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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates"

President’s Campaign Calls Sessions ‘Delusional’ for Tying Himself to Trump

Westlake Legal Group 02trump-sessions-facebookJumbo President’s Campaign Calls Sessions ‘Delusional’ for Tying Himself to Trump Tuberville, Tommy Trump, Donald J Sessions, Jefferson B III Senate Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Republican Party Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Endorsements Alabama

President Trump’s campaign is demanding that Jeff Sessions, the former Attorney General, stop attaching himself to the president in his effort to win back his old Senate seat in Alabama, after Mr. Sessions distributed a campaign mailer that mentioned the president 22 times.

In an unusual letter to the Sessions campaign, which was obtained by The New York Times, the Trump campaign called Mr. Sessions’ claim that he is the president’s top supporter “delusional.”

“The Trump campaign has learned that your U.S. Senate campaign is circulating mailers like the one I have enclosed, in which you misleadingly promote your connections to and ‘support’ of President Trump,” Michael Glassner, the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, wrote in the letter, which was sent on Tuesday.

Mr. Trump has endorsed Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach, over Mr. Sessions in the runoff to be the Republican nominee taking on the incumbent Democrat, Senator Doug Jones, in the fall. The runoff is currently scheduled for July 14.

But Mr. Sessions, who was the first attorney general in the Trump administration, has repeatedly invoked Mr. Trump throughout the campaign, even after Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Tuberville.

“The enclosed letter and donor form in fact mention President Trump by name 22 times. The letter even makes the delusional assertion that you are President ‘Trump’s #1 supporter,’” Mr. Glassner wrote.

“We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the president supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary runoff election. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The letter goes on to make clear that Mr. Trump and his campaign “unambiguously endorse Tommy Tuberville,” and concludes, “President Trump and his campaign do not support your efforts to return to the U.S. Senate.”

Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions’ campaign, said the fund-raising letter was sent on March 6, four days before Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Tuberville on Twitter.

“Alabamans don’t like to be told what to do,” Ms. Gitcho said, adding, “They have shown that repeatedly. Washington told them to vote for Luther Strange over Roy Moore, they disobeyed. Washington told them to vote for Roy Moore over Doug Jones, they disobeyed. They are a hardheaded and independent lot.” She said that Mr. Sessions “is indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda” and “no one can change that.”

Mr. Trump has been focused on the Alabama Senate race, consulting in recent weeks about it with his political advisers Bill Stepien, Justin Clark and the White House political director, Brian Jack, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Trump has a unique level of anger at his former attorney general. In 2017, Mr. Sessions surprised Mr. Trump by recusing himself from the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.

That recusal led to a series of actions by Mr. Trump that resulted in the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Trump, according to a half-dozen current and former advisers, viewed Mr. Sessions’ recusal as an act of disloyalty and a political form of original sin, from which he never recovered.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Sessions in late 2018.

In the context of his campaign mail pieces, Mr. Sessions and his team may be acting in ways that are more political than delusional. Highlighting a connection to Mr. Trump could help Mr. Sessions with voters in Alabama who haven’t been following the president’s yearslong denigration of the former attorney general and senator, who at one point was the first statewide elected official to support Mr. Trump’s presidential bid.

Despite the vitriol that Mr. Trump has aimed at him on Twitter and at campaign rallies, Mr. Sessions has never publicly criticized the president, the way many former administration officials have.

And trying to create the impression of an endorsement, or support, of a politician popular with one’s own party, when one hasn’t actually earned it, is a tactic that candidates in both parties use often. Most recently, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is running for president, ran a television ad with a voice-over from President Barack Obama that seemed to imply that Mr. Obama was throwing his support to Mr. Sanders. Mr. Obama has not endorsed any candidate in the presidential race.

“They want somebody who is going to fight for them. And they will find it in Bernie,” Mr. Obama says in the ad, without context. “That’s right, feel the Bern.” The ad rankled former Obama aides, but none of them went so far as to send Mr. Sanders a cease and desist letter.

But those advertisements involved a person — Mr. Obama — who hadn’t made an endorsement. And, yet, advisers to Mr. Trump often note that the president agreed to stay out of the primary despite his desire to attack Mr. Sessions, and that Mr. Sessions was being blatantly misleading given the president has made his choice clear.

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Facebook, Google and Twitter Struggle to Handle November’s Election

Westlake Legal Group 12election-tech-facebookJumbo Facebook, Google and Twitter Struggle to Handle November’s Election Zuckerberg, Mark E YouTube.com United States Politics and Government twitter Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Political Advertising Online Advertising Google Inc Facebook Inc elections Cyberwarfare and Defense

SAN FRANCISCO — The day after the New Hampshire primary last month, Facebook’s security team removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran, which had posted divisive partisan messages about the U.S. election inside private Facebook groups.

Hours later, the social network learned the campaign of Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, had sidestepped its political ad process by directly paying Instagram meme accounts to post in support of his presidential bid.

That same day, a pro-Trump group called the Committee to Defend the President, which had previously run misleading Facebook ads, was found to be promoting a photo that falsely claimed to show Bernie Sanders supporters holding signs with divisive slogans such as “Illegal Aliens Deserve the Same as Our Veterans.”

Facebook, Twitter, Google and other big tech companies have spent the past three years working to avoid a repeat of 2016, when their platforms were overrun by Russian trolls and used to amplify America’s partisan divide. The internet giants have since collectively spent billions of dollars hiring staff, fortifying their systems and developing new policies to prevent election meddling.

But as the events of just one day — Feb. 12 — at Facebook showed, although the companies are better equipped to deal with the types of interference they faced in 2016, they are struggling to handle the new challenges of 2020.

Their difficulties reflect how much online threats have evolved since the 2016 election. Russia and other foreign governments once conducted online influence operations in plain sight, buying Facebook ads in rubles and tweeting in broken English, but they are now using more sophisticated tactics such as bots that are nearly impossible to distinguish from hyperpartisan Americans.

More problematic, partisan groups in the United States have borrowed Russia’s 2016 playbook to create their own propaganda and disinformation campaigns, forcing the tech companies to make tough calls about restricting the speech of American citizens. Even well-funded presidential campaigns have pushed the limits of what the platforms will allow.

“They’ve built defenses for past battles, but are they prepared for the next front in the war?” Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think tank that works to counter foreign interference campaigns, said of the tech companies. “Anytime you’re dealing with a sophisticated actor, they’re going to evolve their tactics as you evolve your defenses.”

By most accounts, the big tech companies have gotten better at stopping certain types of election meddling, such as foreign trolling operations and posts containing inaccurate voting information. But they are reluctant to referee other kinds of social media electioneering for fear of appearing to tip the scales. And their policies, often created hastily while under pressure, have proved confusing and inadequate.

Adding to the companies’ troubles is the coronavirus pandemic, which is straining their technical infrastructure, unleashing a new misinformation wave and forcing their employees to coordinate a vast election effort spanning multiple teams and government agencies from their homes.

In interviews with two dozen executives and employees at Facebook, Google and Twitter over the past few months, many described a tense atmosphere of careening from crisis to crisis to handle the newest tactics being used to sow discord and influence votes. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss sensitive internal issues.

Some Facebook and Google employees said they feared being blamed by Democrats for a Trump re-election, while others said they did not want to be seen as acting in Democrats’ favor. Privately, some said, the best-case scenario for them in November would be a landslide victory by either party, with a margin too large to be pinned on any one tech platform.

Google declined to speak publicly for this article. Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the threats of 2016 were less effective now but “we’ve seen threat actors evolving and getting better.” Twitter also said the threats were a game of “cat and mouse.”

“We’re constantly trying to stay one step ahead,” said Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter’s director of public policy.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, ordered a “lockdown” for hundreds of employees late last year.

A lockdown is Facebook-speak for a period of intense, focused effort on a high-priority project. The workers, who included engineers and policy employees, were ordered to drop other projects and build tools to prevent interference in the 2020 election, said two people with knowledge of the instructions.

For Mr. Zuckerberg, who once delegated the messy business of politics to his lieutenants, November’s election has become a personal fixation. In 2017, after the extent of Russia’s manipulation of the social network became clear, he vowed to prevent it from happening again.

“We won’t catch everyone immediately, but we can make it harder to try to interfere,” he said.

Facebook has since required anyone running U.S. political ads to submit proof of an American mailing address, and included their ads in a publicly searchable database. It has invested billions to moderate content, drawn up new policies against misinformation and manipulated media, and hired tens of thousands of safety and security workers.

In the 2018 midterm elections, those efforts resulted in a relatively scandal-free Election Day. But 2020 is presenting different challenges.

Last year, lawmakers blasted Mr. Zuckerberg for refusing to fact-check Facebook posts or take down false ads placed by political candidates; he said it would be an affront to free speech. The laissez-faire approach has been embraced by some Republicans, including President Trump, but has made Facebook unpopular among Democrats and civil rights groups.

Still, Facebook’s rank-and-file workers are cautiously optimistic. In late January, just before the Iowa caucuses, a group of employees gathered at the company’s headquarters for a party to celebrate the end of the lockdown.

For hours, they ate, drank, and watched a talent show featuring employee-led musical acts and improv comedy sketches. An Iowa state flag hung on the wall.

At one point, said two people who attended, a surprise guest entered: Mr. Zuckerberg, who stopped by to thank the team for its work.

Just after noon last Oct. 30, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, posted a string of 11 tweets to announce he was banning all political ads from the service.

“Paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” he wrote.

His zero-tolerance move was one action that Twitter and companies like Google have taken to stave off another election crisis — or at least to distance themselves from the partisan fray.

Over the past year, Twitter has introduced automated systems to detect bot activity and has taken down Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan and Saudi bots. The company also prohibited users from posting information illegally obtained through a security breach.

And this month, Twitter enforced new guidelines to label or remove deceptively edited videos from its site.

“We’re moving away from a model of waiting for a report to spotting patterns of behavior that can spot stuff before it catches fire,” Mr. Monje said.

Google, which owns YouTube, also altered its policies to prevent foreign-backed disinformation campaigns and introduced transparency measures for political ads.

The changes are evident in how the Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and the Kremlin-linked news outlet RT — two of YouTube’s most popular political newscasters in 2016 — no longer wield outsize influence on the site. Once YouTube tightened its hate speech policies, it banned Mr. Jones and other repeat offenders, and tweaked its recommendation algorithm to promote more authoritative news and fewer conspiracy theories.

Google security engineers said they were embedded in every corner of the company to look for Russian-style influence campaigns. They deliver daily threat briefings to executives and are conducting “red-team” drills to practice responding to hypothetical election-meddling scenarios, like hackers potentially manipulating the Google Maps locations of polling places on voting day.

Yet gaps remain in the tech platforms’ armor.

Government officials and former employees said Twitter’s algorithms were not reliably distinguishing between bots and humans who simply tweet like bots. Its efforts to label manipulated media have been underwhelming, said election campaigns. And some Twitter employees tracking election threats have been pulled away to triage misinformation about the coronavirus, such as false claims about miracle cures.

Threats have also emerged in unexpected places. In December, The New York Times revealed foreign spies were hiding in plain sight inside app stores from Google and Apple. Millions of users worldwide had downloaded a popular app, ToTok, which was leaking audio, photos, texts, and contacts to United Arab Emirates intelligence officials through a network of Emirati contractors.

Apple removed ToTok, but Google reinstated the app two weeks later. For six more weeks, Emirati spies continued siphoning off Google users’ data, said security experts and intelligence officials.

Google, which declined to comment on ToTok, eventually removed it from its app store last month.

Tracing interference attempts to Russia, or any other country, has become increasingly difficult.

For Facebook, Google and Twitter, the complications were clear through the evolving tactics of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the troll farm that meddled online in 2016. Its trolls once barely made any attempt to hide themselves online, with misspelled posts riddled with poor grammar.

Now the Russian group has better disguised itself, posting divisive messages stolen from American sites or publications. The trolls may now also be paying Americans to post information on their behalf, to better hide their digital tracks.

In one Facebook influence campaign in Africa last year, the Russian group appeared to pay locals to attend rallies and write favorable articles about its preferred candidates.

“Figuring out who is behind these campaigns can take months, years even,” said Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity.

To connect the dots, security executives from Twitter, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other companies said they were meeting regularly with the Department of Homeland Security, the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They were also trading intelligence and discussing threats over encrypted chat messages with one another.

“I talk to them more than I talk to my husband,” Mr. Roth said of his counterparts at Facebook, Google and other companies.

The most divisive content this year may not come from Russian trolls or Macedonian teenagers peddling fake news for clicks, but from American politicians using many of the same tactics to push their own agendas.

One chief perpetrator? The White House.

Last month, Mr. Trump and other Republicans shared a video of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, during the president’s State of the Union address. Ms. Pelosi had ripped up a copy of Mr. Trump’s speech at the end of the address. But the video was edited so it appeared as if she had torn up the speech while he honored a Tuskegee airman and military families.

A spokesman for Ms. Pelosi called for the video to be removed from Facebook and Twitter, saying it was “deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people.” But the companies said the video did not violate their policies on manipulated media.

This month, Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, shared another selectively edited video. It showed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. appearing to say, “We can only re-elect Donald Trump.” In fact, the full video showed Mr. Biden saying Mr. Trump would only get re-elected if Democrats resorted to negative campaigning.

Facebook did not remove the video. By the time Twitter labeled it as manipulated, it had been viewed more than five million times. Because of a glitch, some Twitter users did not see the label at all.

“The Biden video wasn’t manipulated, and if Nancy Pelosi didn’t want to see video of herself ripping up the speech, she shouldn’t have ripped up the speech,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump re-election campaign. He suggested that Twitter’s efforts to label the video were evidence of bias.

Democrats have also pushed the envelope to get messages out on social media. Mr. Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, which he suspended this month, caused headaches for the tech platforms, even as they took in millions of dollars to run his ads.

Among his campaign’s innovations was buying sponsored posts from influential Instagram meme accounts and paying “digital organizers” $2,500 a month to post pro-Bloomberg messages on their social media accounts. The campaign also posted a video of Mr. Bloomberg’s presidential debate performance, which had been edited to create the impression of long, awkward silences by his opponents.

Some of the tactics seemed perilously close to violating the tech companies’ rules on undisclosed political ads, manipulated media and “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” a term for networks of fake or suspicious accounts acting in concert.

Facebook and Twitter scrambled to react, hastily patching together solutions, including requiring more disclosure — or taking no action at all.

By then, the Bloomberg campaign, which declined to comment, had set a new playbook for other campaigns to follow.

“We can’t blame Russia for all our troubles,” said Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer who now researches disinformation at Stanford University. “The future of disinformation is going to be domestic.”

Inside the tech companies, people charged with protecting the election have at times clashed with those whose job is to keep lawmakers happy, partly by avoiding the appearance of partisan bias.

At Facebook, those tensions spilled out last year.

In November and December, members of Facebook’s security team clashed with the policy team, whose Washington-based leadership includes several former Republican operatives, over a network of Facebook accounts, groups and pages run by The Daily Wire, a right-wing media company started by the conservative pundit Ben Shapiro.

Facebook’s security team had found The Daily Wire and other similar networks used tactics commonly associated with disinformation networks, including coordinating messaging and posts without indicating they were centrally administered, said people with knowledge of the findings.

Some security team members wanted an expanded mandate to investigate hyperpartisan networks based in the United States, the people said. But the policy team discouraged them and made it clear that foreign influence operations took priority over domestic ones, they said.

Part of the policy team’s concern, said one employee who participated in the discussions, was that taking action against a prominent right-wing network could set off a Republican backlash.

Mr. Gleicher, of Facebook, said he did not recall tensions over The Daily Wire, adding that the investigation found the site did not meet the threshold for enforcement. He also disputed that Facebook had discouraged investigations into domestic influence operations because of possible political fallout.

“We make decisions based on behavior,” he said. “Whether it’s foreign or domestic, the question is, are they engaged in these consistent behaviors?”

The specter of partisan backlash surfaced again this month, when Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign ran Facebook ads asking people to take an “Official 2020 Congressional District Census.” In fact, the ads linked to a Trump campaign survey.

That prompted an uproar. Civil rights groups said the ads could mislead voters by suggesting they were connected to the official U.S. census.

Over a frenetic 48 hours, Facebook went into damage control. Although the social network has said it would not fact-check political ads, it also prohibits misinformation about the census.

The policy team initially decided the Trump census ads did not violate Facebook’s rules. But a day later, under fire for inaction, a senior Facebook executive reversed the call.

The ads came down, after all.

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Judge Calls Barr’s Handling of Mueller Report ‘Distorted’ and ‘Misleading’

Westlake Legal Group 05dc-mueller-facebookJumbo Judge Calls Barr’s Handling of Mueller Report ‘Distorted’ and ‘Misleading’ Walton, Reggie B United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Special Prosecutors (Independent Counsel) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Mueller, Robert S III Justice Department Freedom of Information Act Electronic Privacy Information Center BuzzFeed Inc Barr, William P Attorneys General

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday sharply criticized Attorney General William P. Barr’s handling of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, saying that Mr. Barr put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of its findings and lacked credibility on the topic.

Mr. Barr could not be trusted, Judge Reggie B. Walton said, citing “inconsistencies” between the attorney general’s statements about the report when it was secret and its actual contents that turned out to be more damaging to President Trump. Mr. Barr’s “lack of candor” called into question his “credibility and, in turn, the department’s” assurances to the court, Judge Walton said.

The judge ordered the Justice Department to privately show him the portions of the report that were censored in the publicly released version so he could independently verify the justifications for those redactions. The ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a full-text version of the report.

The differences between the report and Mr. Barr’s description of it “cause the court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller report to the contrary,” wrote Judge Walton, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

Mr. Barr’s public rollout of the Mueller report has been widely criticized. Still, it was striking to see a Republican-appointed federal judge scathingly dissect Mr. Barr’s conduct in a formal judicial ruling and declare that the sitting attorney general had so deceived the American people that he could not trust assertions made by a Justice Department under Mr. Barr’s control.

A department spokeswoman had no immediate comment. The lawsuit centers on Freedom of Information requests by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and by Jason Leopold, a BuzzFeed News reporter.

Judge Walton’s decision focuses on the period last spring between the delivery of the Mueller report to the attorney general, his publicly issued summary of it two days later that drew widespread condemnation and the release of the report itself a month later that revealed several discrepancies between the documents.

Among those Judge Walton cited: Mr. Barr’s obfuscation about the scope of the links that investigators found between the Trump campaign and Russia, and how the report documented numerous episodes that appear to meet the criteria for obstruction of justice, echoing the complaints of many critics of Mr. Barr’s summary of the report.

The attorney general issued an initial four-page letter in March 2019 — two days after receiving the 381-page Mueller report — that purported to summarize its principal conclusions. But within days, Mr. Mueller sent letters to Mr. Barr protesting that he had distorted its findings and asking him to swiftly release the report’s own summaries. Instead, Mr. Barr made the report public only weeks later, after a fuller review to black out sensitive material.

Among the issues Judge Walton flagged: Mr. Barr declared that the special counsel had not found that the Trump campaign had conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and left it at that.

But while Mr. Mueller did conclude that he found insufficient evidence to charge any Trump associates with conspiring with the Russians, Mr. Barr omitted that the special counsel had identified multiple contacts between Trump campaign officials and people with ties to the Russian government and that the campaign expected to benefit from Moscow’s interference.

Judge Walton also wrote that the special counsel “only concluded” that the investigation did not establish that the contacts rose to “coordination” because Mr. Mueller interpreted that term narrowly, requiring, in the report’s words, agreement that is “more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”

In addition, Mr. Barr told the public in March that Mr. Mueller had made no decision about whether the president obstructed justice, then pronounced Mr. Trump cleared of those suspicions.

But Mr. Barr “failed to disclose to the American public,” Judge Walton wrote, that Mr. Mueller had explained that it would be inappropriate to make a judgment while the president was still in office about whether he committed obstruction crimes. The report also said that if the evidence had cleared Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller would have said so, but he was unable to exonerate him.

“The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller report, causes the court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller report — a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller report,” Judge Walton wrote.

The judge also blasted similar “inconsistencies” in public comments made by Mr. Barr hours before he released the redacted version of the report in April.

Because of that pattern, Judge Walton wrote, he could not look away from the fact that the portions of the Mueller report that the Justice Department was withholding in the Freedom of Information Act case mirrored the deletions made under Mr. Barr’s guidance in the version of the report released in April.

That echoing, he wrote, causes “the court to question whether the redactions are self-serving and were made to support, or at the very least to not undermine, Attorney General Barr’s public statements and whether the department engaged in post-hoc rationalization to justify Attorney General Barr’s positions.”

Appointed to the Federal District Court bench in Washington in 2001, Judge Walton has presided over a variety of high-profile cases, including the perjury trial of the former baseball pitcher Roger Clemens and the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr., the onetime chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of lying in connection with the leak of the identity of a C.I.A. operative. Mr. Trump pardoned Mr. Libby in 2018.

A former prosecutor who handled drug and street crime cases, Judge Walton is known for handing down tough sentences and for being careful and methodical. He also once broke up a street brawl near the courthouse.

The Mueller ruling was not the first time that Judge Walton had criticized the actions of the Barr Justice Department. Last month, he unsealed the transcript of a September closed-door meeting with prosecutors about whether and when the department was going to charge Andrew G. McCabe, the former acting F.B.I. director whom Mr. Trump has vilified for his role in the Russia case, in connection with a leak investigation.

Noting in that September hearing that prosecutors had said to him weeks earlier that a decision about charging Mr. McCabe could come “literally within days,” Judge Walton chastised them for stringing along Mr. McCabe and noted the president’s comments about Mr. McCabe with disapproval, saying they created the appearance of a “banana republic.”

“I don’t think people like the fact that you got somebody at the top basically trying to dictate whether somebody should be prosecuted,” the judge said, adding that even if Mr. Trump’s moves were “not influencing the ultimate decision, I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undue, inappropriate pressure being brought to bear.”

Nevertheless, the Justice Department continued to keep Mr. McCabe hanging for another five months, announcing only last month that he would not be charged. Hours later, Judge Walton unsealed the transcript of the closed September hearing, which was part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting.

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House Democrats Inquire About Political Interference at the Justice Dept.

Westlake Legal Group 28dc-barr1-facebookJumbo House Democrats Inquire About Political Interference at the Justice Dept. United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Stone, Roger J Jr Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Justice Department House Committee on the Judiciary Barr, William P

WASHINGTON — House Democrats are scrutinizing whether President Trump has improperly interfered at the Justice Department for political reasons, a prominent committee chairman said Friday, requesting documents and interviews with more than a dozen U.S. attorneys related to the cases of three Trump associates and a review of the F.B.I.’s Russia inquiry.

The requests are the first major return to politically charged oversight matters by the House Judiciary Committee since it helped impeach Mr. Trump late last year. But with House leaders intent on shifting attention toward domestic policy legislation they believe will help preserve their majority in this fall’s election, it was not clear how far Democrats would be willing to escalate a likely fight.

Officials were careful on Friday not to characterize the requests as the beginning of a new investigation, instead framing them as routine oversight. They come as Mr. Trump has moved aggressively in the wake of his impeachment acquittal to insert himself into Justice Department business.

“These circumstances are deeply troubling,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the Judiciary Committee chairman, wrote in a letter to William P. Barr, the attorney general. “Although you serve at the president’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws. In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility.”

Mr. Nadler asked for materials related to a handful of criminal cases, including the sentencing of Roger J. Stone Jr., antitrust matters and a review by John H. Durham into the roots of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference and the Trump campaign. Democrats believe Mr. Durham’s inquiry is designed to undermine Mr. Mueller’s findings.

In most of the cases under scrutiny, Mr. Trump has blurred the lines that traditionally separate the White House from criminal enforcement matters, offering running commentary or outright rooting for a result on Twitter and in public comments. Documentary records and interviews with prosecutors could definitively show whether the department acted based on Mr. Trump’s statements or if the White House at any point issued more direct orders in private.

In the case of Mr. Stone, the president’s remarks on Twitter blasting the judge and Justice Department lawyers for recommending too harsh a sentence for his longtime friend and campaign adviser went so far that Mr. Barr delivered an extraordinary public rebuke, but only after senior department officials intervened to reverse the recommendation of career prosecutors and suggest a shorter sentence.

The attorney general said earlier this month that he would not be “bullied” into any result and warned that the president’s tweets made it “impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”

Though tensions have eased somewhat in recent weeks, Mr. Barr remains in a precarious position. Mr. Trump has largely defied his request, continuing to tweet about the Stone case and forcing Mr. Barr to contemplate what it would take for him to resign. The Judiciary Committee’s scrutiny could only make things more difficult for the attorney general, whose actions have drawn intense criticism inside and outside the Justice Department for politicizing the law enforcement system.

Mr. Nadler cited those tensions as he asked for the materials by mid-March so the committee could study the matter before a planned hearing with Mr. Barr on March 31.

If history is any guide, though, the exchange will not be an easy one. The department generally opposes handing over files related to ongoing matters, especially to lawmakers of another party, though it has made exceptions. And Mr. Nadler and Mr. Barr have particularly bad blood, stemming from the attorney general’s handling of the special counsel’s investigation. In a dispute over department files related to that case, the Judiciary Committee ultimately recommended holding Mr. Barr in contempt of Congress.

In addition to the Stone case and the Durham review, the committee requested information on the department’s handling of prosecution of Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and the imprisonment of Paul Manafort, his one-time campaign chairman. Mr. Nadler also said he would review the Justice Department’s legal opinion that an anonymous whistle-blower complaint related to Ukraine that ultimately helped prompt the impeachment inquiry not be handed over to Congress.

Specifically, the committee asked for the department to brief lawmakers on each case, hand over any communications with or referencing Mr. Trump or the White House related to them, and allow more than a dozen department prosecutors to sit for interviews.

The prosecutors requested included Mr. Durham; four career prosecutors who resigned from the Stone case amid the sentencing dispute with politically appointed superiors; and Timothy Shea, the acting U.S. attorney who oversaw them.

Democrats also want to speak to two high-ranking prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and Jessie K. Liu, a former department prosecutor, who handled the case of Andrew G. McCabe, a former high-ranking F.B.I. official loathed by Mr. Trump.

Katie Benner contributed reporting.

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Trump Campaign Sues New York Times Over 2019 Opinion Article

Westlake Legal Group 26trumpsuit-facebookJumbo Trump Campaign Sues New York Times Over 2019 Opinion Article Trump, Donald J Suits and Litigation (Civil) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 News and News Media New York Times Libel and Slander

President Trump’s re-election campaign sued The New York Times on Wednesday, alleging that an Op-Ed article published by the newspaper falsely asserted a “quid pro quo” between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Mr. Trump often threatens to sue media organizations but rarely follows through. The lawsuit, filed in New York State court in Manhattan, is the first time his political operation has taken legal action against an American news outlet since he took office.

The lawsuit concerns an essay published by the Opinion section of The Times in March 2019. The article, headlined “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,” was written by Max Frankel, who served as executive editor of The Times from 1986 to 1994. (The Opinion section of The Times operates separately from its newsroom.)

In the essay, Mr. Frankel wrote about communications between Mr. Trump’s inner circle and Russian emissaries in the lead-up to the 2016 election. He concluded that, rather than any “detailed electoral collusion,” the Trump campaign and Russian officials instead “had an overarching deal”: “the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.”

The Trump lawsuit argues that this conclusion “is false” and that The Times published the essay “knowing it would misinform and mislead its own readers.” The suit also accuses The Times, without evidence, of harboring “extreme bias against and animosity toward” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.

The Times responded shortly after the suit was filed on Wednesday. “The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for The Times, said in a statement.

“Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance,” Ms. Murphy added. “We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Trump campaign by Charles J. Harder, a lawyer with a reputation for waging aggressive legal battles against prominent news organizations.

Mr. Harder is best known for representing Terry G. Bollea, the former professional wrestler known as Hulk Hogan, in a lawsuit against Gawker Media that was secretly underwritten by the tech investor Peter Thiel. The suit, which concerned the publication of a sex video, resulted in a $140 million decision that led to Gawker Media’s bankruptcy and forced the site’s sale.

Mr. Harder also represented Melania Trump, Mr. Trump’s wife, when she sued The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, in 2016, over what she said were “false and defamatory statements,” including that a modeling agency she worked for in the 1990s was also an escort service. The Daily Mail ultimately apologized, retracted the article and paid damages in a settlement.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Nicole Hong and Alain Delaqueriere contributed reporting.

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Dueling Narratives Emerge From Muddied Account of Russia’s 2020 Interference

Westlake Legal Group 23dc-russia-facebookJumbo Dueling Narratives Emerge From Muddied Account of Russia’s 2020 Interference United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sanders, Bernard Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Office of the Director of National Intelligence House Committee on Intelligence Biden, Joseph R Jr

As accusations swirled Sunday about Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2020 election, President Trump’s national security adviser and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. could not agree on what Moscow is, or is not, doing.

Their disagreement came as intelligence officials disputed reports that emerged last week about a briefing of the House Intelligence Committee. The officials now maintain that the House members either misheard or misinterpreted a key part of the briefing, and that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not mean to say that it believes the Russians are currently intervening in the election explicitly to help President Trump.

They do believe that Russia is intervening in the election, and that Moscow prefers Mr. Trump, a deal maker it knows well. But at least for now, those two objectives may not be linked.

The differing interpretations only made it easier for the Trump administration and Democrats to put forward their own version of what the Russians are doing. As the national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, defended Mr. Trump and intimated that the Russians favored the Democratic presidential front-runner, Senator Bernie Sanders, Mr. Biden blamed the president and other Republicans for allowing Russia to continue to interfere in the election.

Mr. O’Brien, who took office at the end of last summer, insisted on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he had never seen any intelligence suggesting that the Russians were interfering on behalf of Mr. Trump.

“There’s no briefing that I’ve received, that the president has received, that says that President Putin is doing anything to try and influence the election in favor of President Trump,” Mr. O’Brien said, referring to the Russian leader, Vladimir V. Putin. “We just haven’t seen that intelligence. If it’s out there, I haven’t seen it.”

He was referring to an assessment provided to the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13. That briefing outlined the breadth of Russian efforts to get involved in the November election — from hacking into voting systems to disinformation.

At the root of the confusion is what Shelby Pierson, a senior intelligence official responsible for overseeing the issues of election interference, said in that briefing.

Ms. Pierson, a longtime intelligence official, said there was no doubt the Russians were continuing to insert themselves in the election process. That would be consistent with past intelligence reports, and the effort by the United States Cyber Command in 2018 to block Russian intelligence from manipulating social media before the midterm congressional elections.

But some intelligence officials said Ms. Pierson did not say that the current interference was explicitly on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Others in the briefing said that in response to lawmakers’ follow-up questions, officials made the connection between the Russian preference for Mr. Trump and Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the election.

The difference between actively backing Mr. Trump and preferring his re-election is a subtle nuance, officials say, but an important one: It is probably too early for the Russians to begin any significant move to bolster a specific candidate. In 2016, they at first sought to cause chaos and hurt Hillary Clinton, intelligence reports released later that year said, but only in the last few months before the election did they actively work to elect Mr. Trump.

If they go the same route now, it would not be inconsistent with backing Mr. Sanders for the Democratic nomination, in part because Mr. Sanders has voted against new sanctions on Russia and because he is considered a noninterventionist. And they may conclude, rightly or wrongly, that Mr. Trump could beat Mr. Sanders.

Mr. O’Brien seemed to have little doubt that the Russians preferred Mr. Sanders. “What I’ve heard from the F.B.I.,” he said, “is that Russia would like Bernie Sanders to win the Democrat nomination. They’d probably like him to be president, understandably, because he wants to spend money on social programs and probably would have to take it out of the military.”

He did not give the source of that intelligence.

Mr. Sanders has denounced Russia and warned it not to interfere in the election.

Mr. Biden, who was in office as the Obama White House struggled over how to respond to Russian interference in 2016, saw some advantage in claiming he was the candidate Mr. Putin hated.

“The Russians don’t want me to be the nominee,” he said on “Face the Nation.” “They spent a lot of money on bots on Facebook, and they’ve been taken down, saying Biden is a bad guy. They don’t want Biden running. They’re not — no one’s helping me to try to get the nomination. They have good reason.”

Mr. Biden said he had not been informed of any specific intelligence. But intelligence officials say the reports they have generated have been consistent: Russian activity did not end with the 2016 election.

Mr. Biden suggested that Mr. Trump was still denying Russia’s involvement in 2016, even though American intelligence officials have testified on the issue every year of his presidency.

“The president denies they’re involved,” Mr. Biden said. “They’ve been involved. I was deeply involved in the intelligence apparatus and how it functioned before we left the vice presidency. It was clear they were involved. The president continues to deny their involvement. It’s overwhelming. And the fact is that everybody knows.”

He accused the Republican leadership in the Senate of failing to act to secure electoral systems.

While Congress allocated several hundred million dollars for election security immediately after the 2016 election, gaping holes in the system remain, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has repeatedly blocked additional legislation from coming to the floor for a vote.

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D.C. Prosecutors’ Tensions With Justice Dept. Began Long Before Stone Sentencing

Westlake Legal Group 00dc-justice1-facebookJumbo D.C. Prosecutors’ Tensions With Justice Dept. Began Long Before Stone Sentencing United States Politics and Government United States Attorneys Trump, Donald J Special Prosecutors (Independent Counsel) Shea, Timothy J (1960- ) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates McCabe, Andrew G Liu, Jessie Kong Justice Department Barr, William P

WASHINGTON — In the days before they filed the sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s friend Roger J. Stone Jr. that helped plunge the Justice Department into turmoil, the prosecutors on the case felt under siege.

A new boss, Timothy Shea, had just arrived and had told them on his first day that he wanted a more lenient recommendation for Mr. Stone, and he pushed back hard when they objected, according to two people briefed on the dispute. They grew suspicious that Mr. Shea was helping his longtime friend and boss, Attorney General William P. Barr, soften the sentencing request to please the president.

In an attempt to ease the strain, David Metcalf, Mr. Shea’s chief of staff, clasped his hand on the shoulder of one of the prosecutors, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, as they passed in a hallway. But the gesture prompted a terse and sharp verbal exchange, according to three people briefed on the encounter. As word of the spat spread through the office, unfounded rumors swirled that the altercation had been physical.

Skepticism of Mr. Shea, the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, only deepened in his 600-person office when Mr. Barr quickly intervened to recommend a lighter sentence for Mr. Stone just as the president declared on Twitter that the government was treating his friend too harshly.

Within a day, Mr. Zelinsky and three others quit the case, one resigning from his job entirely. Their protest engulfed the Justice Department in turmoil that could damage its treasured reputation for political independence.

At the center of the crisis is the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, one of the largest collections of federal prosecutors in the country. Over the decades it has handled some of the nation’s most sensitive cases, including the corruption scandal involving the prominent lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the conviction of the main suspect in the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attacks.

The Washington office, which operates separately from the main Justice Department, took over the continuing cases last year from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after he closed his inquiry into Russia’s election interference. He found insufficient evidence to charge anyone tied to the Trump campaign with conspiring with Moscow but charged several Trump associates with other crimes, including Mr. Stone.

The tensions between the office, the Justice Department and the White House date back further than the tumult in the Stone case. They have been simmering since at least last summer, when the office’s investigation of Andrew G. McCabe, a former top F.B.I. official whom the president had long targeted, began to fall apart.

Mr. Shea’s predecessor, Jessie K. Liu, a lawyer whom Mr. Trump had appointed to lead the office in 2017, pressed the McCabe case even after one team of prosecutors concluded that they could not win a conviction. After a second team was brought in and also failed to deliver a grand jury indictment, Ms. Liu’s relationship with Mr. Barr grew strained, people close to them said. She left the position this year, though she and Mr. Barr have both stressed to associates that her departure was amicable.

Still, her exit unnerved prosecutors and set off the chain of events that culminated in the current crisis, in which prosecutors in the office began to worry that Mr. Barr was intervening in sensitive cases for political reasons even as he has publicly pushed back against Mr. Trump, a rebuke the president has ignored.

Mr. Barr has denied any political motivations. But as Mr. Shea took over, the attorney general assigned outside prosecutors to re-examine politically fraught cases, including that of Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser.

The string of events “suggests undue meddling by higher-ups at the Justice Department or elsewhere,” said Channing Phillips, an acting U.S. attorney in Washington under President Barack Obama.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment for this article, which is based on interviews with nearly a dozen current and former department lawyers who have worked with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and others familiar with their work.

In a statement in response to questions about tensions in the office and whether he would stay, Mr. Shea said he had prepared “my whole life” for the post and called it “the ultimate job in federal law enforcement.”

He added, “You can impact people’s lives in a very meaningful way by protecting them from violent crime, hate and terrorism.”

When Mr. Shea took over on Feb. 3, he knew he had inherited a series of political land mines. What he did not appear to realize was how mistrustful many of the federal prosecutors in Washington had become of the main Justice Department, and of Mr. Barr.

Their misgivings ramped up last summer, as Ms. Liu worked with prosecutors to investigate whether Mr. McCabe had lied to investigators during an administrative inquiry.

Prosecutors liked Ms. Liu in part because they felt she shielded them from political pressures, even as Mr. Trump publicly accused Mr. McCabe on Twitter of lying and misconduct. And she had a reputation for being a good soldier who had stayed on even as she was passed over for top Justice Department posts.

The McCabe case had always been politically charged: Investigators were scrutinizing an accomplished former top law enforcement official whom the president had repeatedly attacked for his deep involvement in the Russia investigation. The inquiry focused on whether he misled internal investigators examining the source of disclosures of sensitive information in a Wall Street Journal article.

But the case eventually fell apart because a number of hurdles proved too steep, including problematic witnesses and prosecutors’ concerns that Mr. Barr’s handling of the special counsel report would make their case look politicized, people familiar with the investigation said.

The two main prosecutors, Kamil Shields and David Kent, also came to believe that they could not get a jury to convict Mr. McCabe, the people said. They concluded that Mr. Trump’s relentless broadsides against Mr. McCabe had poisoned any potential jury, and they were worried about the appearance of a vindictive prosecution: Mr. McCabe revealed in early 2019 that he had opened the inquiry into whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by firing James B. Comey as F.B.I. director.

Ms. Shields eventually left the case and the department. Mr. Kent also decided to quit the case. Two other prosecutors known for their aggressiveness, Molly Gaston and J.P. Cooney, took over.

An indictment seemed imminent after Ms. Liu and the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, rejected pleas in September from Mr. McCabe’s lawyers to drop the investigation. The grand jury hearing the case was reconvened after months of inactivity, but the prosecution never appeared to advance.

The investigators’ difficulties began to creep into view in news reports, creating an awkward situation for Ms. Liu.

For months, her office refused to tell Mr. McCabe’s lawyers what was happening with the case. Informing a defense team eager to publicly clear its client would have almost certainly provoked the president’s anger, people close to Mr. McCabe speculated.

While the case remained in limbo, Ms. Liu had difficult conversations about it with officials at the main Justice Department, according to two people briefed on their discussions.

Ms. Liu sought a top Treasury Department job, and Mr. Barr made no attempt to stop her, according to three people briefed on her job search. A new role outside the Justice Department seemed to put to rest political issues for both her and Mr. Barr. Ms. Liu said she took the Treasury job only because she saw it as a good opportunity, people close to her said.

But Ms. Liu’s departure created unrest within her office.

She had initially emailed her office to say that she would remain in place until the Senate confirmed her to her new post, as is typical. But Mr. Barr then asked her to leave early in the new year, saying he was concerned he would have trouble finding a replacement if her confirmation process stretched on toward the end of Mr. Trump’s first term. Though Ms. Liu was taken aback, she eventually agreed to the terms but told few people in the U.S. attorney’s office.

By mid-January, administration officials found an assignment for her at the Treasury Department to take on while she awaited confirmation, and she sent an officewide email saying she would leave earlier than planned. Some of the prosecutors and other employees in the U.S. attorney’s office viewed the announcement and her departure just two weeks later as an abrupt end to her tenure and said they feared she was ousted because she failed to deliver on a prosecution that Mr. Trump openly sought.

Mr. Shea, who comes from a family of law enforcement officers, took over the office in early February, aware that Mr. Barr and the Justice Department had been parrying demands from the president to prosecute his enemies.

But according to two people who have spoken with Mr. Shea, he did not know that some prosecutors now working for him had come to view Mr. Barr not as their chief defender from political interference but as an agent of the president’s pressure campaigns on law enforcement.

Within days of Mr. Shea’s arrival, the Stone sentencing brought tensions to a head. When Mr. Barr sent word to the trial team that he wanted less than the seven to nine years outlined in federal sentencing guidelines that they planned to recommend, the lawyers viewed the directive as a last-minute order with no legal basis.

They expressed frustration that they had so little time to react, according to a person who heard their complaints; most of the team’s disagreement with Mr. Shea played out through intermediaries in the office.

Ultimately, they threatened to withdraw from the case if they were pressured to file a recommendation to the judge that they disagreed with.

Mr. Shea was caught off guard. Even though he agreed with Mr. Barr that following the guidelines allowed for too harsh of a punishment recommendation, he told associates he could not afford to alienate the Stone trial team as his first act on the job.

On the day that the filing was due, Mr. Shea told the attorney general that the prosecutors planned to stick to their recommendation but that “he thought that there was a way of satisfying everybody and providing more flexibility,” Mr. Barr said in an interview with ABC News.

Mr. Barr was left with the misimpression that the team would lay out the factors for Judge Amy Berman Jackson to weigh under the federal guidelines but ask for a lesser sentence. Their filing proved otherwise.

Mr. Barr told ABC that he immediately asked that prosecutors replace it with a more lenient request. But coming alongside the president’s middle-of-the-night protest on Twitter, it created the appearance that the attorney general was heeding political pressure.

The tensions between the U.S. attorney’s office and senior Justice Department leaders exploded into the open. The four prosecutors who withdrew from the Stone prosecution left behind more than a year’s worth of work in the final stages of the case. The chaos crushed morale in the U.S. attorney’s office, according to eight current and former Justice Department employees. Federal prosecutors around the country began to privately articulate fears of political interference.

Mr. Barr moved quickly to blunt the turmoil. He declared in the ABC interview that the president’s tweets were making it “impossible” to do his job, an unusually public rebuke.

Mr. Shea also sought to calm his office. “While there are times where reasonable minds may disagree, I respect the work that each of you do, and I will do my best to support our work,” he wrote in an email to the staff on the evening after the prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case.

Judge Jackson sentenced Mr. Stone last week to more than three years in prison, challenging one of the case’s new prosecutors about the recent disarray. He apologized, but also caused more confusion when he defended the argument for a stiff sentence without disavowing the request for a lighter punishment.

Still, officials at both the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and the Justice Department expressed hope that the sentencing would help hasten a return to calm in both buildings. Mr. Shea has spent the past two weeks on a listening tour of his office, meeting with hundreds of lawyers.

Whether the storm has passed remains to be seen. The reviews of the Flynn case and others are continuing. And hours after Mr. Stone was sentenced, the president called again for his exoneration.

Charlie Savage contributed reporting.

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Same Goal, Different Playbook: Why Russia Would Support Trump and Sanders

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-cyber-facebookJumbo Same Goal, Different Playbook: Why Russia Would Support Trump and Sanders Trump, Donald J Sanders, Bernard Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Putin, Vladimir V Presidential Election of 2020 House Committee on Intelligence democratic national committee Cyberwarfare and Defense Clinton, Hillary Rodham central intelligence agency

At first glance, it may seem contradictory that the nation’s intelligence agencies were telling Congress that President Vladimir V. Putin is presumably striving to get President Trump re-elected, while also warning Senator Bernie Sanders of evidence that he is the Russian president’s favorite Democrat.

But to the intelligence analysts and outside experts who have spent the past three years dissecting Russian motives in the 2016 election, and who tried to limit the effect of Moscow’s meddling in the 2018 midterms, what is unfolding in 2020 makes perfect sense.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders represent the most divergent ends of their respective parties, and both are backed by supporters known more for their passion than their policy rigor, which makes them ripe for exploitation by Russian trolls, disinformation specialists and hackers for hire seeking to widen divisions in American society.

While the two candidates disagree on almost everything, both share an instinct that the United States is overcommitted abroad: Neither is likely to pursue policies that push back aggressively on Mr. Putin’s plan to restore Moscow’s influence around the world, from the former Soviet states to the Middle East.

And if you are trying to sow chaos in an already chaotic, vitriolic election, Mr. Putin could hardly hope for better than a face-off between an incumbent with a history of race-baiting who is shouting “America First” at rallies — while darkly suggesting the coming election is rigged — and a democratic socialist from Vermont advocating a drastic expansion of taxes and government programs like Medicare.

“Any figures that radicalize politics and do harm to center views and unity in the United States are good for Putin’s Russia,” said Victoria Nuland, who served as ambassador to NATO and assistant secretary of state for European affairs, and had her phone calls intercepted and broadcast by Russian intelligence services.

The intelligence reports provided to the House Intelligence Committee, inciting Mr. Trump’s ire, may make the American understanding of Mr. Putin’s plans sound more certain than they really are, according to intelligence officials who contributed to the assessment. Those officials caution that such reports are as much art as science, a mixture of informants, intercepted conversations and intuition, as analysts in the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies try to get into the heads of foreign leaders.

Though intelligence officials have disputed that the officer who delivered the main briefing said Russia was actively aiding the president’s re-election, people in the room said that intelligence officers’ responses to lawmakers’ follow-up questions made clear that Russia was trying to get Mr. Trump re-elected.

Intelligence is hardly a perfect process, as Americans learned when the nation went to war in Iraq based in part on an estimate that Saddam Hussein was once again in search of a nuclear weapon.

But in this election, the broad strategy — as opposed to the specific tactics — are not exactly a mystery. Mr. Putin, the analysts agree, mostly seeks anything that would further take the sheen off American democracy and make presidential elections in the United States seem no more credible than his own. After that, he is eager for a compliant counterpart in the White House, one unlikely to challenge his territorial and nuclear ambitions.

Not surprisingly, the Kremlin says this is all an American fantasy, aimed at demonizing Russia for the United States’ own failings. “These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the election,” Mr. Putin’s confidant and spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters on Friday. “They have nothing to do with the truth.”

No matter who is elected, Mr. Putin has likely undermined one of his own primary goals: getting the United States and its allies to lift sanctions that were imposed after he annexed Crimea and accelerated a hybrid war against Ukraine.

“By actively exploiting divisions within American society and having its activities revealed, the Kremlin has ensured that its longer-term goal of having the U.S. remove sanctions and return to a less confrontational relationship so far has been thwarted,” Angela E. Stent, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and now a professor at Georgetown University, wrote in her book “Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and With the Rest.”

On Saturday, Ms. Stent noted that if the Russians are in fact interfering in this election, “it could bring about new energy sanctions.’’ She noted that one piece of legislation in the Senate, the DETER bill, would require new sanctions if evidence of Russian meddling emerges from intelligence agencies. Ms. Stent noted that, so far, Mr. Putin may have concluded that the penalties are a small price to pay if he can bring his geopolitical rival down a few more notches. And the early intelligence analyses suggest that, by backing Mr. Sanders in the primary and Mr. Trump in the general election, he would probably have a good chance of maximizing the electoral tumult.

Mr. Sanders is hardly a new target for the Russians. The 2018 indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for their activities in the last presidential election — issued by the Justice Department under the Trump administration — claimed that the officers “engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”

Robert S. Mueller III, in the report on his investigation into Russian operations, concluded that the release of memos hacked from the Democratic National Committee were meant to inflame Mr. Sanders’s supporters by revealing that the committee was funneling assets to Mrs. Clinton.

The more recent public reports emerging from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I., and classified reports generated by the C.I.A. and others suggest that while the Russian objectives have remained the same, the techniques have shifted.

“The Russians aren’t going to use the old playbook, we know that,” said Christopher C. Krebs, who runs the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

His organization, along with the National Security Agency and British intelligence, has been steadily documenting how Russian operatives are becoming stealthier, learning from the mistakes they made in 2016.

As they focus on evading more vigilant government agencies and technology companies trying to identify and counter malicious online activity, the Russians are boring into Iranian cyberoffense units, apparently so that they can initiate attacks that look as if they originate in Iran — which itself has shown interest in messing with the American electoral process. Russians are putting more of their attack operations on computer servers in the United States, where the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies — but not the F.B.I. and homeland security — are prohibited from operating.

And, in one of the most effective twists, they are feeding disinformation to unsuspecting Americans on Facebook and other social media. By seeding conspiracy theories and baseless claims on the platforms, Russians hope everyday Americans will retransmit those falsehoods from their own accounts. That is an attempt to elude Facebook’s efforts to remove disinformation, which it can do more easily when it flags “inauthentic activity,” like Russians posing as Americans. It is much harder to ban the words of real Americans, who may be parroting a Russian story line, even unintentionally.

Mr. Krebs noted that this was why the Department of Homeland Security had to focus on educating Americans about where their information was coming from. “How do you explain,” he asked last year, “‘This is how you’re being manipulated, this is how they’re hacking your brain?’”

In 2018, the United States Cyber Command and the National Security Agency mounted a new and more public campaign to push back at the Russians, attacking and blocking their Internet Research Agency for a few days around the November elections and texted warnings to Russian intelligence officers that they were being watched. The N.S.A. is preparing for similar counterattacks this year: On Thursday, the United States cited intelligence and blamed Russia for a cyberattack last fall on the republic of Georgia, another place where Mr. Putin seems to be holding dress rehearsals.

Now American intelligence agencies face a new question: How do they run such operations, and warn Congress and Americans, at a moment when the president is declaring the intelligence on Russian election meddling is “another misinformation campaign” that is “launched by Democrats in Congress?”

The intelligence agencies are loath to cross him. The acting director of national intelligence at the time, Joseph Maguire, resisted appearing in public to provide the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” that is usually given to Congress before the president’s State of the Union address. (He was dismissed last week before he had to testify.) Because Mr. Trump was so angered by how his predecessor’s testimony contradicted his own statements last year — particularly on Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State — Mr. Maguire was in no hurry to repeat the experience.

His successor, Richard Grenell, the current American ambassador to Germany, is known for his political allegiance to Mr. Trump, not for his knowledge of the American intelligence agencies. He is widely viewed by career officials as more interested in making sure public intelligence reports do not embarrass Mr. Trump than sounding the clarion call that the Russians are coming, again.

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Russia Is Said to Be Interfering to Aid Bernie Sanders in 2020 Election

Westlake Legal Group 21dc-sanders-sub-facebookJumbo Russia Is Said to Be Interfering to Aid Bernie Sanders in 2020 Election United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Sanders, Bernard Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Republican Party Putin, Vladimir V Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Internet Research Agency (Russia) Democratic Party Cyberwarfare and Defense

WASHINGTON — Russia has been trying to intervene in the Democratic primaries to aid Senator Bernie Sanders, according to people familiar with the matter, and intelligence officials recently briefed him about Russian interference in the election, Mr. Sanders said on Friday.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Sanders denounced Russia, calling President Vladimir V. Putin an “autocratic thug” and warning Moscow to stay out of the election.

“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” Mr. Sanders said.

He also told reporters that he was briefed about a month ago.

“The intelligence community is telling us Russia is interfering in this campaign right now in 2020,” Mr. Sanders said on Friday in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was to hold a rally ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. “And what I say to Mr. Putin, ‘If I am elected president, trust me you will not be interfering in American elections.’”

Senior intelligence officials told members of the House Intelligence Committee last week that Russia was continuing its election sabotage campaign, including intervening in the Democratic primaries.

Intelligence officials also warned House lawmakers that Russia was interfering in the campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, according to people familiar with the matter. They said that the disclosure to Congress angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.

Republicans have taken issue with the idea that Russia supports Mr. Trump, insisting that Mr. Putin simply wants to broadly spread chaos and undermine the democratic system. But some current and former officials say that a Russian campaign to support Mr. Sanders may ultimately be aimed at aiding Mr. Trump, with Moscow potentially considering Mr. Sanders a weaker opponent to the president than a more moderate Democratic nominee.

The Washington Post first reported the briefing of the Sanders campaign.

Mr. Sanders said it was his understanding that the Russians were again trying to interfere in the campaign. Some “ugly stuff on the internet” had been attributed to his campaign that could be coming from falsified accounts, he said.

The Russians also worked to support — or at least not harm — Mr. Sanders in 2016. Operatives at a Russian intelligence-backed troll factory were instructed to avoid attacking Mr. Sanders or Mr. Trump, according to the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The report quoted internal documents from the Internet Research Agency ordering operatives to attack Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except for Sanders and Trump — we support them,” the document said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Russia Is Said to Be Interfering to Aid Bernie Sanders in 2020 Election

Westlake Legal Group 21dc-sanders-sub-facebookJumbo Russia Is Said to Be Interfering to Aid Bernie Sanders in 2020 Election United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Sanders, Bernard Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Republican Party Putin, Vladimir V Primaries and Caucuses Presidential Election of 2020 Internet Research Agency (Russia) Democratic Party Cyberwarfare and Defense

WASHINGTON — Russia has been trying to intervene in the Democratic primaries to aid Senator Bernie Sanders, according to people familiar with the matter, and intelligence officials recently briefed him about Russian interference in the election, Mr. Sanders said on Friday.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Sanders denounced Russia, calling President Vladimir V. Putin an “autocratic thug” and warning Moscow to stay out of the election.

“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” Mr. Sanders said.

He also told reporters that he was briefed about a month ago.

“The intelligence community is telling us Russia is interfering in this campaign right now in 2020,” Mr. Sanders said on Friday in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was to hold a rally ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. “And what I say to Mr. Putin, ‘If I am elected president, trust me you will not be interfering in American elections.’”

Senior intelligence officials told members of the House Intelligence Committee last week that Russia was continuing its election sabotage campaign, including intervening in the Democratic primaries.

Intelligence officials also warned House lawmakers that Russia was interfering in the campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, according to people familiar with the matter. They said that the disclosure to Congress angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.

Republicans have taken issue with the idea that Russia supports Mr. Trump, insisting that Mr. Putin simply wants to broadly spread chaos and undermine the democratic system. But some current and former officials say that a Russian campaign to support Mr. Sanders may ultimately be aimed at aiding Mr. Trump, with Moscow potentially considering Mr. Sanders a weaker opponent to the president than a more moderate Democratic nominee.

The Washington Post first reported the briefing of the Sanders campaign.

Mr. Sanders said it was his understanding that the Russians were again trying to interfere in the campaign. Some “ugly stuff on the internet” had been attributed to his campaign that could be coming from falsified accounts, he said.

The Russians also worked to support — or at least not harm — Mr. Sanders in 2016. Operatives at a Russian intelligence-backed troll factory were instructed to avoid attacking Mr. Sanders or Mr. Trump, according to the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The report quoted internal documents from the Internet Research Agency ordering operatives to attack Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except for Sanders and Trump — we support them,” the document said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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