Trump Abruptly Drops John Ratcliffe As DNI Nominee Amid Political Headwinds

President Trump abruptly dropped his intention to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to serve as director of national intelligence on Friday.

Coolness from Senate Republicans and reports in the press about past overstatements about Ratcliffe’s record appear to have prompted the White House to calculate that it was wiser to cut bait now than try to press ahead against those headwinds.

Trump wrote on Twitter that Ratcliffe had been treated “unfairly” in media coverage and that he’d told the congressman it might be easier to just stay in the House.

Trump also wrote that he would announce another nominee to become director of national intelligence “shortly.”

The position is to become vacant with the resignation of Dan Coats, with whom Trump never developed a rapport.

Tensions between the president and the intelligence community also appear to have worsened over the Ratcliffe episode, as people in the spy world made clear via the newspaper coverage how unqualified they believed he is and how unwelcome he would be atop the sprawling alphabet soup of domestic and foreign spy agencies.

The feeling is clearly mutual: The New York Times reported on Friday that Trump has at least once barred Coats’ deputy, Sue Gordon, from the Oval Office and that the White House might attempt to stop her from serving as the interim DNI during the interregnum after Coats’ departure.

Gordon is an intelligence community lifer with some three decades of experience and has served as the day-to-day, hands-on manager. Her supporters faulted what appeared to be a scheme to deny her at least an interim role in the top job, which they argue is owed her by law.

Senate intelligence committee ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., told the Times the idea of denying Gordon was “outrageous.”

As for Ratcliffe, he thanked Trump in a Twitter post following the one Trump used to announce he would no longer be nominated. Ratcliffe also said he would have been a candid and professional director of national intelligence, following worries that he was being installed as a political lackey.

[NPR]

Trump’s intelligence chief resigned after the White House repeatedly suppressed his warnings about Russian interference

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats repeatedly found his warnings about the threat posed by Russia suppressed by the White House, The New York Times reported Sunday amid his resignation from the post.

According to The Times, Coats has often found himself at odds with President Donald Trump over Russia, a situation that worsened in recent months.

Coats saw Russia as an adversary to the US, The Times wrote, and pushed for closer cooperation with European countries to counter it, but the White House did not agree.

Several times Coats saw his language on the Kremlin’s activities watered down by the White House, according to The Times.

A secret report by Coats on Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2018 midterms by spreading disinformation was reportedly altered by the White House. A public statement on Coats’ conclusions contained less critical language than the original, The Times said.

A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that Coats felt marginalized on national security issues by the president and had come to see his departure as inevitable.

According to reports, Trump had been discussing replacing Coats for months.

Trump has long faced scrutiny for his warm comments on Russia and his changing positions on whether Russia interfered to help him secure his 2016 election victory.

Robert Mueller concluded in the special counsel’s Russia investigation that there was insufficient evidence to charge the president or his aides with criminally conspiring with Russia in 2016.

Trump in a tweet Sunday announced that Coats would step down in mid-August and nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as his replacement.

In his tweet, he thanked Coats for his service but offered him no praise.

“The intelligence community is stronger than ever and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities,” Coats wrote in his resignation letter, citing the recent appointment of an official charged with countering foreign election interference.

During his time as director of national intelligence, Coats had publicly contradicted Trump on the president’s claims regarding Russia and North Korea.

In a statement released after Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018, Coats rebutted the president’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election.

At a national security conference in Colorado last year, Coats reacted with incredulity when told Trump had invited Putin to the White House at the summit.

“That’s going to be special,” he remarked.

And in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, Coats contradicted Trump’s claims that North Korea no longer posed a threat because of his summits with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

[Business Insider]

Trump promises not to use Kim Jong Un’s family members as CIA assets

President Donald Trump promised Tuesday not to use Kim Jong Un’s family members as intelligence assets, and reassured the North Korean dictator of his commitment to detente.

A report released Monday showed Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, met with Central Intelligence Agency contacts in Malaysia back in 2017 shortly before he was assassinated.

A Wall Street Journal story entitled “North Korean Leader’s Slain Half Brother Was A CIA Source” claims a “person knowledgeable about the matter” confirmed he was feeding intelligence to American officials.

Trump referred to his current relationship with Kim during an exchange with reporters outside Marine One Tuesday, saying he believes the two still have a strong relationship.

“I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un,” he said.

Speaking to the press pool, Trump said, “I think the relationship is very well, but I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA with regard to his brother or half brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices.”

Kim Jong Nam was murdered in February of 2017 when two women smudged his face with VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

In March, the Malaysian attorney general dropped the murder charge against Siti Aisyah, following high-level lobbying from Jakarta and Doan Thi Huong was released in May.

The two women have also been accused of conspiring with four North Koreans who prosecutors said have left the country, AP reported.

[Fox News]

Trump Implies He Trusts North Korea’s Kim More Than His Own People

President Donald Trump seemed to contradict his national security adviser Saturday, claiming he was unbothered by North Korea’s recent missile tests essentially because he trusts dictator Kim Jong Un. In a tweet while he was in Japan, Trump also espoused a view that is at odds with his host country. “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me.”

Japan had said that North Korea’s recent test of short range missiles amounted to a violation of United Nations resolutions. And Trump’s own national security adviser John Bolton agreed with that assessment, telling reporters on Saturday there was “no doubt” that the missile test violated Security Council resolutions.

Vipin Narang, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is an expert on nuclear proliferation and North Korea, said that Trump’s message was “disturbing” for one key reason. “There is a lot that is really disturbing here, but the most important bit is ‘Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me’,” Narang wrote. “Kim never promised to unilaterally disarm, and the problem is Trump continues to believe he did. THAT is why this is so dangerous.”

[Slate]

Trump: Intelligence agencies must ‘quickly and fully’ cooperate with Barr review of 2016 surveillance

President Donald Trump on Thursday directed that U.S. intelligence agencies must “quickly and fully” cooperate with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation “into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. 

Barr has also been delegated the authority by Trump to declassify information related to the investigation, the White House also announced.

Sanders said that Barr had requested and recommended that the president issue the directive to the intelligence community.

“Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions,” Sanders also said in the statement.

Trump’s order came just hours after he stood in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and reiterated his claim, without providing evidence, that when FBI officials launched the initial probe into Russia that the decision amounted to “treason.”

“These are bad people,” Trump told reporters during an event with farmers. “That’s treason. That’s treason. They couldn’t win the election, and that’s what happened.”

The initial Trump investigation began when former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told a foreign diplomat that Russia had collected thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails and would use them to damage the Democratic candidate’s campaign. The diplomat tipped off the FBI to the conversation.

The developments advance Trump’s desire to dig into the very beginnings of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that later became part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Trump and his allies have alleged the investigation began with political motivations, though there has been no smoking-gun evidence to support that theory.

Trump has repeatedly promised to declassify the documents, which many Republicans view as critical to deciphering the origins of the Russia probe. Some redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court records were released last year, but Trump allies have sought more information about the evidence the FBI presented to obtain a wiretap on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

That wiretap was not authorized until after Page left the Trump campaign, but the president has used its existence to argue that the FBI was “spying” on him.

Barr last month at a congressional hearing, without providing evidence, said “I think spying did occur” on Trump’s 2016 campaign. And Barr has more recently made similar suggestions in media interviews. 

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told USA TODAY recently that seeing more of the secret FISA court documents would be a key first step to understanding the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. Kennedy said the Justice Department should also review what prompted the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, to ensure that politics weren’t involved in either case.

“The first thing I would like to see is the president declassify all documents to the FBI and Justice dealing with the 2016 election,” Kennedy said. “There will have to be redactions. But if he’s not willing to do that, then I would like to see Mr. Barr delve into the genesis of all investigations about the 2016 election – the Trump investigation and the Clinton investigation.”

[USA Today]

Reality

Donald Trump is an authoritarian, and investigating his investigators is just another checked box in the authoritarian checklist.

What does this mean?

Sweeping powers for Barr

Barr was given the authority to unilaterally declassify materials related to the investigation, allowing him to “direct” intelligence officials to declassify them. Such documents usually go through an interagency process to determine what can be declassified and released publicly, and the agency where the intelligence originated has to sign off on the final declassification.

Potential for conflict with intelligence community

While it’s not unusual for the intelligence community to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, some former officials say it will become problematic if Trump is seen as using the agencies to go after his political enemies.

Democratic fury meets Republican praise

Democrats, already critical of Barr’s handling of Mueller’s findings, have accused Trump and the attorney general of attempting to politicize the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Some suggested the administration may be looking to selectively release classified material to shape a false narrative.

Trump’s calls to ‘investigate the investigators’ get louder

Thursday’s developments illustrate Trump’s calls to “investigate the investigators” – a message he has used to counter an onslaught of investigations from Democrats following the release of Mueller’s report.

Trump has accused FBI officials involved in the original Russia probe – former FBI director James Comey, former deputy director Andrew McCabe and others – of engaging in “treason.”

More shoes to drop

Trump’s recent move all but guarantees his administration will release certain materials from the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Trump has long said he would declassify and release sensitive documents, including the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Page, a highly redacted version of which the Justice Department made public last summer under pressure from Republicans.

Trump retweets hit list suggesting he’s going after Obama, Biden, Brennan, Clapper the Democratic Party and more

On Monday, President Donald Trump retweeted a ‘hit list’ from Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative self-styled watchdog group.

Fitton tweeted a list out with Democrats name who believed have abused President Donald Trump.

People on the list included Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton.

[Raw Story]

Frazzled and furious Trump attacks McCabe, Mueller and the media in hours-long Twitter meltdown

President Donald Trump closed Presidents Day weekend with a repeat performance of his late Sunday night into early Monday morning tweetstorm. For the second night in a row the President was up late Monday launching angry – and this time, juvenile – tweets, attacking his favorite targets: the Mueller investigation, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and, as usual, the media.

And accusing some, like McCabe, of “Treason!”

Trump was clearly watching Fox News’ Sean Hannity when he tweeted that attack, and clearly he liked the “lying & leaking” part because about 30 minutes later, this juvenile attack:

Less than nine hours later, Trump was back with the attacks, again, quoting Fox News:

And then, minutes later, the media:

And then, the Democrats. Trump has literally no idea how the U.S. court system works. He thinks California has the option of filing a lawsuit in, say, Maine. They don’t. The 9th Circuit has jurisdiction over California, but Trump doesn’t understand that, so he displays his ignorance time and time again. But he’s also wrong: it’s 16 states, not cities, led by California.

“As I predicted, 16 cities, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit! California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!”

All in all, 10 tweets in 10 hours, including, quite ironically – and an amazing self-own – this:

[Raw Story]


Rush Limbaugh Denies He Influences Trump. Hours Later, Trump Quotes Him in Coup-Touting Tweet.

On Sunday, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh denied he had influence over President Donald Trump.

Calling it a false narrative spread in the media, Limbaugh said this to Fox’s Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday: “If these people in the media, Chris, really thought that I was telling Trump what to do and when, they’d be calling me, they’d be asking me about it, they’d want to get down to the dirty details.”

He added: “People don’t really believe what they’re saying about this…It’s just another effort to continue to try to diminish the president, diminish Trump, as somebody who doesn’t know what he’s doing, can’t do it without guidance from the so-called wacko right.”

Yet, hours later, Trump tweeted out this, quoting Limbaugh’s claim of a “silent coup” against the president:

[Mediaite]

Trump cited Putin to push back on North Korea long-range missile reports

Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe wrote in his new book that President Trump did not believe U.S. intelligence reports about North Korean missile advances because of claims he’d heard from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Washington Post reported that McCabe’s book, “The Threat,” details an instance in July 2017 where Trump did not believe information in an Oval Office briefing that North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. 

McCabe wrote that Trump called the launch of the long-range missile a “hoax,” telling officials he knew North Korea did not have the ability to launch that type of missile “because Vladimir Putin had told him so.”

Asked for comment, the White House pointed to a statement earlier Thursday from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that said McCabe “has no credibility and is an embarrassment to the men and women of the FBI and our great country.”

Those remarks came in response to an interview in which McCabe revealed he opened a probe into whether Trump obstructed justice when the president fired James Comey as FBI chief in 2017 amid the Russia investigation.

Trump ripped McCabe on Thursday morning, tweeting that the former FBI official “pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax.”

McCabe was fired last year after an internal watchdog report found he had a “lack of candor” with investigators looking into FBI leaks about its probe into the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 presidential race.

The former deputy director’s account of the 2017 meeting is the latest instance calling into question Trump’s relationship with Putin. Democrats and critics of the president have repeatedly chastised Trump for his friendly rhetoric toward Russia and the Putin.

Special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has so far implicated six former Trump associates. The president has repeatedly decried the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and denied colluding with Russia.

The president’s defenders have argued that Trump has been tougher on Russia than past administrations, pointing to various sanctions.

[The Hill]

Trump says his top intel chiefs groveled before him after contradicting him during Senate testimony

In a major interview with the New York Times, President Donald Trump claimed that both CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats groveled before him after he chewed them out for contradicting him during Senate testimony.

While delivering an intelligence briefing to the Senate, Coats said that North Korea had not moved to dismantle its nuclear program, that ISIS had not been defeated, and that Russia was likely to try interfering with American elections again in 2020 — all in direct contradiction to statements made by Trump.

However, Trump claims that both Haspel and Coats swore they didn’t contradict him and tried to blame the media for any confusion.

“I said, ‘What is that all about? Second of all, third of all, you know how well we’re doing with North Korea, what’s that?’” Trump said. “They said, ‘Sir, our testimony was totally mischaracterized.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And when you read their testimony and you read their statements, it was mischaracterized by the media.”

Reporter Maggie Haberman then interrupted to ask Trump how the media had mischaracterized their testimony.

“It was really very different when I read it,” Trump said of the testimony transcripts. “Because I came in here saying what is this? You mean you’re — because one of the things they said very strongly, according to, was that Iran is, essentially, a wonderful place. And I said, ‘It’s not a wonderful place, it’s a bad place, and they’re doing bad things.’ And they said, ‘We agree.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you agree. You can’t agree –‘ And they said the testimony was totally mischaracterized.”

[Raw Story]

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