Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: The Atlanta tie to a Trump look at online voter manipulation


The New York Times is back on the Robert Mueller probe of the 2016 presidential contest. And there’s an Atlanta connection.

In today’s editions, the newspaper reports that Rick Gates, the Donald Trump campaign operative who has already pleaded guilty to unrelated charges, sought proposals to create a fake social media campaign to target delegates to the Republican party’s national convention in Cleveland, and Democrat Hillary Clinton that fall.

An Israeli company staffed by former intelligence operatives, called Psy-Group, was among those solicited. From the article:

Though the Israeli company’s pitches were narrower than Moscow’s interference campaign and appear unconnected, the documents how that a senior Trump aide saw the promise of a disruption effort to swing voters in Mr. Trump’s favor…

Mr. Gates first heard about Psy-Group’s work during a March 2016 meeting at the Mandarin Oriental hotel along the Washington waterfront with George Birnbaum, a Republican consultant with close ties to current and former Israeli government officials. Mr. Gates had joined the Trump campaign days earlier with Paul Manafort, his longtime business partner, to try to prevent a revolt of Republican delegates from Mr. Trump toward Mr. Cruz, who was the favored candidate among the party’s establishment…

“He was interested in finding the technology to achieve what they were looking for,” Mr. Birnbaum said in an interview. Through a lawyer, Mr. Gates declined to comment. A person familiar with Mr. Gates’s account of the meeting said that Mr. Birnbaum first raised the topic of hiring an outside firm to conduct the social media campaign.

Birnbaum is an Atlanta resident and former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s worked campaigns in Israel and Europe for the last two decades. (And, we’re told, owns a kosher restaurant specializing in Middle East cuisine in Atlanta.)

But Donald Trump wasn’t the only Republican presidential candidate Birnbaum was associated with in 2016. He also served as a foreign policy adviser for Ben Carson’s campaign. Here’s the press release.

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Today’s the last day of voter registration for the Nov. 6 election in Georgia, and already numbers are being crunched to determine if Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, has met her goal of changing the electorate pool.

We do not endorse it – and the Abrams campaign itself has warned against using such data to draw conclusions, but Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic consulting firm, has posted the following in a Twitter message:

Early signs of a surge in black turnout in Georgia - almost 32,000 have voted in the general election already. Of those voters, 13,347 didn't vote in the last midterm ('14). Black voters account for 58.9% of those new midterm voters.

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File this under “Politics, strange bedfellows, etc.” 

A tipster notified us that Republican candidate for governor Brian Kemp - who supports the “religious liberty” proposal reviled by LGBT advocates - had advertisements on the gay dating app Grindr. 

Specifically, it was a banner ad attacking Democratic rival Stacey Abrams’ stance on sex offender legislation.

While Kemp’s campaign had no comment, an adviser noted that the ad may have popped up because the Grindr user also visited his website. 

We also reached out to the Democratic Party of Georgia which commended his “innovative advertising efforts” during Pride Week. 

“But we don’t expect him to find much support,” added party spokesman Seth Bringman. “He has made clear that he would sign discrimination into law if he is elected governor, even though 400+ major Georgia employers have said that doing so would harm the state’s economy.”

You can consider the Kemp foray into an LGBT zone as yet another example of a surfeit of cash flowing into this gubernatorial contest.

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Two top Gov. Nathan Deal staffers are headed to university jobs. 

Julia Ayers, a former Deal deputy chief of staff, will join Kennesaw State University as an associate vice president for government relations this month. 

And Jen Talaber Ryan, Deal’s top spokeswoman and another high-ranking official in his administration, announced earlier this year she’s taking a similar position with the Board of Regents.

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In a note this morning, WSB Radio’s Jamie Dupree took a look at today’s presidential movements in the Midwest:

President Trump is back on the campaign trail again on Tuesday, this time with an evening rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa in the western part of the state. As always, the schedule tells a story – and the story today is that the President playing defense for the GOP.

He’s not on the road in a swing district where a Republican is trying to oust a sitting Democrat, but rather he is trying to spur Republican turnout and trying to keep the Congress from sliding away from Republicans.

In Iowa, the GOP is having problems in two House seats, and Iowa Republicans are having a tough time in the race for Governor. Watch where the President goes in coming days, and you will see this ‘defense’ scenario being repeated.

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Sarah Riggs Amico, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, was in Ellijay on Sunday, addressing the purpose of the office for which she’s bidding. The north Georgia operation FetchYourNews.com posted a short clip on Twitter that ends rather abruptly. Amico shown saying:

“I always call it the most under-valued office in state government here in Georgia. Many people understand that, God forbid, you ever need it, there is succession. So if the governor is out of the state, you’re acting governor, or if, God forbid, they’re removed from office, you become governor.

“And I would say normally, that’s probably a very unlikely event. But let’s be honest – if we get Governor Brian Kemp in the #Me,too era, I’m not sure he’ll make it four years. Or scandals, or what have you. Stuff happens.”

Several Republicans have called foul. I rang up Amico on Monday evening and asked her if she were somehow trying to cast aspersions on the Republican candidate for governor. “Not at all,” she said – and alleged that a longer version of the clip would have made clear. Said Amico:

“There are a number of things that can happen – whether you have a governor who is incapacitated, whether you have somebody who’s plucked up for a cabinet-level position by the president.

“That was one of more than a half a dozen or so instances that I brought up, where succession may be a possibility. Unfortunately, what I think they’re trying to do is use this as a diversion from other issues to scare people – specifically to scare men who are voting.”

One thought: We’re pretty sure that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle doesn’t become acting governor whenever Nathan Deal leaves the state. Or the country, for that matter.

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