Glenn Greenwald
Politics • Writing • Culture
New SBF Indictment Exposes How Washington Really Works. Plus, Investigative Reporter Lee Fang In-Studio!
Video Transcript: System Update #45
February 25, 2023
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Note From Glenn Greenwald: The following is the full show transcript, for subscribers only, of a recent episode of our System Update program, broadcast live on Rumble on Thursday February 23, 2023. Watch the full episode here or listen to the podcast on Spotify

The Justice Department has issued a superseding indictment of Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of what the government now alleges was essentially a Ponzi scheme, the crypto exchange firm FTX. This new DOJ document sheds significant light on the actions of Bankman-Fried and his close associates, some of whom are still unnamed, but whose identity as liberal political strategist is basically an open secret in Washington. But this document sheds even more considerable light on how Washington really functions, how easily the media is manipulated, and how money converts Washington politicians into mindless puppets willing to defend positions completely at odds with their claimed ideology and lifelong worldview and we’ll look at highly illustrative examples of that. 

For our interview segment, we have a very special guest with us right here in our studio, not mediated through a screen, but personally, physically in our studio, Lee Fang, who is one of the best hires I ever advocated for at The Intercept. There were some bad ones. He was one of the best, and I regard him as one of the nation's really best and most dogged investigative journalists. He’ll talk to us about this new indictment, what it reveals about the role money plays in Washington, all of which has been a major focus of Lee's work for years. We'll also explore with him the ways in which woke ideology and woke symbols are being exploited by large corporate interest to co-opt these movements with money and use them as an imprimatur to signal that these sleaze and the swamp politics is something benevolent. Lee has also focused on that. He's the perfect guest to talk about all of this even if it weren't for the luck that he happens to be physically present in our city. 

For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update starting right now. 


Monologue

 

Back in December, the crypto world, but also the world of Washington lobbyists and politics was shaken at its foundations when Sam Bankman-Fried, once heralded as the new Morgan, as someone pioneering a new form of philanthropy, was arrested in the Bahamas, where his crypto exchange company, FTX, has long been based. He was arrested because the United States had sought his indictment as the firm essentially collapsed all around him in what became – and we should wait for the trial and the evidence presented there, if there is one, if he doesn't plead guilty to be sure that it is all true, he's entitled to due process just like everybody else. But there's a lot of evidence to show that what clearly happened, and much of this he has admitted, is that it was basically a gigantic Ponzi scheme. He was encouraging people to invest and to deposit in his crypto exchange and then he was using that money for his own personal self-interest and personal benefit while pretending to secure the depositors. 

He was doing that in large part to buy influence in Washington at the very highest levels of Washington politics in order to build his iconography, that most of the media bought into, that he was some kind of a hero figure, a savior presented as the good billionaire because he was spending so much of his time openly donating to Democratic Party politicians and to left liberal and what he called ‘woke causes,’ doing that in public to cultivate favor with the media, while at the same time donating to Republicans only with dark money and in secret, because he knew that if he were seen as a Republican Party donor, the media – the neutral, nonpartisan media – would end up giving him a far less favorable coverage and he would also be subject to a lot more investigative and regulatory scrutiny. 

So, the game he was playing in Washington, as revealed by this new indictment, sheds more light, I think, on Washington and how its key players function than it does on him. He's essentially just a con artist and a crook who is likely going to prison for a very long time. The size and scope of it was mammoth, but there's nothing particularly novel or pioneering about what he did. What really is important here is the way he ingratiated himself into Washington, to its top and most influential and powerful people in the United States and in the West, cultivated almost unanimously worshiping media coverage, using tactics that we're going to look at and in the process, insulated himself from regulatory scrutiny by simply buying off politicians, using as gurus, liberal political strategists who are right now in a lot of trouble. 

I always want to emphasize that when it comes to indictments issued by the Justice Department or local prosecutors, they deserve a lot of skepticism. I'm often very disturbed at how people treat indictments and charging documents issued by prosecutors as the gospel truth. The media does that all the time, so I want to avoid doing that. It's not just a cursory throwaway line for me to say he deserves due process. I do want to look at these documents with some degree of skepticism, but I really want to focus on what we can demonstrate and prove with concrete evidence outside of the four corners of the indictment. And that's what I'm going to focus on. And I will show you that evidence as well. 

Just to give you a sense for how successful his scheme was to ingratiate himself into the highest levels of political power in the West and to build for himself this hagiography, this completely blind and one-sided media worship, there's so many things we can show you, but here's one picture. It's a picture of him sitting on stage at an art conference in the Bahamas where he was based, with Bill Clinton, the former United States president, and Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Great Britain, and suffice to say, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are known for many things. One of them is not doing things for free. And so, one can only imagine the amount of money, the gargantuan sums of money they were paid to go and sit with him on that stage while he wore his slovenly clothes that he liked to wear to signal that he was too important to even bother putting on a suit. This is part of his genius that he just wears ratty clothes. It was also designed to communicate that he wasn't in it for the money. He doesn't like the finer things in life. He was part of this movement that is designed to, in their view, pioneer how charity is done by using a very utilitarian calculus in order to maximize the impact of charitable giving. It was designed to essentially get as rich as possible. They claim with the intention of giving the world the way in the most humane and benevolent form. Obviously, that all turned out to be a gigantic fraud, like everything else connected to him. 

But it wasn't just these retired political figures who flew around the world getting paid many millions of dollars to use their influence for whoever has a paycheck to give them. Tony Blair has been, in his post prime minister life, consulting with the most despotic and brutal and savage regimes on the planet, getting millions of millions of dollars to help renovate their image, even though the substance of their governance never changes. But he was targeting the most important people when it came to whether or not crypto and the industry would be regulated in a way that might actually bring scrutiny to the fact that he was engaged in. 

So, here you can see, for example, someone with whom he curried particular favor, which is the longtime Californian Democratic member of the House, who has had her own ethics investigations in the past, Maxine Waters. The reason she's so important is because she has long been the chair, until the Republicans took over the House, of the House Financial Services Committee, the committee that would have investigated and sought to provide oversight and even regulated the crypto industry, had these people on that committee, led by Maxine Waters, not been drowning in all sorts of favoritism from this industry. And here you can see an expression of her affection for what she often called this genius and this young man and how successful this campaign was. Take a look. 

(Video 00:24:47)

There you see her blowing a nice little kiss to Sam Bankman-Fried. \Waving goodbye. Thank you so much for becoming essentially the largest investor or the second largest investor in the Democratic Party. We absolutely love you. We adore you. I don't think it's odd that, as the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee that's supposed to be overseeing and regulating your industry, that I'm blowing a big kiss to you because you've drowned our political party and money. That's just the way Washington works. And that's why I say I think that the indictment is actually an indictment, more so, at least for our purposes, of Washington and its top players, than it is Sam Bankman-Fried, who one day will be thought of as Bernie Madoff or just some kind of ordinary crook who stole on a massive scale, but not using particularly interesting means of doing so. 

So here is the superseding indictment. A superseding indictment is basically a way that the Justice Department ends up charging somebody with a crime, a series of crimes, in order to gain their arrest and their extradition from the Bahamas, which they did. And then, as they investigate and they discover more facts, they want to add new charges and new facts to the indictment. So, they issue – basically another indictment. It adds charges. He's now facing more felony charges. It actually adds more detail as well for what prosecutors, again, claim took place. 

So here you see the caption of the case. It's entitled “The United States of America versus Samuel Bankman-Fried, a.k.a. SBF.” It's in the Southern District of New York, which is where a lot of financial fraud cases are tried and there you see the superseding indictment that was issued today. So, let's take a look at just a couple of the most significant revelations for our purposes. 

We begin with the first paragraph that essentially gives the sense for what this indictment is alleging. And it reads,  

 

 …including, among other things, to support the operations and investment of RTX and Alameda [which is a related firm that he controlled] to fund speculative venture investments, to make charitable contributions, to enrich himself and to try to purchase influence over cryptocurrency regulation in Washington, D.C., by steering tens of millions of dollars of illegal campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans (SBF. Superseding Indictment. Feb. 23, 2023).

 

As I mentioned earlier, the way he would essentially do this is he would openly tout the donations he made to Democratic Party causes to Democratic Party entities like state parties and Democratic politicians and all kinds of left liberal activist causes but then he would hide the donations he was making to Republicans because, as he himself said, in an interview he gave, once it was clear that he was about to be extradited, everybody knows that the way you curry media’s favor is by showing them that you're a Democrat. 

I mean, it's an amazing indictment of the corporate media – that insists they're nonpartisan and objective and a fair arbiter of facts – that he's saying, look, everybody knows that if you want the media to like you, you have to prove that you're on the side of the Democratic Party and that you're going to use your money for liberal causes. That's how you curry favor with the media. You get a big favorable media image, and that helps you avoid congressional and regulatory scrutiny. That's something he's saying explicitly in interviews and now the government in this document, as we're about to show you, is saying it as well. 

The indictment continues. This is, again, part of what the government is alleging against him. 

[…] and at relevant times, Bankman-Fried required that his co conspirators and others who work for him to communicate using encrypted and ephemeral messaging platforms that self-deleted, thereby preventing regulators and law enforcement from later obtaining a record of his misdeeds (SBF. Superseding Indictment. Feb. 23, 2023).

 

 

The reason why I highlighted this passage is this is actually something that is appearing more frequently and that I find bothersome. It has become almost the default position of the government that if you use encrypted communications, which is a technological innovation that already existed prior to the Snowden revelations but became very popular in the wake of those revelations, that enable you to communicate without being surveilled, or at least in a way that makes it much more difficult, that is presumptive evidence that you're doing something wrong. In other words, if you don't want the government watching what you're doing, the government believes that that is presumptive evidence that you are a guilty party – that the only people who seek privacy are people with something to hide. And they insert this in here to try and kind of color the perception of Sam Bankman-Fried in a negative way by saying “he used encryption”. He tried to prevent us from having access to the things he was saying. There are lots of people who are using encryption and don't want the government knowing what they're saying and doing who aren’t criminals. So, I just highlighted that one part because this is appearing more and more now in charging documents, and it shows the government's perception that privacy is only for bad people and if you're a good citizen, you should have no problem with the government knowing what it is you're doing and saying. 

Let's get into the section that describes the meat of the matter for our purposes, which is how he basically stole the money of his depositors, people who deposited money in this crypto exchange and used it to do many things, including buying political influence in Washington. And let's look at the people he seems to have purchased and how that ended up helping and protecting his scheme from being discovered for so long –  there are a lot of victims here. There are people who lost their entire life savings, people who invested large sums of money in this cryptocurrency exchange, and that money has now gone. He gave it away. He bought luxury items like that, but he also gave it to politicians. He also bought out media outlets, made gigantic donations to ProPublica, to The Intercept. I'm about to interview a reporter from The Intercept and The Intercept has said that they're considering the ethical questions of whether they should return that money. To my knowledge, they've yet to do so. So, he bought off not just politicians, but media outlets as well. And here's what the government says about all that: 

 

Samuel Bankman-Fried, the defendant, perpetuated his campaign finance scheme, at least in part to improve his personal standing in Washington, D.C., increase FTX’s profile and curry favor with candidates that could help pass legislation favorable to FTX or Bankman-Fried’s personal agenda, including legislation concerning regulatory oversight over FTX and its industry. To accomplish these goals, Bankman-Fried caused substantial contributions to be made in support of candidates of both major political parties and across the political spectrum. Bankman-Fried, however, did not want to be known as a left leaning partisan or to have his name publicly attached to Republican candidates. In those instances when he wanted to obscure his association with certain contributions, Bankman-Fried and others conspired to and did have those contributions made in the name of CC1 and CC2 (SBF. Superseding Indictment. Feb. 23, 2023).

 

Those are co conspirators. So, what they're essentially accusing him of doing is donating money to Republicans and Republican leading causes. But he didn't want the media to know he was doing that because he knows that the media hates everybody who donates to Republicans. He wanted to buy influence from Republicans, so he got other people to donate that money for him. And it's obviously illegal to make donations by getting other people to donate for you, in part because it's a form of fraud, and, in part, because it allows you to circumvent campaign finance laws. If I can only donate $5,000, but I get ten of my friends to donate for me, I'm now able to donate $50,000 to a candidate by pretending that there's 10 people who are donating, when in fact it's all coming from me. And that's one of the things he's also accused of doing. The indictment goes on. 

For instance, in around 2022, Sam Bankman-Fried, the defendant, and others agreed that he and his co conspirators should contribute at least $1,000,000 to a super PAC that was supporting a candidate running for United States congressional seat and appeared to be affiliated with pro-LGBT issues and selected CC1 to be the contributor.

 

A political consultant working for Bankman-Fried asked CC1 to make the contribution and told CC1 “In general, you being the center left face of our spending will mean you giving a lot of woke shit for transactional purposes”. CC1 expressed discomfort with making the contribution in his name, but agreed there was not anyone “trusted at FTX [who was] bi/gay in a position to make the contribution at the direction of Bankman-Fried and individuals working for him. CC1 nonetheless contributed to the PAC (SBF. Superseding Indictment. Feb. 23, 2023).

 

Let's just break that down. Sam Bankman-Fried, who didn't know Washington very well, especially progressive politics, wanted somebody to help him as a guide through this world where he wanted to buy influence, knowing that if anyone was going to regulate crypto, it was probably going to be the Democratic Party, the left wing that tends to favor regulation more than Republicans. 

He got an unnamed political consultant who, as I said, the identity of that person is an open secret in Washington – we're about to show you some articles that suggest who it might be, I'm not saying for sure it is, but who that might be – and that political strategist who's known for a lot of things, including inventing the hashtag Abolish ICE, #abolishice, told him that if you want favorable coverage in Washington, the way to do that is by giving to the Republicans, by progressive politicians, and by donating to candidates associated with LGBTQ causes. Then you're woke. You have the halo of woke ideology around you. The media will love you. The Democratic Party will think that you're benevolent and that you don't need regulatory scrutiny. These are the rules we all know that Washington runs by and that the media runs by. But it's rare to see it laid out with such explicit light as not only this indictment is done, but as a lot of media reporting has done as well. 

While he was waiting to come to United States to stand trial – I think in this moment before he was indicted, he was speaking publicly, even though his lawyers were obviously trying not to, because I think he believed deep down that he might have been guilty of reckless handling of finances, but that he could not possibly be a malicious person. After all, the corporate media in the United States has spent years heralding him as the new J.P. Morgan, as the new figure that was going to revolutionize how charity is done, how altruism is done. “Effective altruism” is what they called it. And he internalized this PR about himself. And so, he thought, I'm never going to be arrested. I have the most powerful friends in the world. Maxine Waters blows kisses at me. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are at my beck and call. They get on a plane and come down to the Bahamas when I summon them and give them a check. He has in his brain these hangers on, his minions, who have been heralding his greatness for years. That's how reckless he was. He started talking to the media, knowing that indictments were coming – the dumbest thing that you could do. 

In the process of doing that, he spoke by Twitter DM to a reporter at Vox who published the key excerpts. And here you can see, it looks like any other Twitter DM because he's using Twitter to talk to a reporter at Vox and it's really interesting but he ends up telling her, she says to him, “So, the ethics stuff” [ meaning all that stuff you were talking about being an alter as being a philanthropist] “that was basically a front?”, she asked him. “People like you if you win and hate you if you lose. And that's all how it all really works”. And he responds this way: “Yeah, I mean, that's not “all” of it, but it's a lot. The worst quadrant is “sketchy + lose” the best is “win + clean”. “Clean and lose” is bad, but not terrible.” 

So, he's saying what I needed to do was win and in order to win, I needed to build a positive PR image that the media and Washington would eat up. 

And in the next exchange, this is where he explains exactly what he learned. She says: “You were really good at talking about ethics for someone who kind of saw it all as a game with winners and losers” – because he just admitted to her that the ethics branding was bullshit, that it was just a front, all that talk about effective altruism. He's saying the idea is to win. And that was just a tool to help us win. And so, when she asked him, “You were really good at talking about ethics”. This is what he said: “Ya. I had to be. It's what reputations are made up to some extent. I feel bad for those who get fucked by it, but this by this dumb game which we woke Westerners play, where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.” 

Do you see what he's saying there? He's saying that if you want to be revered by the press corps and get away with whatever you want to get away with, it's a very simple game to play. All you have to do is affirm left liberal cultural orthodoxies be associated with woke causes. Give your money to woke causes. The media will love you and you will win. That's the game he was playing because that's the game that he learned and it worked. Think about what this says about the media and about people who exploit this ideology and these causes in order to do what he did. 

As I mentioned before, it's more or less an open secret who was guiding him through this Washington maze and taught him all of these things about how Washington works. I'm not suggesting this person is guilty of any crimes. He's not yet been charged with any crimes. But if I were him, I would not be sleeping well at night, given what we know that he did. Here's The New Republic, a left leaning journal, to put that mildly. The headline reads “Progressive Buddy of Sam Bankman-Fried,” and t's a profile of this activist named Sean McElwee and there you see the subheadline: “The “Abolish ICE” activist and founder of Data for Progress, allegedly helped steer donations for the FTX head toward pro-crypto candidates.” This is who was guiding Sam Bankman-Fried in telling him how you succeed in progressive politics. He used to be a hardcore leftist. Like I said, he invented the hashtag “Abolish ICE” campaign. He then converted that fame into creating this group called Data for Progress, which is designed to help Democratic Party candidates promote progressive causes. He kind of fell out of favor with the left because he started making a lot of pragmatic compromises, doing business with a lot of unsavory people like Sam Bankman-Fried but this was his political origins. Here's what The New Republic said about him. “By now, we've all heard of Sam Bankman-Fried […]”. Remember, this is December 2022, when the whole house of cards has fallen. 

[…] the erstwhile head of failed cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, who faces charges of fraud, money laundering and illegal political campaign contributions. But who is Sean McElwee, his equally scandal-ridden advisor and ally? McElwee, a former New Republic contributor, was once hailed as a progressive wunderkind. He started the viral “Abolish Ice” Movement on Twitter and in 2018 founded the progressive think tank Data for Progress, which focused on influencing public policy through polling data. 

 

His personal influence grew rapidly as well. McElwee regularly hosted parties in New York and Washington that were attended by younger politicos, as well as established lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. President Biden's administration began working regularly with Data for Progress. Over the past couple of years, McElwee and Bankman-Fried grew close. Bankman-Fried set up a super PAC aimed at supporting Democrats who focused on pandemic preparedness, and he hired data for progress to do polling. 

 

But in reality, New York Magazine reported on Thursday, many of the Democrats Bankman-Fried backed were pro-crypto. “This was not just about directing donations to candidates”, Max Berger, a progressive strategist and former McElwee ally, told the Magazine, “This was about Sean running a political strategy designed to shield crypto from government oversight so that crypto billionaires could continue to rip off working people” (The New Republic. Dec. 22, 2022).

 

Crypto billionaires like Sam Bankman-Fried. So, you have this progressive hero who branded himself as a hardcore leftist, revolutionizing Washington with his brilliant leftist strategies, in reality, creating the political strategy Sam Bankman-Fried used to buy influence with all of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party – but the Republican Party in secret, the Democratic Party publicly – to buy favor with the media that Sean McElwee played like a violin, knowing that the way you get ahead in media in Washington is by aligning yourselves with left liberal cultural issues and progressive causes. 

Just to give you an idea of how much John McElwee promoted – one member of Congress in particular, Ritchie Torres, is kind of the living, breathing embodiment of how woke politics is exploited to perpetuate status quo power. We've talked about this before on this show. The first time that I ever realized this and saw this was when the British counterpart to the NSA, the GCHQ, the spy agency, in 2015, lit up its futuristic UFO headquarters in the colors of the rainbow flag, basically to say,” I know you hate us, we spy on everybody, but we love the LGBT community.” That's why the CIA started celebrating Women's Day and creating ads about their agents being nonbinary, transwomen and all of that, co-opting and putting on the veneer of woke ideology onto the most corrupt, militaristic and corporatist institutions to give them a veneer of something rebellious and inspiring. We talked about that in the context of Hakeem Jeffries, the most sleazy corporate K Street swamp creature in Washington, rising to the head of the House Democratic Caucus and having the Squad talk about how he was the first black member, first black leader of a political party in Congress to make him seem like he was so progressive and revolutionary when in reality he serves status quo power. Barack Obama was probably Exhibit A in how effective that can be. 

And so, now you have Ritchie Torres, who is not only black and from the Dominican Republic, but also gay. He's from the South Bronx. He grew up with a single mother. He has a genuinely inspiring political story. He has every single intersectional box checked off, and they see him as a very powerful and potent weapon. He has very significant aspirations to rise in Democratic Party politics, and even though he has extremely conventional politics,they will depict him as some sort of young challenge to the status quo. And so, this became Richie Torres, one of the personal projects of Sean McElwee and Sam Bankman-Fried. And let's just look at how this was done, this particular example. 

So, here's Sean McElwee, in July of 2020, supporting Ritchie Torres as he was running for Congress for the first time. It was a crowded field of Democratic primary challengers, one of those long time incumbents who had represented the South Bronx for decades, retired. And so, the seat opened up and you have Sean McElwee reporting, promoting Richie Torres in the beginning. Here's a tweet: “Child poverty is a choice. The Coronavirus pandemic demands we end it. New on the blog from @RitchieTorres."  

So, he's promoting Ritchie Torres all the time. Here's another Sean McElwee tweet promoting a poll that his progressive group Data for Progress took, saying “Progressives have three weeks to prevent an anti-choice homophobe from being elected in the most Democratic district in the country by consolidating behind Ritchie Torres”, using this polling data to tell leftists, Look, Ritchie Torres, who loves the crypto industry, is a very vocal supporter of Israel, kind of an odd thing for a congressman from the South Bronx to make this his priority, but Sean McElwee architected Ritchie Torres, his rise to win this congressional seat and win this primary by promoting him all the time. 

Here you see Sean McElwee and David Shor, who are these kinds of young, hip political progressive consultants holding a fundraiser for Ritchie Torres in 2022, by which point Richie Torres is already a member of Congress. He won that election in 2020, and once you win the primary, you automatically win that district. It's a 85 to 15 Democratic Party district. So, Richie Torres is running for reelection in 2022. He had no opposition. He didn't even have a primary challenger. He was unopposed in the Democratic Party Primary. He was sure to win the Democratic nomination and then sure to win the general election, because, as I said, it's an 85/15 Democratic district. And yet, Sean McElwee And David Shor are holding a very expensive fundraiser for Ritchie Torres. Why does Ritchie Torres need large amounts of campaign finance when his reelection is guaranteed? Because this is how you buy influence. So, here's, the prices for attending this event are 1,000, 2,900, 4,000, $5,800, and you contribute to ActBlue. So, this is that personal project – Ritchie Torres. 

As it turns out, of the people who donated a lot of money to Ritchie Torres in 2022 was Sam Bankman-Fried and his brother Gabriel Bankman-Fried. For some reason, they took a lot of interest in donating a lot of money to somebody who had no political opposition: Ritchie Torres. Here you see some of the data. 2,900, 2,902, 2,900, 2900, 2900. Both Sam Bankman-Fried and his brother. 

Remember, the Justice Department is alleging that what they were doing was funneling huge amounts of money way beyond what campaign finance allows by having basically people who were donating Sam Bankman-Fried’s money but pretending it was coming from somebody else. This is what Dinesh D'Souza was prosecuted and went to jail for, for essentially doing this. 

So, another person who donated to Ritchie Torres's nonexistent 2022 reelection campaign was Sean McElwee, the progressive hero who became Sam Bankman-Fried’s guru. Nobody knows how Sean McElwee has enough money to be making large scale donations like this. Another $6,000 to a person who has no political opposition. The government says Sam Bankman-Fried was getting people close to him, as I just read you, to donate for him. And this is obviously somebody who's the perfect, “candidate,” as I said. And so, they were very interested in associating themselves with Richie Torres, this rising star in the Democratic Party, who's black, who has family from the Dominican Republic, who is gay. Every single possible box. 

Here is a list of the people that the government suspects were making donations that were really for Sam Bankman-Fried, including his brother. There you see Sean McElwee, several other people as well. And the list of the Democratic Party candidates here to whom they donated this money using what the Justice Department believes was this scheme and you see, Greg Sarsour, the new, very progressive member of Congress, young from Austin, Texas. You see on this list Maggie Hassan, who was a senator from New Hampshire. Maxwell Frost, the Gen-Z member of Congress who was just newly elected and the number one recipient of funds that the government believes is related to Sam Bankman-Fried: Ritchie Torres. He got almost $32,000, again, for a political campaign that just simply didn't exist. So, pouring a lot of money into Richie Torres's coffers became a major priority of Sam Bankman-Fried and of his guru, Sean McElwee. 

And just to be clear, we submitted a lot of questions prior to the show, earlier today, to Congressman Torres, which he did not answer. He has an open invitation to come on my show as I indicated to him to talk about this and anything else that he might want to talk about. And lo and behold, in a major coincidence, after getting deluged with all this money from Sam Bankman-Fried and his political guru, Sean McElwee – remember money that did not belong to Sam Bankman-Fried that he stole from working people – Richie Torres, amazingly, became a very vocal advocate of cryptocurrency, something you would not ordinarily associate with a progressive member of Congress, elected to the from the South Bronx. 

Here's a tweet from Richard Torres in March 2022:

Crypto is the future”, he wrote. “It could enable the poor to make payments and remittances without long delays and high fees. It could enable artists and musicians to earn a living. It could challenge the concentrated power of Big Tech and Wall Street. My Op-Ed” (March 17, 2022).

 

And there's an op-ed in the New York Daily News headlined “A Liberal Case for Cryptocurrency”. 

Do you see how they constantly take these corporatist policies, this Ponzi scheme, and justify it using woke terminology? They pretend, constantly, that they're fighting for the working person, for marginalized groups, while serving the agenda of this corrupt billionaire. 

We're going to talk to Lee in just a little bit, who has reported endlessly on this tactic, Sam Bankman-Fried and Sean McElwee didn't pioneer it. They just exploited it at a much greater rate.

Ritchie Torres didn't only sing the praises of cryptocurrency, he intervened along with seven of his colleagues in Congress, into an investigation that was underway into Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX. 

Here, from the American Prospect, in November of 2020, they report: “Congressmembers Tried to Stop the SEC's Inquiry Into FTX”. So, there was an attempt by the SEC to investigate FTX. Presumably they would have discovered the Ponzi scheme and for all that was, eight members of Congress whom the American Prospect has dubbed the “Blockchain eight” wrote “a bipartisan letter in March attempting to chill the SEC's information request to crypto firms. FTX was one of those. 

Here's what the article says. 

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission was seeking information from collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX earlier this year, The Prospect has confirmed, bringing a new perspective to an effort by a bipartisan group of congress members to slow down that investigation (The American Prospect. Nov.23, 2022).

 

So, the SEC was doing their job, suspecting something was amiss here with FTX and, then, a bipartisan group of eight members of Congress intervened to try and slow down that investigation. 

The March letter from eight House members – four Democrats and four Republicans – questioned the SEC's authority to make informal inquiries to crypto and blockchain companies and intimated that the requests violated federal law. They were telling me, as you see, you have no right to investigate crypto. 

The eight members were Reps. Emmer, Donalds, Auchincloss, Warren Davidson (R-OH), Ted Budd (R-NC), Darren Soto (D-FL) Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY). Budd was elected this year to the U.S.Senate. (The American Prospect. Nov.23, 2022). 

 

This is how the game in Washington is played, exactly right here. They forward to Ritchie  all this money, even though he doesn't need it – because he has no opposition – but he keeps it in his coffers. Money is power in Washington. He starts singing the praises of whatever you tell him to say. He suddenly becomes a vocal crypto advocate and he even helps intervene into an investigation that the SEC was trying to conduct to determine whether there was fraud at FTX and potentially an investigation that could have uncovered this fraud and saved hundreds of thousands of people from losing billions of dollars of their hard earned savings. 

Now, just to be clear, I also see potential not so much in cryptocurrency as in the underlying technology of blockchain, because my interest is more in its ability to provide a way for decentralization to happen. Jack Dorsey has often talked about how his regret with Twitter was that he didn't build it on blockchain technology to decentralize it, to make centralized censorship impossible. It also makes it much harder for surveillance to take place. We're going to be interviewing Edward Snowden in the next few weeks about his view of cryptocurrency and why he's excited about blockchain technology. And I actually try, I've tried over the past couple of years to tell people on the left that their reflexive opposition to cryptocurrency and blockchain is misguided because of these benefits. 

Back in December of 2021, I interviewed an anonymous activist who calls himself “the blockchain socialist,” who advocates blockchain technology and crypto currency from a left wing perspective. I also did a separate interview with Alex Gladstein, who essentially talked about the promises of cryptocurrency to do things like overthrow the dollar as the world's reserve currency. The dollar as the world's reserve currency is what enables the United States to borrow endless sums of money, to feed all of our endless wars and the benefits of that. 

So, I'm not an opponent of cryptocurrency, but I know that there's a lot of left wing opposition to it, which is why it's so enlightening to see people who have affiliated themselves with progressive causes to suddenly be on board with the crypto chain as money from Sam Bankman-Fried is pouring into their wallet, which is how Washington works to the point where, again, this is a bipartisan scam. 

Here you have on CNBC a Democratic Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who's part of the center left of the Democratic Party, singing the praises of crypto, pretending that they want to introduce some regulation but it's really regulation written by the crypto industry to give the illusion of cryptocurrency regulation while protecting the industry from any actual regulatory oversight. Just listen to how she gushes about how this works.  

By the way, she's with Senator Lummis, who's a Republican from, I believe, South Dakota. So here is yet another example of a bipartisan consensus, something that we're always told never happens. But here, watch both of them sing the praises of crypto. 

(Video 00:58:00)

 

CNBC: Hey, Senators, two questions for you. One is and I'm sure you saw this a little over a month ago. The largest 401k manager in the country announced that they were going to offer Bitcoin to users or to consumers. Companies have to choose to allow their employees to put Bitcoin in there. For one case, the Labor Department came out and said, “This is a terrible idea”. What do you think?

 

Senator Lummis: I think the Labor Department's wrong. I think it's a wonderful idea. It should be part of a diversified asset allocation and it should be on the end of the spectrum of a store of value. Obviously, if you have a fully diversified asset allocation, you have some assets that you want to produce income in the short run. You also want some assets that are just a store of value. And I think that's where Bitcoin really shines. I think it's some of the hardest money that's ever been created in the world, and for that reason, it belongs as a slice of a diversified asset allocation for retirement funds. 

 

CNBC: Senator Gillibrand, do you agree or disagree? 

 

Sen. Gillibrand: No, I agree. And that's why this piece of legislation is so important and why it's so timely. Once you create basic infrastructure around these types of digital assets, where there are disclosure requirements, where they have a regulator, where there's full transparency, that is going to create the safety and soundness in the market, that will give other people comfort that this is a market that is here to stay. It's one that is properly regulated and one that has oversight and accountability. And that's what this legislation is going to do. So, while many people are comfortable with where these digital assets are being used or offered today, once the regulatory frameworks are put around it, there will be more comfort there. 



So, a lot of times the most important stories are the ones that receive the least amount of media attention. I always am amazed whenever I think about it to this very day that we do not know and likely never will know, for example, the client list of Jeffrey Epstein, who was in his various books, whether or not there was surveillance footage or blackmail material on the people who ended up falling into his web. 

Well, we know that many of the most powerful people in the world, from Donald Trump and Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew and lots of other people, spent time on that island. Whenever there's no partisan angle to the story, people seem to agree that it doesn't need to be scrutinized because there's no partisan benefit to it. 

This is, I think, similar – this case of Sam Bankman-Fried as I said, his particular crime is not that interesting. The way in which his tentacles were all throughout Washington is extremely interesting. And I believe there's a lot of people who are very, very worried about where this investigation is going and not only because it's important unto itself to find out who got dirty by this money and how, but also because of the amazing line it says on these media dynamics, on who's for sale in Washington, how easily purchased they are and how it all works. This is a story that I believe is only in the beginning that's going to grow and grow and grow in terms of its revelations about a lot of people. I know for sure there's a lot of people sleeping very poorly who are involved in these stories, including some of the ones we mentioned and others as well. And we absolutely are going to continue to follow this story vigilantly as it unfolds and we're going to also do that with the help of our next guest. 



So, for our interview segment, I am very delighted to welcome into our studio here, in Brazil with us, the great investigative journalist Lee Fang. He was on our show a couple of weeks ago talking about one of the blockbuster stories that he did on the Twitter Files. He has spent his career talking exactly about these issues. He has kind of made his way, starting off in progressive media outlets. He's now at The Intercept, but he is somebody who has always risen above ideological and partisan politics. 

He's for me, even though he's still kind of youngish, a very old school investigative journalist, he is the perfect guest to talk about this, all of this and the implications of it. And we're about to do that in just a minute.

 


The Interview: Lee Fang



G. Greenwald: I am really delighted to welcome into our studio my longtime colleague, my friend, and someone who is really a credit to American journalism. And there aren’t many people about whom I say that. Lee Fang, it's great to see you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. 

 

Lee Fang: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Yeah, it is great for you to be here. I agree as well, especially tonight, given that we have something that is perfectly within the intersection, if I can use that word, of the reporting that you've been doing for years, which is the way in which money buys influence across the political spectrum. So why don't we just begin with your reaction to this new indictment and some of the revelations it contains? 

 

Lee Fang: Well, in some ways, this indictment is extraordinary. You have this very young billionaire who took money from his customers and really spread it across the political system. If you look at the size and scale of this alleged fraud, it's extraordinary. It's unprecedented. Obviously, using straw donations. If that's true, that's  illegal. And at the same time, it's also kind of benign and ordinary. What Sam Bankman-Fried is accused of is what every major industry does, this attempt to buy influence on both sides of the aisle and when it comes to Democrats, to progressives, to institutions where cultural liberalism is dominant in the media or at universities, using these kinds of signals around, you know, social justice language, around cultural liberalism, around identity politics, that's a great way to conceal influence peddling, to make it seem to provide like a veneer of righteousness to buying off influence and influencing the process. And that's what Sam Bankman-Fried was doing but, again, that's what the airlines do, the banks, that's what the regular tech industry does. It's how Washington basically works. 

 

G. Greenwald:  One of the things that I think angered the political establishment most about Donald Trump's political campaign in 2016 was – I don't know if you remember this specific moment – but in one of the debates, he basically stood up and said, “All Washington is a scam and when I was on the other side of the process as just kind of a billionaire, as somebody who is in the private sector, all I had to do was just write a check to any politician in either party, and with some exceptions, but not many, they would call me up and they would say, “What is it that I can do for you?” And whatever he needed them to do, they would do it in exchange for that check that he was willing to offer. He was famously a guest at Bill and Hillary Clinton's wedding that showed how ensconced he was in this political culture.

Having been somebody who has looked for so long at the way in which both parties operate under the scheme that you just described, how have you come to see the fights between the two parties that we're supposed to believe are so intractable and so fundamental? Do you see that more as theater and these parties serving kind of the same masters, or do you see the fights between these two parties as being often very genuine? 

 

Lee Fang: I think on the big picture issues, on taxes, who pays and who doesn't, on regulation of businesses, of how basically the economy is run, there is broad bipartisan consensus and there's an effort to use the emotionally evocative culture war issues as a way to distract people, to divide people, to kind of harness the polarization in society, to keep the status quo for major corporations and special interests. And we see this playing out in so many ways in Washington. You know, there was an effort in the last Congress to crack down on the power of Big Tech. This is something that a lot of politicians have talked about. I think we all recognize the power of Facebook, of Amazon, of Google and the other tech giants. You look at this kind of simultaneous exploitation of the culture war when there was a legislative effort to kind of crack down on the way that Google and Facebook share advertising revenue with newspapers and media companies. 

What the Silicon Valley Giants did is they took money, they gave it to front groups, and they ran ads in targeted districts that exploited the culture war without talking about the actual underlying bill. For Democratic districts, they ran ads that said that if we pass this legislation, we will have more hate speech and more hate groups on the Internet. Don't allow your legislator to support hate speech and other neo-Nazi groups because, you know, sharing ad tech revenue will mean more Breitbarts or whatever. And on the right, they said, okay, look, this is an effort to actually censor conservatives and this is a way for Washington liberals to kind of crush you under their thumb like they always do. 

It's like, okay, this is a way no one's actually talking about the underlying bill. This is a way to get people angry and upset about legislation they probably don't understand. 

 

G. Greenwald:  You know, I think about this issue a lot because you don't, on the one hand, want to completely dismiss the importance of what is this umbrella group of culture war issues. They do matter to people. People feel strongly about whether abortion should be legal or criminalized. People feel strongly about whether same sex marriages ought to be recognized under the law or not. They feel strongly about whether children should have access to puberty-blocking medication and even surgeries in order to change their gender and you go down the list if you want to even group in things like gun control and crime policy. Sometimes those get grouped into culture war issues as well, though I think they're kind of outside of it. 

So, on the one hand, these issues are not trivial; people feel strongly about them. They can affect people's lives. On the other hand, the more we are at each other's throats about those issues, the more we're focused incessantly on what a lot of times are easier political fights to have, right?, it's easier to fight with your neighbor about what books a school is going to include in their curriculum than it is to say, deconstruct the hegemony of Goldman Sachs and the CIA. So, it's tempting to do that because the results are more immediate. The more we're doing that, though, the happier power centers are, because the more we're fighting with one another, the less we're focused on that. 

What do you think, and I realize you tend to look at these things as a journalist, but having presented that problem that you just described, what is the way to kind of get people to find that right balance? 

 

Lee Fang: I mean, that's a tough question. I think that if you read about these issues and how people talk about them, whether there's, you know, nonprofit think tanks, the different media outlets, what have you, there just isn't a lot of understanding of the other side in an attempt to genuinely engage on the issues. 

But there is this kind of overarching effort to exploit, to flatten actual points of difference and cynically exploit them to make us hate each other. Another example of the Big Tech crackdown: Amazon has faced criticism around counterfeit goods on their platform as they face legislation in the last year to kind of crack down on that. They pay a number of Asian, African American and Latino groups that went out and lobbied on their behalf and said, “Look, if you require more photo ID and user verification for resellers on online platforms, well, that sounds a lot like voter ID, therefore, it's racist.” You know, that's a way to flatten the debate, not to actually talk about the nuanced policy issues. That's an emotional shortcut to get people angry, to then join Amazon and be their de facto lobbyist because they've been recruited into the culture war. 

 

G. Greenwald:  I started writing about politics in May 2005, and this is right around the time we were obviously already in Iraq, you know, with the major military force of a couple hundred thousand troops, and neocons were very eager to change the government in Iran. And there was that anonymous tip– it probably came from Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz, maybe even David Frum – that was leaked that said “real men go to Tehran – like Baghdad is not enough. We want to go to Iran”. And out of nowhere, there started to appear all of these stories about the abuse and mistreatment of gay men by the Iranian government, about gay men hanging from cranes and the like, and all these kinds of neoconservatives who didn't even have the slightest interest ever in any LGBT issues, much less the plight of Iranian gay men, suddenly started exploiting these kinds of social justice causes to gin up hatred among Democrats toward the Iranian regime by saying, “look at how they oppress gay men.” This has now become a major way that the West supports and sustains support for imperialism, militarism, even if it's done in Ukraine, you know, lobbies LGBT people and look at this like trans soldiers, but Putin and the Russians hate gay men and Jews in Israel and Palestine. If you go to Israel, they'll take you to all the nice gay clubs in Tel Aviv and they'll tell you that Hamas tanks gay men, in order to get you to be more on the side of Israel, you have focus on the use of those kinds of tactics in the domestic context when it comes to economic policy.  

That's what one of the articles that we want to ask you about, from Lee Fang, on the screen, from The Intercept. It's from 2022. The headline is “Lobbyists Mingle With Congress under the Banner of Celebrating Diversity,” and the subheadline is “Corporate lobbyists are sponsoring events celebrating racial progress to advocate for their clients’ business interests”. These are corporate lobbyists who are on K Street, whose job it is to generate profit, and they're using this kind of agenda of racial progress, post-George Floyd, to promote their corporatist agenda. Talk about that specific example and what that shows about how this works. 

 

Lee Fang: Yeah, this is how money flows into the Democratic side in Congress. You know, it would be untoward to kind of have a welcome event for Congress that has an official banner that says ExxonMobil and Waste Management and Goldman Sachs. That would be obviously problematic for a lot of left leaning lawmakers or lawmakers that campaigned on social change.  

But all you have to do to conceal that kind of nasty image would still have that same effect of lobbyists cozying up and partying with legislative staff and lawmakers and gaining influence, the kind of day to day transaction-based economy of Capitol Hill is to use a diversity event. The Tri- Caucus, the Asian American, Hispanic and Black congressional caucuses have their own affiliate nonprofits that are almost 100% corporate-funded. Their boards are dominated by corporate lobbyists when they make decisions on who to endorse. Often that's actually done by the corporate lobbyists that fund those congressional caucus nonprofits. And just this new Congress that was recently gaveled in, you have parties almost every week celebrating, you know, Lunar New Year for Asian-Americans. And there's this article where we mentioned a number of Hispanic and Latino caucus events. And again, these are lobbyist organized, just absolute swamp activities where – if we looked at the pictures posted on social media from these events, and you zoom in and it's one congressional staffer for Hakeem Jeffries next to a pharmaceutical lobbyist, next to another lawmaker, next to another bank lobbyist – it's just the same kind of cesspool but under this banner of promoting diversity and inclusion. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Yeah, that's what I was saying. I mean, in a way, I think is the perfect guest for this new one day, because one of the things the indictment reveals is just how cynical Sam Bankman-Fried and his political guru Sean McElwee became about let's just associate yourself with these woke causes and that will immunize you not only from regulatory scrutiny but also from negative media attention. This is something you've been spending a lot of time on, which is why I say he didn't invent it. He just kind of detected it and they used it. There's another example and by the way, since we went over a little time and I want to continue to explore this utterly while we have him, we also are now streaming on Locals, which will be our aftershow as well.  

Let's put this other article that is similar in theme to the one that you uncovered. There is the article from 2022 to the evolution of union busting, and it's entitled “Breaking Unions With the Language of Diversity and Social Justice”. Obviously, supporting unions has been – and unionizing and organizing unions – has been a long time cause of the left. And yet I've noticed all the time now that when corporations want to persuade their workers to reject unionization and the organization of unions, they of course, don't say, “Oh, you're going to eat into our bottom line”. That's not the kind of rhetoric that appeals to people. They, instead, smuggle in this kind of social justice language as a way of sabotaging union drives. Talk about some of the things that you've uncovered as part of that report. 

 

Lee Fang: Yeah, this was a fun story. I attended a number of conferences that are sponsored by the union suppression industry. This is a $300 million a year industry where, you know, major corporations hire special consultants that go into a company that's facing a union threat, and they hold captive meeting seminars with employees to dissuade them, because there's typically a vote to decide if workers can join a union or not. This has gone on for a very long time. It's a very sophisticated industry and, back in the day, they used threats of violence. There were weapons used and intimidation on the picket line, kind of threats to offshore jobs in the seventies and eighties, which were often actuated. But in the last decade, we've seen a very sharp turn where a lot of workers and more left leaning industries, the tech industry, Starbucks, RTI, companies that kind of have a large number of liberal Democrat employees, they're facing a growing movement to unionize, to join the labor movement. And you see these union avoidance consultants rebranding. They're becoming diversity consultants, DTI consultants, and they're going in and saying, look, you don't need to join a union to have your voice at the company. We can just talk about issues around identity. It's a very intimate way to kind of connect to an employee and they get people alternatives. They say instead of joining a labor union, they will create an employee resource group. This is a special club where you have an association of gay or Asian or what have you employees. And you know, you'll have a pizza party once a month and we'll have a hotline if you have any issues. But just don't join a labor union because they would actually – they don't say this part - but they would actually cost the company money. 

I mean, the thing of the day, whether it's lobbying Congress or what we just talked about or this kind of union busting, they want to take away decisions that change the kind of power structure where more power would be, redistributed to workers, to common people and they want to keep those decisions in the hands of investors and management. And this is the same thing where the attempts to crush this growing labor movement we've seen in the last few years are adopting the language of the kind of symbols and rhetoric of social justice activists and explicitly using these demands for diversity and inclusion as kind of a Jiu Jitsu to undermine this effort at unionization. 

 

G. Greenwald: I mean, it's so incredibly cynical and yet so remarkably effective because anything that has that kind of branding is assumed at this point to be something appealing and attractive. 

 And just speaking of which, I think I started really noticing a kind of seat change where these sorts of things are concerned, maybe 10 or 15 years ago when it came to Al Sharpton, because a lot of people don't remember when Al Sharpton ran for president in, I believe it was, 2004, he kind of occupied the Jesse Jackson Lane. Obviously, the comparison of them all being African American candidates but it went beyond that, which was very ideological. They were running as left wing critics of the Democratic Party. Jesse Jackson was a very harsh critic of the Democratic Party and actually had a pretty successful 1988, I believe, primary run, where he won multiple primaries, multiple states with this message that the Democratic Party was abandoning its working class roots and was becoming the party of corporations. And Al Sharpton kind of took up that mantle and in 2004 was attacking John Kerry and John Edwards and that kind of wing of the Democratic Party, saying that they're too much in bed with corporations and lobbyists and the likel. And then, suddenly, I started noticing that a lot of times Al Sharpton would start to appear and give his support for exactly the kind of corporatist bills and other legislative initiatives that he would typically have denounced for years from the left. And there was clearly a flow of money going from a lot of these corporations into his activist groups. What has your journalism revealed about Al Sharpton in the kind of – to me, he seems like a pioneer in this circle and he has often talked about this and many times before saying why should we as influential black people, also get the same kind of lobbyist funding that influential white lobbyists get as well? What is that kind of signal to you? 

 

Lee Fang: Well, I mean, he kind of represents this kind of schism in the Democratic Party that – from the New Deal through the Great Society, – you have this kind of very materialist, grounded focus of the Democratic Party that advance civil rights, at the same time advancing universal economic policy, increasing the social safety net of cracking down on corporate power, making sure workers have a seat at the table. And there was kind of a break in the sixties where you had this movement towards neoliberal identity politics. A lot of activist entrepreneurs embraced this rhetoric and ideology of black capitalism that Sharpton now represents. And, you know, he's […] 

 

G. Greenwald:  That very much to his benefit, for sure, from like an MSNBC contrast to all sorts of other ways. 

 

Lee Fang: I mean, even that MSNBC contract is fascinating. When MSNBC was purchased by Comcast, there was an incredible lobbying effort because the DOJ and other regulatory authorities were looking at this from an antitrust perspective. This is a major, you know, concentration of economic power. And Al Sharpton led the effort to lobby legislators saying, “Look, Comcast and MSNBC are devoted to diversity and inclusion. And look, they're going to set aside for nonwhite, black or Asian or whatever content on their cable shows”. And it certainly worked. It was approved. 

 

G. Greenwald:  I think that is really amazing. I mean, the idea that Al Sharpton, the Al Sharpton of the eighties, nineties and the early aughts would go to bat for a major corporation like Comcast and lobby the Justice Department against enforcing antitrust laws by, you know – wasn't really called woke ideology then – but by appealing to those kinds of social justice symbols is amazing in and of itself. I guess it should be a gigantic red flag. But that was a case where he really got paid by Comcast when he was hired for what was a very poorly reviewed show, he was terrible on camera, he could barely read a teleprompter. Nobody watched that program. The contract was multi-millions of dollars. And they finally got rid of him on prime time and they put him on the weekend where he's still getting paid. You know, it's such an overt quid pro quo, but it was done with Al Sharpton, you know, invoking these kinds of left wing causes for what was clearly a corporatist agenda. 

 

Lee Fang: Go on YouTube and the National Action Network Sharpton's organization has an annual conference and watch their proceedings. It's every bigwig of the Democratic Party people, teachers, Obama, Hillary, what have you going and, you know, singing his praises and talking at the conference. And then, each event is interspersed with corporate lobbyists coming up and thanking the National Action Network for what they're doing and pledging their money to his group. And what you don't see during the conference is how the National Action Network and Al Sharpton then go and mobilize civil rights groups. And, you know, he has his own network for their regulatory tax and other corporate issues on Capitol Hill. I mean, last year, Al Sharpton was calling legislators, asking them to drop the provision of the Biden legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, that had to do with the carried interest loophole that would have attacked hedge fund managers and private equity bosses to make sure that they paid a fair rate in taxes. Right now, they can pay capital gains less than their own secretaries and janitors. What he's not done in the last year is he's paid by Reynolds America, the big tobacco company. And he's now working with George Floyd's family and then bringing them to press conferences, saying that the FDA's effort to crack down on menthol cigarettes is racist. This is what he does. I mean, this is this is just I mean, this. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Is Al Sharpton. And he shows up to say that whatever legislation you're against or whatever America is and you want to burn off is itself racist. And it's  a business. It's a racket. 

 

Lee Fang: It's a business that D.C. operates around. And, you know, in particular, it works. And there are different ways to influence Republican conservative audiences based on their values, on corporations. The same corporation will fund Al Sharpton and a number of LGBT causes. And meanwhile, to influence Republicans, they'll fund. 

 

G. Greenwald:  What, Newt Gingrich? 

 

Lee Fang:  Newt Gingrich and, you know, more jingoistic kind of religious organizations that have appeal and cachet with Republican audiences. It's a dual strategy that, again, exploits the polarization in America. But if you live in, you know, it's particularly effective for the media and for universities where these ideas are dominant and in states that have a lot of power – where I'm based in California and states like New York, it's essentially a one party state. In California, there's a super majority of Democrats in the legislature, a Democratic governor. You know, Biden wins by a huge majority there. But it's a state that's still incredibly unequal. It's a state where corporations win most of the major policy battles. And again, it's using the same kind of strategy that Sharpton – I don't know if he pioneered – but he's certainly very effective at taking social justice rhetoric and deploying it to basically manipulate voters into agreeing with the corporate bottom line. We've seen this with Prop 22, Prop 15, with efforts to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals. They pay off lots of different identity groups, and they accuse their opponents of being bigoted and they eventually manipulate voters into agreeing with them because we have this kind of proposition system to change the state constitution every two years. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Yeah, you could get anything done in Democratic Party or basketball circles, as your colleague Ryan Grim has done a great job of reporting as well, that within these progressive organizations, they basically implode on each other because of this, without accusing the people you're trying to feed in some way of supporting bigotry or white supremacy. So even when it comes to just like the most financially oriented corporatist policies that are designed to protect the wealthy, somehow they end up having, you know, sort of like the Al Sharpton's of that state, people who purport to be professionals, activists on behalf of some ethnic group or racial group going to bat for these corporations, claiming that whatever legislative or regulatory proposal is pending to restrict their power is in some way racist or white supremacists. It's amazing to watch. 

 

Lee Fang: I want to share one quick anecdote, because this is maybe personal to you. We talk a little bit about the captains of industry, Big Tech and banking, whatnot. But this is just how legislation is done in California. I went to Sacramento a few years ago and there was an effort to regulate minks, mink farming, you know, fur coats. And, you know, the mink farming industry is incredibly cruel. These are territorial animals. So, when you put them in crates right next to each other and they can kind of sense each other nearby, they go insane. They start chewing off their own paws. So, when the California legislature sought to regulate this industry, the fur coat industry paid off and we got the text messages, they were offering $100 gift certificates or cash or whatever to a number of students to take a bus to Sacramento and were told to testify against this legislation. They did not say they were with the fur industry, that they're paid by the fur industry. They brought young African American men to say fur coats are part of our culture, and they show a level of socioeconomic status. And doing this and cracking down on fur coats is racist. And they brought in a Native American. And they say that fur coats are part of our indigenous culture and any effort to regulate this is racist against our people. Incredibly cynical stuff, but this just kind of shows how much it runs the gamut, whether you're a big bank or airline or, you know, Sam Bankman-Fried, a fur coat dealer in L.A. who paid off these young students to testify on your behalf. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Yeah, that's right. I mean, the Sam Bankman-Fried part of this, isn't that he invented it. It's just because of the scope of the fraud. It's just going to shed so much light on how it actually works. 

While I have you, just a couple of quick last questions. The last time you were on my show, as I said, you were here because we were talking about the work you did on the Twitter Files and the story you did about the media, the military, rather, deploying fake identities on Twitter, something that we hear only Iran and Russia and China and all the bad countries do. What is the status of your work on the torture files as a continuing? Do you have other stories coming out and what do you make of the way in which the media really, on day one, announce that this is a trivial story, that it was done corruptly and that most revelations that have emerged and that will continue to emerge have just been declared something that they intend to completely ignore. 

 

Lee Fang: I have not conducted any recent searches. I had a few days at Twitter HQ in December and one or two days after that, but I've done very little new searches. I've got a number of emails that I'm still working on. I'm going to produce more stories based on those documents, on the media's treatment of this reporting. The New York Times covered my story, the CENTCOM story that I appeared on your show to discuss.. But, you know, just generally, regarding the coverage of the story, I've been disappointed but not surprised. These revelations were incredible just to see the kind of daily and aggressive FBI influence on issues both weighty and mundane. The FBI was contacting them every other day, executives at Twitter, for The New York Times and other media outlets to ignore that, which I think is very strange and maybe reflects some type of professional jealousy or something else. It's hard to kind of divine their intentions. And, you know, Michael Sullenberger's revelations using the Twitter Files on how much Jim Baker and other Twitter executives were involved in the censorship of The New York Post… 

 

G. Greenwald:  Former FBI general counsel that went to Twitter as the deputy general counsel. 

 

Lee Fang: Yes. Thank you. And you know that that's very newsworthy, but not just given the role of the Hunter Biden laptop now and the new Congress being investigated, but just that the role of that, that whole story and unprecedented nature of the suppression of it in 2020, for the major media outlets to completely ignore this, except for Fox News and maybe a few other conservative outlets. You know, I find it ridiculous. And, you know, again, but not surprising. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Yeah, and a testament to my faith and trust in those institutions have collapsed across most demographic groups in the United States. And independent media really so clearly is the wave of the future. People just don't trust these outlets any longer. 

Last question, and it's kind of curious, like whenever there's a potential to really blow a big, gigantic hole in the way Washington works like this, Sam Bankman-fried investigation does. Again, not the part of how he stole money, but the part of how he used it for political influence implicates a lot of political figures, implicates a lot of political consultants. People who were just getting money in all sorts of various ways are incredibly powerful. House Financial Services Committee that Maxine Waters has chaired for seven years. I always kind of believe that they're going to find a way to shut it down. I mean, to this day it is. Is amazing, is it not, that the way in which the Jeffrey Epstein investigation was conducted, he never got to trial because he ended up dying beforehand. And then the way they did the Maxwell trial to make it as narrow as possible, the charges against her and what evidence was admissible. So, we saw none of the client list or the potential leverage they might have had is really striking. And there's been no journalistic revelations of this part either. I mean, Julie Brown at The Miami Herald has done great work, but the bulk of it has remained hidden. I feel like whenever you have a story like this that can really threaten the power centers in Washington, they will find a way to shut it down. What is your expectation about the potential for this investigation going forward to keep revealing things like this document today revealed? 

 

Lee Fang: Well, I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that more of the truth and more revelations come to light. But yeah, you're right that there's a lot of prosecutorial discretion. And the direction that the DOJ takes could provide incredible amounts of sunlight to what Sam Bankman-Fried was doing. Or they could take certain plea deals and take the investigation in another direction that kind of conceals what was going on. I don't know. I mean, there's been some boost in terms of just more media scrutiny. Of course, you know, the bankruptcy filings are also interesting. The fact that they're going through Chapter 11 and, you know, their companies being taken apart, that also provides a little bit more insight into what they were doing. We had a story recently looking at that and how they're paying off just endless think tanks and consultants and PR firms, a little bit like the indictment today revealed. But again, I don't know. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Yeah. Well, we'll most certainly keep following that. And I don't know how long you're going to be here, but we'll probably be hectoring you to come back on the show. We have a lot more to talk about with you, as always. Your work is, I think, important and always really interesting. So, I'm really thrilled that we were able to bring you here into the studio and spend the time talking to you. Thanks for being here. 

 

Lee Fang: It's awesome to be here in the studio. Looks great. Thanks for having me. 

 

G. Greenwald:  Absolutely.  

 

So that concludes our show for this evening, since we did go a little long for it tonight, as we said, we streamed the last part of this on Locals that will constitute our aftershow for tonight. 

We will be back Tuesday for our aftershow on Locals. Tuesday and Thursday are the days we do that. We will be back tomorrow night. We typically have Michael Tracey on to chat with. That's sort of a punching bag for me, which I think the audience likes. He likes to try and fight back as well, and I think people find that amusing too. So, we'll try and have him on for tomorrow night. 

Thank you very much for continuing to watch: the numbers of our audience continue to grow. Remember as well that we are now available on those podcasting platforms also and following us there helps increase the visibility. So, if you use Spotify or Apple, please follow the show System Update on there and we hope to see you back tomorrow night and every night. 7 p.m. EST, exclusively here on Rumble.

 

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Listen to this Article: Reflecting New U.S. Control of TikTok's Censorship, Our Report Criticizing Zelensky Was Deleted

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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10 - EPISODE 254

Elon Musk Goes to War with Brazil’s Censorship Regime. PLUS: 19 Republicans Defy Speaker Johnson to Kill Renewal of Domestic Spying Bill

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Endless War and US Security State: W/ Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Davidson

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Endless War and US Security State: W/ Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Davidson
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Good evening. It's Thursday, April 11. Tonight, we speak to two members of Congress about a variety of issues involving the war in Ukraine, the war in Israel, the U.S. Security State, warrantless domestic spying and much more. 

The first is the Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, who started back in 2022 supporting the idea of U.S. aid to Ukraine for its war with Russia but has since become one of the most vocal and stalwart opponents of sending more aid there. We'll talk about what motivated that change and his views of current U.S. foreign policy. 

Then we speak to Congressman Warren Davidson, the former Army Ranger who now represents Ohio's eighth congressional district, a job he has held ever since. His predecessor, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, retired in 2016, where we spoke extensively not only about the evils of U.S. foreign policy but also his view on the vote that took place in the House yesterday that we reported on last night, show that blocked renewal of the FISA spying law without any meaningful protections, warrant requirements or reforms. 

As I've been arguing for some time, one of the most significant and one of the most overlooked developments in U.S. politics, especially when it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties, is the radical realignment among left and right, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans when it comes to who supports the military-industrial complex in the United States and who does not, who supports the U.S. posture of endless war and who does not, who support vesting vast and unaccountable powers in the hands of the U.S. security state, and who does not. Both of our guests tonight are in many ways highly illustrative of this realignment. Senator Johnson, for instance, is not just an opponent now of the U.S. role in the war in Ukraine, but also a thoughtful critic of imperialistic American foreign policy over the last several decades, which he insists Washington needs to study much more to understand its foundational mistakes. Meanwhile, Congressman Davidson has become one of the most scathing opponents of what he calls the neocon consensus in Washington. In some ways, his foreign policy critique of American wars and militarism could almost be called “Chomskyesk” and, notably, it's almost impossible to hear similarly fundamental principled critiques of U.S. foreign policy, the military-industrial complex and the U.S. security state from any Democratic member of Congress, it is almost impossible to note that this critique is, I should say, is not always applied with complete consistency. 

I asked each of these lawmakers why their arguments against funding the war in Ukraine, that we cannot afford to fund more foreign wars, that it brings no benefits to American citizens, that it jeopardizes our standing in the world and does not apply equally to our current policy of financing and arming Israel's war in Gaza, which most Republicans and most Democrats support. In other words, even if one sides more and empathizes more with Israel over the Palestinians, why shouldn't Israel pay for its own wars instead of having Americans pay for them? Both gave thoughtful answers, even if not fully convincing, and I appreciate how willing they were to reconsider and think about in the interview, their stances on those questions and how they might align or not align with their broader principles. 

Both of these interviews, I believe, are highly illustrative of the realignment I described and why these clear changes in the DC consensus are starting to become ever more promising. We recorded both interviews last night after our live program, and we are delighted to share them with you. 

For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update, starting right now. 

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Elon Musk Goes to War with Brazil’s Censorship Regime. PLUS: 19 Republicans Defy Speaker Johnson to Kill Renewal of Domestic Spying Bill
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Good evening. It's Wednesday, April 10. 

Tonight: a virtual war has erupted between Elon Musk and X on one side, and virtually the entire Brazilian establishment and the Brazilian left with which they're united on the other. As we have been reporting for two years now, the censorship regime that has been imposed in Brazil—the world's fifth most populous country—all centralized in the hands of a single Supreme Court judge, is more extreme, more repressive, and more lawless than anywhere in the democratic world. And that's saying a lot given how much censorship has spread. That's just one indicator of how extreme the Brazilian censorship scheme is. 

This platform Rumble decided last year that they would rather block Brazilians from viewing its content, despite having built a large and growing Brazilian audience, rather than face massive fines and even criminal threats of prosecution for failure to comply with the avalanche of censorship orders they were receiving virtually daily. 

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That message is what people in Brazil now see when they try to access Rumble, a message saying Rumble is not available in the country because of censorship orders. Rumble announced that it would no longer serve as a weapon in the censorship regime and would block access for all Brazilians, at least for those who don't use VPNs, pending its judicial challenge of the censorship laws that it has now brought.

Last week, the independent journalist Michael Shellenberger, working with two separate Brazilian journalists, released the Brazilian part of the Twitter Files. It documented how internal Twitter lawyers in Brazil were growing increasingly alarmed at the politically motivated censorship orders from the court that they were being drowned with routinely, and they were worried about the consequences they might face from failure to comply. We interviewed Shellenberger last week about his reporting. He was in Brazil at the time, and he was interviewed by multiple media outlets in Brazil, usually in a very hostile manner, far more interested in attacking his character and methods than addressing the substance of his revelations. 

Elon Musk saw all of this—obviously, he pays attention to the Twitter Files—and responded to all of that over the weekend by launching a series of very vitriolic attacks on this one Supreme Court judge overseeing the censorship regime, calling him a tyrant and urging his impeachment. Musk also vowed that X would prefer to disobey unjust censorship orders and even leave Brazil than continue to be used as a weapon in service of this regime. The same decision that Rumble made concerning Brazil last year. That, in turn, provoked very aggressive threats from this judge. He declared Musk to be a target of a pending criminal investigation involving fake news and disinformation. He just inserted Musk into this pending criminal investigation as one of the targets of the criminal probe. He also ordered X employees in Brazil to be questioned by the federal police and explicitly threatened them in writing, with arrest and prosecution if X permitted any banned voices to return to the platform. All of this demonstrates the severity of the growing censorship regime, not only in Brazil but throughout the democratic world. Precisely because Brazil has been so extreme is why it's so relevant to Americans, because it's being used as a laboratory to see how far control over the Internet and online speech can go. Europe and the United States have embarked on their own online censorship regime. We have been reporting on that extensively to the point that it's now at the Supreme Court. What is being done in Brazil is a harbinger of what is coming to the West. We will report on everything that happened here and explore its quite significant implications. 

Then: Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has long been a vocal and steadfast opponent of the U.S. Security State, generally in its attempts to censor the Internet and spy on Americans in particular. Shortly before becoming a speaker, we interviewed him on this show, and he was very clear about his views on these questions. Yet since being elected Speaker, Mike Johnson has seemingly changed his views in quite radical ways on many key issues. He was a longtime opponent of providing more U.S. aid to the war in Ukraine, yet now is working to ensure that Joe Biden's $60 billion request for Ukraine is approved in the House, even if that means relying on Democrats and Democratic protection to do so. Earlier today, Speaker Johnson tried to bring to the floor a vote to renew the domestic spying powers of the NSA and the FBI and to do so without allowing even a single reform, safeguard, or warrant requirement. In other words, Speaker Johnson worked hard to give the Biden White House and the U.S. Security State what they were demanding for renewal of their domestic spying powers and spying on Americans, which was originally enacted during the Bush administration in the name of the War on Terror, and to renew it without any reforms or protections at all. But Mike Johnson had a serious surprise today: his own caucus delivered a major and quite unusual defeat to the House Speaker, with 19 members defecting and preventing the speaker from bringing the bill to the floor. It is likely that some domestic spying bill will eventually pass, though it's not guaranteed and we'll explain what happened today in Congress that dealt a serious blow to the efforts suddenly led by Speaker Johnson, to hand the FBI all these spying powers they want without a single reform. We also will have various members of Congress on over the next week or so to talk about the war in Ukraine, to talk about the FISA law and related issues as well. 

For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update, starting right now. 

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