By Robert A. Vella
When it was reported recently that the Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and the Deputy DNI Andrew Hallman were being ousted by President Trump and replaced with two of his cronies who have no intelligence experience whatsoever, I assumed that the move was political retribution for Maguire’s reluctant decision last year to send the CIA whistleblower complaint to Congress which eventually triggered Trump’s impeachment. It was a logical assumption, but it was wrong. Now we know the real reason. Maguire authorized a confidential and legally required intelligence briefing to Congress last week which detailed active Russian meddling in the current Democratic Party primary elections and plans to interfere in the 2020 presidential election all to help Trump get reelected. Outraged that his ongoing collusion with Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin was exposed by his own National Intelligence officials, he replaced them with acting officials who would conceal the meddling as loyal henchmen are expected to do for their dictator.
Reportedly, the intelligence briefing indicated that Russian operatives are using Facebook and other social media to spread disinformation by skirting around the flimsy rules setup by these companies after the 2016 election in which fake accounts were used to impersonate Americans. This disinformation campaign is designed to delegitimize Democratic candidates and their policy platforms as well as to fuel disunity and doubt among their potential voters. Russians are also working from computer servers inside the U.S. now making it much more difficult to detect by U.S. intelligence agencies, and have infiltrated Iranian cyberwarfare operations in order to disguise their identity. Additionally, U.S. voting systems and registration databases remain vulnerable to direct ransomware attacks.
Let’s be clear about this. Donald Trump is a traitor, and he is being aided by the Republican Party.
WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing.
Though intelligence officials have previously told lawmakers that Russia’s interference campaign was continuing, last week’s briefing included what appeared to be new information: that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election.
On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell , the ambassador to Germany and an aggressively vocal Trump supporter.
Kash Patel, Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) former top aide, is reportedly serving as an aide to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.
As Nunes’ aide, Patel helped craft the infamous “Nunes memo” back when the California Republican was the chair of the House Intelligence Committee in early 2018.
The memo, which aimed to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation by “proving” anti-Trump bias in the intelligence community, was widely mocked upon the document’s release for its sloppy mischaracterizations and omissions of key facts in House Republicans’ accusations.
President Trump’s replacement of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, a respected career official in a historically nonpartisan role, with U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, a vocal Trump loyalist with scant intelligence or management experience, raised eyebrows and some amount of alarm in Washington. Along with Maguire, acting Deputy DNI Andrew Hallman and ODNI General Counsel Jason Klitenic are heading for the exits. These aren’t isolated moves.
“The president has been focused lately on officials who are allegedly disloyal to him, particularly at the Justice Department, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and the State Department,” The Washington Post reports, citing Trump aides.
WASHINGTON — Victoria Coates, one of President Donald Trump’s longest-serving national security aides, is leaving the White House soon to become a senior adviser at the Energy Department, the White House said on Thursday.
Coates has been at the Trump White House since Trump took office three years ago and has been a key player in the administration’s deliberations on Iran and the Middle East.
But she had battled rumors that she was the author of an “Anonymous” opinion article expressing opposition to Trump’s agenda that ran in the New York Times.
LAS VEGAS — Pigeons with tiny Make American Great Again hats glued to their heads were released in downtown Las Vegas this week, in what appears to be a sarcastic statement of loyalty to Trump and mock protest of Nevada’s upcoming Democratic presidential caucus.
A group calling itself P.U.T.I.N., Pigeons United To Interfere Now, claimed responsibility for the stunt. The pigeons were set loose on Tuesday, according to the group.
Meanwhile, Russia’s systematic attacks against democracy aren’t just limited to the United States:
(Bloomberg) — Georgia accused Russian military intelligence of organizing a “paralyzing” cyber attack last year and called for a reaction by the international community.
Russia’s GRU was behind the “large-scale” October 2019 attack that targeted the presidential administration, various government bodies and media outlets in an attempt undermine its European integration, according to a Foreign Ministry statement Thursday.
EU member-state Estonia, the U.S. and the U.K joined Georgia in attributing the attack to the GRU. Poland also blamed Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko denied Russia was behind for the attacks, RIA Novosti reported.
The attribution of a cyber attack by an EU member state could pave the way for sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against Russian individuals, agencies, or companies, according to a new “cyber-sanctions regime” adopted by the bloc in 2019. Such measures, which would aim to “deter and respond to cyber-attacks which constitute an external threat to the EU,” are subject to unanimous approval by the bloc’s member states, which is often difficult to achieve on foreign policy matters.
In other international news:
GENEVA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United Nations warned on Friday fighting in northwest Syria could “end in a bloodbath” and it called again for a ceasefire, while Moscow denied reports of a mass flight of civilians from a Russian-led Syrian government offensive in the region.
Syrian troops backed by Russian air power have been battling since December to eliminate the last rebel strongholds in the region in a war that has killed an estimated 400,000 Syrians, displaced millions more and left much of the country in ruins.
The latest offensive in the northwestern regions of Aleppo and Idlib has uprooted nearly 1 million people – most of them women and children – who fled clashes to seek sanctuary further north, near the Turkish border.
Turkey, which currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, has said it cannot handle a new influx and has warned that it will use military power to repel Syrian advances in Idlib and ease a humanitarian crisis in the region.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians voted for a new parliament Friday, with turnout seen as a key measure of support for Iran’s leadership as sanctions weigh on the economy and U.S. pressure isolates the country diplomatically.
The disqualification of more than 7,000 potential candidates, most of them reformists and moderates, raised the possibility of lower-than-usual turnout. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.
Initial results were expected to be announced on Saturday. Presidential elections are expected to take place in 2021.
A court in Thailand ordered the dissolution of Future Forward, a pro-democracy opposition party that became the highest-profile critic of the nation’s military-backed government.
The Constitutional Court ruled Friday that loans of 191.2 million baht ($6 million) to the party from Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 41-year-old former tycoon, breached financing rules. He and other party leaders were banned from politics for 10 years.
The ruling may be a boon for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s ruling coalition, which is expected to expand its slim parliamentary majority by poaching some of the 76 Future Forward lawmakers that must join new parties. While Thanathorn has said he expects most to switch to a planned Future Forward replacement, even a few defections would strengthen Prayuth.
Irish leader Leo Varadkar has told parliament that he will resign on Thursday night, after suffering a crushing defeat in a parliamentary vote. No clear successor has emerged from the process to lead the country.
Varadkar said he would stay on as caretaker leader after he tenders his resignation to Irish President Michael D. Higgins.
Ireland had been in political deadlock since general elections on February 8 ended with no single party winning a mandate to govern. On Thursday, newly elected representatives in parliament voted on candidates for the next taoiseach, equivalent to a prime minister.
(Bloomberg) — Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane announced he will resign by the end of July, yielding to pressure from his ruling party to quit as police plan to charge him along with his wife for murdering his previous spouse.
In other domestic news:
Mississippi’s controversial “fetal heartbeat” ban, an effective six-week ban on abortion, was just struck down by a federal judge, according to a spokesperson for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the law firm that challenged the state law.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth District issued its decision Thursday afternoon, writing, “[A]ll agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable. That dooms the law. If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional.”
Thursday’s decision temporarily will block the law from going into effect, upholding a lower court’s decision from May 2019. In December, the Fifth Circuit also struck down a 15-week abortion ban passed by Mississippi.