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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: election 2020 interference

Why Did Our Top Officials Lie About China — And Russia?

Before Merrick Garland took office last week, the new attorney general surely understood that he would face a difficult and almost-overwhelming set of problems — including reconstruction of the Justice Department after the ruinously partisan rule of his predecessor William Barr; overseeing hundreds of federal prosecutions of Jan. 6 insurrectionists; and dealing with the scandal detritus of the Trump regime, which may eventually involve indictments of the former president, his associates and even members of his family.

But this week, we learned of still more troubling issues that may require Garland's attention, when the department of homeland security and the director of national intelligence released declassified reports on foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. The classified versions of those reports were on the attorney general's desk when he arrived for his first day of work, and what they indicate is the worst U.S. intelligence scandal since the fabricated reports that justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence summarized the views of the nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies concerning foreign interference in the 2020 election. They found that yet again, Russia undertook strenuous measures to assist Donald Trump and his campaign, with the express purpose of keeping him in power. Law enforcement officials and counterintelligence analysts gathered substantial evidence showing that the Kremlin's spy apparatus, both military and civilian, used Trump's network of associates — including Republicans in both the House and Senate — to spread false stories about Ukraine, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. And as the report stated, the directive came from the top: "We assess that President Putin and the Russian state authorized and conducted influence operations against the 2020 US presidential election aimed at denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US."

As might be expected, the report dismissed the fantasy propaganda spread by Trump's attorneys in the election's aftermath about mysterious communist entities that somehow controlled voting machines — and padded Joe Biden's vote totals from abroad. "We are aware of multiple public claims that one or more foreign governments — including Venezuela, Cuba, or China — owned, directed, or controlled election infrastructure used in the 2020 federal elections; implemented a scheme to manipulate election infrastructure; or tallied, changed, or otherwise manipulated vote counts," it noted, adding that investigations by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security found no evidence whatsoever to bolster those claims. It doesn't name Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani or any of the other legal and media figures who trumpeted those lies, but it doesn't need to.

Debunking those ridiculous characters is amusing and may prove interesting to state bar authorities with ethical jurisdiction over them. But the report's most disturbing implication concerns the behavior of government officials who misled the public and Congress about the role of China — and Russia.

Last summer, as Election Day drew near, the Trump administration's top officials, including the president himself and then-Attorney General William Barr, then-director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and then-national security adviser Robert O'Brien, publicly misled the nation with false claims about alleged Chinese interference.

On two occasions, O'Brien asserted that Beijing's intelligence agencies were seeking to influence voters, even more than the Russians. "(T)he Chinese have taken the most active role," he claimed. Barr said the same thing, citing "intelligence" sources that showed China was superseding Russian as an electoral threat. And so did Ratcliffe, who proved himself to be a partisan Trump crony when he insisted on national television that "China is using a massive and sophisticated influence campaign that dwarfs anything that any other country is doing."

Yet according to the declassified report, there was no Chinese effort that came close to the scale or intention of the Russian campaign for Trump. "We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy intelligence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US presidential election," the report concluded. So those loud warnings from Barr, Ratcliffe and O'Brien — as well as Trump — were knowing falsehoods.

The lies about China were part of a much broader scheme by Trump administration officials and cronies to rig the election, which can be traced back to the Ukraine blackmail scheme that led to the president's first impeachment. But the attempt by the nation's highest law enforcement and intelligence officials to minimize an actual foreign-influence campaign by fabricating a false one steers perilously close to aiding a hostile power.

Was the falsification coordinated by those officials and others? Were they ordered to disseminate the lies by the president? What statutes, if any, are implicated by their misconduct? What sanctions, if any, should be brought against them?

Attorney General Garland needs to learn the answers to those questions if he means to restore integrity to America's law enforcement and counterintelligence agencies — which, in this era, remain vital to our democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Russian influence operations aimed at undermining Biden's campaign and supporting then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle. The report assesses that Russian intelligence services and their Ukraine-linked proxies -- including "Russian influence agent" Konstantin Kilimnik and Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach -- sought to use U.S. media outlets and prominent Americans to launder allegations of corrupt ties between Biden, his family, and Ukraine, and to falsely accuse Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The report does not specify which Americans or media outlets were caught up in the Russian plot. But it's clear to anyone who followed political news in 2019 that the intelligence community is referencing Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden disinformation campaign. Giuliani sought to bolster Trump's reelection by working with shady Ukrainians, some with links to Russia, to dig up dirt on Biden and then spread itthrough right-wing writer John Solomon, Fox News, and OAN. The effort blew up in Trump's face when the then-president's corrupt effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens became public, triggering his first impeachment by the House of Representatives later that year.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the effort by Kilimnik, Derkach, and their associates to use U.S. media outlets to damage Biden's political standing on behalf of the Russian government, the Russian proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020."

That timeline matches the release of The Ukraine Hoax, which first aired on January 25, 2020. Moreover, the content of Caputo's film echoes the Kremlin-backed narratives described in the report, as well as other Russian government talking points.

OAN CEO Robert Herring Sr. described the special as "exactly what our One America News Investigates series is all about" in a press release announcing its premiere. That's undoubtedly true -- in keeping with his network's general aesthetic, The Ukraine Hoax is an hour of conspiracy theories united by slavish devotion to Trump. Caputo argues that Trump's impeachment is an unjust persecution that emerged from U.S. meddling in Ukraine, corrupt dealings by the Bidens, and joint efforts by Democrats and Ukrainians to stop Trump's election that resulted in Robert Mueller's special counsel probe. He concludes, "as Democrats pursue Trump, they're destroying America and Ukraine."

Caputo denied Russian government involvement in his film and said he had not talked to Derkach or Kilimnik, the proxies named in the report, in an interview with Mother Jones.

But Caputo's star interview is with Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat and Giuliani ally who the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in January for his role in a "Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" Derkach.

Treasury's press release describes Telizhenko as a member of Derkach's "inner circle" and states that he participated in Derkach's disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to the release, Telizhenko "orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine." Telizhenko previously sought to distance himself from Derkach.

In his interview with Caputo for OAN, Telizhenko falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.


Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media circles for that allegation because it allowed Trump propagandists to argue that Clinton, and not Trump, had been the real beneficiary of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The intelligence community report released Tuesday describes the effort to "falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election" as one of the aims of the Russian proxies.

The documentary also features an interview with then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes. Nunes was one of several Trump allies that congressional Democrats said received materials from Derkach aimed at smearing Biden during the impeachment push.

In his interview, Nunes criticized pro-democracy organizations backed by American philanthropist George Soros, saying that they "have agendas" and that Soros "is extreme left-wing and he supports extreme left-wing causes." He apparently agreed with Caputo's claim that Soros was "building an extreme left-wing government" in Ukraine. Nunes also lashed out at "the Russia hoax," saying that "if people are not held accountable, you're going to have generations of Americans, part of the Republican Party, who will never trust the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA."

Elsewhere in the film, Caputo described the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as a violent coup instigated by the U.S. government and Soros.


The description of the revolution as a U.S-backed coup echoes language used by Putin in defending Russia's invasion of Ukraine later that year, while the Russian presidentand Russian-backed governments have for years targeted Soros over his pro-democracy efforts.

Caputo also revived the false right-wing smear that as vice president, Biden improperly pushed the government of Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, the country's prosecutor general, to stop the investigation of a Ukrainian company and benefit his son Hunter Biden. The Ukraine Hoax includes clips from Shokin himself making that claim.

In fact, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists for failing to prosecute corruption, including corruption by the company's founder; the probe had reportedly been "shelved" under Shokin; and his successor acknowledged that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The intelligence community report appears to reference this false claim, stating that the Russian proxy network "sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials."

After producing a pro-Trump documentary, allegedly with Russian assistance, Caputo went on to bigger and better things. Less than three months after OAN aired his special, Caputo joined the Trump administration as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services. He subsequently drew criticism for politicizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about the coronavirus pandemic, and took a leave of absence after his Facebook video accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" became public.

In an interview promoting his special with OAN correspondent and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, Caputo bemoaned that some of the people he wanted to interview "ghosted" him during the filming process. But apparently he found help from other sources.