Since it was apparent there was a lot more going on to target me including the catfishing and a growing, daily twitter assault and abuse by Trump neo-nazis, white nationalists, Breitbart News, and a slew of other disturbed and disturbing alt right Trump lackeys, I knew that whatever was going on, this was much more than “just politics as usual” or "counter punching" and something much more sinister was going on as reported in The New York Times.
Word got back to me that McGahn was extremely upset (“We thought we had a deal!!!”) and that Team Trump was quite nervous.
As well, the night we realized the catfishers (and assuming it was Trump people) likely learned I was onto them, I was told by a now Trump supporter (a D-lister) who was not supporting him then, and who was friends with Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, and other Trump associates, that we needed to get a police squad car in front of my brownstone asap, that now that it seemed likely Trump’s people knew that I was onto the catfishing scheme, I was not safe, and that Trump had "guys in Queens" who could very well be on their way over to cause me harm. (The police precinct station in my former Upper West Side neighborhood can confirm my call that night.) After 30 years in politics where things could get pretty rough, this was far over the threshold of anything I'd ever been involved in.
It was chilling. I couldn't breathe.
I soon filed a lawsuit. Trump became the nominee. The POLITICO piece was just about to come out on how I was catfished, and just as the reporter was calling around to Team Trump to let them know the big piece was about to hit -- my email was hacked. (This was when the universe of people who knew the piece was happening expanded from POLITICO and me to then include Trump team, but NOT the public.)
The FBI launched an investigation. (Preet Bahara's office had already been dealing with the catfishing case, and then helped get the FBI involved.) Over the course of the next year, two more data points occurred that indicated people associated with Trump were in possession of personal information about me that seemed to have been garnered from my hacked email. In one instance, they were trying to confirm something through another avenue that they thought would help Trump in court, but knew they could not bring up on their own, thus exposing themselves as having access to my hacked emails. They were wrong about the information being damaging in any way, but since access to my personal communications ended in late August of 2016, they would not have known anything further after that point, since I changed my email account.
In another instance, a member of the Trump team who had appeared before the grand jury and Congress appeared to be trafficking in information he erroneously thought was damning, but obviously came from my hacked email. He was wrong. The FBI was very interested in this, as it appeared to be a direct link between my hacked emails and people close to Trump. (It seemed to me that the guy using the info was given the information from another Trump associate who knew where it came from, but did not tell him it's origin.)
As these new developments took place, the FBI (SDNY) increased their contact with me, and then said they needed to meet with me. While I had a good idea what they had found based on their 3 1/2 hour meeting with me, I was not made privy to it at that time, nor in the subsequent contact with them. Last fall they informed me that this had gone beyond their initial investigation of mere computer intrusion (this particular division dealt with cyber crimes) and they were passing the information to the Special Counsel's office. They told me they did not know if the Special Counsel's office would be contacting me or not, that it was entirely up to them.
Through all of this, I didn’t back down. I had no idea what Trump thugs were going to do to me next. At that time I knew I was up against some serious evil. Since that time, we’ve all come to learn just how bad Trump is. I suspect there is much, much more to come that shows how he has harmed our country. And that terrifies me.