September 9, 2020

Back in April, when America had reached the unthinkable level of 50,000 dead from Covid-19, news broke that Trump had been briefed way back in January on how deadly the coronavirus was but had not acted on that information. Trump defended his lack of action by saying he had been misled by the CIA briefer, who had, he tweeted, “only spoke of the Virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner….”

Trump lied. He knew.

On January 28, at a top secret intelligence briefing, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told Trump that the coronavirus would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. It registered. Trump’s head popped up as O’Brien’s deputy, Matt Pottinger, told Trump it could be as bad as the 1918 pandemic, and that it was spread fast by people who showed no symptoms.

On February 7, just two days after his acquittal in the Senate on the charges of impeachment, Trump picked up the phone and called journalist Bob Woodward, who was surprised to hear the president talk not about the acquittal, but about the new virus. Trump told Woodward: “This is deadly stuff.” He explained that the virus is transmitted by air, and that it was five times more dangerous than “even your strenuous flus.”

And yet, on February 2, Trump had said in a Fox News Channel interview before the Super Bowl that “we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” Trump continued to hold large indoor rallies where he insisted the coronavirus was similar to the flu and that it would soon disappear. Twenty days after his call to Woodward, he was still telling Americans not to worry and he refused to prepare for the coming crisis. Trump told Woodward that he was not telling Americans the truth because he didn’t want “to create a panic.”

By March 19, Trump told Woodward that Covid-19 was killing young people as well as older folks, although throughout the summer he continued to insist that children should go back to school because they were “almost immune” from the virus. On April 3, Trump said at a briefing: “I said it was going away and it is going away.” On April 5, he told Woodward “It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable.” On April 13, as he dismissed the need for masks, the president told Woodward “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”

Over the course of 18 interviews, Trump spoke for nine hours to journalist Bob Woodward. He had apparently been angry at his aides for shielding him from Woodward before the journalist published his book Fury in 2018, thinking he could charm Woodward into presenting him in a better light, as he had shaped coverage of himself in the tabloids in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. Trump also urged senior staff and officials to talk to Woodward, who ended up getting interviews with senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others.

Apparently, White House aides warned Trump against talking to Woodward, but not only did he do so, he permitted Woodward to record the conversations. So when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany today tried to say that Trump had never tried to downplay the virus, a reporter retorted: “It’s on tape, Kayleigh.”

When this story broke, Trump immediately tried to reassure his base by releasing yet more names of people he would consider for any new Supreme Court seats (the list is now more than 40 people long), and told reporters that perhaps he had misled Americans because he is “a cheerleader for this country.” Trump defenders were left trying to find someone to blame for the recorded interviews. Apparently, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham helped to persuade Trump to talk to the famous journalist and tonight, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson blamed Graham for the debacle, implying he had deliberately undercut the president.

In his final interview with Woodward on July 21, Trump told him, “The virus has nothing to do with me…. It's not my fault. It's — China let the damn virus out."

The book has other stunning information as well. Among other things:

Trump’s former top national security officials do not support him. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis told Woodward that Trump is “dangerous” and “unfit” to be commander in chief. Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence, former Indiana Senator Dan Coates, who is a conservative Republican, told Woodward that he suspected Putin had something on Trump. According to Woodward, Coats “continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump.” Woodward wrote: “How else to explain the president’s behavior? Coats could see no other explanation.”

Trump allegedly said “my f***ing generals are a bunch of p*****s” because they prioritized alliances over trade deals.

Trump dropped the information that his administration has developed a “nuclear… weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody—what we have is incredible.” Other sources confirmed to Woodward that the American military has developed a new weapons system. They would not talk about it, and were surprised that Trump had told Woodward about it.

On CNN, Carl Bernstein said that Woodward’s Trump tapes were worse than the Nixon tapes. The last line of Woodward's book reads: “Trump is the wrong man for the job.”

Stunningly, there was a second story today at least as big as the information in the Woodward book. Trump told Woodward that he was not telling Americans the truth because he didn’t want “to create a panic.” But he has, of course, spent the last several months explicitly trying to do just that: create a panic by claiming that dangerous anarchists are attacking our cities. It turns out he and his staff are trying to manipulate our national intelligence assessments to justify his argument.

Representative Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, today released a whistleblower complaint alleging that senior Trump officials politicized, manipulated, and censored intelligence to benefit Trump. Brian Murphy was the Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security. He claims that between March 2018 and August 2020, he repeatedly complained that security leaders were undercutting intelligence that showed Russia was working to undermine the United States.

That attempt to hide Russian attacks on America escalated this May. At the time, Chad Wolf was serving as the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, although the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog, says he was appointed to that office illegally. The complaint says that Wolf “instructed Mr. Murphy to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran. Mr. Wolf stated that these instructions specifically originated from White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Wolf he would not comply with these instructions, as doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger.”

The complaint also concerns the DHS Threat Assessment leaked yesterday to Politico. Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli—also appointed illegally, according to the GAO—prohibited the release of the threat assessment because it discussed both the threat of white supremacists and of Russian influence in the United States. This, they said, would reflect badly on the president. “Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.” Wolf wanted to add information about the ongoing unrest in Portland, Oregon.

Murphy refused to sign off on their alteration of the intelligence report, warning that it was “an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program. Wolf ordered it revised anyway. Murphy warned that the final version of the threat assessment would “more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document.” This is the document leaked in draft form to Politico yesterday.

That document was representative of a systemic effort to change intelligence reports, swinging them away from information on white supremacists and toward the language of the president. Murphy claims that Wolf and Cuccinelli repeatedly told him “to modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups.”

Murphy also charges that administration officials, including then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, lied to Congress, when she knowingly provided “inaccurate and highly inflated claims of known or suspected terrorists entering the United States through the southwest border.”

Schiff has asked Murphy to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, September 21, at 10:00 am.

Former Director of National Security Daniel Coats, who continues to insist that Russia is attacking the 2020 election process, also spoke up today to demand that the intelligence community resume its in-person briefings to Congress about election security. “[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin ought to be very happy with the way this is turning out,” Coats said. “He can only view his efforts as successful.”

There is a third major story today. Wildfires driven by winds are burning across California, Oregon, and Washington. California alone has lost more than 2.5 million acres this year, and Washington has lost almost a half a million this week alone. Oregon has lost 300,000. At least 7 people have died. The region is blanketed with smoke and an eerie orange haze, and in places, ash falls like rain.

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Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/us/politics/presidents-daily-brief-trump.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/02/849619486/trump-received-intelligence-briefings-on-coronavirus-twice-in-january

Trump decides to talk to Woodward:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/09/trump-bob-woodward-book-411225

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/trump-bob-woodward-coronavirus.html

weapons:

GAO: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/14/us/politics/homeland-security-illegal-gao.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/09/politics/bob-woodward-rage-book-trump-coronavirus/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bob-woodward-rage-book-trump/2020/09/09/0368fe3c-efd2-11ea-b4bc-3a2098fc73d4_story.html

Whistleblower complaint: https://intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/20200909_-_dhs_interview_-_brian_murphy_letter.pdf

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/senior-dhs-official-alleges-in-whistleblower-complaint-that-he-was-told-to-stop-providing-intelligence-analysis-on-threat-of-russian-interference/2020/09/09/9d0661c4-f2b6-11ea-b796-2dd09962649c_story.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/515730-trump-says-perhaps-he-misled-public-on-coronavirus-to-reduce-panic

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/former-dni-daniel-coats-criticizes-suspension-of-in-person-briefings-to-congress-on-election-security/2020/09/09/ef5a6d60-f2ae-11ea-b796-2dd09962649c_story.html

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/press-briefing-press-secretary-kayleigh-mcenany-9-9-2020/

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/09/photos-wildfires-rage-across-american-west/616219/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/us/fires-oregon-california-live-updates.html

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