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Acting DNI Testifies After Release of Whistleblower Complaint

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  • Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before Congress about his handling of the whistleblower complaint alleging Trump acted inappropriately on a call with the President of Ukraine.
  • The complaint was released to the public on the same day as Maguire’s testimony.
  • In it, the whistleblower wrote: “I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
  • Among other things, the whistleblower complaint details the call between the two leaders, key events and meetings regarding the President and his administration both before and after the call, and alleged efforts by some in the administration to hide records of the call and other calls with foreign leaders.

Maguire Testifies

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday following the release of the whistleblower complaint alleging that President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.

Maguire’s testimony follows the public release of a memorandum detailing the call between Trump and Zelensky on Wednesday, which showed Trump asking Zelensky to look into Biden.

Maguire has received backlash over the way he handled the complaint, specifically because he did not turn it over to Congress as mandated under the law.

In his opening remarks, Maguire defended his handling of the complaint, including his decision to hold it as long as he did, noting that the whole situation was unprecedented. He also added that he was following the Whistleblower Act in his decision making.

Maguire said he believed the whistleblower was acting in good faith and added, “I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.” It’s also worth noting that Maquire does not know the identity of the whistleblower, and thus he would not know the whistleblower’s gender.

The testimony also comes as the whistleblower’s complaint was publicly released with minimal redactions earlier on Thursday morning. 

Here are some key excerpts from that complaint.

The Complaint

The whistleblower starts out with this passage:

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”

They also note that Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr are involved.

The whistleblower goes on to say that they had received this information “over the past four months” from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials.” 

Notably, they say that they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” but added, “I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”

This goes back to claims from Trump and others that the whistleblower was not a first-hand witness. Though to be clear, they are saying they did not witness most of the events, not all of them.

“I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order,’” the complaint continues. “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”

The whistleblower then outlines those actions through a series of different sections.

The 25 July Presidential Phone Call

The first section is titled “The 25 July Presidential phone call” and details the call between Trump and Zelensky.

The whistleblower says it was the first publicly acknowledged call between the leaders since a quick congratulatory call after Zelensky won his election. Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he had an earlier call with Zelensky, and say he would release the transcript of that call if asked.

“Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests,” the whistleblower wrote regarding the July 25 call. “Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukranian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”

They then go on to note the actions detailed in the memo for the call, adding, “The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”

Efforts to Restrict Access to Records Related to the Call

The second section is called “Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.”

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced — as is customary — by the White House Situation Room,” the whistleblower states. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”

“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored,” they continued, elaborating that instead of storing it where it is normally stored, it was loaded into a separate electronic system “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”

“One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective,” they note.

This was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information,” the whistleblower continues later.

Ongoing Concerns & Circumstances Leading Up to the 25 July Presidential Phone Call

The third and fourth sections of the complaint are titled “Ongoing concerns” and “Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call.”

In these sections, the whistleblower said that multiple officials told them that Giuliani had: “Reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers.”

Later, the whistleblower adds that even before the call, starting in mid-May, officials told them “That they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukranian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”

They also talk about efforts made after the call by two ambassadors who “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”

They go on to say that officials told them that State Department officials, including the same two ambassadors “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”

Notably, the whistleblower says: “During this same time frame, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired” by the former Ukraine prosecutor general and Giuliani.

They noted that information was conveyed to them by U.S. officials, but that they do not know “who delivered this message to the Ukranian leadership, or when.”

The whistleblower elaborates on that in an appendix, where they say that U.S. officials told them that Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his trip to attend Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, and instead sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“According to these officials, it was also ‘made clear’ to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy ‘chose to act’ in office,” they added.

Here, the whistleblower again notes that they do not know how that was communicated or by whom, and also that they do not know if that action was directly “connected with the broader understanding” that a meeting or call between Trump and Zelensky would “depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’”

The last thing the whistleblower includes in the complaint is about aid to Ukraine. They write that on July 18, an official from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) informed other departments and agencies “That the President ‘earlier that month’ had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.”

They say that neither OMB nor the National Security Council staff knew why Trump had made that decision, but add that OMB officials had explicitly said that the order came directly from the president. 

“As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukranian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy,” the complaint continues. “But I do not know how or when they learned of it.”

Quid Pro Quo Debate & Pentagon Letter

The last few excerpts about Zelensky being willing to “play ball” and about Trump putting a hold on the military aid will likely shift the debate about whether or not there was implicit pressure for a quid pro quo.

Trump did not outright say “look into Biden and I’ll give you something in return,” but some have argued that Trump was holding back nearly $400 million in military and security aid as leverage over Zelensky.

Trump for his part has said that he decided to hold back the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

However, on Wednesday evening, NPR obtained a letter from the Pentagon sent to four congressional committees back in May that appears to contradict that claim.

In the letter, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood wrote that he, “certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability.”

As NPR explains, that certification is required under the law for that aid to be released to Ukraine. Basically, the undersecretary said in his letter he had certified that Ukraine had met its corruption reduction goals and that the aid was good to go.

After that, the Defense Department announced it would be sending the aid to Ukraine back in June. The White House then blocked that aid before Trump’s call with Zelensky in July.

That aid was released to Ukraine on Sept. 11 after Congress learned the aid was being withheld and demanded it be given to Ukraine. That demand came right around the time Congress was first informed about the whistleblower complaint.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Trump Refuses to Denounce White Supremacy During Debate

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  • When asked in Tuesday’s presidential debate if he would agree to denounce white supremacist groups and tell them to stand down, President Trump said he would, but when asked to explicitly say the words, he addressed only the far-right group the Proud Boys, and told them to “stand back and stand by.” 
  • Many people criticized Trump for not condemning white supremacist groups, others also slammed him for seeming to issue a call to arms for the Proud Boys.
  • Organizations that track online extremism said the group embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan, and some members took to social media sites to praise Trump’s remarks.
  • Trump also attempted to shift the focus to unrest caused by left-wing groups and falsely claimed that they caused more violence than right-wing groups, a claim that is contrary to the evidence presented by high-level members of his own administration. 

Trump Asked to Denounce White Supremacist Groups

President Donald Trump refused to directly denounce white supremacist groups when asked to do so in the contentious first presidential debate Tuesday night, sparking condemnation from critics and cheers from members of certain white nationalist-tied groups.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Fox News Sunday host and debate moderator Chris Wallace asked the president.

“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing […] I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”

“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace implored.

What do you want to call them?” Trump asked. “Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn,” 

“White supremacist and right-wing militia, proud boys,” Wallace responded, singling out the all-male white supremacist-tied group that has been known for engaging in and promoting violence.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” the president responded. “But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing.”

Response

That moment and the response from the president has been described as one of the most significant moments of the night because while Trump said “sure” when asked if he would condemn white supremacist groups, when asked actually do so, he refused.

Even in telling the Proud Boys to stand down, he also told them to “stand by,” a refrain that alarmed many people who believed it sounded as though the president was signaling to members of the group to be ready for something.

“When Trump says: ‘Proud Boys – stand back and stand by’ – he is signalling that he considers them a private army waiting for his command to take to the streets if the result is not to his liking. That is very frightening,” writer Katy Brand tweeted.

“I still can’t get over the fact that Trump was told to condemn violent white supremacists, and all he could eek out was to tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand by’— effectively a call to arms,” political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen also wrote on twitter.

Many others also took aim more specifically at the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacists.

“He was given the opportunity multiple times to condemn white supremacy and he gave a wink and a nod to a racist nazi muerderous organization that is now celebrating online, that is now saying we have a go ahead,” attorney and commentator Van Jones told CNN.

However, in a separate interview with CNN, former Senator Rick Santorum seemed to defend Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacist groups.

“He was asking the president to do something he knows the president doesn’t like to do, which is say something bad about people who support him,” he said, though in a later appearance on another CNN program, he said Trump made a huge mistake by not condemning white supremacy.

As far as the official response from Trump’s team, when White House communications director Alyssa Farah was asked to clarify the president’s comments on Fox News, she said she did not think there was anything to clarify.

“He’s told them to stand back,” she said. “This president has surged federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading.” 

Proud Boys Respond

According to SITE Intel Group, which tracks online extremism, the Proud Boys embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan. Some also took to social media sites like Parler, which is known for its large pro-Trump user base, to celebrate Trump’s words.

“Trump basically said to go fuck [protesters] up! this makes me so happy,” one prominent ally wrote on the platform, seemingly in regards to Trump’s remarks about antifa.

While Trump’s comments about antifa took up less focus, it is important to note that his attempts to deflect questions about right-wing groups contained multiple falsehoods that have been contradicted by people within his own administration and the intelligence community.

Despite the president’s claims that almost all the violence he sees is from the left, earlier this month, his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, said that “racially motivated violent extremism,” most of which has come from white supremacists, composes the majority of domestic terrorism threats. 

Separately, just days after that, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kenneth Cuccinelli said that “when white supremacists act as terrorists, more people per incident are killed.”

Additionally, DHS also pointed to white extremism as a primary threat in a domestic terrorism assessment published last year. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Business Insider)

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Trump and Biden Spar Over Voting Security at First Debate

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  • In the final round of Tuesday’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden addressed concerns over election security and voter fraud.
  • As Biden correctly noted, top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have said that there is no evidence of widespread mail-in voter fraud.
  • Trump later claimed that mailmen in West Virginia are selling ballots. According to state officials, this is not true.
  • While Biden promised that he would not declare victory on election night, Trump did not make any such promises when asked by moderator Chris Wallace.

Election Security Concerns 

During the final leg of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over the topic of election security in the face of widespread mail-in voting. 

Here are some fact-checked claims made by both candidates.

Biden: No Evidence That Mail-In Voting Leads to Cheating

At the start of the sixth and final round of the debate, Biden said of Trump: “His own Homeland Security director, and as well as the FBI director, says that there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.”

“They said that. The fact is that there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does, by the way.” 

While Biden does seem to confuse “homeland security director” with the DHS cybersecurity director, the gist of this claim is mostly true.

A few weeks ago, that director, Christopher Krebs, told CBS News that mail-in voting systems are resilient and secure because they create paper trails that can be audited.

Biden also referenced testimony given by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who last week, said that the U.S. has never experienced a large-scale mail-in voter fraud effort. Wray added that any such fraud would be a “major challenge” for foreign countries to pull off. 

Trump: Ballots Found in Wastepaper Baskets

Trump opened the round by saying that he is fine with solicited ballots but that his problem lies with states automatically sending ballots to all registered voters. He then went on to assert a number of claims. 

“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country,” Trump said. “There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump, just the other day in a wastepaper basket.” 

Trump repeated that claim several more times, saying at one point, “They found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name military ballots. There were military. They all had the name Trump on them.” 

The president is referring to a situation in Pennsylvania where nine mailed-in military ballots were found “discarded” by a local election office. Seven of those ballots are known to have been cast for Trump, while two remain sealed. 

It is fully possible that those nine ballots could have been improperly discarded, and it is also possible that the move was intentional; however, an ongoing investigation has yet to make that determination.

As The Washington Post reports, military absentee ballots also look like absentee ballot requests, so it is possible they were opened accidentally. 

It’s also possible that the ballots could have been what’s known as “naked ballots,” meaning each voters’ candidate choices would have been revealed after opening the envelope. If that is the case, those ballots would have had to have been thrown out because of a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. 

Still, as of the debate, it is unproven that this incident is fraud, as Trump claimed.

Trump: Mail Carriers Are Selling Ballots

Following that, Trump claimed that mail carriers in West Virginia are selling ballots.

“Did you see what’s going on?” Trump said. “Take a look at West Virginia, mailman selling the ballots. They’re being sold.”

Plain and simple, this is not true. 

In fact, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office has since said that it doesn’t know of any instances in which ballots were sold in the state.

The closest comparison to Trump’s remarks stem from an incident that occurred earlier this year where a mailman pleaded guilty to election fraud after changing several absentee request forms from Democrat to Republican. 

As many have noted, this instance of fraud was quickly caught. Additionally, the mailman’s actions never resulted in any altered ballots. 

Wallace: Will You Pledge Not to Declare Immediate Victory?

Debate moderator Chris Wallace ended Tuesday’s debate by asking both candidates if they would urge their supporters to stay calm and not engage in civil unrest in the days following the election. 

That’s because, as Wallace pointed out, the results of the election likely won’t be known for days or even maybe weeks after Nov. 3rd, due to the high volume of mail-in ballots.

“And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” Wallace asked.

“I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump responded. “I am urging them to do it.

“If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that. And I’ll tell you why—”

What does that mean, not go along?” Wallace asked. “Does that mean you’re going to tell your people — to take to the streets?”

“I’ll tell you what it means,” Trump said. “It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots… These people are not equipped to handle it.” 

Biden, however, responded with a much more concrete answer to Wallace’s question.

“Yes,” Biden said. “And here’s the deal. We count the ballots, as you pointed out. Some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until election day. And if there’s thousands of ballots, it’s going to take time to do it.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)

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Cambridge Analytica Passed Voter Suppression Information Over to the 2016 Trump Campaign, New Report Claims

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  • A new report claims Donald Trump’s campaign disproportionately targeted Black voters in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to dissuade them from voting.
  • According to Channel 4, Cambridge Analytica compiled that information and passed it to the Trump campaign as part of a “Deterrence” category.
  • While this practice is legal, through the use of Facebook ads, it also potentially targeted 3.5 million Black voters in many states that were ultimately decided in tight races. 
  • Trump’s re-election campaign has denied these reports, but according to Channel 4, the 2016 campaign’s chief scientist explicitly said the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”

Cambridge Analytica Database

A new report claims Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign received and used data that disproportionately targeted Black voters in an attempt to discourage them from voting in the last presidential election.

The report, published by U.K. outlet Channel 4 News, alleges that the Trump campaign received a database on 200 million American voters from the now-defunct firm Cambridge Analytica. That firm attracted international scrutiny after it was found to have harvested millions of Facebook users’ personal data without their consent. 

In 2016, the Trump Campaign pumped $5.9 million into Cambridge Analytica. 

As The Washington Post puts it, this database “could add detail to allegations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the campaign, particularly in efforts to harness Facebook’s powerful ad technologies to dissuade Black voters from supporting Hillary Clinton.”

According to Channel 4, which claims to have obtained the database made by Cambridge Analytica, the list of voters covers 16 key battleground states. Among those states, voters were then separated into eight different categories.

For example, likely Democratic voters were listed as either “Core Clinton,” “Disengaged Clinton,” or “Deterrence.” Channel 4 quoted the chief data scientist of Trump’s 2016 campaign as explicitly saying the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”

Notably, more than half the people listed in that category were either Black, Asian, or Latino.

On top of that, while Black voters only make up about 5.4% of the voting population in Wisconsin, the database marked 17% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.” 

Likewise, in Michigan, Black voters accounted for 15% of the voting population in 2016; however, the database marked 33% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.”

Both races were extremely tight. In fact, Trump won Michigan by just 11,000 votes. At the same time, Black voter turnout in the state dropped by more than 12%.

Ties to the Trump Campaign

Channel 4 has not revealed how it obtained this database, but it does claim that Cambridge Analytica worked “hand in glove with a team from the Republican National Committee.”

Following the report, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, dismissed it as “fake news,” saying that Trump’s record gave him a “relationship of trust with African American voters.”

Paris Dennard, the RNC’s senior communications adviser for Black media affairs, affirmed that the data obtained by Channel 4 “is not our data.”

Matt Braynard, the Trump data director for the 2016 campaign, said his team didn’t use those categorizations. Instead, he said they relied on material from the party and another firm, L2 political. 

“Deterrence doesn’t mean suppression and it doesn’t mean deterrence from voting,” Braynard specified. “It just means deterrence from voting for Hillary Clinton.”

Many of the testimonies seem to conflict with one another. While Murtaugh has claimed the story is “fake news,” Braynard has seemingly admitted that this data is at least real. In addition to that, Braynard said the category wasn’t meant to be a full deterrence from voting, but Channel 4’s quote from the Trump data scientist indicates the direct opposite.

According to The Washington Post, Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former director of business development, said Channel 4’s report is consistent with “her understanding of how Cambridge Analytica and Republicans targeted Black voters in 2016.”

Kaiser then provided The Post with an internal company document from 2016 which described a similar classification strategy for Democrats, including a category labelled “Deterrent.” 

Was This Legal?

The tactics described in the Channel 4 report are legal.

David Carroll, a professor at the Parsons School of Design in New York, called the database “a diabolically effective campaign tactic,” but added in a statement to The Post, “They’re just using free speech, even if it is misleading.”

Despite the tactic by Cambridge Analytica being legal, Channel 4 criticized Facebook for its role in airing ads potentially aimed at dissuading voters. Of particular note, during the 2016 Election, Facebook also employed “dark posts,” or ads that vanish from feeds after a campaign stops paying for them. 

Those ads make it difficult to go back and track how campaigns targeted specific groups, and that has become a major point of contention because the Trump Campaign pumped $44 million in such types of ads in 2016. 

Channel 4 was also critical of Facebook because it was seemingly the original source of information used to help create this database; however, Facebook has maintained that its information was improperly obtained and that Cambridge Analytica was in violation of its policies.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (USA Today)

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