— I just co-authored this investigative piece with The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay
Since late last year, I’ve been researching an online PR campaign seemingly intended to manipulate Google’s search results in order to obscure unflattering news articles about Donald Trump’s Russian business ties.
Yesterday, the story was published in The Daily Beast.
Via “Inside the Online Campaign to Whitewash the History of Donald Trump’s Russian Business Associates” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, July 5, 2018:
A mystery client has been paying bloggers in India and Indonesia to write articles distancing President Donald Trump from the legal travails of a mob-linked former business associate.
Spokespeople for online reputation management companies in the two countries confirmed that they had been paid to write articles attempting to whitewash Trump’s ties to Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who, with former Russian trade minister Tevfik Arif, collaborated with the Trump Organization on numerous real estate deals from New York to the former Soviet Union.
The campaign appears designed to influence Google search results pertaining to Trump’s relationship with Sater, Arif, and the Bayrock Group, a New York real estate firm that collaborated with Trump on a series of real estate deals, and recruited Russian investors for potential Trump deals in Moscow.
Sater—who once had an office at New York’s Trump Tower, Trump Organization business cards, and claims to have worked as a senior adviser to Trump—has recently emerged as a key figure in the federal investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The Daily Beast previously reported that a Pakistani blogger had been paid to write an article for the Huffington Post’s now-defunct contributor platform hailing the dismissal of [a civil tax fraud lawsuit against Sater]. That blogger, who went by the handle Waqas KH, said his client, whom he declined to name, had provided the text of the piece in full.
HuffPost is a prominent U.S. news source, but on more obscure platforms, used explicitly for search-engine optimization, over 50 other stories have popped up hyping the lawsuit’s dismissal and attempting to insulate Trump from controversy involving Sater and Bayrock. The articles were published over an eight-month period, from September 2017 through June 2018.
“Certainly now that Trump is President of the United States, there is not likely to be any further implications for him in this case,” declared a November article at a since-deleted website billing itself as a forum for a “business development specialist.” The article was written by Abhishek Chatterjee, who owns an Indian SEO business that offers to place articles on a network of 900 websites for $20 apiece.
Click here to read the full article.
The story was subsequently covered by The Washington Post, Politico, ABC News, and others.
Via “The Daily 202: 10 stories illuminate the Trump doctrine on foreign policy” by James Hohmann, The Washington Post, July 5, 2018:
Via “POLITICO Playbook Power Briefing: Trade wars escalate as duties on some Chinese goods take effect at midnight” by Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer, Daniel Lippman, and Akela Lacy, Politico, July 6, 2018:
Via “The Note: For Trump, a week of big moves could have big blowback” by Rick Klein and Maryalice Parks, ABC News, July 6, 2018: