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October 12, 2017

Even the short-lived fervor over the cell phone game Pokémon Go was used as a tool by Russian agents to influence the 2016 presidential election, a new report by CNN has found.

A Russian-linked account masquerading as a Black Lives Matter activist group called Don't Shoot Us apparently had the "dual goal of galvanizing African-Americans to protest and encouraging other Americans to view black activism as a rising threat," CNN reports. In addition to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts (all of which are now suspended), Don't Shoot Us carried out its agenda by way of a Pokémon Go contest in which followers could allegedly win Amazon gift cards by training Pokémon near locations where police brutality took place.

"A post promoting the contest showed a Pokémon named 'Eric Garner,' for the African-American man who died after being put in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer," CNN writes, adding:

It's unclear what the people behind the contest hoped to accomplish, though it may have been to remind people living near places where these incidents had taken place of what had happened and to upset or anger them.

CNN has not found any evidence that any Pokémon Go users attempted to enter the contest, or whether any of the Amazon Gift Cards that were promised were ever awarded — or, indeed, whether the people who designed the contest ever had any intention of awarding the prizes. [CNN]

Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all reported that their platforms were used by Russian agents to influence the 2016 presidential campaign. "It's clear from the images shared with us by CNN that our game assets were appropriated and misused in promotions by third parties without our permission," added Niantic, the company that made Pokémon Go.

Don't Shoot Us remains active on YouTube and Tumblr, where it now reportedly posts about Palestine. Jeva Lange

8:51 a.m. ET

President Trump has been agitating about news an FBI informant approached members of his campaign in 2016, and with help from House Republicans, he's on the verge of getting top secret information on the informant. "Carrie, I need your help understanding the president's position about why he is so exercised about the idea that the FBI would use a confidential informant to investigate a crime," CNN's Alysin Camerota asked legal analyst Carrie Cordero on Tuesday's New Day. Cordero said using informants is "not particularly unusual" and has a low legal bar, but "what is unusual is revealing the actual identity of sources, publicly for sure and even to congressional intelligence oversight personnel."

Chris Cuomo took a whack at making Trump's argument. The FBI is on firm legal ground, he said, but "this isn't about law, it's about politics and ... it feeds a narrative that Donald Trump wants the American people to believe, which is that they're out to get you in the Deep State of government, and I'm going to fight them." Trump definitely has "a persecution complex" and the White House's official strategy "in all but name" is "investigate the investigator," political analyst John Avlon said. "Presidents who have attacked prosecutors — in particular, Nixon, Clinton — it's because they've had something to hide," he added. One "surreal" thing that isn't helpful to Trump's "Witch Hunt" argument "is that both campaigns were being investigated by the FBI. We only knew about one." Peter Weber

7:10 a.m. ET

Before there was Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into President Trump's campaign and Russia, the FBI started a counterterrorism investigation of the campaign that we now know was code-named "Crossfire Hurricane," which is also the name of a Rolling Stones song. According to The Late Show's re-enactment of the session where the FBI dreamed up that code name, "Crossfire Hurricane" was a compromise reached after some serious disagreement, mostly about the artistic merits of the band King Crimson.

"How about Beatles, 'Back in the USSR?'" one agent suggested. "Too obvious," said the team leader and King Crimson fan. "Jailhouse Rock?" suggested the other agent. "Nah, the Elvis estate is too litigious." They finally agreed on the Stones song, but quickly ran into discord about the relative merit of the band's members. In real life, Trump and his allies are trying to undermine the FBI's counterterrorism investigation, but it's kind of fun to imagine the early team fighting — like men of a certain age are wont to do — over classic rock. Watch below. Peter Weber

6:41 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, a magistrate judge in Australia convicted Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson of covering up the sexual abuse of minors in the 1970s, a charge that carries up to two years in prison. Wilson, 67, was released on bail until his June 9 sentencing. He is the highest ranking Catholic official to be convicted of covering up sexual abuse anywhere in the world. Two former altar boys testified that they had told Wilson in the mid-1970s that Jim Fletcher, a priest arrested for pedophilia in 2004, had abused them, and Wilson had done nothing. Wilson, who pleaded not guilty, said he had no recollection of being told about Fletcher's abuse at the time.

Unlike Cardinal George Pell, Australia's senior-most Catholic prelate and the Vatican's finance chief, Wilson was not accused of abusing anybody. The allegations that he covered up the two cases of sexual abuse surfaced in 2010 — four years after Fletcher died of a stroke in prison, after being convicted of nine counts of child sexual abuse — and police charged Wilson in 2015. "The case against the archbishop was especially surprising, given his reputation for acknowledging and apologizing to the victims of pedophile priests," The New York Times reports. You can learn more and hear from the victims in the report below. Peter Weber

5:50 a.m. ET

It isn't clear yet who blinked in Monday's extraordinary White House meeting between President Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and the FBI director and director of national intelligence over the Justice Department's investigation of Trump's campaign, but the meeting itself was par for the course for Trump, Anderson Cooper said on CNN Monday night. "We know what this is — we've seen it before from President Trump, his surrogates, and supporters whenever Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a move or some other damaging story hits the president."

This meeting centered around Trump's demand that the Justice Department look for politically motivated spying against his campaign. "The claim of a spy within the Trump campaign comes with, as of yet, little or nothing to back it up and plenty to raise suspicions about its validity, including the central role of someone the president went out of his way to praise today," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Cooper said. For weeks now, Nunes — who was also a leader of Trump's presidential transition team — has been demanding information on a top secret intelligence source the FBI and CIA warned would be in jeopardy if his cover were blown. "Then some right-wing media got ahold of the story," Cooper said, and Nunes' fingerprints were all over those reports.

"The president has been here before, and Devin Nunes has been here before as well," in March 2017, when Nunes briefed Trump on material Nunes had gotten from the White House just days earlier, Cooper said. In that case, "the president rage-tweeted about it, but he never went quite as far about that as he did today." Watch below. Peter Weber

5:16 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump hosted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday for a meeting about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian collusion and the Trump campaign. Specifically, the group discussed the demand by Trump allies in the House for highly classified documents tied to Mueller's investigation and Trump's demands that the Justice Department investigate the president's unsubstantiated suggestion there was improper political spying on his campaign. Everybody walked away with something, but it isn't clear what exactly anyone got.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the group agreed that "Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with congressional leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested," probably by the end of the week.

"It was not clear after Monday's meeting how much of that information will now be shared with lawmakers and in what form, or who it will be shared with and in what venue," The New York Times notes. The FBI and CIA had "strenuously resisted" the request by House Republicans to see the documents about a covert intelligence source who met with members of the Trump campaign, warning it could cost lives and burn allies. It is already significant that "the president effectively requested, and apparently received, a review of the investigation into his campaign," The Washington Post adds, though the Kelly-brokered meeting could either be "a concession from the Justice Department" or "a bureaucratic maneuver to buy time and shield actual documents."

Trump's personal lawyer "Rudy Giuliani made it clear today that he wants these documents for the Trump legal defense team," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Monday. "That is not appropriate, and I have a concern about anyone from the White House being present for review of these sensitive documents," including Kelly. Peter Weber

3:52 a.m. ET
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump is raising a fuss and crossing some perilous lines over an American academic in Britain who met with three Trump campaign foreign policy advisers in the summer and fall of 2016 and passed some information about those interactions to the FBI. After Trump was elected, his top trade adviser, Peter Navarro (pictured), recommended naming Stefan Halper, widely reported to be the FBI source, as ambassador to an unidentified Asian country, Axios reports. "A White House official said Halper visited the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last August for a meeting about China," too.

Navarro put forward Halper's name, as well as several other candidates, because Halper is a fellow China hawk who worked with Navarro on an anti-China book and movie, Axios says. Halper, who taught international affairs, American studies, and intelligence seminars at Cambridge University from 2001 to 2015, is also a veteran of three Republicans administrations. "Most friends describe him as a moderate Republican who is hawkish on China and deeply committed to U.S. institutions, having worked for years inside and around the federal government," The Washington Post reports.

So Halper, 73, may not have been a perfect fit with the Trump administration, allegedly informing on the Trump campaign notwithstanding. "During classes at Cambridge, he often raised questions about [President George W.] Bush's decisions and embraced a traditional Republican approach to foreign policy that emphasized long-standing Western alliances and limited foreign intervention," the Post reports. Peter Weber

2:48 a.m. ET

With President Trump incensed about leaks, "West Wing aides are instructed to drop their personal phones into small storage lockers when they come to work, periodically checked up on by a scanning device that detects nongovernment phones," The New York Times reports. But Trump himself uses no less than two iPhones, one for Twitter and the other for making calls, and at least one of them "isn't equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications," two senior administration officials tell Politico, adding that Trump "has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use."

Since Trump won't give up his cellphones, aides have urged him to swap them out on a monthly basis, burner phone–style, but Trump has refused, saying it's "too inconvenient," a senior administration officials said. Trump has reportedly gone as long as five months without having his phone examined by security experts. Former President Barack Obama had his secure and feature-disabled phone checked every 30 days, Politico says, adding:

Trump's call-capable cellphone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president's movements. The GPS location tracker, however — which can be used to track the president's whereabouts — is disabled on Trump's devices. [Politico]

Security experts were baffled and alarmed at Trump's seemingly cavalier attitude about cybersecurity, given that he is trying to negotiate a trade feud with China, peace with North Korea, and, presumably, a strategy for handling Russia and other high-tech adversaries. A West Wing official told Politico that Trump's Twitter phone is secure and that "due to inherent capabilities and advancement in technologies, these devices are more secure than any Obama-era devices." Below, you can watch white-hat hacker Jayson Street explain at last October's DEFCON Conference how he would compromise Trump's phone. Peter Weber

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