Republicans are planning a mass attack against Biden using information from pro-Russian agents

In 2016, Donald Trump and his campaign team made more than 100 contacts with Russian agents in what turned out to be a successful effort to plunder information, disseminate propaganda, and ultimately steal an American election. Other Republican officials were certainly involved to some degree—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did everything he could to block efforts to make the public aware of Russian interference and damaged election security.

In 2020, Republicans in both House and Senate—having given Trump a free pass to invite foreign interference and approving the whitewashing of Trump’s crimes by Attorney General William Barr—are all on board. That includes Barr, who has all but promised to provide America with a QAnon-sanctioned October surprise. It includes Republican lawmakers like Rep. Devin Nunes, who are sitting on a packet of documents prepared by a pro-Russian official from Ukraine. It includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been using the State Department to pile up a stack of unsubstantiated attacks on Joe Biden. Barr, Nunes, and Pompeo are not just sitting on this information: they’re deliberately hiding it, looking for the moment to strike when no one has a chance to see what a baseless conspiracy they’re really pushing.

Devin Nunes has always represented the ragged edge of support for Donald Trump. From the moment he jumped from an Uber and sneaked into the White House in an attempt to derail the Russia investigation, to his stint in front of the House Ethics Committee, Nunes made it clear that his loyalty to Trump exceeded any other responsibility. And when it came to questions about when Nunes would be truthful with his House colleagues, he could not have been more clear: “Never.”

So it should come as no surprise that as the 2020 election approaches, Devin Nunes has been working directly with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who previously passed along information through Rudy Giuliani. That lawmaker has been feeding information to Republicans in both the House and Senate. It comes in the form of a “packet” of supposed evidence that backs up Trump and Giuliani’s long-debunked claims about Joe Biden’s relationship to the Ukrainian government.

As CNN reports, Democrats have been aware that Republicans in the House and Senate—including Nunes—were sent a packet of information from pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach in January, in the midst of Donald Trump’s impeachment. But Republicans have refused to discuss what’s in the packet, or even admit that they have it. In closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York made multiple attempts to get Nunes to answer a simple question. "Is the ranking member prepared to even respond to the question?,” asked Maloney. ”How about it, Mr. Nunes? Did you receive a package from Andrii Derkach or not? And would you share with the committee or not?” Nunes did not respond. “Well,” said Maloney. “I guess this is a case where silence speaks volumes."

As Politico reported, that silence extends to the FBI. After Democratic staff members became aware of the existence of the document packet, they requested information on the contents from the FBI. Not only has there been no information provided, there hasn’t even been a response.

During his Tuesday hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr was just as silent in refusing to share any information collected in the investigation he’s conducted with the assistance of U. S. Attorney John “Bull” Durham. That investigation also includes sharing Ukraine with Guiliani, as well as attempts to arm-twist officials in London, Rome, and Australia into giving Barr additional leverage that can be used to support Trump.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Rep. Eliot Engel has issued a subpoena to another Republican known to have been stacking up information provided by Giuliani and his associates: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Secretary Pompeo has turned the State Department into an arm of the Trump campaign and he’s not even trying to disguise it,” said Engel. Pompeo has shared information connected to Joe Biden with Senate Republicans, while hiding it from Democrats. However, it’s hard to call the information Pompeo has shared exclusively with Republicans a “packet” … because it’s over 16,000 pages long.

In the next 97 days, the attack on Joe Biden is going to come from William Barr, from Mike Pompeo, from Senate Republicans, and from Republican representatives like Nunes, all of them using information that has not been vetted, or even seen, by anyone outside the GOP. They’re not planning an October surprise: They’re planning a bullshit assault from every direction.

And, just like in 2016, they’re expected to get every single column of The New York Times and every single moment of network news airtime to repeat their claims, unchallenged, in the days right before the election.

Barr makes it clear that he intends to deliver an October surprise … that will surprise no one

In his Tuesday hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr made plenty of statements that justifiably raised eyebrows—among them his refusal to acknowledge a direct threat against a federal judge, his lack of concern for Donald Trump’s pardoning people directly involved in his campaign, and his smug willingness to overlook any evidence, no matter how obvious, against Trump or anyone close to Trump. Barr’s entire appearance was simply dripping with disdain for the entire legal process, Congress, and plain old decency.

So it’s not surprising that among the statements made by Barr, one threat got little attention. Not only did Barr make it clear that he intends to lob an “October surprise” into the election works, he added in a signal that he’s going full QAnon by adding not-at-all-disguised reference to Pizzagate in the mix. Sometime in the final weeks of the campaign, Barr fully intends to fulfill every Republican fantasy with a “report” on how Democrats tried to … do something. 

From literally the week he arrived back in Washington, D.C., Barr has been following through on Donald Trump’s wishes to pursue conspiracy theories related to the Russia investigation. Not only did Barr begin his second session as attorney general (AG) by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation and hiding evidence collected by the Department of Justice, he drafted U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin an international quest to find anything that could back up Pizzagate-level claims of persecution.

The Where in the World is Hillary’s “Missing Server” world tour has seen Barr and Durham in Australia, trying to get that government to admit that Australian official Andrew Downer was actually an instrument of U.S. intelligence planting false justification to open an investigation. They’ve visited Rome and London in an attempt to get officials there to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was another CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into spilling the beans on Trump. And they’ve met with an array of Rudy Giuliani approved pro-Russian Ukrainians, looking for that elusive proof that Joe Biden something something Hunter. Also, they’ve seriously spent time pursuing a Democratic National Convention (DNC) email server and Ukrainian hackers, neither of which ever existed. The list of actions that Barr has taken to support Trump’s ludicrous conspiracy theories is lengthy, and still growing. 

From all of this, Barr is preparing a report that will undoubtedly confirm that Trump was “right.” Barr is almost certain to paint already identified infractions by FBI agents and decisions made by Justice Department officials as parts of a deep state conspiracy meant to set up Trump before he was elected—an attempted “coup” only thwarted by Trump’s vigilant eye and firm hand on the rudder.

This isn’t the first time the Barr-Durham report has been expected. During the impeachment hearings there was a widespread belief that Barr was going to bomb the proceedings with a report that included claims against James Comey, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and even President Barack Obama. The report didn’t come when expected … but then, thanks to the Republicans in the Senate who refused to hear a single witness, it wasn’t really needed.

How far down into QAnon white rabbit land is Barr willing to go? As The Washington Post reports, when Republican Rep. Tom McClintock took the opportunity during the hearing to join Barr in moaning about the failings of the Russia investigation, he asked Barr if Durham’s report was going to beat the election deadline. “Are you going to be able to right this wrong before it becomes a precedent for future election interference by corrupt officials in our justice and intelligence agencies?” asked McClintock.

After complaining that the investigation had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barr went on to say: “Justice is not something you order up on a schedule like you’re ordering a pizza.” That was far from an accidental statement. QAnon conspirators frequently sift through public statements to find some obscure reference that can be construed as having something to do with their impossibly arcane beliefs. Barr didn’t make it that hard. Considering that the entire QAnon conspiracy theory began with claims about Democratic officials hiding an “international pedophile ring” behind pizza orders, Barr was blowing a QAnon bullhorn, underlining his intention of delivering the goods.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell took the oppositite approach, asking Barr if he would “commit to not releasing any report by Mr. Durham before the November election.” Barr’s answer in this case was much more succinct: “No.”

Barr is making it clear that sometime in the remaining 98 days before the election, he intends to drop a sheaf of documents that builds every molehill of wild speculation into a mountain of even wilder accusations. At this point, more pretense around Ukraine or servers or commas in the warrant for Carter Page may seem picayune, especially as the tide of coronavirus deaths rolls on toward 200,000. On the other hand, Barr could even include manufactured indictments against Clinton, or Obama, or even Biden. That would get attention. After all, Barr has made it absolutely clear that there are no lines

And both Barr and Trump are counting on the media to be every bit as cooperative in trumpeting whatever is in this report as they were in making Clinton’s emails the number one story in 2016.

Trump ordered officials to find some reason to deny Vindman’s promotion—they found nothing

The early retirement of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman isn’t the largest story in a nation racked by a deadly pandemic, a fragmented economy, and an ongoing fight to restructure public safety in the face of racial violence by police. No one died in this story. No one was locked in a detention center. No one was pulled before a kangaroo court.

But as more details emerge on Vindman’s final months in the U. S. military, his story does seem to encapsulate so many themes of the last three years. In part that’s because Vindman’s story is the American story—an immigrant who demonstrated that, in America, he could be accepted right in the heart of the government for his expertise. In part that’s because Vindman so clearly placed his bet on honesty and patriotism, trusting in the story of America that America tells itself. And in part it’s because Vindman’s story is the story of Donald Trump’s America, where nothing is more important than vengeance.

Vindman wasn’t kicked out of the military and he wasn’t facing charges—it was just clear that he was facing a future of … no future. The promotion he was due to receive this summer was not going to happen. Worse still, it was made clear to him that his lifetime of experience in working on issues related to Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe was now worthless, because he was not going to be allowed to work in this area. Instead, what Vindman faced was a future of make-work positions, deliberately structured to make it clear both to him, and everyone else, that he was just marking time without the potential for further achievements.

That’s not a unique situation. It’s exactly the kind of thing that happens to many in the military when they’ve done something wrong. Captains who lose a ship, commanders who make a huge tactical mistake, anyone suspected of a crime that can never be quite nailed down … they can end up with a few key words in their files, a “black spot” that’s obvious every time they’re up for promotion or assignment. Facing a lifetime of zero potential and unfulfilling assignments, resignation is the expected response. Those who don’t resign right away, soon realize just how cold it can be within the military when the chain of command turns its back.

The thing is that Vindman got such a black spot without doing anything wrong. As The New Yorker reports, Vindman’s colleagues and supervisors had nothing but praise. 

When he went in front of the House to testify in Trump’s impeachment, Vindman began with an opening statement for the ages, one that underscored both his commitment to the nation, and his belief in the character of America. “Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision, forty years ago, to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America, in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry—I will be fine for telling the truth.”

In these faded times, it might have almost seemed as if Vindman was being ironic. However, his former boss Fiona Hill makes it clear that the moving statement was exactly as honest as it seemed. “Alex had no clue,” said Hill. “He’s a distinguished soldier and was not involved in politics. He was prepared to deal with the enemy outside, but not when the enemy was within. He was pretty shocked as it played out.”

After being escorted out of the White House, Vindman was slated to be promoted to full colonel, go to the National War College for a season, then return to a foreign posting. None of that happened. Because the White House made it clear that Trump opposed Vindman’s promotion. 

Instead, White House officials informed Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy that they should “dig for misconduct” and find something in Vindman’s record that would justify blocking his promotion. Esper and McCarthy dug. They didn’t find anything.

It didn’t matter. Vindman was made aware that he would not be promoted, and “never be deployable overseas again.” He took the route that many have taken in the past and left under his own power.

It’s a personal tragedy for a man who should have had another decade or more of contributing to the future of the nation he loved. It’s a national tragedy in that it clearly shows how Trump is willing to use his power to quash the lives of honorable people who have the temerity to believe that America is what America claims to be.

Lindsey Graham’s next big round of sucking up to Trump is coming in new Russia probe

Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump’s chief lapdogs in the Senate, will have sweeping subpoena power to try to belatedly exonerate Trump and incriminate the Obama administration in the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines to give Graham, who is the committee chair, that subpoena power while rejecting—also along partisan lines—Democrats’ efforts to get subpoena power as well.

Graham plans to subpoena Obama administration officials including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey. All part of the plan to delegitimize the investigation into what Russia did to help Trump win rather than investigating … what Russia did to help Trump win.

“I am very intent in making sure this never happens again,” Graham said. “This” is the investigation into Russian election interference, not the Russian election interference itself.

It’s not just Graham and the Judiciary Committee, either. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Ron Johnson, will also be investigating the Russia investigation, and, as an extra-partisan bonus, he’s investigating Hunter Biden, too. Because nothing says “this investigation is aimed at uncovering the truth about a very important issue, not attacking my political opponents” like waiting until years after the fact during an election year and following the lead of a president who was impeached for abusing power to create a scandal around the same figure you’re now “investigating.”

Trump had Park Police and National Guard troops violently clear a peaceful protest so he could get a photo op. His attorney general has lied about it and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has apologized for being party to it. But Senate Republicans—the same Senate Republicans who protected him during the impeachment trial—couldn’t care less. Neither do they care that a foreign nation attacked U.S. democracy four years ago. They just want to keep the truth from getting out and do whatever it takes to protect Trump from ever facing a consequence for anything. 

There’s a nationwide movement against police brutality and a global pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans, in large part because of Donald Trump’s refusal to admit it might be a problem. And Senate Republicans don’t care about anything but keeping Trump in power.

Barr’s ‘investigation’ into the Russia investigation began months earlier than previously known

Attorney General William Barr has been conducting a series of investigations into the origins of the Russia investigation since he arrived to bail Trump out. Republicans and their media pals have been pushing the idea that some always-unspecified crime was committed by following up on information that Putin was determined to interfere in the U.S. election, and that Trump officials were eager to welcome his assistance. After all, Obamagate was just awful—even if no one can explain why.

But maybe what’s needed is an investigation into the origins of Barr’s investigation. Because new information shows that Barr was already talking to his own hand-picked investigator, U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham, before he released the redacted Mueller report to the public. A whole series of meetings between Durham and Barr took place soon after the attorney general returned to Washington, D.C., all for the purposes of ripping into the Russia investigation and supporting Trump’s endless string of conspiracy theories.

As CNN reports, records show that Barr brought Durham in for a series of meetings well before announcing the official start of an investigation into how the Russia investigation got underway. Soon after being confirmed as attorney general, Barr began pulling in Durham, meeting with him much more frequently than other U.S. attorneys. 

That Barr hit the ground ready to attack the Mueller investigation isn’t surprising; after all, it was a letter complaining about that investigation that was largely responsible for netting Barr his job. But it seems that Barr went in the door already planning how he would try to attack the Russia probe, and who he would select to do it. That degree of early action opens questions into whether Barr was already moving the pieces into place to attack Mueller before he sat down in the Justice Department.

Barr’s meeting with Durham eventually became a series of round-the-world trips in which both Barr and Durham undermined U.S. intelligence agencies and attempted to get allies to confirm parts of ludicrous conspiracy theories. That includes attempting to get officials in both Rome and London to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was a CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into connection Trump and Putin, that Australian official Andrew Downer was an instrument of U.S. intelligence who provided false reasons for opening an investigation, and that Ukrainian hackers conspired with Hillary Clinton to make it seem as though Russia stole data from the DNC. 

Barr and Durham apparently failed to find any takers on their Q-flavored tour, but that didn’t stop Barr from announcing that Durham’s investigation had become a “criminal probe” in October and announcing an expanded scope in December that included having Durham going after former FBI Director James Comey and other former intelligence officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan. 

This week, Barr refused to answer a question about the status or focus of Durham’s investigation. He did say that he doesn’t expect that the probe will result in a criminal investigation of Joe Biden or Barack Obama. That may seem like a disappointment for Trump fans, but it doesn’t mean that Durham isn’t going to announce charges against Comey, or Brennan, or anyone else that Trump wants charged. It doesn’t even mean that there won’t be charges against Obama or Biden as Barr is perfectly capable of feigning surprise at just what Durham has “uncovered.”

What’s clear is that the Durham probe was planned in advance. And while Barr has complained repeatedly about there being insufficient evidence to charge Michael Flynn, or insufficient evidence to initiate the Russia investigation, the Durham probe was created as a total fishing expedition, with no evidence whatsoever.

The intelligence community erupts as Trump purges everyone opposed to Russian election interference

Step One: The intelligence official in charge of election security delivers the required briefing at a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee and informs the members of that committee that a) Russia has already engaged in interfering with the 2020 election, b) it is trying to sow dissension among Democrats, and c) the ultimate goal is to support Trump. 

Step Two: Republicans on that committee rush to Donald Trump, not to warn him about Russian interference but to complain that Democrats know about the interference. Trump responds by hauling in the acting director of national intelligence, raking him over the coals, and replacing him with a man whose entire skill set consists of making hate-tweets and promoting Russia.

Step Three: Chaos. Only … not enough chaos.

On Friday morning, NBC News was one of several outlets reporting a “near meltdown” in the intelligence community after the news was released that acting direct of national intelligence Joseph Maguire was to be replaced by xenophobic hate-bomb specialist Richard Grenell. Much of what’s happening inside the ODNI hasn’t become public, but there has apparently been enough pushback that Trump has already announced that Grenell will be a short-term appointment until he picks someone else.

Then, on Thursday evening, Trump offered the role to Doug Collins—an offer that still seems to be open. But Collins has already declared that he doesn’t want the job, because he’s still intent on running for a Senate slot in Georgia, a task that’s been complicated by Trump’s praise for the recently appointed Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

As of Friday morning, Trump has announced that he will be appointing someone other than Grenell, but who that someone will be is still up in the air. In the meantime, the intelligence community has joined the Judiciary Community at full boil. It’s become absolutely clear that Trump is purging intelligence officials whose only crime is that they provided accurate intelligence to a committee that is not just cleared, but required to receive that information.

When word came that Maguire was being swapped out for Grenell, the initial reaction was a mixture of two parts disgust and one part puzzlement. Grenell has absolutely no experience in intelligence, and he’s never run so much as a shoe store. What he has done in his short time as U.S. ambassador to Germany is offend American allies and widen the fractures in the NATO alliance as he praised neo-fascist leaders, attacked his host country for admitting refugees, and defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But of course, Republican leaders in Congress rushed to applaud this appointment, even as everyone else scratched their heads.

It didn’t take long before the reasons behind the intelligence makeover became clear. At a closed-door briefing for the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, intelligence official Shelby Pierson provided a required update on what the intelligence community knew about the security of the 2020 election. Pierson revealed that Russia was already actively engaged in interfering in the upcoming election, and that it was interfering for the purpose of supporting Donald Trump.

Republicans present at that meeting—who included Devin Nunes, Mike Conaway, and John Ratcliffe—rushed to the White House in concern. But they were not concerned about the Russian interference. They were concerned that Democrats knew about the interference. Trump shared that concern and seemed to be convinced that Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff had been given some special information, though there seems to be no indication that this is true.

Trump then called in acting DNI Joseph Maguire and reamed him out for allowing Pierson to give a long-scheduled and congressionally mandated briefing. Even though Maguire had been instrumental in trying to block the intelligence community whistleblower report that started off the impeachment investigation of Trump from ever seeing the light of day, that little favor did not seem to cool Trump’s fire. At the end of the day, he canned Maguire and went looking for someone who would be loyal to Trump rather than to the nation.

What’s happening at both the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at this moment is a last stand by those who have some concern other than protecting Trump’s political interests. What’s most frightening is just how small that group of fighters appears to be.

Russia is interfering in the 2020 election, and Republicans are moving to protect … the interference

The story has come out in pieces over the last two days, but those pieces are slotting into place with sickening clarity: Last week, a member of the intelligence community testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to support Donald Trump. Republican representatives rushed to the White House in concern, not about the interference, but about the fact that Democrats knew about it. And Trump then responded by  purging the intelligence community of anyone who was trying to combat the interference.

The result is that not only is Russia known to be interfering in support of Trump, but Republicans are openly acting to support that interference. And the intelligence community is being flipped from an instrument meant to protect the nation into one that exists entirely to support Trump.

Hundreds of times, maybe thousands, Republicans, and even some Democrats, have sounded the same refrain when Trump removed some adviser, ambassador, official, U. S. attorney, or general. “Donald Trump deserves someone he can trust as his ...“ … whatever. In fact, Donald Trump Jr. made exactly that statement about incoming director of national intelligence Richard Grenell on Wednesday evening, after Trump had exiled the current acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, for the crime of telling Congress what it is legally required to know.

That formula, the one that starts with “Trump deserves …,” is a recipe for disaster. And that disaster has already arrived.

Within weeks of occupying the White House, Trump put those people he “deserved” in charge of the EPA and the Interior Department, in charge of Energy and ICE. Trump got exactly what he needed to please the crowds at his rallies. The nation got national monuments destroyed, public lands given away, and environmental protections slashed. It also got parents being taken away in front of their kids, an ugly and useless wall being erected along the border, the destruction of the immigration policies that have defined America, and children in cages. That is what it means when Trump gets what he “deserves” and America doesn’t.

It took Trump longer to overcome the judiciary. From the moment he sat down in the Oval Office, the justice system has been a thorn in his side. Whether it was judges ruling against his travel ban, U.S. attorneys stubbornly continuing to investigate crimes committed by Trump’s company and friends, or even Trump loyalist Jeff Sessions stepping aside from the Russia investigation, the whole judiciary seemed to represent a limit on his authority. Then Trump got the attorney general he deserved. And the hundreds of new federal judges he deserved. And America got laws that protected Trump from charges, or investigation, or even mention in any criminal affair. 

There should have been a roadblock at the legislature, but despite all the efforts made in the House, the narrow Republican majority in the Senate had already made it abundantly clear that it was the Senate he deserves. Trump got a big tax cut—not just for “billionaires” in the abstract, but a huge reward for himself of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Trump got the judges he deserves, the Cabinet officers he deserves, the support for bombing and murder that he deserves, the voter suppression he deserves. And of course he got the impeachment trial strangled in its crib, just as he deserves.

Fresh off that endorsement of everything he deserves, Trump launched into full-on purge mode, clearing out the remaining members of every agency that thought they were there for something other than what Trump deserves. The State Department and the NSA, a second pass through the DOJ … giving Trump what he deserves.

Now he’s got what he deserves. He’s got an attorney general willing to set aside the law for Trump. He’s got a Republican Congress that is protecting him even if that means openly acting against the nation. He’s got an incoming DNI who knows nothing about intelligence … but knows that he is exactly what Trump deserves.

One more visit with Masha Gessen:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.

Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. Both Clinton and Obama in their speeches stressed the importance and strength of these institutions. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.

Elections are also an institution. Their free and fair execution is just as dependent on the “good faith of all actors,” and not on Donald Trump getting what he “deserves.”