- Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
- Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
- Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
- Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
- Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign.
U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.
“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”
Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them.
The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.
In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.
That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.”
“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.
Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.
But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.
Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.
Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.
Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.
As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.
Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims
It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.
Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.
Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.
“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.”
Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.”
Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.
This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.
That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”
“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.
The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.
“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.”
“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.
To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”
As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”
A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement.
“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Republicans Say They Will Block Bill To Avert Government Shutdown and Debt Default
Democrats argue the bill is necessary to prevent an economic catastrophe.
Democrats Introduce Legislation
Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled sweeping legislation Monday that aimed to keep the government funded through early December, lift the federal debt limit, and provide around $35 billion for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery.
The bill is needed to avoid a government shutdown when funding expires next week. It is also necessary to prevent the Treasury Department from reaching the limit of its borrowing authority, which would trigger the U.S. to default on its debt for the first time ever.
For weeks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to raise the federal debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, warning that the department will soon exhaust all of its measures to keep the federal government within its legal borrowing limit.
If the U.S. were to default, it would be unable to pay its debts, sending massive shockwaves through the financial system.
Democrats have painted the bill as crucial to avert an economic doomsday that would massively undermine recovery.
They argue that the combination of a government shutdown and a debt default would destabilize global markets and leave millions of Americans without essential aid.
Republicans Vow to Oppose Raising Debt Ceiling
Despite the considerable threats, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said Republicans will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it without their help because they are pushing trillions of dollars in new spending priorities.
Democrats have slammed the Republican leader’s stance as hypocritical. They point out that while it is true they are proposing new spending, it has not been approved yet, and the debt that currently risks default has been incurred by both parties.
Democrats also noted that trillions of dollars were added to the federal debt under former President Donald Trump, which is more than what has been added by President Joe Biden. As a result, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with the support of Democrats.
McConnell, however, remains unlikely to budge. On Monday, White House officials said McConnell has not outlined any requests or areas of negotiation in exchange for support of the legislation.
While the bill is expected to pass the House, it appears all but doomed in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to break the filibuster.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Politico)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom Survives Recall
Experts say the outcome should act as a warning for Republicans who tie themselves to former President Donald Trump and attempt to undermine election results by promoting false voter fraud claims.
Recall Effort Fails
After seven months and an estimated $276 million in taxpayer money, the Republican-led effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) failed Tuesday.
Just under 70% of the votes have been reported as of Wednesday morning, showing that “no” on the recall received 63.9% of the vote. That’s nearly twice as many votes as “yes,” which had 36.1%.
According to The Washington Post, even if the margin narrows as more votes are counted, this still marks one of the biggest rejections of any recall effort in America over the last century.
Analysts say the historic rebuke was driven by high Democratic turnout and broader fears over resurging COVID cases.
While the Delta variant continues to push new infections to record highs in many parts of the country with lax mask rules and low vaccination rates, California, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, now has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest new caseloads in the nation.
Newsom has continually tried to convince voters that those figures are the results of his vaccine and masking policies, which have been some of the most aggressive in the U.S.
Given that polls showed the pandemic was the top concern for California voters, it is clear that the majority favored his policies over those of his competitors. Larry Elder, the Republican talk radio host of led the field of 46 challengers, ran on a platform of getting rid of essentially all COVID restrictions.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Newsom painted the recall’s failure not only as a win for Democratic coronavirus policies but also for Democracy at large.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.”
“I think about just in the last few days and the former president put out saying this election was rigged,” he continued. “Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. That’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smashing a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”
“I said this many, many times on the campaign trail, we may have defeated Trump, but Trump-ism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country.”
A Warning for Republicans
Newsom’s remarks took aim at the efforts by Elder and other Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — who over the last week have claimed falsely and without evidence that voter fraud helped secured the governor’s win before Election Day even took place.
While it is currently unknown whether that narrative may have prompted more Republican voters to stay home, Newsom’s effort to cast Edler as a Trump-like candidate and the recall as an undemocratic, Republican power grab appears to have been effective.
Now, political strategists say that the outcome of the recall should serve as a warning that Republicans who pin themselves to Trump and his Big Lie playbook may be hurt more in certain states.
“The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office,” The New York Times explained.
Even outside of a strongly blue state like California, analysts say this strategy will also be effective with similar candidates in battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, which will be essential to deciding control of the Senate.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Justice Department Sues Texas Over Abortion Ban
The department claims the Texas law violates past Supreme Court precedents on abortion and infringes on Constitutional protections.
Biden Administration Takes Aim at Texas Law
The Department of Justice sued Texas on Thursday in an attempt to block the state’s newly enacted law that effectively prohibits all abortions by banning the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The abortion law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest, allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person terminate their pregnancy after six weeks.
In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the Texas law is unconstitutional because it violates past Supreme Court precedents through a technical loophole.
While numerous other states have passed similar laws banning abortion after about six weeks, federal judges have struck down those measures on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that states cannot prevent someone from seeking an abortion before a fetus can viably live outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.
The Texas law, however, skirts the high court decisions by deputizing citizens to enforce the law rather than state government officials, taking the state out of the equation entirely and protecting it from legal responsibility.
Individuals who do so do not have to prove any personal injury or connection to those they take legal action against, which can range from abortion providers to rideshare drivers who take someone to a clinic.
If their lawsuit is successful, the citizen is entitled to a $10,000 award.
DOJ Lawsuit Targets Constitutionality
During a press conference detailing the DOJ lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to the enforcement mechanism as “an unprecedented” effort with the “obvious and expressly acknowledged intention” to prevent Texans from their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion.
“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said, adding that the provision of the law allowing civilians “to serve as bounty hunters” may become “a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”
The Justice Department argued that the Texas policy violates equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and federal law generally take precedence over state law.
The lawsuit also claimed that the law interferes with the constitutional obligation of federal employees to provide access to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, to people who are under the care of federal agencies or contractors such as those in prisons.
Both Sides See Path to Supreme Court
While proponents of abortion rights applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, officials in Texas defended the law and accused the Biden administration of filing the lawsuit for political reasons.
“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said in a statement.
“We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.”
The DOJ’s suit will now be decided by a federal judge for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin.
Depending on how that court rules, either opponents or supporters of the abortion ban are expected to appeal the case, sending it to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and likely ultimately placing the matter before the Supreme Court again in a matter of months.
The Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect by declining to approve an emergency petition to block the measure last week, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy.
As a result, the Justice Department’s legal challenge could force the high court to hear another facet of the law that it has not yet considered if it decides to see the case.