White House trusts Russia’s word on election interference

White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien isn’t concerned about Russian interference in U.S. elections because his counterpart in Moscow assured him there are no such plans.

The adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he had delivered the warning during a meeting in Geneva on Friday with Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council. Mr. O’Brien did not disclose what else was discussed, but the meeting comes as the administration is racing a deadline to decide whether to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty and as it faces pressure to act against Moscow after the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader.

According to the CBS News transcript, O’Brien explained that he “demanded” to Patrushev that Russia not interfere in U.S. elections, adding, “The Russians have committed to” steering clear.

It’s quite likely that the national security adviser knew that Donald Trump was watching, and his job might have been in jeopardy had he said anything different on the subject.

But, c’mon. Russia has “committed” to staying out of our elections, and that’s good enough for O’Brien?

As the top White House official on national security policy really ought to know, William Evanina, Trump’s director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, recently released a statement documenting the fact that Kremlin-linked operatives are already actively involved in an effort to keep the Republican president in power.

Soon after, the Department of Homeland Security issued an intelligence bulletin warning about Russian efforts to undermine our elections with false claims about our electoral system, which just so happened to echo the White House’s talking points.

Then, of course, FBI Director Chris Wray delivered sworn congressional testimony describing “very active efforts” by Russia to interfere in the 2020 election by trying to “denigrate” the Democratic candidate.

As we recently discussed, the CIA also assessed over the summer that Vladimir Putin’s government is “probably” directing a Russian operation to intervene in the election by discrediting Joe Biden.

In the private sector, meanwhile, tech giants such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter have all pointed in recent weeks to Russian efforts to target U.S. elections. In fact, less than two weeks ago, Facebook announced that it had taken down a network linked to Russian disinformation, as part of a larger effort from the social-media giant to dismantle the Kremlin’s efforts.

And yet, there was White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, trying to assure a national television audience that Moscow is “committed” to staying out of our elections, despite all of the overwhelming evidence that Russia is, right now, actively involved in doing the opposite.

Of course, this naturally leads to questions about what, if anything, the White House is doing to protect that United States from this attack, if the president’s right-hand man on national security policy is skeptical that the ongoing attack is real.

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Trump, White House demand FDA justify tough standards for coronavirus vaccine, raising concerns of political interference

The White House’s involvement appears to go beyond the perfunctory review that agency officials had expected, and is likely to reinforce public concerns that a vaccine may be rushed to benefit the president’s reelection campaign. Polls show that the number of people who say they’re willing to take a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today has nosedived from 72 percent in May to 50 percent as of early this month, according to Pew Research Center, largely because of concerns that politics, rather than science, is driving the process.

Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be available by Election Day, or possibly sooner, worrying scientists that he might attempt to intervene in the review process. Companies will begin reporting safety and effectiveness data in coming weeks and months. And in conversations with some advisers, the president has directly tied the vaccine to his reelection chances, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The White House’s decision to weigh in on the FDA plan was assailed by former FDA commissioners who had served both Republican and Democratic presidents.

“I don’t know of any precedent where the White House asked to adjudicate scientific and clinical guidances, even in past public health emergencies,” said Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s first FDA commissioner. “To build trust among patients and providers, you wanted to leave these matters to the FDA process, which has a lot of rigor and integrity.”

Robert Califf, commissioner under President Barack Obama, said White House officials lack the expertise to assess the FDA’s safety protocols. “For the president to weigh in is not good,” he said, “and it sets a precedent, which is worrisome in many regards, and makes you worry about what he’ll do about the decision itself about individual vaccines.”

The push from the White House comes during a week in which top health administration officials, including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, vowed there would be no political interference in the vaccine approval process and sought to boost public trust in the process.

So far, the White House has not asked the FDA to withdraw or change the guidance for an emergency authorization of the vaccine — a far quicker process than a formal approval that gives the FDA the flexibility to set a lower bar for safety and effectiveness. The agency expects to use the process because of the urgency of the situation. In a Wednesday phone call, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Hahn the agency had to provide the detailed justification for the guidance, according to two people familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The FDA, which had planned to release the guidance this week, instead has been working on detailed scientific justifications for the questions raised by White House officials, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. White House officials are especially interested in the agency’s recommendation

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House Democrats launch investigation into alleged political interference in CDC reports

Washington — House Democrats have launched an investigation into allegations that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services have sought to review and alter weekly scientific reports issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis are seeking voluntary testimony from seven officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, including Michael Caputo, the agency’s spokesman, and Paul Alexander, his senior adviser.

Politico reported last week that Caputo, who joined the Trump administration in April, and Alexander, who Caputo hired, have attempted to alter or halt the release of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs), which are written by career scientists and prepared by the health agency. According to the CDC, readership of the reports largely consists of medical workers, epidemiologists, scientists and researchers.

“Political appointees’ attempts to interfere with CDC’s scientific reports, or MMWRs, risk undermining the scientific integrity of these reports and of the CDC itself,” the Democrats wrote in a letter Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.

While experts have relied on the reports during the coronavirus crisis to determine how the virus spreads and who is at risk, “HHS officials apparently viewed these scientific reports as opportunities for political manipulation,” they said.

The Democrats are also requesting Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, and Charlotte Kent, the editor in chief of the MMWR, among others, appear before the coronavirus panel, and want the department to turn over a trove of documents.

Caputo said in a statement to CBS News that the public affairs office at the Department of Health and Human Services “clears virtually all public-facing documents for all of its divisions, including CDC.”

“Dr. Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists. Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers,” he said. “Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic — not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC.”

Former Trump Campaign Official Michael Caputo To Be Interviewed By Senate Intelligence Committee Staffers
Michael Caputo

Mark Wilson / Getty Images


According to Politico, Caputo and his team have sought to retroactively alter CDC reports they claimed incorrectly inflated the risks of the coronavirus and tried to stop the release of others, including one that discussed how doctors were prescribing hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug touted by President Trump as a treatment for the coronavirus. The report on hydroxychloroquine was published last week after it was held up for months, Politico reported. The Food and Drug Administration revoked an emergency authorization for using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID patients in June.
 
Politico also said in an article published last week that Alexander claimed in an August 8 email that the CDC was “writing hit pieces on the administration.” Efforts to influence the reports began after a May report from Schuchat detailed the “rapid acceleration of

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House Democrats launch investigation of political interference in CDC science publications

House Democrats are launching an investigation into the Trump administration’s political interference with the publication of scientific reports at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, led by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), cited reporting from Politico that showed administration appointees have repeatedly interfered with the CDC’s reports on the pandemic, which are published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The lawmakers said they are investigating the scope of political interference with the CDC’s scientific reports and other efforts to combat the pandemic, the impact of the interference on the CDC’s mission, whether the interference is continuing and any “steps that Congress may need to take to stop it before more Americans die needlessly.”

“Political appointees’ attempts to interfere with CDC’s scientific reports, or MMWRs, risk undermining the scientific integrity of these reports and of the CDC itself,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield.

“During the pandemic, experts have relied on these reports to determine how the virus spreads and who is at greatest risk. Yet HHS officials apparently viewed these scientific reports as opportunities for political manipulation,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Democrats cited reporting that showed political appointees at HHS, including Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo and senior adviser Paul Alexander, have been focused on suppressing and changing reports to align more closely with President TrumpDonald John TrumpCrowd aims ‘lock him up’ chant at Obama during Trump rally Nevada governor: Trump ‘taking reckless and selfish actions’ in holding rally Michigan lieutenant governor blasts Trump coronavirus response: He ‘is a liar who has killed people’ MORE‘s attempts to downplay the full extent of the pandemic.

The Democrats called for the administration to provide communications sent or received by Redfield regarding the reports, as well as additional documents from Caputo, Alexander, Azar and HHS public relations aide Brad Traverse.

In a rare move, the lawmakers are seeking to conduct transcribed interviews with political and career CDC and HHS officials, including CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, acting CDC chief of staff Nina Witkofsky, acting CDC deputy chief of staff Trey Moeller, acting CDC communications director Kate Galatas and MMWR editor-in-chief Charlotte Kent. 

The Democrats are also seeking to interview Caputo and Alexander, after speaking with the CDC and HHS staff. The lawmakers said they want interviews to begin Sept. 22.

In an interview with The Washington Post over the weekend, Caputo defended attempts to control the timing and content of the reports. 

Caputo blamed “ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC” and claimed without evidence that some of the MMWRs have been used as political tools to discredit President Trump.

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W.House Stifled Reporting On Russian Election Interference

A senior US intelligence official said the White House ordered him to stop reporting on Russian election interference and highlight Chinese and Iran meddling instead, according to a whistleblower complaint revealed Wednesday.

Offering explosive evidence to support Democratic allegations that President Donald Trump has manipulated intelligence to support his reelection effort, Department of Homeland Security analyst Brian Murphy said he was told by acting DHS chief Chad Wolf that assessments on the Russian threat made Trump “look bad.”

Wolf told him the order to stifle his analyses “specifically originated from White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien,” a top Trump aide, Murphy alleged in the complaint.

Murphy, a senior official in DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said he refused to censor his reporting on Russians and on the domestic white supremacist threat, “as doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger.”

In retaliation, he said he was demoted last month.

The complaint, released by the Democrat-led House Intelligence Committee, came after months of reports that the White House was downplaying the Russian election threat, despite what US intelligence chiefs have said was massive interference in the 2016 campaign that brought Trump to power.

In a strangely worded and widely criticized official statement on election interference on August 7, the Directorate of National Intelligence focused on what it said was active interference by China and Iran, with China opposed to Trump.

Russia is also interfering against Biden and an anti-Russia “establishment,” it said, avoiding suggestions that, as in 2016, Moscow favors Trump.

DHS rejected the allegations of intelligence manipulation and retaliation against Murphy.

“We flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy’s claim,” said department spokesperson Alexei Woltornist.

“DHS is working to address all threats to the homeland regardless of ideology,” Woltornist added.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

The White House has denied manipulating intelligence to support Trump’s policies and election, but also repeatedly condemns what it labels an alleged anti-Trump “deep state” in the intelligence community.

But Murphy’s complaint said that, over 2018-2020, he witnessed “a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence and undermine United States interests.”

In early 2019, he says then-DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in testimony to Congress knowingly vastly exaggerated the threat of terrorists entering the country from Mexico, in order to support Trump’s plan for a wall on the southern border.

Despite being told that at best three potential terrorists had tried to cross from Mexico, Nielsen, he said, told Congress the number was 3,755.

Likewise, he said, in order to support Trump’s anti-migrant policies, acting deputy DHS secretary Ken Cuccinelli demanded changes to intelligence reports on corruption and violence in Central America that might be used to bolster asylum claims.

Cuccinelli, Murphy said, also demanded the names of “deep state intelligence analysts” who wrote the reports.

On Russia, Murphy said that both

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