Posts

Why We Should Remain Skeptical of the Five (!!) Congressional Investigations into the Russian Hack

I was interviewed (on Thursday) about the Flynn resignation and larger investigation into the Russia hack for Saturday’s On the Media. In what made the edit, I made one error (which I’ll explain later), but a key point I made holds. The leaking about Flynn and other Russian events are hypocritical and out of control. But they may create pressure to fix two problems with the current investigations into the Russian hack: the role of Jeff Sessions overseeing the DOJ-led investigations, and the role of Trump advisory officials Devin Nunes and Richard Burr overseeing the most appropriate congressional investigations.

In this post I’ll look at the latter conflicts. In a follow-up I’ll look at what the FBI seems to be doing.

As I noted in the interview, contrary to what you might think from squawking Democrats, there are five congressional investigations pertaining to Russian hacks, though some will likely end up focusing on prospective review of Russian hacking (for comparison, there were seven congressional Benghazi investigations). They are:

  • Senate Intelligence Committee: After months of Richard Burr — who served on Trump’s campaign national security advisory council — saying an inquiry was not necessary and going so far as insisting any inquiry wouldn’t review the dossier leaked on Trump, SSCI finally agreed to do an inquiry on January 13. Jim Comey briefed that inquiry last Friday, February 17.
  • House Intelligence Committee: In December, James Clapper refused to brief the House Intelligence Committee on the latest intelligence concluding Russian hacked the DNC with the goal of electing Trump, noting that HPSCI had been briefed all along (as was clear from some of the leaks, which clearly came from HPSCI insiders). In January, they started their own investigation of the hack, having already started fighting about documents by late January. While Ranking Democratic Member Adam Schiff has long been among the most vocal people complaining about the treatment of the hack, Devin Nunes was not only a Trump transition official, but made some absolutely ridiculous complaints after Mike Flynn’s side of some conversations got legally collected in a counterintelligence wiretap. Nunes has since promised to investigate the leaks that led to Flynn’s forced resignation.
  • Senate Armed Services Committee: In early January, John McCain announced he’d form a new subcommittee on cybersecurity, with the understanding it would include the Russian hack in its focus. Although he originally said Lindsey Graham would lead that committee, within weeks (and after Richard Burr finally capitulated and agreed to do a SSCI inquiry), McCain instead announced Mike Rounds would lead it.
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee: In December, Bob Corker announced the SFRC would conduct an inquiry, scheduled to start in January. At a hearing in February, the topic came up multiple times, and both Corker and Ben Cardin reiterated their plans to conduct such an inquiry.
  • Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism: After Graham was denied control of the SASC panel, he and Sheldon Whitehouse announced they’d conduct their own inquiry, including a prospective review of “the American intelligence community’s assessment that Russia did take an active interest and play a role in the recent American elections.”

All the while, some Senators — McCain, Graham, Chuck Schumer, and Jack Reed — have called for a Select Committee to conduct the investigation, though in true McCainesque fashion, the maverick has at times flip-flopped on his support of such an inquiry.

Also, while not an investigation, on February 9, Jerry Nadler issued what I consider (strictly as it relates to the Russian hack, not the other conflicts) an ill-advised resolution of inquiry calling for the Administration to release materials relating to the hack, among other materials. Democrats in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation calling for an independent commission, but have gotten no support even from the mavericky Republicans.

As you can see from these descriptions, it took pressure from other committees, especially Lindsey Graham getting control of one of the inquiries, before Richard Burr let himself be convinced by SSCI Vice Chair Mark Warner to conduct an inquiry. Thus far, Mitch McConnell has staved off any Select Committee. As soon as SSCI did claim to be launching an investigation, a bunch of Republicans tried to shut down the others, claiming it was all simply too confusing.

Let me be clear: as I noted in the OTM interview, the intelligence committees are the appropriate place to conduct this investigation, as it concerns really sensitive counterintelligence matters — people who could be witnesses to it are getting killed! — and an ongoing investigation. The only way to conduct a responsible inquiry is to do so in secret, and unless a select committee with clearance is formed, that means doing so in the dysfunctional intelligence committees.

That’s made worse by Nunes and Burr’s obvious conflicts, having served on Trump’s pre-inauguration advisory teams (at a time when Mike Flynn was chatting about ongoing sanctions with Russia), and their equally obvious disinterest in conducting the investigation. Remember that the intelligence committees successfully bolloxed up the independent investigation into Iran-Contra. While neither Nunes nor Burr is as smart as Dick Cheney, who had a key role in that intentional bolloxing, Democrats should be cognizant of the ways that such bolloxing has happened in the past.

And now that SSCI has finally started its inquiry, Ali Watkins published an uncharacteristically credulous report on Burr’s role in the investigation, slathering on the colorful vocabulary — “brutally yanked;” “underground cohort;” “dark shadow of Langley;” “Wearily, they’re trudging forward on a probe littered with potential political landmines;” — before portraying the allegedly difficult position Burr is in:

That he’s now in charge of the sweeping Russia inquiry puts the North Carolina Republican in between a rock and a hard place. Since taking over the helm of the intelligence committee, Burr has pressed for more active and aggressive oversight, and has kept a rigorous travel schedule to match. But his decisive reelection victory in November came at a cost — throughout the contentious race, Burr towed Trump’s line, and hasn’t yet directly criticized the White House publicly.

But Burr has shown no indication that he’s ever angled for a Trump administration job, and says he’s not running for re-election. How seriously he takes his obligation to carry his president’s water remains to be seen.

Burr has been slammed by colleagues in recent days, who fear he’s slow-rolling an investigation into a fast-moving story. But much of the inquiry’s slow start was due to bureaucratic wrangling — some intelligence agencies insisted products be viewed on site rather than sent to the Hill, and some of the intelligence was so tightly controlled that it was unclear if staffers could even view it.

This is just spin. There is abundant public record that Burr has thwarted oversight generally (he has said things supporting that stance throughout his history on both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee, even ignoring his role in covering up torture, and Watkins’ earlier incorrect claims about Burr’s open hearings remain only partly corrected). There is no mention in this article that Burr was on Trump’s national security advisory committee. Nor that SSCI had reason to do hearings about this hack well before January 2017, back when it might have made a difference — at precisely the time when Burr apparently had time to advise Trump about national security issues as a candidate. Plus, it ignores all the things laid out here, Burr’s continued equivocation about whether there should even be a hearing.

There is no reason to believe Burr or Nunes intend to have a truly rigorous investigation (bizarrely, Warner seems to have had more success pushing the issue than Schiff — or Dianne Feinstein when she was Vice Chair — though that may be because the Ranking position is stronger in the Senate than in the House). And history tells us we should be wary that their investigations will be counterproductive.

As I noted, on Friday — the Friday before a recess — Jim Comey briefed the SSCI on the Russian hack. That briefing was unusual for the date (regular SSCI meetings happen on Tuesday and Thursday, and little business of any kinds happens right before a recess). Reporters have interpreted that, along with the presumed silence about the content of the briefing, as a sign that things are serious. That may be true — or it may be that that was the only time a 3-hour briefing could be scheduled. In the wake of the briefing, it was reported that the SSCI sent broad preservation requests tied to the inquiry (that is, they sent the request long after the inquiry was started). And while the press has assumed no one is talking, the day after the briefing, Reuters reported outlines of at least three parts of the FBI investigation into the Russian hack, attributed to former and current government officials.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

In His Last Words Before Senate Armed Services, Clapper Warns against Congressional “Micromanagement”

This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing today on foreign cyberthreats, which mostly (though not entirely) focused on the Russian hack of the DNC.

At the very end of the hearing, John McCain decided to let James Clapper — who will retire in 15 days (as he reminded several times during the hearing) — offer a few reflections on his service.

In response, Clapper acknowledged the important role Congress plays in overseeing the secret activities of the intelligence community. But he ended the statement by warning of the difference between “oversight” and “micromanagement.”

I was around in the intelligence community were first established and have watched them and experienced them ever since. Congress does have, clearly, a extremely important role to play when it comes to oversight of intelligence activities and unlike many other endeavors of the government, much of what we do — virtually all of what we do — is done in secrecy. So the Congress has a very important — a crucial responsibility — on behalf of the American people for overseeing what we do particularly in terms of legality and protection of civil liberties and privacy.

At risk of delving into a sensitive area though, I do think there is a difference between oversight and micromanagement.

This may well reflect his views. But at a time when Trump is threatening to rearrange the IC to retaliate against its reporting on the Russian DNC hack (not to mention for Clapper’s own firing of Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn), Clapper might have have been well-advised to avoid suggestion that Congress should not exercise its oversight role over Congress very vigorously.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Not-Majority Leader Promises Bipartisan Investigations in Russian Cyberhackery

Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Jack Reed released a statement this morning, stating (in part),

While protecting classified material, we have an obligation to inform the public about the recent cyberattacks that have cut to the heart of our free society. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of Congress, to examine these recent thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.

If you don’t look too closely, it appears to be a mature promise that the Senate will work in nonpartisan fashion to defend the nation.

But let’s look closely, shall we?

First, note who is on the statement: the rising Minority Leader, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and … some other guy. Lindsey Graham here is just filling in for the guy who should be on the statement if this were really bipartisan, Mitch McConnell. Furthermore, while it’s great the leaders of the SASC agree on this front, they only have partial jurisdiction over NSA, and none over FBI or CIA, the agencies having a public spat over this. Richard Burr, whose committee does have jurisdiction over the CIA and over counterintelligence (and who often avoids doing any oversight by invoking classification), is also conspicuously absent.

In other words, it’s not so much a statement of bipartisanship, as an effort to pressure those who should be on the statement to join in.

It’s also not a statement with enough GOP signers — three is the new magic number, absent Trump convincing Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp to give up their seat for a cabinet post, in which case it will be four — to be able to sway votes in the Senate.

The statement suggests Congress has been working hard to protect cybersecurity. They must be doing so in secret, because the main thing they’ve done recently is pass a law immunizing corporations for sharing information.

Ah well. It’s a start. Schumer is very effective at making bold statements, and if that puts some heat on Mitch McConnell, so be it.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Unpacking the New CIA Leak: Don’t Ignore the Aluminum Tube Footnote

This post will unpack the leak from the CIA published in the WaPo tonight.

Before I start with the substance of the story, consider this background. First, if Trump comes into office on the current trajectory, the US will let Russia help Bashar al-Assad stay in power, thwarting a 4-year effort on the part of the Saudis to remove him from power. It will also restructure the hierarchy of horrible human rights abusing allies the US has, with the Saudis losing out to other human rights abusers, potentially up to and including that other petrostate, Russia. It will also install a ton of people with ties to the US oil industry in the cabinet, meaning the US will effectively subsidize oil production in this country, which will have the perhaps inadvertent result of ensuring the US remains oil-independent even though the market can’t justify fracking right now.

The CIA is institutionally quite close with the Saudis right now, and has been in charge of their covert war against Assad.

This story came 24 days after the White House released an anonymous statement asserting, among other things, “the Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day,” suggesting that the Russians may have been deterred.

This story was leaked within hours of the time the White House announced it was calling for an all-intelligence community review of the Russia intelligence, offered without much detail. Indeed, this story was leaked and published as an update to that story.

Which is to say, the CIA and/or people in Congress (this story seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators) leaked this, apparently in response to President Obama’s not terribly urgent call to have all intelligence agencies weigh in on the subject of Russian influence, after weeks of Democrats pressuring him to release more information. It was designed to both make the White House-ordered review more urgent and influence the outcome.

So here’s what that story says.

In September, the spooks briefed “congressional leaders” (which for a variety of reasons I wildarseguess is either a Gang of Four briefing including Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid or a briefing to SSCI plus McConnell, Reid, Jack Reed, and John McCain). Apparently, the substance of the briefing was that Russia’s intent in hacking Democratic entities was not to increase distrust of institutions, but instead to elect Trump.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The difference between this story and other public assessments is that it seems to identify the people — who sound like people with ties to the Russian government but not necessarily part of it — who funneled documents from Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

[snip]

[I]ntelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees.

This is the part that has always been missing in the past: how the documents got from GRU, which hacked the DNC and John Podesta, to Wikileaks, which released them. It appears that CIA now thinks they know the answer: some people one step removed from the Russian government, funneling the documents from GRU hackers (presumably) to Wikileaks to be leaked, with the intent of electing Trump.

Not everyone buys this story. Mitch McConnell doesn’t buy the intelligence.

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.

That’s one doubt raised about CIA’s claim — though like you all, I assume Mitch McConnell shouldn’t be trusted on this front.

But McConnell wasn’t the only one. One source for this story — which sounds like someone like Harry Reid or Dianne Feinstein — claimed that this CIA judgment is the “consensus” view of all the intelligence agencies, a term of art.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

Except that in a briefing this week (which may have been what impressed John McCain and Lindsey Graham to do their own investigation), that’s not what this represented.

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered. [my emphasis]

That’s a conflict. Some senior US official (often code for senior member of Congress) says this is the consensus view. Another senior US official (or maybe the very same one) says there are “minor disagreements.”

Remember: we went to war against Iraq, which turned out to have no WMD, in part because no one read the “minor disagreements” from a few agencies about some aluminum tubes. A number of Senators who didn’t read that footnote closely (and at least one that did) are involved in this story. What we’re being told is there are some aluminum tube type disagreements.

Let’s hear about those disagreements this time, shall we?

Here’s the big takeaway. The language “a formal US assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies” is, like “a consensus view,” a term of art. It’s an opportunity for agencies which may have differing theories of what happened here to submit their footnotes.

That may be what Obama called for today: the formal assessment from all agencies (though admittedly, the White House purposely left the scope and intent of it vague).

Whatever that review is intended to be, what happened as soon as Obama announced it is that the CIA and/or Democratic Senators started leaking their conclusion. That’s what this story is.

Update: One other really critical detail. When the White House announced the Obama review today, Wikileaks made what was a bizarre statement. Linking to a CNN story on the Obama ordered review that erred on the side of blaming Russia for everything, it said, “CNN: Obama orders report into WikiLeaks timed for release just prior to Trump presidency.” Even though none of the statements on the review focused on what this story does — that is, on the way that the DNC and Podesta emails got to Wikileaks — Wikileaks nevertheless interpreted it as an inquiry targeted at it.

Update: And now David Sanger (whose story on the Obama-ordered review was particularly bad) and Scott Shane reveal the RNC also got hacked, and it is the differential leaking that leads the spooks to believe the Russians wanted Trump to win.

They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.

In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public.

This may be a fair assessment. But you would have to account for two things before making it. First, you’d need to know the timing and hacker behind the RNC hack. That’s because two entities are believed to have hacked the DNC: an FSB appearing hacking group, and a GRU one. The FSB is not believed to have leaked. GRU is believed to have. So if the FSB hacked the RNC but didn’t leak it, it would be completely consistent with what FSB did with DNC.

NYT now says the RNC hack was by GRU in the spring, so it is a fair question why the DNC things got leaked but RNC did not.

Also, Sanger and Shane say “largely documents” from Dems were leaked. That’s false. There were two streams of non-Wikileaks releases, Guccifer, which did leak all-Dem stuff, and DC Leaks, which leaked stuff that might be better qualified as Ukrainian related. The most publicized of documents from the latter were from Colin Powell, which didn’t help Trump at all.

Update: It’s clear that Harry Reid (who of course is retiring and so can leak speech and debate protected classified information without worrying he’ll be shut off in the future) is one key driver of this story. Last night he was saying, “”I was right. Comey was wrong. I hope he can look in the mirror and see what he did to this country.” This morning he is on the TV saying he believes Comey had information on this before the election.

Update, 12/10: This follow-up from WaPo is instructive, as it compares what CIA briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee about the current state of evidence with what FBI briefed the House Intelligence Committee about the current state of evidence. While the focus is on different Republican and Democratic understandings of both, the story also makes it clear that FBI definitely doesn’t back what WaPo’s sources from yesterday said was a consensus view.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

McCain Has One Way to Prevent Torture under Trump — Oppose Pompeo and Sessions

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, John McCain made some strong statements about whether President Trump will be able to resume torture.

Republican Sen. John McCain issued a fiery warning to President-elect Donald Trump on the subject of torture Saturday.

“I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do. We will not waterboard,” McCain told an audience at the annual Halifax International Security Forum. “We will not torture people … It doesn’t work.”

McCain’s comments have gotten quite a lot of approving press since.

But that approving press is misplaced.

After all, tough words will not prevent Trump from resuming torture — no matter what NYT’s rather bizarre story claiming there are obstacles to doing so claims. As I laid out weeks ago, the bureaucratic work-arounds are already in place.

No. The single most effective way for Senator McCain to prevent Trump from resuming torture is to ensure the people he appoints are actually opposed to it.

Already, Trump has named two pro-torture Republicans to top positions: Trump’s Attorney General pick, Jeff Sessions, voted against the anti-torture amendment McCain wrote to try to codify the law. In response to the release of the Torture Report, Trump’s CIA Director pick, Mike Pompeo, declared the torturers “are not torturers, they are patriots.”

McCain — whose comment on torture came the day after Trump named these appointees — has not committed to opposing their nomination. Instead, he just wants to make strong statements that will do little to prevent Trump from ordering Pompeo to resuming the torture.

Maybe that’s why McCain is getting so touchy about the President-elect.

Today, he told two different reporters he didn’t want to answer questions about Trump. Here’s what he said to HuffPo’s Laura Barron-Lopez:

I will not discuss President-elect Donald Trump, ok? And that is my right as a Senator. I do not have an obligation ma’am to answer any question I don’t feel like answering. I’m responsible for the people of Arizona and they just [re-elected] me overwhelmingly.

He said something similar to CNN’s Manu Raju.

Cranky-as-fuck John McCain is ratcheting it up!

But he’s going to need to crank it up even more. McCain, with just two of his colleagues, has the power and moral authority to oppose pro-torture appointees. That would require confronting the leader of his party. But it is also one of the only real ways to prevent the US from resuming torture.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Trump Is Who He’s Always Been, And Trump Is the Epitome of the GOP; They Have To Own Him

The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has come up with another scoop. While scraping for video clips does not seem to be Fahrenthold’s strength, like the KFile boys who bolted Buzzfeed in the middle of the night for the apparently greener pastures of CNN, this clip posted by the Washington Post is bigger than anything that has come before. It doesn’t matter if it is by weight, timing, or the clear combination of the two, it is simply huge. Game changing.

The most striking thing, however, is not that this video exists, nor that it has emerged to public view, it is that the Republican party worthies and press seem to think it is shocking. Seriously, this information, and the Donald Trump it reflects, is exactly who Donald Trump is, and has been, for decades.

Donald Trump is a once and forever informationally ignorant, self serving jackass extreme narcissist. But he has been that for decades to anybody paying attention. Trump was the leader from the start in the Republican primary, and was the easy winner of their nomination. Why? Because the votes on the ground count, much to the consternation of supposed “sane party elders”, and the votes on the ground made Trump an easy winner. He is exactly what the current Republican GOP party embodies at its heart.

Watching holier than though instant moral compasses (well oiled craven weathervanes?) like Jason Chaffetz, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan squirm and proclaim their shock, like grubby kids with their hand stuck in the cookie jar, is hilarious. What convenient souls they are to suddenly have the inclination of what they have all sowed and reaped for years. They doth protest too much; Trump is them, and they are Trump.

I came home late, but still managed to hear at least two tellings of the story of how John Rhodes, Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott went down the Hill and gave the hook to Nixon when it was time, with the ideation that such a similar scene could end the Trump moment now. Those are the crazy fever dreams of people like Chris Matthews, David Gergen, Mark Halperin and the rest of the Beltway cocktail weiner gobblers.

Not gonna happen. Rhodes, Goldwater and Scott were men of a different time and more stout character. There are no analogues today. Jason Chaffetz and Mike Lee can conveniently preen and bluster all they want. It is bullshit, as it is with almost all of the rest of today’s Republican party. They do NOT get to suddenly walk away from the monster their party has spent decades creating. They own Trump, Hannity, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Breitbart and Limbaugh. It is who they are, and nobody should forget it.

The Republican party of today has relentlessly stood against women’s rights and ability to control their own bodies, equal rights and protections for LGBT citizens, fair treatment for minorities and immigrants, and the right to vote for anybody other than middle aged fat white men. The current Republican party think that they are the only “suspect class” due “equal protection”, and not the minorities, races, genders, sexual identities and other endangered classes the civil rights laws were designed to protect.

This is exactly what makes the instant kvetching in the GOP aisle over Trump last night so fatuous. It is a boatload of opportunistic self serving fraud. Not for one second should anybody accept that Trump is the sudden exception, he is unequivocally what the GOP has been growing into for years. The modern Republican party has long championed racism, bigotry and misogyny; Donald Trump is just the point of their spear. To the extent there are any “honest brokers” left in the GOP, they are still guilty of benign neglect that allowed the ugliness that is the Trumpian GOP to fester.

The GOP cannot run from Donald Trump, he is who they are now. The last minute panicked contrition of the very women blaming and shaming, racists, bigots and oligarchs that claim to speak for the GOP cannot shed the snake skin of who they are, and what they have created.

Oh, and by the way, the fever dreams of the Chris Matthews and Mark Halperins of the pearl clutching Beltway set are not going to get their wish. It is too late for Trump to be replaced on the ballot by the grand poohbahs of the GOP. As election litigator extraordinaire Marc Elias points out, the ballots for the military and overseas voters have already been sent out pursuant to the UOCAVA, i.e. the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Locally, the Arizona ballots are putatively at the printers and being mailed out within five days. Many other states are either on that timetable or ahead of it. In short, the voting has begun. The die is cast.

Also, via Philip Bump and Dave Weigel of the Washington Post:

More than 34,000 Republican voters have already cast their ballots for the 2016 general election according to the U.S. Election Project, 8,000 of them in the battleground state of North Carolina and another 5,000 in Florida. Not all of those ballots were cast for Donald Trump, it’s safe to assume, but it’s more than likely that most of them were. And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s far too late for the Republican Party to dump Donald Trump from their ticket.

More from Bump, Weigel and the WaPo:

Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer and expert on the machinations of the parties, told me at the time that the rule at issue was Rule 9. Rule 9 reads:

The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

Death, declination or otherwise. No “because we want to” clause.

“Let’s be clear here: The rule is intended to fill vacancies, not to lay the groundwork for a replacement,” Putnam said. “Some have speculated that ‘otherwise’ is ambiguous. Taken out of context it is. However, under the provisions for filling vacancies, it clearly fills in any gap between death and declination (i.e.: an incapacitating illness, but one that leaves the nominee neither dead nor able to decline to run further). And that was the intention.”

Weigel and Bump are superb reporters, and put up a compelling article on a short deadline. But, when it comes to election law, there is nobody better than Rick Hasen. Rick actually contemplated this scenario back in August, over two months ago, when the switch would have been far easier than it is now with ballots already outstanding. His conclusion was that it would be beyond difficult. And that was then, much less now.

But what if the ballots stood as is, could the GOP “electors” find the unanimity to cast enough electoral votes for some person other than Trump? Hasen, at his excellent “Election Law Blog” linked to some thoughts on that effectively imaginary scenario by Ned Foley:

As I write this on Friday night October 7, there is renewed talk of GOP leadership disavowing Trump. True, Trump will still be on the ballot that we citizens cast. But suppose the GOP leadership publicly announces that it will ask GOP electors, when they meet and vote on 12/19, to cast their presidential vote for Pence. Then some GOP-leaning superPACs spend a lot money before 11/8 informing voters of this plan.

Suppose this plan is successful, insofar as it causes on Election Night, 11/8, the media to announce that GOP electors were chosen in enough states to amount to 270 Electoral College votes. Then on 12/19, the GOP electors all do as intended according to this plan: they cast their official Electoral College votes for Pence, not Trump. Pursuant to 3 U.S.C. 9-11, these electors all sign their certificates showing Pence as their choice and send the certificates to Joe Biden, as President of the Senate.

Now, someone might claim that some of these electors violated a previous pledge they made to cast their Electoral College votes for Trump. Maybe this claimant even arranges to send to Biden a separate set of Electoral College votes cast by replacement electors who were substituted because the faithless electors violated their pledge. (This move would be reminiscent of 1876.) We can assume that the claimant wouldn’t send to Biden 270+ Electoral College votes for Trump, but some number short of 270 in the hope of depriving Pence of the presidency.

What would happen when Biden receives two conflicting sets of Electoral College votes from some states, one set for Pence, and the second set for Trump?…

Long story short: There is no way out from Trump for the GOP. They are stuck, and they got there the old fashioned way: they earned it. The Republican Party cannot hide form this event or pretend it is a mistake. It is the culmination of where the Republicans have been headed since the days of Nixon and Lee Atwater. The GOP has tried to mask it with duplicitous bleating about social conservancy and family values, but the truth is out now. It is all about preservation of white bigotry and privilege, and shifting of income and wealth to oligarchs and corporations. When Trump feigned to support that, and the maintenance of women in second class subservient status, the Republican party was willing to ride that horse. Now they want off. Don’t let them.

It is time for change, and that will not, and cannot, be furthered by letting the party of bigotry, hate, misogyny and income inequality off the hook because their avatar has been exposed.. Make them own what they built and earned.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

After We Help the Saudis Commit More War Crimes We’re Going to Mars!

mars-globe-valles-marineris-enhanced-br2This afternoon, the Senate had a debate on Chris Murphy and Rand Paul’s resolution to halt the sale of $1.5 billion in arms to the Saudis to use on their invasion of Yemen.

The debate was repulsive.

The opponents of the measure — led by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham — had little to say about the well-being of Yemenis.

Lindsey even shrugged off both Saudi support for terrorism.

[shrugs] They have double dealing in the past of helping terrorist organizations.

And Saudi bombing of civilians.

They have dropped bombs on civilians. There’s no way to wage war without [shrugs again] mistakes being made.

But we had to help the Saudis kill Yemeni civilians, Lindsey argued, because Iran humiliated American sailors who entered Iranian waters, purportedly because of navigation errors.

That argument — one which expressed no interest in the well-being of Yemenis but instead pitched this as a battle for hegemony in the Middle East — held the day. By a vote of 71-27, the Senate voted to table the resolution.

If your Senators voted against tabling this amendment, please call to thank them:

Baldwin (D-WI)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)
Boxer (D-CA)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Durbin (D-IL)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Heinrich (D-NM)
Heller (R-NV)
Hirono (D-HI)
Kirk (R-IL)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Leahy (D-VT)
Lee (R-UT)
Markey (D-MA)
Murphy (D-CT)
Murray (D-WA)
Paul (R-KY)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schatz (D-HI)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-NM)
Warren (D-MA)
Wyden (D-OR)

The creepiest thing, however, came just after the vote. Bill Nelson (D-Mission to Space) got up, not just to do a victory lap that the US would continue to support Saudi war crimes. But he also announced a resolution passed earlier, which funds NASA to send humans to Mars by 2030, with an eye to colonizing the red planet.

It was as if he was saying that proliferating arms and war crimes on this globe won’t matter so much because we can just go colonize another.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

John McCain Wants to “Expose” Twitter for Refusing to Sell Your Twitter Data in Bulk to CIA

John McCain just had a hearing on cybersecurity. The primary point of the hearing seems to have been to get Admiral Mike Rogers to say the nation would be less safe if we split CYBERCOM Commander from Director of NSA (that is, if we split his job into two). That’s in apparent contradiction to what Rogers said at an industry conference last week.

McCain’s secondary point seems to have been to raise concerns that an unsuccessful attempt by hackers to access Arizona voting data might affect his re-election effort.

His tertiary point seems to have been to attack Apple and Twitter for making efforts to protect their customers. After getting a witness to comment about Twitter’s long-term refusal to let Dataminr to sell Twitter data to the CIA, he suggested perhaps the response should be to “expose” the company.

So let me help Senator McCain in his efforts.

Breaking: Twitter Refuses to Sell Your Data in Bulk to the CIA

That is simply scandalous!

Of course, as I’ve reported in the past and a spox from Twitter reiterated again today, this is actually a (claimed) long-standing policy at Twitter. They will not let Dataminr or anyone else sell your data to any government agency for surveillance purposes.

Dataminr uses public Tweets to sell breaking news alerts to media organizations and government agencies, for non-surveillance purposes. Due to privacy concerns, we have not authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes. This is a longstanding Twitter policy, not a new development. Twitter responds to valid legal process issued in compliance with applicable law, and our most recent transparency report shows over 5,000 U.S. government information requests in 2015 alone.

Breaking: Twitter Refuses to Sell Your Data to Government for Surveillance Purposes

Wow, this Expose Twitter campaign is getting exciting.

Of course, you might ask why McCain is demanding that our tech companies to make money off of surveillance of you. And why he considers Twitter such an exception.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Ron Wyden: Obtaining ECTRs without a Warrant Is Almost Like Spying on Someone’s Thoughts

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.50.20 AM

As a number of outlets have reported, Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the Intelligence Authorization in an attempt to thwart FBI’s quest to be able to obtain Electronic Communication Transaction Records with just a National Security Letter.

But Wyden’s released statement on that hold differs in emphasis from what he said in his Senate address announcing the hold yesterday. The statement describes how all toll records — from emails, texts, or web browsing — can infringe on privacy.

The fact of the matter is that ‘electronic communication transaction records’ can reveal a great deal of personal information about individual Americans.  If government officials know that an individual routinely emails a mental health professional, or sends texts to a substance abuse support group, or visits a particular dating website, or the website of a particular political group, then the government knows a lot about that individual.  Our Founding Fathers rightly argued that such intrusive searches should be approved by independent judges.

But in his floor statement, Wyden went on at length about the particular threat posed by obtaining web browsing history (this starts after 4:40).

For example, the National Security Letters could be used to collect what are called Electronic Communication Transaction Records. This would be email and chat records and text message logs, and in particular, Mr. President, and I’ve had Senators come up to me to ask me about whether this could be true, folks at home this weekend, when I was out and responding to questions about this, people asked, “Does this really mean that the government can get the Internet browsing history of an individual without a warrant even when the government has the emergency authority if it’s really necessary?”

And the answer to that question, Mr. President, is yes, the government can. The government can get access to web browsing history under the Intelligence Authorization legislation, under the McCain amendment, and they can do it without getting a warrant, even when the government can go get it without a warrant when there is an emergency circumstance.

Now the reality is web browsing history can reveal an awful lot of information about Americans. I know of little information, frankly Mr. President, that could be more intimate than that web browsing history. If you know that a person is visiting the website of a mental health professional, or a substance abuse support group, or a particular political organization, or — say — a particular dating site, you know a tremendous amount of private and personal and intimate information about that individual — that’s what you get when you can get access to their web browsing history without a warrant, even when the government’s interest is protected, as I’ve said, in an emergency.

The reality is getting access to somebody’s web browsing history is almost like spying on their thoughts. This level of surveillance absolutely ought to come with court oversight, and as I’ve spelled out tonight, that is possible in two separate ways — the traditional approach with getting a warrant, and then under Section 102, which I wrote as part of USA Freedom Act, the government can get the information when there’s an emergency and come back later after the fact and settle up.

Wyden’s statement makes a few other things clear. First, by focusing on the emergency provision of USA Freedom Act, Wyden illustrates that the FBI is trying to avoid court oversight, not so much obtain records quickly (though there would be more paperwork to a retroactive Section 215 order than an NSL).

That means two things. First, as I’ve noted, FBI is trying to avoid the minimization procedures the FISC spent three years imposing on FBI. Right now, we should assume that FISC would prohibit FBI from retaining all of the data it obtains from web searches, but if it moved (back) to NSL collection it would have no such restriction.

The other thing obtaining ECTRs with NSLs would do, though, is avoid a court First Amendment review, which should be of particular concern with web search history, since everything about web browsing involves First Amendment speech. Remember, a form of emergency provision (one limited to Section 215’s phone chaining application) was approved in February 2014. But in the September 2014 order, the FISC affirmatively required that such a review happen even with emergency orders. A 2015 IG Report on Section 215 (see page 176) explains why this is the case: because once FISC started approving seeds, NSA’s Office of General Counsel stopped doing First Amendment reviews, leaving that for FISC. It’s unclear whether it took FISC several cycles to figure that out, or whether they discovered an emergency approval that infringed on First Amendment issues. Under the expanded emergency provision under USAF, someone at FBI or DOJ’s National Security Division would do the review. But FBI’s interest in avoiding FISC’s First Amendment review is of particular concern given that FBI has, in the past, used an NSL to obtain data the FISC refused on First Amendment grounds, and at least one of the NSL challenges appears to have significant First Amendment concerns.

In the Senate yesterday, Senator Wyden strongly suggested the FBI wants this ECTR provision so it can “spy[] on their thoughts” without a warrant. We know from other developments that doing so using an NSL — rather than an emergency Section 215 order — would bypass rigorous minimization and First Amendment review.

In other words, the FBI wants to spy on — and then archive — your thoughts.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Senate Narrowly Avoids Voting Themselves to Become “Typos”

The McCain (Cornyn) amendment to the Judiciary Appropriations bill that would let them get Electronic Communication Transaction Records with a National Security Letter just narrowly failed to get cloture, with Dan Sullivan flipping his vote to yes near the end but Mike Crapo, a likely no vote, not voting. The final vote was 59-37.

The floor debate leading up to the vote featured a few notable exchanges. Richard Burr was an absolutely douchebag, saying Ron “Wyden is consistently against providing LE the tools it needs to defend the American people.” He did so in a speech admitting that, “My colleague says this wouldn’t stop SB or Orlando. He’s 100% correct.”

Burr also insisted that we can’t let the Lone Wolf provision, which allegedly has never been used, expire. It was extended just last year and doesn’t expire until 2019.

More interesting though was the debate between Burr and Leahy over whether the FBI can’t obtain ECTRs because of a typo in the law as passed in 1993. Leahy basically described that Congress had affirmatively decided not to include ECTRs in NSLs (implicit in this, Congress also did not decide to include it in the 2001 expansion). Burr claimed that Congress meant to include it but didn’t in some kind of oversight.

Here’s how Mazie Hirono and Martin Heinrich described the debate in the report on the Intelligence Authorization, which has a version of the ECTR change.

The FBI has compared expanding these authorities to fixing a “typo” in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

However, during consideration of ECPA reform legislation in 1993, the House Judiciary Committee said in its committee report that “Exempt from the judicial scrutiny normally
required for compulsory process, the national security letter is an extraordinary device. New applications are disfavored.”

The House Judiciary Committee report also makes clear that the bill’s changes to Section 2709(b) of ECPA were a “modification of the language originally proposed by the
FBI.”

This does not support claims that the removal of the ECTR language was a “typo.”

Burr effectively argued that because law enforcement wanted ECTRs to be included back in 1993, they were meant to be included, and Congress’ exclusion of them was just a typo.

In short, a member of the Senate just argued that if Congress affirmatively decides not to capitulate to every demand of law enforcement, it must be considered a “typo” and not legally binding law.

For the moment, the Senate voted down making itself a “typo,” but Mitch McConnell filed a motion to reconsider, meaning he can bring the vote back up as soon as he arm twists one more vote.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.