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Trump Bitched Out McConnell about Not Protecting Him in Russia Probe on Day Manafort Raid Story Broke

Donald Trump continues his habit of alienating people he needs to help him survive his presidency. The NYT provides details of the souring relationship between Trump and Mitch McConnell, which it says culminated in an August 9 phone call.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

In offhand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond, according to people who have spoken to him directly.

In point of fact, the tweets started on August 9 (about 2:25PM) and continued through the next morning. Both the tweet described as occurring before and the one occurring after the phone call reference only the TrumpCare debacle, not the Russian investigation.

According to the NYT, Trump was “even more animated” about McConnell’s “refusal” to protect him from Russian investigations.

August 9 was the day the WaPo first broke (around 10:00AMthe story of the July 26 raid on Paul Manafort’s home. The raid itself, of course, was conducted by the FBI. But all the stories about it include allusions about the fact that it came after Manafort’s interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee and immediately after Manafort reluctantly agreed to cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee on threat of subpoena; Manafort had tried and failed to limit his appearance to SSCI.

Now go back to the language the NYT uses. “Refusal” to protect Trump.  That’s sure an interesting word, “refusal.” Did Trump contact McConnell about the subpoena to Manafort back on July 25? Or did McConnell refuse some other tangible request from Trump? If so does Robert Mueller know about it?

In response to reports on the raid, Trump lawyer John Dowd made all sorts of crazy comments to the press about how FBI had acted improperly because they hadn’t exhausted all options for obtaining the materials seized on July 26. Even Fox News said Dowd was trying to protect the President with his comments. And some of the reporting noted that among the seized documents were Manafort’s notes for his interview with SSCI.

That is, all the reporting on the raid intimated that it had as much to do with the Congressional testimony as Mueller’s own investigation.

And sometime that day, Trump called McConnell and complained the Majority Leader wasn’t providing him sufficient protection. Refused to protect him, in fact.

In any case, Trump’s attacks have gotten the thin-skinned McConnell wondering “whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond,” which sure seems like a bad opinion for Trump to have fostered given that McConnell would have a big influence on how any impeachment trial would proceed if it ever got to the Senate.

Update: Coverage of the Glenn Simpson (head of Fusion GPS, which did the Steele dossier) interview with SJC makes clear that his was the first voluntary testimony, meaning Manafort (and Don Jr) have not sat for an interview yet.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Democrats Need a Plan for National Voter Protection

Even as three different committees in Congress investigate how Russia tampered with our election last year, the Trump Administration and Congress are taking steps to tamper with the next election themselves.

The House Appropriations Committee just defunded the Election Assistance Commission, which is the only federal entity to help states prevent getting hacked.

The head of Trump’s “Election Integrity” Commission, Kris Kobach — fresh off court sanctions for lying to a court — sent a letter to all the Secretaries of State, asking them for their voting rolls (including party affiliation).

And then Trump named the loathsome Hans Van Spaskovsky, who has a history of suppressing the vote of people of color, to the Commission.

It’s probably no accident all this is happening as Trump and Mitch McConnell try to force through a massively unpopular change to ObamaCare. By making showy plans to cheat on a national scale, the Administration may be reassuring Republicans they can keep their job even by selling out their constituents in favor of a tax cut for the wealthy. They’ll just do it by cheating even more obviously than they have in the past.

Whatever the logic, though, Democrats are thus far responding to this obvious effort to cheat with half measures. While Democratic Secretaries of State are announcing they’re refuse to comply with Kobach’s request, that’s it. No discussion of anything more, not even an organized effort to point out that Pence didn’t mention cybersecurity in his statement the other day on “Election Integrity” even as Congress investigates the effect of hacks on the election last year. [This has been corrected to note it was Pence who didn’t mention cyber; Kobach does actually ask about technology in his letter.]

Just nine months after Democrats pushed for a national effort to protect the vote as it was being hacked by Russians only to have Republicans balk, Republicans are now embracing such a national effort. Yet Democrats are unprepared for what a nation-wide effort to ensure all Americans get to vote would look like.

This is an opportunity to lay out standards, within the framework permitted by federalism, for real election integrity. That might include things like:

  • Cybersecurity standards for both machines and electoral rolls
  • Standards for a paper trail on voting
  • Rules limiting how and when purges may happen
  • Affirmative restrictions on identity requirements that impose financial and time costs

Two noted racists are about to try to rebrand cheating as “integrity.” It’s time for the Democrats to do more than simply resist, but instead to lay out what real election integrity would look like in this country.

That’s all the more true given the investment Democrats have made in the Russian narrative. If Russia tampering with our vote is so important, then why is Republicans doing the same, much more aggressively and effectively, not worth the same effort?

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Compartments in WaPo’s Russian Hack Magnum Opus

The WaPo has an 8300 word opus on the Obama Administration’s response to Russian tampering in the election. The article definitely covers new ground on the Obama effort to respond while avoiding making things worse, particularly with regards to imposing sanctions in December. It also largely lays out much of the coverage the three bylined journalists (Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous) have broken before, with new details. The overall message of the article, which has a number of particular viewpoints and silences, is this: Moscow is getting away with their attack.

“[B]ecause of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.”

The Immaculate Interception: CIA’s scoop

WaPo starts its story about how Russia got away with its election op with an exchange designed to make the non-response to the attack seem all the more senseless. It provides a dramatic description of a detail these very same reporters broke on December 9: Putin, who was personally directing this effort, was trying to elect Trump.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

[snip]

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read.

[snip]

In early August, Brennan alerted senior White House officials to the Putin intelligence, making a call to deputy national security adviser Avril Haines and pulling national security adviser Susan Rice side after a meeting before briefing Obama along with Rice, Haines and McDonough in the Oval Office.

While the sharing of this information with just three aides adds to the drama, WaPo doesn’t consider something else about it. The inclusion of Rice and McDonough totally makes sense. But by including Avril Haines, Brennan was basically including his former Deputy Director who had moved onto the DNSA position, effectively putting two CIA people in a room with two White House people and the President. Significantly, Lisa Monaco — who had Brennan’s old job as White House Homeland Security Czar and who came from DOJ and FBI before that — was reportedly excluded from this initial briefing.

There are a number of other interesting details about all this. First, for thousands of wordspace, the WaPo presents this intelligence as irreproachable, even while providing this unconvincing explanation of why, if it is so secret and solid, the CIA was willing to let WaPo put it on its front page.

For spy agencies, gaining insights into the intentions of foreign leaders is among the highest priorities. But Putin is a remarkably elusive target. A former KGB officer, he takes extreme precautions to guard against surveillance, rarely communicating by phone or computer, always running sensitive state business from deep within the confines of the Kremlin.

The Washington Post is withholding some details of the intelligence at the request of the U.S. government.

If this intelligence is so sensitive, why is even the timing of its collection being revealed here, much less its access to Putin?

That seemingly contradictory action is all the more curious given that not all agencies were as impressed with this intelligence as CIA was. It’s not until much, much later in its report until WaPo explains what remains true as recently as Admiral Rogers’ latest Congressional testimony: the NSA wasn’t and isn’t as convinced by CIA’s super secret intelligence as CIA was.

Despite the intelligence the CIA had produced, other agencies were slower to endorse a conclusion that Putin was personally directing the operation and wanted to help Trump. “It was definitely compelling, but it was not definitive,” said one senior administration official. “We needed more.”

Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.

By the time this detail is presented, the narrative is in place: Obama failed to respond adequately to the attack that CIA warned about back in August.

The depiction of this top-level compartment of just Brennan, Rice, McDonough, and Haines is interesting background, as well, for the depiction of the way McDonough undermined a State Department plan to institute a Special Commission before Donald Trump got started.

Supporters’ confidence was buoyed when McDonough signaled that he planned to “tabledrop” the proposal at the next NSC meeting, one that would be chaired by Obama. Kerry was overseas and participated by videoconference.

To some, the “tabledrop” term has a tactical connotation beyond the obvious. It is sometimes used as a means of securing approval of an idea by introducing it before opponents have a chance to form counterarguments.

“We thought this was a good sign,” a former State Department official said.

But as soon as McDonough introduced the proposal for a commission, he began criticizing it, arguing that it would be perceived as partisan and almost certainly blocked by Congress.

Obama then echoed McDonough’s critique, effectively killing any chance that a Russia commission would be formed.

Effectively, McDonough upended the table on those (which presumably includes the CIA) who wanted to preempt regular process.

Finally, even after  these three WaPo journalists foreground their entire narrative with CIA’s super duper scoop (that NSA is still not 100% convinced is one), they don’t describe their own role in changing the tenor of the response on December 9 by reporting the first iteration of this story.

“By December, those of us working on this for a long time were demoralized,” said an administration official involved in the developing punitive options.

Then the tenor began to shift.

On Dec. 9, Obama ordered a comprehensive review by U.S. intelligence agencies of Russian interference in U.S. elections going back to 2008, with a plan to make some of the findings public.

The WaPo’s report of the CIA’s intelligence changed the tenor back in December, and this story about the absence of a response might change the tenor here.

Presenting the politics ahead of the intelligence

The WaPo’s foregrounding of Brennan’s August scoop is also important for the way they portray the parallel streams of the intelligence and political response. It portrays the Democrats’ political complaints about Republicans in this story, most notably the suggestion that Mitch McConnell refused to back a more public statement about the Russian operation when Democrats were pushing for one in September. That story, in part because of McConnell’s silence, has become accepted as true.

Except the WaPo’s own story provides ample evidence that the Democrats were trying to get ahead of the formal intelligence community with respect to attribution, both in the summer, when Clapper only alluded to Russian involvement.

Even after the late-July WikiLeaks dump, which came on the eve of the Democratic convention and led to the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as the DNC’s chairwoman, U.S. intelligence officials continued to express uncertainty about who was behind the hacks or why they were carried out.

At a public security conference in Aspen, Colo., in late July, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. noted that Russia had a long history of meddling in American elections but that U.S. spy agencies were not ready to “make the call on attribution” for what was happening in 2016.

And, more importantly, in the fall, when the public IC attribution came only after McConnell refused to join a more aggressive statement because the intelligence did not yet support it (WaPo makes no mention of it, but DHS’s public reporting from late September still attributed the the threat to election infrastructure to “cybercriminals and criminal hackers”).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.

Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

On Sept. 22, two California Democrats — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff — did what they couldn’t get the White House to do. They issued a statement making clear that they had learned from intelligence briefings that Russia was directing a campaign to undermine the election, but they stopped short of saying to what end.

A week later, McConnell and other congressional leaders issued a cautious statement that encouraged state election officials to ensure their networks were “secure from attack.” The release made no mention of Russia and emphasized that the lawmakers “would oppose any effort by the federal government” to encroach on the states’ authorities.

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes.

I’m all in favor of beating up McConnell, but there is no reason to demand members of Congress precede the IC with formal attribution for something like this. So until October 7, McConnell had cover (if not justification) for refusing to back a stronger statement.

And while the report describes Brennan’s efforts to brief members of Congress (and the reported reluctance of Republicans to meet with him), it doesn’t answer what remains a critical and open question: whether Brennan’s briefing for Harry Reid was different — and more inflammatory — than his briefing for Republicans, and whether that was partly designed to get Reid to serve as a proxy attacker on Jim Comey and the FBI.

Brennan moved swiftly to schedule private briefings with congressional leaders. But getting appointments with certain Republicans proved difficult, officials said, and it was not until after Labor Day that Brennan had reached all members of the “Gang of Eight” — the majority and minority leaders of both houses and the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Nor does this account explain another thing: why Brennan serially briefed the Gang of Eight, when past experience is to brief them in groups, if not all together.

In short, while the WaPo provides new details on the parallel intelligence and political tracks, it reinforces its own narrative while remaining silent on some details that are critical to that narrative.

The compartments

The foregrounding of CIA in all this also raises questions about a new and important detail about (what I assume to be the subsequently publicly revealed, though this is not made clear) Task Force investigating this operation: it lives at CIA, not FBI.

Brennan convened a secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.

The unit functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community. Those brought in signed new non-disclosure agreements to be granted access to intelligence from all three participating agencies.

They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia.

Much later in the story, WaPo reveals how, in the wake of Obama calling for a report, analysts started looking back at their collected intelligence and learning new details.

Obama’s decision to order a comprehensive report on Moscow’s interference from U.S. spy agencies had prompted analysts to go back through their agencies’ files, scouring for previously overlooked clues.

The effort led to a flurry of new, disturbing reports — many of them presented in the President’s Daily Brief — about Russia’s subversion of the 2016 race. The emerging picture enabled policymakers to begin seeing the Russian campaign in broader terms, as a comprehensive plot sweeping in its scope.

It’s worth asking: did the close hold of the original Task Force, a hold that appears to have been set by Brennan, contribute to the belated discovery of these details revealing a broader campaign?

The surveillance driven sanctions

I’m most interested in the description of how the Obama Admin chose whom to impose sanctions on, though it includes this bizarre claim.

But the package of measures approved by Obama, and the process by which they were selected and implemented, were more complex than initially understood.

The expulsions and compound seizures were originally devised as ways to retaliate against Moscow not for election interference but for an escalating campaign of harassment of American diplomats and intelligence operatives. U.S. officials often endured hostile treatment, but the episodes had become increasingly menacing and violent.

Several of the details WaPo presents as misunderstood (including that the sanctions were retaliation for treatment of diplomats) were either explicit in the sanction package or easily gleaned at the time.

One of those easily gleaned details is that the sanctions on GRU and FSB were mostly symbolic. WaPo uses the symbolic nature of the attack on those who perpetrated the attack as a way to air complaints that these sanctions were not as onerous as those in response to Ukraine.

“I don’t think any of us thought of sanctions as being a primary way of expressing our disapproval” for the election interference, said a senior administration official involved in the decision. “Going after their intelligence services was not about economic impact. It was symbolic.”

More than any other measure, that decision has become a source of regret to senior administration officials directly involved in the Russia debate. The outcome has left the impression that Obama saw Russia’s military meddling in Ukraine as more deserving of severe punishment than its subversion of a U.S. presidential race.

“What is the greater threat to our system of government?” said a former high-ranking administration official, noting that Obama and his advisers knew from projections formulated by the Treasury Department that the impact of the election-related economic sanctions would be “minimal.”

Three things that might play into the mostly symbolic targeting of FSB, especially, are not mentioned. First, WaPo makes no mention of the suspected intelligence sources who’ve been killed since the election, most credibly Oleg Erovinkin, as well as a slew of other suspect and less obviously connected deaths. It doesn’t mention the four men Russia charged with treason in early December. And it doesn’t mention DOJ’s indictment of the Yahoo hackers, including one of the FSB officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev, that Russia charged with treason (not to mention the inclusion within the indictment of intercepts between FSB officers). There’s a lot more spy vs. spy activity going on here that likely relates far more to retaliation or limits on US ability to retaliate, all of which may be more important in the medium term than financial sanctions.

Given the Yahoo and other indictments working through San Francisco (including that of Yevgeniey Nikulin, who claims FBI offered him a plea deal involving admitting he hacked the DNC), I’m particularly interested in the shift in sanctions from NY to San Francisco, where Nikulin and Dokuchaev’s victims are located.

The FBI was also responsible for generating the list of Russian operatives working under diplomatic cover to expel, drawn from a roster the bureau maintains of suspected Russian intelligence agents in the United States.

[snip]

The roster of expelled spies included several operatives who were suspected of playing a role in Russia’s election interference from within the United States, officials said. They declined to elaborate.

More broadly, the list of 35 names focused heavily on Russians known to have technical skills. Their names and bios were laid out on a dossier delivered to senior White House officials and Cabinet secretaries, although the list was modified at the last minute to reduce the number of expulsions from Russia’s U.N. mission in New York and add more names from its facilities in Washington and San Francisco.

And the WaPo’s reports confirm what was also obvious: the two compounds got shut down (and were a priority) because of all the spying they were doing.

The FBI had long lobbied to close two Russian compounds in the United States — one in Maryland and another in New York — on the grounds that both were used for espionage and placed an enormous surveillance burden on the bureau.

[snip]

Rice pointed to the FBI’s McCabe and said: “You guys have been begging to do this for years. Now is your chance.”

The administration gave Russia 24 hours to evacuate the sites, and FBI agents watched as fleets of trucks loaded with cargo passed through the compounds’ gates.

Finally, given Congress’ bipartisan fearmongering about Kaspersky Lab, I’m most interested that at one point Treasury wanted to include them in sanctions.

Treasury Department officials devised plans that would hit entire sectors of Russia’s economy. One preliminary suggestion called for targeting technology companies including Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm. But skeptics worried that the harm could spill into Europe and pointed out that U.S. companies used Kaspersky systems and software.

In spite of all the fearmongering, no one has presented proof that Kaspersky is working for Russia (there are even things, which I won’t go in to for the moment, that suggest the opposite). But we’re moving close to de facto sanctions against Kaspersky anyway, even in spite of the fact (or perhaps because) they’re providing better intelligence on WannaCry than half the witnesses called as witnesses to Congress. But discrediting Kaspersky undercuts one of the only security firms in the world who, in addition to commenting on Russian hacking, will unpack America’s own hacking. You sanction Kaspersky, and you expand the asymmetry with which security firms selectively scrutinize just Russian hacking, rather than all nation-state hacking.

The looming cyberattack and the silence about Shadow Brokers

Which brings me to the last section of the article, where, over 8000 words in, the WaPo issues a threat against Russia in the form of a looming cyberattack Obama approved before he left.

WaPo’s early description of this suggests the attack was and is still in planning stages and relies on Donald Trump to execute.

Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.

But if readers make it all the way through the very long article, they’ll learn that’s not the case. The finding has already been signed, the implants are already being placed (implants which would most likely be discovered by Kaspersky), and for Trump to stop it, he would have to countermand Obama’s finding.

The implants were developed by the NSA and designed so that they could be triggered remotely as part of retaliatory cyber-strike in the face of Russian aggression, whether an attack on a power grid or interference in a future presidential race.

Officials familiar with the measures said that there was concern among some in the administration that the damage caused by the implants could be difficult to contain.

As a result, the administration requested a legal review, which concluded that the devices could be controlled well enough that their deployment would be considered “proportional” in varying scenarios of Russian provocation, a requirement under international law.

The operation was described as long-term, taking months to position the implants and requiring maintenance thereafter. Under the rules of covert action, Obama’s signature was all that was necessary to set the operation in motion.

U.S. intelligence agencies do not need further approval from Trump, and officials said that he would have to issue a countermanding order to stop it. The officials said that they have seen no indication that Trump has done so.

Whatever else this article is designed to do, I think, it is designed to be a threat to Putin, from long gone Obama officials.

Given the discussion of a looming cyberattack on Russia, it’s all the more remarkable WaPo breathed not one word about Shadow Brokers, which is most likely to be a drawn out cyberattack by Russian affiliates on NSA. Even ignoring the Shadow Brokers’ derived global ransomware attack in WannaCry, Shadow Brokers has ratcheted up the severity of its releases, including doxing NSA’s spies and hacks of the global finance system, It has very explicitly fostered tensions between the NSA and private sector partners (as well as the reputational costs on those private sector partners). And it has threatened to leak still worse, including NSA exploits against current Microsoft products and details of NSA’s spying on hostile nuclear programs.

The WaPo is talking about a big cyberattack, but an entity that most likely has close ties to Russia has been conducting one, all in plain sight. I suggested back in December that Shadow Brokers was essentially holding NSA hostage in part as a way to constrain US intelligence retaliation against Russia. Given ensuing events, I’m more convinced that is, at least partly, true.

But in this grand narrative of CIA’s early warning and Obama’s inadequate response, details like that remain unsaid.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

John Brennan Denies a Special Harry Reid Briefing

This passage from John Brennan’s testimony about Russia to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday has gotten a lot of attention:

Through the so-called Gang of Eight process, we kept Congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again, in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere with the election to Congressional leadership, specifically Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, and Richard Burr, and to Representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes, and Adam Schiff between 11 August and 6 September. I provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members.  Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counterintelligence case involving an ongoing Russian effort to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of Congress, each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member. The substance of those briefings was entirely consistent with the main judgments contained in the January classified and unclassified assessments, namely that Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency and to help President Trump’s election chances.

The passage has been used to question why GOP leaders, most especially Mitch McConnell, didn’t react more strongly, particularly given public reports that he wouldn’t sign onto a more aggressive statement about Russian efforts.

As I noted in this post, the record thus far reflects a difference in emphasis (on protecting the election systems rather than on Russian attempts to hurt Clinton).

But I want to look more closely at what Brennan actually said.

His description of the briefings seems to be a denial of what I laid out in this post — the NYT report that he gave Harry Reid a special briefing (one which may have been based on the Christopher Steele dossier) that was more alarming than others.

CIA DIRECTORS SHOULD NOT MEET WITH JUST ONE GANG OF EIGHT MEMBER

The second detail I find most interesting in this story is that John Brennan privately briefed Harry Reid about his concerns about the Russians.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about the Russian threat that he gave an unusual private briefing in the late summer to Harry Reid, then the Senate Democratic leader.

Top congressional officials had already received briefings on Russia’s meddling, but the one for Mr. Reid appears to have gone further. In a public letter to Mr. Comey several weeks later, Mr. Reid said that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”

While I’m generally sympathetic to Democrats’ complaints that DOJ should have either remained silent about both investigations or revealed both of them, it was stupid for Brennan to give this private briefing (and I hope he gets grilled about it by HPSCI when he testifies in a few weeks). In addition to the things Reid said publicly about the investigation, it’s fairly clear he and his staffers were also behind some of the key leaks here (and, as CNN reported yesterday, leaks about the investigation actually led targets of it to alter their behavior). For reasons beyond what appears in this story, I think it likely Reid served as a cut-out for Brennan.

And that’s simply not appropriate. There may well have been reasons to avoid briefing Richard Burr (who was advising Trump). But spooks should not be sharing information with just one party. CIA did so during its torture cover-up in ways that are particularly troubling and I find this — while not as bad — equally problematic.

When Brennan said he “provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members,” he might be seen as denying that the briefing to Reid was anything unusual.

Except this NYT article describes Reid’s as taking place in “late summer” and describes top officials as already having received briefings. Another NYT article describes the special briefing for Reid as having taken place on August 25.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.

The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.

Mr. Trump has rejected any suggestion of a Russian connection as “ridiculous” and “fake news.” The White House has also sought to redirect the focus from the investigation and toward what Mr. Trump has said, with no evidence, was President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. declined to comment for this article, as did Mr. Brennan and senior lawmakers who were part of the summer briefings.

In the August briefing for Mr. Reid, the two former officials said, Mr. Brennan indicated that the C.I.A., focused on foreign intelligence, was limited in its legal ability to investigate possible connections to Mr. Trump. The officials said Mr. Brennan told Mr. Reid that the F.B.I., in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way.

As described by the NYT, the Reid briefing went beyond what Brennan says he briefed all the Gang of Eight members on, specially with regards to Trump advisors working with Russia. It’s possible Brennan briefed Reid twice.

Much later in the hearing, Trey Gowdy asked Brennan about the Steele dossier. Some of Brennan’s responses — especially his claim not to know who commissioned the Steele dossier; watch him play with his pen — were not all that believable. Brennan went on to say that the CIA didn’t rely on the dossier, but his denial pertained to the IC report on the hack.

It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence, uh, information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done, uh, it was not.

Note the funny mouth gesture which used to be Brennan’s main “tell.”

Gowdy being Gowdy was not smart enough to ask whether the dossier was ever used in a briefing to members of Congress.

As I have noted, the IC denials pertaining to the dossier are, um, unconvincing (one two three). That’s all the more true given that Steele has admitted to sharing copies of his dossier with his former employer, who would naturally share with Brennan (elsewhere in the hearing Brennan refused to address what our foreign partners had shared with us).

In any case, it seems to me the question is not so much whether McConnell blew off the seriousness of the Brennan warning, but, still, whether Reid received another briefing–perhaps outside that date scope–that included information McConnell didn’t get.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Last Fall’s Efforts against Russia: Influence versus Tamper

NYT has a story — citing “former government officials” and eventually citing Harry Reid — that’s attracting a lot of attention. It explains the CIA had evidence in August that Russia was affirmatively trying to elect Trump, rather than just hurt Hillary.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.

The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.

[snip]

In the August briefing for Mr. Reid, the two former officials said, Mr. Brennan indicated that the C.I.A., focused on foreign intelligence, was limited in its legal ability to investigate possible connections to Mr. Trump. The officials said Mr. Brennan told Mr. Reid that the F.B.I., in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way.

Given Jim Comey’s description of the FBI assessment Russia wanted to elect Trump — which he described as an “enemy of my enemy” approach, rooting against the Pats at all times because he’s a Giants fan — and given the NSA’s continued moderate confidence in this claim, I don’t make too much of the CIA claim. Furthermore, given Roger Stone’s public exchanges with Guccifer 2 in the weeks leading up to this briefing (and CIA’s purported prohibition on involvement in domestic affairs), I also don’t put too much stock in CIA’s evidence of Russian coordination. In precisely this period, after all, Brennan continued to publicly brief that Putin was out of his depth, which seemed then and seems even more now to underestimate Putin’s ability to play the United States.

The line about Brennan saying FBI would have to investigate the ties between Trump and Putin also reminds me of the recent complaint, laundered through BBC’s Paul Wood, that FBI is fucking up the investigation and CIA should take the lead.

The rest of the article includes partisan details that have attracted a lot of attention but that — in light of this Lisa Monaco interview — seem to miss some distinction. The NYT describes a conflict between a bipartisan statement about the integrity of the election and a more assertive statement implicating Russia with influencing the outcome of the election.

In the briefings, the C.I.A. said there was intelligence indicating not only that the Russians were trying to get Mr. Trump elected but that they had gained computer access to multiple state and local election boards in the United States since 2014, officials said.

Although the breached systems were not involved in actual vote-tallying operations, Obama administration officials proposed that the eight senior lawmakers write a letter to state election officials warning them of the possible threat posed by Russian hacking, officials said.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, resisted, questioning the underpinnings of the intelligence, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. McConnell ultimately agreed to a softer version of the letter, which did not mention the Russians but warned of unnamed “malefactors” who might seek to disrupt the elections through online intrusion. The letter, dated Sept. 28, was signed by Mr. McConnell, Mr. Reid, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat.

On Sept. 22, two other members of the Gang of Eight — Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam B. Schiff, both of California and the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees — released their own statement about the Russian interference that did not mention Mr. Trump or his campaign by name.

Here’s the full statement from Feinstein and Schiff:

Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election.

At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election—we can see no other rationale for the behavior of the Russians.

We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government.

We call on President Putin to immediately order a halt to this activity. Americans will not stand for any foreign government trying to influence our election. We hope all Americans will stand together and reject the Russian effort.

Note the difference in emphasis: the letter from Congressional leaders emphasizes voting apparatus. Also note (and I suspect this is far more important than any report has yet made out) the letter Mitch McConnell was willing to sign states clearly that voting systems are not being designated critical infrastructure (which Jeh Johnson tried to do in early January, to much resistance from the states).

We urge the states to take full advantage of the robust public and private sector resources available to them to ensure that their network is secure from attack. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security stands ready to provide cybersecurity assistance to those states that choose to request it. Such assistance does not entail federal regulation or binding federal directives of any kind, and we would oppose any effort by the federal government to exercise any degree of control over the states’ administration of elections by designating these systems as critical infrastructure.

In other words, the Democrats wanted this to be about Russian influence, whereas the government was primarily worried about Russia affecting the outcome of the election at the polls.

Here’s how Monaco described the effort, which she describes as largely successful.

[M]y own view on that is we did not want to do anything to do the Russians’ work for them by engaging in partisan discussion about this, which is why we were so intent upon getting bipartisan support, and ultimately, we did so from the House and Senate leadership, in trying to get the state and local governments to work with us to shore up their cybersecurity.

We made a specific effort to go to Congress, to say we want bipartisan support for state governments to take us up on our offer to shore up their cybersecurity in their election systems, because there was a tremendous amount of resistance. This is an election year, I think there was a view that we—if we came to state and municipal governments and said, “We want to help you shore up your cybersecurity for your election system,” they viewed it as a big federal takeover.

We really needed bipartisan support for the efforts we were making, largely out of the Department of Homeland Security. Ultimately, that turned out to be a smart way of doing business, and we ended up having 48 of 50 states take us up on our offer, but we needed bipartisan support to do it. Ultimately, that turned out to be a smart way of doing business, and we ended up having 48 of 50 states take us up on our offer, but we needed bipartisan support to do it.

For Monaco, the effort was entirely about convincing states to accept help from DHS to ensure the machines counting the vote would not be compromised in a way that would affect the vote, not about the theft of emails from the DNC.

Incidentally, one of the two states that refused DHS help was Georgia, which of course is conducting an election to replace Tom Price as we speak, and which accused DHS of trying to hack its systems in the weeks after the election.

Two more comments on this. First, Mitch McConnell appears to have been in the right on this. Public discussion of the probes at the time noted that such hacks had happened in the past and generally sought credentials, not voting information. DHS released a warning on the polling probes on September 20, a week before the Leaders’ statement was released, and it still discussed the probes in terms of stealing PII.

(U//FOUO) DHS has no indication that adversaries or criminals are planning cyber operations against US election infrastructure that would change the outcome of the coming US election. Multiple checks and redundancies in US election infrastructure—including diversity of systems, non-Internet connected voting machines, pre-election testing, and processes for media, campaign, and election officials to check, audit, and validate results—make it likely that cyber manipulation of US election systems intended to change the outcome of a national election would be detected.

(U//FOUO) We judge cybercriminals and criminal hackers are likely to continue to target personally identifiable information (PII), such as that available in voter registration databases. We have no indication, however, that criminals are planning theft of voter information to disrupt or alter US computer-enabled election infrastructure.

And the October 7 joint DHS/ODNI statement –released after the Leaders’ statement — still stopped short of blaming Russia for those probes.

Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.

In other words, McConnell’s resistance to blaming Russia in that September 28 letter was completely consistent with the public intelligence at the time.

Finally, now how the role of Richard Burr and Devin Nunes always gets glossed over in these descriptions? I get that people want to blame Mitch for refusing to take a tougher line. But what were Trump’s campaign surrogates doing at the time?

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

One of the most disgusting events recorded in U.S. Senate history occurred last night while Senate Democrats held the floor to debate Jeff Sessions’ nomination as U.S. Attorney General.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell used a gag rule to stop Elizabeth Warren from reading Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Jeff Sessions’ efforts to suppress African American voters and his fitness to serve as a federal judge.

This is breathtakingly offensive.

A Senator denied a First Amendment right, unable to participate in speech and debate in their role on behalf of constituents.

The suppression of an historic written statement by an historic figure, presented decades ago to the Senate.

A woman Senator prevented from speaking as part of a governmental body whose composition is 79% men.

The quashing of fact regarding a cabinet nominee’s racist behavior as a former member of law enforcement, germane to their unsuitability as U.S. Attorney General.

And most horrifically, the use of a gag rule circa 1836, instituted by white supremacist members of Congress who prevented abolitionists from speaking about ending slavery.

The Party of Lincoln is dead. It is a zombie animated by hatred, intent on hurting any who pose a threat to its continued grasp on power. It doesn’t take seriously its oath of office, instead resurrecting archaic nonsense to deprive the people of their rights while encouraging corruption.

In summoning Rule XIX and cementing his wretchedness into Senate record, McConnell said about Warren, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

She will, indeed, persist, Senator McConnell. She and millions of Americans will persist in their rejection of white supremacy and fascism which relies on it. You have generously offered a rallying cry for our resistance.

And when your body finally relinquishes the venal energy which moves it daily, know that whatever memorial is mounted for you will be visited for the next hundred years by women and minorities who’ll paste it with mementos which read, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

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 Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 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 Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Consent of the Governed

usdecindependence_header_wikipediaThe last time a man touched me inappropriately at work, he tried to massage my shoulders while looking down my blouse. I had only been on my new job a few days at that time; I later found out this same man did this (and worse) with nearly every female co-worker younger than him. He had access to them all as their IT representative. They avoided asking for IT help unless they were desperate.

When I told the division president — our mutual boss at a Fortune 100 company — that every woman had a sexual harassment problem with the IT guy, the president asked me what he was supposed to do about it.

The last time I ever talked with my father about women in the workplace we had been discussing the Anita Hill hearing. “Why didn’t she tell somebody sooner?” my dad asked. “Why report it only after Clarence Thomas’ nomination? It just looks suspicious.” My father had been a supervisor to both men and women for nearly two decades at this point. His naivete and blame-the-victim mentality shocked and disappointed me so badly I couldn’t talk about this topic with him ever again.

I can’t think of any women I know who’ve worked in mixed gender environments who don’t have stories about sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace. Even my daughter, so new to the workforce, now has her own stories to tell. And this is just the workplace — these are not the stories women have to tell about harassment, abuse, assault outside of work. They often have worse stories to tell, though even the ones on the job can be harrowing.

Like my friend who was slapped in an elevator by a male foreign national co-worker who called her all manner of awful things. She was so rattled she called me immediately afterward; she asked if she should report it as sexual harassment. I told her that it was assault and battery. But she was so worried about keeping her job she only reported it to her boss and human resources. The batterer, when confronted by management, said it was perfectly normal to treat women this way where he came from. So they sent him back to work overseas without further repercussions.

When Donald Trump’s victims say he acted inappropriately — touching them sexually without permission, taking advantage of their vulnerability as teenagers in dressing rooms, or worse — I believe them. I feel their deep discomfort. I know why they didn’t come forward sooner.

Because even their own kin may shame them or not believe them. Because the problem and the blame will be put on their shoulders and not on the perpetrators or on the authorities responsible for protection. Because the victimization doesn’t end with the revelation of the harassment or abuse.

Because their agency and power to consent will be violated again by a misogynist culture. The only exercise of autonomy they have is suppression of the facts to prevent re-victimization. They have emerged now because the stakes are incredibly high, just as they were in Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court, and because there is limited safety in numbers.

+ + +

Conservative men denouncing Trump after the “grab pussy” video emerged recently revealed something about them. They weren’t upset by Trump’s overt racism against Mexicans or xenophobic rants against Muslims. They only drew the line when Trump appeared to be a threat to their (white) women — “as a husband, as a father of daughters,” they prefaced their rejections of Trump’s behavior.

It’s no surprise they objectify women as things belonging to them. Women are just chattel to be controlled according to their ideology; female votes are to be corralled by cultural subjugation. Conservatives weren’t worried about their women’s votes.

But touching their property without permission is beyond the pale. It is not to be borne. This is the heart of the matter, why Trump’s support is weakening among conservatives. Trump threatens their exercise of control when he takes without their consent.

And while they can’t articulate this very well, it’s the nebulous threat Trump poses to the concept of consent of the governed which now bothers them. If he’ll grab their (wife’s/daughter’s) pussy without their consent (never mind women’s/girls’ consent), what else might this man grab non-consensually?

+ + +

I’m taking a risk here and making a statement which the rest of the emptywheel contributors may or may not agree with.

Apart from our posts on sports and the arts, this site is about consent. For example, we’ve written about:

— the march toward and conduct of an illegal war, illegal primarily because it was authorized without fully informed consent and the means by which the authorization was obtained was hidden even as it was investigated;
— the collapse of the economy in 2008, after the machinations of investment banks hid the perils of fraudulent subprime mortgages inside unregulated financial vehicles, in a manner to which the public could not fully consent;
— the ramp up to the Affordable Care Act, when single payer as an alternative was never fully considered, thwarting our true, mutual consent; when key representatives were shut out and suppressed, like Planned Parenthood for women’s reproductive health;
— the implementation of pervasive surveillance on U.S. citizens in ways which prevented our representatives from truly understanding the nature and scope of monitoring;
— the rise of technology foisted on consumers without public consent by way of adequate government oversight to ensure its safety and security.

It is this common theme, the consent of the governed and non-consensual acts of bad faith, which moves us to research and write.

Some argue that consent of the governed is rare or untenable. Obtaining unanimous consent is nearly impossible in complex societies. This is a key reason why representative democracy is necessary. We’ve constructed a framework over the last 240 years, though not perfect, operating at the consent of the governed. Government acts without consent — outside of the social contract we’ve built as constitution and law — are illegitimate and deserve vigorous pushback.

The threat to this one concept — our consent to be governed — about which conservatives have finally become concerned with Donald Trump’s candidacy for office. His personal behavior shows gross disregard for both personal and collective consent.

+ + +

It’s puzzling that so many conservative voters ignore the baggage Trump brings with him. It says something about the depth of their desperation to change the status quo that they would support someone with such an egregiously tainted background. Granted, the rest of the field competing for the GOP’s presidential nomination was pretty lackluster when not flawed. None of them possessed adequate charisma to overcome their individual problems.

Trump, in contrast, has more than a decade of constructed persona at his disposal. His name is a brand polished by highly produced television content aimed at both lower and middle-class Americans, from World Wrestling Federation appearances, to NBC’s reality TV show The Apprentice, to Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants. The banality of these appearances during prime time built an expectation among the broadcast TV viewing audience that Trump was benign. Safe, even, afforded repeated access to American homes through their televisions every week.

Their political consent was constructed without their full consciousness.

The public had already become inured to the idea of a broadcast entertainment personality becoming a politician, especially conservatives. Their favorite president, Ronald Reagan, had successfully made the transition from film and TV to the presidency. Many other politicians have since spent a considerable amount of time moving between broadcast entertainment and politics. It’s become normative to expect the thinnest of separations between these roles, to the point that Americans can’t see the production process between the human as a politician and the produced personality as branded content. They haven’t realized they are being sold a product which they buy with attention.

And they bought Donald Trump — hook, line, and sinker.

+ + +

Conservatives shot themselves in the foot, aided and abetted by Bill Clinton’s administration (oh, the irony). The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine prevented exposure to alternative views over broadcast networks, relying wholly on licensees to operate for the greater public welfare under the terms of their Federal Communications Commission license. The increasing consolidation of broadcast networks under a smaller number of media companies — coincidentally owned or controlled by conservatives as major shareholders or as editors — assured a consistency of content across the entire country. Large swaths of rural America had few if any alternatives to networks carrying conservative content.

Over time, internet access improved to rural America offering access to other alternative media, but not before the same regions with limited media had been fully indoctrinated in either conservative perspectives via talk radio or a narrow world view acquired from a small number of TV broadcasters. When they took to the internet, the indoctrinated sought the same perspectives.

In short, conservatives built their version of Radio Rwanda.

Decades of the Overton Window applied to conservatives’ ideology — gradually promoting the unthinkable and unacceptable to popular and policy — both assured conservatives with an authoritarian bent would remain corralled under the Republican Party, to serve the corporate interests of those who funded the party. But assuring these voters were captive and clearly separate from liberal ideology also assured another corporatist wolf was allowed in with their sheep.

Trump was on TV, and nobody on talk radio was bashing him. He must be safe, especially since he looks and sounds like everything conservatives promote as positive: anti-tax millionaire with family. America’s Radio Rwanda propelled Trump-as-construct everywhere.

+ + +

And now we know the rest of the story — or most of it. Conservatives brought a viper to their breast after making a pet of it, and now their political party is dying from its bite.

Like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, now voting for Trump, though only weeks ago he said Trump’s “locker room talk” was offensive; only months ago Chaffetz railed against the poisoning of Flint. Does Chaffetz really believe that Trump as president would do anything to support Flint let alone prevent other similar crises from happening? Does Chaffetz really believe Trump will protect the women of his family, let alone halt his locker room talk about women? What is it that Chaffetz as a conservative is really conserving, along with the rest of his House cohort? What is it his political party really stands for?

Ditto for Senator Mitch McConnell, who can’t be bothered to do anything more than laugh off Trump as his party’s leader.

Conservatives and the GOP manipulated consent, systematically removing opportunities for the public to make fully informed decisions.

And now they find they have been assaulted; their party has been taken from them.

Do they muddle along with and enable the abuser, trying not to make waves until they are rid of him, a la Paul Ryan?

Do they openly reject him and fight back when Trump turns on them, hoping like hell he is not elected and won’t raze them to the ground afterward?

Do they tack back and forth during these last two weeks of the election season, risking the displeasure of Trump’s supporters while trying to retain their position?

They could ask any woman who’s been sexually harassed or assaulted how they lived with their situation. They understand only too well what it’s like to suffer the loss of their agency and autonomy without their active, informed consent. Especially when no one else believes in them.

The rest of us will have to fight like hell to make sure this serial abuser doesn’t grab our country along with our pussies.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

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.