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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 13)

Reddit’s Steve Huffman on Banning ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit

Westlake Legal Group 30ROOSE-facebookJumbo Reddit's Steve Huffman on Banning ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Social Media Reddit Inc Huffman, Steve (1983- ) Hate Crimes Freedom of Speech and Expression Computers and the Internet Advertising and Marketing

On Monday, Reddit — a site that for years was considered one of the internet’s dirtiest sludge pits — barred more than 2,000 communities as part of a broad crackdown on hate speech.

The crackdown’s most notable casualty was Reddit’s largest pro-Trump community, r/The_Donald. The group, which had nearly 800,000 subscribers, served as a virtual gathering place for President Trump’s fans, and a source of countless memes, slogans and conspiracy theories that made their way into the broader online conversation. (In more recent years, it had devolved into a cesspool of racism, violent threats and targeted harassment.)

These actions were a major shift for Reddit, which spent years resisting the idea of moderating users’ posts and refused to remove all but the worst content on its platform. Steve Huffman, Reddit’s co-founder and chief executive since 2015, when he returned to the company after six years away, has faced pressure to reckon with the site’s legacy of bigotry. This year, hundreds of Reddit moderators signed an open letter to Mr. Huffman and Reddit’s board demanding changes to the site’s policies.

On Monday, after the bans were announced, I interviewed Mr. Huffman about the decision to take down The_Donald and many other subreddits. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Can you explain, in the most succinct way possible, why you decided to take down these subreddits?

STEVE HUFFMAN Yes. We updated our content policy to add an explicit rule banning hate on Reddit, which has long been an implicit rule, somewhat by design. But not being explicit about it, I think, has caused all sorts of confusion over the years. And so we updated the rule.

And then any time we make a rule change, we evaluate communities against the rule change. And so, as a result, there were a number of communities we ended up banning.

A few weeks ago, you wrote a letter to your employees about Black Lives Matter and where Reddit stood on issues like hate and racism. How much do you think the political climate and the protests and the kind of reckoning we’re seeing played into this decision?

The current events certainly added more urgency to it. Now, that said, we’ve been working on an update to our content policy for quite some time, and we had a sense of where the gaps were, and the rough patches.

A few years ago, you were asked about banning The_Donald specifically, and you said “there are arguments on both sides, but ultimately, my view is that their anger comes from feeling like they don’t have a voice, so it won’t solve anything if I take away their voice.” What changed?

So The_Donald is complex, and I think reducing that community or any large political group to one thing or one viewpoint is impossible. One aspect of The_Donald is that it’s a very large political community that, at one point in time, represented the views of many Americans. Political speech is sacred in this country, and we applied that to Reddit as well.

At the same time, that community had rule-breaking content — content that was harassing or violence or bullying. And so our strategy has been to try to get that community to come in line with our content policies. We made moderator changes, different technical changes to try to bring The_Donald into line, some more successful than others, but ultimately not to the extent that we needed.

Something I’ve said many times is that the only way to scale moderation online is by working alongside our community members and the moderators, because they have the context to decide whether an individual piece of content is hateful or not, for example. Which means that if we don’t have agreement from our moderators and our communities that these are the rules that we’re all going to abide by, then a community that’s not willing to work with us has no place on Reddit. And I think that became abundantly clear with The_Donald over the years, and even the past few months.

Right now, Facebook is facing an advertiser boycott — companies pulling their ads in protest of the company’s policies and their failures to keep misinformation and hate speech off the platform. Reddit also has advertisers, who presumably have some of the same concerns. Was this a business decision?

No, although, of course, what you say is true — we have advertisers who care about these things. But this was a decision — a series of decisions, really — to make Reddit better.

The mission of Reddit is to bring community and belonging to everybody in the world. And we’ve long had this debate on Reddit and internally, weighing the trade-offs between speech and safety. There’s certain speech — for example, harassment and hate — that prevents other people from speaking. And if we have individuals and communities on Reddit that are preventing other people from using Reddit the way we intend, then that means they’re working directly against our mission.

In a call this week, you said something about how you were struggling to balance your values as an American with your values around human decency. Can you explain more what you meant by that?

I think this is something that a lot of people in the United States are going through right now.

When we started Reddit 15 years ago, we didn’t ban things. And it was easy, as it is for many young people, to make statements like that because: 1) I had more rigid political beliefs; and 2) I lacked perspective and real-world experience.

Over the years, we’ve been increasingly confronted with difficult decisions, and we have to weigh these trade-offs. And so here we are, believing that free speech and free expression are really important, and that’s one of the things that makes Reddit special, but at the same time, seeing that allowing everything is working against our mission.

The way out, for us, has been through our mission: What are we trying to accomplish on Reddit? And what’s the best path to get there?

You used to joke that you were Reddit’s “totally politically neutral C.E.O.” For a long time, it seemed like neutrality was sort of the aspirational goal of being a social media platform. And now it seems like a lot of platform leaders, you included, are admitting that that’s not a good goal, or at least not one that produces good outcomes. Do you think the era of the neutral platform is over?

I’m going to reject that statement just a little bit, in that banning hate and violence and bullying and harassment is less a political statement and more a statement of what are largely common values in this country. And there’s certainly the political debate over how far free speech should go. But just as in the United States, there’s no such thing as unfettered free speech, there are limits. And I will point out that the Supreme Court has also wrestled with this over hundreds of years, because these are really challenging debates.

I’m baiting you a little bit, so don’t ask the obvious follow-up question, but … although I have political views, they don’t surface through Reddit. And nobody, in all of my years on Reddit, has actually asked me my political views.

Well, OK What are your political views?

You’d have to give me a specific case. But I think my previous point stands, which is that working in service of our mission is not a hot take. Banning harassment is not a hot take.

But in today’s political environment, even saying something like “Black Lives Matter” places you on one side of a cultural divide and political divide. So how do you think about the fact that even if you don’t mean for these to be partisan decisions, people will interpret them as such?

You know, I think the answer is in your question. I think making statements, or making changes to our policies in the name of human decency, may be perceived as political statements. But for us, it’s doing the right thing and doing the practical thing.

In the past couple of weeks, the President has threatened to revoke legal protections for online companies, and he’s gone after Snapchat and Twitter and other platforms that have taken action against him. Are you worried about becoming a target of the president and his allies?

Well, I believe the latest thing through the Department of Justice was demanding that these platforms consistently enforce their terms of service. And so we are simply doing what he asked by enforcing our own terms of service.

I’m sure that will be a satisfactory answer to everyone in the Trump administration.

[Laughs] I think we’re good, right?

One thing that was said about social media for a long time, and that some platforms are still saying, is that social media is just a mirror for society. Like, the problems that exist on social media are just a reflection of the problems that exist in society, and the good things are a reflection as well. Do you think that analogy still holds?

Yes, but let me expand on that a little bit.

So when one looks into a mirror, the first thing they do is they see themselves. And the second thing they do is they fix their appearance. They brush their hair a little bit, or whatever. Mirrors aren’t one way, in that sense. It’s an opportunity to see what we really look like and decide, is that what we really want to be?

Nilay Patel, the editor in chief of The Verge, had an interesting tweet. The conversation was all about the political and legal and financial reasons that platforms might want to crack down on objectionable speech. And he said, “sometimes the answer is as simple as people looking at the thing that they’ve made and deciding that they would like to be more proud of it than they are.” Does that resonate with you?

It does. And to be honest, I’ve said those words at Reddit. When I came back my first day of 2015, I told the company “one of my goals is for you to be proud to work here.” Because back then, the company was not in a good place. The people who worked at Reddit simultaneously loved Reddit — you wouldn’t be at Reddit in 2015 unless you loved Reddit — and were not willing to wear their swag in public.

Like, their Reddit sweatshirts and T-shirts?

Precisely. And that made me sad. It’s, I think, a very natural human thing to want to make the world a better place. I know those words are cheap in this town, but some of us believe it.

Your general counsel said on Monday that there’s a place for President Trump on Reddit. But given how the president has been testing the limits and rules of all the platforms that he’s on, and creating all these headaches for their leaders, do you really want Mr. Trump on Reddit?

Look, nobody wants to be in an echo chamber, right? It’s boring and unhelpful to read a one-sided view of any issue. So we welcome political views across the spectrum. I think Trump’s rhetoric and campaign style is deliberately antagonistic, and that makes it easy to run afoul of our policies. But we have many conservatives on Reddit, and we have Trump supporters on Reddit who are perfectly capable of staying within our rules. And we hope that continues to be the case going forward.

Your co-founder Alexis Ohanian recently stepped down from Reddit’s board, saying that he wanted to make space for a Black board member. And when he made that announcement, he said that part of the reason that he did that was so that he’d have an answer when his daughter asked, “What did you do?” I don’t think you have kids, but when you’re making decisions like these, how much are you thinking about how future generations will look back on Reddit?

You know, when I look back on this time, and — hopefully — if I get to tell my kids about it, I can say that I didn’t quit, I was a part of this, and I did everything I could to stand up for my and our values, even though at times it’s very difficult.

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John Roberts Was Already Chief Justice. But Now It’s His Court.

WASHINGTON — In a series of stunning decisions over the past two weeks, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has voted to expand L.G.B.T.Q. rights, protect the young immigrants known as Dreamers and strike down a Louisiana abortion law. In all three decisions, he voted with the court’s four-member liberal wing.

Those decisions heartened progressives and infuriated the chief justice’s usual conservative allies. But those reactions obscured a larger truth about Chief Justice Roberts: 15 years into his tenure, he now wields a level of influence that has caused experts to hunt for historical comparisons.

“Roberts is not only the most powerful player on the court,” said Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. “He’s also the most powerful chief justice since at least 1937.”

An incrementalist and an institutionalist, the chief justice generally nudges the court to the right in small steps, with one eye on its prestige and legitimacy. He is impatient with legal shortcuts and, at only 65, can well afford to play the long game.

Chief Justice Roberts has replaced Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who retired in 2018, as the member of the court at its ideological center, and his vote is now the crucial one in closely divided cases. To be both the chief justice and the swing vote confers extraordinary power.

But his pivotal role on the court could be fleeting. Were President Trump able to appoint a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 87, or Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who is 81, the chief justice would almost certainly be outflanked by a conservative majority on his right.

And if Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins the presidency, he may have fewer opportunities to reshape the court in the short term, as the oldest member of the court’s conservative wing, Justice Clarence Thomas, is 72, which is relatively young by the standards of the court.

But for now, Chief Justice Roberts assigns the majority opinion when he is in the majority, which these days is almost always. He uses that power strategically, picking colleagues likely to write broadly or narrowly and saving important decisions for himself.

In his first 14 terms, he was in the majority about 88 percent of the time. So far this term, that number has shot up to 98 percent, Professor Epstein found. “Even more stunning,” she said, “is that Roberts voted with the majority in 96 percent of the non-unanimous decisions, compared to his average of 80 percent. This is the best showing by a chief justice since at least the 1953 term.”

But this may be the most striking statistic: He has been in the majority in every one of the 10 rulings decided by 5-to-4 or 5-to-3 votes so far this term. No chief justice has been in the majority in every closely divided case over an entire term since Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in the term that ended in 1938 — and that was in only four cases.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 30dc-chief2-articleLarge John Roberts Was Already Chief Justice. But Now It’s His Court. United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Supreme Court (US) Roberts, John G Jr Presidential Election of 2020 Kennedy, Anthony M Hughes, Charles Evans Courts and the Judiciary
Credit…Associated Press

Chief Justice Roberts has spoken admiringly of Chief Justice Hughes and his deft management of a clash with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It arose in 1937, when Roosevelt, unhappy with Supreme Court decisions striking down his New Deal programs, announced a plan to add justices to the court.

“One of the greatest crises facing the Supreme Court since Marbury v. Madison was F.D.R.’s court-packing plan,” Chief Justice Roberts said in 2015 at New York University, “and it fell to Hughes to guide a very unpopular Supreme Court through that high-noon showdown against America’s most popular president since George Washington.”

“There are things to learn from it,” Chief Justice Roberts said, and he has seemed to apply those lessons to his relationship with Mr. Trump, who has attacked the very idea of judicial independence.

Chief Justice Roberts was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005, and he was, back then, thought to be a reliable product of the conservative legal movement. Over the years, he occasionally disappointed his supporters and allies, notably in twice voting to sustain the Affordable Care Act and in rejecting the Trump administration’s efforts to add a question on citizenship to the census.

But those disappointments do not compare with the fury that followed the recent decisions. Conservatives said the chief justice has abandoned principle in an effort to protect the court’s reputation — and his own — from accusations that it is a political institution.

Credit…Richard Perry/The New York Times

“Americans hoping for justice for women and unborn babies were let down again today by John Roberts,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. “The chief justice may believe that he’s protecting the institutional integrity of the court, but in reality, his politicized decision-making only undermines it.”

Conservatives said they suspected the chief justice was acting at least partly based on a distaste for Mr. Trump, who has for years lashed out at federal judges who rule against him and his policies. They cited the chief justice’s majority opinions rejecting the administration’s rationales in the cases on the census and the Dreamers.

A pair of cases concerning Mr. Trump’s efforts to block disclosure of his financial records are among those that remain to be decided by the court this term. They will test Chief Justice Roberts’s leadership, and his votes in them will add important details to the portrait of him that has emerged thus far.

Chief Justice Roberts has tangled with the president before, issuing an extraordinary statement in 2018 after Mr. Trump criticized a ruling from an “Obama judge.”

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” the chief justice said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

In other settings, the chief justice has insisted that the justices do not act as partisans. “We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans,” he said in 2016.

Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard, said Monday’s abortion decision vindicated Chief Justice Roberts’s statements.

“The chief is sending a broader message to both parties, and this time in this case it is the Republicans who take the hit,” Professor Lazarus said. “But the message would be the same if it were the Democrats and their favored position had lost.”

The message was this, Professor Lazarus said: “You cannot expect us to behave like partisan legislators.”

The abortion case concerned a Louisiana law that was essentially identical to one from Texas that the court had struck down just four years ago, before Mr. Trump appointed two new justices. In dissent in 2016, Chief Justice Roberts had voted to uphold the Texas law.

Professor Lazarus said he suspected the chief justice was offended by the idea that a change in the composition of the court should warrant a different outcome in what was, at bottom, the identical case.

This term, Professor Epstein found, Chief Justice Roberts has voted with liberal and conservative justices at roughly equivalent rates.

“In a day and age of ‘fear and loathing’ between opposing partisans,” she said, “this is pretty extraordinary.”

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University, said she had considered alternative explanations for Chief Justice Roberts’s vote in the abortion case. One was that he was “a closet liberal.” The other was that he was “a deep-seated institutionalist intent on preserving the court’s legitimacy and rule-of-law values.”

She said the second explanation was more likely to be true, though she said his concurring opinion in the abortion case had in some ways limited the force of the 2016 precedent he said he was upholding.

Mike Davis, a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel who is now head of the conservative Article III Project, said he was puzzled by Chief Justice Roberts’s votes.

“The chief rules on these cases in such a way where he believes he is protecting the integrity of the Supreme Court,” Mr. Davis said. “And only the chief understands the method to this madness.”

But he added that the rulings would motivate conservative voters in the coming election to back Mr. Trump and Republican Senate candidates in hopes of cementing a more reliable conservative majority on the court.

“Over the next four years, the president of the United States could appoint four or more justices to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Davis said. “And that is why it is so critically important that conservatives turn out and vote.”

Professor Lazarus said that sort of thinking missed a distinction between politics and law.

“The chief’s clear message is that is not how justices do their work,” he said. “It is a shot across the bow at presidential candidates who campaign with lists of nominees based on the assumption that, if confirmed, they will of course necessarily vote based on the preferences of the majority who supported that candidate.”

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Trump Got Written Briefing in February on Possible Russian Bounties, Officials Say

Westlake Legal Group trump-got-written-briefing-in-february-on-possible-russian-bounties-officials-say Trump Got Written Briefing in February on Possible Russian Bounties, Officials Say United States Politics and Government United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Terrorism Taliban Senate Russia Pelosi, Nancy Office of the Director of National Intelligence National Security Council National Intelligence Estimates House of Representatives Espionage and Intelligence Services central intelligence agency Afghanistan War (2001- ) Afghanistan
Westlake Legal Group 29dc-intel2-facebookJumbo Trump Got Written Briefing in February on Possible Russian Bounties, Officials Say United States Politics and Government United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Terrorism Taliban Senate Russia Pelosi, Nancy Office of the Director of National Intelligence National Security Council National Intelligence Estimates House of Representatives Espionage and Intelligence Services central intelligence agency Afghanistan War (2001- ) Afghanistan

American officials provided a written briefing in late February to President Trump laying out their conclusion that a Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, two officials familiar with the matter said.

The investigation into the suspected Russian covert operation to incentivize such killings has focused in part on an April 2019 car bombing that killed three Marines as one such potential attack, according to multiple officials familiar with the matter.

The new information emerged as the White House tried on Monday to play down the intelligence assessment that Russia sought to encourage and reward killings — including reiterating a claim that Mr. Trump was never briefed about the matter and portraying the conclusion as disputed and dubious.

But that stance clashed with the disclosure by two officials that the intelligence was included months ago in Mr. Trump’s President’s Daily Brief document — a compilation of the government’s latest secrets and best insights about foreign policy and national security that is prepared for him to read. One of the officials said the item appeared in Mr. Trump’s brief in late February; the other cited Feb. 27, specifically.

Moreover, a description of the intelligence assessment that the Russian unit had carried out the bounties plot was also seen as serious and solid enough to disseminate more broadly across the intelligence community in a May 4 article in the C.I.A.’s World Intelligence Review, a classified compendium commonly referred to as The Wire, two officials said.

A National Security Council spokesman declined to comment on any connection between the Marines’ deaths and the suspected Russian plot. The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, did not answer when pressed by reporters on Monday whether the intelligence was included in the written President’s Daily Brief, and the security council spokesman pointed to her comments when asked later about the February written briefing.

Late Monday, John Ratcliffe, the recently confirmed director of national intelligence, issued a statement warning that leaks about the matter were a crime.

“We are still investigating the alleged intelligence referenced in recent media reporting, and we will brief the president and congressional leaders at the appropriate time,” he said. “This is the analytic process working the way it should. Unfortunately, unauthorized disclosures now jeopardize our ability to ever find out the full story with respect to these allegations.”

The disclosures came amid a growing furor in Washington over the revelations in recent days that the Trump administration had known for months about the intelligence conclusion but the White House had authorized no response to Russia.

Top Democrats in the House and Senate demanded all members of Congress be briefed, and the White House summoned a small group of House Republicans friendly to the president to begin explaining its position.

The lawmakers emerged saying that they were told the administration was reviewing reporting about the suspected Russian plot to assess its credibility, and that the underlying intelligence was conflicting, echoing comments from Ms. McEnany that the information in the assessment had not been “verified” because, she said without detail, there were “dissenting opinions” among analysts or agencies.

“There was not a consensus among the intelligence community,” Ms. McEnany said. “And, in fact, there were dissenting opinions within the intelligence community, and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.”

But in denying that Mr. Trump was briefed, administration officials have been coy about how it is defining that concept and whether it includes both oral briefings and the President’s Daily Brief. “He was not personally briefed on the matter,” Ms. McEnany told reporters when asked specifically about the written briefing. “That is all I can share with you today.”

Mr. Trump is said to often neglect reading that document, preferring instead to receive an oral briefing summarizing highlights every few days. Even in those face-to-face meetings, he is particularly difficult to brief on national security matters. He often relies instead on conservative media and friends for information, current and former intelligence officials have said.

American intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan began raising alarms as early as January, and the National Security Council convened an interagency meeting to discuss the problem and what to do about it in late March, The Times has previously reported. But despite being presented with options, including a diplomatic protest and sanctions, the White House authorized no response.

The administration’s explanations on Monday, in public and in private, appeared to be an attempt to placate lawmakers, particularly Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans, alarmed by news reports in recent days revealing the existence of the intelligence assessment and Mr. Trump’s insistence he had not been warned of the suspected Russian plot.

The assessments pointing to a Russian scheme to offer bounties to Taliban-linked militants and criminals were based on information collected in raids and interrogations on the ground in Afghanistan, where military American commanders came to believe Russia was behind the plot, as well as more sensitive and unspecified intelligence that came in over time, an American official said.

Officials said there was disagreement among intelligence officials about the strength of the evidence about the suspected Russian plot and the evidence linking the attack on the Marines to the suspected Russian plot, but they did not detail those disputes.

Notably, the National Security Agency, which specializes in hacking and electronic surveillance, has been more skeptical about interrogations and other human intelligence, officials said.

Typically, the president is formally briefed when the information has been vetted and seen as sufficiently credible and important by the intelligence professionals. Such information would most likely be included in the President’s Daily Brief.

Former officials said that in previous administrations, accusations of such profound importance — even if the evidence was not fully established — were conveyed to the president. “We had two threshold questions: ‘Does the president need to know this’ and ‘why does he need to know it now,’” said Robert Cardillo, a former senior intelligence official who briefed President Barack Obama from 2010 to 2014.

David Priess, a former C.I.A. daily intelligence briefer and the author of “The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents,” said: “Many intelligence judgments in history have not had the consensus of every analyst who worked on it. That’s the nature of intelligence. It’s inherently dealing with uncertainty.”

Both Mr. Cardillo and Mr. Priess said previous presidents received assessments on issues of potentially vital importance even if they had dissents from some analysts or agencies. The dissents, they said, were highlighted for the president to help them understand uncertainties and the analytic process.

Lawmakers demanded to see the underlying material for themselves.

“This is a time to focus on the two things Congress should be asking and looking at: No. 1 Who knew what, when, and did the commander in chief know? And if not, how the hell not?” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, each requested that all lawmakers be briefed on the matter and for C.I.A. and other intelligence officials to explain how Mr. Trump was informed of intelligence collected about the plot.

The White House began explaining its position directly to lawmakers in a carefully controlled setting. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence; and Robert C. O’Brien, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, briefed a handful of invited House Republicans. A group of House Democrats was scheduled to go to the White House on Tuesday morning to receive a similar briefing.

There was no indication after the session with Republicans whether they had been told that the information was included in Mr. Trump’s written briefing four months ago. But afterward, two of the Republicans — Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Mac Thornberry of Texas — said that they “remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces” and would need additional briefings.

“It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan,” they said in a joint statement. “We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces.”

Other Republicans who attended the briefing were more sanguine. In an interview, Representative Chris Stewart of Utah said that he saw nothing unusual about the purported decision not to orally inform Mr. Trump, particularly when the situation did not require the president to take immediate action.

“It just didn’t reach the level of credibility to bring it to the president’s attention,” he said, adding that military and intelligence agencies should continue to scrutinize Russia’s activities.


The Associated Press first reported that the intelligence community was examining the deaths of the three Marine reservists: Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del.; Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; and Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa.

They were killed when a vehicle laden with explosives hit their truck, wounding an Afghan contractor as well. The huge blast set fire to the truck, engulfing those inside in flames, while their fellow Marines tried to extricate them, a defense official said. A brief firefight ensued.

Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the former police chief of Parwan Province, where Bagram Airfield is, said that the Taliban there hire freelancers from local criminal networks, often blurring the lines of who carried out what attacks. He said the Taliban’s commanders were only based in two districts of the province, Seyagird and Shinwari, and from there they coordinate a more extensive network that largely commissions the services of criminals.

The Taliban have denied involvement. And a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Dmitry Peskov, told NBC News on Monday that reports of the Russian scheme were incorrect. He said that “none of the American representatives have ever raised this question with their Russian counterparts through government or diplomatic channels.”

The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, declined to comment on any connection between the Marines’ deaths and the suspected Russian plot. Mr. Hoffman also declined to say whether or when Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper was briefed on the intelligence assessment and whether the deaths of American troops in Afghanistan resulted from the Russian bounties. Col. DeDe Halfhill, a spokeswoman for Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also declined to comment on the same questions.

Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Fahim Abed, Annie Karni and Emily Cochrane.

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U.S. Halts High-Tech Exports to Hong Kong Over Security Concerns

Westlake Legal Group merlin_171420231_6a3f600b-2dcf-4afa-99c5-f9815cdb3442-facebookJumbo U.S. Halts High-Tech Exports to Hong Kong Over Security Concerns United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J State Department Ross, Wilbur L Jr Pompeo, Mike International Trade and World Market Embargoes and Sanctions Commerce Department

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration placed new restrictions on U.S. exports of defense equipment and certain high-technology products to Hong Kong on Monday, in response to a new Chinese law aimed at tightening Beijing’s control over the territory.

The administration determined in late May that Hong Kong no longer had significant autonomy under Chinese rule, and promised to begin stripping away Hong Kong’s privileged status with the United States if Beijing continued to crack down on civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Chinese lawmakers are poised to approve a national security law as soon as this week that could drastically curb protests and other criticisms of the Chinese government, infringing on an arrangement that has made Hong Kong, which China ceded to Britain in 1842 and which ceased being a British colony in 1997, autonomous in many respects.

In separate statements on Monday, the State Department said that it would end exports of U.S. military equipment to Hong Kong, while the Commerce Department said that Hong Kong would now be subject to the same types of controls on certain technology exports that apply to China. Those controls block American companies from selling certain types of sensitive, high-technology products that could threaten national security to China, Russia and other countries deemed to be a security risk.

The effect of the new restrictions announced Monday appear to be relatively limited in scope, given the small volume of trade the United States does with Hong Kong. Hong Kong represented just 2.2 percent of American exports in 2018, with defense and high-technology items making up a sliver of that.

But the export limitations announced Monday could have larger implications for some multinational companies, including some semiconductor firms, who now will be barred from sending products or sharing certain high-tech information with the territory. Some multinational companies that chose Hong Kong as a base for doing business with China have begun considering moves to other locations, including Singapore.

The Trump administration has said it would end an extradition treaty with Hong Kong and curtail some other commercial relations as a result of China’s new security law. It said it would cancel visas for thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to the Chinese military, and threatened to place sanctions on Chinese government officials and financial institutions involved in promulgating the security law.

But the Trump administration has stopped short of broader financial sanctions, which could be crippling for Chinese companies and the U.S.-China economic relationship, including President Trump’s Phase 1 trade deal.

In a statement, Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, said that China’s new security law undermined the territory’s autonomy and increased the risk that delicate American technology would be diverted to China’s military or security forces.

Mr. Ross said that further actions to eliminate Hong Kong’s differential treatment were “also being evaluated.”

“We urge Beijing to immediately reverse course and fulfill the promises it has made to the people of Hong Kong and the world,” he added.

“It gives us no pleasure to take this action,” Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said in a separate statement. “But given Beijing now treats Hong Kong as ‘One Country, One System,’ so must we.”

Halting American high-tech exports to Hong Kong is not a new idea, as some American security experts have warned for years that China may be using purchases through Hong Kong to obtain products of military value that are prohibited for sale directly to mainland China. But Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary of commerce and economic development, said in an interview in his office in Hong Kong last year that the city has very tight controls on any re-export of high-tech gear that is subject to export controls by the United States or any other country.

Mr. Yau said at the time that the Hong Kong government was strongly opposed to any American move to apply export controls to Hong Kong, saying that Hong Kong retains a separate system in many ways from the mainland and has a history of close cooperation with the United States.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.

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The Supreme Court Stopped Anti-Abortion Momentum. For Now.

Westlake Legal Group the-supreme-court-stopped-anti-abortion-momentum-for-now The Supreme Court Stopped Anti-Abortion Momentum. For Now. United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Supreme Court (US) Roe v Wade (Supreme Court Decision) Louisiana Law and Legislation Abortion
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For anti-abortion activists, Monday’s Supreme Court ruling against a Louisiana law delivered a stinging and surprising setback.

But perhaps not for long. The anti-abortion movement has a long pipeline of new cases that, if taken up by the Supreme Court, could present a more direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established federal protection for abortion. As of June, there were at least 16 abortion cases before United States appeals courts, the last step before the Supreme Court, according to lawyers at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The Louisiana case, over a 2014 law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was never envisioned as a way to upend Roe v. Wade. It was one small piece of a broader strategy to restrict abortion through myriad state laws that put together could chip away at overall access.

That political project has already significantly narrowed abortion access in large areas of the South and the Midwest. And five states have only one abortion clinic each left: Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia.

The decision on Monday, the first major abortion case since President Trump shifted the court’s balance of power to the right, also showed for the first time that Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh sided with the anti-abortion cause, as hoped by longtime activists. The ruling will only further the push by social conservatives to re-elect Mr. Trump so he might have a third opportunity to nominate a justice in time to rule on more significant abortion cases working their way up to the Supreme Court. Many of those laws would have a far greater reach than the Louisiana case.

While legal challenges to abortion often take years to reach the Supreme Court, states have continued to add to the list, passing dozens of new laws in recent years. This month, Tennessee passed an abortion bill that would outlaw the procedure as early as six weeks in pregnancy without exceptions for rape or incest.

The president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, called Monday’s ruling a “bitter disappointment,” but, looking ahead to the November election, praised Mr. Trump for appointing Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, who dissented in the decision.

“It is imperative that we re-elect President Trump and our pro-life majority in the U.S. Senate so we can further restore the judiciary, most especially the Supreme Court,” the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said. “President Trump, assisted by the pro-life Senate majority, is keeping his promise to appoint constitutionalist Supreme Court justices and other federal judges.”

For the abortion-rights movement, which has faced a number of disappointments in recent years, the ruling was the best outcome that advocates could have hoped for, given the new conservative tilt of the court. Monday’s decision allows Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics to stay open.

Abortion-rights advocates said the win would preserve access for a clientele that is disproportionately poor and of color. There were about 8,000 abortions performed in the state in 2018, according to state statistics. More than two-thirds of abortion patients in Louisiana are women of color.

“It’s crazy times, and it’s a wonderful good thing,” said Kathaleen Pittman, the director of the Hope Medical Group for Women, the Shreveport-based clinic at the center of the case. On Monday morning, the clinic was seeing patients, and she described the mood after the ruling as “absolute giddiness.”

November is an important juncture for the fight over abortion. Mr. Trump’s bid for re-election will test the depth of his backing among white evangelicals and Catholics who support the president for how much he has advanced anti-abortion policies.

Control of state legislatures is also on the table. Nearly 80 percent of state seats are up for election this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Whichever party gets majority control will have tremendous power to reshape the legal landscape for abortion for years to come.

The anti-abortion movement has made tremendous gains in state legislatures around the country, which has allowed them to pass a flurry of bans in recent years. Reclaiming power on the state level for the abortion-rights movement will require painstaking grass-roots work.

For conservatives, Monday’s ruling is a political opportunity to energize Mr. Trump’s conservative religious base at a moment when he trails former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in six key states, including in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania where white Catholics may be important swing voters. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, called the ruling “unfortunate.”

“Instead of valuing fundamental democratic principles, unelected justices have intruded on the sovereign prerogatives of state governments by imposing their own policy preference in favor of abortion to override legitimate abortion safety regulations,” she said in a statement.

The abortion-rights movement had been using Mr. Trump’s appointments of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh as rallying calls for campaigns to take Senate seats, such as those held by Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa. Monday’s ruling seemed to reinforce that strategy.

“This is great news, but the battle continues, folks,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, in a tweet. “As long as Kavanaugh is on the bench, our rights are on the line—and we need your help to flip the Senate.”

Lawyers for the clinic argued their victory was resounding because it involved the Supreme Court ruling in their favor for the second time in four years on a case involving admitting privileges. The law was almost identical to a Texas law, large parts of which the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer said as much in his opinion. Even Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who sided against the abortion-rights groups in the 2016 case, gave his qualified support in Monday’s ruling.

“Two strikes, you’re out,” said T.J. Tu, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights and a lawyer for the clinic. The message, he said, was that “states should really knock this off.”

But in many ways the ruling was narrow — putting to rest merely one of many legal strategies used by the anti-abortion movement to reduce access. Legislatures, largely in red states, passed dozens of anti-abortion laws last year alone.

Nor is it a given that the 5-to-4 decision means that Chief Justice Roberts will always side with the court’s liberal wing on abortion cases. Though he was the deciding vote for Monday’s ruling, the chief justice specified in his concurring opinion that he believed the 2016 precedent that Monday’s ruling was based on was “wrongly decided.”

Lawyers for the Louisiana clinic conceded that Chief Justice Roberts had not come down conclusively on their side.

“The opinion did muddy the waters a little bit,” said Julie Rikelman, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights who represented the clinic. “It will lead to more litigation, not less.”

While the toughest bans — ones prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected — have drawn considerable attention, Ms. Rikelman said she did not expect those to be taken up by the Supreme Court. More likely, she said, would be any number of cases that diminish access piece by piece. The next major case could be over bans on the dilation and evacuation procedure that is common in the second trimester of pregnancy, or on abortion based on a Down syndrome diagnosis.

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Twitch Suspends Trump’s Channel for ‘Hateful Conduct’

Westlake Legal Group merlin_166032078_7b7f0694-2106-4e72-abed-f5f55a39d880-facebookJumbo Twitch Suspends Trump’s Channel for ‘Hateful Conduct’ Video Recordings, Downloads and Streaming Twitch Interactive Inc Trump, Donald J Social Media Presidential Election of 2020 Computers and the Internet

Twitch, the livestreaming platform, said on Monday that it was suspending President Trump’s channel for “hateful conduct,” in what appeared to be the first deliberate suspension of one of Mr. Trump’s social media accounts.

The site, which is owned by Amazon, said two recent streams on Mr. Trump’s channel violated its rules. One stream was of a rebroadcasted 2015 campaign event in which Mr. Trump made comments about Mexico sending drugs, crime and rapists over the border. The other was of his recent rally in Tulsa, Okla., where he talked about a “very tough hombre” breaking into a woman’s house at 1 a.m.

“Hateful conduct is not allowed on Twitch,” a Twitch spokeswoman said in a statement. “In line with our policies, President Trump’s channel has been issued a temporary suspension from Twitch for comments made on stream, and the offending content has been removed.”

It was unclear how long the suspension would last.

With its move, Twitch went further than other social media platforms. In recent months, some tech companies have become more proactive in handling speech issues by Mr. Trump and his supporters. Twitter began adding labels to some of the president’s tweets; Snap has said it will stop promoting Mr. Trump’s Snapchat account; and Reddit on Monday said it would ban “The_Donald” community, which had been a highly influential digital gathering place for Mr. Trump’s acolytes.

But unlike those efforts, Twitch directly clamped down on the president himself, temporarily shutting down his ability to post videos on a channel. The only other time Mr. Trump had one of his social media accounts suspended was by accident in 2017, when his Twitter account was unexpectedly disabled by a rogue contractor who was leaving Twitter that day.

One company that has maintained it does not want to police free speech is Facebook. Last week, the social network announced it would expand its hate speech policies and label posts from political figures who violate rules as “newsworthy.” But the labels, which do not explain what is inaccurate or hateful about a post, fall short of what Twitter and other companies have done.

Twitch’s suspension of Mr. Trump comes as the platform, which is popular with gamers, is under fire for other instances of hateful rhetoric. Streamers have accused it of allowing racist and sexist comments to thrive unchecked, and the company said last week it would permanently suspend a handful of users after a torrent of sexual harassment and assault allegations rocked the video game industry.

Cindy Otis, a disinformation expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said Twitch’s suspension of the president might pressure other companies to ratchet up their actions.

“You have to sort of wonder, if smaller platforms start taking more aggressive or harder action on what they consider harmful content or on the disinformation side — will that end up pressuring the larger platforms to do more as well?” Ms. Otis asked.

But, she added, “if stuff gets removed from one platform, it simply migrates to another.”

The actions are likely to revive charges by conservatives that social media platforms are suppressing and censoring their speech. Whitney Phillips, who researches disinformation at Syracuse University, said the moves were “definitely going to be weaponizable by people on the far right who can point to this” and say that online platforms were biased against conservatives.

Some backlash began on Monday after YouTube announced it was barring six channels for violating its hate speech policies, including one by Stefan Molyneux, a podcaster and internet commentator who has discussed his far-right politics. Far-right YouTubers quickly accused the Google-owned site of bias.

Mr. Molyneux, who had nearly one million YouTube subscribers and more than 300 million video views on the platform since starting his channel more than a decade ago, said on Twitter that YouTube had “just suspended the largest philosophy conversation the world has ever known.”

The Trump campaign did not directly address the actions by Twitch and Reddit on Monday. Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, said in a statement that people should download the Trump campaign app or text the campaign’s automated number to “hear directly from the president.”

Twitch is not one of Mr. Trump’s top social media channels. His channel began streaming on the service last October, amassing more than 125,000 followers and 113 streams, compared with his more than 83 million followers on Twitter.

The platform did not address whether any of Mr. Trump’s other past streams had violated its rules. It said it told Mr. Trump’s campaign last year that it did not “make exceptions for political or newsworthy content” that violated its guidelines.

By Monday afternoon, the URL for Mr. Trump’s Twitch channel displayed a message: “That content is unavailable.”

Kevin Roose contributed reporting.

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Spies and Commandos Warned Months Ago of Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops

Westlake Legal Group spies-and-commandos-warned-months-ago-of-russian-bounties-on-u-s-troops Spies and Commandos Warned Months Ago of Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops United States Special Operations Command United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Taliban Russia National Security Council Espionage and Intelligence Services Defense Department Classified Information and State Secrets central intelligence agency Afghanistan War (2001- ) Afghanistan
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WASHINGTON — United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter. They believed at least one U.S. troop death was the result of the bounties, two of the officials said.

The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.

Armed with this information, military and intelligence officials have been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties over the past 18 months to determine whether any were victims of the plot. Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.

The details added to the picture of the classified intelligence assessment, which The New York Times reported Friday has been under discussion inside the Trump administration since at least March, and emerged as the White House confronted a growing chorus of criticism on Sunday over its apparent failure to authorize a response to Russia.

Mr. Trump defended himself by denying the Times report that he had been briefed on the intelligence, expanding on a similar White House rebuttal a day earlier. But leading congressional Democrats and some Republicans demanded a response to Russia that, according to officials, the administration has yet to authorize.

The president “needs to immediately expose and handle this, and stop Russia’s shadow war,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter.

Appearing on the ABC program “This Week,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had not been briefed on the intelligence assessment and had asked for an immediate report to Congress. She accused Mr. Trump of wanting “to ignore” any charges against Russia.

“Russia has never gotten over the humiliation they suffered in Afghanistan, and now they are taking it out on us, our troops,” she said of the Soviet Union’s bloody war there in the 1980s. “This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it, he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything.”

Spokespeople for the C.I.A., the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon declined to comment on the new findings. A National Security Council spokesman, John L. Ullyot, said in a statement on Sunday night, “The veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated.”

Mr. Trump said Sunday night on Twitter that “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.” One senior administration official offered a similar explanation, saying that Mr. Trump was not briefed because the intelligence agencies had come to no consensus on the findings.

But another official said there was broad agreement that the intelligence assessment was accurate, with some complexities because different aspects of the intelligence — including interrogations and surveillance data — resulted in some differences among agencies in how much confidence to put in each type.

Though the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, claimed on Saturday that Mr. Trump had not been briefed about the intelligence report, one American official had told The Times that the report was briefed to the highest levels of the White House. Another said it was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a compendium of foreign policy and national security intelligence compiled for Mr. Trump to read.

Ms. McEnany did not challenge The Times’s reporting on the existence of the intelligence assessment, a National Security Council interagency meeting about it in late March and the White House’s inaction. Multiple other news organizations also subsequently reported on the assessment, and The Washington Post first reported on Sunday that the bounties were believed to have resulted in the death of at least one American service member.

The officials briefed on the matter said that the assessment had been treated as a closely held secret but that the administration expanded briefings about it over the last week — including sharing information about it with the British government, whose forces were among those said to have been targeted.

Republicans in Congress demanded more information from the Trump administration about what happened and how the White House planned to respond.

Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, said in a Twitter post on Sunday: “If reporting about Russian bounties on U.S. forces is true, the White House must explain: 1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”

Multiple Republicans retweeted Ms. Cheney’s post. Representative Daniel Crenshaw, Republican of Texas and a former member of the Navy SEALs, amplified her message, tweeting, “We need answers.”

In a statement in response to questions, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said he had long warned about Russia’s work to undermine American interests in the Middle East and southwest Asia and noted that he wrote an amendment last year rebuking Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of forces from Syria and Afghanistan.

“The United States needs to prioritize defense resources, maintain a sufficient regional military presence and continue to impose serious consequences on those who threaten us and our allies — like our strikes in Syria and Afghanistan against ISIS, the Taliban and Russian mercenary forces that threatened our partners,” Mr. McConnell said.

Aides for other top Republicans either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday, including Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican; Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In addition to saying he was never “briefed or told” about the intelligence report — a formulation that went beyond the White House denial of any formal briefing — Mr. Trump also cast doubt on the assessment’s credibility, which statements from his subordinates had not.

Specifically, he described the intelligence report as being about “so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians”; the report described bounties paid to Taliban militants by Russian military intelligence officers, not direct attacks. Mr. Trump also suggested that the developments could be a “hoax” and questioned whether The Times’s sources — government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity — existed.

Mr. Trump then pivoted to attack former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who criticized the president on Saturday for failing to punish Russia for offering bounties to the Taliban, as well as Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, who is the target of unsubstantiated claims that he helped a Ukrainian energy firm curry favor with the Obama administration when his father was vice president.

“Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine — Where’s Hunter?”

American officials said the Russian plot to pay bounties to Taliban fighters came into focus over the past several months after intelligence analysts and Special Operations forces put together key pieces of evidence.

One official said the seizure of a large amount of American cash at one Taliban site got “everybody’s attention” in Afghanistan. It was not clear when the money was recovered.

Two officials said the information about the bounty hunting was “well known” among the intelligence community in Afghanistan, including the C.I.A.’s chief of station and other top officials there, like the military commandos hunting the Taliban. The information was distributed in intelligence reports and highlighted in some of them.

The assessment was compiled and sent up the chain of command to senior military and intelligence officials, eventually landing at the highest levels of the White House. The Security Council meeting in March came at a delicate time, as the coronavirus pandemic was becoming a crisis and prompting shutdowns around the country.

A former American official said the national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, and the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, would have been involved in any decision to brief Mr. Trump on Russia’s activities, as would have the intelligence analyst who briefs the president.. The director of the C.I.A., Gina Haspel, might have also weighed in, the former official said.

Ms. McEnany cited those three senior officials in her statement saying the president had not been briefed.

National security officials have tracked Russia’s relationship with the Taliban for years and determined that Moscow has provided financial and material support to senior and regional Taliban leaders.

While Russia has at times cooperated with the United States and appeared interested in Afghan stability, it often seems to work at crosscurrents with its own national interest if the result is damage to American national interests, said a former senior Trump White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security assessments.

Revenge is also a factor in Russia’s support for the Taliban, the official said. Russia has been keen to even the scales after a bloody confrontation in 2018 in Syria, when a massive U.S. counterattack killed hundreds of Syrian forces along with Russian mercenaries nominally supported by the Kremlin.

“They are keeping a score sheet, and they want to punish us for that incident,” the official said.

Both Russia and the Taliban have denied the American intelligence assessment.

Ms. Pelosi said that if the president had not, in fact, been briefed, then the country should be concerned that his administration was afraid to share with him information regarding Russia.

Ms. Pelosi said that the episode underscored Mr. Trump’s accommodating stance toward Russia and that with him, “all roads lead to Putin.”

“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” she said. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan have been briefed and accept this report.”

John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, said on “This Week” that he was not aware of the intelligence assessment, but he questioned Mr. Trump’s response on Twitter.

“What would motivate the president to do that, because it looks bad if Russians are paying to kill Americans and we’re not doing anything about it?” Mr. Bolton said. “The presidential reaction is to say: ‘It’s not my responsibility. Nobody told me about it.’ And therefore to duck any complaints that he hasn’t acted effectively.”

Mr. Bolton said this summed up Mr. Trump’s decision-making on national security issues. “It’s just unconnected to the reality he’s dealing with.”

Reporting was contributed by Julian E. Barnes, Charlie Savage, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Michael Schwirtz and Michael D. Shear.

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How Michael Flynn’s Defense Team Found Powerful Allies

WASHINGTON — Sidney Powell, a firebrand lawyer whose pugnacious Fox News appearances had earned her numerous private phone conversations with President Trump, sent a letter last year to Attorney General William P. Barr about her soon-to-be new client, Michael T. Flynn.

Asking for “utmost confidentiality,” Ms. Powell told Mr. Barr that the case against Mr. Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser who had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., smacked of “corruption of our beloved government institutions for what appears to be political purposes.” She asked the attorney general to appoint an outsider to review the case, confident that such scrutiny would justify ending it.

Mr. Barr did what she wanted. He appointed a U.S. attorney six months later to scour the Flynn case file with a skeptical eye for documents that could be turned over as helpful to the defense. Ultimately, Mr. Barr directed the department to drop the charge, one of his numerous steps undercutting the work of the Russia investigation and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

The private correspondence between Ms. Powell and Mr. Barr, disclosed in a little-noticed court filing last fall, was the first step toward a once-obscure lawyer and a powerful attorney general finding common cause in a battle to dismantle the legacy of the investigations into President Trump and his allies.

Ms. Powell’s slash-and-burn approach — accusing the federal law enforcement machinery of concocting a case against her client — failed in the courtroom last year when a judge rejected her claims. But the same strategy, which she amplified in frequent media appearances, succeeded in turning Mr. Flynn’s case into a cause for Mr. Trump’s supporters and in securing the review ordered by Mr. Barr that provided her with fresh ammunition.

Mr. Barr’s subsequent decision to drop the charge against Mr. Flynn threw the Justice Department into turmoil and set up a high-stakes battle pitting the attorney general and Ms. Powell against the trial judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, who opened a review of the move.

Ms. Powell and her client won a significant victory on Wednesday when a divided appeals court panel — in a surprise ruling written by Judge Neomi Rao, a former White House official whom Mr. Trump appointed to the bench — ordered Judge Sullivan to drop the case without scrutiny. Judge Sullivan suspended his review but has not dismissed the charge, suggesting that the extraordinary legal and political saga is not yet over.

Ms. Powell declined to discuss her conversations with the White House or her correspondence with Mr. Barr. But she said in an email that she had long considered “prosecutorial misconduct and overreach” a problem and that she viewed Mr. Flynn as a victim of it.

At its core, Mr. Flynn’s case is a drama about who gets to mete out justice in the Trump era, upending the prosecution of a man who twice had admitted guilt.

“It’s hard to think of anything remotely like this,” said David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “The Justice Department has taken somebody who has twice pleaded guilty, in a case where the trial judge has considered and already rejected claims of government wrongdoing, and prosecutors now say we’d like to dismiss the case and don’t think it should have been brought in the first place.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00dc-flynn2-articleLarge How Michael Flynn’s Defense Team Found Powerful Allies United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Sullivan, Emmet G Special Prosecutors (Independent Counsel) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Powell, Sidney (Attorney) Mueller, Robert S III Justice Department Flynn, Michael T Ethics and Official Misconduct Decisions and Verdicts Barr, William P Attorneys General
Credit…Dominic Bracco II/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

When Mr. Flynn stood in Judge Sullivan’s courtroom on Dec. 18, 2018, his legal odyssey appeared to be over. He had struck a favorable deal with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors to cooperate after admitting to lying to F.B.I. agents about conversations with the Russian ambassador in late 2016. In exchange, prosecutors were recommending he receive no prison time and not be prosecuted for separate offenses related to his lobbying for Turkish government without registering as an agent of a foreign power.

But he did not go quietly. His defense team, in a memo laying out what sentence he should receive, also floated the notion that Mr. Flynn had been set up. F.B.I. agents had used several different tactics to essentially trick Mr. Flynn, a retired Army three-star general, into making false statements, the memo suggested.

The Flynn defense team was trying to have it both ways, and Judge Sullivan was furious. He grilled Mr. Flynn about whether he was truly taking responsibility for his crimes and even suggested — before retracting the notion — that Mr. Flynn had been a traitor to his country. When it appeared that Judge Sullivan might send Mr. Flynn to prison, going beyond the original recommendation of prosecutors, Mr. Flynn and his lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, decided to postpone the sentencing so he could continue to cooperate with prosecutors.

Judge Sullivan, appointed to the Federal District Court by President Bill Clinton, has a reputation as a hard-nosed jurist with a disdain for prosecutorial misconduct. He is known for taking guilty pleas seriously, and he reminded Mr. Kelner that he had never accepted one from someone who maintained he was not guilty and that he didn’t “intend to start today.”

In his legal pivot, Mr. Flynn had channeled the campaign led by Mr. Trump and his allies that had portrayed the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and a plot to sabotage his presidency. Since Mr. Flynn had first pleaded guilty in 2017, Republicans in Congress had taken up a campaign to undermine the case against him and portray him as a victim of overzealous prosecutors.

Some legal experts speculated at the time that Mr. Flynn was accepting guilt to pocket a sentence without prison time while also preserving the possibility that Mr. Trump might pardon him. His legal strategy would, soon enough, become even more radical: that he was innocent all along.

Credit…Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

One of Mr. Flynn’s most vocal defenders was Ms. Powell, a Texas-based former federal prosecutor who had made no secret about her view that the Russia investigation was a sham. She appeared frequently on Fox News and had a website hawking T-shirts mocking Mr. Mueller’s team as “creeps on a mission.”

In early 2018, not long after Mr. Flynn’s original guilty plea, Ms. Powell wrote an op-ed alleging that “extraordinary manipulation by powerful people led to the creation of Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation and prosecution of General Michael Flynn.” She exhorted Mr. Flynn to drop his guilty plea and, ironically, praised Judge Sullivan, who had just taken over the case.

She called him the “perfect judge” for it because of his handling years earlier of the corruption case against former Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska. In that case, Judge Sullivan had been so furious after the Justice Department disclosed that it had failed to turn over evidence potentially helpful to the defense that he opened an ethics investigation into the prosecutors.

The department ended up asking Judge Sullivan to dismiss the case despite having won a guilty verdict — an outcome Ms. Powell seemed to view as a road map for Mr. Flynn.

Her television advocacy on behalf of Mr. Flynn appears to have had an influential viewer: the president. The two spoke five times in 2019, during the months before she officially took on Mr. Flynn as a client, according to a person familiar with the calls.

It is unclear what they discussed, but when Ms. Powell persuaded Mr. Flynn and his family to drop his original legal team and allow her to take up the case, the president was thrilled.

“General Michael Flynn, the 33 year war hero who has served with distinction, has not retained a good lawyer, he has retained a GREAT LAWYER, Sidney Powell,” Mr. Trump tweeted on June 13, 2019. “Best Wishes and Good Luck to them both!”

She previewed her defense strategy in the secret letter to Mr. Barr, asking him to begin a hunt for materials that the department could turn over. “At the end of this internal review, we believe there will be ample justification for the department to follow the precedent of the Ted Stevens case and move to dismiss the prosecution of General Flynn in the interest of justice,” she wrote.

As Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, she began demanding that the Justice Department turn over more files, including documents that were tangential to her client’s case but promoted other right-wing conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation.

She accused the F.B.I. and prosecutors of engaging in a litany of misconduct that “impugned their entire case against Mr. Flynn, while at the same time putting excruciating pressure on him to enter his guilty plea and manipulating or controlling the press to their advantage to extort that plea.”

Exasperated prosecutors attacked Ms. Powell’s legal strategy, saying the “defendant and his new counsel are in search of a result, not the facts.”

She also made clear that her client was done helping the Justice Department. Almost immediately after she began representing Mr. Flynn, he changed his story in a prosecution in Virginia against his former business partner about their work for Turkey. Prosecutors decided against calling him as a witness, significantly weakening their case.

Credit…Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Months later, it was Ms. Powell’s defense of Mr. Flynn that was collapsing.

In December, Judge Sullivan delivered a stinging rebuke to her wide-ranging claims of prosecutorial misconduct and other accusations. In a 92-page opinion, he marched through her allegations and rejected each one.

It turned out that Judge Sullivan was not the savior that Ms. Powell was looking for; he even ruled that Mr. Flynn was no Ted Stevens.

But in a different way, her strategy had been a success: The case had become a political cause. While Judge Sullivan rejected Ms. Powell’s claims of material law enforcement misconduct as baseless, Fox News and other conservative news outlets had amplified them along the way.

“One of the things that General Flynn wanted to do, he thought it was critically important that we empty out the swamp of all the senior intelligence folks that are in Washington, D.C.,” Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican on the Intelligence Committee who has been a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump and his theories, said to applause at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. “So they had a real reason to get rid of General Flynn.”

This political chorus had already been hard at work trying to undermine the conclusions of the voluminous special counsel’s report. Mr. Mueller concluded that Russia systematically tried to sabotage the 2016 election and that Mr. Trump’s advisers had welcomed the help — even if he concluded there was insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy. He also found numerous times when Mr. Trump tried to impede the Russia investigation, but chose not to determine whether the president had illegally obstructed justice.

Weeks after Judge Sullivan rejected Ms. Powell’s assertions of prosecutorial misconduct and was preparing to sentence Mr. Flynn, Ms. Powell persuaded her client to ask to withdraw his guilty plea and declare to the judge that he was innocent.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Meanwhile, Mr. Barr was moving to take direct control over the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which was handling several politically charged matters.

Mr. Barr maneuvered the Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney, Jessie K. Liu, into leaving early, and imposed his own aide, Timothy J. Shea, as the acting head of the office. At the same time, he appointed the U.S. attorney for St. Louis, Jeffrey B. Jensen, to examine the Flynn case.

It was exactly what Ms. Powell had asked Mr. Barr to do in her secret letter six months earlier.

Mr. Jensen scoured F.B.I. files in search of anything that could be construed as so-called Brady material — information Mr. Flynn could use to argue that he was not guilty — which had been withheld from the defense. He found several files.

Many fell into a category of things that made the F.B.I. look heavy-handed, but did not change the narrow issue of whether Mr. Flynn made false statements to the agents who questioned him.

But Ms. Powell seized on the revelations as proof that prosecutors had improperly withheld exculpatory evidence, justifying a dismissal of the case. Mr. Barr directed his department to file a motion to dismiss the charge.

The remarkable decision infuriated some Justice Department officials and stunned legal experts. Mr. Barr defended it last week in an interview with NPR as appropriate.

It also forced a showdown with Judge Sullivan, who had no intention of abandoning the case so easily.

The judge ordered a new review, appointing John Gleeson, a former mafia prosecutor and a retired federal judge from Brooklyn, to argue against the Justice Department’s motion. In a scathing memo, Mr. Gleeson urged Judge Sullivan to sentence Mr. Flynn anyway, over prosecutors’ objections.

Trying to head that off, Ms. Powell asked an appeals panel to order Judge Sullivan to end the case without any review of the motivation or legitimacy of the request. Legal experts widely scoffed at her tactic, noting that such orders are supposed to be reserved for rare problems where no other option exists.

But Ms. Powell’s gambit led to a stroke of luck. The case was randomly assigned to a three-judge panel that included Judge Rao and Judge Karen L. Henderson, a 1990 appointee of President George Bush, who have both proved more willing than most of their colleagues to interpret the law in Mr. Trump’s favor in politically charged cases.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the panel ordered Judge Sullivan to shut down the case immediately, saying he had no authority to scrutinize the basis for Mr. Barr’s decision. The dissenting judge on the panel accused his colleagues of “grievously” overstepping their authority.

The ruling turned on a technical question rather than the merits of the case, and it remains to be seen whether the full appeals court will let it stand.

But Mr. Trump and his allies have already declared victory, inaccurately portraying the decision as proof that Mr. Flynn has been exonerated and should never have been charged.

Maggie Haberman and Katie Benner contributed reporting.

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How the Trump Campaign Is Drawing Obama Out of Retirement

Just after Donald J. Trump was elected president, Barack Obama slumped in his chair in the Oval Office and addressed an aide standing near a conspicuously placed bowl of apples, emblem of a healthy-snacking policy soon to be swept aside, along with so much else.

“I am so done with all of this,” Mr. Obama said of his job, according to several people familiar with the exchange.

Yet he knew, even then, that a conventional White House retirement was not an option. Mr. Obama, 55 at the time, was stuck holding a baton he had wanted to pass to Hillary Clinton, and saddled with a successor whose fixation on him, he believed, was rooted in a bizarre personal animus and the politics of racial backlash exemplified by the birther lie.

“There is no model for my kind of post-presidency,” he told the aide. “I’m clearly renting space inside the guy’s head.”

Which is not to say that Mr. Obama was not committed to his pre-Trump retirement vision — a placid life that was to consist of writing, sun-flecked fairways, policy work through his foundation, producing documentaries with Netflix and family time aplenty at a new $11.7 million spread on Martha’s Vineyard.

Still, more than three years after his exit, the 44th president of the United States is back on a political battlefield he longed to leave, drawn into the fight by an enemy, Mr. Trump, who is hellbent on erasing him, and by a friend, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is equally intent on embracing him.

The stakes of that re-engagement were always going to be high. Mr. Obama is nothing if not protective of his legacy, especially in the face of Mr. Trump’s many attacks. Yet interviews with more than 50 people in the former president’s orbit portray a conflicted combatant, trying to balance deep anger at his successor with an instinct to refrain from a brawl that he fears may dent his popularity and challenge his place in history.

That calculus, though, may be changing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by the police in Minneapolis. As America’s first black president, now its first black ex-president, Mr. Obama sees the current social and racial awakening as an opportunity to elevate a 2020 election dictated by Mr. Trump’s mud-wrestling style into something more meaningful — to channel a new, youthful movement toward a political aim, as he did in 2008.

He is doing so very carefully, characteristically intent on keeping his cool, his reputation, his political capital and his dreams of a cosseted retirement intact.

“I don’t think he is hesitant. I think he is strategic,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a top adviser for over a decade. “He has always been strategic about using his voice; it’s his most valuable commodity.”

Mr. Obama is also mindful of a cautionary example: Bill Clinton’s attacks against him in 2008 backfired so badly that his wife’s campaign staff had to scale back his appearances.

Many supporters have been pressing him to be more aggressive.

“It would be nice, for a change, if Barack Obama could emerge from his cave and offer — no wait, DEMAND — a way forward,” the columnist Drew Magary wrote in a much-shared Medium post in April titled “Where the Hell is Barack Obama?

The counterargument: He did his job and deserves to be left alone.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_115707257_44ee1a9d-c059-4d5a-8d1d-1afcff6e5510-articleLarge How the Trump Campaign Is Drawing Obama Out of Retirement Warren, Elizabeth United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Sharpton, Al Schmidt, Eric E Presidents and Presidency (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Obama, Michelle Manigault, Omarosa Kushner, Jared Holder, Eric H Jr Hoffman, Reid Garrett George Floyd Protests (2020) Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Bush, George W Biden, Joseph R Jr
Credit…Al Drago/The New York Times

“Obama has now been out of office for three and a half years, and he is still facing this kind of scrutiny — no one is pressuring white ex-presidents like George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter the same way,” said Monique Judge, news editor of the online magazine The Root and author of a 2018 article arguing that Mr. Obama no longer owed the country a thing.

Mr. Obama’s head appears to be somewhere in the middle. He is not planning to scrap his summer Vineyard vacation and is still anguishing over the publication date of his long-awaited memoir. But last week he stepped up his nominally indirect criticism of Mr. Trump’s administration — decrying a “shambolic, disorganized, meanspirited approach to governance” during an online Biden fund-raiser. And he made a pledge of sorts, telling Mr. Biden’s supporters: “Whatever you’ve done so far is not enough. And I hold myself and Michelle and our kids to that same standard.”

On Thursday, during an invitation-only Zoom fund-raiser, Mr. Obama expressed outrage at the president’s use of “kung flu” and “China virus” to describe the coronavirus. “I don’t want a country in which the president of the United States is actively trying to promote anti-Asian sentiment and thinks it’s funny. I don’t want that. That still shocks and pisses me off,” Mr. Obama said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by a participant in the event.

Mr. Obama speaks with the former vice president and top campaign aides frequently, offering suggestions on staffing and messaging. Last month, he bluntly counseled Mr. Biden to keep his speeches brief, interviews crisp and slash the length of his tweets, the better to make the campaign a referendum on Mr. Trump and the economy, according to Democratic officials.

He has taken a particular interest in Mr. Biden’s work-in-progress digital operation, the officials said, enlisting powerful friends, like the LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and the former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, to share their expertise, they said.

Yet he continues to slow-walk some requests, especially to headline more fund-raisers. Some in Mr. Obama’s camp suggest he wants to avoid overshadowing the candidate — which Mr. Biden’s people aren’t buying.

“By all means, overshadow us,” one of them joked.

Credit…Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

From the moment Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Obama adopted a minimalist approach: He would critique his policy choices, not the man himself, following the norm of civility observed by his predecessors, especially George W. Bush.

But norms are not Mr. Trump’s thing. He made it clear from the start that he wanted to eradicate any trace of Mr. Obama’s presence from the West Wing. “He had the worst taste,” Mr. Trump told a visitor in early 2017, showing off his new curtains — which were not terribly different from Mr. Obama’s, in the view of other people who tramped in and out of the office during that chaotic period.

The cancellation was more pronounced when it came to policy. One former White House official recalled Mr. Trump interrupting an early presentation to make sure one staff proposal was not “an Obama thing.”

During the transition, in what looks in hindsight like a preview of the presidency, one Trump aide got the idea of printing out the detailed checklist of Mr. Obama’s campaign promises from the official White House website to repurpose as a kind of hit list, according to two people familiar with the effort.

“This is personal for Trump; it is all about President Obama and demolishing his legacy. It’s his obsession,” said Omarosa Manigault Newman, an “Apprentice” veteran and, until her abrupt departure, one of the few black officials in Mr. Trump’s West Wing. “President Obama will not be able to rest as long as Trump is breathing.”

When the two men met for a stilted postelection sit-down in November 2016, the president-elect was polite, so Mr. Obama took the opportunity to advise him against going scorched-earth on Obamacare. “Look, you can take my name off of it; I don’t care,” he said, according to aides.

Mr. Trump nodded noncommittally.

As the transition dragged on, Mr. Obama became increasingly uneasy at what he saw as the breezy indifference of the new president and his inexperienced team. Many of them ignored the briefing binders his staff had painstakingly produced at his direction, former Obama aides recalled, and instead of focusing on policy or the workings of the West Wing, they inquired about the quality of tacos in the basement mess or where to find a good apartment.

As for Mr. Trump, he had “no idea what he’s doing,” Mr. Obama told an aide after their Oval Office encounter.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, made an equally indelible impression. During a tour of the building he abruptly inquired, “So how many of these people are sticking around?”

The answer was none, his escort replied. (West Wing officials serve at the president’s pleasure, as Mr. Trump would amply illustrate in the coming months.)

When the Kushner story was relayed to Mr. Obama, aides recalled, he laughed and repeated it to friends, and even a few journalists, to illustrate what the country was up against.

A White House spokesman did not deny the account, but suggested Mr. Kushner might have been talking about security and maintenance personnel rather than political appointees.

During other conversations with editors he respected, including David Remnick of The New Yorker and Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Mr. Obama was more ruminative, according to people familiar with the interactions. At times, he would float some version of this question: Was there anything he could have done to blunt the Trump backlash?

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Obama eventually came to the conclusion that it was a historic inevitability, and told people around him the best he could do was “set a counterexample.”

Others thought he needed to do more. During the transition, Paulette Aniskoff, a veteran West Wing aide, began assembling a political organization of former advisers to help Mr. Obama defend his legacy, aid other Democrats and plan for his deployment as a surrogate in the 2018 midterms.

He was open to the effort, but his eye was on the exits. “I’ll do what you want me to do,” he told Ms. Aniskoff’s team, but mandated they carefully screen out any appearances that would waste time or squander political capital.

Mr. Obama was, then as now, so determined to avoid uttering the new president’s name that one aide jokingly suggested they refer to him as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” — Harry Potter’s archenemy, Lord Voldemort.

Mr. Trump had no trouble naming names. In March 2017, he falsely accused Mr. Obama of personally ordering the surveillance of his campaign headquarters, tweeting, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

It was an inflection point of sorts. Mr. Obama told Ms. Aniskoff’s team he would call out his successor by name in the 2018 midterms. But not a lot.

It was telling how Mr. Obama talked about Mr. Trump that fall: He referred to him less as a person than as a kind of epidemiological affliction on the body politic, spread by his Republican enablers.

“It did not start with Donald Trump — he is a symptom, not the cause,” he said in his kickoff speech at the University of Illinois in September 2018. The American political system, he added, was not “healthy” enough to form the “antibodies” to fight the contagion of “racial nationalism.”

The pandemic has, if anything, made him more partial to the comparison.

The virus, he said during his appearance with Mr. Biden last week, “is a metaphor” for so much else.

Credit…Andrew Milligan/Press Association Images, via Getty Images

Mr. Obama felt one of the best ways to safeguard his legacy was by writing his book, which he envisioned as both a detailed chronicle of his presidency and as a serious literary follow-up to his widely praised 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father.”

In late 2016, Mr. Obama’s agent, Bob Barnett, began negotiating a package deal for Mr. Obama’s memoir and Michelle Obama’s autobiography. Random House eventually won the bidding war with a record-shattering $65 million offer.

The process has been a gilded grind. One former White House official who checked in with Mr. Obama in mid-2018 was told the project “was like doing homework.”

Another associate, who ran into the former president at an event last year, remarked at how fit he looked. Mr. Obama replied, “Let’s just say my golf game is going a lot better than my book.”

It was not especially easy for the former president to look on as his wife’s book, “Becoming,” was published in 2018 and quickly became an international blockbuster.

“She had a ghostwriter,” Mr. Obama told a friend who asked about his wife’s speedy work. “I am writing every word myself, and that’s why it’s taking longer.”

The book’s timing remains among the touchiest of topics. Mr. Obama, a deliberate writer prone to procrastination — and lengthy digression — insisted that there be no set deadline, according to several people familiar with the process.

In an interview shortly after Mr. Obama left office, one of his closest advisers had predicted that the book would be out in mid-2019, before the primary season began in earnest, an option preferred by many working on the project.

But Mr. Obama did not finish and circulate a draft of between 600 and 800 pages until around New Year’s, too late to publish before the election, according to people familiar with the situation.

He is now seriously considering splitting the project into two volumes, in the hope of getting some of it into print quickly after the election, perhaps in time for the Christmas season, several people close to the process said.

Mr. Obama’s other big creative enterprise, a multimillion-dollar 2018 contract with Netflix to produce documentaries and scripted features with his wife, has been a tonic, and quick work by comparison.

Mr. Obama got a kick out of screening dozens of potential projects and offered specific suggestions — scrawled onto the yellow legal pad he used to write his book — to directors and writers. His production firm, Higher Ground Productions, is run out of a small bungalow on a Hollywood studio lot once home to Charlie Chaplin’s company, and he spent a day kibbitzing with its small staff during a visit in November.

One of the first efforts was “Crip Camp,” an award-winning documentary about a summer camp in upstate New York, founded in the early 1970s, that became a focal point of the disability rights movement.

Mr. Obama saw the project as a vehicle for his vision of grass-roots political change, and provided feedback during the 18 months the movie was in production.

“We saw footage that the filmmakers had just begun to cut together and sent it to the president to look at,” said Priya Swaminathan, co-head of Higher Ground. “He wanted to know how we could help the filmmakers make this the best telling of the story and they were into the collaboration. We watched many, many cuts together.”

Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Part of what Mr. Obama finds so appealing about filmmaking is that it allows him to control the narrative. In that respect, the 2020 campaign has been a disorienting experience: His political career is supposed to be over, yet he has a semi-starring role in a production he has not written or directed.

Nowhere has that low-grade frustration been more apparent than in his complicated relationship with Mr. Biden, who is concurrently covetous of his support and fiercely determined to win on his own.

Mr. Obama was supportive of Mr. Biden, personally, from the start of the campaign, but he promised Senator Bernie Sanders, in one of their early chats, that his public profession of neutrality was genuine and that he was not working secretly to elect his friend, according to a party official familiar with the exchange.

Moreover, Mr. Obama has always been cleareyed about his friend’s vulnerabilities, urging Mr. Biden’s aides to ensure that he not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy,” win or lose.

When a Democratic donor raised the issue of Mr. Biden’s age late last year — he is 77 — Mr. Obama acknowledged those concerns, saying, “I wasn’t even 50 when I got elected, and that job took every ounce of energy I had,” according to the person.

Still, he is an enthusiastic supporter, and played a central role in pushing Mr. Sanders to “accelerate the endgame” that led to Mr. Biden’s earlier-than-expected victory in April. He spent the next few weeks tidying up a few messy political loose ends, working to improve his chilly relationship with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who irked him by criticizing his Wall Street speaking fees as emblematic of the scourge of money in politics, calling it a “snake that slithers through Washington.”

He has never seen Mr. Biden’s campaign as a proxy war between himself and Mr. Trump, his aides insist. But he is, nonetheless, tickled by the lopsided metrics of their competition of late.

Mr. Obama monitors their respective polling numbers closely — he gets privately circulated data from the Democratic National Committee — and takes pride in the fact that he has millions more Twitter followers than a president who relies on the platform far more than he does, people close to him said.

The former president devours online news, scouring The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlantic sites on his iPad constantly, and keeps to his White House night-owl hours, sending texts and story links to friends between midnight and 2 a.m. Even during the pandemic he does not sleep late, at least on weekdays, and is often on his Peloton bike by 8 a.m., sending off a new round of texts, often about the latest Trump outrage.

Mr. Obama was already stepping up his criticism of Mr. Trump before Mr. Floyd’s killing in May. Ms. Aniskoff organized an online meeting with 3,000 former administration officials whose purpose, in part, was to soft-launch his tougher line. (Democrats close to Mr. Obama helpfully leaked the recording of his remarks.)

Yet the rising cries for racial justice have lent the 2020 campaign a coherence for Mr. Obama, a politician most comfortable cloaking his criticism of an opponent — be it Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump — in the language of movement politics.

Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Mr. Obama’s first reaction to the protests, people close to him said, was anxiety — that the spasms of rioting would spin out of control and play into Mr. Trump’s narrative of a lawless left.

But peaceful demonstrators took control, igniting a national movement that challenged Mr. Trump without making him its focal point.

Soon after, in the middle of a strategy call with political aides and policy experts at his foundation, an excited Mr. Obama pronounced that “a tailor-made moment” had arrived.

Mr. Obama has lately been in close contact with his first attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., sharing his outrage over the way the current attorney general, William P. Barr, personally inspected the phalanx of federal law enforcement officers who tear-gassed demonstrators to clear the path for Mr. Trump’s walk to a photo op at a historic church near the White House.

Mr. Holder has few qualms about calling Mr. Trump a racist in the former president’s presence. Mr. Obama has never contradicted him, but he avoids the term, even in private, preferring a more indirect accusation of “racial demagoguery,” according to several people close to both men.

His response to the Floyd killing was less about hammering Mr. Trump than about encouraging young people, who have been slow in embracing Mr. Biden, to vote. When he chose to speak publicly, it was to host an online forum highlighting a slate of policing reforms that went nowhere in Congress in his second term.

In that sense, the role he is most comfortable occupying is the job he was once so over.

On June 4, an hour or so before Mr. Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis, the former president called his brother, Philonise Floyd — a reprise of the calls he made to grieving families over his eight years in office.

“I want you to have hope. I want you to know you are not alone. I want you to know that Michelle and I will do anything you want me to do,” Mr. Obama said during the emotional 25-minute conversation, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was on the call. Two other people with knowledge of the call confirmed its contents.

“That was the first time, I think, that the Floyd family really experienced solace since he died,” Mr. Sharpton said in an interview.

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Marty Baron Made The Post Great Again. Now, the News Is Changing.

Westlake Legal Group marty-baron-made-the-post-great-again-now-the-news-is-changing Marty Baron Made The Post Great Again. Now, the News Is Changing. Washington Post Undefeated, The (Web Site) Trump, Donald J Starr, Kenneth I Social Media Roman Catholic Church Race and Ethnicity Pulitzer Prizes Newspapers News Sources, Confidential Status of News and News Media New York Times miami herald Lowery, Wesley Los Angeles Times Khashoggi, Jamal Kavanaugh, Brett M Graham, Katharine George Floyd Protests (2020) ESPN discrimination Boston Globe Black People Bezos, Jeffrey P Baron, Martin D

Almost anyone who works in The Washington Post newsroom can look inside its publishing system, Methode, to see what stories are coming. And at the height of the furor over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, some who did saw a shocking article awaiting publication.

In the article, Bob Woodward, The Post legend who protected the identity of his Watergate source, Deep Throat, for 30 years, was going to unmask one of his own confidential sources. He was, in particular, going to disclose that Judge Kavanaugh had been an anonymous source in his 1999 book “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.”

Mr. Woodward was planning to expose Mr. Kavanaugh because the judge had publicly denied — in a huffy letter in 1999 to The Post — an account about Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton that he had himself, confidentially, provided to Mr. Woodward for his book. (Mr. Kavanaugh served as a lawyer on Mr. Starr’s team.)

The article, described by two Post journalists who read it, would have been explosive, arriving as the nominee battled a decades-old sexual assault allegation and was fighting to prove his integrity.

The article was nearly ready when the executive editor, Martin Baron, stepped in. Mr. Baron urged Mr. Woodward not to breach his arrangement with Mr. Kavanaugh and to protect his old source’s anonymity, three Post employees said. (The three, as well as other Post journalists who spoke to me, insisted on anonymity because The Post prefers that its employees not talk to the media.)

Mr. Baron and other editors persuaded Mr. Woodward that it would be bad for The Post and “bad for Bob” to disclose a source, one of the journalists told me. The piece never ran.

And the steadfast adherence to the longstanding rules of newspaper journalism and the defense of the institution, which have defined Mr. Baron’s tenure at The Post, prevailed.

Happy newsrooms are all alike but every unhappy newsroom is unhappy in its own way. And in this moment of cultural reckoning, most American newsrooms are unhappy places. They’re reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and under attack from the president of the United States even as they reckon with America’s racial inequalities in their own institutions. At The Post, black staff members’ discontent burst onto Twitter, as a set of high-profile journalists who have left the paper discussed how they felt pushed aside or pushed out. Their complaints, along with previously untold stories recently shared with me, paint a picture of an essential American institution caught in fierce cultural crosscurrents.

The revival of The Post by Mr. Baron and its owner, the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, is perhaps the greatest news business success story of the past decade. But that journalistic revival has in some ways masked a messier story, one of many contradictions.

The Post has published some of the best reporting in the 20th century American newspaper tradition that’s ever been done like the sprawling exposé of America’s war in Afghanistan — all wrapped in a digital marketing, advertising and publishing machine that The Post licenses lucratively to news organizations around the world. It’s a faceless institution in an era of influencers and personal brands. It’s a place where one of the managing editors, Tracy Grant, still hands new reporters a copy of Katharine Graham’s 1997 memoir, though, of course, The Post is no longer owned by the beloved Graham family, but by the world’s richest man. Mr. Baron’s fearless focus on White House coverage and investigations has put it at the center of the American media’s response to President Trump.

But it’s also a top-down institution whose constrained view of what journalism is today has frustrated some of the industry’s creative young stars.

At the heart of The Post’s identity is Mr. Baron, 65, the ultimate old school editor. He rose through the ranks of The Miami Herald and The Los Angeles Times, then arrived at The New York Times in 1996, where he took over the powerful role of night editor, the stern gatekeeper and final approver of any article headed into the print newspaper.

But he frustrated reporters with his punctiliousness, and didn’t play the internal politics of succession. He left The Times in 2000 to take over The Miami Herald, leading its staff to a Pulitzer Prize, and then The Boston Globe, where he published a historic investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. That showdown became the movie “Spotlight,” in which Liev Schreiber played Mr. Baron as introverted, irascible, and unbending — a depiction that Post employees describe as uncannily accurate.

He arrived at The Post in 2013 “stubbornly retro,” according to a National Journal profile, but when the Amazon founder, Mr. Bezos, bought the paper later that year, Mr. Baron proved the perfect ballast: He wasn’t personally a man of the internet, but he made clear he was all for it. And his journalistic gravitas gave the newsroom comfort during its frantic, overdue shift to the digital age. When other publications seemed unnerved by the election of President Trump, Mr. Baron’s assertion, “We’re not at war with the administration, we’re at work,” seemed to fortify journalists everywhere.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_122260880_271720bf-70e2-4efd-a576-4af8e4bc45b6-articleLarge Marty Baron Made The Post Great Again. Now, the News Is Changing. Washington Post Undefeated, The (Web Site) Trump, Donald J Starr, Kenneth I Social Media Roman Catholic Church Race and Ethnicity Pulitzer Prizes Newspapers News Sources, Confidential Status of News and News Media New York Times miami herald Lowery, Wesley Los Angeles Times Khashoggi, Jamal Kavanaugh, Brett M Graham, Katharine George Floyd Protests (2020) ESPN discrimination Boston Globe Black People Bezos, Jeffrey P Baron, Martin D
Credit…Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Mr. Baron’s opposition to Mr. Woodward’s story, people who work with him said, wasn’t about favoring Mr. Kavanaugh, or being afraid of a fight. Publishing the article would simply violate the traditional principle that sources should be protected. And it would veer into an uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing new form of journalism, and, in Mr. Baron’s view, imperil the reputation of the institution.

When I asked, repeatedly, for an interview with Mr. Baron, The Post’s spokeswoman, Kris Coratti, instead sent me 4,000 words of excerpts from his many speeches about journalism. The speeches reflected his sophisticated articulation of the importance of open-minded, rigorous and brave journalism. But the speech excerpts didn’t include the credo that stuck with me from a recent memo written by Mr. Baron.

“The Post is more than a collection of individuals who wish to express themselves,” Mr. Baron wrote. “The reputation of The Post must prevail over any one individual’s desire for expression.”

This principle reflects Mr. Baron’s frequently expressed frustration that his reporters’ tweets could undermine The Post’s journalism. It sometimes seems that Mr. Baron is standing athwart Twitter yelling, “Stop!” and nobody’s listening.

The intensity of the debate inside The Post over its journalists’ tweets emerged in an internal survey of reporters’ attitudes, commissioned by the national editor, Steven Ginsberg, without Mr. Baron’s participation. The report, which was circulated in April, described Post management as “ill-equipped to deal with social media in the modern era” and suggested that managers are more forgiving of mistakes “by white men and newsroom stars than they are of women, minorities and less high-profile reporters.”

(The Times, where management has cultivated stars and taken a relatively softer line on Twitter, has its own challenges, and was forced last week to try to purge the vitriol from its internal conversations on Slack. Its chief executive, Mark Thompson, asked employees to avoid “saying insulting and threatening things about co-workers.”)

The Post survey presaged the more intense concerns expressed this month by current and former black journalists about the news industry, in general, and The Post, in particular. Such concerns are not new.

But many Posties (which is how some on the staff refer to themselves) date the current gap between black staff members and leaders of The Post — Mr. Baron and his three managing editors, Cameron Barr, Ms. Grant and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz — to the departure in 2015 of Kevin Merida, then The Post’s managing editor, to lead the ESPN sports and culture site The Undefeated. A handful of black journalists followed him.

The union that represents newsroom employees, The Washington Post Guild, now says it has assembled 32 pages of concerns from current and former black journalists. Black staff members active with the union are pushing for a Twitter campaign to highlight the issues, modeled after a similar recent demonstration at The Los Angeles Times. But such a step would be more provocative at The Post, given the paper’s institutional unease about expressing opinions on Twitter.

Some have already surfaced. Kimbriell Kelly, who left The Post last year for The Los Angeles Times after being passed over for an editing job, tweeted that she was the “only black investigative reporter on WaPo’s Investigative Unit for most of my 7 years there.”

“The notion that only you had to prove yourself as an editor, while sooo many others who didn’t look like you, never did, steamed many of us,” replied Dana Priest, a white veteran national security reporter.

Questions have also arisen within The Post’s video operation which, like other areas outside Mr. Baron’s core obsessions, has suffered from a lack of clear strategy. Employees said in a meeting earlier this month that personal favoritism has substituted for clear goals, according to detailed notes of the meeting by a participant. One employee said black video editors felt they had to ask permission to get up even to go to the bathroom, when white producers didn’t. Two black editors, who spoke on the condition they not be named, said they’d felt that difference in treatment.

“Staff are always free to take breaks,” Ms. Coratti said. “They are just asked to give others a heads-up that they will be away to ensure that the video hub is not unoccupied in the event of unanticipated news developments.”

Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images

A particularly striking issue arose from the coverage of the 2018 killing of a Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, by Saudi agents. Karen Attiah, Mr. Khashoggi’s editor, who rallied support for him on Twitter, on television and on The Post’s op-ed pages. But when it came time to apply for a Pulitzer Prize — an unscientific process that often serves as an X-ray of newsroom politics and power — Ms. Attiah’s work wasn’t among the 20 pieces submitted. The exclusion, she told me, “stung,” and surprised people who had been following The Post’s work closely.

“I was appalled,” said Mohamed Soltan, a former Egyptian political prisoner and friend of Mr. Khashoggi, who described Ms. Attiah as one of the key journalists on the story.

The Post’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, defended the decision in an email to me: “What you have to leave out in such situations, in this case including excellent work by Jackson Diehl, Karen Attiah and several others, is never easy.”

One thing that is clear is that The Post — which prides itself on providing not just jobs for its staff but long enriching careers — has lost some people any newsroom would want to keep, including Ms. Kelly and Wesley Lowery, who left to become a correspondent for a new “60 Minutes” project on the streaming service Quibi. Another is Soraya Nadia McDonald, who said she had hoped to stretch beyond blogging twice a day on pop culture, which she did at The Post, and wanted “permission and support to be ambitious.” She followed Mr. Merida to The Undefeated, where she was a Pulitzer finalist this year for “essays on theater and film that bring a fresh, delightful intelligence to the intersections of race and art.”

”I don’t think any of that would have been published there,” she said of The Post. “This place just seems to run off its best people.”

Credit…Laurent Chevalier

The last time Mr. Baron faced sustained complaints from his black staff was in 2016, after Mr. Merida left. Then, a group of black Posties sent Mr. Baron a memo making the case for a new deputy managing editor for diversity. Mr. Baron responded that The Post was relatively diverse compared with other newsrooms and that Ms. Grant had diversity issues in hand. “They represent the bulk of her work and the most rewarding aspects of her job.’’ Mr. Baron wrote in the memo. “I can’t imagine taking them away from her.”

This time, as The Post rushed to quell the kind of staff uprising that broke out at The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, that role suddenly held appeal to Mr. Baron. The Post announced on June 18 that it would hire for the role, and an internal email says the deadline for applying is July 3. Mr. Baron would vet applications himself, and he reached out to Shani O. Hilton, now a deputy managing editor at The Los Angeles Times who oversees The Times’s Washington bureau, its national coverage and its foreign desk, suggesting she apply.

“You may have seen the announcement of our new initiatives focused on race, ethnicity and identity,” Mr. Baron wrote to Ms. Hilton.

Ms. Hilton was not interested.

“I have seen over the years that diversity roles, particularly for black women, are the fastest way to be sidelined out of the most important conversations about coverage and hiring,” she wrote back. “The moniker lets other managers think the work of improving representation and newsroom culture doesn’t fall on them.”

Mr. Barr, one of the managing editors, said the job would, in fact, focus on coverage, even if it may not involve directly managing reporters. “This is a job that brings together the journalism and the leadership of the room,” he said.

That new editor will face questions about identity and journalism that extend beyond race. Two Post employees said editors have barred a Post reporter who publicly accused another journalist of sexual assault, Felicia Sonmez, from writing about the subject, citing the appearance of conflict of interest in her public comments. But it’s hard to imagine reporters are expected to be neutral on the issue of sexual assault — and the decision seems almost a caricature of the old idea that only people imagined to have no stake in an issue, often white men, can cover it.

It can, in this fraught moment, be difficult to untangle the forces driving the arguments about newsroom culture, objectivity and fairness. There are, no doubt, real disagreements  around the issue of how much journalists’ opinions, identities and experiences should shape coverage and be shared with their audience, and when “objectivity” simply means a dominant point of view.

But one clear strain in the tensions at The Post is simply, and sometimes hilariously, generational. In the happier times of early January 2020, the writer Maura Judkis blew up the internet with the article, “People are seeing ‘Cats’ while high out of their minds.” It featured irresistible testimonials from people who described watching the Andrew Lloyd Webber film while on marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms or other substances, such as: “The most terrifying experience of my life. I swear to God my soul escaped me.”

Mr. Baron, who had not seen the piece before it was published, erupted, two Post employees said, furious that the story was “glorifying recreational drug use,” one of them said.

Ms. Coratti said that Mr. Baron was not “upset” but did “advise that we should be careful not to be seen as celebrating or championing recreational use of drugs.” So the dispute seems to be less about journalistic principle than about whether you like edibles.

Even those who are frustrated by Mr. Baron’s strong-willed style of management speak with reverence of his obsessive commitment to reporting. Still, some of The Post’s challenges will probably be left to his successor. Mr. Baron has told colleagues he will be around through next year’s presidential inauguration, but perhaps not much longer. “Marty will give us a great deal of notice before he retires, and that notice has not been given,” Ms. Coratti said.

But what separates today’s cultural conflicts inside newsrooms from previous generations’ is that they now play out, in real time, in public on social media. And they offer a window into an industry, and society, struggling to find its moral footing around issues of racism.

That seemed a painful takeaway from the recent Post article about a white woman who came as Megyn Kelly-in-blackface to a Halloween party at the home of a Washington Post cartoonist in 2018. The woman lost her job when she told her employer about the coming article, which readers reacted to with outrage and questions about its news value.

“Was this ⁩story intended to be a spoof of our culture?” Patrick Gaspard, who served as ambassador to South Africa during the Obama administration and is now the president of the grant-making Open Society Foundations, asked on Twitter. “Did they really invest all this Investigatory resource on this piece to shame this average person who holds no discernible power?”

The story’s handling inside The Post underscores some of the paper’s underlying tensions.

After a guest at the party who believed the woman was a Post employee complained to the paper, editors assigned it to two trusted veterans: Sydney Trent, an experienced former editor, and Marc Fisher, a reporter whom The Post also turned to when someone had to write about Mr. Bezos’s explicit text messages. Mr. Fisher, who is white, reportedly told people he had doubts about the news value of the costume party story, though he led the reporting and writing. Ms. Trent, who is black, saw it as worth doing, three Post journalists said.

White senior editors, including Mr. Baron and Mr. Barr, signed off on the story and sided with Ms. Trent on some questions of tone. That played to old reflexes and new ones: They chose to address a complex moment with the most traditional reportorial form, and they trusted the judgment of a black reporter with a long history of writing and reporting about race. And while many Posties were conspicuously silent about the story on social media, Ms. Trent stood by it, and posted it to her Facebook page to a positive reception.

But black reporters are, of course, not monolithic, and many reporters of all backgrounds at The Post found the 3,000-word investigation puzzling. A random person “dressing like a famous lady in blackface at a party 2 years ago seems the least of our concerns right now,” Ms. Attiah tweeted.

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