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A new indicator of how Trump’s political executive had become

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For all the hand twists Donald Trump and his allies have made to changes to 2020 voting procedures during the coronavirus pandemic, the administration’s decision to use the White House as a prop in Trump’s re-election effort Trump caused no concern.

This too was ostensibly about the pandemic; Earlier Republican convention plans were scuttled by covid-19 protocols and case increases allowing Trump to fall back on the executive mansion. But it also reinforced the message Trump wanted to present: he was the rightful president and Democrats since 2016 had been trying to take the White House away from him. Exactly the kind of message that bans on using government resources for campaigning – like the Hatch Act – are meant to prevent.

Few moments captured the politicization of the executive mansion better than a naturalization ceremony that took place at the White House complex — and was televised during the convention’s prime-time programming in late August 2020. It involved Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. Trump to swear the oath of citizenship to a diverse group of immigrants.

“Mr. President, I again want to commend you for your dedication to the rule of law and for restoring the integrity of our immigration system,” Wolf said, as Trump prepared to speak. for hosting such a patriotic celebration here at the White House today.” Wolf would later argue that he had no idea this event would be used for political purposes — despite the cameras, despite the conveniently targeted praise for the candidate .

Unsurprisingly, the Office of Special Counsel ultimately determined that the event was, in fact, a violation of the Hatch Act. The DHS office and ethics officer had repeatedly warned the White House against the event and advised against Wolf’s participation but, consistent with past practice, the administration ignored the concerns. The event has progressed.

This is quite old history, of course. But it’s a reminder of how Trump and his team allowed politics to pollute the executive branch during his presidency. It’s also useful context for a new report suggesting another time in the same time frame when Wolf prioritized Trump’s interests over those of the country.

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At issue is a report compiled by DHS analysts showing with high confidence that Russian actors hoped to undermine Joe Biden’s 2020 candidacy by raising questions about the Democratic nominee’s mental acumen. This analyst told investigators from the DHS Inspector General’s Office that he “noted an increase in efforts by Russian state media to question the mental health of candidate Joseph Biden” in the period after Biden informally locked his party’s nomination in the Super Tuesday contests this spring.

It is worth noting that this should not be taken to suggest that questions about Biden were a function of Russian interference. Fox News had also started raising the topic at that time, and Russia’s established pattern has been to emulate and amplify controversy, not initiate it.

That said, the analyst went ahead with writing an intelligence report on the subject, a draft of which was ready in early June. Then he derailed.

First, a caption was added that expanded the document to include alleged efforts to smear Trump by Iran and China. (Further analysis would indicate that China did not attempt to influence the outcome of the election.) The Inspector General questioned the official who ordered the addition of the caption (known as a “tone box”).

“He told us it was a feature meant to contrast Russia’s actions with those of Iran and China, but also described the tone box as a ‘blunt feature’ meant to balance When asked if intelligence products needed balancing, he said adding the tone box was not politicizing, but also said it showed the political sense of I&A, as state and local customers of their products tended to be political.

It’s an interesting distinction: not political, but politically savvy. The effect, of course, would be to turn a report on Russia’s aid to Trump – an allegation on which Trump had very often made his views very clear – into a more general report on various countries helping the two countries. The headline was originally “Russia likely to disparage health of U.S. candidates to influence 2020 election dynamics.” The final report was titled “Malicious Actors of Foreign Influence Denigrating the Health of Candidates for President of the United States”.

The Inspector General’s report also assesses a more serious allegation. It focuses on a reunion in early July, after the addition of the “tone box”. There, a whistleblower alleged that Wolf ordered the report “killed” — that is, not published — because it “makes the president look bad.” That whistleblower, Brian Murphy, provided what he claimed were contemporaneous notes from the meeting.

These notes read: “AS1” – i.e. Acting Secretary Wolf – “will injure POTUS – kill him according to his authorities.”

The report was not published, but was sent back for editing. These were completed a few days later but held until early August, according to the Inspector General. It was then being readied for release, until (according to the report) Wolf called a senior official who then emailed the group tasked with its release.

“Why is it coming out? I thought we agreed by [the Acting Secretary’s] takeaways,” the official wrote in an email obtained by the Inspector General. It was finally approved in early September.

That endorsement only came once the whistleblower’s complaint about politicization within DHS came to light. It should be noted that the whistleblower, Murphy, was removed from his post and reassigned by Wolf after the Washington Post reported that his group had compiled “intelligence reports” that tracked journalists and others. There is also no confirmation that Murphy’s notes were, in fact, contemporary. But the whistleblower’s complaint included allegations that predated Murphy’s reassignment, often by months.

In a statement to The Post, Wolf defended keeping the report because of the “lack of professional standards and quality control exhibited at the time.” He added that the Inspector General’s report “finds no credible evidence that I ordered anyone to change the substance of the report because it ‘reflected President Trump badly’.”

“In fact,” the statement continued, “the report concluded that I had no objection to the substance of the report or to its further publication.”

The report’s conclusion reads, in part: “The repeated interaction with the product by those who have no formal role in its review” – including Wolf – “as well as the addition of specific content in the product , put [the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)] risks creating an impression of politicization. This conclusion is supported by I&A’s own artisanal evaluation of the product. »

Moreover, the document was only approved after the whistleblower’s complaint became public. Even then, it was not released through standard channels, in part due to a “desire to limit the distribution of election-related products to relevant election officials,” the report claims. In his statement, Wolf noted that the whistleblower’s complaint was later withdrawn, though the inspector general’s report notes that action was taken “pursuant to an agreement with DHS.”

Again, context is useful to consider. Even before he took office, Trump vehemently opposed the idea that Russia tried to help his 2016 election. No official (no one in America, really) could claim not to be aware of this. concern. The multiple delays of this particular report on this subject were unusual, as was the involvement of the Acting Secretary. Wolf’s acting chief of staff told the Inspector General that “it’s the only product that I remember reaching the level of secretary” during his tenure in that position.

“We have concluded that the repeated involvement in the review process of the Acting Secretary, as well as others within the Secretary’s office,” reads the Inspector General’s report, “was unusual and created the risk of appearing to politicize the product”.

He also quotes an assessment of the I&A ombudsman: “Given the structure, vagueness and use of a ‘balancing’ tone, there are questions about objectivity and lack of political consideration. … [T]It almost seems to avoid the main message that is made explicit in the key judgment – ​​that Russian influencers are targeting Democratic candidates in 2020.”

The report on Russia’s interference effort was approved for release on September 4, 2020. Ten days prior, Trump had finally officially appointed Wolf to head the agency.

That same day, Wolf helped facilitate the immigration ceremony at the White House.


Washington

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