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.
Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.
Romney faces another crossroads on Trump’s Supreme Court push
Romney’s short Senate career has been punctuated by big moments of distancing himself from the president: marching in a Black Lives Matter protest and penning an op-ed before he even took his Senate seat vowing to push back against Trump when needed. He also occasionally criticizes Trump’s rhetoric, but he’s careful not to get dragged into a back and forth with the president on Twitter or elsewhere.
Yet the party’s 2012 presidential nominee has also largely backed Trump’s appointments and much of his agenda. His voting record is a regular reminder that he’s still a conservative, which his GOP colleagues hope is a sign that he will divorce his differences with Trump from the monumental opportunity the conservative movement sees before it.
“I really don’t know what he’ll do,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I think he’s probably wrestling with it just like he has on other issues.”
Romney’s opinion may not be decisive: He’d need one other Republican senator to join him and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Collins in opposition to derail McConnell’s hopes of a swift confirmation. For now, that would take a surprise defection after vulnerable Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) backed McConnell’s strategy.
But should Romney be the only other Republican to join the Senate GOP’s moderate bloc, it would invite the explosive scenario of Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 vote on the Senate floor for a Supreme Court nominee, perhaps just days before Election Day.
Romney’s decision may do a lot to illustrate what kind of senator he will be as he finishes his first two years in the chamber. Romney has little of the baggage of his colleagues over past Supreme Court fights or battles over precedent. At a 2018 debate, Romney said Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, set no new standard and did not say how he would handle an election-year confirmation under Trump.
Conservative advocacy groups are keeping a close eye on Romney. The Judicial Crisis Network announced Monday that it was pouring $2.2 million into ads boosting the effort to fill the seat. The targeted states are home to vulnerable GOP incumbents, except one: Romney’s Utah.
But Romney is insulated from immediate political ramifications. His term isn’t up until 2024, and that gives Romney significant freedom to make his own way.
With the filibuster gutted on all nominations after recent rules changes by both parties, Senate Democrats are powerless to stop Trump’s appointment on their own. But many enjoy good relationships with Romney and are counting on him to take yet another stand against Trump.
“He’s shown extraordinary courage before,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I hope he does again.”
A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown
5 min read
The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.
Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I’ve seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it’s quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we’re demanding of people.
“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those – then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”
Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.
He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.
Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people’s quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”
Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.
With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.
A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation.
Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”
He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chicane to defat, amend and vote on them.
As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children or a month-long sunset clause.
Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it ,and they’ve continued. There is a drift within government to a more presidential type of government.
Clarke’s call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.
He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”
Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”
Another former minister – Sir Edward Leigh – said public consent for lockdowns is “draining away”.
Addressing the House of Commons, he said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.
“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”
Mr Hancock said in his reply: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”
But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”
The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”
He added: “And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”
He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”
GE: Industrial giant will stop building coal-fired power plants
In a dramatic reversal, one of the world’s biggest makers of coal-fired power plants is to exit the market and focus on greener alternatives.
US industrial giant General Electric said it would shut or sell sites as it prioritised its renewable energy and power generation businesses.
It comes ahead of a US Presidential election in which the candidates hold starkly different views on coal.
NGO the Natural Resources Defense Council said the move was “about time”.
GE has said in the past it would focus less on fossil fuels, reflecting the growing acceptance of cleaner energy sources in US power grids.
But just five years ago, it struck its biggest ever deal – paying almost £10bn for a business that produced coal-fuelled turbines.
In a statement, the firm suggested the decision had been motivated by economics.
Russell Stokes, GE’s senior vice president, said: “With the continued transformation of GE, we are focused on power generation businesses that have attractive economics and a growth trajectory.
“As we pursue this exit from the new build coal power market, we will continue to support our customers, helping them to keep their existing plants running in a cost-effective and efficient way with best-in-class technology and service expertise.”
US President Donald Trump has championed “beautiful, clean coal” at a time when other developed countries are turning away from polluting fossil fuels.
In a bid to revive the struggling US industry, Mr Trump has rolled back Obama-era standards on coal emissions. But it has not stopped the decline as cheaper alternatives such as natural gas, solar and wind gain market share.
GE said it would continue to service existing coal power plants, but warned jobs could be lost as a result of its decision.
The firm is already cutting up to 13,000 job cuts at GE Aviation, which makes jet engines, due to the pandemic.
In a tweet, the Natural Resources Defense Council said: “Communities and organizers have been calling on GE to get out of coal for years. This is an important and long overdue step in the right direction to protect communities’ health and the environment.”
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