Russia – again

People sometimes describe the torrent of daily news in the US as “trying to drink from a fire hose.” Last week, there was deservedly a lot of focus on the Democratic National Convention that officially nominated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to run for president and vice president in November.

I want to highlight a news story that is extremely important, but that did not get as much attention as it deserved. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published a one-thousand(!) page, bipartisan report on “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities“. Yes, the link is to the actual report, just in case anyone is in the mood for a political horror story…

The report details dozens of links between Trump associates and Russian intelligence, including the relationship between one of Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian operative Konstantin Kilimnik. It makes clear that Russia interfered extensively in the election to aid Trump and that the Trump campaign knew it and aided in various ways.

It’s not that there wasn’t plenty of evidence in public before this. Prior investigations, reports, and court documents had already established the Russian interference, but this new report reveals even more, albeit with some redactions.

It still sickens me that the 2016 election was tainted by foreign interference, but I wish this report had been available sooner. Here we are, with the 2020 election only two months and a bit away, facing the continuing danger of Russian interference, as well as influence from other foreign countries. The US electorate expects our elections to be fair and free, yet we face foreign attacks as well as domestic shenanigans.

I hope that all US voters will take their responsibilities seriously. We need to make sure that we are receiving reliable, truthful information and that we cast our ballots in a safe and timely way. We must have this election be one of integrity so that everyone can honor the results.

And the hits just keep on comin’…

Our wonderful family news has been a welcome distraction from the ever-evolving disaster of living in the United States right now.

We now have had over 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, which is appalling and could and should have been averted. (For perspective, the US has about 4% of the world’s population but about 23% of the world’s cases.) I live in New York State and have posted a number of times how Governor Cuomo and his team followed the science and data to bring our once highest in the world levels down to about a 1% positive test rate. The daily fatalities once in the hundreds, is down to single digits. Businesses and services have been re-opening carefully and slowly, so our transmission rate has stayed very low for weeks. In September, schools will be allowed to re-open, with most choosing a hybrid model with a small subset of students in physical attendance on any given day with the bulk of instruction still happening online. As with everything else the state has done, data will determine if adjustments or temporary closures are needed to keep students, staff, and their families as safe as possible.

Many other states are having large numbers of cases, overwhelmed hospitals, and deaths, but are still opening schools, bars, gyms, and other businesses as though there wasn’t a pandemic going on. It’s as though they live in an alternate reality promoted by the president where coronavirus is just “sniffles” and the virus will “just disappear.”

Meanwhile, people are sick and dying.

Millions more are unemployed and/or impoverished. Most of the previously passed federal relief measures expired at the end of July. The House had passed the HEROES Act in May, which would have extended and expanded them, but the Senate didn’t take up the bill or craft a comprehensive plan of their own, despite the fact that the vast majority of economists, even conservative ones, say that a large-scale plan is needed to keep the economy from sinking into a depression.

Strangely, negotiations were going on between the Democratic Congressional leadership and White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary; you would think that the Congressional Republican leadership would have been there as well, but they left town instead. Yesterday, the president announced some executive orders to address some of the issues, but they will almost certainly by found unconstitutional because Congress controls federal taxes and spending. We are dealing with not only the pain of the pandemic and its consequences but also with the shredding of our Constitutional federal government.

On top of this, the intelligence community has announced that several foreign powers are interfering in our upcoming election, partly be spreading and amplifying misinformation. Meanwhile, the president is casting doubt on the validity of our voting process, undermining confidence in voting by mailing in ballots (except in states with Republican governors, some of whom have purged large numbers of minority, student, and potentially Democratic voters from the rolls), and, through a crony as Postmaster General, slowing down the mail service. The president even floated the idea of delaying the election, something that is not at all in his power.

With both domestic and foreign interference at play, it may be difficult to mount a fair election. (By the way, the HEROES Act allocates money for both the postal service and for state election boards.) I am hoping that the vast majority of people will behave in a responsible, ethical, and legal way, so that the election really does reflect the will of all the citizens.

I don’t want to imagine what will happen if the election is unfair or disputed.

after the report

Nana is dozing in her recliner, so I thought I would try to do a quick post on my reactions so far to the redacted release of the Mueller report. With everything going on in my family life, I haven’t been able to read all 400+ pages, but have seen excerpts and analysis from lawyers and investigative/legal reporters, which I have found very helpful.

As longtime readers may recall, I was very concerned about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 US presidential election, even before the voting took place, so volume one of the report, which details the Russian attacks, is chilling. It reveals how extensive the attack was, confirming that it reached millions of potential voters, some of whom were targeted with particular posts or ads because of where they lived, their race, and other personal factors. It also deals with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other campaign systems with release of materials to the public, as well as attempts to hack voting systems.

I am very concerned that Congress has not done enough to help the FBI and the states and localities identify potential weaknesses, especially in technology systems, and rectify them for the 2020 race, which has already started with many candidates declaring their intent to run in the party primaries. We need to be prepared for both similar attacks and for different kinds of attacks from Russia and from other countries. This should not be a partisan issue at all; people across the political spectrum should all be committed to protecting our national security and our freedoms.

The second part of the report is about possible obstruction of justice by the President. It makes it clear that no charges were filed because it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. Mueller also made it clear that he could not gather all the evidence needed, as the President and several other key figures were not able to be interviewed by the investigators. However, the report lays out details of possible counts of obstruction, which could be taken up by Congress as part of their investigations (which could lead to the filing of impeachment charges) or which could be charged by the courts after Trump leaves office. The statute of limitations for most of the actions taken by the president is five years, so if he leaves office during his first term or fails to win a second term, court charges could be brought for obstruction of justice.

The question of whether the House of Representatives will move toward impeachment is open. It’s complicated by the fact that the Mueller investigation was focused on Russian interference, but there are investigations on-going in other areas, among them illegal campaign contributions, emoluments, and financial crimes. Trump is trying to block them by ignoring subpoenas, not providing records, and not allowing even former staff to testify to Congress. It’s plausible that this could cause additional impeachment charges of obstruction for not cooperating with a Congressional investigation.

Additionally, people have to be aware that the standards for impeachment are different than they are for court trials. For example, one of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was lying to the American people. There isn’t a specific law against this, but it is considered a “high crime or misdemeanor,” which is the Constitutional impeachment criteria.

Some people say that Congress should just wait until the 2020 election, but I disagree. I’m afraid if these things aren’t investigated, with impeachment charges filed if found appropriate, it will look as though anyone who is elected president can get away with breaking laws and ethical codes for four years without consequence.

That is a terrible message to send. We, the People of the United States, deserve better.

news response

I try to keep up with the news, both here in the United States and internationally, but it is getting more and more difficult to do, especially regarding the federal government here. It seems that every day has so many important news stories that I can only hear summary reports on most, delving into detail on only a small fraction.

One story that is more and more alarming is the interference of Russia in election campaigns, both here in the United States and around the world. During the 2016 election campaign, I was disturbed about the role of Russia in the Democratic National Committee hacking. I was also disgusted that Congressional Republican leaders blocked a unified response to the threat under President Obama.

Even more shamefully, that denial/lack of response persists both among most Republicans in Congress and with the current executive branch.

Meanwhile, more and more evidence has been found of Russian meddling in our election and many other countries, especially European ones, have experienced Russian interference as well. These countries are actively taking countermeasures, but the United States federal government is not.

Among the people, the response to the situation is mixed. Some of us are alarmed and making a point of staying informed and alert. Some companies, media, and state and local governments are putting in policies to counteract as much Russian interference as they can.

The problem is that the Republican lies about Russian meddling are believed by some of the people, making them particularly vulnerable to further foreign influence and adding to the bizarre discounting of facts and mistrust of the mainstream press that made the whole mess possible in the first place.

This division is dangerous to our society and our democracy. It appears that what Russia wants is to destabilize democracies.

I’m very much afraid that they have succeeding, in part, here in the United States.

We cannot and must not let them change our fundamental structures of government and daily life. Many of us are and will continue to fight for our American values.

We must prevail.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
 https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/11/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-11th-2018/

 

Coming home to Comey news

Because I was out yesterday evening at Bruce Borton’s retirement party, I was blissfully unaware of the news about the firing of FBI Director Comey for several hours until I returned home to hours of breaking news coverage.

In the United States, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is appointed and confirmed for a ten year term in order to insulate the FBI from political pressures. While one past director was removed after a lengthy review process for violating policy, this is the first time that an FBI director has been summarily fired with no notice.

The stated reason is that Director Comey violated policy by revealing information last July and subsequently about the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. You can read the letter from the Deputy Attorney General here. I am not disputing that this was wrong. The irony is that Donald Trump touted Comey’s revelations on the campaign trail and paid him compliments on his bravery, all while his crowds were chanting, “Lock her up!” Are we really supposed to believe that the President fired Director Comey for behavior that he lauded for months?

Certainly, the timing and suddenness of the firing are suspicious. The administration did not even have the courage to fire Comey to his face. He literally saw the news on television before he was told.

My fear, which is shared by millions of Americans, is that Comey was fired in an attempt to derail the FBI investigation into Russian interference in US electoral process and governance. I have been alarmed about this for months now, and the alarm bells are ringing more loudly all the time.

I hope that there will be an independent commission to fully investigate this issue. The Congressional inquiries are hobbled by political divisions. The Attorney General has had to recuse himself, although he was also supposed to be recused about the Clinton email investigation but somehow was in on Comey’s firing over it. The future of the FBI investigation is now uncertain.

We deserve to know the truth about who was involved with Russian hacking and interference, either wittingly or unwittingly. Our national sovereignty and the integrity of our government are at stake.

Update on May 12, 2017:  The President said in an interview yesterday that he had already decided to fire Director Comey before meeting with the Justice Department officials, so the idea that he was being fired because of the Clinton investigation is bogus. Also, he said in the interview that the Russia investigation was connected to the Comey decision.

SoCS: interference

Late in the night, about an hour before the media blackout before the French election, a lot of the documents from the Macron campaign, mixed with some false documents, were dumped onto the internet. Four minutes before the blackout, the Macron campaign put out a statement, but the media is not allowed to distribute or discuss it.

It looks like this was caused by the same Russian-backed agency that interfered in the US election last year.

These attacks on democracy need to be recognized as cyber-warfare. No one other than the French people, full informed with facts, should be determining the outcome of their election. No one other than the United States people should be determining the outcome of the US election. We know that their was interference from Russia in our last election and we are dealing with the dire consequences.

NO foreign interference! NO “alternative facts”!
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is  inter-. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/05/05/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-617/