A spicy morsel from a loooong behind-the-scenes WaPo piece about Trump doggedly resisting the idea that Russia helped him, intentionally or not, by taking “active measures” against Hillary and the Democrats. Precisely how the CIA “captured” Putin’s orders is left unsaid, of course, but the way WaPo’s story is written makes it sound like they have first-hand knowledge, not second-hand. Meaning … audio?
If so, how on earth did they get that? And if they do have hard evidence, has it been played for Doubting Donald?
WaPo’s describing the January 6 briefing on Russiagate at Trump Tower for the president-elect by America’s four intel chiefs. This is the same briefing after which Comey sat down privately with Trump and told him about the infamous Fusion GPS dossier.
Following a rehearsed plan, Clapper functioned as moderator, yielding to Brennan and others on key points in the briefing, which covered the most highly classified information U.S. spy agencies had assembled, including an extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that had captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation.
Could be they’re referring to instructions transmitted by a deputy via email, but I don’t know if the NSA intercepting that would qualify as “extraordinary.” “Extraordinary” and “capture” suggest something special, presumably directly involving Putin himself. Any reason to believe that’s possible? Well, WaPo reported back in January that U.S. intelligence had captured “communications” of senior Russian officials celebrating Trump’s victory. Again, the method was left unstated; whether these were intercepted phone calls, emails, or even an open mic in a room somewhere is unclear. But the officials must have assumed their chitchat was secure. Surprise.
A month before that, NBC reported that U.S. intelligence had developed a high degree of confidence that Putin himself was “personally involved” in the Russian hacking campaign and “personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used.” Presumably the evidence that gave them that confidence is the same evidence referred to in today’s WaPo story about Putin giving instructions to deputies. NBC claimed U.S. intel was relying on intelligence about Putin provided by “diplomatic sources” and “spies working for U.S. allies,” which suggests it was some foreign service that intercepted communications between Putin and his deputies and then handed over the information. It’s odd to me that American intel people would want it leaked that they have eyes and ears close enough to Putin himself to hear his instructions, but maybe that source has already been shut down by the Russians. In which case, might as well leak it to embarrass them.
There are lots of goodies in the WaPo piece if you can spare the time. The best part:
U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.
Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.
“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.
“[T]here is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the [Russia hacking] matter is to acknowledge its validity,” the authors note elsewhere, “which the president would see as an affront.” Forced to choose between a clear-eyed fully informed view of foreign threats to the U.S. and the belief that he alone deserves credit for defeating Hillary Clinton last year, undiminished by Russian interference — positions which aren’t mutually exclusive, except maybe in the president’s mind — WaPo would have you believe he’s choosing door number two. “If you say ‘Russian interference,’ to him it’s all about him,” said one GOP strategist to the paper. “He judges everything as about him.” Our POTUS? That doesn’t sound like him.
There’s also a fun anecdote buried in the story about H.R. McMaster kinda sorta accusing Steve Bannon of being a Russian operative and Bannon’s allies sabotaging McMaster by rewriting Trump’s speeches at the last minute to remove statements about America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Exit quotation from the one that got away:
Putin today blames US politics for icy relations. Get real: It was Russia invading sovereign nations, propping up dictators, hacking elections, abusing human rights, and cheating at the Olympics.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) December 14, 2017