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Joe Pientka Warned Trump to Be Worried about People on His Periphery While Flynn Was Signing a Deal with Turkey

Donald Trump continues to use the Office of Director of National Intelligence role to declassify information to feed to frothy journalists so they can misrepresent the investigation into his campaign. Yesterday, John Ratcliffe released the FBI part of the classified briefing given to Trump, Chris Christie, and Mike Flynn on August 17, 2016. Among the things Ratcliffe disclosed is the FBI case files for both Crossfire Hurricane and the Flynn investigation, the paltry content of defensive briefings for a Presidential candidate, and that the FBI believed there were more Russian spies working under official cover in 2016 than Chinese spies.

They just don’t give a fuck anymore. They will compromise whatever they need to to try to spin the investigation into Trump, even if most of what they release doesn’t back their story.

The briefing also demonstrates that Trump had no concept of how spies work. He asked a childish question about whether — because they have more spies under official cover — whether they are bad.

Trump asked the following question,”Joe, are the Russians bad because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?” Writer responded by saying both countries are bad. The numbers of IOs present in the U.S. is not an indicator of the severity of the threat. Writer reminded Trump the Chinese asymmetrical presence in the U.S. [redacted]. In addition, the OCONUS cyber threat posed by []PLA would have to be considered when making comparisons.

Having just been briefed that the Russians use official cover while the Chinese use non-official cover, Trump then collapsed that very basic concept to address just diplomatic cover.

The only interesting comment from Trump or Flynn, from an investigative standpoint, was that Trump seemed to suggest that Russia could match the US counterterrorism resources, an inaccurate belief the genesis of which is actually really interesting.

Meanwhile, Flynn asked Joe Pientka something totally off topic — how many FBI Agents they had as compared to counterterrorism cases. Flynn also, later, bragged about having done SIGINT (he seems to have wanted to prove his expertise).

Nothing in this briefing — not even the role of Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok in approving an anodyne report — supports the frenzied response to it, and most commentators are totally misrepresenting what the briefing as a whole was (the first intelligence briefing, as reflected by redacted references to who gave those briefings), and what the nature of the defensive briefing that Pientka gave.

The far more interesting details is that Pientka warned Trump (accurately, as it turned out) about Russia and others trying to get to Trump through peripheral people and businessmen,

In the classical sense, an IO will attempt to recruit an individual to tell him or her the things he or she wants to know. This is known as HUMINT. It is highly unlikely a Foreign Intelligence Service will attempt to recruit you, however you need to be mindful of the people on your periphery: your staff , domestic help, business associates, friends, etc. Those individuals may present more vulnerabilities or be more susceptible to an approach. Those individuals will also be targeted for recruitment due to their access to you. That does not mean IOs will not make a run at you . They will send their IOs in diplomatic cover, businessperson NOCs, as well as sources they have developed around you to elicit information and gain assessment on you.

At the time Pientka gave this briefing, Flynn was finalizing the details of a deal with Turkey, using a businessman the government has credibly accused of being an agent of Turkey to cover up the Turkish government’s direct role in the deal. In his grand jury testimony, Flynn described knowing almost nothing of Ekim Alptekin when he pursued this deal.

So even as the FBI was trying to explain to Trump that people like his coffee boy and his rat-fucker would be used to assess his intentions, the guy sitting in the room was pursuing a big payday with a frenemy government seeking to do just that.

Pientka’s briefing lasted 13 minutes out of a total of at least 1 hour 55 minutes, though it looks like Trump left the briefing before they had presented everything, to catch a plane.

Photo: Pavan Trikutam via Unsplash

Three Things: Bounties, Bounties, Bounce [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Update at bottom of post. /~Rayne]

There won’t be a quiz but there’s an action item at the end.

It’ll be more effort than Trump put into protecting our troops in Afghanistan.

You’ll want to brush up on the NYT report from Friday, Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says.

Washington Post confirmed the story: Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds

As did the Wall Street Journal: Russian Spy Unit Paid Taliban to Attack Americans, U.S. Intelligence Says

~ 3 ~

Remember last year when Rep. Adam Schiff said he believed acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was withholding from Congress an urgent whistleblower complaint in order to protect Trump?

We build a crowdsourced timeline to guess what the whistleblower’s subject matter might be. We didn’t see the Ukraine quid pro quo but we still compiled a bodacious chronology of foreign policy events.

I’m betting the bit about John Bolton’s exit in that timeline may be revisited in the near future.

But there was one topic we didn’t give a lot of attention which might be worth looking at again, like right now — the peace agreement negotiations in Afghanistan.

(Commenters added more material in comments not added to the original timeline — I think we were learning it was Ukraine and not Afghanistan or Iran which was the subject of the whistleblower’s complaint.)

Now that NYT’s report that Russia offered secret bounties on U.S. service members has been validated by the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, we need to look at the Afghanistan timeline — this time with more content from 2019 and up-to-date 2020 material.

28-AUG-2019 — Russia offered to oversee an agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan; negotiations were in their ninth round when the Russian Foreign Ministry suggested it could be “a guarantor in the agreement” if the two sides wished.

01/02-SEP-2019 — US Special Rep. for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul where the Taliban, Afghan government and the U.S. had “reached an agreement in principle” toward an eventual “total and permanent cease-fire.”

03-SEP-2019 — Russian media outlet Tass reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said the U.S. and Taliban “insist that Russia must be present in one capacity or another at the possible signing of the agreements that the parties are working on now.”

05-SEP-2019 — Suicide blast in Kabul killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico.

06-SEP-2019 — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed a trip to the U.S.

07-SEP-2019 — Over several tweets Saturday evening, Trump canceled the meeting with Ghani at Camp David.

Unclear whether Trump realized he might have been meeting over the anniversary of 9/11 on a peace agreement with both Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban.

07-SEP-2019 — Via Julia Davis (commenter Eureka):

Prof. Michael McFaul tweeted, “What? TASS has these details but USG has not released them? This is very strange. And why does Russia need to be present at signing? We’re they fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and I just missed that?”

09-SEP-2019 — CNN broke story of a CIA asset extracted from Russia in 2017; followed by NYT on the 9th (and then NBC’s Ken Dilanian appears at the asset’s house…)

09-SEP-2019 — Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation and tweeted about it the next morning.

10-SEP-2019 — “They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead,” Trump told the media about the peace talks with Afghanistan.

13-SEP-2019 — Taliban showed up in Moscow almost immediately after the Camp David meeting fell apart (commenter OldTulsaDude).

15-SEP-2019 — Small arms fire in central Warduk province killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy W. Griffin, 40.

20-NOV-2019 — Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk Fuchigami Jr., 25, and Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 David C. Knadle, 33, died in a helicopter crash in eastern Logar province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the crash; Trump visited Dover AFB on Nov. 21 when the soldiers’ bodies were returned.

11-DEC-2019 — Unknown number of U.S. personnel were injured during a large bombing of Bagram Airfield.

23-DEC-2019 — Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Goble, 33, was killed in a roadside bombing in northern Kunduz province.

31-DEC-2019 — A total of 22 service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2019. It’s not clear how many U.S. contractors may have been killed because the military doesn’t track them.

11-JAN-2020 — Two U.S. service members were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. Taliban claimed responsibility.

17-JAN-2020 — The Taliban offered a proposal to reduce violence and restart peace negotiations.

27-JAN-2020 — Two U.S. Air Force crew members were killed when an E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft crashed. Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting the plane down.

08-FEB-2020 — Sgt. Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28; and Sgt. Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28 were killed and six other service members were injured in an insider attack in Nangarhar province.

09-FEB-2020 — WaPo reported:

On Sunday, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman in Qatar, where talks have been held, said Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives and Qatar’s foreign minister to discuss “some important issues on the results of the negotiations and the next moves,” according to a statement posted to Twitter.

20-FEB-2020 — Trump replaced Joseph Maguire as Acting Director of National Intelligence; Richard Grenell was named Maguire’s replacment.

21-FEB-2020 — U.S.-led coalition, Afghan forces, and the Taliban militia began a seven-day “reduction in violence” ahead of anticipated agreement.

28-FEB-2020 — Trump nominated John Ratcliffe as Director of National Intelligence.

29-FEB-2020 — U.S. and Taliban sign agreement addressing counterterrorism and the withdrawal of U.S. and international troops from Afghanistan.

03-MAR-2020 — Trump spoke by phone with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban leader and co-founder stationed in the Taliban’s Qatar offices.

23-MAR-2020 — After meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would cut $1 billion in aid in 2020 and threatened to cut another $1 billion in 2021 because Ghani and Abdullah had not formed a unity government. Pompeo then met with the Taliban’s chief negotiator at Al Udeid Air Base, Doha, Qatar where he asked the Taliban to continue to adhere with the February agreement.

??-MAR-2020 — Administration learned that Russia offered secret bounties on U.S. troops.

The officials said administration leaders learned of reported bounties in recent months from U.S. intelligence agencies, prompting a series of internal discussions, including a large interagency meeting in late March. According to one person familiar with the matter, the responses discussed at that meeting included sending a diplomatic communication to relay disapproval and authorizing new sanctions.

30-MAR-2020 — Trump phone call with Putin.

03-APR-2020 — Trump fired Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson, claiming he “no longer” had confidence in Atkinson. Atkinson was then on leave until the effective date of his termination 03-MAY-2020. As IG he notified Congress of the whistleblower’s report regarding the Ukraine quid pro quo, going around Joseph Maguire to do so.

07-APR-2020 — The Taliban pulled out of talks with the Afghan government after discussions over the unrealized prisoner exchange cratered. Under the February agreement, prisoners were to be exchanged at the end of March; the exchange was called off on March 30.

07-APR-2020 — Trump fired Acting Inspector General of the Department of Defense Glenn Fine; Fine had also been named Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee on 30-MAR. Fine’s termination made him ineligible to continue as chair of that committee.

09-APR-2020 — Trump phone call with Putin.

10-APR-2020 — Trump phone call with Putin (unclear if call was before/after Gen. Miller’s meeting).

10-APR-2020 — Gen. Austin Miller met with Taliban leaders in Qatar:

… The meeting between Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller and Taliban leaders came as both sides accuse each other of ramping up violence since signing a peace deal on Feb. 29, which could see all international troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 14 months.

The meeting, which focused on curbing violence, was part of a military channel established in the U.S.-Taliban deal, the U.S. military’s press office in Kabul told Stars and Stripes.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said night raids and other operations in noncombat areas were discussed at the meeting, and Taliban officials “called for a halt to such attacks.” …

12-APR-2020 — Trump phone call with Putin.

25-APR-2020 — Trump made a joint statement with Putin observing the 75th anniversary of Elbe Day.

07-MAY-2020 — US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met members of the Taliban in Qatar along with the Special Envoy of Qatari Foreign Ministry for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, Mutlaq Al-Qahtani. They discussed the prisoner exchange and intra-Afghan talks.

07-MAY-2020 — Trump phone call with Putin; topics were COVID-19, arms control including Russia and China,  and the oil market.

26-MAY-2020 — John Ratcliffe approved by the Senate and sworn in as DNI.

30-MAY-2020 — Trump delays G7 meeting and invites Russia:

01-JUN-2020 — Trump phone call with Putin; delayed G7 meeting and oil market stabilization discussed.

08-JUN-2020 — Trump orders permanent draw down of 25% of U.S. troops stationed in Germany; he did not consult with NATO before this order.

Is there a pattern here (or more)? Was the violence juiced up to pressure the U.S. — specifically public opinion? What the heck did Russia’s Foreign Minister mean by a “guarantor” based on what we know today? How did Qatar become a player in the negotiations?

Did Trump really do nothing at all to protect our troops except talk with Putin and do some butt-kissing with a joint statement and an invitation to the G7 while undercutting Germany and NATO?

The Congressional Research Service policy brief on Afghanistan is worth a read to fill in some gaps. This paragraph is particularly important:

Afghan government representatives were not participants in U.S.-Taliban talks, leading some observers to conclude that the United States would prioritize a military withdrawal over a complex political settlement that preserves some of the social, political, and humanitarian gains made since 2001. The U.S.-Taliban agreement envisioned intra-Afghan talks beginning on March 10, 2020, but talks were held up for months by a number of complications. The most significant obstacles were an extended political crisis among Afghan political leaders over the contested 2019 Afghan presidential election and a disputed prisoner exchange between the Taliban and Afghan government. President Ghani and his 2019 election opponent Abdullah Abdullah signed an agreement ending their dispute in May 2020, and as of June 2020, the number of prisoners released by both sides appears to be reaching the level at which talks might begin, though the Afghan government may resist releasing high-profile prisoners that the Taliban demand as a condition of beginning negotiations.

~ 2 ~

It wasn’t just U.S. intelligence that learned U.S. troops who were the target of Russia’s secret bounties.

EU intelligence confirmed it had learned that Russia targeted both U.S. and UK troops, offering cash on British targets, too.

UK security officials also validate the report, attributing the work in Afghanistan to Russia’s GRU.

Why hasn’t Britain’s PM Boris Johnson or the Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said anything publicly about this?

Has the Johnson government done anything at all to communicate its displeasure with Russia? Has it taken any punitive action like sanctions?

Because there’s nothing obvious in UK or other international media to this effect as of 3:00 a.m. ET.

~ 1 ~

You’re going to read and hear a lot of folks talking about treason. We don’t encourage that word’s use because it has a specific legal meaning related to traditional warfare; a formal declaration of war establishing a defined enemy is necessary to accuse someone of providing aid and comfort to that enemy.

18 U.S. Code § 2381.Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 807; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(2)(J), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2148.)

We’re not in a formally declared state of war with Russia; they are not a defined enemy.

But this Russian secret bounties business may fall under another umbrella. U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan under Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001:

Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces

(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

The brushstroke with regard to future acts of international terrorism against the United States is and has been interpreted broadly.

Bounce this around a bit: does the definition of terrorism include repeated attacks on U.S. service members and contractors deployed under the AUMF 2001?

Does failing to take reasonable affirmative effort to protect these targets constitute aiding those who attack U.S. service members and contractors deployed under the AUMF 2001?

Is there, if not 18 USC 2381 – Treason, another section of 18 U.S. Code Chapter 115 — Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities which may more accurately describe the dereliction of duty by members of this administration by failing to protect U.S. troops?

~ 0 ~

And now for the action item…

Guess who else hasn’t uttered a peep about the Russian secret bounties on our troops?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

House Ranking Member Kevin McCarthy.

None of the +20 GOP senators up for re-election  have uttered a peep, nor have the couple who are retiring.

Here’s your action item:

— If you have a GOP senator(s), call their office and ask for a statement from the senator about the Russian bounties. Where do they stand? What action will the senator take?

— Share the results of your call here in the comments.

Congressional switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. Or you can look up their local office number at https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact.

For everybody else, calling your representative and senators to demand hearings with testimony from the former acting Director of National Intelligence Rick Grenell and the current Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe about the presidential briefing that did/did not happen with regard to these Russian bounties.

 

Let’s stay on topic in this thread — this is plenty to chew on.

UPDATE — 29-JUN-2020 10:00 A.M. ET —

Several new line items have been added to this timeline. If you pulled a copy since publication you’ll want to get a new one.

The Washington Post published an article last evening, Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants resulted in deaths of U.S. troops, according to intelligence assessments.

It’s clear from reading it that many people knew about this intelligence, that there was a concerted effort to address it though the action ultimately taken was none.

Rather like the pandemic response, about which Trump had been warned in adequate time and then did nothing for six or more weeks, followed by a lot of bullshit and bluster.

Congress had better get to the bottom of this because this is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the executive branch.

A Tale of Two National Security Advisors

As you no doubt heard, in addition to suing John Bolton for breach of contract over his Trump book, the Trump Administration has also asked for a Temporary Restraining Order against Bolton, purportedly with the goal of getting him to do things that are no longer in his control. At one level, the legal actions seem designed to make Bolton’s book even more popular than it would otherwise be — while starving him of any royalties for the book. Judge Royce Lamberth, who has a history of pushing back against Executive abuse (including claims involving classification) has been assigned the case; he scheduled a hearing for tomorrow.

I agree with the bulk of the analysis that these legal efforts will fail, to the extent they’re really trying to prevent Bolton from releasing the book. I also agree with analysis about the uphill climb Bolton faces to avoid having his profits seized.

That said, I can’t help but notice the way the filings set Bolton up — possibly, even for prosecution (which LAT reports remains under consideration), but also for a remarkable comparison with Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn.

Legally, the filings do what they need to do to seize Bolton’s profits, and will probably succeed (meaning you can buy the book and your money will go to the US Treasury). But, as noted, they’re not written to actually win an injunction, most especially against Bolton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster.

The filings do something else, though. They tell how Bolton apparently shared drafts of his manuscript before it had been cleared, which in turn got shared with the press.

35. On January 26, 2020, the New York Times published an article describing information purportedly “included in drafts of a manuscript” that Defendant, apparently without any protections for classified national security information, had “circulated in recent weeks to close associates.” The article set forth information allegedly contained in “dozens of pages” of the manuscript. A true and correct copy of this article is attached hereto as Exhibit F.

36. On information and belief, the January 26, 2020 article led to a tremendous surge in publicity for the pre-sales of the book, including hundreds of news articles, discussion on major television networks, statements by members of Congress, and widespread circulation of the article’s content on social media.

37. On January 27, 2020, the Washington Post published a separate article describing content contained in The Room Where it Happened, relying on the statements of “two people familiar with the book,” indicating, on information and belief, that Defendant had disclosed a draft of the manuscript to others without receiving prior written authorization from the U.S. Government. A true and correct copy of this article is attached hereto as Exhibit G.

38. Thus, notwithstanding this admonition, in late January 2020, prominent news outlets reported that drafts of Defendant’s manuscript had been circulated to associates of Defendant. These articles included reports from individuals supposedly familiar with the book, which indicates, on information and belief, that Defendant had already violated his non-disclosure agreements while purporting to comply with the prepublication review process. See supra ¶¶ 27, 29; see also Exhs. E & F

They lay out evidence that Bolton specifically knew the dangers of disclosing classified information, most ironically with a citation of his complaints about Edward Snowden (who also had his profits seized).

Defendant knows well the threat posed by disclosing classified information that might benefit the Nation’s adversaries. See John Bolton, “Edward Snowden’s leaks are a grave threat to US national security,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/18/edwardsnowden-leaks-grave-threat (June 18, 2013). Congress does as well, as reflected in its decision to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 641, 793, 794, 798, 952, 1924.

They provide multiple declarations — from Mike Ellis, the Trump hack who has politicized classified information in the past, from National Counterintelligence Director Bill Evanina claiming this is the kind of information our adversaries look for, from Director of NSA Paul Nakasone talking about the specific vulnerability of SIGINT, and from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, whose name the TRO misspells and whose experience looks exceedingly thin compared to the others, along with classified declaration from Ellis. Even though the declarations were obviously carefully curated by Ellis, these are nevertheless the kinds of things courts usually bow to, when the government makes claims about classification. While neither we nor Bolton or his lawyer will get to review the actual claims being made, such declarations are usually sufficient to get the desired recourse.

Perhaps notably, the filings include a letter from John Eisenberg (whose shenanigans regarding the Ukraine call Bolton made more significant), written on June 11, at a time when the White House already knew Bolton was moving to publish, accusing Bolton of publishing this information for financial gain.

Fourth, your self-serving insinuations that the NSC review process has been directed at anything other than a good faith effort to protect national security information is offensive. Your client has taken classified information, including some that he himself classified, and sold it to the highest bidder in an attempt to make a personal profit from information that he held in trust as a public servant–and has done so without regard for the harm it would do to the national security of the United States.

Effectively, this package of filings does nothing to prevent the book from coming out. But it very carefully lays a record to meet the elements of an Espionage charge. Given this notice, the government would be in a position to point to the publication of the book (that Bolton couldn’t stop now if he wanted) and prove that Bolton had an obligation to keep these things secret, he knew the damage that not doing so could cause, and yet nevetheless published the information.

Whether they will prosecute or not is unclear. But these filings make it far easier to do so.

The White House is preparing to claim that John Bolton is akin to Edward Snowden, solely because he aired Trump’s dirt in a book.

This all comes at the same time as the government is making extraordinary efforts to prevent Mike Flynn from being punished for secretly working for a frenemy country while getting classified briefings, and calling up the country that just attacked us in 2016 and discussing how Russia and the Trump Administration had mutual interests in undermining Obama’s policies.

The same DOJ that is magnifying Bolton’s risk for an Espionage prosecution found nothing inappropriate in Flynn calling up the country that had just attacked the US and teaming with that hostile country against the current government of the United States.

Nor was anything said on the calls themselves to indicate an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Flynn and a foreign power. Indeed, Mr. Flynn’s request that Russia avoid “escalating” tensions in response to U.S. sanctions in an effort to mollify geopolitical tensions was consistent with him advocating for, not against, the interests of the United States. At bottom, the arms-length communications gave no indication that Mr. Flynn was being “directed and controlled by … the Russian federation,” much less in a manner that “threat[ened] … national security.” Ex. 1 at 2, Ex. 2 at 2.

Indeed, the Attorney General even claimed the call was “laudable,” even while lying that it didn’t conflict with Obama’s policies.

But it’s not just in the courts where DOJ is working hard to protect the guy who really did harm the US. In an effort to sow the propaganda case for Mike Flynn, the Trump Administration has been on a declassification spree, including — by Ratcliffe — the transcripts of some (but not all) of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak, something that has never been done before. Significantly, the claims that Nakasone and Ratcliffe make in their declarations in the Bolton case, especially with regards to disclosing SIGINT burns the collection going forward, were clearly violated when Ratcliffe declassified the transcripts.

To be honest, I won’t weep if Bolton is prosecuted. He would have had more legal protection had he testified during the impeachment inquiry, which would have done more good for the country. It would be an abuse, but such abuse has been directed against far more vulnerable and admirable people.

But the comparison of the claims Mike Ellis is making about Trump’s third National Security Advisor with the treatment given his first — the guy who actively sold out his country rather than did so with his inaction — only serves to emphasize how Trump subjects what traditionally gets called national security to loyalty.

The greatest “national security” sin a Trump Administration official can commit, this comparison shows, is disloyalty to Donald Trump.

“The Boss is Aware:” Trump Learned about Mike Flynn’s Conversations with Sergey Kislyak in Real Time

As I noted, John Ratcliffe has released the transcripts of at least some of the Flynn-Kislyak calls (Ric Grenell said that he didn’t have all transcripts, and there are certainly other transcripts, at least setting up the meeting at which Jared Kushner asked for a back channel). As I also noted, from the very beginning, Kislyak set up the calls with Flynn such that Russian and Trump were unified against the Democrats (though the common enemy referenced in the calls was ISIS).

But that’s not the most damning part of the transcripts.

As I have repeatedly noted, the Mueller Report is very coy about whether Mueller obtained evidence that Flynn spoke directly with Trump about his calls with Kislyak, going so far as to withhold details of the timeline of events on December 29 (Mueller cites Flynn’s call records, but we know from the Stone trial that he also got Trump’s call records, at least for the campaign period). According to the narrative Mueller laid out, the first time that Flynn claimed to remember discussing the conversation with Trump was on January 3, 2017.

On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

Flynn even claimed that he and Trump didn’t speak about the substance of the calls until February 6.

The week of February 6, Flynn had a one-on-one conversation with the President in the Oval Office about the negative media coverage of his contacts with Kislyak. I93 Flynn recalled that the President was upset and asked him for information on the conversations. 194 Flynn listed the specific dates on which he remembered speaking with Kislyak, but the President corrected one of the dates he listed. I95 The President asked Flynn what he and Kislyak discussed and Flynn responded that he might have talked about sanctions.I96

Flynn’s claimed uncertainty about whether he had discussed the sanctions call with Trump was a key part of Mueller’s analysis of whether Trump fired Jim Comey because Flynn had derogatory information on him.

As part of our investigation, we examined whether the President had a personal stake in the outcome of an investigation into Flynn-for example, whether the President was aware of Flynn’s communications with Kislyak close in time to when they occurred, such that the President knew that Flynn had lied to senior White House officials and that those lies had been passed on to the public. Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge. In advance of Flynn’s initial call with Kislyak, the President attended a meeting where the sanctions were discussed and an advisor may have mentioned that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak. Flynn told McFarland about the substance of his calls with Kislyak and said they may have made a difference in Russia’s response, and Flynn recalled talking to Bannon in early January 2017 about how they had successfully “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. It would have been reasonable for Flynn to have wanted the President to know of his communications with Kislyak because Kislyak told Flynn his request had been received at the highest levels in Russia and that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to the request, and the President was pleased by the Russian response, calling it a ” [g]reat move.” And the President never said publicly or internally that Flynn had lied to him about the calls with Kislyak.

But McFarland did not recall providing the President-Elect with Flynn’s read-out of his calls with Kislyak, and Flynn does not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect directly about the calls. Bannon also said he did not recall hearing about the calls from Flynn. And in February 2017, the President asked Flynn what was discussed on the calls and whether he had lied to the Vice President, suggesting that he did not already know. Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

But the transcript of Flynn’s December 31, 2016 call makes it clear that Mueller had proof that Flynn had talked with Trump about the Kislyak call, because Flynn told Kislyak that the “boss is aware” of the secure video conference that Kislyak wanted to set up immediately after Trump was inaugurated.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

Flynn might claim that he only told Trump about the video conference and not sanctions (which wouldn’t be remotely credible, given that Flynn was the one who raised the sanctions, not Kislyak). He might claim that any conveyance of the details of the call went to Trump second-hand, perhaps through KT McFarland.

But whatever excuse Flynn would offer (remember, he has been asking for these transcripts since August, so it’s unclear how much of their content John Eisenberg, Reince Priebus, and Mike Pence shared with him in real time), his assurances to Kislyak, offered on December 31, that Trump knew of the request Kislyak had made on the December 29 call makes it quite clear that Flynn knew Trump had learned of the substance of the call via some means within 48 hours of that call.

And then told Mueller he had no idea whether he had shared that information.

As Richard Burr Rushes to Release Volume Five of SSCI’s Russian Investigation, the FBI Closes In

Update: As I was posting this, reports that Burr is stepping down as Chair of SSCI came out.

The LAT has a big scoop revealing that the FBI seized Richard Burr’s cell phone yesterday, having gotten a probable cause warrant incorporating information they obtained via a search of his iCloud.

Federal agents seized a cellphone belonging to a prominent Republican senator on Wednesday night as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into controversial stock trades he made as the novel coronavirus first struck the U.S., a law enforcement official said.

[snip]

Such a warrant being served on a sitting U.S. senator would require approval from the highest ranks of the Justice Department and is a step that would not be taken lightly. Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

A second law enforcement official said FBI agents served a warrant in recent days on Apple to obtain information from Burr’s iCloud account and said agents used data obtained from the California-based company as part of the evidence used to obtain the warrant for the senator’s phone.

[snip]

The same day Burr sold his stocks, Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, sold between $97,000 and $280,000 worth of six stocks, according to documents filed with the Office of Government Ethics. Fauth serves on the National Mediation Board, which provides mediation for labor disputes in the aviation and rail industries.

Burr has denied coordinating trading with his brother-in-law.

Given the progression from an iCloud warrant to the warrant for the cell phone, it’s likely the FBI is seeking out texts between Burr and his brother-in-law around the time of the stock sales. (The FBI often access iCloud to find out what apps someone has accessed, obtains a pen register to identify communications of interest using that app, then seizes the phone to get those encrypted communications.)

The public evidence again Burr is quite damning, so there’s no question that this is a properly predicated investigation.

Still, coming from a DOJ that has gone to great lengths to protect other looting (and has not taken similar public steps against Kelly Loeffler), the move does raise questions.

Particularly given the focus that Richard Burr gave, during the John Ratcliffe confirmation hearing, to getting the final volume of the SSCI Report on 2016 declassified and released by August.

Richard Burr: Congressman, over the course of the last three years this committee has issued four reports about Russia’s meddling in our elections covering Russia’s intrusions into state election systems, their use of social media to attempt to influence the election, and. most recently confirming the findings of the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment. While being mindful of the fact that we’re, um, in an unclassified setting, what are your views on Russia’s meddling in our elections?

John Ratcliffe: Chairman, my views are that Russia meddled or interfered with Active Measures in 2016, they interfered in 2018, they will attempt to do so in 2018 [sic]. They have a goal of sowing discord, and they have been successful in sowing discord. Fortunately, based on the work–the good work of this committee, we know that they may have been successful in that regard but they have not been successful in changing votes or the outcome of any election. The Intelligence Community, as you know, plays a vital role on insuring we have safe, secure, and credible elections and that every vote cast by every American is done so properly and counted properly.

Burr: Will you commit to bringing information about threats to the election infrastructure and about foreign governments’ efforts to influence to Congress so we’re fully and currently informed?

Ratcliffe: I will.

Burr; Will you commit to testify at this committee’s annual worldwide threats hearing?

Ratcliffe: I will.

Burr: And last question, over the last three years we have issued four reports. Number five is finished. Number five will go for declassification. Do we have your commitment as DNI that you would expeditiously go through the declassification process?

Ratcliffe: You do.

Burr: Senator Warner.

Mark Warner: Thank you Mr. Chairman. You actually took some of my questions.

Burr: My eyesight is good.

Warner: Mr. Ratcliffe, good to see you again and I appreciated our time, um, um, last Friday. I want to follow-up on a couple of the Chairman’s questions first. As we discussed, we’re … Volume Five, and so far our first four volumes have all been unanimous. Or maybe with the exception of one dissenting vote. If we get this document to the ODNI we need your commitment not only that we do it expeditiously, but as much as possible to get that Volume Five reviewed, redacted, and released, ideally before the August, the August recess. Now, I know you’ve not seen the report yet. All I would ask is, aspirationally that you commit to that goal, because I think as we discussed, to have a document that could be [big pause] potentially significant come out in the midst of a presidential campaign isn’t good or fair on either side. So if I could clarify a bit, recognizing that you’ve not seen the document is a thousand pages, that you’d try to get this cleared prior to August.

Ratcliffe: Vice Chairman, I would again, commit that I would work with you to get that as expeditiously as possible.

During the 2018 election, Burr had — at a time when the committee assuredly did not have the ability to rule it out — twice said there was no evidence of “collusion.” Burr has made no such claims recently.

Even just the Roger Stone disclosures from his trial make it clear “collusion” happened, and that’s ignoring the ongoing Foreign Agent investigation involving Stone. And the Intelligence Committees have been briefed on the existence of — and possibly some details about — either that or other ongoing investigations.

If Richard Burr is prepping to reverse his prior public comments about “collusion,” it might explain why the Bill Barr DOJ, which has stopped hiding that it is an instrument used to enforce political loyalty to Trump, would more aggressively investigate Burr than others.

Again, there’s no question that this is a properly predicated investigation. But in the Barr DOJ, properly predicated investigations about political allies of Trump all get quashed. This one has, instead, been aggressively and overtly pursued.

After Years of Squealing about “FISA Abuse,” Trump’s DNI Nominee Won’t Rule Out Warrantless Wiretapping

As I noted earlier, in his confirmation hearing to be Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe made it crystal clear he will lie to protect Trump by stating that he believed Trump has always accurately conveyed the threat of COVID-19.

Ratcliffe made some other alarming comments. For example:

  • He repeatedly said that Russia had not changed any votes in 2016. The Intelligence Community did not review that issue and Ratcliffe has no basis to make that claim.
  • Ratcliffe also repeatedly refused to back SSCI’s unanimous conclusion that Russia intervened to help Trump.
  • He dodged when Warner asked him to promise to brief the committee even if Russia were trying to help Trump.
  • When asked whether he supported Inspectors General, Ratcliffe said that he supported Michael Horowitz when others attacked him but then suggested he disagreed with Horowitz’ “opinion,” making it clear he does not accept Horowitz’ conclusions that he found no evidence that bias affected the investigation into Trump’s flunkies.
  • Ratcliffe claimed he didn’t have enough information to address Michael Atkinson’s firing.
  • When Dianne Feinstein read his quotes about the Ukraine whistleblower to him, Ratcliffe pretended those quotes were about something they weren’t.
  • He might not provide intelligence on COVID-19 that showed how Trump blew it off.
  • He suggested that if only the IC had reviewed open source data, they might have warned of the dangers of COVID-19, which they did warn of using both OSINT and classified intelligence.
  • He refused to answer whether he thought there was a Deep State in the IC, and later suggested a few members of the IC were Deep State.
  • Ratcliffe refused to agree to release a report showing that Mohammed bin Salman had Jamal Khashoggi executed and chopped into bits, as required by last year’s Defense Authorization. He suggested that it might have been properly classified; as DNI, he would be the Original Classification Authority to make that decision.
  • He refused to answer clearly on whether Trump’s policies on North Korea and Iran have worked.
  • He later suggested he might not share intelligence if it were too sensitive, again ignoring that as OCA he gets to decide whether it’s really classified.
  • After saying he would appear for a Global Threats hearing, he then dodged when later asked whether he would appear before the committee generally.

Ratcliffe made several comments to make it clear he would side with expansive Unitary Executive interpretations holding that:

  • There are limits to whistleblower protection.
  • If torture were deemed legal it would okay to do it.
  • The executive can use warrantless wiretapping.

There were a few additional hints about stuff going on right now:

  • Mark Warner said that intelligence professionals have been pressured to limit information they share with Congress.
  • Warner also said that Ric Grenell was undermining the IC’s election security group.
  • Both Warner and Richard Burr seemed concerned that the DNI would not declassify their 1000-page Volume V of their Report on Russia’s 2016 election interference (I’m not sure whether this assess the Steele dossier or lays out whether and how Trump “colluded” during 2016).
  • Martin Heinrich made it clear that Grenell is reorganizing the IC, without any consultation or approval from Congress.

It’s not just unqualified, he’s a sycophant. But it seems like there’s so much that Grenell is already screwing up, Republicans on the committee, at least, prefer Ratcliffe.

Update: Here are Ratcliffe’s Questions for the Record. They’re particularly troubling on sharing with Congress.

He twice refused to say that he wouldn’t impose loyalty tests.

QUESTION 39: Personnel decisions can affect analytic integrity and objectivity. A. Would you consider an individual’s personal political preferences, to include “loyalty” to the President, in making a decision to hire, fire, or promote an individual?

Answer: Personnel decisions should be based on qualifications, skills, merit, and other standards which demonstrate the ability, dedication and integrity required to support the central IC mission of providing unvarnished intelligence to policymakers.

B. Do you commit to exclusively consider professional qualifications in IC personnel decisions, without consideration of partisan or political factors?

Answer: Personnel decisions should be based on qualifications, skills, merit, and other standards that demonstrate the ability, dedication and integrity required to support the central IC mission of providing unvarnished intelligence to policymakers.

He refused to promise to keep the Election Threats Executive Office open.

QUESTION 45: Would you commit to keep the Election Threats Executive Office in place to ensure continuity of efforts, and build on the successes of the 2018 midterms?

Answer: If confirmed, I will work with IC leaders and ODNI officials to ensure the IC is well-positioned to address the election security threats facing our Nation.

He refused to promise to notify Congress if Russia starts helping Trump again.

QUESTION 53: Do you commit to immediately notifying policymakers and the public of Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. democratic processes, to include our elections?

Answer: If confirmed, I would work with the Committee to accommodate its legitimate oversight needs while safeguarding the confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch, including the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence sources and methods

He suggested he had no problem with Section 215 being used to access someone’s browsing records.

QUESTION 7: Do you believe that Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act should be used to collect Americans’ web browsing and internet search history? If yes, do you believe there are or should be any limitations to “digital tracking” of Americans without a warrant, in terms of length of time, the amount of information collected, or the nature of the information collected (e.g., whether particular kinds of websites raise special privacy concerns)?

Answer: I believe it is important for the Intelligence Community to use its authorities appropriately against valid intelligence targets. The amendments to Title V of FISA made by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act expired on March 15, 2020 and, to date, have not been reauthorized.

Ratcliffe dodged several questions about whether FISA was exclusive means to collect

Extra-Statutory Collection

QUESTION 9: Title 50, section 1812 provides for exclusive means by which electronic surveillance and interception of certain communications may be conducted. Do you agree that this provision of law is binding on the President?

Answer: If confirmed, I would work with the Attorney General to ensure that IC activities are carried out in accordance with the Constitution and applicable federal law.

QUESTION 10: Do you believe that the intelligence surveillance and collection activities covered by FISA can be conducted outside the FISA framework? If yes, please specify which intelligence surveillance and collection activities, the limits (if any) on extra-statutory collection activities, and the legal authorities you believe would authorize those activities.

Answer: If confirmed, I would work with the Attorney General and the heads of IC elements, as well as the General Counsels throughout the IC, to ensure that intelligence activities are conducted in accordance with the Constitution and applicable federal law. As set forth in Section 112 of FISA, with limited exceptions, FISA constitutes the exclusive statutory means by which electronic surveillance, as defined in FISA, and the interception of domestic wire, oral, or electric communications for foreign intelligence purposes may be conducted.

QUESTION 11: What would you do if the IC was requested or directed to conduct such collection activities outside the FISA framework? Would you notify the full congressional intelligence activities?

Answer: Consistent with the requirements of the National Security Act, I would keep the congressional intelligence committees informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any illegal intelligence activities. As you know, not all intelligence activities are governed by FISA.

If confirmed, I would work with the Attorney General and the heads of IC elements, as well as the General Counsels throughout the IC, to ensure that intelligence activities are conducted in accordance with the Constitution and applicable federal law.

Senator Wyden asked a question about the IC purchasing stuff they otherwise would need a warrant for.

QUESTION 12: Do you believe the IC can purchase information related to U.S. persons if the compelled production of that information would be covered by FISA? If yes, what rules and guidelines would apply to the type and quantity of the information purchased and to the use, retention and dissemination of that information? Should the congressional intelligence committees be briefed on any such collection activities?

Answer: Elements of the IC are authorized to collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning U.S. persons only in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General. As you know, not all intelligence activities are governed by FISA, and it is my understanding that in appropriate circumstances elements of the IC may lawfully purchase information from the private sector in furtherance of their authorized missions. Nonetheless, any intelligence activity not governed by FISA would be regulated by the Attorney General-approved procedures that govern the intelligence activities of that IC element. Consistent with the requirements of the National Security Act, if confirmed, I would keep the congressional intelligence committees informed of the intelligence activities of the United States.

 

John Ratcliffe Demonstrates How He’ll Politicize Intelligence by Claiming Trump Has Been Honest about COVID-19

John Ratcliffe just had his confirmation hearing to be Director of National Intelligence.

I’ll have more to say about what we learned about the Intelligence Committee after I walk June Bug the Terrorist FosteX Dog. But the main takeaway from the hearing is entirely encapsulated in this exchange (my transcription):

Kamala Harris: Do you believe President Trump has accurately conveyed the threat of COVID-19 to the American people?

Ratcliffe: Are you saying, presently?

Harris: We are in the midst of the pandemic, presently correct.

Ratcliffe: Can you repeat the question? I guess I’m misunderstanding the question. I’m sorry. Has he accurately represented the status of the pandemic?

Harris: Conveyed the severity of the pandemic, yes, Has he accurately conveyed the severity of COVID-19 to the American people.

Ratcliffe: I believe so.

Harris asked a question which has just one true answer. The only objective answer to this question is that no, Trump has not accurately conveyed the seriousness of COVID-19.

Ratcliffe answered yes.

Ratcliffe was asked over and over again whether he’ll politicize intelligence and each time he dutifully delivered his rehearsed answer, no, he won’t. Both Politico and NBC reported those rehearsed answers as the “news” of the hearing. Neither mentioned the Harris exchange, where Ratcliffe answered far more clearly than in any yes or no questions that he will, in fact, lie to the American people to serve Trump (and there were other instances where he made it clear he will politicize intelligence, just not so clear cut).

It is a matter of life or death during a pandemic to separate false information from truth. Everyone should be doing that, and such truthful reporting is supposed to be the job of journalists. For political accountability on the pandemic to happen, it must be clear that Trump appointed a sycophant as Director of National Intelligence, someone who is unwilling to tell the truth about it. It must be clearly reported that Ratcliffe lied in this hearing about a clear factual issue. Hiding that fact by treating Ratcliffe’s false assurances as truthful contributes to the danger of the pandemic.

Ratcliffe will be confirmed DNI. He might even get some Democratic votes, from people who view him as a less awful alternative than the Twitter troll turned German Ambassador turned part time DNI he would replace. But it matters that it be accurately reported that it was clear going into it that Ratcliffe would lie to and for Trump.

A Diverse America Votes to Uphold the Constitution; A Largely Male White America Votes to Abrogate It

The House Judiciary Committee just voted to send two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump to the full House.

The entire vote took just minutes. But it said so much about the state of America today.

It will forever be portrayed as a party line vote, with 23 Democrats in favor, and 17 Republicans against. But it was also a tribute to the degree to which polarization in America today pivots on issues of diversity.

The Democrats who voted in favor included 11 women, and 13 Latinx and people of color (Ted Lieu missed the vote recovering from a heart procedure). Three (plus Lieu) are immigrants. One is gay. These Democrats voted to uphold the Constitution a bunch of white men, several of them owners of African-American slaves, wrote hundreds of years ago.

The Republicans who voted against were all white. Just two were women.  These Republicans voted to permit a racist white male President to cheat to get reelected in violation of the rule of law.

This is about a clash between the rising America and the past. And it’s unclear who will win this battle for America. But the stakes are clear.

 

John Ratcliffe and Accountability for a President Who Lives in a Fox News Bubble

Garrett Graff argues that, even given the list of indicted or otherwise disgraced former Trump officials, John Ratcliffe may be Trump’s most alarming personnel decision. I don’t disagree that the Ratcliffe decision is dangerous. But Graff’s argument made me realize something else about the pick. Ratcliffe is dangerous because he may render the entire intelligence apparatus useless, but useless for a purpose it is not currently supposed to serve.

Graff describes, accurately, what the purported function of the Intelligence Community is: to provide the President with the best possible information that he will use — the assumption goes — to make the best possible decisions for our country.

The biggest danger Ratcliffe poses is to the integrity of the job of director of national intelligence in the first place; the core principle of the intelligence professional is to speak truth to power.

The US spends $60 billion a year on the nation’s intelligence apparatus, a workforce of tens of thousands ranging from CIA officers and FBI agents to NSA cryptologists and hackers, NGA analysts, interpretation experts at the NRO, financial wizards at the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and much more.

All of that money and all of those workers share a simple uniting goal: To ensure that the president of the United States is, in every conversation and decision, the most informed, knowledgeable, best-prepared person in the room. They enable the president and his advisors to anticipate problems and opportunities; understand the mind, decision-making, and internal pressures of foreign leaders far and wide; know from satellites overhead, cables underground, and agents in the field what’s happening the world over—and why.

It’s odd, when you think about it, that you can have this enormous bureaucracy and the sole justification for it all, in statute, is to make the President smart. That’s not even practically how it works anymore — so many people in and outside that bureaucracy make decisions based off their work, and Congress increasingly relies on it too, that that justification seems rather odd when laid out like that. But that is what the legal justification remains.

Having laid out that accurate justification, Graff argues, correctly, that Ratcliffe’s record as a toady for Trump means he won’t speak truth to power as Dan Coats has at key times.

With a president so divorced from daily reality as Trump, it’s all the more important to fill the role of DNI with someone whose first duty is to puncture the Fox News fever swamp bubble that surrounds the White House, and provide real facts, grounded analysis, and ensure—to whatever extent possible—that the information that flows into the Oval Office and the decisions that flow out of it are informed and strategic.’

This is, technically, the problem, at least if you buy all the arguments about the function of the IC. If Ratcliffe shades the intelligence and tells Trump what he wants to hear, rather than what the IC believes to be true, then Trump’s decisions won’t be as rigorous.

Except if all that’s true — if the most important role of the DNI is to accurately convey the true intelligence the IC has created — then it doesn’t much matter who Trump appoints. That’s because it doesn’t matter whether Trump hears the truth or not, he doesn’t use intelligence anyway. He’s going to do what his gut and Fox News tells him to do, regardless of whether it flies in the face of reality. Hell, much of the GOP will go along these days, including our Fox saturated Attorney General, who has in less obvious but no less dangerous ways lost his grip of a reality independent of the Fox bubble.

What Graff seems to suggest is that Coats currently serves as a signal to the rest of us, a siren letting us know what reality is and when the President is defying it with his policy choices. When Coats tells us North Korea will continue to pursue its nuclear program in spite of all the photo ops the President stages, it’s providing us a tool to say he’s wrong, but it’s doing little (outside of Congress) to force the President to adopt a policy on North Korea based on what Kim Jong Un will actually do.

Of course, Ratcliffe is a problem for a bunch of other reasons. It’s not just that he will brief the President with false claims the President wants to be true, but he will order up the entire bureaucracy to replicate the false claims the President wants to be true, in defiance of known facts. He will fire competent people and replace them with people willing to serve up the false claims the President wants to be true; indeed, both he and Trump have already said that’s what he wants to do. He will also probably sanction the misuse of intelligence (he has already called for investigations into Jim Comey and others that have already happened, with unknown conclusions, which suggests he wants the outcome of those investigations to be different than what they are).

Those are all dangerous things. But that they present the real threat to the Ratcliffe appointment, they signal that the IC doesn’t actually serve the purpose laid out in statute anymore and that — especially in the wake of the Iraq War debacle (in the wake of which the DNI position was created, as a way to avoid similar catastrophes in the future) — the public has grown to expect the IC to serve as a measure of whether the President has spun free of reality (Obama did this most notably on Syria and Afghanistan).

There’s a hope, I think, that the IC can save us all from being forced to live in Trump and Ratcliffe and Bill Barr’s Fox News bubble, or at the very least, bringing Trump back from the bubble into reality.

If that’s really what purpose we expect it to serve, we need a dramatically different IC than we currently have.

John Ratcliffe’s Lies about His Time at DOJ Raise New Questions about His Claim to Have Used Warrantless Searches

Both NBC and ABC have stories laying out how two key claims about his work at DOJ that John Ratcliffe has used to get elected three times are lies. Less important for this post, when Ratcliffe repeatedly took credit for “arresting over 300 illegal [sic] aliens in a single day,” he was actually taking credit for a poultry worker bust that was led by ICE and involved four other US Attorneys offices and a slew of other investigative agencies.

This is an ICE-led investigation with support from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern District of Texas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Middle District of Florida, and the Northern District of West Virginia. Also aiding in the investigation are the DOL-OIG; the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the U.S. Postal Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the West Virginia State Police; and numerous other state and local agencies.

More interesting, however, is Ratcliffe’s claim that, “There are individuals that currently sit in prison because I prosecuted them for funneling money to terrorist groups.” As both NBC and ABC note, there’s not a shred of evidence that Ratcliffe ever prosecuted a terrorism case. His own campaign press release botches the timing and titles of this, seemingly conflating his time as (an unconfirmed) US Attorney with his role as chief of the anti-terrorism section for the US Attorney office he’d eventually run.

In 2008, Ratcliffe served by special appointment as the prosecutor in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, one of the nation’s largest terrorism financing cases.  During his tenure as the Chief of the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Section for the Eastern District of Texas he personally managed dozens of international and domestic terrorism investigations.

The statement his office gave ABC, which explains that the reference pertained to his appointment as Special Counsel investigating why the Holy Land Foundation case resulted in a mistrial, conflates those two roles even worse.

Ratcliffe’s office clarified that his status regarding the case was instead related to investigating issues surrounding what led to the mistrial in the first case.

“Because the investigation did not result in any charges, it would not be in accordance with Department of Justice policies to make further details public,” Rachel Stephens, a spokesperson for Ratcliffe, said. “However, Department of Justice records will confirm that as both Chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security for the Eastern District of Texas from 2004-2008, John Ratcliffe opened, managed and supervised numerous domestic and international terrorism related cases.”

The timing here is critical, for reasons I’ll get into in a second. Ratcliffe was appointed Acting US Attorney sometime between May 20 and June 20, 2007; prior to that, he had been the First AUSA and the chief of the anti-terrorism and national security division in a division that didn’t see many national security cases (though in his campaigns, Ratcliffe would take credit for a big meth bust he mostly oversaw the sentencing of).

The mistrial of the first Holy Land Foundation trial was on October 23, 2007.

Ratcliffe was appointed US Attorney by Michael Mukasey sometime after he was confirmed as Attorney General on November 8, 2007.

Ratcliffe’s tenure as US Attorney ended after his replacement was confirmed on April 29, 2008. It’s unclear whether he stayed on after that; he joined a law firm leveraging John Ashcroft’s name the next April.

I’m interested in those dates because, in a 2015 debate over whether to prohibit back door searches of data collected using Section 702 of FISA, Ratcliffe claimed he had used warrantless searches as a terrorism prosecutor.

In full disclosure to everyone, I am a former terrorism prosecutor that has used warrantless searches, and frankly have benefitted from them in a number of international and domestic terrorism cases.

The implication was that he had done back door searches, but (as I noted at the time) he could only have done back door searches of Section 702 content if he stuck around after being replaced as US Attorney, because the FISA Amendments Act did not become law until July 10, 2008, after he was replaced as US Attorney. It’s true that Protect America Act was in place during part of the time he was US Attorney and during the time he would have been investigating the Holy Land Foundation case, but that remained in flux until February 2008 and DOJ was claiming, in the Yahoo challenge, not to permit back door searches.

If, as Ratcliffe suggests, his big terrorism “prosecution” was on the Holy Land case, it suggests he was using data from Protect America Act. Any back door searches in conjunction with that would be particularly controversial given that a bunch of Muslim groups were improperly named in a list of unindicted co-conspirators in a filing in the case, and some of them (such as CAIR’s Executive Director Nihad Awad) was under FISA surveillance through that period. In other words, if he used back door searches in the wake of the Holy Land mistrial, there’s a good chance he was engaged in what Carter Page insists in FISA abuse. This was also a period when there were a slew of violations with the Section 215 phone dragnet, which was almost certainly used to map out all of CAIR during the period.

One possible alternative is still worse. Ratcliffe started his anti-terrorism position in 2004. At the time, the George Bush warrantless wiretap program Stellar Wind — on which the back door searches of FAA were modeled — remained active (though in somewhat constrained form in the wake of the hospital confrontation). If Ratcliffe did back door searches on Stellar Wind data, he was part of Bush’s illegal surveillance program, and not just involved in “FISA abuse” but in crimes under FISA.

Given the number of lies he has already been caught in, and given his obvious confusion in any number of public hearings since, it’s quite possible he was just pretending to be an expert on a national security issue to fluff up his credibility. Perhaps he didn’t really understand the subject of the debate, and mistook normal criminal process for FISA surveillance.

That said, there’s frankly no good answer for this claim: the least damning explanation is confusion or puffery, the most damning is that he was involved in criminal surveillance.

But it’s a specific detail that demands an answer if Ratcliffe wants to supervise the entire intelligence community.