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Westlake Legal Group > Presidential Election of 2016

Democrats Seek More Testimony and Evidence for Impeachment Trial

Westlake Legal Group 19dc-questions01-facebookJumbo Democrats Seek More Testimony and Evidence for Impeachment Trial Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Parnas, Lev National Security Agency Mulvaney, Mick Hill, Fiona (1965- ) Giuliani, Rudolph W Cipollone, Pat A central intelligence agency Burisma Holdings Ltd Bolton, John R Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — With President Trump’s impeachment trial getting underway, Democrats are intensifying their demands for more testimony and documents that could add to the already voluminous evidence against him and bolster their case by shedding new light on several key questions.

Despite the White House strategy of blocking testimony from top officials and rejecting demands for documents, the Senate will have in front of it considerable evidence that Mr. Trump eagerly sought to persuade Ukraine’s new president to pursue investigations into two matters that could benefit him in his re-election campaign. Those matters are dealings in Ukraine involving former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, and purported Ukrainian meddling in the American 2016 presidential election.

But in part because of the White House’s decision not to cooperate, the record of actions by Mr. Trump and his underlings is riddled with gaps — and new evidence has been surfacing at the 11th hour.

On Sunday, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lead House impeachment manager, said he was concerned that the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency were withholding information about Ukraine out of fear of angering the president.

“The N.S.A. in particular is withholding what are potentially relevant documents to our oversight responsibilities on Ukraine, but also withholding documents potentially relevant that the senators might want to see during the trial,” Mr. Schiff, Democrat of California, said on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to the National Security Agency.

Republicans called those complaints proof that the case against Mr. Trump was so weak that Democrats were scrambling to bolster it. “But this, to me, seems to undermine or indicate that they’re getting cold feet or have a lack of confidence in what they’ve done so far,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Even before new information emerged in recent days — including material from Lev Parnas, who worked closely with the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to seek damaging information about the Bidens and to impugn the United States’ ambassador in Kyiv — the Senate’s 100 jurors faced unanswered questions that go to the heart of the matter.

What exactly did John R. Bolton, then the White House’s national security adviser, see and hear last year that convinced him a group of diplomats and aides were cooking up a geopolitical “drug deal” involving Ukraine?

How often and how thoroughly did Mr. Giuliani, the chief engineer of the pressure campaign, brief the president on what he was up to? What has Mr. Trump said behind closed doors about his order to freeze military aid to Ukraine?

Democrats in the Senate want to call Mr. Bolton to the stand, compel the testimony of three other top Trump aides, including the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and obtain the records that the administration has withheld. But they would need the support of at least four Republican senators to do so.

“A fair trial, everyone understands, involves evidence,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Evidence would be documents and witnesses. We know the president has refused to provide documentation beyond the July 25 telephone memo. And he’s refused to provide basic witnesses who actually heard what happened on that conversation and saw what happened afterwards.”

Here are some of the key questions that more witness testimony or additional documents could address:

Some Trump allies have tried to suggest that Mr. Giuliani was a rogue actor pursuing his own interests in Ukraine. But Mr. Giuliani said last spring, as he planned a trip to Ukraine to press for investigations into the Bidens, that his efforts had Mr. Trump’s full support and that the president “basically knows what I’m doing.”

Mr. Trump has called Mr. Giuliani a “crime fighter” who was “seeking out corruption” because he was “very, very incensed at the horrible things that he saw.” He also said Mr. Giuliani had the right to look into whether the Ukrainians helped sow the seeds for the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Giuliani has insisted that his conversations with Mr. Trump are protected by attorney-client privilege. He has pointed out that Kurt D. Volker, then Mr. Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, put him in touch with a top Ukrainian aide whom he met in August in Madrid.

Unquestionably, Mr. Trump sought to vest Mr. Giuliani with at least some informal authority to operate on his behalf. He urged President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, during a phone call on July 25, to consult Mr. Giuliani about the investigations he wanted. And he urged his own diplomats and aides involved with Ukraine to consult with Mr. Giuliani after they returned from Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration in May.

Among them was Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, who testified that Mr. Trump instructed him to “talk to Rudy” about Ukraine, and said that Mr. Giuliani had made it clear to him that he spoke for the president.

In a letter in May from Mr. Giuliani that Mr. Parnas turned over last week to House investigators, the president’s lawyer told Mr. Zelensky that he was acting with Mr. Trump’s “knowledge and consent.” Mr. Parnas, who faces felony charges involving campaign finance violations, said in interviews that Ukrainian officials met with him because Mr. Giuliani assured them that he represented both him and Mr. Trump.

But virtually nothing is known about the substance of communications between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump, although they appear to have spoken regularly. Mr. Mulvaney told associates that he would leave the room whenever the men would talk in order to preserve attorney-client privilege.

Whether the president decided to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine for his own political gain, at the expense of the nation’s strategic foreign policy interests, is at the crux of the case against him. His decision thwarted the will of Congress, undercut an American ally enmeshed in a war with Russia and, according to a report last week by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, violated American law.

During the House inquiry, Mr. Sondland testified that he had informed Ukraine that it would most likely not receive the aid unless it was willing to commit to carrying out the investigations Mr. Trump wanted. But he also testified that Mr. Trump insisted to him there was no “quid pro quo” — although only after the aid freeze had become public and the president had been told about the whistle-blower complaint setting out details of the pressure campaign.

Democrats in the Senate are seeking testimony from four other witnesses who played key roles in White House deliberations about the suspension in aid: Mr. Bolton; Mr. Mulvaney; Robert B. Blair, a senior adviser to Mr. Mulvaney, and Michael Duffey, the associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The New York Times reported last month that many administration officials involved in carrying out the aid freeze were kept in the dark about the president’s motivations.

Mr. Mulvaney said at a news conference in October that the aid had been withheld in part because Mr. Trump wanted an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election. Mr. Mulvaney later said that was not true, and that the aid was withheld only because of concerns about Ukraine’s willingness to battle corruption and about whether other nations were providing their fair share of aid to Ukraine.

In mid-August, Mr. Bolton unsuccessfully tried to persuade Mr. Trump to lift the freeze. In an Oval Office meeting later that month, Mr. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper asked the president to release the funds but were rebuffed.

Mr. Duffey, a political appointee, enforced the hold on the aid after taking control of the funds from a career budget officer, Mark Sandy — a highly unusual move.

On July 25, after days of exchanges about the topic but also just 90 minutes after Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky held their fateful telephone conversation, Mr. Duffey reiterated to Defense Department officials in an email that no funds should be disbursed — instructions he said should be “closely held” because of “the sensitive nature of the request.”

“Everyone was in the loop.”

That was Mr. Sondland’s characterization of who knew what about the push to win a commitment from the Ukrainians to announce the investigations. He testified that several top officials, including Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Mulvaney, knew that Mr. Trump would extend an Oval Office invitation to Mr. Zelensky only if Ukraine publicly announced the investigations.

Fiona Hill, at the time the top Russia specialist on the National Security Council, testified that at a White House meeting on July 10, Mr. Sondland said that he had a deal with Mr. Mulvaney: an Oval Office invitation for Mr. Zelensky in exchange for a public statement that the inquiries were underway.

Although the State Department refused Mr. Sondland’s request for documents to support his testimony, he produced several emails to back up his assertions. On July 18, he wrote a group of officials — including Mr. Mulvaney, Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Bolton and Rick Perry, then the energy secretary — that Mr. Zelensky was ready to promise the president in their upcoming phone call that his prosecutors would “turn over every stone.”

Mr. Pompeo was among the officials who listened the July 25 phone call, in which Mr. Trump raised with Mr. Zelensky the need to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election and Mr. Zelensky seemed to agree.

In August, Mr. Sondland wrote Mr. Pompeo that Mr. Zelensky would deliver a public statement that “will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorize an invitation” because it would include “specifics.” That meant, he testified, that Mr. Zelensky would name Burisma, a Ukrainian company that had hired Hunter Biden, as an investigative target, along with the 2016 election.

A number of State Department witnesses blamed Mr. Giuliani for Mr. Trump’s animus toward Ukraine, saying they struggled mightily to counteract his influence. But there are indications that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary helped solidify Mr. Trump’s views.

Mr. Volker, the envoy to Ukraine, testified that the president’s negative opinion of Ukraine was “very deeply rooted” and evident as far back as September 2017, when Mr. Trump met Mr. Zelensky’s predecessor Petro O. Poroshenko in the Oval Office.

One explanation is that Mr. Trump blamed the Ukrainians for helping to expose the financial misdeeds of Paul Manafort, who was forced to resign as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 and is now in prison for his crimes. In an Oval Office meeting on May 23, Mr. Trump insisted to his aides that Ukrainians were “terrible people” who “tried to take me down.”

But George P. Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, testified that Mr. Trump’s view of Mr. Zelensky and Ukraine had darkened in the interval between that meeting and his first phone call with the Ukraine leader a month earlier, in which he congratulated him on his victory.

In the interim, Mr. Putin reportedly disparaged Mr. Zelensky to Mr. Trump in a phone call on May 3. And Mr. Trump held an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Orban, who is antagonistic toward Mr. Zelensky. No transcripts of those conversations have been released. Mr. Kent attributed the shift in Mr. Trump’s attitude to the combined influence of those two foreign leaders and Mr. Giuliani.

A group of government lawyers is charged with monitoring White House and National Security Council decisions for unethical or illegal behavior. The top-ranking lawyers involved in the Ukraine affair were John A. Eisenberg at the National Security Council and Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel.

Two security council staff members — Ms. Hill and Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman — told Mr. Eisenberg they feared that Mr. Sondland was improperly pressuring Ukraine to benefit Mr. Trump politically. Ms. Hill testified that Mr. Bolton had ordered her to tell Mr. Eisenberg that he did not want any part of “whatever drug deal” that Mr. Sondland and Mr. Mulvaney were cooking up.

According to people familiar with the situation, Mr. Eisenberg shared those concerns with Mr. Cipollone, his superior, but rejected Mr. Cipollone’s advice that he bring them up with the president.

Colonel Vindman also reported concerns about the president’s July 25 phone call. Mr. Eisenberg warned him not to discuss the call with others and ordered that access be restricted to the reconstructed transcript. A person briefed on his actions said officials misinterpreted that directive as an order to put the transcript on the White House’s most secure computer.

Mr. Eisenberg eventually alerted the Justice Department to the July 25 call, but only weeks later, after the C.I.A.’s top lawyer informed him that a C.I.A. officer had filed an anonymous complaint about it.

Ben Protess contributed reporting from New York. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Justice Dept. Investigating Years-Old Leaks and Appears Focused on Comey

Westlake Legal Group 07dc-comey-facebookJumbo Justice Dept. Investigating Years-Old Leaks and Appears Focused on Comey Washington Post United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 Newspapers News and News Media New York Times Netherlands Liu, Jessie Kong Justice Department Federal Bureau of Investigation Espionage and Intelligence Services Comey, James B Classified Information and State Secrets

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Washington are investigating a years-old leak of classified information about a Russian intelligence document, and they appear to be focusing on whether the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey illegally provided details to reporters, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

The case is the second time the Justice Department has investigated leaks potentially involving Mr. Comey, a frequent target of President Trump, who has repeatedly called him a “leaker.” Mr. Trump recently suggested without evidence that Mr. Comey should be prosecuted for “unlawful conduct” and spend years in prison.

The timing of the investigation could raise questions about whether it was motivated at least in part by politics. Prosecutors and F.B.I. agents typically investigate leaks of classified information around the time they appear in the news media, not years later. And the inquiry is the latest politically sensitive matter undertaken by the United States attorney’s office in Washington, which is also conducting an investigation of Mr. Comey’s former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, that has been plagued by problems.

Law enforcement officials are scrutinizing at least two news articles about the F.B.I. and Mr. Comey, published in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 2017, that mentioned the Russian government document, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Hackers working for Dutch intelligence officials obtained the document and provided it to the F.B.I., and both its existence and the collection of it were highly classified secrets, the people said.

The document played a key role in Mr. Comey’s decision to sideline the Justice Department and announce in July 2016 that the F.B.I. would not recommend that Hillary Clinton face charges in her use of a private email server to conduct government business while secretary of state.

The investigation into the leaks began in recent months, the people said, but it is not clear whether prosecutors have impaneled a grand jury or how many witnesses they have interviewed. What prompted the inquiry is also unclear, but the Russian document was mentioned in a book published last fall, “Deep State: Trump, the F.B.I., and the Rule of Law” by James B. Stewart, a Times reporter.

A lawyer for Mr. Comey declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Washington.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly pressured the Justice Department to investigate his perceived enemies. In 2018, he told the White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, to prosecute Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey. Mr. McGahn refused, telling the president that he did not have the authority to order investigations and that doing so could prompt abuse-of-power accusations. Mr. Trump had also discussed the appointment of a second special counsel to conduct the investigations he sought.

Previously, federal prosecutors in New York scrutinized Mr. Comey after his personal lawyer and friend, Daniel C. Richman, provided the contents of a memo about Mr. Comey’s interactions with Mr. Trump to a Times reporter at Mr. Comey’s request. Though officials retroactively determined that the memo contained classified information, prosecutors declined to charge Mr. Comey with illegally disclosing the material. The Justice Department’s inspector general, who had examined Mr. Comey’s conduct and referred his findings to prosecutors in New York, concluded that Mr. Comey violated F.B.I. policy.

The latest investigation involves material that Dutch intelligence operatives siphoned off Russian computers and provided to the United States government. The information included a Russian analysis of what appeared to be an email exchange during the 2016 presidential campaign between Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida who was also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee at the time, and Leonard Benardo, an official with the Open Society Foundations, a democracy-promoting organization whose founder, George Soros, has long been a target of the far right.

In the email, Ms. Wasserman Schultz suggested that then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch would make sure that Mrs. Clinton would not be prosecuted in the email case. Both Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Benardo have denied being in contact, suggesting the document was meant to be Russian disinformation.

That document was one of the key factors that drove Mr. Comey to hold a news conference in July 2016 announcing that investigators would recommend no charges against Mrs. Clinton. Typically, senior Justice Department officials would decide how to proceed in such a high-profile case, but Mr. Comey was concerned that if Ms. Lynch played a central role in deciding whether to charge Mrs. Clinton, Russia could leak the email.

Whether the document was fake remains an open question. But American officials at the time did not believe that Ms. Lynch would hinder the Clinton email investigation, and neither Ms. Wasserman Schultz nor Mr. Benardo had any inside information about it. Still, if the Russians had released the information after the inquiry was closed, it could have tainted the outcome, hurt public confidence in the Justice Department and sowed discord.

Prosecutors are also looking at whether Mr. Richman might have played a role in providing the information to reporters about the Russia document and how it figured into Mr. Comey’s rationale about the news conference, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Mr. Comey hired Mr. Richman at one point to consult for the F.B.I. about encryption and other complex legal issues, and investigators have expressed interest in how he operated.

Mr. Richman was quoted in the April 2017 article in The Times that revealed the document’s existence. A month later, The Post named Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Benardo as subjects of the document in a detailed article. A lawyer for Mr. Richman declined to comment.

Typically, prosecutors would decline to open investigations into older leaks of classified information because the passage of time makes such cases much harder to pursue as the memories of witnesses fade. Also, the initial leaks can generate more leaks as more officials feel comfortable discussing the information with journalists because it has become public.

Multiple news stories about the classified disclosures also make it harder to determine whether one person was speaking to reporters or several people, according to former law enforcement officials. And the larger the universe of government officials who have been briefed on classified information, the more difficult it is to find the leaker, former officials said. In this case, lawmakers were briefed on the Russian document in addition to executive branch officials.

In inquiries where investigators determine that a leak is coming from members of Congress or their staff, political sensitivities make those cases difficult to investigate. Most of the time, former officials said, such inquiries are dead on arrival.

Additionally, investigators could also decline to open an investigation into an older leak because it might further harm national security if the information once again made headlines, as in this inquiry.

“Leak cases are incredibly difficult to prosecute,” said Brian J. Fleming, a former lawyer with the Justice Department who worked on many such cases in his work on national security issues. “They are very challenging to present to a jury both as an evidentiary matter and in terms of presenting a compelling, coherent narrative. That is a big reason so few leak cases get charged and even fewer ever go to trial.”

Still, if a government agency is determined to hunt down the source of a leak, as the C.I.A. was in the case of Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer who was convicted of leaking details about an anti-Iran operation to a Times reporter, Justice Department officials generally will pursue the case aggressively.

Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia have embraced politically fraught cases under the United States attorney, Jessie K. Liu, an ambitious prosecutor who has angled for bigger jobs in the Trump administration.

She aggressively pushed for the prosecution of Mr. McCabe on suspicion of lying to investigators about sensitive law enforcement information provided to a reporter. Mr. McCabe was accused of misleading investigators conducting an administrative review, not a criminal inquiry; typically, such cases are not referred for prosecution.

The relatively straightforward case against Mr. McCabe has dragged on for more than 20 months. Prosecutors have refused to tell Mr. McCabe’s lawyers whether they intend to bring charges.

Ms. Liu’s office also charged Gregory B. Craig, a onetime White House counsel in the Obama administration, after prosecutors in New York passed on the case. Mr. Craig was charged with lying to the F.B.I. about his work for the Ukrainian government, but a jury last year quickly acquitted him, handing Ms. Liu an embarrassing defeat.

Mr. Trump nominated Ms. Liu last month to be the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. He had previously tapped her to be the No. 3 spot in the Justice Department, but she withdrew from consideration after Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, raised concerns about her conservative credentials.

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Trump Sold Voters on Stopping ‘Endless Wars.’ What if a New One Starts?

Westlake Legal Group merlin_166952985_4d21a658-bc09-4128-8e64-f42602e72094-facebookJumbo Trump Sold Voters on Stopping ‘Endless Wars.’ What if a New One Starts? United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Iraq War (2003-11)

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Almost exactly four years ago, Donald J. Trump touched down at an airport hangar here, delivered a donation to a group that provides service dogs to veterans and, before inviting a few kids to run around on his Boeing 757, criticized the wars in the Middle East that many local families had sent their sons and daughters to fight in.

“I’m the guy that didn’t want to go to war,” he told a crowd of several hundred. “It’s just unjust, it’s a mess,” Mr. Trump went on, promising that if he ever did deploy the military anywhere, it would be “so strong, so powerful that nobody is going to mess with us anymore.”

That November, Dubuque County voted Republican in the presidential election for the first time since 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower was on the ballot.

Mr. Trump’s success in places like Dubuque — heavily white, working class, union-friendly and Catholic — remade the Republican electorate. And his path to a second term depends heavily on whether those voters turn their backs on the Democratic Party again.

But the specter of a new conflict in the Middle East — this time with Iran — threatens the political coalition that Mr. Trump built in 2016 by running against a national Republican Party that many voters came to see as indifferent and unresponsive, particularly when it came to the human cost of war.

“All he’s been saying is, ‘We’re getting out of there, we’re getting out of there, we’re getting out of there,’” said Mark Blume, a contractor in Dubuque who stopped into the local American Legion after work one evening last week for a beer.

Mr. Blume, who was raised in a Democratic household in New York and said he voted for Republicans and Democrats in presidential elections but did not vote for either Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016, expressed fatigue with the president’s erratic style. If it weren’t for that, he would be less uncertain about voting for Mr. Trump, who he believes has done a better than expected job as president.

“He’s putting those kids in harm’s way,” Mr. Blume added. “What he says and what he does are two different things, and that’s what I don’t like about him.” (In fact, Mr. Trump did not always oppose going to war with Iraq as he has insisted; he initially expressed support for it after the invasion began in 2003.)

As tensions with Iran remain high, Mr. Trump risks becoming the wartime president he claimed he never wanted to be. And he has struggled to reconcile the inconsistencies in his foreign policy, leaving some voters wondering what he really is as a commander in chief: the president who crushed the Islamic State and will stop “endless wars,” as he claims, or a volatile decision maker who in the span of three months orders troops to pull out of Syria and then deploys thousands more to prepare for a possible conflict with Iran after taking out one of its top generals in a drone strike.

His provocations with Iran have further divided a country already exhausted by three years of constant political combat and chaos. “I just get heartsick with all this political tribalism,” said Ray Harrington, an Iowa National Guard veteran and self-described moderate Republican who served in Afghanistan. He is torn about the president’s recent moves, he explained one recent afternoon as he kicked up his feet on a chair in the kitchen of the Veteran’s Freedom Center in Dubuque, which provides resources and assistance to veterans.

Part of him wants to be over there, he said, alongside the troops. “But I get concerned. My son’s 18. He’s draft age,” Mr. Harrington added.

While Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory is often tied to his nationalist rallying cries to curtail immigration, restrict trade and restore America to a bygone “greatness,” one of the more overlooked pieces of the “America First” agenda he promised was his vow to end what he called “reckless, interventionist globalism.”

His contention that the political establishment was careless with American lives — just as he said both parties were indifferent to the suffering of middle-class Americans while pushing policies that helped almost everyone else, from big corporations to undocumented immigrants — was especially powerful.

The resonance was profound in Iowa and elsewhere across the Midwest, according to one study, where he broke through Democrats’ “blue wall” in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a minuscule 77,000-vote margin.

One factor that helped put him over the edge in these states was the communities that have paid a steep toll from nearly 20 years of war.

A study of military casualty rates at the state and county level found that Mr. Trump won significantly more votes than the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in places that suffered disproportionately high casualty rates.

The authors, Douglas Kriner of Cornell University and Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota Law School, then factored out demographic characteristics that tend to overlap with Mr. Trump’s base — race, level of education, income and population density. And they determined that even in counties predisposed to support Mr. Trump because they were more white, rural, poor and less educated, he still significantly outperformed Mr. Romney.

This not only helped Mr. Trump win the election, they concluded, but also could have decided the race. If casualty rates were only slightly lower in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, their model determined that all three states could have voted for Hillary Clinton.

“The parts of the country that have seen this war most intensely — they were looking for someone who would end the damn wars,” Mr. Shen said in an interview. “And in Trump they found someone who at least told them that’s what he would do.”

The way Mr. Trump talks about the cost of war and American foreign policy that preceded him echoes the other class-based divisions that have defined his populist political appeal.

In doing so, he expanded his party’s base of support, even as he upended decades of status quo among Republicans favoring a more active and heavy-handed approach to the use of American troops.

But his recent bellicosity toward Iran has unsettled some of his supporters who were drawn to the noninterventionist aspect of his “America First” promises.

“We were going to get out of these wars, focus on America first,” said Allen Chesser of Spring Hope, N.C., about 40 minutes from Raleigh. “That’s what I think everybody thought they were getting.”

Mr. Chesser, who served for 11 months in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and returned to work in law enforcement before running an unsuccessful campaign for Congress, said he and others who took Mr. Trump at his word on foreign policy had become dismayed as the Republican Party largely fell in line behind him after the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful Iranian commander.

“These are what you would call conservatives, they’re patriots. They’ve fought and paid,” he said. Now, he said, “because I disagree I’m somehow anti-Trump, which somehow makes me anti-Republican and lessens my patriotism? I don’t get it.”

The threat voters like Mr. Chesser pose to Mr. Trump is if they do not vote for a presidential candidate at all, or vote third party.

“These are not left-wing, antiwar people,” Mr. Kriner said. In the study on military casualties and Trump voters, he and Mr. Shen warn, “If Trump wants to win again in 2020, his electoral fate may well rest on the administration’s approach to the human costs of war.”

Some of Mr. Trump’s most prominent allies are warning him of the political risks inherent in escalating the conflict with Iran any further.

“It’s important that the president listens to his judgment here — that he doesn’t listen to the same people who got us sucked into Iraq in the first place,” Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host, said the other night on her program.

Others, like Ms. Ingraham’s Fox colleague Tucker Carlson, have noted with dismay Mr. Trump’s apparent reliance on advice from what they characterize as the same “deep state” intelligence officials he has said need to be purged from the government.

“If you say so, Mr. Unnamed C.I.A. official, I’m happy to send my kid to the Middle East a week after Christmas,” Mr. Carlson fumed on his program recently.

The risk in taking too provocative an approach with Iran is even greater because the political realignment now taking place between the two parties — with Republicans attracting more working class, white voters who once leaned Democratic, and Democrats appealing to higher-income Americans — is still in its early stages.

“They may be learning to be Republicans, much as Reagan Democrats learned to be Republicans, so long as Republicans kept faith with them,” said Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the author of a book on the realignment called “The Working Class Republican.”

“That doesn’t mean,” Mr. Olsen added, “that the process is complete. And one way to stop the process or reverse it is to break faith on a core issue that Trump was an outlier on.”

Still, for those who have watched the political poles reverse in Dubuque over the years, there is a sense that Mr. Trump is retaining his hold on most of his voters.

At the Veteran’s Freedom Center, Jim Wagner, a 71-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War and a lifelong Democrat, said he could not fathom how anyone believed Mr. Trump when he said he would end the wars. “Trump is so way far out there, they think it’s cool,” he said. “They think it’s funny. See, I don’t.”

Democrats like him have made something of a comeback in Dubuque. In the 2018 midterm elections, a local Democrat who emphasized her family’s blue-collar, union roots, Abby Finkenauer, beat the incumbent Republican congressman in Iowa’s First Congressional District.

As Mr. Blume ordered another round at the American Legion, he considered the last three years under Mr. Trump. “He’s made my life better,” he said, citing the steady stream of contracting work he had been getting because of the healthy economy. “I haven’t lacked.”

Mr. Blume contemplated the possibility that Mr. Trump might get re-elected — and that he might even vote for him.

“It’s not going to be the end of the world,” he said, catching himself.

“Well,” he added, with a nervous laugh.

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Buckle Up for Another Facebook Election

Westlake Legal Group 10Roose-01-facebookJumbo Buckle Up for Another Facebook Election Zuckerberg, Mark E United States Politics and Government Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Political Advertising Online Advertising Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet

SAN FRANCISCO — If you were hoping to hear less about Facebook this year, you’re out of luck.

The social platform announced on Thursday — after months of hemming and hawing — that it would not change its basic rules for political advertising ahead of the 2020 election. Unlike Google, which restricted the targeting of political ads last year, or Twitter, which barred political ads entirely, Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, decided to preserve the status quo.

Politicians will still be exempt from Facebook’s fact-checking program, and will still be allowed to break many of the rules that apply to other users. Campaigns will still be allowed to spend millions of dollars on ads targeted to narrow slices of the electorate, upload their voter files to build custom audiences and use all the other tools of Facebook tradecraft.

The social network has spent much of the past three years apologizing for its inaction during the 2016 election, when its platform was overrun with hyperpartisan misinformation, some of it Russian, that was amplified by its own algorithms. And ahead of 2020, some people wondered if Mr. Zuckerberg — who is, by his own admission, uncomfortable with Facebook’s power — would do everything he could to step out of the political crossfire.

Instead, Mr. Zuckerberg has embraced Facebook’s central role in elections — not only by giving politicians a pass on truth, but by preserving the elements of its advertising platforms that proved to be a decisive force in 2016.

“It was a mistake,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, said about Facebook’s decision. Mr. Stamos, who left the company after the 2016 election, said political considerations had most likely factored into the decision to leave its existing ad targeting options in place.

“They’re clearly afraid of political pushback,” he said.

Mr. Stamos, like some Facebook employees and outside agitators, had advocated for small but meaningful changes to Facebook’s policies, such as raising the minimum size of an audience that a political advertiser is allowed to target and disallowing easily disprovable claims made about a political candidate by his or her rivals. These proposed changes were intended to discourage bad behavior by campaigns, while still letting them use Facebook’s powerful ad tools to raise money and turn out supporters.

But in the end, those arguments lost out to the case — made by Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook executive, in an internal memo, as well as President Trump’s campaign and several Democratic groups — that changing the platform’s rules, even in an ostensibly neutral way, would amount to tipping the scales. Mr. Bosworth, who oversaw Facebook’s ad platform in 2016, argued that the reason Mr. Trump was elected was simply that “he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”

In other words, the system worked as designed.

Don’t get me wrong: Facebook has made strides since 2016 to deter certain kinds of election interference. It has spent billions of dollars beefing up its security teams to prevent another Russian troll debacle, and it has added more transparent tools to shine more light on the dark arts of digital campaigning, such as a political ad library and a verification process that requires political advertisers to register with an American address. These moves have forced would-be election meddlers to be stealthier in their tactics, and have made a 2016-style foreign influence operation much less likely this time around.

But despite these changes, the basic architecture of Facebook is largely the same as it was in 2016, and vulnerable in many of the same ways. The platform still operates on the principle that what is popular is good. It still takes a truth-agnostic view of political speech — telling politicians that, as long as their posts don’t contain certain types of misinformation (like telling voters the wrong voting day, or misleading them about the census), they can say whatever they want. And it is still reluctant to take any actions that could be construed as partisan — even if those actions would lead to a healthier political debate or a fairer election.

Facebook has argued that it shouldn’t be an arbiter of truth, and that it has a responsibility to remain politically neutral. But the company’s existing policies are anything but neutral. They give an advantage to candidates whose campaigns are good at cranking out emotionally charged, hyperpartisan content, regardless of its factual accuracy. Today, that describes Mr. Trump’s strategy, as well as those used successfully by other conservative populists, including President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. But it could just as well describe the strategy of a successful Democratic challenger to Mr. Trump. Facebook’s most glaring bias is not a partisan one — it is a bias toward candidates whose strategies most closely resemble that of a meme page.

On one level, Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision on ads, which came after months of passionate lobbying by both Republican and Democratic campaigns, as well as civil rights groups and an angry cohort of Facebook employees, is a bipartisan compromise. Both sides, after all, rely on these tools, and there is an argument to be made that Democrats need them in order to close the gap with Mr. Trump’s sophisticated digital operation.

Ultimately, though, Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision to leave Facebook’s platform architecture intact amounts to a powerful endorsement — not of any 2020 candidate, but of Facebook’s role in global democracy. It’s a vote for the idea that Facebook is a fairly designed playing field that is conducive to healthy political debate, and that whatever problems it has simply reflect the problems that exist in society as a whole.

Ellen L. Weintraub, a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission who has been an outspoken opponent of Facebook’s existing policies, told me on Thursday that she, too, was disappointed in the company’s choice.

“They have a real responsibility here, and they’re just shirking it,” Ms. Weintraub said. “They don’t want to acknowledge that something they’ve created is contributing to the decline of our democracy, but it is.”

In Facebook’s partial defense, safeguarding elections is not a single company’s responsibility, nor are tech companies the sole determinants of who is elected. Income inequality, economic populism, immigration policy — these issues still matter, as do the media organizations that shape perception of them.

I also don’t believe, as some Facebook critics do, that Mr. Zuckerberg is doing this for the money. Facebook’s political advertising revenue is a tiny portion of its overall revenue, and even a decision to bar political ads entirely wouldn’t materially change the company’s financial health.

Instead, I take Mr. Zuckerberg at his word that he genuinely believes that an election with Facebook at its core is better than one without it — that, as he said last year, “political ads are an important part of voice.”

There are reasons to quibble with Mr. Zuckerberg’s definition of “voice,” and to ask why a platform that fact-checked politicians’ ads or limited their ability to microtarget voters would have less of it. But it barely matters, because the terms for the 2020 election are now set. This election, like the 2016 election, will be determined in large part by who can best exploit Facebook’s reluctance to appear to be refereeing our politics, even while holding the whistle.

“They’ve laid out what the rules are going to be — and now everyone has to line up behind these rules,” said Mr. Stamos, the former Facebook security chief. “Which are effectively no rules.”

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Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion

Westlake Legal Group 28dc-omb1-facebookJumbo Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion Zelensky, Volodymyr Vought, Russell T Volker, Kurt D United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Taylor, William B Jr State Department Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Portman, Rob Pompeo, Mike Pence, Mike Office of Management and Budget (US) National Security Council Mulvaney, Mick Johnson, Ron (1955- ) Hill, Fiona (1965- ) Giuliani, Rudolph W Duffey, Michael Defense Department Defense and Military Forces Cipollone, Pat A Bolton, John R Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — Deep into a long flight to Japan aboard Air Force One with President Trump, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, dashed off an email to an aide back in Washington.

“I’m just trying to tie up some loose ends,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine and whether we can hold it back?”

It was June 27, more than a week after Mr. Trump had first asked about putting a hold on security aid to Ukraine, an embattled American ally, and Mr. Mulvaney needed an answer.

The aide, Robert B. Blair, replied that it would be possible, but not pretty. “Expect Congress to become unhinged” if the White House tried to countermand spending passed by the House and Senate, he wrote in a previously undisclosed email. And, he wrote, it might further fuel the narrative that Mr. Trump was pro-Russia.

Mr. Blair was right, even if his prediction of a messy outcome was wildly understated. Mr. Trump’s order to hold $391 million worth of sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, night vision goggles, medical aid and other equipment the Ukrainian military needed to fight a grinding war against Russian-backed separatists would help pave a path to the president’s impeachment.

The Democratic-led inquiry into Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine this spring and summer established that the president was actively involved in parallel efforts — both secretive and highly unusual — to bring pressure on a country he viewed with suspicion, if not disdain.

One campaign, spearheaded by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, aimed to force Ukraine to conduct investigations that could help Mr. Trump politically, including one focused on a potential Democratic 2020 rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The other, which unfolded nearly simultaneously but has gotten less attention, was the president’s demand to withhold the security assistance. By late summer, the two efforts merged as American diplomats used the withheld aid as leverage in the effort to win a public commitment from the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to carry out the investigations Mr. Trump sought into Mr. Biden and unfounded or overblown theories about Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony provide the most complete account yet of the 84 days from when Mr. Trump first inquired about the money to his decision in September to relent.

What emerges is the story of how Mr. Trump’s demands sent shock waves through the White House and the Pentagon, created deep rifts within the senior ranks of his administration, left key aides like Mr. Mulvaney under intensifying scrutiny — and ended only after Mr. Trump learned of a damning whistle-blower report and came under pressure from influential Republican lawmakers.

In many ways, the havoc Mr. Giuliani and other Trump loyalists set off in the State Department by pursuing the investigations was matched by conflicts and confusion in the White House and Pentagon stemming from Mr. Trump’s order to withhold the aid.

Opposition to the order from his top national security advisers was more intense than previously known. In late August, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper joined Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser at the time, for a previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting with the president where they tried but failed to convince him that releasing the aid was in interests of the United States.

By late summer, top lawyers at the Office of Management and Budget who had spoken to lawyers at the White House and the Justice Department in the weeks beforehand, were developing an argument — not previously divulged publicly — that Mr. Trump’s role as commander in chief would simply allow him to override Congress on the issue.

And Mr. Mulvaney is shown to have been deeply involved as a key conduit for transmitting Mr. Trump’s demands for the freeze across the administration.

The interviews and documents show how Mr. Trump used the bureaucracy to advance his agenda in the face of questions about its propriety and even legality from officials in the White House budget office and the Pentagon, many of whom say they were kept in the dark about the president’s motivations and had grown used to convention-flouting requests from the West Wing. One veteran budget official who raised questions about the legal justification was pushed aside.

Those carrying out Mr. Trump’s orders on the aid were for the most part operating in different lanes from those seeking the investigations, including Mr. Giuliani and a number of senior diplomats, including Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine and Russia.

The New York Times found that some key players are now offering a defense that they did not know the diplomatic push for the investigations was playing out at the same time they were implementing the aid freeze — or if they were aware of both channels, they did not connect the two.

Mr. Mulvaney is said by associates to have stepped out of the room whenever Mr. Trump would talk with Mr. Giuliani to preserve Mr. Trump’s attorney-client privilege, leaving him with limited knowledge about their efforts regarding Ukraine. Mr. Mulvaney has told associates he learned of the substance of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call weeks after the fact.

Yet testimony before the House suggests a different picture. Fiona Hill, a top deputy to Mr. Bolton at the time, told the impeachment inquiry about a July 10 White House meeting at which Mr. Sondland said Mr. Mulvaney had guaranteed that Mr. Zelensky would be invited to the White House if the Ukrainians agreed to the investigations — an arrangement that Mr. Bolton described as a “drug deal,” according to Ms. Hill.

Along with Mr. Bolton and others, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Blair have declined to cooperate with impeachment investigators and provide information to Congress under oath, an intensifying point of friction between the two parties as the Senate prepares for Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial.

At the center of the maelstrom was the Office of Management and Budget, a seldom-scrutinized arm of the White House that during the Trump administration has often had to find creative legal reasoning to justify the president’s unorthodox policy proposals, like his demand to divert Pentagon funding to his proposed wall along the border with Mexico.

In the Ukraine case, however, shock about the president’s decision spread across America’s national security apparatus — from the National Security Council to the State Department and the Pentagon. By September, after the freeze had become public and scrutiny was increasing, the blame game inside the administration was in full swing.

On Sept. 10, the day before Mr. Trump changed his mind, a political appointee at the budget office, Michael P. Duffey, wrote a lengthy email to the Pentagon’s top budget official, with whom he had been at odds throughout the summer about how long the agency could withhold the aid.

He asserted that the Defense Department had the authority to do more to ensure that the aid could be released to Ukraine by the congressionally mandated deadline of the end of that month, suggesting that responsibility for any failure should not rest with the White House.

Forty-three minutes later, the Pentagon official, Elaine McCusker, hit send on a brief but stinging reply.

“You can’t be serious,” she wrote. “I am speechless.”

For top officials inside the budget office, the first warning came on June 19.

Informed that the president had a problem with the aid, Mr. Blair called Russell T. Vought, the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget. “We need to hold it up,” he said, according to officials briefed about the conversation.

Typical of the Trump White House, the inquiry was not born of a rigorous policy process. Aides speculated that someone had shown Mr. Trump a news article about the Ukraine assistance and he demanded to know more.

Mr. Vought and his team took to Google, and came upon a piece in the conservative Washington Examiner saying that the Pentagon would pay for weapons and other military equipment for Ukraine, bringing American security aid to the country to $1.5 billion since 2014.

The money, the article noted, was coming at a critical moment: Mr. Zelensky, a onetime comedian, had called ending the armed conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine his top priority — a move that would likely only happen if he could negotiate from a position of strength.

The budget office officials had little idea of why Mr. Trump was interested in the topic, but many of the president’s more senior aides were well aware of his feelings about Ukraine. Weeks earlier, in an Oval Office meeting on May 23, with Mr. Sondland, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Blair in attendance, Mr. Trump batted away assurances that Mr. Zelensky was committed to confronting corruption.

“They are all corrupt, they are all terrible people,” Mr. Trump said, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

The United States had been planning to provide $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine in two chunks: $250 million allocated by the Pentagon for war-fighting equipment — from sniper rifles to rocket-propelled grenade launchers — and $141 million controlled by the State Department to buy night-vision devices, radar systems and yet more rocket-grenade launchers.

With the money having been appropriated by Congress, it would be hard for the administration to keep it from being spent by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The task of dealing with the president’s demands fell primarily to a group of political appointees in the West Wing and the budget office, most with personal and professional ties to Mr. Mulvaney. There was no public announcement that Mr. Trump wanted the assistance withheld. Neither Congress nor the Ukrainian government was formally notified.

Mr. Mulvaney had first served in the administration as the budget director, after three terms in the House, where he earned a reputation as a firebrand conservative.

The four top political appointees helping Mr. Mulvaney execute the hold — Mr. Vought, Mr. Blair, Mr. Duffey and Mark Paoletta, the budget office’s top lawyer — all had extensive experience in either congressional budget politics or Republican and conservative causes.

Their efforts would cause tension and at times conflict between officials at the budget office and the Pentagon, some of whom watched with growing alarm.

The single largest chunk of the federal government’s annual discretionary budget, some $800 billion a year, goes to the Pentagon, spy agencies and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The career official in charge of managing the flow of all that money for the budget office is an Afghanistan war veteran named Mark Sandy.

After learning about the president’s June 19 request, Mr. Sandy contacted the Pentagon to learn more about the aid package. He also repeatedly pressed Mr. Duffey about why Mr. Trump had imposed the hold in the first place.

“He didn’t provide an explicit response on the reason,” Mr. Sandy testified in the impeachment inquiry. “He simply said we need to let the hold take place — and I’m paraphrasing here — and then revisit this issue with the president.”

From the start, budget office officials took the position that the money did not have to go out the door until the end of September, giving them time to address the president’s questions.

It was easy enough for the White House to hold up the State Department portion of the funding. Since the State Department had not yet notified Congress of its plans to release the money, all it took was making sure that the notification did not happen.

Freezing the Pentagon’s $250 million portion was more difficult, since the Pentagon had already certified that Ukraine had met requirements set by Congress to show that it was addressing its endemic corruption and notified lawmakers of its intent to spend the money.

So on July 19, Mr. Duffey proposed an unusual solution: Mr. Sandy should attach a footnote to a routine budget document saying the money was being temporarily withheld.

Approving such requests is routine; Mr. Sandy processed hundreds each year. But attaching a footnote to block spending that the administration had already notified Congress was ready to go was not. Mr. Sandy said in testimony that he had never done it before in his 12 years at the agency.

And there was a problem with this maneuver: Mr. Sandy was concerned it might violate a law called the Impoundment Control Act that protects Congress’s spending power and prohibits the administration from blocking disbursement of the aid unless it notifies Congress.

“I asked about the duration of the hold and was told there was not clear guidance on that,” Mr. Sandy testified. “So that is what prompted my concern.”

Mr. Sandy sought advice from the top lawyers at the budget office.

For a full month, the fact that Mr. Trump wanted to halt the aid remained confined primarily to a small group of officials.

That ended on July 18, when a group of top administration officials meeting on Ukraine policy — including some calling in from Kyiv — learned from a midlevel budget office official that the president had ordered the aid frozen.

“I and the others on the call sat in astonishment,” William B. Taylor Jr., the top United States diplomat in Ukraine, testified to House investigators. “In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened.”

That same day, aides on the House Foreign Affairs Committee received four calls from administration sources warning them about the hold and urging them to look into it.

A week later came Mr. Trump’s fateful July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Bolton, the national security adviser, had recommended the call take place in an effort to end the “incessant lobbying” from officials like Mr. Sondland that the two leaders connect.

Some of Mr. Trump’s aides had thought the call might lead Mr. Trump to lift the freeze. But Mr. Trump did not specifically mention the hold, and instead asked Mr. Zelensky to look into Mr. Biden and his son and into supposed Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election. Among those listening on the call was Mr. Blair.

Mr. Blair has told associates he did not make much of Mr. Trump’s requests during the call for the investigations. He saw the aid freeze not as a political tool, but as an extension of Mr. Trump’s general aversion to foreign aid and his belief that Ukraine is rife with corruption.

Just 90 minutes after the call ended, and following days of email traffic on the topic, Mr. Duffey, Mr. Sandy’s boss, sent out a new email to the Pentagon, where officials were impatient about getting the money out the door. His message was clear: Do not spend it.

“Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction,” Mr. Duffey wrote in his note, which was released this month to the Center for Public Integrity.

This caused immediate discomfort at the Pentagon, with a top official there noting that this hold on military assistance was coming on the same day Ukraine announced it had seized a Russian tanker — a potential escalation in the conflict between the two nations.

On that same day, Mr. Sandy, having received the go-ahead from the budget office’s lawyers, took the first official step to legally impose what they called a “brief pause,” inserting a footnote into the budget document that prohibited the Pentagon from spending any of the aid until Aug. 5.

By that point, officials in Ukraine were getting word that something was up. At the same time, the effort to win a commitment from the Ukrainians for the investigations sought by Mr. Trump was intensifying, with Mr. Giuliani and a Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak, meeting in Madrid on Aug. 2 and the diplomats Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker also working the issue.

And inside the intelligence community, a C.I.A. officer was hearing talk about the two strands of pressure on Ukraine, including the aid freeze. Seeing how they fit together, he was alarmed enough that by Aug. 12 he would take the extraordinary step of laying them out in detail in a confidential whistle-blower complaint.

Keeping a hold on the assistance was now a top priority, so officials moved to tighten control over the money.

In a very unusual step, the White House removed Mr. Sandy’s authority to oversee the aid freeze. The job was handed in late July to Mr. Sandy’s boss, Mr. Duffey, the political appointee, the official ultimately responsible for apportionments but one who had little experience in the nuts and bolts of the budget office process.

As the debate over the aid continued, disagreements flared. Two budget office staff members left the agency after the summer. Mr. Sandy testified that their departures were related to the aid freeze, a statement disputed by budget office officials.

Pentagon officials, in the dark about the reason for the holdup, grew increasingly frustrated. Ms. McCusker, the powerful Pentagon budget official, notified the budget office that either $61 million of the money would have to be spent by Monday, Aug. 12 or it would be lost. The budget office saw her threat as a ploy to force release of the aid.

At the White House, which had been looped into the dispute by the budget office, there was a growing consensus that officials could find a legal rationale for continuing the hold, but with the Monday deadline looming, it was a “POTUS-level decision,” one official said.

Complicating matters, another budget battle was escalating. Mr. Vought was attempting to impose cuts of as much as $4 billion on the nation’s overall foreign aid budget. It was an entirely separate initiative from the Ukraine freeze, and was quickly abandoned, but helped the White House establish that its concern about aid was not limited to Ukraine.

By the second week of August, Mr. Duffey had taken to issuing footnotes every few days to block the Pentagon spending. Office of Management and Budget lawyers approved each one.

Mr. Trump spent the weekend before the Pentagon’s Aug. 12 deadline at Bedminster, his New Jersey golf resort.

In a previously unreported sequence of events, Mr. Mulvaney worked to schedule a call for that day with Mr. Trump and top aides involved in the freeze, including Mr. Vought, Mr. Bolton and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel. But they waited to set a final time because Mr. Trump had a golf game planned for Monday morning with John Daly, the flamboyant professional golfer, and they did not know how long it would take.

Late that morning, Ms. McCusker checked in with the budget office. “Hey, any update for us?” she asked in an email obtained by Center for Public Integrity.

Mr. Duffey was still waiting for an answer as of late that afternoon. “Elaine — I don’t have an update,” he wrote back. “I am attempting to get one.”

The planned-for conference call with the president never happened. Budget office lawyers decided that Ms. McCusker had inaccurately raised alarms about the Aug. 12 date to try to force their hand.

In Bedminster with Mr. Trump, Mr. Mulvaney finally reached the president and the answer was clear: Mr. Trump wanted the freeze kept in place. In Washington, the whistle-blower submitted his report that same day.

Inside the administration, pressure was mounting on Mr. Trump to reverse himself.

Backed by a memo saying the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department all wanted the aid released, Mr. Bolton made a personal appeal to Mr. Trump on Aug. 16, but was rebuffed.

On Aug. 28, Politico published a story reporting that the assistance to Ukraine had been frozen. After more than two months, the issue, the topic of fiery internal debate, was finally public.

Mr. Bolton’s relationship with the president had been deteriorating for months, and he would leave the White House weeks later, but on this front he had powerful internal allies.

On a sunny, late-August day, Mr. Bolton, Mr. Esper and Mr. Pompeo arrayed themselves around the Resolute desk in the Oval Office to present a united front, the leaders of the president’s national security team seeking to convince him face to face that freeing up the money for Ukraine was the right thing to do. One by one they made their case.

“This is in America’s interest,” Mr. Bolton argued, according to one official briefed on the gathering.

“This defense relationship, we have gotten some really good benefits from it,” Mr. Esper added, noting that most of the money was being spent on military equipment made in the United States.

Mr. Trump responded that he did not believe Mr. Zelensky’s promises of reform. He emphasized his view that corruption remained endemic and repeated his position that European nations needed to do more for European defense.

“Ukraine is a corrupt country,” the president said. “We are pissing away our money.”

The aid remained blocked. On Aug. 31, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, arranged a call with Mr. Trump. Mr. Johnson had been told days earlier by Mr. Sondland that the aid would be unblocked only if the Ukrainians gave Mr. Trump the investigations he wanted.

When Mr. Johnson asked Mr. Trump directly if the aid was contingent on getting a commitment to pursue the investigations, Mr. Johnson later said, Mr. Trump replied, amid a string of expletives, that there was no such demand and he would never do such a thing.

Around the same time, White House lawyers informed Mr. Trump about the whistle-blower’s complaint regarding his pressure campaign. It is not clear how much detail the lawyers provided the president about the details of the complaint, which noted the aid freeze.

Mr. Trump was scheduled to travel to Poland on Sept. 1 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, and had planned to get together with Mr. Zelensky. Some administration officials hoped meeting the new Ukrainian president in person would change Mr. Trump’s mind.

But a hurricane was bearing down on the United States, and Mr. Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place. When Mr. Zelensky raised the issue with the vice president, Mr. Pence said he should speak with Mr. Trump.

Behind the scenes in Warsaw, Mr. Sondland, the American envoy who was Mr. Trump’s point person on getting the Ukrainians to agree to the investigations, had a blunter message. Until the Ukrainians publicly announced the investigations, he told Mr. Yermak, the Zelensky adviser, they should not expect to get the military aid. (Mr. Yermak has questioned Mr. Sondland’s account.)

By late summer, top lawyers at the budget office were developing a proposed legal justification for the hold, based in part on conversations with White House lawyers as well as the Justice Department.

Their argument was that lifting the hold would undermine Mr. Trump’s negotiating position in his efforts to fight corruption in Ukraine.

The president, the lawyers believed, could ignore the requirements of the Impoundment Control Act and continue to hold the aid by asserting constitutional commander in chief powers that give him authority over diplomacy. He could do so, they believed, if he determined that, based on existing circumstances, releasing the money would undermine military or diplomatic efforts.

But divisions within the administration continued to widen; Mr. Bolton was opposed to using an argument proffered by administration lawyers to block the funding. And pressure from Congress was intensifying. Mr. Johnson and another influential Republican, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, were both pushing for the aid to be released.

On a call with Mr. Portman on Sept. 11, Mr. Trump repeated his familiar refrain about other nations not doing enough to support Ukraine.

“Sure, I agree with you,” Mr. Portman responded, according to an aide who described the exchange. “But we should not hold that against Ukraine. We need to release these funds.”

Democrats in the House were gearing up to limit Mr. Trump’s power to hold up the money to Ukraine, and the chairmen of three House committees had also announced on Sept. 9 that they were opening an investigation.

Still, White House officials did not expect anything to change, especially since Mr. Trump had repeatedly rejected the advice of his national security team.

But then, just as suddenly as the hold was imposed, it was lifted. Mr. Trump, apparently unwilling to wage a public battle, told Mr. Portman he would let the money go.

White House aides rushed to notify their counterparts at the Pentagon and elsewhere. The freeze had been lifted. The money could be spent. Get it out the door, they were told.

The debate would now begin as to why the hold was lifted, with Democrats confident they knew the answer.

“I have no doubt about why the president allowed the assistance to go forward,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “He got caught.”

Adam Goldman, Edward Wong and Peter Baker contributed reporting.

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Rick Gates, Ex-Trump Aide and Key Witness for Mueller, Is Sentenced to 45 Days in Jail

Westlake Legal Group 17dc-gates1-facebookJumbo Rick Gates, Ex-Trump Aide and Key Witness for Mueller, Is Sentenced to 45 Days in Jail United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Stone, Roger J Jr Special Prosecutors (Independent Counsel) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2016 Mueller, Robert S III Manafort, Paul J Gates, Richard W III (1972- ) Frauds and Swindling Craig, Gregory B

WASHINGTON — Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign aide who helped bring down two former advisers to President Trump, was sentenced on Tuesday to 45 days in jail and a $20,000 fine for his part in a criminal financial scheme and for lying to federal investigators.

Mr. Gates, 47, can serve the jail time intermittently, such as on weekends. He was also sentenced to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service. Mr. Gates had hoped to be spared a prison term in exchange for his extensive cooperation with the government after pleading guilty in February 2018.

“I greatly regret the mistakes I have made and I have worked hard to honor my commitment to make amends,” he told Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia.

Sentencing guidelines recommended that Mr. Gates, who was a deputy campaign chairman in 2016 and went on to help manage Mr. Trump’s inauguration, serve a prison term of 46 to 57 months. But the guidelines are only advisory.

Prosecutors, who did not oppose Mr. Gates’s request for probation, strongly urged the judge to take into account what they called Mr. Gates’s “extraordinary” efforts to help investigators on a variety of fronts, including with inquiries that remain secret.

“He wholeheartedly held up his end of the bargain,” said Molly Gaston, an assistant United States attorney. She described his decision to cooperate just a few months after he was indicted as “a turning point” for the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Thomas C. Green, Mr. Gates’s lawyer, called his client’s cooperation over nearly two years “an amazing effort at redemption.”

Legal experts said the fact that prosecutors did not oppose probation sent a strong signal to Judge Jackson that the government did not want Mr. Gates to end up behind bars.

“Probation is a very generous break, but it sounds like his cooperation has been extraordinary,” said Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former federal prosecutor who observed one trial in which Mr. Gates testified for the government.

Judge Jackson noted that she has overseen two trials in which Mr. Gates provided evidence for the government.

“He came across to me as extremely candid,” she said. He accepted guilt for his own crimes without hesitation, she said, and did not embroider his testimony in an attempt to win favor with the government.

“He didn’t come across as some kind of prosecution puppet,” she said.

Securing the cooperation of Mr. Gates was considered a coup for the special counsel’s team, whose investigation bedeviled Mr. Trump for nearly two years before it ended last spring. Two key members of Mr. Mueller’s team, Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres, attended the sentencing. Mr. Weissmann shook hands with Mr. Gates in the courtroom before the hearing began.

Mr. Green told Judge Jackson that F.B.I. agents were also in the courtroom. “I am quite certain they are here to acknowledge the genuine contributions that Mr. Gates made to their continuing investigations,” he said.

Mr. Gates testified in two major trials that sprang from Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. Ms. Gaston said his testimony was critical to the government’s case against Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is now serving a prison term of more than seven years for tax fraud, bank fraud and other crimes.

She said that Mr. Gates’s testimony also provided important context for jurors during the trial of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend who is awaiting sentencing on a conviction of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

Mr. Gates also testified against Gregory B. Craig, a well-known Washington lawyer who was acquitted on charges of deceiving federal authorities about his work with Mr. Manafort in Ukraine. Judge Jackson oversaw the trials of both Mr. Stone and Mr. Craig, as well as one of the two criminal cases against Mr. Manafort.

According to court filings, Mr. Gates met with F.B.I. agents and prosecutors roughly 50 times and provided information that was used in more than a dozen search warrants. His lawyer said he was interviewed for more than 500 hours.

“Gates’s cooperation has been steadfast despite the fact that the government has asked for his assistance in high-profile matters against powerful individuals in the midst of a particularly turbulent environment,” the prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum.

Ms. Gaston said that Mr. Gates withstood pressure from Mr. Manafort not to plead guilty, including assurances “that there would be a defense fund if Mr. Gates decided not to plead.” She also said that Mr. Gates’s wife is suffering from a serious illness, and that he is the primary caregiver for their four children.

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Rick Gates, Ex-Trump Aide and Key Witness for Mueller, to Be Sentenced

Westlake Legal Group 17dc-gates1-facebookJumbo Rick Gates, Ex-Trump Aide and Key Witness for Mueller, to Be Sentenced United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Stone, Roger J Jr Special Prosecutors (Independent Counsel) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2016 Mueller, Robert S III Manafort, Paul J Gates, Richard W III (1972- ) Frauds and Swindling Craig, Gregory B

WASHINGTON — Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign aide who helped bring down two former advisers to President Trump, was sentenced on Tuesday to 45 days in jail and a $20,000 fine for his part in a criminal financial scheme and for lying to federal investigators.

Mr. Gates, 47, can serve the jail time intermittently, such as on weekends. He was also sentenced to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service. Mr. Gates had hoped to be spared a prison term in exchange for his extensive cooperation with the government after pleading guilty in February 2018.

“I greatly regret the mistakes I have made and I have worked hard to honor my commitment to make amends,” he told Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia.

Sentencing guidelines recommended that Mr. Gates, who was a deputy campaign chairman in 2016 and went on to help manage Mr. Trump’s inauguration, serve a prison term of 46 to 57 months. But the guidelines are only advisory.

Prosecutors, who did not oppose Mr. Gates’s request for probation, strongly urged the judge to take into account what they called Mr. Gates’s “extraordinary” efforts to help investigators on a variety of fronts, including with inquiries that remain secret.

“He wholeheartedly held up his end of the bargain,” said Molly Gaston, an assistant United States attorney. She described his decision to cooperate just a few months after he was indicted as “a turning point” for the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Thomas C. Green, Mr. Gates’s lawyer, called his client’s cooperation over nearly two years “an amazing effort at redemption.”

Legal experts said the fact that prosecutors did not oppose probation sent a strong signal to Judge Jackson that the government did not want Mr. Gates to end up behind bars.

“Probation is a very generous break, but it sounds like his cooperation has been extraordinary,” said Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former federal prosecutor who observed one trial in which Mr. Gates testified for the government.

Judge Jackson noted that she has overseen two trials in which Mr. Gates provided evidence for the government.

“He came across to me as extremely candid,” she said. He accepted guilt for his own crimes without hesitation, she said, and did not embroider his testimony in an attempt to win favor with the government.

“He didn’t come across as some kind of prosecution puppet,” she said.

Securing the cooperation of Mr. Gates was considered a coup for the special counsel’s team, whose investigation bedeviled Mr. Trump for nearly two years before it ended last spring. Two key members of Mr. Mueller’s team, Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres, attended the sentencing. Mr. Weissmann shook hands with Mr. Gates in the courtroom before the hearing began.

Mr. Green told Judge Jackson that F.B.I. agents were also in the courtroom. “I am quite certain they are here to acknowledge the genuine contributions that Mr. Gates made to their continuing investigations,” he said.

Mr. Gates testified in two major trials that sprang from Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. Ms. Gaston said his testimony was critical to the government’s case against Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is now serving a prison term of more than seven years for tax fraud, bank fraud and other crimes.

She said that Mr. Gates’s testimony also provided important context for jurors during the trial of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend who is awaiting sentencing on a conviction of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

Mr. Gates also testified against Gregory B. Craig, a well-known Washington lawyer who was acquitted on charges of deceiving federal authorities about his work with Mr. Manafort in Ukraine. Judge Jackson oversaw the trials of both Mr. Stone and Mr. Craig, as well as one of the two criminal cases against Mr. Manafort.

According to court filings, Mr. Gates met with F.B.I. agents and prosecutors roughly 50 times and provided information that was used in more than a dozen search warrants. His lawyer said he was interviewed for more than 500 hours.

“Gates’s cooperation has been steadfast despite the fact that the government has asked for his assistance in high-profile matters against powerful individuals in the midst of a particularly turbulent environment,” the prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum.

Ms. Gaston said that Mr. Gates withstood pressure from Mr. Manafort not to plead guilty, including assurances “that there would be a defense fund if Mr. Gates decided not to plead.” She also said that Mr. Gates’s wife is suffering from a serious illness, and that he is the primary caregiver for their four children.

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Withering Criticism of F.B.I. as Watchdog Presents Russia Inquiry Findings

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s inspector general on Wednesday painted a bleak portrait of the F.B.I. as a dysfunctional agency that severely mishandled its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation, but told lawmakers he had no evidence that the mistakes were intentional or undertaken out of political bias rather than “gross incompetence and negligence.”

While Democrats emphasized that the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, had debunked President Trump’s accusations that the F.B.I. conspired to overthrow his presidency, Mr. Horowitz insisted that his report was no exoneration, citing the serious errors, omissions and misleading statements he found in court wiretap filings.

“It doesn’t vindicate anybody at the F.B.I. who touched this, including the leadership,” Mr. Horowitz told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While Democrats and Republicans clung to their political talking points, lawmakers on both sides also agreed that the surveillance problems Mr. Horowitz uncovered were severe. Several suggested that Congress should amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to tighten permissions for national-security wiretapping.

Since it was released on Monday, Mr. Horowitz’s report has largely been interpreted through a political lens. Because it debunked Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories and concluded that investigators had a legitimate and lawful basis to open the inquiry, some — like the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey — have portrayed it as vindication.

But Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the Republican chairman of the committee, argued that the most important finding was instead the portrayal of a systemic and cultural failure of accountability at the F.B.I. that permitted grievous mistakes to make their way into filings seeking court permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

Mr. Graham opened the hearing by acknowledging that the government of Russia — not Ukraine — sought to interfere with the 2016 election, and he did not quarrel with Mr. Horowitz’s finding that the F.B.I. had a legitimate basis to open a full counterintelligence investigation into links between Russia and people associated with the Trump campaign.

But he portrayed the wiretapping of Mr. Page as dubious and said it should have stopped after January 2017, when the F.B.I. had reason to lose confidence in evidence it used to obtain the initial court order targeting him. Mr. Horowitz’s findings about the wiretap applications should disturb all Americans, no matter their political leanings or the motivations behind the F.B.I. officials’ actions, he said.

“My goal is to make sure that people, when this is over — whether you like Trump, hate Trump, don’t care about Trump — you look at this as more than a few irregularities,” Mr. Graham said. “If this becomes a few irregularities in America, then God help us all.”

The bureau first obtained court permission to wiretap Mr. Page in October 2016, and obtained three extensions of that order in 2017. Mr. Horowitz’s report found lapses in all four filings.

In some cases, F.B.I. officials working on the investigation, called Crossfire Hurricane, selectively cited evidence, telling the Justice Department information that made Mr. Carter look suspicious and omitting materials that cut the other way. The department passed that misleading portrait onto the court.

For example, the filings omitted that Mr. Page had told the C.I.A. about some of his meetings with Russians through the years, disclosures that made those encounters look less suspicious. Mr. Horowitz found that an F.B.I. lawyer misled a colleague as they prepared a wiretap renewal application, altering an email in a way that prevented the court from learning about Mr. Page’s dealings with the C.I.A.

And in January 2017, the F.B.I. interviewed a source for Christopher Steele, the British former intelligence agent who compiled a dossier of unverified claims about Mr. Trump and Russia that was used to win the warrant. The interview raised serious doubts about Mr. Steele’s material, but the bureau left that out of its renewal applications, telling the court only that it had found the source to be cooperative and credible — creating a misleading impression.

“There is no planet on which I think this report indicates that things were O.K. within the F.B.I.,” said Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah.

Republicans also argued that the failings should be viewed through the lens of text messages in which F.B.I. officials expressed political opposition to Mr. Trump, challenging Mr. Horowitz’s conclusion that he had found no documentary or testimonial evidence of an anti-Trump plot at the bureau.

“It looks like they were trying to skate along the edges and get away with something,” said Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, who derisively labeled the investigators the “Misfire Hurricane” team.

“I can’t imagine they did it than any other reason than a political motivation,” he added.

Mr. Horowitz emphasized that while he found no evidence that the errors and omissions in the surveillance materials were intentional, he also said he was unsatisfied with the explanations for the mistakes — such as that officials were busy with other investigative tasks. He noted that he could not read people’s minds to learn their motivations.

Westlake Legal Group fbi-ig-report-document-1575915185139-articleLarge Withering Criticism of F.B.I. as Watchdog Presents Russia Inquiry Findings Wiretapping and Other Eavesdropping Devices and Methods United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Surveillance of Citizens by Government Steele, Christopher (1964- ) Senate Committee on the Judiciary Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2016 Page, Carter Justice Department Inspectors General Horowitz, Michael E Graham, Lindsey Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Federal Bureau of Investigation Espionage and Intelligence Services Durham, John H Comey, James B

Read the Inspector General’s Report on the Russia Investigation

The Justice Department’s inspector general released this report into the early stages of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.

Some liberal lawmakers who have long sought to impose tighter controls on government surveillance powers welcomed conservative interest in enacting such legislation. Among them was Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who noted that he introduced an unsuccessful bill to tighten FISA rules in 2013.

“I hope that we can make use of your expertise in this area and I hope my Republican colleagues who have been so vocal and vehement about the dangers of potential FISA abuses will join me looking forward and reform of that court,” he told the inspector general.

Mr. Horowitz also clarified why a prosecutor conducting his own review of the Russia investigation had disputed findings in his report.

The F.B.I. opened the investigation as a “full” counterintelligence inquiry, and John H. Durham, the United States attorney investigating the Russia inquiry at the behest of Attorney General William P. Barr, believed it should have been a “preliminary” one, Mr. Horowitz said.

Mr. Durham had mentioned the disagreement in a highly unusual statement after Mr. Horowitz’s report was released but had not detailed it. Mr. Horowitz said that he stood by his conclusion and that neither Mr. Durham nor Mr. Barr has presented any information that changed his mind.

Mr. Durham did say that the F.B.I. had sufficient information “to support the preliminary investigation,” Mr. Horowitz said.

Under F.B.I. standards, agents can open a preliminary investigation on “any allegation or information” that indicates possible criminal activity or threats to national security. Opening a full investigation requires “an articulable factual basis” that “reasonably indicates” that a crime or security threat exists.

The F.B.I.’s head of counterintelligence at the time, Bill Priestap, opened the Russia investigation in 2016 after WikiLeaks began publishing stolen Democratic emails believed to have been hacked by Russia, and after the bureau learned that a Trump campaign aide suggested that the Russians wanted to coordinate the release of information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Republican senators also expressed alarm at the hearing that an F.B.I. agent collected information about Mr. Trump and Michael T. Flynn, a top adviser at the time, while briefing them on counterintelligence risks to the Trump campaign in August 2016.

The agent thought the briefing would be a good opportunity to make himself familiar with Mr. Flynn, who was one of the four Trump associates under investigation and might need to be questioned later. In the days afterward, the F.B.I. agent wrote a memo based on his observations of Mr. Trump and Mr. Flynn and added it to the Russia investigation file. (Mr. Flynn eventually pleaded guilty to lying months later to the same F.B.I. agent about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.)

The episode highlighted a key complaint by Trump allies about the Russia inquiry: that investigators improperly intruded on the campaign. Though Mr. Horowitz did not uncover any instances of agents flouting policy in the investigative steps they took, critics have called for the F.B.I. to reconsider its lack of restrictions on opening investigations that involve scrutiny of constitutionally protected activities, such as political campaigns.

Asked whether the move was typical, Mr. Horowitz said there was no policy forbidding it, then mentioned that the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, had insisted that it would “not happen going forward.

“I think it’s pretty clear what his state of mind is on that: This should not have occurred,” Mr. Horowitz said.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Washington

Westlake Legal Group merlin_165698781_cc6562b6-531d-41ba-900d-c09999d0ac8a-facebookJumbo Lies, Damned Lies and Washington United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Federal Bureau of Investigation Bush, George W Biden, Joseph R Jr Afghanistan War (2001- ) Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — There are days in Washington lately when it feels like the truth itself is on trial. Monday was one of those days.

An impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill presented radically competing versions of reality. An F.B.I. inspector general report punctured longstanding conspiracy theories even as it provided ammunition for others. And a trove of documents exposed years of government deception about the war in Afghanistan.

While truth was deemed an endangered species in the nation’s capital long before President Trump’s arrival, it has become axiomatic in the era of “alternative facts” that each person or party entertains only their own preferred variant, resisting contrary information. Rarely has that been on display as starkly as on Monday, underscoring the deep distrust that many Americans harbor toward their leaders and institutions.

“We’re in a dangerous moment,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and a vocal critic of Mr. Trump. “The danger is people come to believe that nobody is giving them the facts and reality, and everybody can make up their own script and their own narrative.”

In such a situation, he added, “truth as a concept gets obliterated because people’s investment in certain narratives is so deep that facts simply won’t get in the way.”

Mr. Trump, whose myriad false statements and public lies have been extensively cataloged, hardly caused this phenomenon by himself, but he exemplifies it better than anyone else. He is the Rorschach test of truth, the guidepost by which people choose their story line. Most Americans tell pollsters that they do not believe what he says, but a significant minority considers him a truth-teller in a broader sense, saying out loud what others will not about a broken system he vows to fix, even if he does not hew to particular facts.

And in some ways, his what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach makes him more transparent about his motives and feelings than any president in generations. Rather than hide his more base reactions and ambitions, however raw and unseemly, he flaunts them and invites his supporters to share them.

With the help of social media, friendly news outlets and congressional Republicans willing to follow his lead, he crafts a message that finds its audience.

He took office at a time when trust was already a dwindling commodity in American life. Much of the public may not trust Mr. Trump, according to surveys, but it likewise does not trust his opponents all that much either — or the news media that he complains is out to get him. Americans have been down on banks, big business, the criminal justice system and the health care system for years, and fewer have confidence in churches or organized religion now than at any point since Gallup started asking in 1973.

“The story of the past half-century is the steady degradation of trust in the institutions and gatekeepers of American life,” said Ben Domenech, the founder of The Federalist, a conservative news site. “Everything from politics to faith to sports has been revealed as corrupted or corruptible. And every mismanaged war, failed hurricane response, botched investigation and doping scandal furthers this view.”

While a Quinnipiac Poll last spring found that Americans believed the news media more than Mr. Trump by a margin of 52 percent to 35 percent, other surveys showed a crisis among everyday people distinguishing fact from fiction in public life. Nearly two-thirds of Americans in a poll released last month by The Associated Press, the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and USAFacts said they often came across one-sided information, and 47 percent said they had difficulty knowing if the information were true.

The documents on Afghanistan made public on Monday could easily deepen that sense of suspicion. Some 2,000 pages of secret notes and interview transcripts compiled as part of a lessons-learned project and released to The Washington Post after a court fight showed that the government had misled the public about the war since its early months.

As Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who was an adviser on Afghanistan to Mr. Bush and President Barack Obama, admitted in a secret interview included in the documents, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.” But neither administration admitted that to the public. John F. Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, told The Post that the documents showed “the American people have constantly been lied to.”

The F.B.I. inspector general report released on Monday typified the choose-your-own-reality nature of Washington these days. The report debunked Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories about the origins of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, finding no “political bias or improper motivation” in opening the inquiry. But the inspector general also found that the bureau made serious mistakes in seeking a surveillance warrant.

Former F.B.I. officials took the report as vindication because it dispelled the many unfounded claims Mr. Trump and his supporters advanced about the bureau even as they fretted that too many people would still believe the president’s assertions. “There is a risk we’ve become so numb to the lying that we move onto the next outrage,” the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, who was fired by Mr. Trump, said on CNN.

Likewise, the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing on Monday offered conflicting versions to suit either side’s predilections — either the story of an out-of-control president abusing his power to pressure a foreign government to help him take down his domestic rivals or a president who just happened to be concerned about corruption in faraway Ukraine and did not tie American aid to his political priorities even though some of his own advisers thought he did.

Mr. Trump’s insistence that he did nothing wrong has forced at least some Republicans to accept and promote his account even when it contrasts with available evidence. A Republican lawyer presenting the case to the committee on Monday went so far as to say that the evidence did not show that Mr. Trump asked Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. during a now-famous July 25 phone call even though the White House’s own reconstructed transcript quoted him asking his counterpart to “look into it.”

Mr. Trump is hardly the first dissembler in the White House. Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon were famously talented liars, and Bill Clinton was the first president ever found by a court to have testified falsely under oath. But what Mr. Trump lacks in finesse, he makes up in volume. The Post’s fact-checking unit counted more than 13,000 false or misleading statements by Mr. Trump as of October.

The trials of truth have been a consistent theme of his presidency since its first day when he overstated his inaugural crowd size and within days falsely claimed that at least three million immigrants voted illegally against him, costing him the popular vote.

The culture of dishonesty has resulted in multiple people once in his inner circle pleading guilty or being convicted of lying to the authorities, including his onetime national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; his former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen; several campaign aides; and most recently, his longtime associate and sometime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., who was found guilty last month in a courthouse just across from the Capitol.

Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, made clear during testimony before Congress in September that he felt perfectly free to lie on television because, in his view, the news media itself was dishonest. “I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever, just like they have no obligation to cover me honestly, and they do it inaccurately all the time,” he told lawmakers.

The president and his allies have sought to turn the tables on Democrats by accusing them of being the dishonest ones. Mr. Trump’s favorite target is Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which conducted the Ukraine inquiry in response to a C.I.A. whistle-blower.

Mr. Trump, who regularly accuses critics of whatever they have accused him of, has taken to calling the congressman “Shifty Schiff” and likewise complains that the parody he gave of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call to make a point was dishonest even though Mr. Schiff made clear it was not a verbatim rendering.

Democrats dismissed the attacks on Mr. Schiff as a false-equivalence effort to distract from the president’s own conduct. But they did not have Mr. Schiff present the evidence on Monday, leaving it to a lawyer instead, avoiding the distraction.

The attacks on Mr. Schiff and other Democrats give Mr. Trump and his supporters their own counternarrative amplified on conservative television and social media. By the end of Monday, each side took what it wanted from the day’s developments and drew the conclusions that best reflected its views.

“In an atomized age,” said Mr. Domenech, “that allows individuals to retreat to their own story lines, fantasies and tales in which their tribe is always good or under attack, and the other always craven and duplicitous.”

For Mr. Trump, that is a truth he can live with.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Another Inquiry Doesn’t Back Up Trump’s Charges. So, on to the Next.

WASHINGTON — President Trump and his allies spent months promising that a report on the origins of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation would be a kind of Rosetta Stone for Trump-era conspiracy enthusiasts — the key to unlocking the secrets of a government plot to keep Mr. Trump from being elected in 2016.

On that point, the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, did not deliver, even as it found serious problems with how F.B.I. officials justified the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide to a federal court.

But by the time it was released, the president, his attorney general, his supporters in Congress and the conservative news media had already declared victory and decamped for the next battle in the wider war to convince Americans of the enemies at home and abroad arrayed against the Trump presidency.

They followed a script they have used for nearly three years: Engage in a choreographed campaign of presidential tweets, Fox News appearances and fiery congressional testimony to create expectations about finding proof of a “deep state” campaign against Mr. Trump. And then, when the proof does not emerge, skew the results and prepare for the next opportunity to execute the playbook.

That opportunity has arrived in the form of an investigation by a Connecticut prosecutor ordered this year by Attorney General William P. Barr — and the president and his allies are now predicting it will be the one to deliver damning evidence that the F.B.I., C.I.A. and even close American allies conspired against Mr. Trump in the 2016 election.

Westlake Legal Group fbi-ig-report-document-1575915185139-articleLarge Another Inquiry Doesn’t Back Up Trump’s Charges. So, on to the Next. United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Republican Party Presidential Election of 2016 Inspectors General Horowitz, Michael E Federal Bureau of Investigation Durham, John H Barr, William P

Read the Inspector General’s Report on the Russia Investigation

The Justice Department’s inspector general released this report into the early stages of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.

Mr. Barr made clear his thoughts on the inspector general’s report on Monday in a blistering public statement in which he described how the F.B.I. in 2016 “launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions” and carried out surveillance “deep into President Trump’s administration.”

He chose to leave out the fact that the inspector general had found that the F.B.I. had solid reason to open its investigation, choosing instead to say that in his view there was insufficient reason “to justify the steps taken.”

The attorney general’s comments echoed his statements after the conclusion of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. In a significant political victory for Mr. Trump, the special counsel found that there was no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and did not make a judgment about whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice.

But Mr. Barr went further, suggesting that the president had been a victim of America’s law enforcement machinery and pledging to investigate the origins of the inquiry.

The man he has asked to lead that investigation, John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Hartford, Conn., chummed the waters on Monday by releasing a highly unusual statement saying he disagreed with some of the findings of the inspector general’s report and had a mandate to conduct a broader, more thorough investigation.

Mr. Durham is carrying out his inquiry in the heat of a presidential campaign, raising the prospect that Mr. Trump could seize on his findings should they come out in the months or weeks before the 2020 election.

The strategy on display Monday was first used by the president and his allies in March 2017, when Mr. Trump tweeted that the Obama administration had used the F.B.I. to wiretap Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

The tweet caused a sensation among the president’s supporters, and Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican who was then the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pledged to investigate. Months later, the Justice Department told a federal court that the claim was unsubstantiated, but the damage was done.

Mr. Trump eventually told Sean Hannity of Fox News that the claim in the tweet was based on “a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom.” The fact that it became such a controversy, the president brazenly asserted, was actually evidence of F.B.I. misdeeds.

“If they weren’t doing anything wrong, it would’ve just gotten by,” he said. “Nobody would have cared about it.”

In early 2018, Republicans fueled speculation that the release of a document written by Mr. Nunes would prove widespread F.B.I. surveillance abuses during the 2016 campaign and show how the bureau opened its Russia investigation based on a dossier of uncorroborated information provided by a former British spy, Christopher Steele.

Mr. Trump’s allies used the F.B.I.’s objections to the release of the Nunes memo to promote a Twitter campaign —#releasethememo — and in February of last year Mr. Trump ordered it declassified.

It landed mostly with a thud, and it even ended up debunking the claim that the dossier was the origin of the F.B.I..’s Russia investigation. The Nunes memo confirmed press reporting — that the investigation began after a Trump campaign aide told an Australian diplomat that the Russian government had obtained thousands of emails from Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

But the president’s allies soon found another opportunity: the Justice Department’s announcement of an investigation into the origins of the Russia inquiry led by Mr. Horowitz. It would be this investigation, they predicted, that would reveal the depths of the F.B.I.’s perfidy.

During a congressional hearing in September, one Republican lawmaker asked Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, where he thought the “whole lie of Russian collusion started.”

Mr. Lewandowski replied that he expected Mr. Horowitz would get the answer — that it “began at the highest levels of the government and was perpetrated through the intelligence community to come up with a narrative of why Hillary Clinton lost the campaign as opposed to the real narrative, why Donald Trump won the campaign.”

Mr. Horowitz’s report made no such conclusions, even if it did criticize F.B.I. officials for serial mistakes in their applications to carry out surveillance of a Trump campaign aide.

“That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, handpicked teams on one of the most sensitive F.B.I. investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the F.B.I., and that F.B.I. officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the F.B.I. chain of command’s management,” the report said.

But the report did not find a widespread, anti-Trump conspiracy inside the F.B.I., and it even contained damning information about how some agents working on the case hoped that Mr. Trump would win a surprise victory over Mrs. Clinton.

Polls show that the relentless, White House-led assault on America’s law enforcement machinery has had an impact — especially among Republicans — but the returns might be diminishing.

In polling by the Pew Research Center last year, less than half of Republicans had a favorable view of the F.B.I., a sharp decline from previous years. In a September poll, however, two-thirds of Republicans again said they have a favorable view of the F.B.I.

It is uncertain when Mr. Durham will conclude his investigation, but Mr. Barr has given him a wide aperture to examine the work of the law enforcement and intelligence officials in 2016, and even to examine whether close American allies collaborated in an effort to elect Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham traveled to Italy to examine whether the Italian government played a role in setting up a meeting between a Russia-linked professor and a Trump campaign aide, and Mr. Trump pressed Ukraine’s president and Australia’s prime minister to help Mr. Durham.

There is no indication that Mr. Durham will exhume any information that will fundamentally change the understanding of what happened in 2016. But for Mr. Trump and his allies, the final conclusions might ultimately be less important than the months spent speculating about what those conclusions might be.

Speaking to reporters in London last week, Mr. Trump played down expectations about the Horowitz inquiry — indicating it was only an appetizer for what’s to come.

“I do think the big report to wait for is going to be the Durham report,” he said.

“That’s the one that people are really waiting for.”

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