The statement, which also indicated that Iran and China prefer a Trump loss in November, was hailed by Democrats as vindication of their strategy to lean on the administration for additional disclosures to help educate the public.
“Normally the customer of the intelligence community is the president, the national security apparatus, the secretary of Defense and members of Congress. But every four years, the customer should be the American people,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.
“They’re the decision-makers on Nov. 3. And they paid for this intelligence and they ought to be able to see it,” added King, who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.
Whether Democrats succeed in their effort to wrest more information into the public domain could be critical to blunting Moscow’s latest interference effort, they say, as well as shielding Biden from the attacks that dogged Hillary Clinton in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
And Democrats aren’t likely to end their push just yet. While some lawmakers acknowledged that the statement was indeed significantly more detailed, they said it still conflated Chinese and Iranian interference with Russia’s more sophisticated efforts. The claims about China and Iran notably lack the degree of specificity Evanina offered about Russia.
“Unfortunately, today’s statement still treats three actors of differing intent and capability as equal threats to our democratic elections,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement on Friday.
Pelosi has taken the leading role in steering the party’s message on foreign interference in the election, in a shift from her approach in 2016, when Barack Obama sat in the Oval Office and was the nation’s top Democrat.
In increasingly vocal terms, she’s accused the intelligence community of withholding crucial details from the public, including information about the Kremlin’s intentions. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) authored a public letter to the FBI last month demanding an all-Congress briefing on “specific” interference threats aimed at lawmakers.
Their demands come as intelligence officials have acknowledged privately to lawmakers in recent days that Russia is seeking to boost Trump’s reelection prospects and denigrate Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Despite the criticisms from Pelosi and Schiff, the new disclosure seemed to satisfy Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner, who issued a joint statement with Committee Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that generally praised Evanina for the disclosures. King, too, hailed the new releases.
“Calling out Mr. Derkach, who’s a Ukrainian associated with Russia — I think that’s important to know, because now when we see materials with his name on it, we’ll know from whence it came,” King said.
Top of mind for Democrats is avoiding what many see as the mistakes of 2016, when the Obama administration decided to sit on the most explosive details of Russia’s effort to aid Trump in the presidential election. At the time, Obama’s aides defended the decision as an effort to avoid taking steps that Republicans would interpret as an attempt to influence the election. But both in real time and hindsight, top congressional Democrats viewed Obama’s reticence as a significant miscalculation.
And this time, they’re even more fearful that Trump — long vexed by the perception that Russia helped him win the presidency — might seek to squelch evidence of Russian interference in 2020.
“Democrats were disappointed with how the Obama administration dealt with the threat in 2016, and we made that known — they lost valuable time when they could have been informing the public of and inoculating them against Russia’s interference campaign,” a senior House Democratic aide acknowledged.
“But worse than not acting soon enough is downplaying the threat when you know it exists, creating a false equivalence between countries, and seeking to sow confusion for the political benefit of one party,” the aide continued. “This is what the Trump administration is doing.”
Evanina emphasized on Friday that more public details are forthcoming, “for the purpose of better informing Americans so they can play a critical role in safeguarding our election.”
Despite these assurances, rank-and-file senators who have been briefed on recent intelligence have dialed up their warnings in recent days.
“Shocked & appalled—I just left a 90 minute classified briefing on foreign malign threats to our elections,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote in a recent tweet. “From spying to sabotage, Americans need to see & hear these reports.”
“Asking for a friend — what’s the point of spending billions of dollars on intelligence gathering if when you discover a foreign agent trying to manipulate your country’s domestic politics, you keep it hidden and do nothing about it?” added Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Ahead of Friday’s disclosure from the administration, Democrats’ worries about Russian interference in 2020 had reached such a fever pitch that some were even contemplating the most extreme step possible: publicly disclosing classified intelligence on the House or Senate floor, where senators are shielded from repercussions under the Speech or Debate clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“I’m not going to take anything off the table,” Warner, a member of the Gang of Eight, which receives the highest-level intelligence briefings offered to Congress, said in an interview Thursday. “I have not given up hope that we won’t get that information out. But it is absolutely incumbent that the American people know.”
Murphy agreed that reading the most urgent intelligence on the Senate floor should be a last resort if the administration doesn’t declassify it. But he said he wouldn’t be the one to take that step.
“I frankly don’t know what additional information is in the hands of the Gang of Eight. So that speaks to my inability to set strategy. But what I’ve seen is really important for the American public to know,” Murphy said in an interview. “I don’t have any plans to make classified information public, but in some way shape or form, if the administration isn’t willing to tell the American people the details of this interference, then someone has to.”
The Speech or Debate clause has rarely been used to justify the disclosure of classified information. In 1971, then-Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record, and was immune from federal charges due to those constitutional protections.
Warner, in justifying his position, referenced countries that make their citizens “better equipped” by learning more about foreign efforts to interfere in their elections, and said the Trump administration should do the same without compromising sensitive intelligence sources and methods.
He also said the U.S. should heed the mistakes of the Obama administration, which came under heavy scrutiny in a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report over its handling of Russia’s meddling.
“The idea that [the Trump administration] wouldn’t learn, and allow knowledge of a Russian disinformation campaign to be carried out, would be unconscionable,” Warner added.
Several lawmakers, though, believe it will not ultimately be necessary to disclose sensitive information on the floor of the Senate. Rubio, Warner’s counterpart atop the Intelligence Committee, said Warner “has a right to do that” but urged caution.
“Ultimately, I suspect that if everyone is patient you will find that the career professionals at the intelligence community will, each week that goes by, release information in a way that doesn’t compromise our sources and our methods, and provides the American people what they want,” Rubio said. “So I think we’ll be in a different place in a couple weeks.”
Intelligence officials began briefing all lawmakers this past week on election security and the threats of foreign interference, as Democrats continued to urge the Trump administration to detail the threats publicly.
But Democrats say these steps are no substitute for informing Americans when details of a specific plot are known, especially with the election less than three months away. Other lawmakers are seeking immediate punitive measures. For example, Rubio and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have been pushing legislation for months that would sanction Russia or any other country found to be interfering in U.S. elections.
“None of these people are Republicans or Democrats,” Rubio said. “They want to get us to fight against each other, and there are multiple nations now involved in this.”
POLITICO has reported that in addition to their public letter, top House and Senate Democrats urged the FBI to brief Congress on classified details about efforts by Derkach to spread misinformation about Biden to congressional investigators.
The classified addendum to their letter specifically mentions Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) investigation targeting Biden and his son Hunter as a source of their concern, arguing that the GOP-led investigation is employing Russian disinformation to tar a political opponent. Johnson has denied those charges.
Some Democrats, including Warner, have speculated that Evanina and others might be facing internal politically motivated pressure over how much information to reveal about Russia’s intentions, especially given how Trump might react. The president has refused to publicly condemn Russia for its interference in the 2016 campaign, and has questioned the intelligence community’s conclusion that the meddling was intended to help him win.
Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expect the intelligence community to disclose more information in the coming weeks. Senators emerging from classified briefings with Evanina and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe earlier this week said the Trump administration was preparing to make more information public, in an apparent nod to Democrats’ concerns.
Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand
Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.
A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.
“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.
Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.
Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.
Representatives from theIndigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia— a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.
Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.
In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.
Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’
In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.
Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.
Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.
But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.
The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit
Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of Brexit in his economic update
3 min read
The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.
The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.
But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”
The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.
It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”
The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.
And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.
“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.
“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.
“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.
Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.
The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”
Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.
“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”