Thursday, May 25, 2017

Consulting firm website tied to blogger who collaborated with alleged DNC hacker scrubbed Florida GOP as client

6/1/17 Update: Aaron Nevins updated his LinkedIn resume after the Wall Street Journal outed the Republican consultant one week ago - on May 25th - as the blogger who sought and obtained 2.5 gigabytes of stolen Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) data from alleged Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0 last August. When this article was published, hours after the WSJ report, the resume said he currently worked as a partner at Richardson Partners, but now it says he left the firm in April. However, it still lists as his company website.

As I exclusively reported, the Republican Party of Florida was removed as a past or present client of the firm, perhaps as late as November 7, the day before the 2016 elections. But there was another big change to the website, too, which seemed to occur that same day: the About page for the team.

Since the website was launched, the team showed only two partners: Nevins and Tony L. Richardson, who - according to his scrubbed biography - is "the founder and president of Richardson Partners." It added: "After working with several high profile campaigns, including the Bush/Brogan Gubernatorial Campaign of 2002, Todd went on to serve in the Executive Office of Governor Jeb Bush, where he worked with the governor to appoint leaders to Florida’s civic boards of service involving education and economic development. Following nearly three years in the Governors Office, Todd went on to join the Tom Gallagher for Governor Campaign, where he managed the campaign’s South Florida operations."

"Following the 2006 election, Todd opened a political consulting company in South Florida where he oversaw numerous state and local races, and managed grassroots campaigns on behalf of national corporations," it continued. "Richardson Partners has since grown into a successful public affairs firm representing over a dozen corporate and political clients on a state and local level."

Richardson is "a seasoned consultant specializing in grassroots management, media messaging and public relations", and "[h]is extensive knowledge of the political landscape in the South Florida community has been an invaluable resource on many political and issue advocacy campaigns."

The Guccifer 2.0 collaborator's biography once stated: "Aaron Nevins is founder and managing partner of Chelsea Road Consulting. He brings to Richardson Partners almost a decade of experience serving in senior level positions in both bodies of the Florida Legislature. His relationships with key policy makers in both chambers of the Legislature, as well as local government, helps to provide our clients with a direct line of communication with legislative, executive, and municipal leaders, and their staff."

"Prior to working in the Legislature, he helped organize a statewide campaign and bus tour to protect the Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Having traveled to all 67 counties in Florida, Aaron provides our clients with a unique of how the diverse needs of the different communities within our state affect the thinking of their leaders.

He has a candid ability to review, evaluate, and provide an assessment of upcoming legislative actions, and his extensive knowledge of the Legislative process provides our clients with a critical advantage when dealing with governmental entities."

Currently, the About page only shows a message stating, "No Results Found."

"The page you requested could not be found," it added. "Try refining your search, or use the navigation above to locate the post."

Nevins and Richardson haven't responded to tweets asking why all these changes were made to their website before last year's election.

A consulting firm's website tied to a blogger who collaborated with Guccifer 2.0 - the alleged DNC hacker that has been accused by many US intelligence officials of working for Putin and Russia to help sway the 2016 election for Trump - was scrubbed to remove the Republican Party of Florida as a client, perhaps on election eve.

The confirmed collaboration began three days after that firm was paid a few grand for consulting fees by a Florida political campaign last August.

According to his LinkedIn resume, the once-anonymous blogger from who Wall Street Journal reporters Alexandra Berzon and Rob Barry outed today as "a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins" has been a partner at Richardson Partners, since November of 2012.

(Editor's note: The biggest news in the WSJ report might be that "Mr. Nevins said he hasn’t been contacted by any investigators about last year’s political hacking," and there is more related to that at the end of this article.)

As an link from October of 2013 reveals, the website once claimed the Republican Party of Florida was one of "[p]ast and current Richardson Partners clients" that "include a diverse group of corporations and candidates throughout Florida and across the nation."

However, at some time between April 1st, 2016 and November 7, 2016, the website was scrubbed to remove the Florida GOP as a client. There aren't any saved screenshots between those dates, so it's possible that the reference was removed on the day before the 2016 election.

This is how it looks today:

It wasn't until December 13, 2016 that Eric Lipton and Scott Shane reported for the New York Times "Guccifer 2.0's most important partner was an obscure political website run by an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist," and he "sent direct messages via Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 asking for copies of any additional Florida documents."
“I can send you some docs via email,” Guccifer 2.0 replied on Aug. 22, according to a cellphone screen shot of the message that the blogger, who writes under the pen name Mark Miewurd, provided to The New York Times. “Great! I’m just getting my kid from school but I’ll be able to get it up pretty quick after I get it. Thanks!”

“Do u have a size limit?” Guccifer 2.0 replied, a question that led the Florida blogger to set up an anonymous Dropbox account so he could take thousands of pages of stolen information from the Russian operative, data that the blogger immediately recognized would have an extremely high strategic value for the Republicans.

“I don’t think you realize what you gave me,” the blogger said, looking at the costly internal D.C.C.C. political research that he had just been provided. “This is probably worth millions of dollars.”

Guccifer 2.0 wrote back: “Hmmm. ok. u owe me a million.”
Today's WSJ article adds that "Nevins confirmed his exchanges after The Wall Street Journal identified him first as the operator of the HelloFLA blog and then as the recipient of the stolen DCCC data", which included documents that "analyzed specific Florida districts, showing how many people were dependable Democratic voters, how many were likely Democratic voters but needed a nudge, how many were frequent voters but not committed and how many were core Republican voters—the kind of data strategists use in planning ad buys and other tactics."

Nevins claims to the WSJ journalists, that "he didn’t use any in his consulting business, which includes running grass-roots-style campaigns for corporations and wealthy landowners seeking to influence local politics."

A Florida Leadership Committee Expenditures PDF names Richardson Partners, Inc. from Boca Raton as a recipient of payments of $10,000 each on 1/28/14, 9/19/14 and 10/07/14, totaling $30,000 for the year. The firm's address is a post office box address in Boca Raton, which matches the P.O. box - 273932 - listed on the Richardson Partners website's contact page.

Nevins and Todd L. Richardson are named in a 2013 Legislative lobbying report pdf for the firm, using that same P.O. box address. On August 9, 2016, the firm was paid $2,000 for consulting fees by Democratic attorney Tony Gerard Bennett, a candidate for Palm Beach County Commissioner, District 1 in the 2016 elections, which is three days before Nevins contacted Guccifer 2.0, as he claimed to the WSJ. Other filings show on October 18 the firm earned over $6,200 for mailers and phone calls for Bennett's unsuccessful campaign.

According to his Twitter profile, Richardson is the "[p]resident of Richardson Partners, a South Florida based public affairs & communications firm". In 2014, a Tampa Bay, Florida third-party political organization tied to Richardson called "Floridians for Integrity in Government" released flyers against a Florida candidate, who allegedly rejected a bid by Todd to handle his city council campaign. "It has received nearly $1.4 million in donations since it started in 2012," and "[m]ost of its recent donations have come from the "Florida Leadership Committee", the Sun-Sentinel reported.

In another 2014 race, Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff lost to Democratic state Sen. Maria Sachs, even though Richardson's group helped pay for advertising that "blanketed the airwaves", since the Florida GOP gave her "no direct support", and she entered the race late. "The Floridians for Integrity in Government political committee got most of its funding from another PAC, the Florida Leadership Committee," Dan Sweeney reported for the Sun-Sentinel on November 11, 2014. "And that PAC, in turn, is closely associated with state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater."

At his LinksTraveler website, Richardson blogged that he "had an opportunity to visit Trump Turnberry two days before the opening round of the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon." He said new renovations "easily puts this legendary links course, on the west coast of Scotland, into one of the top courses in the world."

On January 17, 2017, Richardson Partners collected $2,500 and on February 3, 2017 was paid over $3550 for communications for the successful Scott Singer City Council 2016 campaign in Boca Raton. Singer won his seat unopposed three years ago, and his "challenger" last year, was - according to a Sun-Sentinel editorial endorsing him - "Patti Dervishi, a mostly retired Realtor who rants about development and whose rambling, unfocused answers show that she has not prepared herself for a council race," who was "unqualified."

The firm also earned over $9,000 working for the unsuccessful Joseph JB Bensmihen for Congress campaign in Palm Beach County in 2015.

Florida's Sun-Sentinel confirms that "Nevins, 36, is well known in political circles in South Florida. He has two companies, Chelsea Road Consulting and Painted Dog Productions, and is affiliated with Richardson Partners, a political consultancy in Boca Raton."

"Nevins was the chief of staff for Ellyn Bogdanoff when she was a Republican state senator and state representatives," Anthony Man adds. "He is also the son of former Sun Sentinel political columnist Buddy Nevins."

The LinkedIn resume for Nevins also notes that he was the "Senior Legislative Assistant (Chief of Staff)" for the Florida House of Representatives from May 2004 until November of 2010," in "Tallahassee und Umgebung, Florida."

On November 12, 2016, in response to a question "Could hackers hack each state's voting system so that Donald Trump is elected president?" posted in August, Nevins responded, "The fact that it would be much harder to hack 50 separate state systems, or even enough of them in the key places where it would matter (and not get caught) is reason enough to keep the electoral College."

He added, "If we went with the national popular vote, you would only need to ballot stuff in one sympathetic state to cheat."

On October 20, 2016, Brittany Wallman reported for the Sentinel, "Aaron Nevins, a 35-year-old Republican voter in Broward and former staffer for ex-state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, said he's going to shut down U.S. 441 on Election Day for an automobile race."

Before the shut down was canceled, Nevins told the newspaper he wasn't a supporter of Trump, and that he is "not coordinating with the Republican Party or Roger Stone or any of those people."

The Wall Street Journal reported that Guccifer 2.0 "sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data."

"Nevins said he didn’t have any dealings with Stone about the material," today's Sun-Sentinel article adds. "He said he had a group dinner with Stone three or four years ago and hasn’t seen or spoken to him since."
Nevins said he doesn’t believe he is facing any legal jeopardy over the matter, and he has not been contacted by any investigating authorities.

“The way I look at it, I was acting as a journalist. And my actions would show evidence of that. I was sending it out to journalists, not to political campaigns,” he said. “I, to some extent, felt forced to publish it.”

He said he is not concerned about getting in legal trouble or becoming the subject of an investigation.

“I’m not going to live my life concerned about that. I don’t think that I did anything illegal,” he said. “I think if I held onto the data and if I used it for a political campaign without releasing it or if I just ended up sending it to political operatives around the state we would be having a different conversation, probably from a jail cell.”

Bodyslam defending Gianforte flack Shane Scanlon works for firm tied to Manafort & Trump scandal

(Editor's note: It's late and this is a breaking story, so it's mostly going to be copy-and-paste job from multiple sources. One reason that no other journalists seem to be making this connection is that many of them might rely on Shane Scanlon or other strategists from Mercury for scoops. Mercury claims to be a bi-partisan lobbying and public relations firm, but it obviously leans towards the right. However - and, of course - most D.C. based P.R. firms usually have at least a few agents and clients from the other side of the aisle. Also, I wouldn't trust any of the reporters tied to the "bodyslam" story, especially anyone who works for Buzzfeed.)

The spokesman for a Montana Congressional candidate - who was arrested on election eve after allegedly bodyslamming a reporter for aggressively asking a healthcare related question - works for a lobbying firm that did undisclosed lobbying for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's colleague, Rick Gates.

However, Shane Scanlon wasn't hired by Mercury LLC until last December - five years after the Ukrainian lobbying - and the head of the firm, former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, didn't endorse Trump.

Last night, Alicia Acuna reported for Fox News, "The race to fill Montana's sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives took a violent turn Wednesday, and a crew from the Fox News Channel, including myself, witnessed it firsthand."

"As part of our preparation for a story about Thursday's special election to air on 'Special Report with Bret Baier,'...I joined field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey in Bozeman for our scheduled interview with [GOP candidate Greg] Gianforte," but, during "small talk...another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act," Acuna adds. "Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon."
"At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, 'I'm sick and tired of this!'

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.
Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon released a statement blaming the "liberal journalist", full of claims that don't seem to align with the recorded audio, and not even mentioning the body slam: "Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."

"As for myself and my crew, we are cooperating with local authorities," Acuna added for FOX NEWS. "Gianforte was given a citation for misdemeanor assault and will have to appear in court sometime before June 7."

On December 19, 2016, a press release announced, "Mercury, a leading global, bipartisan public strategy firm, announced today the expansion of its Montana presence with the launch of an office in Helena, and the addition of Shane Scanlon, who will serve as Vice President."
"Mr. Scanlon previously worked as a senior advisor and communications director for the Montana Republican Party. He played a leading role in the party's successful 2016 campaign cycle, which saw the MT GOP win four of the five statewide races, giving Republicans control of the Land Board for the first time since 1928. In 2014, Scanlon served as a senior member of the communications team for the Steve Daines for U.S. Senate campaign. That race, identified as one of the most competitive in the nation for the midterms, helped Republicans regain control of the U.S. Senate. Prior to his involvement in Montana politics, Scanlon worked in the U.S. Senate for Senator John Thune (R-SD), holding positions on the Senate Republican Policy Committee and the Senate Republican Conference.

Mercury began its work in Montana in 2014, following the additions of Rehberg and Baker. The firm has worked on a host of core policy issues statewide, including work in healthcare, agriculture, energy & natural resources, telecommunications, education and defense.

Scanlon started his tenure with Mercury December 1st."
"Mercury is a high-stakes, bipartisan public strategy firm," the press release claims. "The firm provides a comprehensive suite of services that includes federal government relations, international affairs, digital influence, public opinion research, media strategy and a bipartisan grassroots mobilization network in all 50 states."

It adds, "Our firm is not just led by top talent — we distinguish ourselves by having senior talent deeply engaged in each project from start to finish, a promise we keep to clients. The firm has an established global presence, with U.S. offices in Washington, DC, New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Tennessee, as well as international offices in London and Mexico City. Mercury is a part of the DAS Group of Companies."

On August 17, 2016, the Associated Press exclusively reported, "Donald Trump’s campaign chairman helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party’s efforts to influence U.S. policy."

"The revelation, provided to The Associated Press by people directly knowledgeable about the effort, comes at a time when Trump has faced criticism for his friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin," Jeff Horwitz and Desmond Butler reported. "It also casts new light on the business practices of campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

They note, "Under federal law, U.S. lobbyists must declare publicly if they represent foreign leaders or their political parties and provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department" and that "[a] violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000."

"Manafort and business associate Rick Gates, another top strategist in Trump’s campaign, were working in 2012 on behalf of the political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych.

People with direct knowledge of Gates’ work said that, during the period when Gates and Manafort were consultants to the Ukraine president’s political party, Gates was also helping steer the advocacy work done by a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit that hired a pair of Washington lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC.

The nonprofit, the newly created European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, was governed by a board that initially included parliament members from Yanukovych’s party. The nonprofit subsequently paid at least $2.2 million to the lobbying firms to advocate positions generally in line with those of Yanukovych’s government.
"That lobbying included downplaying the necessity of a congressional resolution meant to pressure the Ukrainian leader to release an imprisoned political rival," the AP story added. "The lobbying firms continued the work until shortly after Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014, during a popular revolt prompted in part by his government’s crackdown on protesters and close ties to Russia."

On May 11, 2017, Bloomberg BNA's Kenneth P. Doyle noted that "two major Washington, D.C., consulting firms, the Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury Public Affairs LLC, filed FARA registrations last month regarding work they did in 2012 related to Ukraine."

Doyle continues, "The registrations followed news reports in recent months that the Ukraine advocacy work was arranged by another former Trump adviser, Paul Manafort, and that the arrangement may have been intended to avoid revealing the involvement of a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party, which was seeking to improve its image with U.S. officials."

"Manafort hasn’t registered separately as a foreign agent for the Ukraine-related work, but he was listed in the new FARA disclosure documents filed by Mercury Public Affairs as participating in meetings along with Weber. The two met in 2012 and 2013 with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and others, the disclosure said.


The DOJ has brought only seven criminal FARA cases in the last 50 years, according to the DOJ’s inspector general. The department also has the ability to seek injunctive relief to achieve compliance with the law but hasn’t done so since 1991."