Jill Stein Talked To Us About Michael Flynn, That RT Dinner, And The Recount Money
The 2016 election may be over, but last year’s Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein continues to be a unique player in American politics. While she may have received only one percent of last year’s popular vote, for Americans dissatisfied with both major parties, she offered a voice of opposition. To others on the left, she was seen as a spoiler, whose eagerness to challenge Democrats ultimately hurt progressive causes by indirectly helping conservatives. (While the last election was not as close as the infamous Ralph Nader situation, it’s clear that if she hadn’t run and even a fraction of her supporters voted Democrat, it would’ve most likely resulted in a Clinton win.)
Post-election, however, Stein remains an active force for the Green Party, emerging as an advocate for a full investigation into election hacking — as well as being investigated herself by the Senate Intelligence Committee for possible collusion, whether knowingly or not, with Russia in their 2016 election interference. She’s also been promoting a film, Flesh and Blood, starring her 2012 running mate Cheri Honkala, directed by Honkala’s son, actor and director Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 13 Sins).
The film is what brought Stein into a conversation with Rantt. It’s a drama that unfolds in a documentary style. Honkala, Webber, her other son Guillermo, and others in their lives all play themselves, as the film follows Webber’s return from prison to his home in Philadelphia.
Stein joined me and Rantt’s founders Ahmed Baba and Zak Ali for an hour-long interview on November 2, 2017 (interview was held before reports of the Senate’s investigation into her campaign), where she described the film and also took our questions on a range of other issues including:
The full podcast is below, along with a condensed transcript of key moments from the interview with italicized additions providing context and fact-checking.
SEAN DOUGLASS: Hello Dr. Stein. Could you tell us about the film Flesh and Blood?
STEIN: This film is a day in the life of my friend Cheri Honkala and her family and their community, which is a life of America which is rarely seen or heard from. But increasingly, this is a reality for masses of people across America. It’s the reality of poverty, of drug addiction, of incarceration, of communities from which wealth and hope and resources have been extracted until there’s almost nothing left. And what you see in the movie is Mark Webber returning from jail, and you don’t know why he’s gone, but he’s back after some years, and you see him reconnecting with his community. And you see how strong the bonds of community and especially family are. In spite of the despair — it’s really a documentary of despair — there is a sense of transcendence and triumph and examples of how they live to lift each other up. And in the process, we get lifted up watching it. That was my experience watching this movie.
The narrative of Cheri Honkala comes through this. So you feel this struggle — it’s not only about survival, but it is about change.
SD: It really made me think about the backgrounds people carry with them when they go into politics. What motivates them through their own experiences, that they use to both empathize with their own communities and shape their worldviews. How would you say that has happened in your own life?
STEIN: You know, I describe myself as a mother on fire. That’s what I am and that’s how I got tricked, shall we say, into electoral politics. For me it was really the experience of being a mother and connecting with other mothers around the epidemics our kids are facing. That is, asthma, learning disabilities, cancer. That’s really where I got passionately activated to the point where I couldn’t stop myself. I grew up in the 60’s so I was very much a part of that anti-war, feminist, civil rights generation. And that was always in my blood. But once I had kids, and I began to see as a health professional the kinds of problems that were becoming commonplace and coming very close to my own family and community as well, I became an activist as the dominant element of my life. And after ten or fifteen years of that, when I saw how activism is hobbled by a political system that serves big money, I got tricked into running for office as part of that ongoing fight for everyday people, for our kids, for our families, the whole nine yards. Whether we’re talking about air pollution, or toxic pesticides in our food, or toxins in consumer products. That was the initial thing that activated me.
But you could look equally at our healthcare system, that leaves so many people without care and tens of thousands of people who die on an annual basis who don’t need to for lack of health insurance. I’ve worked in many of those movements, and regularly we were thwarted by the power of money. Many of those movements got together at that point and worked to pass campaign finance reform in my home state of Massachusetts — passed it overwhelmingly as a voter referendum. And then that got repealed by the legislature — a democratic legislature — which is what forced me outside establishment politics, seeing that we’re not going to fix what ails us within the current political system.
ZAK ALI: Is there anything you might’ve done differently in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, given the fact that your vote tally was higher than Trump’s margin of victory there? Or is there anything you might’ve done differently with your campaign?
Jill Stein is now officially the Ralph Nader of 2016. Stein votes/Trump margin: MI: 51,463/10,704 PA: 49,678/46,765 WI: 31,006/22,177
STEIN: Let me clarify what has been established by multiple polls, which is that Greens — you can’t just reassign their votes to Democrats. In fact, 60% of people who vote Green would stay home. They don’t want to vote for Democrats or Republicans. What I would do is shout louder and longer and emphasize even harder that we can avert — and I would say this going forward, into 2018 and 2020 — if you don’t like the outcome of the election, then fix this screwed up electoral system. Because what you’re saying, if you say that alternatives besides Democrats and Republicans are spoilers and they should get out of the way, you’re saying that we should have two state sanctioned parties and have all others taken off the map. And then we would be like any autocratic government out there that has only state sanctioned parties.
We need to have a voting system where we can lead with our beliefs. It’s as simple as ranked-choice voting. Silencing alternatives is only going to get you to tyranny and dictatorship. Democracy needs opposition voices. That is the heart of a democracy. And those who try to squelch opposition voices are doing the opposite of supporting democracy.
We’ve given this quite a bit of thought. If you have ranked-choice voting, what happens is that it then comes down to two people, and the first one to a majority wins. That’s how ranked-choice voting works. You rank your choices, and if your first choice loses, your vote is reassigned to your second choice. That process is repeated until one person attains a majority. So it’s a way to produce a majority support for a winner, instead of having candidates who win because they have the biggest fractions. Well, you know what, the biggest fraction is then a product of how many candidates who happen to run that appeal to a similar constituency. So if you have a lot of people running with a similar value set, then that vote would get split under our current system, but if you have ranked-choice voting that wouldn’t happen. It’s used in many cities around the country and many countries around the world, and it works very well…
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AHMED BABA: I’m aware that you attended a debate that was hosted by RT, which is a known disseminator of Kremlin propaganda and of course part of what the intelligence community has determined was an effort to influence our democracy. If you were to go back, would you have accepted that invite to that debate? Or would you have not attended, given what we know now about their interference?
STEIN: Let me just say that the investigation is going forward, and it’s very important that it does. We do need to get to the bottom of what was done. And I do want to see what in fact RT has done, because I know that the intelligence community’s report, in many ways, repeated what was in the Trump dossier, the Christopher Steele dossier, much of which has not been proven to be true.
Fact-check: The Office of The Director of National Intelligence’s report “Statement on Declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections” was not based on the Steele dossier. It focused on the methods Russia utilized to interfere in the 2016 election. Also, the FBI investigation began before the Steele dossier was completed. Much of the Steele dossier has been proven to be true, but Stein may have just been contesting the parts that suggested Russia used her in some way to undermine the election, potentially without her knowledge. Something the Senate Intelligence Committee clearly believes is worth investigating.
And part of both documents, if I recall correctly, vilified RT for hosting a debate, for criticizing fracking, for covering news like the occupy demonstrations. And those things, to my mind, are good things. Those aren’t reasons to silence alternative media sources. And I don’t want to defend RT, but I do want to see evidence of what they have done before I would decide whether or not I would appear. Because many of the accusations that have been hurled at them are nothing but McCarthyism. Particularly when U.S. media will not cover opposition candidates, will not cover Occupy, will not cover the realities of fracking, etc., or they do very late in the game. RT is a very mixed bag. Some of what they do sounds like it’s straight out of the Kremlin. But they also host a number of American shows…They support a number of critics of the political establishment who would not otherwise be heard.
Context: RT (formerly Russia Today) is a state-run network owned by the Russian Government and represents Russian interests. Since our interview with Jill Stein, RT has been forced to register as a foreign agent in the U.S.
AB: One of the reasons they do tend support certain initiatives is…they are state-run. Russia’s interests aren’t always aligned with ours, for instance the Magnitsky Act and things within the sanctions…you attended the RT anniversary dinner…I wanted to ask you about that.
STEIN: At the RT dinner, there was no translator, so there was no inside view. I spoke to the German diplomat next to me who spoke English, but that was really the only person I was able to talk to.
AB: What about Michael Flynn?
STEIN: Well, he was across the table, and it was a very noisy room. So there was no cross-conversation going on — you were basically talking to the people next to you. Michael Flynn did introduce himself to me at the very start of the dinner, and my message to that conference was that we need a peace offensive in the Middle East and that Russia and the U.S. need to stop bombing Syria forthwith. I gave Michael Flynn my elevator speech, he was not interested, and within about thirty seconds our conversation ended.
You know, my experience at the RT conference is all on video, which I believe is still posted, and I think you might find it very interesting. There was real discussion at this day-long conference about the role of media and politics, and also international relations. The title of the panel I was in, along with a German diplomat, a former mayor of London, and a former leader of the Czech Republic — I believe he was a vice premiere at one point and a head of foreign affairs — it was a really interesting discussion about the role of media, and the title of this panel was “Frenemies,” are we friends or are we enemies, and how is that mediated by the media. It was a very real discussion that was actually quite interesting, and it was attended by media from all around the world, including China, Canada, the EU, India. It was a real international forum. My purpose for being there was to challenge U.S. foreign policy as well as the Russian foreign policy in the Middle East. So some of what happens on RT is good.
I was one of about twelve peace advocates from the U.S. who were there. I was the only one seated at the head table as a head of a political movement in the U.S. But it was diplomats from around the world and then a bunch of Russians who never got introduced to anybody. So when Putin walked in — and he was only there for, I don’t know, ten or fifteen minutes before he gave his speech in Russia n— he walked in with a bunch of people that I assumed were his bodyguards. Nobody was introduced to anybody. Nobody shook hands except Putin when he ran around the table at light speed and shook everybody’s hand without exchanging a word. But I assumed these were his bodyguards and it turns out, no, they were his heads of communications, various major people in his organization. But there was no way to know that…So that’s how much value there was in the dinner, but the conference itself was interesting, and it was a chance for me to dialogue with people from around the world about a different kind of U.S. foreign policy, which was essentially my message throughout the campaign…
ZA: How was the recount money you raised disseminated for the effort?
STEIN: So that money — first of all I’ll say that money is all under FEC surveillance and has to follow FEC rules. It all came in through Federal Election Commission accounts. So the use of that money, and the continuing account, is all publicly disclosed. So anybody who has tried to create these conspiracy theories around it is clueless about how this accounting actually works. The expenditures are also fully disclosed on our website. So to repeat what has been public information since the get-go, those monies have been spent strictly on the recount, which is outrageously expensive. Not only the lawsuits but also the filing fees. In order to even have a recount, there were huge filing fees in the millions of dollars. And there is continued — I wouldn’t call it a surplus because it’s still being used — there are continuing legal cases that are still fighting to examine the voting machines.
In all of the hacking, and the concerns about hacking, there is a big misconception out there. The authorities are always saying, “Oh, but there’s no evidence that the vote was hacked.” Well there’s no evidence because no one has ever examined the voting machines. The voting machines have never been examined. And we owe the American public a reckoning. We know that everything around the vote has been hacked, and that’s been documented. Whether it is the computers of local election officials, whether it is the voter registration system, whether it is private companies that provide various voting software, there is evidence of hacking. Where we have looked for it we have found it. We have specifically not looked at the voting machines, which is an outrage against the American voters. We are still in court to get our hands on that data and find out. So that money is being carefully guarded so we can take these court cases as far as we can go, including to the Supreme Court if we have the option to do that. That is where the money is and that is where the money remains.
AB: I agree that there hasn’t been enough forensics done on these machines, and it’s been a complete oversight. Wouldn’t you say that, given what we know about the other hacking that occurred, that Russia would be the prime culprit behind said hacking? Or whom would you think would be the perpetrator?
STEIN: Let me say there’s data out there about the amount of hacking going on. The state of Utah, for example, reports that there are millions of hacking attempts every day on their state website. Millions. So there’s a whole lot of hacking going on. And we know that there are many parties involved in hacking. For example, in the recent malware, the WannaCry hacking episodes which got into energy systems, that got into at least one nuclear power plant in the United States, got into healthcare systems, into shipping systems — where did that software come from? That software was actually traced back to — was it the CIA or the NSA? I think it was the NSA — it was U.S.-based hacking software that ultimately emanated from.
I think there are two problems here, and we shouldn’t conflate them. They both need to be addressed. We need to make our voting systems secure, and it’s not rocket science. We need paper ballots which cannot be hacked. We need automatic audits, hand counted audits. And we need cyber-security best practices. That’s simple. We can do that. We need secure voting systems. And then, we need to address the epidemic of international hacking. The president of Microsoft recently suggested that we need a Geneva Convention to establish new international rules on how to prevent hacking and establish cybersecurity. Because right now we live in a universe of hacking that’s going on on the part of all parties.
I don’t want to say Russia didn’t do it, by any means. But we don’t know yet who did what and how many parties there are. We want to see the evidence for that, and that should go forward. And if we can examine the voting machines that would be extremely helpful.
ZA: Has special counselor Mueller’s office reached out to you at all to see what you have learned in the effort to study election hacking?
STEIN: Our expert witness has testified, and he is the guy who informs us, actually, about this stuff and who is really leading the charge to tighten up our voting cybersecurity. And he has testified before Congress, and he was very well-received. What’s really funny is that people are now agreeing with everything that we were saying as part of the recount, even though during the recount they were all up in arms about what a heretical thing to say, how dare you challenge. But everything that’s happened since has totally vindicated that we have expressed a real emergency need to tighten up our voting systems and to secure them so we can have a voting system we can trust. We don’t have that now. Our intent was not to upset or overturn the election. Our intent was to create a verifiable process. If you cannot verify the vote, you’ve basically given a blank check to any fraudster or gangster out there to do whatever they will with impunity.