Russia Is Attacking The 2020 Election, You Idiots. Not Iran. Not 'GIIIIIIINA. Russia.
Late last week, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), released the following statement to the American people. It was unequivocal, if you dug through all the equivocation:
Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer. We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran.
Oh golly, it is "many foreign actors" this time, and they are primarily China, Russia and Iran! However, if we read the statement, we find that one of these things is not like the others. China goes first, because 'GIIIIIIIIINA.
CHINA – We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection.
Oh no, China has a preference? Newsflash, all countries have a "preference," and most of them want Donald Trump gone. Is that the same as foreign interference? Let's see:
China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China's interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China. Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration's COVID-19 response, closure of China's Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues. For example, it has harshly criticized the Administration's statements and actions on Hong Kong ...
China has been speaking out more, and sometimes they even criticize Trump in public! Everybody shit your pants!
(To be clear, we are not saying China does not get up to some hinky spy shit. They do. But this is not a post about that.)
Let's see what Iran, which Evanina lists third, is doing:
IRAN – We assess that Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran's efforts along these lines probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content. Tehran's motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump's reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.
Iran sure doesn't like Donald Trump, and they assess that Iran will "probably" at some point "focus on on-line influence." OK.
And Russia, hiding there in the middle of the document?
RUSSIA – We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia "establishment." This is consistent with Moscow's public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration's policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia. For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump's candidacy on social media and Russian television.
THERE IT IS.
"We assess that Russia IS USING A RANGE OF MEASURES TO PRIMARILY DENIGRATE FORMER VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN. [...] FOR EXAMPLE, PRO-RUSSIA UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN ANDRIY DERKACH IS SPREADING CLAIMS ABOUT CORRUPTION — INCLUDING THROUGH PUBLICIZING LEAKED PHONE CALLS — TO UNDERMINE FORMER VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN'S CANDIDACY AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY."
Is that CLEAR ENOUGH FOR YOU?
In other words, Russia is actively attacking the US American presidential election, again, to help elect its chosen candidate Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Iran and China are thinking about ordering Joe Biden yard signs but they haven't done it yet. Maybe they are waiting to see who he picks as his veep?
Of course, you might have come away from this statement thinking it's really a statement about Russia and China and Iran attacking our election, with Russia loving Trump and China and Iran loving Biden, because that's the kind of weasel words this statement is full of.
We'll get to the specificity of the assessment, regarding Andriy Derkach, and how it relates to Ron Johnson, the Senate's dumbest Republican, in our next post, but for now let's focus on the weasel words.
So Why The Weasel Words?
Because why NOT the weasel words, obviously!
Journalist and author Robert Draper has a stunning longread in the New York Times magazine this week called "Unwanted Truths: Inside Trump's Battles With U.S. Intelligence Agencies," about Donald Trump's fraught relationship with the intelligence community that tells him "unwanted truths" he doesn't want to hear. We already know from John Bolton and others that any intel involving Russia has to be watered down, hidden in the fine print, or otherwise obscured, so as not to raise President Russian Asset's ire. Indeed, briefers have had a rule to never "lead with Russia," because the baby does not like to hear what the baby does not like to hear.
Draper's story addresses that:
As a former senior adviser to Trump, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, "You couldn't have any conversation about Russia and the election without the president assuming you were calling his election into question. Everyone in the White House knew that, and so you just didn't talk about that with him." According to this former adviser, both John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, who were Trump's national security adviser and acting chief of staff in 2019, went to considerable lengths to keep the subject of Russian election interference off the president's agenda.
Draper also gives us a much more specific and amazing look at what really happened in the summer of 2019 when Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats got fired, just before Trump's Ukraine election-stealing scheme came to light. There was debate over how to phrase the "Russia" part of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), specifically the section about how Putin was actively trying to get his man-baby reinstalled as the American president in 2020:
The president's displeasure with any suggestion that he was Putin's favorite factored into the discussion over the N.I.E. that summer, in particular the "back and forth," as Dan Coats, then the director of national intelligence, put it, over the assessment that Russia favored Trump in 2020. Eventually, this debate made it to Coats's desk. "I can affirm that one of my staffers who was aware of the controversy requested that I modify that assessment," Coats told me recently. "But I said, 'No, we need to stick to what the analysts have said.'"
The intel analysts said Putin was trying to help Trump. Coats spoke on the record to Draper for this story and confirmed he was not open to changing that assessment, because the intel is the intel. Coats had already been planning to retire, but after someone suggested they add weasel words to the assessment and he said no, Trump suddenly fired him before his agreed-upon departure date. How odd.
So the new guy, Admiral Joseph Maguire, came in and took over for Dan Coats in an acting capacity. Draper reports that the intel people were happy, because Maguire was seen as Not Insane.
"From the very beginning," one former senior intelligence official told me, "there was a lot of consternation over not getting Maguire fired."
At that time, the very same NIE that seems to have gotten Coats fired was not finished. The short version is that by the time it got to Maguire's desk, they had indeed weasel-worded up the part about Putin loving Trump so much he wants him to be president for life. Now it said, "Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the U.S. will diminish under a different U.S. president." You know, PROBABLY.
Such a change, a former senior intelligence official said, would amount to "a distinction without a difference and a way to make sure Maguire doesn't get fired." But the distinction was in fact both real and important. A document intended to explain Russia's playbook for the upcoming elections no longer included an explanation of what Russia's immediate goal was.
And Maguire was fine with that, because they were all trying to keep his status as Not Fired.
Maguire still got fired, of course, earlier this year, after Shelby Pierson, the election threats briefer from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), told Congress that Vladimir Putin was working to help re-elect Trump.
And after Maguire did his level best to protect Trump from that mean fake news Ukraine whistleblower that led right to his impeachment, too! Funny how Trump always flips the fuck out over the exact same thing.
Draper appeared on the Rachel Maddow program Monday night and said it's not that the intel community has just completely rolled over for Trump, according to his reporting, but rather that we should expect statements like Evanina's, which speak in an "equivocating fashion," so as to get the truth out while also trying to keep President Russian Asset from flipping out and firing everybody.
Speaking Of Impeachment!
Hey, remember impeachment, so many moons ago?
If you watched 378,685,748 hours of impeachment hearings like we did, you might remember a constant refrain from Republicans about how UKRAINE WAS THE REAL COLLUSION111!11!1!, which is itself Kremlin propaganda to help Trump, and to absolve Russia of responsibility for its attack on our election.
Remember how stupid that was? Remember how it was all based on Facebook posts and quotes in news articles from Ukrainian officials who seemed to express dismay in 2016 at the idea of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin's lapdog, becoming president of the United States? Remember how Ukrainian officials were saying those things because they were in a hot war with Russia and Trump was taking Russia's side?
We want to keep this fresh in your mind, because this is going to be Trump's playbook from now until November 3, and then after that, until the day they drag his ass out of there. Trump said it in his press conference yesterday, when asked about Evanina's statement. He said oh sure, you always focus on Russia, Russia, Russia, but that statement ALSO said Iran! And 'GIIIIIIIIIIINA!
Even though there is zero evidence China and Iran are working to undermine and attack the election the way Russia is. Because if everybody's attacking the election, then nobody's attacking the election, we guess, and whatever rabbit Russia pulls out of a hat for Trump is fair game.
Again, there is nothing weird about foreign politicians or countries having an opinion about the US presidential race, and saying something about it. There is something weird (and criminal!) about Russia engaging in a "sweeping and systematic" covert campaign to re-install Trump as president, just like they did in 2016.
In our next post, we'll talk about one of the big ways Russia is doing that, which Evanina mentioned in his statement, using America's dumbstupidest Republican senator Ron Johnson to do its dirty work.
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