Ted Cruz’s Secret Weapon to Win the Right

On the trail with Rafael Cruz—dad, preacher, and Ted’s ambassador to the true believers of the Right.

This illustration can only be used with the Andy Kroll feature that originally ran in the 6/27/2015 issue of National Journal magazine.
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Andy Kroll
June 26, 2015, 1:01 a.m.

You really have to hand it to these pro­gress­ives,” the speak­er is say­ing. He’s stalk­ing the front of the chapel, pa­cing left to right, hands lift­ing and sli­cing and jab­bing at the air. “They come up with the greatest terms.” He tosses out an ex­ample: “so­cial justice.” “It sounds so good. Who would want so­cial injustice?” But what does this term, so­cial justice, mean? he asks. Where does it come from? “I’ll tell you where it comes from,” he says. “It comes dir­ectly out of Karl Marx.”

“That’s right,” comes the reply from the pews as the speak­er’s voice gains new ur­gency. So­cial justice, he ex­plains, is a scheme to di­vide so­ci­ety in­to tiny fac­tions and turn them in­to vic­tims. It makes those fac­tions de­pend­ent on gov­ern­ment handouts. It re­moves God from every­day life.

“Now, let’s try to un­der­stand this a little bit,” he con­tin­ues. “If you don’t be­lieve in God, you can’t rely upon God.”

That’s right.

“If so­cial justice des­troys in­di­vidu­al re­spons­ib­il­ity, there is no self-re­li­ance.”


“So if these people can’t rely upon God, and there is no self-re­li­ance, the only thing left”—he waits a beat—”is to rely upon almighty gov­ern­ment.”

Yessir! Amen!

It’s a warm even­ing on the first Tues­day of June, and the pews at the Grace Baptist Church in Mari­on, Iowa, are nearly filled with well over 100 people. They wear red “TED CRUZ” stick­ers, and they’ve jot­ted their names and emails on the “Cruz for Pres­id­ent” sign-up sheet in the lobby. But it’s not the Texas-sen­at­or-turned-pres­id­en­tial-can­did­ate who is in town to­night. It’s his fath­er.

Ra­fael Cruz, pho­to­graphed in the home of Tom and Judy Hughes, who hos­ted Cruz in Hou­s­ton after an event in Novem­ber 2013. (Photo by Eliza­beth Lav­in) Ra­fael Cruz—76 years old, ruddy faced, putty nosed, mostly bald—wears a blue pin­stripe suit, starched white shirt, yel­low-and-blue pat­terned tie, and black wing tips. He speaks with a heavy Cuban ac­cent—his Js curl­ing in­to Ys, these shortened in­to dees, re­li­gious stretched in­to ree-lih-joos. He has no notes, no tele­prompt­er. He grips a small click­er in his left hand that con­trols a Power­Point present­a­tion pro­jec­ted on the wall be­hind him. The title is “Re­claim­ing Amer­ica: Why Pas­tors (and Chris­ti­ans in gen­er­al) need to be in­volved in the polit­ic­al arena.”

Amer­ica was foun­ded on a set of Judeo-Chris­ti­an val­ues, Ra­fael tells his audi­ence, and today those val­ues are un­der siege. For this, he lays the blame at the feet of the very people in this room. Pas­tors and people of faith have been si­lent for far too long, he says. They stood idly by when the Su­preme Court in the 1960s banned school-sanc­tioned pray­er and re­quired Bible read­ings from pub­lic schools, and “as a res­ult,” rates of teen­age preg­nancy and vi­ol­ent crime “skyrock­eted.” The church did noth­ing after the high Court’s de­cision in Roe v. Wade. And Chris­ti­ans sat on their hands as the Court paved the way to na­tion­al gay mar­riage. “Pas­tor Di­et­rich Bon­hoef­fer in Nazi Ger­many said, ‘Si­lence in the face of evil is evil it­self,‘“Š” Cruz says. “The ques­tion is: How long are we go­ing to re­main si­lent?”

(RE­LATED: In­side the Secret Meet­ing Where Ted Cruz Trounced His Rivals)

He ex­horts the crowd to stop mak­ing ex­cuses—sep­ar­a­tion of church and state (which he calls “a lie”), the pos­sib­il­ity of the IRS re­vok­ing a church’s tax-ex­empt status (“an empty threat”)—and to start elect­ing people of faith and prin­ciple to pub­lic of­fice. Everything they need to know is right there in the Bible, he says, down to how to vet a can­did­ate, wheth­er for city coun­cil or the U.S. pres­id­ency. (He quotes Ex­odus 18:21: Can­did­ates must be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hat­ing cov­et­ous­ness.”) His voice cres­cendos, list­ing off those pas­tors who fought in the Amer­ic­an Re­volu­tion, and he asks, “Where are those pas­tors today?” The an­swer: “Hid­ing be­hind their pul­pit.”

“It is about time,” he thun­ders, “that we be­come bib­lic­ally cor­rect in­stead of polit­ic­ally cor­rect.”

Cruz’s speech lasts for close to an hour. At the end, he asks the audi­ence to join him in a cov­en­ant, an agree­ment to one an­oth­er. They re­peat after Cruz, who mashes up the fi­nal words of the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence (“We mu­tu­ally pledge to each oth­er our Lives, our For­tunes, and our sac­red Hon­or”) with a vow to “make Amer­ica again that shin­ing city on a hill.”

(RE­LATED: Ted Cruz Rips Fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans for ‘Run­ning’ from Re­li­gious Free­dom Fights)

He nev­er once men­tions his son. But the man who fol­lows him, a loc­al pas­tor named Dar­ran Whit­ing, an­nounces that he is en­dors­ing Ted Cruz for pres­id­ent and that every­one else should join him. Be­fore re­pair­ing to the church gym for cook­ies and cof­fee and pho­tos with Ra­fael, the audi­ence joins Whit­ing in an a cap­pella ver­sion of “God Bless Amer­ica.”

THERE IS NO ONE in Amer­ic­an polit­ics today quite like Ra­fael Cruz. He is, as you might ex­pect of any politi­cian’s fath­er, a con­fid­ant to his son; Glenn Beck, a friend of the fam­ily who meets and prays with Ra­fael every few months, de­scribes him as Ted’s “back­bone, his strength.” But in a rare role for a fath­er, he is also Ted’s most prom­in­ent and tire­less sur­rog­ate on the cam­paign trail.

Ra­fael has spent re­cent months trav­el­ing around Iowa and South Car­o­lina and Ohio and Flor­ida at a gruel­ing pace—on the road five or six days a week, three or four events per day. On his re­cent swing through Iowa, he told me he vis­ited 18 cit­ies in five and a half days. Dur­ing his travels, he speaks to some of the most hard-line mem­bers of the Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate—ef­fect­ively serving as an even more con­ser­vat­ive spokes­man for the most con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate in the race.

His audi­ences range from a dozen people at a Pizza Ranch in Dubuque to a hun­dred or more at a tea-party meet­ing in South Flor­ida. Large or small, these ap­pear­ances add up to something sig­ni­fic­ant for Ted’s cam­paign: They con­sti­tute ex­actly the type of hand-to-hand politick­ing among the GOP’s most loy­al voters that is needed to win in places like Iowa. And Ra­fael knows how to ap­peal to this crowd. “All things be­ing equal, if Ra­fael Cruz is in the same room with oth­er cam­paign sur­rog­ates, among the tea party he wins every time,” says Drew Ry­un of the Madis­on Pro­ject, a con­ser­vat­ive group that gave Ted Cruz the first PAC en­dorse­ment of his 2012 Sen­ate run.

Ted Cruz with his fath­er Ra­fael and daugh­ter Car­oline dur­ing a 2012 vic­tory speech in Hou­s­ton. (AP Photo/Dav­id J. Phil­lip) 

Ra­fael es­sen­tially gives the same two speeches over and over again. In churches, it’s the “Re­claim­ing Amer­ica” present­a­tion on why people of faith need to ramp up their in­volve­ment in polit­ics. In non­re­li­gious set­tings, it’s a more dir­ect pitch for his son, a stem-winder that blends an­ec­dote, healthy doses of Amer­ic­an his­tory re­frac­ted through a right-wing lens, and some un­abashed sales­man­ship. (Pre-or­der Ted’s forth­com­ing book on Amazon right now, he told a crowd of Iow­ans, and get 32 per­cent off!)

The morn­ing after I see him at Grace Baptist, I hear the more polit­ic­al speech. His first stop of the day is the city-coun­cil cham­bers in Monti­cello (pop­u­la­tion 3,811). This ven­ue wasn’t ori­gin­ally on the sched­ule, but when the loc­al county GOP chair heard that Ra­fael Cruz would be passing through in early June, he asked if he would stop in town. Ra­fael hap­pily ob­liged.

(RE­LATED: Yes, Ted Cruz Raised $4 Mil­lion in 8 Days. No, He Can’t Spend All of It.)

He ar­rives at 8:30 a.m., chip­per and vig­or­ous, ac­com­pan­ied by his mind­er and driver for the week, the Cruz cam­paign’s Iowa dir­ect­or, Bry­an Eng­lish. Be­fore this audi­ence—con­sist­ing of a few dozen seni­or cit­izens and a loc­al news­pa­per pho­to­graph­er—he de­scribes his son’s pas­sion for the Con­sti­tu­tion as “a fire in his bones.” That fire, he in­sists, “is as alive today as it was 30 years ago.” Ra­fael tells the story of the time when then—Su­preme Court Chief Justice Wil­li­am Rehnquist in­ter­viewed Ted for a clerk­ship po­s­i­tion. What Rehnquist really wanted to know, Ra­fael says, was how Ted man­aged to get re­com­mend­a­tion let­ters from both Mi­chael Lut­tig, one of the most con­ser­vat­ive jur­ists in Amer­ica (for whom Ted clerked), and Alan Der­show­itz, the lib­er­al Har­vard Law School pro­fess­or (un­der whom Ted stud­ied). “I think that speaks to how Ted can uni­fy Amer­ica,” Ra­fael says.

For the most part, though, he speaks not of polit­ic­al unity but of ideo­lo­gic­al war­fare. A few hours after his ap­pear­ance in Monti­cello, he is in the base­ment of a farm-themed res­taur­ant in nearby Dyers­ville, be­fore a crowd of maybe a dozen geri­at­ric tea-parti­ers. At every stop, he takes ques­tions from the audi­ence; here, the Q-and-A opens with a man in the audi­ence yelling out, “Maybe you should run for vice pres­id­ent!” Later, an­oth­er audi­ence mem­ber asks, “How does Ted Cruz fit with the na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Party?” 

“This may not be the an­swer you want,” Ra­fael re­sponds, “but un­for­tu­nately, the na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Party has been back­ing the wrong kind of people for the last 40 years.” For too long, the party has thrown its weight be­hind “mushy mod­er­ates” who stand for noth­ing and can’t win elec­tions. He puts Ger­ald Ford, George H.”ŠW. Bush, John Mc­Cain, and Mitt Rom­ney in this cat­egory. “Every time they pick a mushy mod­er­ate, we lose,” he adds. “And they don’t want to learn the les­son.”

He says he doubts the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment will see the fool­ish­ness of its ways. “I be­lieve the RNC [Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee] this time again will go try to back a mushy mod­er­ate,” he pre­dicts. “That is a sure way for us to lose.” (Later, he will tell the audi­ence mem­ber one on one that “the RNC is part of the prob­lem.”) The solu­tion, he says to the crowd, is to rally the grass­roots and unite con­ser­vat­ives of all stripes be­hind a can­did­ate who will take the coun­try in a com­pletely “dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tion.” It’s what Ron­ald Re­agan did, and it’s what his son will do if he wins. “Now, if you’re rep­res­ent­ing the RNC, you prob­ably don’t like my an­swer,” Cruz says with a chuckle. “But if you’re rep­res­ent­ing the tea party, you prob­ably love it.”

It’s a vin­tage Ra­fael Cruz mo­ment, the type of line that plays in­cred­ibly well be­fore the red-meat crowd in the Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies but could be­come a li­ab­il­ity if Ted picks up mo­mentum and ap­pears to be with­in reach of the nom­in­a­tion. This is the same Ra­fael Cruz of the BuzzFeed list­icle “The 68 Most Con­tro­ver­sial Things Ted Cruz’s Dad Has Ever Said”; the same Ra­fael Cruz who com­pares Barack Obama to Fi­del Castro, who says the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion uses minor­it­ies “as pawns,” who says Hil­lary Clin­ton is an “Al­in­sky­ite,” who says gun con­trol is a ploy to “im­pose a dic­tat­or­ship upon us,” who says Planned Par­ent­hood was cre­ated “for pop­u­la­tion con­trol in the black neigh­bor­hoods,” who says cli­mate change is “ho­cus-po­cus,” and who says mar­riage equal­ity is part of a lar­ger “agenda to des­troy Amer­ica.”

That’s one Ra­fael Cruz. There’s also the Ra­fael Cruz that his son, Ted, de­scribes: the polit­ic­al refugee who be­came a clas­sic story of im­mig­rant suc­cess, who “came here seek­ing free­dom” and went on to “achieve the Amer­ic­an dream,” as Ted put it in 2013; or the per­son who, mid­way through life, found Je­sus, thereby trans­form­ing him­self in­to a more loy­al, more re­spons­ible, more fam­ily-ori­ented man. “Were it not for the trans­form­at­ive love of Je­sus Christ,” Ted Cruz said in his pres­id­en­tial an­nounce­ment speech at Liberty Uni­versity in March, “I would have been raised by a single mom without my fath­er in the house­hold.”

It’s easy to view Ra­fael, in short, as a set of ex­treme clichés about con­ser­vat­ism or the im­mig­rant ex­per­i­ence or evan­gel­ic­al Chris­tian­ity. As I learned about him, though, I began to real­ize that his story was far more com­plic­ated than you would know from just listen­ing to what he and Ted say on the stump. It’s full of suc­cess and fail­ure, booms and busts, love and death and re­gret. It’s a messy, wind­ing, em­in­ently hu­man story—one that, de­pend­ing on your point of view, either makes Ra­fael a hy­po­crit­ic­al sur­rog­ate for Ted or an au­then­t­ic, com­pel­ling, re­lat­able one.

On my last even­ing in Iowa, I watch Ra­fael speak to a crowd of 80 at a Chris­ti­an church in Wa­ter­loo. The church’s in­teri­or has rock-con­cert-style speak­ers hanging from the ceil­ing and a wall of mul­ti­colored stage lights. After an in­tro­duc­tion by a loc­al act­iv­ist hell-bent on plug­ging his new doc­u­ment­ary about the IRS, Cruz rises, click­er in hand, to give the same speech from the night be­fore: Karl Marx, Di­et­rich Bon­hoef­fer, Ex­odus 18:21, and so on.

Af­ter­ward, Ra­fael and Eng­lish, his cam­paign chap­er­one, hang around for ques­tions and pho­tos be­fore head­ing to­ward the exits. I catch up with them out­side. For three weeks, I’ve pestered Ted’s cam­paign to let me in­ter­view Ra­fael, and since ar­riv­ing in Iowa, I’ve re­peatedly asked him in per­son for a form­al in­ter­view as well. Now I ask again.

“You didn’t get enough ma­ter­i­al here?” he says cheer­fully.

I ask yet an­oth­er time, but Eng­lish brushes me off. Take it up with the cam­paign’s press sec­ret­ary, he says.

Ra­fael and I trade con­tact in­form­a­tion. He tells me to send him my story when it comes out. Then he puts a hand on my shoulder. “Just tell the truth, my friend,” he says, be­fore I trudge off to my rent­al car. “All you can do is tell the truth.”

On the trail, I nev­er saw Ra­fael talk about his first fam­ily—a story that com­plic­ates his life’s nar­rat­ive.

EVEN­TU­ALLY, Ra­fael did talk to me, and we ended up spend­ing a couple of hours on the phone, much of it filling in the de­tails of his dra­mat­ic life story. He was born and raised a block from the beach in Matan­zas, an hour east of Havana. His fath­er cut cane on a sug­ar plant­a­tion, worked at a fruit stand, ran a gro­cery store, and sold ap­pli­ances for RCA. (The year that tele­vi­sion first came to Cuba, Ra­fael says, his fath­er sold the most sets of any­one on the is­land.) 

He grew up fish­ing and go­ing to base­ball games, but not long after Gen­er­al Ful­gen­cio Batista seized con­trol of the Cuban gov­ern­ment in a coup, he joined the un­der­ground res­ist­ance as a teen­ager. The move­ment’s lead­er was a cha­ris­mat­ic law­yer hid­ing out in the moun­tains named Fi­del Castro. Ted Cruz once de­scribed his fath­er as “a guer­rilla, throw­ing Mo­lotov cock­tails and blow­ing up build­ings.” (Ra­fael says they only threw Mo­lotov cock­tails at build­ings that were empty or after hours.) Giv­en up to Batista’s forces by an in­form­ant, Ra­fael was beaten for three or four days, his teeth bashed in, blood and mud cov­er­ing each inch of his white suit. “By the grace of God,” he likes to say, the army re­leased him in the hopes he would lead them to oth­er mem­bers of the res­ist­ance. He had to flee the coun­try.

A straight-A stu­dent, Ra­fael ap­plied to three Amer­ic­an uni­versit­ies and chose the first one that ac­cep­ted him, the Uni­versity of Texas, Aus­tin. A law­yer friend fin­agled an exit per­mit to get him out of the coun­try, and with a stu­dent visa is­sued by the U.S. Con­su­late in Cuba in hand, he ar­rived in the States in the fall of 1957 with $100—$846 in today’s dol­lars—to his name and know­ing, de­pend­ing on the telling, either very little or no Eng­lish. He washed dishes and worked as a short-or­der cook at a Toddle House diner near cam­pus, eat­ing enough free food be­fore, dur­ing, and after his eight-hour shift to last the oth­er 16 hours. In or­der to learn Eng­lish, he spent his first month in Amer­ica—be­fore classes began—camped out every even­ing in a movie theat­er watch­ing films non­stop un­til clos­ing time. “I would sit at the movies try­ing to as­so­ci­ate words with ac­tions and words with the ob­jects,” he told me. “If some­body picked up a glass and called it ‘glass,’ I would say that thing you drink out of was called ‘glass.’ I learned Eng­lish like a baby.”

He had not, however, lost his re­volu­tion­ary zeal. As a stu­dent, Ra­fael railed against the Batista re­gime—and the U.S. gov­ern­ment that sup­por­ted it—and spoke out in fa­vor of Castro at Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. He and five oth­er Cuban stu­dents pro­tested Wash­ing­ton’s de­cision to grant asylum to mem­bers of the Batista gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing Castro’s takeover in Janu­ary 1959. The stu­dents marched through the heart of Aus­tin car­ry­ing a flag com­mem­or­at­ing Castro’s move­ment; Ra­fael wore a sign that read, “Batista’s gang have paved their way in­to the U.S. with Cuban bod­ies.” The stu­dents de­livered a let­ter to the Aus­tin Amer­ic­an vow­ing that grant­ing asylum to Batista’s men “will leave a per­en­ni­al stain upon the prin­ciples and ideals of the Amer­ic­an na­tion.”

Ra­fael’s story caught the at­ten­tion of a colum­nist for The Daily Tex­an, the cam­pus news­pa­per. The res­ult­ing piece re­coun­ted his cap­ture and tor­ture in Cuba, the death of a close friend by Batista’s men, and his jour­ney to Texas. The story de­scribes Cruz as “slightly built,” not­ing that he wore “glasses and has a scar un­der his right eye. He shows a bashed nose and half of his up­per den­ture is miss­ing.” Cruz spoke broken Eng­lish but “con­versed in an ar­tic­u­late, well-bred Span­ish.” Ra­fael, the colum­nist wrote, “ex­al­ted” Castro, fiercely dis­put­ing that the new lead­er was a com­mun­ist. “Castro is a man of edu­ca­tion,” he said. “He’s not am­bi­tious for power.”

Cruz re­turned to Cuba in the sum­mer of 1959 to vis­it his fam­ily. The trip changed everything he be­lieved about Castro. “That same man that had been talk­ing about hope and change,” he says in his stump speech, “was now talk­ing about how the rich were evil, about how they op­pressed the poor, and about the need to re­dis­trib­ute the wealth.” The Castro gov­ern­ment closed news­pa­pers and ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions, seized land and busi­nesses. Ra­fael’s moth­er, a sixth-grade teach­er, feigned in­san­ity, scream­ing and foam­ing at the mouth, to get out of her teach­ing job after the Castro re­gime ordered that all stu­dents be taught Marx­ism. Ra­fael left Cuba after three weeks and nev­er went back. He told me that he re­turned to the ven­ues in the United States where he’d praised Castro and apo­lo­gized. (His sis­ter, So­nia, who was later tor­tured for fight­ing the Castro re­gime, joined Ra­fael in Texas in 1962, fol­lowed by their par­ents in 1966 or 1967. Ted Cruz says So­nia is as fiery as his fath­er; he af­fec­tion­ately calls her “mi tia loca“—”my crazy aunt.”) 

Ra­fael gradu­ated from U.T.-Aus­tin with a bach­el­or’s in math in 1961. When his stu­dent visa ex­pired, he was gran­ted polit­ic­al asylum in the United States. He worked on soft­ware for the pet­ro­leum in­dustry at IBM and at a con­sult­ing firm. He took a job in New Or­leans, which is where he met Elean­or Dar­ragh, who grew up in a blue-col­lar, Ir­ish-Itali­an fam­ily in Delaware. The first in her fam­ily to go to col­lege, Elean­or stud­ied math at Rice Uni­versity and was one of a few wo­men in the bur­geon­ing field of com­puter pro­gram­ming. She and Ra­fael mar­ried in 1969. Ted Cruz once told a crowd that his moth­er re­fused to learn typ­ing, a com­mon pro­fes­sion for wo­men in that era, so that when male col­leagues asked her to type up notes for them, she could reply: “I would love to help you out, but I don’t know how to type. I guess you’re go­ing to have to use me as a com­puter pro­gram­mer in­stead.” The couple fol­lowed the oil in­dustry to en­ergy-rich Cal­gary, the Hou­s­ton of Canada. They star­ted their own soft­ware com­pany, R.”ŠB. Cruz and As­so­ci­ates, pro­cessing seis­mic data for small- and me­di­um-sized oil com­pan­ies so they could more quickly loc­ate new oil reser­voirs. 

Gil­lian Stew­ard, a one­time friend of the Cruzes in Cal­gary whose then-hus­band worked with Ra­fael and Elean­or, re­mem­bers the couple well. Re­served but easy to be around, Elean­or was the brains of the op­er­a­tion, while Ra­fael was the back­slap­ping sales­man who charmed pro­spect­ive cli­ents over lunch at Primo’s, the city’s lone Mex­ic­an joint. There wer­en’t a lot of Cubans in Cal­gary back then, Stew­ard says, but Ra­fael nev­er seemed ill at ease in his ad­op­ted home. (He even took Ca­na­dian cit­izen­ship.) “It didn’t seem to both­er him that he was an un­usu­al type,” she told me. In Decem­ber 1970, Elean­or gave birth to her son, Ra­fael Ed­ward, at the hos­pit­al across the street from their Span­ish-style flat.

Dur­ing this time, the Cruz fam­ily began to show signs of strain. Ra­fael drank too much and stayed out late, lead­ing to con­front­a­tions with Elean­or. “I caused a lot of prob­lems in my mar­riage be­cause of my drink­ing,” he told me. In 1974, Ra­fael walked out on Elean­or and Ted, sold most of his shares in his and his wife’s busi­ness, and flew to Hou­s­ton. As Ted said at his rol­lout speech at Liberty Uni­versity, his fath­er “de­cided he didn’t want to be mar­ried any­more, and he didn’t want to be a fath­er to his three-year-old son.” (I spoke briefly to Elean­or on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, but the Cruz cam­paign told her not to co­oper­ate for this story, des­pite her want­ing to be help­ful.)

Ini­tially, re­li­gion wasn’t much of a factor in the Cruz fam­ily’s life. But in Hou­s­ton, dur­ing the peri­od away from his fam­ily, a friend in the oil busi­ness took Ra­fael to a Baptist church. There, he told me, “I sur­rendered my­self to Christ.” Soon after, he re­united with his wife and son—an epis­ode that Ted casts as evid­ence of the hand of God in his life.

Ra­fael Cruz speaks dur­ing the Faith and Free­dom Co­ali­tion’s Road to Ma­jor­ity event in 2014. (AP Photo/Molly Ri­ley)

RA­FAEL CRUZ’S SECOND great awaken­ing took place some­time in the late 1970s—not a spir­itu­al re­birth but a polit­ic­al one. It’s a staple of his stump speech. “Some of you may re­mem­ber the Carter years,” he told a crowd in Monti­cello, Iowa. “Double-di­git un­em­ploy­ment, double-di­git in­fla­tion, double-di­git in­terest rates, lines around the block to get gas­ol­ine.” The Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion, he went on, began to “in­sti­tute policies that re­minded me of that bearded dic­tat­or I left back in Cuba.” (Iron­ic­ally, Elean­or Cruz had voted for Carter in 1976, a source of ten­sion between her and Ra­fael.)

The 1980 cam­paign, and Ron­ald Re­agan spe­cific­ally, left a deep im­print on the Cruz house­hold. The talk around the din­ner table fo­cused heav­ily on polit­ics, on why voters needed to toss out “this left­ist pro­gress­ive Jimmy Carter,” as Ra­fael puts it. He re­calls that Ted loved to sit with his par­ents and watch Re­agan speak on tele­vi­sion. Once, Ra­fael men­tioned a chance en­counter with a high school class­mate of Ted’s: “He said, ‘You know, it’s weird, when Ted was 15, 16, all he talked about was Ron­ald Re­agan.‘“Š”

Through a cli­ent of Ra­fael’s, Ted hooked up with the Free En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, an or­gan­iz­a­tion that in­tro­duced middle and high school stu­dents to the works of con­ser­vat­ive and liber­tari­an thinkers like Adam Smith, Lud­wig Von Mises, Milton Fried­man, and John Locke. With the help of Rolland Storey, a re­tired oil ex­ec­ut­ive who foun­ded the in­sti­tute, Ted and four oth­er star pu­pils formed a group called the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Cor­rob­or­at­ors—for which they mem­or­ized all 4,543 words of the Con­sti­tu­tion us­ing mne­mon­ic devices and traveled throughout Texas writ­ing it out from memory in front of Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and af­ter­ward giv­ing speeches ex­tolling the vir­tues of free mar­kets.

Ted, Ra­fael re­calls, got a sig­ni­fic­ant schol­ar­ship from Prin­ceton and picked up odd jobs as a cam­era­man and a stand­ard­ized-test tu­tor to pay his tu­ition. “We helped with whatever we could,” Ra­fael told me. “After a while, he ba­sic­ally said he’d just take care of it.” In­deed, as Ted’s star was rising throughout high school and col­lege, his par­ents’ life was com­ing apart. The suc­cess­ful seis­mic-data soft­ware com­pany Ra­fael and Elean­or had star­ted in the mid-1970s, Ex­plorer Seis­mic Ser­vices, went un­der a dec­ade later, after the price of oil plummeted. “We star­ted los­ing money, got totally cash poor, and in the end, we even lost our home,” Ra­fael says. Both he and Elean­or took com­mis­sion-based jobs selling in­sur­ance, soda ma­chines, and nu­tri­tion­al sup­ple­ments. “That’s how we sur­vived,” he re­calls. 

In May 1993, the couple sep­ar­ated, court re­cords show. Ra­fael filed for di­vorce after sev­er­al years. His di­vorce pe­ti­tion cites “dis­cord and con­flict of per­son­al­ity” without any chance of re­con­cili­ation as the reas­on for the di­vorce. The pe­ti­tion sug­gests that Ra­fael had little to his name at the time: a few thou­sand dol­lars in a bank ac­count and some fre­quent-fli­er miles but no prop­erty, no pen­sion, no car, no fur­niture.

In his stump speeches and present­a­tions, Ra­fael rarely, if ever, men­tions his di­vorce or this dif­fi­cult peri­od of his life. (Elean­or, who lives in the same apart­ment com­plex as Ted and Heidi Cruz, told me that she and Ra­fael “bur­ied the hatchet” and are now friends who get din­ner when Ra­fael is in Hou­s­ton.) In Iowa, in re­sponse to a wo­man’s ques­tion about Ted’s cit­izen­ship, I heard Ra­fael refer to Elean­or as “my wife.” After an­oth­er ap­pear­ance, when a pas­tor asked Ra­fael about his fam­ily, he ex­plained that he’d been di­vorced for 20 years. “I was trav­el­ing a lot out­side of the coun­try when Ted was in col­lege, com­ing and go­ing every few weeks,” he said. The travel des­troyed his mar­riage. The di­vorce, he told the pas­tor, “is one of those things I re­gret.”

IN A RE­CENT IN­TER­VIEW with the Chris­ti­an Broad­cast­ing Net­work, Ra­fael spoke of how he would stand over his young son, pro­claim­ing the word of God. He told him: “You know, Ted, you have been gif­ted above any man that I know. And God has destined you for great­ness.”

Hear­ing him speak today, Ra­fael re­tains the same un­flap­pable be­lief in his son’s tra­ject­ory. On the cam­paign trail, however, I nev­er saw him talk about his first fam­ily—a story that fur­ther com­plic­ates his life’s nar­rat­ive.

Pub­licly, he says little about his life dur­ing this time, nev­er men­tion­ing his first wife, Ju­lia Ann Gar­za, or the couple’s two daugh­ters, Miri­am and Rox­ana, born in 1961 and 1962, re­spect­ively. His first mar­riage was stormy, and he and Gar­za di­vorced after three years. “That was a very rough mar­riage,” he told me. “I was a sopho­more in col­lege, and I was very im­ma­ture.” (Gar­za, a col­lege pro­fess­or, died in 2013.) The couple’s two daugh­ters, Miri­am and Rox­ana, lived with their moth­er dur­ing the school year, but they spent some sum­mers with Ra­fael and Elean­or in Canada. Miri­am and Rox­ana were eight and nine years older than young Ted, but that didn’t stop Ra­fael and Elean­or from in­sist­ing that the girls drag Ted along with them when they went out to meet their friends. “When you have a 6-year-old with you, it lim­its the mis­chief you can get in­to,” Ted Cruz told me re­cently.

When pieced to­geth­er, in­ter­views, pub­lic re­cords, court fil­ings, and oth­er clues point to two very dif­fer­ent paths in life for Ra­fael’s first two chil­dren. Rox­ana, the young­est, was smart, an over­achiev­er. Blurbs in loc­al news­pa­pers noted that she had won a schol­ar­ship to join a sci­entif­ic tour of the Galapa­gos Is­lands run by the Uni­versity of Flor­ida and was va­le­dictori­an of her high school class. She stud­ied mi­cro­bi­o­logy in col­lege and trained in Mex­ico at the Uni­versity of Monter­rey’s med­ic­al school and at New York Med­ic­al Col­lege. A re­gistered Demo­crat, Rox­ana works as an in­tern­ist in the Dal­las area. She and her hus­band didn’t re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests. I vis­ited their home out­side Dal­las, but her hus­band said they wer­en’t talk­ing to re­port­ers and told me to leave. When I men­tioned Rox­ana’s Demo­crat­ic af­fil­i­ation to Ted Cruz, he replied curtly: “Her polit­ics and mine have al­ways been quite dif­fer­ent.” It was by far the shortest an­swer of our 20-minute con­ver­sa­tion.

By con­trast, Ra­fael’s eld­est daugh­ter, Miri­am, lived what Ted Cruz de­scribed to me as “a troubled jour­ney” and “a dif­fi­cult path.” In Septem­ber 1984, she mar­ried Larry Mayko­pet in Hou­s­ton, giv­ing birth to a son, Joseph Mayko­pet, four months later. The fam­ily later moved to Pennsylvania, but the mar­riage didn’t last. Miri­am filed for di­vorce in 1990. Court re­cords show that Larry spent time in a min­im­um-se­cur­ity pris­on in Illinois in the mid-1990s.

Miri­am her­self had re­peated run-ins with the law. She was ar­res­ted and charged with nu­mer­ous minor crimes, in­clud­ing re­tail theft, con­spir­acy to sell stolen goods, re­ceiv­ing stolen prop­erty, dis­orderly con­duct for fight­ing, pub­lic in­tox­ic­a­tion, and mak­ing a false re­port to law en­force­ment. She was rep­res­en­ted mostly by pub­lic de­fend­ers, and the courts filed mul­tiple judg­ments against her over a 10-year span for fail­ing to pay fines, costs, and resti­tu­tion res­ult­ing from her vari­ous charges. She struggled to pay rent, and the IRS served her with a fed­er­al tax li­en in March 2007 for al­most $11,000.

In May 2011, Miri­am died from an ac­ci­dent­al over­dose of pre­scrip­tion drugs, med­ic­a­tion pre­scribed to her for anxi­ety and severe back pain. At the time of her death, she was fa­cing tri­al for mul­tiple pending civil charges. “She struggled her whole life with al­co­hol and drug ad­dic­tion,” Ted told me. “She made a lot of poor de­cisions that made her life much, much more dif­fi­cult.”

Her son, Joe, who turned 30 in Janu­ary, told a re­port­er for Mc­Clatchy news­pa­pers that he had been “close” with his Uncle Ted grow­ing up and de­scribed their re­la­tion­ship as “a nor­mal uncle”Š/”Šneph­ew re­la­tion­ship.” He said, “My uncle has prob­ably been one of the big­ger male fig­ures in my life.” (I tried to reach Mayko­pet, but his phone num­ber was dis­con­nec­ted.) When I asked about Miri­am, Ra­fael re­layed the par­tic­u­lars of her troubled life but did little re­flect­ing. “That’s life,” was the most he would ven­ture. 

I came to be­lieve that there was something more to Ra­fael Cruz than his pro­voc­at­ive sound bites.

RA­FAEL CRUZ COULDN’T have chosen a more fit­ting com­ing-out mo­ment. It was April 15, 2009. At the time, he was a nobody in Texas polit­ics; Ted was only slightly bet­ter known, as the state’s former so­li­cit­or gen­er­al and a tal­en­ted law­yer who’d been giv­ing talks to young con­ser­vat­ives groups while mak­ing noises about get­ting in­to polit­ics. But through a grass­roots act­iv­ist named Ken Emanuel­son, Ra­fael scored an in­vit­a­tion to speak at the first ma­jor TEA Party rally—back when “TEA” stood for “Taxed Enough Already”—on the front steps of Dal­las City Hall. No one knew what to ex­pect, and Ra­fael was told to get up there and tell his life story. That would be enough. 

As it turned out, thou­sands of people showed up. And Ra­fael brought down the house with his story of es­cap­ing Cuba—he elided the fact that it was Batista, not Castro, he had ini­tially fled from—and be­com­ing a de­votee of Ron­ald Re­agan. “We can do it again,” he pro­claimed. “We are not go­ing to cower down and suc­cumb to so­cial­ism.” The crowd ate up every word.

In the com­ing years, Ra­fael’s stature among Texas con­ser­vat­ives grew as he be­came the go-to spokes­man for his son’s 2012 Sen­ate cam­paign against heav­ily favored Lt. Gov. Dav­id Dewhurst. Look­ing back, it al­most seems that the nearly sim­ul­tan­eous rise of Ted and Ra­fael in Texas con­ser­vat­ive circles was sym­bi­ot­ic. For Ted, hav­ing a dad who was a tea-party star proved quite con­veni­ent. After all, in a primary to be de­cided by the red­dest of Re­pub­lic­an voters in Texas, Ted—who claimed just 2 per­cent sup­port in early polls—did not ne­ces­sar­ily have an ideal bio­graphy. Two Ivy League de­grees, a Su­preme Court clerk­ship, a lead role in writ­ing a de­cidedly mod­er­ate im­mig­ra­tion plat­form for George W. Bush’s 2000 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, jobs in Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, a wife em­ployed by Gold­man Sachs: His bio screamed es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­an.

Ra­fael first stepped in to speak at an event in West Texas that his son couldn’t make, and he was a hit. “A few hours later,” Ted told Na­tion­al Re­view, “I called and asked how it went. He said, ‘Even sur­rog­ates for the oth­er can­did­ates were ask­ing for Cruz yard signs.‘“Š” Ra­fael went on to wear many hats—the hype man in­tro­du­cing his son at ral­lies, cam­paign ad­viser, body double of sorts. “Ra­fael has his own fol­low­ing,” says Steve Mu­n­is­teri, the former chair of the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Texas. “People will say, ‘We just want to come to see Ra­fael Cruz.‘“Š” With his fath­er’s help, Ted nar­rowly forced a run­off and went on to win the primary by 14 points. Kat­rina Pier­son, a prom­in­ent tea-party act­iv­ist and friend of Ra­fael’s who ran for Con­gress in 2014, says, “A lot of people will tell you Ra­fael’s the main reas­on they love Ted.”

Vo­lun­teers and staffers from Ted’s Sen­ate cam­paign de­scribe Ra­fael as a wise, old fath­erly fig­ure to them. “My mom was young when she had me, and I was raised by my grand­par­ents from early on, so he’s been my filler-in,” Pier­son says. “He has so much guid­ance be­cause of all the things he went through.”

As he stumped for his son statewide and con­tin­ued speak­ing after Ted’s win, the thumb­nail bio­graphy that fol­lowed Ra­fael from event to event offered few de­tails about his life out­side of polit­ics. He was the dir­ect­or of Puri­fy­ing Fire Min­is­tries, out of Car­roll­ton, Texas, north of Dal­las. He was a pro­fess­or of the Bible and theo­logy at either the Ad­vance Bible In­sti­tute or the Ad­vance In­sti­tute. And he was the pres­id­ent of a Span­ish-lan­guage Bible trans­la­tion com­pany named King­dom Trans­la­tion Ser­vices.  

Ra­fael’s true gift to his son might be the gen­er­al bon­homie he brings to the cam­paign trail.

Today, wherever he goes, Ra­fael is in­tro­duced as a pas­tor or a rev­er­end, either with Puri­fy­ing Fire Min­is­tries, an out­dated af­fil­i­ation, or with a more re­cently formed or­gan­iz­a­tion named Grace for Amer­ica. (Though he is nondenom­in­a­tion­al, he has been iden­ti­fied over the years with a move­ment known as Chris­ti­an Domin­ion­ism. In a 2012 ser­mon pos­ted on­line, Ra­fael preached that Chris­ti­ans are “anoin­ted” to “take domin­ion” of every as­pect of life on Earth—”so­ci­ety, edu­ca­tion, gov­ern­ment, and eco­nom­ics”—and to one day take con­trol of the gov­ern­ment and cre­ate a theo­cracy. He has also spoken about an end-time wealth trans­fer, in which God will re­dis­trib­ute the wealth of the world from non­be­liev­ers to be­liev­ers in the lead-up to Christ’s second com­ing.) I asked Ra­fael about some of his af­fil­i­ations. He told me that Puri­fy­ing Fire and Grace for Amer­ica are merely the names for his trav­el­ing preach­ing busi­ness, which is based out of his apart­ment. He was or­dained by Ral­ph Hol­land, a Chris­ti­an mis­sion­ary based in the Dal­las area; the pro­fess­or­ship, he told me, refers to a short stint teach­ing the Bible in Span­ish as part of a now-de­funct pro­gram run by Hol­land.

As for King­dom Trans­la­tion Ser­vices, it was es­tab­lished in early 2012, ac­cord­ing to county re­cords. Ra­fael told me he star­ted the com­pany to put an of­fi­cial name on the side busi­ness he’d con­duc­ted for more than two dec­ades, trans­lat­ing everything from re­li­gious doc­u­ments to leg­al con­tracts for vari­ous cli­ents. The web­site for Au­dio Bible, a Flor­ida-based com­pany, sells three of his Span­ish-lan­guage Bible re­cord­ings ran­ging from $32 to $63 in price. Ra­fael told me that today he uses King­dom Trans­la­tion Ser­vices for the “little bit” of trans­la­tion he still does for a few cli­ents.

Ra­fael does not ap­pear to have got­ten rich in his role as a preach­er, pro­fess­or, and trans­lat­or. In 2008, the IRS filed a fed­er­al tax li­en against him for more than $16,000 in de­lin­quent taxes. Ra­fael told me that he was in the middle of ne­go­ti­at­ing a pay­ment plan with the IRS when the li­en was filed and that Ted loaned him the money to pay off the li­en right away.

For the most part, Ra­fael told me, he lives on the cheap and gets by on his monthly So­cial Se­cur­ity check, with the oc­ca­sion­al hon­or­ari­um or speak­ing fee for his preach­ing gigs and the odd trans­lat­ing job. His son’s cam­paign pays his travel costs when he’s stump­ing for Ted. If he had his way, Ra­fael says, he’d be work­ing full-time for his son, an idea he once pitched to Ted. “I said, ‘I would love to work for you in the Sen­ate,‘“Š” Ra­fael re­calls. “He said, ‘Dad, I can­not hire you. There’s something called the anti-nepot­ism rule in the Sen­ate.’ He said, ‘I can’t hire a re­l­at­ive.‘“Š” How, then, did John Kennedy ap­point his broth­er, Bobby, to serve as at­tor­ney gen­er­al, Ra­fael wanted to know? “You know what Ted said? ‘That’s why we have the rule, Dad.‘“Š”

“YOU’RE A GLUT­TON for pun­ish­ment,” Ra­fael Cruz says after see­ing me in the audi­ence and walk­ing over to shake my hand. A few weeks after trail­ing him in Iowa, I’ve re­joined his road show at the sprawl­ing Cal­vary Chapel in Fort Laud­er­dale, a 75-acre cam­pus that fea­tures a K—12 school, Chili’s-style res­taur­ant, and base­ball dia­mond. He’s here work­ing South Flor­ida’s I-95 cor­ridor for four 16-hour days of speeches, lunches, ra­dio ap­pear­ances, and pep talks. He hasn’t seen the in­side of his Dal­las condo in weeks. “I had to pack two suit­cases this time,” he says.

The set­ting is dif­fer­ent, but Cruz sticks to the two scripts I heard in Iowa. He launches in­to his “Re­claim­ing Amer­ica” present­a­tion to an audi­ence of 40 at Cal­vary Chapel, rip­ping in­to pas­tors who “hide be­hind their pul­pits” and ex­hort­ing Chris­ti­ans to rise up and vote the Demo­crats out of of­fice. Dur­ing the Q-and-A, he slams Pres­id­ent Obama’s Cuba policy (“ab­so­lutely dis­astrous”) and calls for great­er for­ti­fic­a­tion of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der (“We can­not keep the gate open and al­low an­oth­er 9”Š/”Š11 to hap­pen”). The Q-and-A ends, and every­one bows their heads and closes their eyes for a par­ti­cip­at­ory group pray­er, in which one audi­ence mem­ber ac­cuses the pres­id­ent of re­pla­cing Chris­ti­an pray­er with Is­lam­ic pray­er in the White House and an­oth­er rails against “the com­mun­ist me­dia sys­tem in this coun­try.”

The next morn­ing, Cruz is the Palm Beach County Tea Party’s guest of hon­or at a loc­al lib­rary. His warm-up act is a New Zeal­ander named Tre­vor Loud­on, the au­thor of Barack Obama and the En­emies With­in (the cov­er fea­tures a ham­mer and sickle) and The En­emies With­in: Com­mun­ists, So­cial­ists and Pro­gress­ives in the U.S. Con­gress. When Loud­on re­com­mends that Ted Cruz an­nounce his pres­id­en­tial Cab­in­et now—Michele Bach­mann for Com­merce, Rand Paul for Treas­ury, Scott Walk­er for Labor, and Al­len West for De­fense, for starters—the crowd of 30 squeals with de­light.

Ra­fael, for his part, evokes Hitler’s rise to warn against churches that don’t get polit­ic­ally act­ive: “Hitler was very smart. Hitler went to the pas­tors and pat them in the back, and he said, ‘Look, you take care of their souls, I’ll take care of the rest of it.’ … The church bought it hook, line, and sinker, and as a res­ult of that, 6 mil­lion Jews were mas­sacred.” Many faith lead­ers and their wor­ship­pers are no wiser today, he con­tends: “Un­for­tu­nately, in the North­east, the Jews are Demo­crats first and Jews second. And this is what has happened to a great many in the Cath­ol­ic Church.”

Once again, it was the Ra­fael Cruz of You­Tube no­tori­ety, the Bible-thump­ing fire-breath­er who seems bound to even­tu­ally cause his son’s cam­paign ma­jor trouble. (In fact, two days later, Talk­ing Points Memo would pub­lish a three-minute clip of Cruz’s com­ment about North­east Jews, cap­tured by the Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion-re­search shop Amer­ic­an Bridge.) 

The polit­ic­al per­il of such rhet­or­ic speaks for it­self, of course. And yet, after trail­ing him across two states, eight cit­ies, and ten events, I came to be­lieve that there was something more to Ra­fael Cruz than his pro­voc­at­ive sound bites. The truth was, I found a like­able side to the guy. He is grand­fath­erly, quick to make a joke, a happy war­ri­or. Un­like his son—whose de­bat­ing bril­liance and light­ning-quick reas­on­ing can make him seem al­most ro­bot­ic—Ra­fael isn’t stiff. He makes easy small talk and has one-on-one polit­ic­al skill in abund­ance. In­deed, in a state like Iowa, where so much of the caucus res­ult is de­cided via the slow work of per­suad­ing in­di­vidu­al voters, it seems pos­sible that Ra­fael’s true gift to his son might not be his abil­ity to speak to very con­ser­vat­ive audi­ences but rather the gen­er­al bon­homie he brings to the cam­paign trail.

After one of his night­time talks, he asks about my even­ing plans. Find a cheap motel, I reply, maybe grab a beer. “Re­mem­ber,” he tells me jok­ingly, “you can’t soar with the eagles in the morn­ing if you hoot with the owls at night.”

Corny? Totally. But also sort of en­dear­ing. And he was that way not just with me, a re­port­er writ­ing a pro­file of him, but with the eld­erly ladies and Obama-hat­ing tea-parti­ers and any­one else who hung around after his ap­pear­ances. On his way out of an event once, he put an arm around one of his Flor­ida chap­er­ones, a tea-parti­er named Dan­ita Kil­cul­len, and gently asked her, “Can I put you in a little suit­case and take you with me?”

The last time I see Ra­fael Cruz speak is on the far west­ern fringe of Miami, where civil­iz­a­tion ends and the Ever­glades be­gin. The ven­ue is called Ran­cho Be­ju­cal, an ex­panse of farm­land with horses, loom­ing palm trees, and an open-air thatch-roofed pa­vil­ion at the front of the prop­erty with a stage on one end and a can­tina serving beer and tra­di­tion­al Cuban fare on the oth­er. I’m late ar­riv­ing, and I can hear Cruz thun­der­ing in Span­ish through the car win­dows. It’s well over 90 de­grees, the hu­mid­ity pud­ding-thick. The crowd is al­most en­tirely Cuban. The men and wo­men sit around pic­nic tables in the pa­vil­ion’s shade, fan­ning them­selves with Styro­foam plates and Panama hats.

In the­ory, this should be friendly ter­rain for Cruz—a Cuban émigré speak­ing to a hun­dred of his fel­low Cubans. Yet the crowd is hot and rest­less, and the ap­pear­ance soon takes an un­ex­pec­ted turn. Cruz is talk­ing about light and liberty when, mid­sen­tence, a pint-sized bald man in big sunglasses bounds on­stage and rips the mi­cro­phone from Cruz’s hands.

“Your son is a fas­cist!” he yells in rap­id-fire Span­ish. “An anti-Latino! A Cruz by chance! I for­give you for giv­ing him your last name, but he doesn’t de­serve it! I hope this man’s son is nev­er pres­id­ent!”

The em­cees in­ter­vene and Cruz man­ages to say a few fi­nal words be­fore shuff­ling off­stage, re­placed by a band that hast­ily launches in­to Cuban coun­try songs. There’s an­im­os­ity from oth­ers, too; one couple gets in Cruz’s face and calls Ted an ex­trem­ist.

I catch up with Cruz and his mind­er as they’re walk­ing to the car af­ter­ward. Des­pite look­ing flustered on­stage, he is back to happy-war­ri­or mode when I ask him about the scuffle. “What I said to him is that we still have the free­dom in this coun­try to have someone dis­agree with you,” he says. “He couldn’t do that in Cuba.”

He says a few more things about free speech and the great­ness of Amer­ica and then climbs in­to a white SUV with a “Ted Cruz 2016” stick­er on the trunk. His next event is at a Baptist church an hour and a half away. If he doesn’t leave now, he’ll be late.

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DOJ Charges Russian For Meddling In 2018 Midterms
17 hours ago

"The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman for her alleged role in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2018 U.S. election, marking the first criminal case prosecutors have brought against a foreign national for interfering in the upcoming midterms. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors said she managed the finances of 'Project Lakhta,' a foreign influence operation they said was designed 'to sow discord in the U.S. political system' by pushing arguments and misinformation online about a host of divisive political issues, including immigration, the Confederate flag, gun control and the National Football League national-anthem protests."


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