July 7, 2020

The Trump administration has often said it would sniff out leakers within its own ranks to no avail. But this time, Politico reports, the White House seems more determined than usual.

Per Politico, the administration has opened an internal investigation to figure out who leaked intelligence about Russia allegedly offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Some of the anger about the leak may have to do with the fact that the information was highly-classified, but the bombshell report also sparked backlash against President Trump for failing to address the issue. The White House responded by denying Trump was ever briefed on the intelligence, which only led to more criticism.

After a series of interviews, the administration reportedly believes it's narrowed down the list to fewer than 10 people who had access to the intelligence. The White House maintains the story was overblown and the report itself is far from conclusive, although follow-up reporting provided further evidence that the bounties were real. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

12:14 a.m.

Minnesota's last four governors seem determined to make a stand for the state's "Minnesota nice" ethos, while also refuting baseless fears of vote fraud. Gov. Tim Walz (D) came up with the idea to invite his three predecessors — Mark Dayton (D), Tim Pawlenty (R), and Jesse Ventura (I) — to make and ad with him last Friday, they filmed it Monday, and Walz's office released it Wednesday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The governors agree that this is "the most important election of our lifetime" and urge Minnesotans to show patience, "civility, and decency" throughout the process.

"I asked some friends to help me explain why Election Day might be a little different this year," Walz tweeted. "The four of us don't agree on everything. But we do agree on this: The 2020 election is too important to sit out. Go vote."

Along with President Trump's frequent, false assertions about rampant mail-in vote fraud and calls for his followers to "watch" people vote, Minnesota had to swat down a plan by a Tennessee-based company to send private armed guards to "protect" the polls, the Star Tribune reports.

"Our state is proud to have one of the safest and most secure election systems in the whole country," Pawlenty said. "With so many of us voting by mail, it may take a little longer to verify a winner," Walz added. "And that's okay, it's by design," Pawlenty continued. "A delay just means out system is working," Ventura said, "and that we're counting every ballot."

In a time of deep and sometimes violent polarization, this is pretty nice, Minnesota. Peter Weber

October 28, 2020

During a press conference last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe strayed from his approved remarks when he claimed Iran was sending emails to American voters as a way to "damage President Trump," two senior administration officials with knowledge of the matter told Politico.

This allegation was not in his prepared statement, which was shown to and signed off by FBI Director Christopher Wray and Chris Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, Politico reports. The press conference was held so the officials could explain to voters ways foreign actors were trying to influence the U.S. election.

Democrats in several states reported receiving emails that claimed to be from the far-right Proud Boys group, threatening them and saying if they didn't vote for Trump, "we will come after you." Ratcliffe said those emails were sent by Iran, and then asserted that they were "designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump." The officials told Politico that while the Proud Boys were named several times in his prepared remarks, Ratcliffe omitted those references.

Ratcliffe made the decision to hold the briefing on his own, officials told Politico, and it was quickly put together and timed so it would not air on television at the same time as a Trump rally. Before becoming DNI, Ratcliffe was one of Trump's most vocal supporters.

When asked for comment, Amanda Schoch, the assistant DNI for strategic communications, told Politico that "literally no one is disputing the 100 percent factual accuracy of the DNI's remarks. The rest of this is just pointless process noise, most of which is inaccurate or taken out of context." Catherine Garcia

October 28, 2020

The Supreme Court on Wednesday night let stand a lower court ruling allowing North Carolina to extend its deadline for accepting mail-in ballots.

With the extension, ballots that are postmarked by Election Day can arrive up to nine days later and still be counted. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the Supreme Court on Tuesday, did not participate in the 5-3 decision. A spokesperson said she sat this one out "because of the need for a prompt resolution and because she has not had time to fully review the parties' filings."

In June, North Carolina's state legislature moved the mail ballot deadline from Nov. 3 to Nov. 6, but the North Carolina Board of Elections extended it even further, to Nov. 12, saying this protected "lawful North Carolina voters from having their votes thrown out because of mail delays that the Postal Service had explicitly warned the state about." Under state law, the board has the authority to make temporary changes to election rules during an emergency, like the coronavirus pandemic, NBC News reports.

North Carolina's Republican Party and President Trump's campaign challenged the extension, saying it posed "an immediate threat to the integrity of the federal elections process," but a federal district court judge and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals both refused to block the change.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) said it was "a disgrace that Republicans are trying to block eligible voters from having their votes counted. If voters comply with the statute and mail in their ballots on or before Election Day, they should not be penalized by slow mail delivery in a pandemic." Catherine Garcia

October 28, 2020

The president of the FBI Agents Association sent letters to both President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Wednesday, asking that the winner of next week's election keep FBI Director Christopher Wray in his position.

Earlier this week, people close to the president told Axios that if Trump is re-elected, he plans on immediately firing Wray; he reportedly became enraged in September when Wray testified there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, contradicting Trump's claims.

The FBI Agents Association represents more than 14,000 agents, and its president, Brian O'Hare, wrote in his letters that since 1976, FBI directors have had 10-year terms, which keeps the position nonpartisan. While the president is able to remove FBI directors, "doing so could lead to instability and damage to the Bureau's operations," O'Hare said.

Wray has been leading the FBI since August 2017, after Trump fired its former director, James Comey, that May, as he investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 election. O'Hare said in his letters that Wray is "an asset to the Bureau and a trusted leader of agents in the field" and "the country is safer because of him." He has "not led the Bureau in a political manner," O'Hare added, "and politics should not determine his fate as director."

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to The Washington Post's request for comment, and White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email, "If the president doesn't have confidence in someone he will let you know. The White House does not speculate or comment on personnel matters." Catherine Garcia

October 28, 2020

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to expedite a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to stop the state from counting mail-in ballots received in the three days after Election Day.

This means the case won't be heard before Nov. 3, but in a statement, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch said it could be reviewed by the court after the election.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court deadlocked on the issue, leaving in place the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling that ballots postmarked by Election Day can be counted if they arrive up to three days later. Wednesday's brief order did not say why the Supreme Court declined to expedite consideration of this similar case, The New York Times reports.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose first day on the job was Tuesday, did not cast a vote on Wednesday, with a spokesperson for the court saying she "did not participate in the consideration of this motion because of the need for a prompt resolution of it and because she has not had time to fully review the parties' filings." Catherine Garcia

October 28, 2020

Hurricane Zeta made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana, on Wednesday evening as a Category 2 storm with winds of 110 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Cocodrie is on the state's southeastern coast, about 65 miles south-southwest of New Orleans. Zeta is a fast moving storm, going north-northeast at almost 25 mph, CNN reports. It is the fifth named storm to hit Louisiana this season.

Forecasters say Zeta will likely move inland, passing over or near New Orleans, and residents are being urged to stay inside. Zeta crossed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday, where its heavy winds brought down trees and power lines. Catherine Garcia

Opinion
October 28, 2020

If President Trump's decision to strip protections in Alaska's Tongass National Forest was little more than a troll — well, he got us. For environmentalists and climate science believers, the announcement Wednesday was received with about the same disbelief, horror, and revulsion as watching someone kick a kitten; the "lungs of the country," "America's Amazon," the "crown jewel" of the National Forest Service, now available for more than nine million acres of timber harvest, much of it old growth.

While Trump has touted his environmental record in his re-election campaign — by signing the Great American Outdoors Act and mispronouncing "Yosemite," among other things — his four years in office have been distinguished by what seems to be a personal vendetta against former President Barack Obama, including unsuccessfully trying to overturn his predecessor's offshore drilling ban in the Arctic and reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument. But the Tongass decision in particular stands out as tragic foolishness, not only because it is one of the most extraordinary and precious swaths of land in the nation, but because there's no other even plausibly defensible rationale for the move.

Home to ancient and threatened Alaska yellow cedars, the fascinating Alexander Archipelago wolves, all five species of salmon, some 10,000 bald eagles, and the eerily beautiful spirit bear, the Tongass is the largest temperate rainforest in the world, a carbon sink that stores "the equivalent of about 8 percent of the carbon stored in all the forests of the lower 48 states combined," The New York Times reports. The Trump administration has been attempting to open the forest up to logging for years now, to much outcry — including my own — while ostensibly helping local politicians who say the timber would help the state's economy.

But timber accounts for just 1 percent of the regional employment, The Washington Post reports. Keeping the Tongass wild and untapped might actually help the economy more, with fishing and tourism accounting for 26 percent of the jobs in the area. In fact, 96 percent of comments during the U.S. Forest Service's review of the plan opposed opening the forest up; likewise, all five Alaska Native tribal nations withdrew from cooperating earlier this month, citing a refusal to "endow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn." And as Ken Rait, the project director of the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts, told The Guardian, "between taxpayer expenses and the fact that the majority of logs cut on the Tongass will be exported to China and other Pacific Rim nations, [Wednesday's] decision isn't going to have robust economic benefits to anyone in this country."

Short of any material justification, the Tongass decision is, in effect, destroying the planet to own the libs. Good luck with that. Jeva Lange

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