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Forensic News Roundup: Trump spreads Russian disinformation that his own DNI warned about

August 18, 2020 6:11 am Adrienne Cobb

Disinformation and the election

Trump publicly pressured Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham to release damaging information on Obama and Biden before the election. Durham was appointed by Barr to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. Barr himself has stated that “we are trying to get some things accomplished before the election.” (clip)

“Bill Barr can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country, or he can go down as an average guy. It depends on what’s going to happen,” the president said. “Bill Barr and Durham have a chance to be — Bill Barr is great most of the time, but if he wants to be politically correct, he’ll be just another guy.” (clip)

Trump has told aides he’d like to hold an in-person meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the November election. The goal of a summit would reportedly be for the two leaders to announce progress towards a new nuclear arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson admitted his Obama-Biden probe “would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection.” The admission is another piece of mounting evidence that the Republican-led Senate probes have no basis and are intended to tank Biden’s support à la the Benghazi hearings in 2016.

Republicans, including Sen. Johnson himself, supported Obama and Biden’s efforts to reform Ukraine in 2016 – their outrage began only once Biden started winning primaries.

At a Senate hearing in 2016, a number of GOP senators who are still in office today sat in attendance during discussions of the Obama administration’s approach to Ukraine. At those hearings, officials and outside experts repeatedly discussed the need to remove the prosecutor in question — Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor general — describing this imperative as central to official U.S. policy.

…What this shows is that ousting the prosecutor was about fighting corruption in Ukraine as a matter of administration policy — and that GOP senators understood this full well at the time. Indeed, none of that stirred any controversy.

  • Further reading: “The Senate Created a Playbook to Counter Foreign Influence. Then it Did the Opposite,” Just Security

Johnson also suggested last week that subpoenas to former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan were being blocked by at least one Republican member of the committee. “We had a number of my committee members that were highly concerned about how this looks politically,” Johnson said. While Johnson did not name the senator(s) involved, it is speculated that Mitt Romney may be the chief holdout.

Last week, Johnson issued the first subpoena of his Senate probe to FBI Director Christopher Wray, demanding documents but not testimony. Specifically, it asks for “all documents related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation” — the FBI’s counterintelligence probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

  • Days after the subpoena was issued, Trump publicly criticized Wray for not being more helpful to his re-election effort, saying: “We have an election coming up. I wish he was more forthcoming, he certainly hasn’t been. There are documents that they want to get, and we have said we want to get. We’re going to find out if he’s going to give those documents. But certainly he’s been very, very protective.” (clip)

Intelligence officials appear to distrust Johnson and his investigation. The CIA has ignored requests to brief committee members regarding the allegations against Biden and his son. According to Politico, Johnson is considered “toxic” by some members of the intelligence community. Furthermore, the committee has accepted material from a Ukrainian lawmaker identified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as a tool of a Russian election interference effort.

  • On Sunday, Trump retweeted audio of a conversation between Biden and Poroshenko that was released earlier this year by Derkach. Trump is amplifying disinformation released by a man his own intelligence advisers have publicly called a Russian asset.

Last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee notified federal prosecutors that Jared Kushner, Don Jr., and several Trump associates may have committed perjury during their testimony in the panel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a letter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., the committee indicated the evidence of perjury was strongest in the testimony of the president’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, former campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, and private security contractor Erik Prince.


Trump finances and campaign

A watchdog group is asking Manhattan DA Vance and the FBI to look into whether Trump violated the law by filing false documents with the U.S. government to hide the financial health of himself and his company. U.K. records indicate that Trump has inflated the value of his Scottish and Irish resorts by at least $152 million more than they’re actually worth.

“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes,” Michael Cohen said.

Trump has decided to accept the Republican nomination from the White House, an idea even some Republicans have criticized. Under federal law, government employees and property are generally barred from being used for political purposes. The Hatch Act exempts the President but not any other officials – campaign or administration. So anyone who helps set up the event will be in violation of the law.

  • Administration officials have been cited for breaking the Hatch Act 13 times by federal investigators at the Office of Special Counsel. Twelve more investigations are underway.

Trump’s hotel, down the street from the White House, just so happens to have spiked its room rates by more than 60% for the dates around Trump’s nomination speech. A night during the week of Trump’s speech is listed as between $795 to $2,070, up from a $495 starting rate offered for the weeks before and after the RNC nomination.

“When it comes to the Trump Hotel, DC, there’s a clear correlation between rate hikes and Trump events in the area, even though it is both one of the most expensive hotels in the city and generally fairly empty,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Communications Director Jordan Libowitz said.

Taxpayers are paying for Trump’s re-election campaign. Over the past couple of weeks, Trump has held rallies and campaign speeches sold as “press conferences,” sometimes even inviting his golf resort’s paying members to serve as a live audience.

Turning official White House business into a re-election rally—particularly a special rally, at your own golf course, for people who pay you for access—is using taxpayer money for personal use. That’s corruption.

Trump has made close to $1.5 million in income over the past three years from his online store selling products made overseas. As of last Friday, 180 items in the store are made outside of the US, while only 100 are marked as made in America.


Bad behavior and rule-breaking

The White House has been inviting pro-Trump, conspiracy-spreading outlets to press briefings, violating an agreement with the White House Correspondents’ Association. Last week, the White House had representatives of the Gateway Pundit and Epoch Times admitted to the briefing room, ignoring the 14 person limit put in place to protect reporters from the coronavirus.

  • Trump has already allowed One America News Network to join every day even though the WHCA suspended their access for refusing to comply with the rotation schedule. Trump called on the above three outlets as much as possible, ensuring that he is asked softball questions that advance his agenda. Here is a clip of Trump taking a question from the Gateway Pundit.
  • WHCA’s president, Zeke Miller, said in an email, “It is outrageous that the White House continues to invite ‘guests’ to press briefings, putting the health and safety of everyone in the workspace at greater risk.”

The Government Accountability Office determined that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli were invalidly appointed to their positions and are ineligible to serve. The GAO referred the matter to the DHS Inspector General for potential action. It is possible that any actions taken by Wolf and Cuccinelli will also be deemed invalid.

  • Beyond an illegal Acting Secretary and deputy, DHS lacks a chief of staff and the acting general counsel, Chad Mizelle, is just a few years out of law school. There are vacancies, effectively, in all four of the next most-senior DHS positions: There’s no Senate-confirmed Under Secretary of Science and Technology nor an Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, (he was fired this month after his office compiled dossiers on reporters). There’s an Acting Under Secretary of Management, which oversees FPS (the agency involved in occupying Portland). Furthermore, Chad Wolf is supposed to be the Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans, so there’s somebody filling in for that role too.
  • The Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention role is vacant. There’s also no Senate-confirmed leader for ICE, CBP, or USCIS. At FEMA, in the midst of hurricane and wildfire season, and during a pandemic, both of the deputy roles are vacant.

Michael Pack is continuing his purge at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, removing at least 6 of the top 10 executives last week. Former officials and experts warn the purge could turn broadcasters such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe into distributors of propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration.

“This is a pretextual purge,” [ousted general counsel David] Kligerman added in an interview. “I think it’s designed to remove the career leadership of the agency — the people who are in charge of enforcing the rules and norms.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel: “Tonight’s actions smack of illegal retaliation… I understand that a number of the individuals who have been relieved had tried to make agency leadership aware of potentially inappropriate or unlawful actions during Mr. Pack’s first months in his position.”

Pack hired former rightwing radio show host Frank Wuco as an adviser at USAGM. Wuco promoted fringe conspiracy theories and made numerous racist, homophobic, and Islamophobic statements.

More controversial appointees and staff problems:

  • Trump administration is withdrawing the controversial nomination of William Perry Pendley to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management. However, Pendley still serves as acting director. In addition to anti-immigrant and Islamophobic comments, Pendley denies the existence of climate change and said there was no evidence of a hole in the ozone layer.
  • Interior Department withheld Trump nominee docs ahead of confirmation, watchdog finds. House Democrats accused Trump administration officials of having “orchestrated a coverup to protect Secretary Bernhardt during his confirmation.” Additionally, they allege Interior Department solicitor Daniel Jorjani provided false information under oath.
  • Trump reportedly plans on removing Defense Secretary Mark Esper after the November election. Trump is upset with Esper’s opposition to invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty forces to quell civil unrest following George Floyd’s death.
  • Trump Appoints Voting Rights Act Critic and Voter Suppression Advocate to U.S. Civil Rights Commission
  • Trump’s ambassador to Britain, Robert “Woody” Johnson, made inappropriate comments on race, religion, and gender to embassy staff. Reminder: Johnson has come under scrutiny for suggesting to a British official that the annual British Open be played at the Turnberry golf course in Scotland owned by Trump. The House Foreign Affairs Cmte. has called him to testify on Sept. 30.


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