On Friday, The Washington Post published an extraordinary, comprehensive report of the Obama administration's actions in the face of mounting evidence that Russia severely affected the U.S. presidential election last year. "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," one senior Obama administration official confessed.
1. The initial August 2016 intelligence report that linked Putin directly to a cyber campaign to throw off the U.S. election was intensely secretive:
The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report's distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid. [The Washington Post]
2. Obama's most severe response to the hacking hinged on hidden cyber "bombs":
Obama ... approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia's infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project ... was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability. [The Washington Post]
3. When eventually told about the hack, key congressional Democrats and Republicans split on how to react:
"The Dems were, 'Hey, we have to tell the public,'" recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia's aim of sapping confidence in the system. [The Washington Post]
4. The assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election dulled the administration's response:
"Our primary interest in August, September, and October was to prevent [Russia] from doing the max they could do," said a senior administration official. "We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures."
The assumption that [Hillary] Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency. [The Washington Post]
5. Russia is on the verge of getting away with everything:
In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy [...] And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences. [The Washington Post]
President Trump's lawyers basically have no idea what White House Counsel Don McGahn shared with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team during 30 hours of interviews, people close to Trump told The New York Times on Sunday.
McGahn's lawyer only gave them a sliver of what he told investigators, two people told the Times, and now Trump's advisers are worried McGahn gave a lot of information that will end up in Mueller's ultimate report. Trump's lawyers weren't aware of how little they knew until they read a report published on Saturday in the Times regarding McGahn's cooperation with Mueller's office. A person close to Trump told the Times his lawyers never asked McGahn to give a complete description of what he told Mueller's team, and others said McGahn wanted to talk to investigators because he was afraid Trump was going to set him up to take the blame for any wrongdoing.
On Sunday morning, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani admitted he didn't know much about what McGahn had told Mueller's team, and Trump went on a Twitter tirade, claiming he "allowed" McGahn to speak to investigators because he has "nothing to hide." Catherine Garcia
In his first televised speech since taking office, Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, said he plans on tackling the growing divide between the rich and poor.
"I want to see Pakistan a great country," Khan, a former cricketer, said on Sunday. He will focus on increasing social services for the poor, cutting government expenses, fighting corruption, and austerity measures, as Pakistan's foreign debt is more than $95 billion. Khan said Pakistan has never been doing worse economically, and "the interest that we have to pay on our debt has reached a level that we have to take on more debt just to repay our obligations."
Khan was sworn in on Saturday, and is already vowing to reform everything from the criminal justice system to the education sector. He also promised to "keep good relations with all countries. We want peace as without it no progress and development is possible."
Federal investigators are looking into whether Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, committed bank and tax fraud when securing more than $20 million in loans and if he violated campaign finance laws when arranging financial deals with women who said they had affairs with Trump, several people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.
Two people said the probe is in its end stages, and prosecutors are mulling filing charges by the end of August. Investigators are trying to figure out if Cohen misrepresented the value of his assets in order to obtain loans from two banks for his taxi business, and if he failed to report income from that same business to the IRS, the Times reports. Read more about the investigation and what might happen if Cohen decides to take a plea agreement at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia
China, Iran, and North Korea could join Russia in attempting to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, National Security Adviser John Bolton said on ABC's This Week Sunday.
Bolton told host Martha Raddatz there is "a sufficient national security concern about Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling, and North Korean meddling that we're taking steps to try and prevent it" — but he would not answer her question about whether there is any evidence China has tried to hack American elections in the past.
National security adviser John Bolton says in addition to Russia, there's "sufficient national security concern" that China, Iran, and North Korea are meddling in the 2018 U.S. elections.
"Those are the four countries that we're most concerned about" https://t.co/eYlWTEQpta pic.twitter.com/a5ihTMwUGo
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) August 19, 2018
Raddatz also asked whether Bolton would support fighting the 17-year war in Afghanistan entirely using contractors instead of the U.S. military. (Contractors already outnumber U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan by a large margin.) Bolton dodged the question with a bromide about entertaining new tactics.
Watch that exchange below. Bonnie Kristian
.@MarthaRaddatz: "Would you consider privatizing (in Afghanistan), using contractors instead of U.S. military?"
White House national security adviser John Bolton: "I'm always open to new ideas...That will ultimately be the president's decision" https://t.co/gZkXtxqCCj #ThisWeek pic.twitter.com/vaRger8Vvn
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) August 19, 2018
Former CIA Director John Brennan is considering legal action against the Trump administration after President Trump revoked his security clearance as part of a very public feud, Brennan said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday.
"I have been contacted by a number of lawyers and they have already given me their thoughts about the basis for a complaint, an injunction, to try and prevent him from doing this in the future," Brennan told host Chuck Todd. "If my clearances and my reputation — as I'm being pulled through the mud now — if that's the price we're going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it's a small price to pay, so I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future, and if it means going to court, I will do that."
Pressed by Todd as to whether he regrets "essentially accusing the president of treason," Brennan said no. "I've been speaking out rather forcefully, because I believe it's important to do so," he said. "I don't believe I'm being political at all." Contra Todd, who highlighted his prominence as "the former CIA director accusing the sitting president of the United States," Brennan maintained he is merely a "private citizen."
Watch the full segment below. Bonnie Kristian
Those who say President Trump should testify for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation "because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly, because it's somebody's version of the truth — not the truth [itself[," Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said on NBC News Sunday.
"Truth is truth," Meet the Press host Chuck Todd interjected.
"No," Giuliani replied, "it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth."
After a moment of crosstalk and protestation, Todd observed Giuliani's phrase "is going to become a bad meme."
While Trump himself has at times expressed eagerness to testify, his legal team has been wary of permitting it, with Giuliani alleging Mueller is attempting to trap Trump in perjury. His Orwellian phrasing aside, Giuliani's concern is not particularly unusual, especially for a lawyer with a loquacious fabulist for a client.
Giuliani's full interview mostly concerned Saturday's news that White House counsel Don McGahn has voluntarily given 30 hours of interviews to the Mueller team, as well as President Trump's response to that story. Watch the complete conversation with Todd below; the exchange about truth begins around the nine-minute mark. Bonnie Kristian
Syria's Idlib province is expected to be the site of the final major battle of the seven-year Syrian civil war.
The country's strongman President Bashar al-Assad has retaken most rebel-held territory across Syria, and Idlib is the last large rebel-held enclave. About 70,000 rebel fighters are in the province, driven by regime forces from other Syrian regions.
Idlib is also the temporary home of internally displaced people who have fled more intense fighting elsewhere in Syria. Now, the fighting will likely come to their doorsteps once again as a new offensive is thought to be imminent.
"We are asking God for mercy and protection from the bombing and the airstrikes," said a woman named Aisha, who lives in Idlib with her family. "If I take [my children] with me outside, I am scared. If I leave them inside the house, I'm also scared. Wherever I go, I will still be scared for their lives." Bonnie Kristian