Archives for category: Propaganda

On Wednesday February 10, I will host a Zoom discussion with Raynard Sanders about his new book, The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System.

Sanders was the principal of a public school in New Orleans before the takeover of the district in 2005.

As you might guess from the title of his book, he considers the takeover to be illegal. It’s “results,” he contends are disastrous for the children of the district.

Listen in to hear the other side of the story.

Open the link and register to join the Zoom.

As of this writing, at least 340,000 people have died of COVID.

Washington Post reporters wrote a comprehensive account of how Donald Trump bungled the federal government’s response to the pandemic and made the number of infections and deaths far worse than they should have been if we had had competent leadership. The story was published on December 19. We know that Trump encouraged people not to pay attention to science. We know that he called on his base to “liberate” states that were trying to get control of the coronavirus. We know he refused to wear a mask, the simplest measure to slow the spread of the virus. When you read this story, you will realize that Trump’s decision to politicize mask-wearing was intentional. When Trump realized that he could not “beat” the virus, he lost interest in stopping or slowing it. He thought it was a “loser” issue. He lost interest. Many lost their lives.

Yasmeen AbutalebAshley ParkerJosh Dawsey and Philip Rucker wrote the following story:

As the number of coronavirus cases ticked upward in mid-November — worse than the frightening days of spring and ahead of an expected surge after families congregated for Thanksgiving — four doctors on President Trump’s task force decided to stage an intervention.

After their warnings had gone largely unheeded for months in the dormant West Wing, Deborah Birx, Anthony S. Fauci, Stephen Hahn and Robert Redfield together sounded new alarms, cautioning of a dark winter to come without dramatic action to slow community spread.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, among the many Trump aides who were infected with the virus this fall, was taken aback, according to three senior administration officials with knowledge of the discussions. He told the doctors he did not believe their troubling data assessment. And he accused them of outlining problems without prescribing solutions.

The doctors explained that the solutions were simple and had long been clear — among them, to leverage the power of the presidential bully pulpit to persuade all Americans to wear masks, especially the legions of Trump supporters refusing to do so, and to dramatically expand testing.

“It was something that we were almost repetitively saying whenever we would get into the Situation Room,” said Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Whenever we got the opportunity to say, ‘This is really going to be a problem because the baseline of infections was really quite high to begin with, so you had a lot of community spread.’ ”

On Nov. 19, hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against Thanksgiving travel, Vice President Pence, who chairs the coronavirus task force, agreed to hold a full news conference with some of the doctors — something they had not done since the summer. But much to the doctors’ dismay, Pence did not forcefully implore people to wear masks, nor did the administration take meaningful action on testing.

As for the president, he did not appear at all.

Trump went days without mentioning the pandemic other than to celebrate progress on vaccines. The president by then had abdicated his responsibility to manage the public health crisis and instead used his megaphone almost exclusively to spread misinformation in a failed attempt to overturn the results of the election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

“I think he’s just done with covid,” said one of Trump’s closest advisers who, like many others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal deliberations and operations. “I think he put it on a timetable and he’s done with covid. . . . It just exceeded the amount of time he gave it.”

Now, a month later, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States is reaching records daily. The nation’s death count is rising steadily as well, this past week surpassing 300,000 — a total that had seemed unfathomable earlier this year. The dark winter is here, hospitalizations risk breaching capacities, and health professionals predict it will get worse before it gets better.

The miraculous arrival of a coronavirus vaccine this past week marks the first glimmer of hope amid a pandemic that for 10 months has ravaged the country, decimated its economy and fundamentally altered social interactions.

Yet that triumph of scientific ingenuity and bureaucratic efficiency does not conceal the difficult truth, that the virus has caused proportionately more infections and deaths in the United States than in most other developed nations — a result, experts say, of a dysfunctional federal response led by a president perpetually in denial.

“We were always going to have spread in the fall and the winter, but it didn’t have to be nearly this bad,” said Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner in the Trump administration. “We could have done better galvanizing collective action, getting more adherence to masks. The idea that we had this national debate on the question of whether masks infringed on your liberty was deeply unfortunate. It put us in a bad position.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the few Republican elected officials who have criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, said many in the administration are working hard to control the alarming November-to-December surge, but not the man at the top.

“My concern was, in the worst part of the battle, the general was missing in action,” Hogan said of the recent surge.

The story of how America arrived at this final season of devastation, with the reported death toll some days surpassing 3,000 people — a new 9/11 day after day — is based on interviews over the past month with 48 senior administration officials, government health professionals, outside presidential advisers and other people briefed on the inner workings of the federal response.

The catastrophe began with Trump’s initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits — his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.

“There isn’t a single light-switch moment where the government has screwed up and we’re going down the wrong path,” said Kyle McGowan, who resigned in August as chief of staff at the CDC under Redfield, the center’s director. “It was a series of multiple decisions that showed a lack of desire to listen to the actual scientists and also a lack of leadership in general, and that put us on this progression of where we’re at today.”

‘Words matter’

Trump’s defenders say the president and his administration deserve credit not only for Operation Warp Speed — the public-private initiative to develop, test and now distribute vaccines — but also for their work early on to address a shortage of ventilators, ease supply-chain delays for personal protective equipment and set guidelines for businesses and other gathering places to reopen after the March and April shutdowns.

They also point to Trump’s decision in late January to restrict travel from China, where the virus originated. And they say they’re not sure what Trump should have done differently.

“President Trump has led a historic, whole-of-America coronavirus response — resulting in 100,000 ventilators procured, an abundance of critical PPE sourced for our frontline heroes, the largest testing regime in the world, groundbreaking treatments, and a safe and effective vaccine in record time with another to be approved in the coming days,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said in a statement. She went on to attribute the success of vaccines to Trump’s “bold and innovative leadership.”

Still, the administration’s overall response is likely to be scrutinized for years to come as a case study in crisis mismanagement. At the heart of the problem, experts say, have been Trump’s scrambled and faulty communications.

“Words matter a lot, and what we have here is a failure to communicate — and worse than that, the effective communication of policies, of myths, of confusion about masks, about hydroxychloroquine, about vaccines, about closures, about testing,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director in the Obama administration. “It’s stunning.”

Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.

“The central and most important thing we needed was national leadership from the president to be able to really lead with empathy,” said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It seemed much more focused on the administration as the lead character, rather than communities in need.”

A hallmark of the response has been the secrecy of some in the White House, including Meadows, whom other officials described as outright hostile in his denial of the virus and punitive toward colleagues who sought to follow public health guidelines or be transparent.

As the virus spread wildly among White House staff this fall, Meadows sought to conceal some cases from becoming public — including, at first, his own — and instructed at least one fellow adviser who sought to disclose an infection not to.

In addition, Meadows threatened to fire White House Medical Unit doctors, who fall below the chief of staff in the chain of command, if they helped release information about new infections, according to one official. Ben Williamson, an aide to Meadows, said it was “false” that the chief of staff ever threatened to terminate doctors.

Meadows argued internally, according to this official, that the White House was “under no obligation to tell the press or the public that Joe Schmo who works in the White House has tested positive.”

Despite shunning recommended protocols internally, Trump aides speak with pride about the actions they took on the pandemic and are incredulous that their work has been so widely panned.

One senior administration official involved in the response said what was accomplished in less than a year — from producing and distributing protective gear to creating vaccines — is nothing short of remarkable. But, this official acknowledged, “The way it was messaged, unfortunately, was flawed.”

A second senior administration official said, “I’m not clear on what Trump should have done different, but put me in the camp of, well, something, because it has not been a success.”

Olivia Troye, a former Pence adviser and task force aide who resigned in the summer and campaigned against Trump’s reelection, said the nation’s trauma is a result of the president’s mismanagement of the crisis early on, and is being prolonged by his disinterest in it now.

‘It was whack-a-mole’

Tucker Carlson arrived at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club the first Saturday in March, before cities started shutting down, on an urgent mission: to convey to the president the seriousness of the coronavirus threat.

Carlson’s message was simple but pointed. He warned the president that the virus was real, that people he knew were going to get it, that the country might have already missed the point at which they could control it and, as he later told Vanity Fair, that “this could be really bad.”

But Carlson and the president ultimately talked past one another, said a person familiar with the conversation. Carlson told Trump he could lose the election because of the virus, and Trump argued that the virus was less deadly than people were claiming.

The scene at Mar-a-Lago that weekend underscored the concerns. Far from taking any precautions, Trump that Saturday dined with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his delegation — several of whom later tested positive for the virus — while Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, threw herself a lavish 51st birthday party at the club. The next day, Trump hosted a fundraising brunch with about 900 attendees.

“I would love to say that I’m shocked, but I’m not,” Troye said. “This is in keeping with everything he has been.” She added: “People are still dying every day. There’s thousands of cases every day and yet he won’t do the right thing. . . . To see a sitting president directly refuse to help during a crisis is just flabbergasting to me.”

Paul A. Offit, who is director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory council, said of Trump: “He’s a salesman, but this is something he can’t sell. So he just gave up. He gave up on trying to sell people something that was unsellable.”

On Friday morning, in a tableau orchestrated to provide hope to a beleaguered nation, Pence and second lady Karen Pence received the Pfizer vaccine — a needle in his left shoulder as they sat beneath a sign that read, “SAFE and EFFECTIVE,” broadcast live on national television.

Trump was nowhere to be seen.

As the country began to shut down in March, Trump and his administration found themselves in the early throes of denial and dysfunction. Despite the warnings of Carlson and others, Trump continued to downplay the severity of the virus, and turf wars and unclear chains of command roiled the administration’s fledgling response.

Public health advisers and other administration officials were left scrambling — scattershot, and with little clear direction — to recoup time squandered.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser who had spent the early days of 2020 focused on other challenges in his overly large portfolio — including a Middle East peace plan and overseeing Trump’s reelection campaign — turned his attention to the virus.

Kushner’s allies and even some of his critics say he was effective in helping cut through bureaucracy — ensuring, for instance, that states eventually had as many ventilators as they needed. A text or call to Kushner could yield a clear response or directive in just minutes, said one senior administration official, and shortly after Pence was appointed head of the coronavirus task force his chief of staff, Marc Short, enlisted Kushner’s help to streamline resources and speed up response times.

But the help Kushner provided was often ad hoc rather than part of a long-term strategy, according to people familiar with his role.

“It was entirely tactical troubleshooting and, to be fair, it was pretty successful, with the ventilators and this and that, but it was whack-a-mole,” said an outside Republican in frequent touch with the White House.

Part of Kushner’s coronavirus management approach was an ambitious effort to bring in a cadre of young consultants from the private sector as volunteers. The group was dismissively referred to as the “Slim Suit” crowd.

“[Kushner] is like, ‘I’m going to bring in my data and we’re going to MBA this to death and make it work,’ ” one senior administration official said.

But problems quickly emerged with Kushner’s team of volunteers. The group was not issued government laptops or emails, forcing them to use their personal Gmail addresses — a practice that often hindered their efforts to procure personal protective equipment from companies that were understandably skeptical of inquiries coming from nongovernment email accounts. The volunteers in charge of PPE procurement also did not know the Food and Drug Administration requirements for importing the protective equipment, and found themselves spending unnecessary time Googling basic questions and calling the FDA for guidance.

Max Kennedy Jr., a senior associate at a private growth equity firm when he joined Kushner’s effort as a volunteer, was so alarmed by what he witnessed that he initially filed an anonymous whistleblower report.

Among his complaints was a culture that prioritized tips and leads from VIPs, which consumed an inordinate amount of the volunteers’ time and energy. Kennedy wrote in his report that Jeanine Pirro, a Trump booster who hosts a Fox News show, “repeatedly called and emailed until 100,000 masks were sent to a particular hospital she favored. No checks were completed to ensure that the hospital was in particular need of PPE.”

Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat and a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, later revealed his identity and, in an interview with The Washington Post, described a group of smart and earnest volunteers who were, at best, out of their depth and, at worst, asked to do things they felt uncomfortable doing.

Kennedy said that Brad Smith, the director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and a friend of Kushner, asked him and another volunteer to make a coronavirus model for 2020 that specifically projected a low casualty count. When Kennedy noted that he had no training in epidemiology and had never modeled a virus before, he recalled, Smith told him that it was just like making a financial model. The other models made by the health experts, Smith explained, were “too catastrophic.”

“‘They think 250,000 people could die and I want this model to show that fewer than 100,000 people will die in the worst-case scenario,’ ” Kennedy said Smith told him. “He gave us the numbers he wanted it to say.”

Kennedy and the other volunteer refused to make the model. But he said the incident left him discomfited.

“[Smith] said, ‘Look around. Does it look like 250,000 people are going to die? I don’t think so,’ ” Kennedy recounted. “And I remember thinking it was a weird thing to say because we were surrounded by military officers in the [Federal Emergency Management Agency] basement and it did look like a lot of people might die.”

In an emailed statement, Smith denied asking Kennedy and a fellow volunteer to create a low fatality model.

“The only model I asked the team to build in the three weeks Max volunteered was a model to project PPE needs through July 2020,” Smith said. “To calculate PPE needs, the model used hospitalizations and deaths as inputs. The mean version of the model assumed 169,000 deaths by July 2020 and the worst case version of the model assumed 312,000 deaths by July 2020. According to the CDC, there were approximately 160,000 deaths as of July 30, so the model’s assumptions proved to be very accurate.”

There were other problems too. Kushner’s initiative to stand up drive-through testing sites nationwide at retail stores such as CVS, Target and Walgreens, for instance, may have been a good idea in theory but almost instantly raised concerns. Government officials asked Kushner and his team whether they had fully considered the logistical and supply issues behind setting up the sites — including swabs and reagents for tests, and protective equipment for the clinicians administering them.

Kushner’s team responded that they had it covered, but it quickly became clear they did not. At a time when health-care workers were using garbage bags as gowns and reusing N95 masks because of severe shortages, roughly 30 percent of “key supplies,” including masks, in the national stockpile of emergency medical equipment went toward Kushner’s testing effort, according to an internal March planning document obtained by The Post and confirmed by one current and one former administration official.

Though Kushner had initially promised thousands of testing sites, only 78 materialized, the document said, and the national stockpile was used to supply more than half of those.

“The knock against Jared has always been that he’s a dilettante who will dabble in this and dabble in that without doing the homework or really engaging in a long-term, sustained, committed way, but will be there to claim credit if things go well and disappear if things go poorly,” a former senior administration official said. “And this is another example of that.”

By the summer, Trump had grown angry with Kushner over problems with testing, said current and former administration officials — a rare conflict between the president and his son-in-law.

Matthews defended Kushner’s testing initiative, saying there are now more than 6,000 retail testing sites and that the federal government has established more than 500 temporary surge testing sites in 17 states over the past 10 months.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the United States failed to deploy a coronavirus diagnostic test across the country so state and local officials could quickly detect and trace confirmed cases. And while the administration eventually scaled up testing considerably — more than 1.5 million tests a day are now being conducted — it still has not developed a national testing strategy. Even as more tests have become available, experts said, there have rarely been enough for the scale of the pandemic.

“Compared to other countries, the biggest mistake we made was in testing,” said Katrina Armstrong, a physician and chief of Massachusetts General Hospital who has been treating coronavirus patients. “It’s not even a hard test, and we whiffed it. There should be central leadership bringing everything together. For the clinical side, not having access to testing early on and through the summer was the biggest tragedy of what got us here.”

The best chance to control an outbreak is at the very beginning. But U.S. officials squandered that opportunity in February for two key reasons. The first was the CDC’s failure to deploy a working coronavirus test, and the second was the task force’s almost singular focus on repatriating Americans from China and cruise ships, rather than on preparing the United States for an inevitable outbreak.

A review of task force agendas from that time demonstrates a disproportionate focus on cruise ships, masks and other bureaucratic and logistical issues, rather than on more practical public health steps such as testing, contact tracing and targeted efforts to prevent the virus’s spread. That allowed the virus to spread undetected for all of February, several officials and experts said, as it seeded itself in New York, Washington state, California, New Orleans and other populous areas. And from then on, the country was perpetually behind the virus.

Kennedy said his experience volunteering in the White House left him disillusioned.

“I don’t think this has to be a politicized crisis,” Kennedy said. “This pandemic is incredibly tragic and, as someone who was in the room, it was very clear it wasn’t taken seriously. It was well understood what measures could be taken to save lives, to reduce the severity of the pandemic, and the administration and Jared Kushner made an active choice not to pursue those actions.”

‘A loser message’

As the virus began to rage across the United States, some of the nation’s health officials had a novel idea. Face coverings were emerging as one of the simplest tools available to control the contagion’s spread. So Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, called Jerry Cook, an executive at the cotton clothing giant Hanes, on March 13 to discuss producing enough masks to send to every American household, according to two senior administration officials.

Cook pulled together a number of underwear makers, including Fruit of the Loom, SanMar, Beverly Knits and Delta Apparel, to figure out how to redirect their manufacturing operations to manufacture 650 million three-ply cotton masks — enough to send a packet of five to each household. The masks would bear an HHS logo, contain a microbiocide that would kill the virus, and say: “Do your part, help stop the spread.”

A command group at FEMA unanimously approved the plan, and the task force doctors did as well. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, saw the white prototypes and asked if they could be made in a neutral tone.

But when Kadlec’s boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, began to pitch it at a White House task force meeting in March, there was sharp dissent. Several on the task force generally did not have much confidence in Kadlec, and a senior administration official said his plan was half-baked and that he was unable to answer basic questions, like how much the effort would cost or how they would deliver all the masks.

Short abruptly stopped the conversation and told Pence the idea wasn’t ready and was being pulled off the agenda. Other officials complained that the masks looked like underwear, according to three current and former senior administration officials. Peter T. Gaynor, the FEMA administrator, compared them to jockstraps.

Then there was the issue of logistics. For months leading up to the pandemic, Trump had been attacking the U.S. Postal Service and airing grievances over its business relationship with Amazon. Some aides surmised that, for Trump, a private-public partnership involving the Postal Service as the distributor would be a nonstarter.

The mail-a-mask plan was killed. The Office of Management and Budget tried to cancel the contracts with the underwear makers, but the masks still were produced and distributed to health clinics, religious groups and states that requested them. Hanes did not respond to a request for comment.

Kadlec was so frustrated that he decided his time as preparedness and response chief was no longer best spent on preparing and responding, so he focused instead on vaccines and therapeutics.

Skepticism of masks became a hallmark of the Trump administration’s pandemic response. On April 3, when the CDC recommended that all Americans wear masks, Trump announced that he would not do so because he could not envision himself sitting behind the Resolute Desk with his face covered as he greeted visiting dignitaries. The president stressed that mask-wearing was “voluntary,” effectively permitting his legions of followers to disregard the CDC’s recommendation.

In the months that followed, Trump was only seen wearing a mask on rare occasions, instead following the advice of Stephen Miller, Johnny McEntee, Derek Lyons and other trusted aides to think of masks as a cultural wedge issue.

Pence covered his face with somewhat more regularity than the president, but after forgoing a mask during an April 28 visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he drew a public rebuke from the hospital’s leaders. Short then yelled at a hospital official over it, a person with knowledge of the visit said.

“What the Trump administration has managed to do is they accomplished — remarkably — a very high-tech solution, which is developing a vaccine, but they completely failed at the low-tech solution, which is masking and social distancing, and they put people at risk,” Offit said.

Trump did not imagine the coronavirus would consume the fourth year of his presidency. When he established a task force in January, he assumed it would not last long and that the crisis would subside relatively quickly, according to two officials with knowledge of the situation. These officials said the president selected Pence, the favorite of then-acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, for chair of the task force over Gottlieb and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

In retrospect, according to a senior administration official, Trump’s biggest political miscalculation was basing the task force in the White House. “Once you put it in the Situation Room, the president owns every failure, leak, whatever, whereas this could have been an Azar, Redfield, Hahn problem,” this official said.

In the early weeks, Pence was the frontman at daily coronavirus news conferences. He provided top-line updates, including case and death counts, before turning it over to Fauci, Birx and other health professionals. Short advised the vice president against detailing such dire statistics, but Pence insisted, believing he was obligated to share such facts with the public, according to another official with knowledge of these discussions.

Over time, however, Trump decided he wanted to be the face of the government’s response, so he took over Pence’s role at the briefings. A number of Republican senators privately counseled the president to let the doctors be out front, according to a senior Republican congressional official, but “Trump just couldn’t let someone else get all that attention.”

Trump’s performances were riddled with misinformation, contradictions and indecorous boasts, while also predicting miracles and promoting cure-all therapeutics. Trump often said he was trying to be a “cheerleader” for the country, and a senior administration official explained that the president has said he drew lessons from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

“What he’s saying there is, ‘I’m going to will the economy to success through mass psychology. We’re going to tell the country things are going great and it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ ” this official said of Trump.

But there were consequences for Trump’s often too-rosy takes. Hogan — who as chairman of the National Governors Association helped lead regular meetings among governors and task force members, sometimes including Trump — said there was “a huge disconnect” between what was agreed to by Pence and members of the task force and what the president told the public.

“We would have a great meeting that might have lasted an hour or two with all the top folks focused on the virus, and then the president would have one of those rambling press conferences that went on maybe an hour too long and he said the opposite of what others in the administration told us that day,” Hogan recalled.

The Maryland governor, one of the rare Republicans who seemed unafraid to challenge Trump, said he directly confronted the president in some of these sessions about what was not working.

“I pushed back very hard when there was no testing program and there was no availability of basic supplies, like swabs and tubes and testing agents and ventilators,” Hogan said. “There were a few times the president bristled when I wasn’t saying everything was great. . . . One time the president said on a call, ‘You’re not being very nice to me.’ I said, ‘No, Mr. President, I’m always nice. I’m just telling you what the governors see.’ ”

The White House also made governors’ jobs more difficult by interfering at the CDC, which was forced to water down reopening guidelines for businesses, schools, restaurants and other facilities after a cadre of White House and administration officials weighed in with suggestions that were not based on science.

By late spring — after he infamously suggested people ingest bleach to cure themselves of the virus — Trump stopped appearing at coronavirus briefings. Meadows is among those credited with pulling the plug.

“He felt it was a loser message,” said one senior administration official with knowledge of Meadows’s thinking. “So why message on covid?”

‘A MAGA perspective’

Scott Atlas found himself in Trump’s orbit the way so many do: through the television screen.

A neuroradiologist with no infectious-disease or public health background, Atlas joined the coronavirus response team in August as a special government employee, after a few senior Trump advisers — Kushner, McEntee and Hope Hicks — were impressed by his appearances on cable news.

Atlas began working out of Kushner’s office suite, and quickly scored a blue badge — the most coveted level of White House access — and a spot on the coronavirus task force. Though many were skeptical of him, the vice president’s team felt that if Atlas was going to be part of the virus response, then he needed to be a full-fledged member of the effort, said two people familiar with the decision.

Atlas pushed a controversial “herd immunity” strategy — of letting the virus spread freely among the young and healthy — and clashed with others on the task force, many of whom described him as combative and condescending. He lorded his seemingly unfettered access to the president over the group and, as one senior adviser said, “The science just got totally perverted with Scott in the room.”

Atlas, who resigned Nov. 30, defended his advice to Trump as “based on the best available science and data at the time” and said he sought to reduce both the virus spread and what he called “structural harms.” In a lengthy emailed statement, Atlas denied much of The Post’s reporting about his work in the administration, including that he had described those with the coronavirus in derisive or demeaning terms.

“I am very disappointed to see more totally false statements and patently absurd lies about me,” Atlas said. “Although I don’t intend to weigh-in on every false and defamatory story or allow myself to be endlessly used as a political piñata, I firmly deny the false accusations that, as a special advisor to the President, I advocated for ‘herd immunity’ via letting the infection spread as a scientific approach to the pandemic. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Even those inclined to be sympathetic to Atlas’s coronavirus theory — that the virus mainly affected the most vulnerable, who were the only ones who truly needed protection — found his personal manner off-putting, said one senior administration official. And privately, Atlas often argued his case more crudely, bluntly saying coronavirus was a disease that only affected the overweight, the diabetic and the elderly, the other adviser said.

But Trump liked Atlas — and the shoddy science he was peddling seemingly bolstered the president’s optimism. Atlas’s appeal to Trump, this adviser explained, was that he “had a doctor title but a MAGA perspective,” referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Atlas’s presence, however, frustrated much of the rest of the group, especially the public health experts who feared he was undermining their hard-fought efforts to keep the public safe.

“If you ever wanted to spread confusion and give license to the people in the cities and states who did not want to abide by any of the public health measures, you gave them license to do it,” Fauci said. “They could say, ‘Look, this guy who’s a well-respected Stanford person who the president seems to like is saying this thing; why should we listen to Fauci?’ I think he was disruptive to what Birx and I were trying to do.”

The addition of Atlas to the coronavirus task force was just the latest iteration of the infighting that had plagued the virus response all along. He clashed with the other doctors, but especially with Birx.

One early dispute was over testing. At the time, the president was pushing to move away from the widespread testing recommended by health experts and toward more narrow surveillance testing in vulnerable communities. Atlas and Birx fought over the issue in the Oval Office, with Birx — who was backed up by Redfield — advising that widespread testing was the best way to catch new cases, a senior administration official said.

In August, the CDC put out revised testing guidelines that were more in line with Atlas’s view than Birx’s, only to walk them back after a public outcry.

During another task force meeting, Atlas argued that it would be reasonable to consider substantially fewer mitigation efforts, allowing people to become infected. Instead, Atlas said, officials should focus their efforts on protecting those in nursing homes. Birx retorted that the vulnerable were not only in nursing homes, prompting agreement by other doctors in the group.

“Dr. Scott Atlas has caused people to lose their lives because he stood at the White House podium and told people masks may not work and he told people we should get over it and build up herd immunity,” said McGowan, the former CDC chief of staff. “He’s telling the world lies from a bully pulpit, from a position of power, and I believe people died because of that.”

Some of Trump’s advisers tried to convey to the president how much his reelection might hinge on the pandemic. Being seen as a responsible, empathetic leader in a moment of crisis, they explained, would buoy his chances of victory.

For instance, internal campaign data from pollster Tony Fabrizio found that in July, just 40 percent of voters approved of Trump’s handling of the virus and 58 percent disapproved, a deficit of 18 percentage points. Among independents, the gap grew to 30 percentage points, according to a senior campaign adviser.

According to an internal polling memo obtained by The Post, more than 70 percent of voters in target states supported “mandatory masks at least indoors when in public, and even a majority of Republicans support this.”

Though Republicans were not keen on the idea of an executive order for mask-wearing, they were less opposed to an order that applied only indoors, the internal polling found. And, as one of the slides reviewed by The Post read, “Voters favor mask-wearing while keeping the economy open,” and also favor Trump “issuing an executive order mandating the use of masks in public places.”

Given those findings, Fabrizio, Kushner, then-campaign manager Brad Parscale and others urged Trump to model good behavior by wearing a mask, and to encourage his supporters to do so as well, several Trump advisers said. But the president was unreceptive, as was Meadows.

“He was of the opinion that it would hurt his base,” the senior campaign adviser said. “He listened and it just didn’t move him. The argument just didn’t move him.”

The president and some on his team were also increasingly frustrated with Fauci, who frequently appeared in the media offering what they viewed as an overly alarmist public health message. “Fauci was probably Joe Biden’s most effective campaign surrogate on the trail in 2020,” said Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser.

Trump aides added that there also was little pushback to the idea of Trump resuming large rallies — without social distancing or mask requirements. The few advisers who did counsel caution were largely ignored, with allies arguing that rallies were key to the president’s brand and that the raucous events also helped improve his mood.

“My attitude was, how are voters going to take us seriously that we’re taking this seriously if we’re doing things where the perception is we’re putting people at risk?” the senior adviser said. “It surely undermines.”

‘We’re in trouble’

As summer turned to fall, Birx — whose calming guidance and elegant scarves had inspired online memes — found herself silenced and increasingly minimized in the coronavirus response.

Atlas succeeded in sidelining her from Trump’s immediate orbit. Her national television appearances all but vanished. She traveled to dozens of states and had unfiltered conversations with governors and local officials, but was denied the time she wanted with the president to keep him abreast of the facts. And her warnings fell on deaf ears inside the West Wing.

“She would circulate her daily report, and more often than not, there would be no responses from anyone on the email,” a senior administration official recalled. “I remember there were times where she would flag something massive, like, we are within weeks of a massive remdesivir shortage, and no one would reply.”

Birx met either in person or virtually with Fauci and other doctors on the task force at least once a week to discuss the science and support each other as they were being ignored at the White House. They plotted alternative ways to get their messages to the public, including through Birx’s travels to states.

But Birx was undermined there, too. After she advised Florida’s political leaders in August to close bars and restrict indoor dining, Atlas visited the state and contradicted her. Atlas told Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other local leaders to focus less on widespread testing and instead to direct their efforts to opening the economy back up and opening schools, according to two senior administration officials.

As it became clear the pandemic was worsening and the country was headed for a disastrous winter, Atlas dismissed Birx’s projections in task force meetings and in private discussions with Trump and Pence. This pushed Birx to be more outspoken, especially in the reports she and her small team put together, some of which took on a grim tone, officials said.

“It was almost like she wanted to make sure she had a paper trail saying, ‘I, too, think we’re in trouble,’ ” another senior administration official said. “It was a combination of events that pushed her to change her tune and be much more realistic about the seriousness of what was going on.”

The rise in cases and deaths in November coincided with a drop in visibility from Trump and Pence. Following the Nov. 3 election, the two went many days without public appearances. Whenever the president did speak or weigh in on Twitter, it was usually about his desire to overturn the election results, not about the worsening pandemic.

As for Pence, one consistent criticism was his reluctance to deliver tough news and dire coronavirus statistics to the president. As one former senior administration official put it, “He knows, like everybody else knows, that covid is the last thing Trump wants to hear about or see anybody making news about. If not touting Operation Warp Speed, it’s the topic that shall not be spoken of.” A senior administration official and Pence ally, however, said Pence always shared the daily reality with Trump but, as a perpetual optimist, often did so with a positive spin.

The president and vice president did make a couple of appearances to tout vaccine breakthroughs. But much to the frustration of health officials, they did little to leverage their influence with the 74 million Americans who had just voted for them to persuade people to make sacrifices to stop the spread.

“There are tens of millions of people who fundamentally don’t have the same perception of reality when it comes to the virus,” Frieden said. “There are always going to be people who are suspicious and paranoid and believe in UFOs or whatever, but because we’re not on the same page on covid, it’s very hard to get people to act together.”

The week before Thanksgiving, health officials fanned out to plead with Americans not to travel over the holiday. Fauci practically begged people in an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to stay home and not interact with people outside their immediate household.

But even America’s most famous doctor, one with an approval rating well north of Trump’s, was unconvincing to many. More than 3 million people were screened at U.S. airports in a three-day period just before Thanksgiving, according to the Transportation Security Administration. AAA projected that an additional 48 million people would travel by car around the holiday.

That nonchalance about spreading the virus carried this month into the White House, where Trump and first lady Melania Trump hosted a traditional series of elaborate holiday parties.

Night after night, the Trumps had party guests congregate inside the White House residence to mix, mingle and hear the president speak — each clinking of champagne flutes a potential superspreader moment.

“Here, you have Fauci and Birx saying: wear a mask, keep your distance, avoid congregate settings and indoor crowds, particularly indoors,” a senior administration official said. “And then you have these events at the White House where nobody is wearing a mask, they’re having an event inside and then coming outside, if there ever was a complete confusion of messages.”

Pence and second lady Karen Pence also hosted holiday parties at the Naval Observatory, where pictures from one such event earlier this month showed hundreds of guests mingling mostly maskless underneath an enclosed tent. Even Pence himself, the head of the coronavirus task force, did not wear a mask.

Members of military bands, servers and others were forced to work and exposed for hours to guests who were not wearing masks, officials said.

At least one worker who got infected never heard from anyone in the White House about the illness. They were replaced for the next party.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford Advocate. In this column, she reviews two important books: One shows how deeply embedded public schools are in our democratic ideology, the other describes that coordinated assault on the very concept of public schooling. The first is low professor Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning, the other is A Wolf at the Schoollhouse Door, by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider.

Lecker writes:

In his scrupulously researched book, Derek Black emphasizes that the recognition that education is essential to democracy predated public schools and even the U.S. Constitution. He describes how the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, which applied to 31 future states, mandated funding and land for public schools, declaring that education was “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.” Education was not explicitly included in the U.S. Constitution. However, after the Civil War, the United States required Southern states guarantee a right to education in their state constitutions as a condition for readmission. Northern states followed suit. State education articles were based on the notion that education was necessary to citizenship and democracy.

These lofty ideals were often not matched by reality. Enslaved African Americans neither had their freedom nor education. However, African Americans recognized early on that education was the key to full citizenship, and fought for the right to equal access and treatment for all. For Black, the struggle of ensuring equality in public education is intertwined with the struggle for political equality.

Black posits that attacks on public education throughout American history are attacks on democracy itself. Recent events prove his point. For example, Rutgers’ Domingo Morel showed that when majority African-American elected school boards won gains such as increased school funding, states took over those school districts, neutralizing the boards’ power. Northwestern’s Sally Nuamah found that in Chicago, where there is no elected school board, the city’s closure of 50 schools in one year despite protest by the African-American community decreased political participation by that community afterward.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” complements “Schoolhouse Burning” by detailing the specific mechanisms those who attack public education have employed in recent years. In this eminently readable book, the authors describe the “unmaking” of public education and the players behind this effort. They explain how the attacks on public schools are part of a larger effort shrink government and in general what the public expects from the public sphere. One target is the largest part of any education budget: teachers. Anti-public education advocates have pushed cutting state spending on education, attacking job protections, de-professionalizing teaching, weakening unions and promoting failed educational ideas like virtual learning- where teachers are replaced by computers. These “unmakers” also aim to deregulate education, including expanding unaccountable voucher and charter schools.

Schneider and Berkshire demonstrate that attacking public education has also torn at the social fabric of America. Attacking unions weakened the base for democratic electoral support. Deregulation resulted in the gutting of civil rights protections for vulnerable students in charter and voucher schools.

Put them both on your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanzaa shopping list. They are important wake-up calls.

Ken Rice was an elected member of the Oakland Unified School District from 1997-2000. That was before the billionaire disrupters decided to take control of Oakland and turn it into their own petri dish for “reform” (i.e., privatization). Rice wrote the following description of the recent school board election, in which grassroots organizations stood together and beat the candidates of the out-of-district/out-of-state billionaires. He is a member of Educators for Democratic Schools (EDS), an Oakland-based organization composed primarily of retired public school teachers, administrators and school board members. When Ken Rice ran for school board, his race cost $12,000. Due to the intrusion of big money, grassroots groups are always outspent and usually overwhelmed. But Rice explains here how Oakland parents and educators fought back and won.

He writes:

Apparently Money Isn’t Always Everything–$300,000 Beats $900,000 In The Oakland School Board Elections!

In nearly 20 years of privatization push into Oakland, this is the first time since 2003 that Oakland schools will be returned to local control by a school board that values and embraces authentic public education. Remaining hopeful for the future, and look forward to strengthening and improving Oakland’s schools.” ~ Diane Ravitch 

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the petri dish for school privatization for the past two decades, might have an answer.  I ran and was elected to the Oakland school board and served one term (1997-2000).  I raised $12,000.  My opponent raised about the same amount.  In those days the school board elections were neighborhood races funded by local supporters. There was no out of state money or PACs involved. 

That began to change about ten years ago:  huge donations from individuals and foundations began to pour into Oakland school board races.  The money was funneled through the California Charter School Association and GO (Great Oakland Public Schools), a pro-charter organization.  The money also came from Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow), and several more.  The goal was to elect a pro-charter, Board of Education. Unsurprisingly, the pro-charter organizations were successful.  

The Oakland school board has approved about 65 charter school applications over the last twenty years–many of them in the last 12 years.   Of those charters, about twenty have closed their doors—in some cases during the academic year, causing great dislocation to families who had to find another school for their children mid-year.  OUSD now has 30% of its 50,000 students in charter schools—the highest percentage of students in charters of any school district in California. 

What is surprising is what happened in the 2020 election.  For the first time in memory no incumbents were running for any of the four of the seven school board seats up for election.  Thus, there was a possibility of greatly changing the make-up of the school board, whose majority has opted for policies of charter school approval, school closures and lack of responsiveness to the greater Oakland educational community.  This was an opportunity to flip the board . . . and flip it did!

The charter community recognized this opportunity, and poured almost $900,000 into electing their candidates for the four open seats! Yet when the votes were counted, three of their four candidates lost.

Trying to understand how and why this happened can provide an insight into the educational landscape of not only Oakland, but urban cities nationally.  While it might be early to know for certain why the charter candidates were defeated, we can make some educated guesses.

Strong Local Candidates

Two of the three candidates who won had deep Oakland roots.  Two had been teachers (one in Oakland, one in San Francisco) and the other had worked in Oakland’s after school programs.   Two had been community activists around school issues for years.  

Oakland elections are calculated by ranked choice voting (RCV).  When the RCV was tabulated, Sam Davis, the candidate in District 1 received 62% of the vote.  Sam built a stellar campaign focused around school communities. He held zoom meetings with each school community in his district hosted by a combination of parents and teachers who worked in those schools.  VanCedric Williams, in District 3, got 61%.  VanCedric, a public school teacher for almost twenty years, had strong support from the teacher’s union as well as other unions. Mike Hutchinson in District 5 got 56%.  Mike had run for the Board previously, networked with other education activists nationwide, and had built a reputation of challenging Board policies by going to Board meetings for years and reaching out on social media. 

Backing of the Teacher’s Union

Last year, teachers in Oakland led a successful strike. The union’s ability to drum up enthusiasm with their members was one contributor to that success.  Teachers recognized that if their future demands were to be met, they needed to have a responsive Board.  Specifically, the current Board was considering a plan that would close up to 24 schools in Oakland, mostly in Brown and Black communities.  At the same time, none of the 44 charter schools in Oakland were under threat of closure.  Teachers made the connection between a charter friendly board and school closures of the public schools and were determined to change the direction of the district’s “blueprint”.

Teachers phone banked, texted, walked to drop off literature, and held zoom meetings in support of the three candidates who won.  As Sam Davis noted, many voters tend to rely on their friends and neighbors who know something about the schools.  The friends and neighbors were telling each other to vote for the candidates they trusted.

Backing of Other Groups:  Building a Coalition

The three candidates were endorsed by the Democratic Party.  This wasn’t an accident.  Educational activists pushed the local democratic clubs to endorse candidates who would not be friendly to charters and wouldn’t owe their election to big money.  These clubs, in turn, pushed the local Democratic party.  In California the state Democratic party has taken a critical stance towards charter schools, and this was replicated locally.  Organizers noticed that as people walked to the polls on election day, many of them carried the Democratic Party door hanger with them. Some of these candidates were also endorsed by :

  • The Alameda Central Labor Council
  • SEIU 1021
  • State Assemblyperson Rob Bonta
  • State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond
  • Network for Public Education

Also, other community organizations like Educators for Democratic Schools, Democratic Socialists of America, and Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club helped to call, text, and walk precincts.

The Word is Out

You can fool some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, or so Lincoln believed.  Over time, the general public has begun to understand that there is an attempt to buy their votes.  As I dropped off a flier at one home, a parent came to the door and asked, with hostility, “This isn’t the candidate who is getting all that money from Bloomberg, is it?”  Several media sources reported on money from Bloomberg ($500,000 from Bloomberg alone!) and others pouring into Oakland.  

After recovering from the astonishment that anyone would spend that kind of money for a school board election, voters became leery of candidates receiving those huge amounts of money.  In District 1 where I live–and the charter candidate received nearly $300,000!–I found glossy fliers in my mailboxes more times than I could keep track of.

It is profoundly disturbing and a huge threat to our democracy that this big money trend has filtered down to local school board races. The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage, and when the new board is seated in January, it will have a clear pro-public school majority.  With appealing candidates and strong ground games, Oakland voters have shown that big money can be defeated. While Oakland will never go back to the days when a local neighborhood candidate spent only $12,000 to be elected, this recent victory over out of state billionaire bucks and their agenda sends a clear signal that our community will not be bought.

(Ken Rice is former OUSD board member, a member of Educators for Democratic Schools and currently has a daughter attending an OUSD school.) 

The nonpartisan “In the Public Interest” keeps close watch on privatization across all sectors, including education. Corporate interests are preying on the public sector, looking to extract profit from our public dollars. Be vigilant! Sign up to receive newsletters from ITPI.

Students are flocking to poor-performing online charter schools, straining public school budgets.Superintendents in Pennsylvania are warning that increasing enrollment in online charter schools could strain already burdened public school budgets. “There will be public schools, school districts, in a lot of trouble financially,” said Jeff Groshek, superintendent of the Central Columbia School District. Fox 56

Check out In the Public Interest’s two fact sheets on the widespread poor performance of online charter schools: “Why online education can’t replace brick-and-mortar K-12 schooling,” and “Frequently asked questions about online charter schools.”

“Passionate voucher advocate” joins Tennessee executive branch. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has hired Bill Dunn, a former state representative and passionate private school voucher advocate, to join his administration as a special advisor on education. Chalkbeat Tennessee

Charter school being built across from Florida public school. Jacksonville residents are angry about a charter school being built across the street from their public school. “It’s going to draw resources, funding, and it’s going to bring our student enrollment down, and it could very much possibly affect our teachers,” said Lisa Britt, PTA President at Alimacani Elementary School. News4Jax

Betsy DeVos’s “Voucherland” that could’ve been. Retired teacher and education writer Peter Greene gives us a glimpse of the dystopian future that lay in store for public education had Trump won the election. The Progressive

Some good news… At least some people want to help kids rather than cash in on them. Of the ten largest public bond measures on the ballot on Election Day, six were approved, including a $7 billion bond proposal for the Los Angeles Unified School District and nearly $3.5 billion for Dallas schools. WBAP

And make sure to check it out… On December 2 at 5:00 p.m. ET, join Jesse HagopianDenisha Jones, and Brian Jones for a forum to launch the new book, “Black Lives Matter At School.” Haymarket Books

Welcome to Cashing in on Kids, a newsletter for people fighting to stop the privatization of America’s public schools—produced by In the Public Interest.

Not a subscriber? Sign up. And make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Rob Schofield of North Carolina Policy Watch lives in a state taken over by the Tea Party, who are intent on selling off whatever they can to private industry.

We have fallen victim to corporate propaganda and allowed the corporate foxes into our henhouses.

He has written a brilliant article about what we are losing as our public sector is diminished and privatized. Americans who are concerned about our culture and our society should join the fight against the privatization of everything.

Something strange happened in my neighborhood the other day. It was a warm and pleasant Thursday – the day on which a city sanitation truck arrives each week to empty the trash bins.

The truck just didn’t come.

A couple of days later, another equally strange thing occurred: Our postal carrier didn’t make it to our neighborhood.

There were no holidays that I’d missed and no readily discoverable public explanations for the lapses.

Of course, neither of these developments was completely unprecedented. In the past, during hurricanes and snowstorms, such services have occasionally been interrupted. And neither was a life and death matter. The trash truck finally arrived a few days later and our mailbox was fairly stuffed the next day.

My guess/fear was that COVID might have taken a toll on the local sanitation team. And we all know of the struggles the U.S. Postal Service has been enduring.

But, in both instances – modest and unexplained failures in two core public services that have been utterly reliable for decades – there was something disquieting and noteworthy.

There was a time in our country – not that long ago – in which top-notch public services and structures were not just taken for granted, but widely accepted as points of common civic pride. Almost all Americans knew of the U.S. Postal Service motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Public schools and city halls often featured architecturally impressive buildings that served as important community hubs and gathering places. And public service employment – as a teacher, an employee of a state administrative agency, or yes, a postal worker or a trash truck driver – was widely viewed as an honorable and respectable middle-class career.

Today, it seems, our attitudes and expectations have been altered by a half-century of relentless and cynical messaging from conservative politicians, media outlets and think tanks that has helped set in motion a kind of vicious cycle.

First, government services and structures are demonized as inherently corrupt, inefficient and “the problem.”

Next, politicians demand that these structures and services operate “more efficiently” – “like a business” – so that taxes can be reduced.

After that – not surprisingly given the fact that most private businesses in a capitalist economy fail – numerous public structures and services (like schools, transportation, parks and even mail delivery and trash services) struggle to fulfill their missions.

After that, the whole cycle is repeated again and again until, at some point – especially in moments of crisis and extra stress like, say, a health pandemic – structures and services simply start to crumble and even fade away.

We’re witnessing this phenomenon play out right now in our public schools in North Carolina – particularly in some smaller and mid-sized counties, where the relentless pressure brought on by a decade of budget cuts, privatization (i.e. competition from voucher and charter schools that’s siphoning off families of means), and now the pandemic, is posing what amounts to an existential threat.

Last week, a former school board member in Granville County told Policy Watch education reporter Greg Childress that the public school system there has entered something akin to a death spiral in response to these pressures.

Reports from other counties sound disturbingly similar.

Meanwhile, in New Hanover County, a recent story in the Port City Daily paints a sobering, if familiar, portrait of how performance in that county’s system has been badly damaged by the resegregation that has followed in the wake of the county’s decision to, in effect, heed “market forces” – in this case, the demand of more affluent, mostly white families for “neighborhood schools.”

And so it goes for many other public structures and services as well.

From our torn and threadbare mental health system to our eviscerated environmental protection structures to our frequently overwhelmed courts, prisons and jails to our dog-eared parks and highway rest stops, the destructive cycle of reduced services and disinvestment continues to repeat itself.

All we lack right at present is the awareness, imagination and will to make it happen.

For many years, the American government’s broadcast outlet was widely perceived as independent and nonpartisan. Trump has sought to demolish that reputation by putting a loyal Trumper in charge.

The Washington Post editorial board wrote:

THE U.S. government’s international broadcasting has long had one big advantage over its Russian and Chinese competition: a commitment to independent journalism, rather than official propaganda. Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets are staffed by professionals who deliver unbiased news reports, including about the U.S. government, earning them credibility and influence with audiences around the world — especially in countries that lack free media.


President Trump is bent on destroying that legacy. Last spring, infuriated by VOA’s failure to echo his hyperbolic rhetoric about the “China virus,” he bullied reluctant Republican senators into confirming his highly partisan nominee to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees U.S. broadcasting. That official, Michael Pack, immediately embarked on a purge of the journalistic leadership of the organizations; he also refused to renew visas of dozens of foreign journalists who work for them.


Now Mr. Pack has launched a direct assault on the journalistic code that has been the U.S. calling card. Late Monday night, he unilaterally issued an order he said revoked a USAGM regulation creating a “firewall” between management and the journalism of the networks. His objection is to the rule’s prohibition of “attempts” by USAGM executives “to direct, pressure, coerce, threaten, interfere with, or otherwise impermissibly influence any of the USAGM Networks . . . in the performance of their journalistic and broadcasting duties.”
Mr. Pack would like to do all those things in advancement of his aim to repress reporting that might offend the White House. For example, he already ordered an investigation of veteran VOA reporter Steve Herman for supposed anti-Trump bias. Mr. Herman’s sin was to report, accurately, that Vice President Pence had failed to wear a mask during a visit to the Mayo Clinic. The probe was a blatant violation of the firewall that Mr. Pack now says he has dismantled. In a memo to staff, he unabashedly said he acted so that he could “enforce consequences for . . . biased reporting.”




Unfortunately for Mr. Trump’s minion, the independence of VOA’s journalism is guaranteed not just by the regulation he said he repealed but also by a law passed by Congress, which mandates the “professional independence and integrity” of U.S. broadcasting. But Mr. Pack is not much deterred by legal barriers. According to a half-dozen whistleblowers who filed a complaint with the State Department’s inspector general, he has improperly diverted funds, sidelined executives who told him he was violating the law and tried to investigate the voting history of USAGM employees.
Mr. Pack has drawn bipartisan criticism from both houses of Congress — which he reacted to by ignoring a subpoena to testify to a House committee.

On Tuesday, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), tweeted that “it is unclear why CEO Pack is opposed to journalistic objectivity at USAGM and its networks. Without it, the mission and effectiveness of the agency is undermined.” In fact, Mr. Pack’s motives appear perfectly clear: He wishes to turn U.S. broadcasting into a pro-Trump propaganda operation. Unless Mr. Trump is defeated and Mr. Pack removed, the unique power of U.S. foreign broadcasting will likely be destroyed.

This is a short teaching video created by Tim Slekar, dean of the college of education at Edgewood College in Milwaukee.

In the video, you will see Trump denounce Howard Zinn and the “1619 Project,” a series of essays about African American history published by the New York Times magazine.

Trump is reading from a teleprompter.

He has a reputation as a non-reader. You can be sure that he has never read anything written by Howard Zinn and he has never read the “1619 Project.” Based on many comments he has made, it’s apparent that he never studied American history and has no tolerance at all for teaching the history of racism, ethnic groups, persecution, discrimination, segregation, or anything that reflects poorly on our great leaders. He thinks that Robert E. Lee was a patriot, not a traitor who led a rebellion to dissolve the Union and preserve white supremacy. He has frequently referred to the Confederate flag as part of our “great national heritage.” He has opposed all efforts to rename military bases named for leaders of the Confederacy.

In the video, you will see that he is issuing an executive order to create a “1776 Commission” to rewrite American history and to inspire patriotism by removing all problematic issues from teaching American history.

Only a very stupid man would hold history in such contempt and assume that it can be rewritten by a commission.

I am reminded of a trip that I took to the Soviet Union in 1988, before the Wall and the Soviet Union had fallen. My host was a high-level bureaucrat at the Ministry of Education. I met with professors at pedagogical institutes, visited schools, asked questions. On one day, my host tried to impress me by offering me a plate of sliced tomatoes; that was a great delicacy because fresh food of any kind was not in the stores. During conversation, she mentioned that the Department’s big project was rewriting the history of the USSR. I asked her who was in charge of writing it. She said, proudly, “Chairman Gorbachev.” I was trying to imagine the head of state in charge of writing new history textbooks.

I feel the same about Trump’s “1776 Commission,” which hopefully will disappear after November 3.

Standing in front of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives, Trump denounced the teaching of history in U.S. schools as leftist “indoctrination” and pledged to create a “1776 Commission” to restore “patriotic” American history. He is especially vitriolic about the “1619 Project,” which revised the role of African-Americans in U.S. history. He thinks that any effort to think critically about history or to include nonwhites is “leftist” propaganda.

This is not as difficult as it might seem. He could just resurrect the U.S. history textbooks used in the 1950s, which presented a homogenized and triumphalist version of history, centered on white heroes. Then add a last chapter about the Reign of Trump. Whitewashed is the right word.

Do you think he has ever read either of the nation’s founding documents? Remember that he repeatedly claimed that Article II of the Constitution allows the president to do whatever he wants. Clearly he has never read Article II.

Do you think he knows that federal law prohibits any federal official from interfering with curriculum or instruction in the schools? Obviously not, but if he knew, he wouldn’t care since he is convinced that he is above the law.

Federal law 20 USC 1232a prohibits “any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system…”

Michael Crowley writes in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Trump escalated his attacks on “left-wing demonstrators” and “far-left mobs” on Thursday, portraying himself as a defender of American heritage against revolutionary fanatics and arguing for a new “pro-American” curriculum in the nation’s schools.

Speaking at the National Archives Museum, Mr. Trump vowed to counter what he called an emerging classroom narrative that “America is a wicked and racist nation,” and he said he would create a new “1776 Commission” to help “restore patriotic education to our schools.” The president reiterated his condemnations of demonstrators who tear down monuments to historical American figures, and he even sought to link the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., to the removal of a founding father’s statue in Mr. Biden’s home state, Delaware.

“Our heroes will never be forgotten,” Mr. Trump said. “Our youth will be taught to love America.”

Since the killing of a Black man, George Floyd, in police custody in May in Minneapolis, and the protests that followed nationwide, the president has seized on cultural issues and has sounded many of the same themes — notably including at a showy Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore.

Since then, his vision of a Democratic Party hijacked by anti-American Marxists has become a core theme of his campaign. But he elevated the concepts on Thursday by delivering them in the august setting of the National Archives Museum, standing before the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in what was billed as the first “White House Conference on American History.”

The event was held on Constitution Day, the anniversary of the document’s signing in 1787. Mr. Trump said it reflected “centuries of tradition, wisdom and experience.”

“Yet as we gather this afternoon, a radical movement is attempting to demolish this treasured and precious inheritance,” he added.

The president focused much of his speech on his claim that American schools have become infected with revisionist ideas about the nation’s founding and history, producing a new generation of “Marxist” activists and adherents of “critical race theory” who believe American society to be fundamentally racist and wicked — and who have taken to the streets in recent months.

Mr. Trump said that “left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools,” adding that “it’s gone on far too long.” He boasted that the National Endowment for the Humanities “has awarded a grant to support the development of a pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history.”

Douglas Brinkley, a historian at Rice University, said that conservatives have long been angry at what they see as a growing emphasis in American public schools on themes of civil rights at the expense of more traditional historical narratives, mainly those revolving around white men.

“I think Donald Trump sees the cultural wars as a pathway to victory,” Mr. Brinkley added. But, he said, “what he sees as a cultural war is just trying to open up the narrative to other peoples’ experiences — not just white males.”

Mr. Trump gave his remarks a campaign twist when he promised to include a statue of Caesar Rodney, who rode 70 miles to Philadelphia in 1776 to cast a tiebreaking vote to declare independence, in a national statuary garden to honor “American heroes” whose creation he ordered in July. Mr. Biden, he charged, “said nothing as to his home state’s history and the fact that it was dismantled and dismembered.

“And a founding father’s statue was removed,” the president added.

Denouncing “propaganda tracts” that “try to make students ashamed of their own history,” Mr. Trump singled out The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, named for the year the first enslaved Africans arrived in the Virginia colony, and which reframes American history around the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans. The project, whose lead author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, has been incorporated into a curriculum and is taught in many schools across the United States.

Mr. Trump said the project in fact “rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr. Trump continued, saying that the United States’ founding “set in motion the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism, and built the most fair, equal and prosperous nation in human history.”

A Times spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha, described the 1619 Project as “landmark, groundbreaking journalism.”

“It deepened many readers’ understanding of the nation’s past and forced an important conversation about the lingering effects of slavery, and its centrality to America’s story,” she said in a statement. “We are proud of it and will continue this vital journalism.”

Seemingly as a counterpoint, Mr. Trump said that he would soon sign an executive order to create the 1776 Commission, named after the year the American colonies declared their independence. He said the commission would promote a “patriotic eduction” and “encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honor the 250th anniversary of our founding.”

William R. Ferris, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina and a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, criticized Mr. Trump for “treating historians just as he treats scientists — by disregarding our very best voices who have written on American history and race.”

Mr. Ferris said that creating a new commission to promote American history makes little sense. “We already have institutions like the National Archives and others that preserve and promote our nation’s history,” he said. “I would encourage him to request congressional support for the existing programs at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

“They do a good job with very little funding, and I know they would welcome his strong support to expand those budgets,” Mr. Ferris said.

Mr. Trump’s speech also singled out the doctrine of critical race theory, the view that the law and other societal institutions are based on socially constructed theories of race that benefit white people. He called the theory “a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed.”

“Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families,” Mr. Trump said.

In what he called an example of critical race theory in action, the president condemned the Smithsonian Institution for publishing online a description of “whiteness” that included the concepts of rational thinking, hard work and the nuclear family.

“This is offensive and outrageous to Americans of every ethnicity, and it is especially harmful to children of minority backgrounds who should be uplifted, not disparaged,” Mr. Trump said. “Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.”

The president did not offer more detail, but he appeared to be referring to a graphic removed from the website of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture last month after criticism from conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son.

“Our ‘Talking About Race’ website was designed to help people talk about racial identity, racism and the way these forces shape every aspect of society,” said Linda St. Thomas, the chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution. “We removed a graphic that did not contribute to productive discussions.”

This month, Mr. Trump directed administration officials to halt or revise racial sensitivity training programs that he deemed “divisive” and “un-American propaganda,” and he threatened on Twitter to cut off federal education funding to California over the state’s incorporation of the 1619 Project in its public school curriculum.

Hours after extolling the United States’ iconic heroes, Mr. Trump missed a ceremony honoring a major one. He was absent from the dedication of a new memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington. That was unusual: President Bill Clinton dedicated a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, President George W. Bush dedicated one to World War II, and President Barack Obama dedicated one to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Trump instead left town for a campaign rally in Wisconsin.

This article in the New York Times Magazine b Robert Draper confirms our worst suspicions about Trump. He has used his authority to eliminate any top official in the Central Intelligence Agency who is not personally loyal to him. He has suppressed any independent analysis of Russian efforts to interfere in our elections. His actions border on treason.


In early July of last year, the first draft of a classified document known as a National Intelligence Estimate circulated among key members of the agencies making up the U.S. intelligence community. N.I.E.s are intended to be that community’s most authoritative class of top-secret document, reflecting its consensus judgment on national-security matters ranging from Iran’s nuclear capabilities to global terrorism. The draft of the July 2019 N.I.E. ran to about 15 pages, with another 10 pages of appendices and source notes.

According to multiple officials who saw it, the document discussed Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence U.S. elections: the 2020 presidential contest and 2024’s as well. It was compiled by a working group consisting of about a dozen senior analysts, led by Christopher Bort, a veteran national intelligence officer with nearly four decades of experience, principally focused on Russia and Eurasia. The N.I.E. began by enumerating the authors’ “key judgments.” Key Judgment 2 was that in the 2020 election, Russia favored the current president: Donald Trump.

The intelligence provided to the N.I.E.’s authors indicated that in the lead-up to 2020, Russia worked in support of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as well. But Bort explained to his colleagues, according to notes taken by one participant in the process, that this reflected not a genuine preference for Sanders but rather an effort “to weaken that party and ultimately help the current U.S. president.” To allay any speculation that Putin’s interest in Trump had cooled, Key Judgment 2 was substantiated by current information from a highly sensitive foreign source described by someone who read the N.I.E. as “100 percent reliable.”

On its face, Key Judgment 2 was not a contentious assertion. In 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the umbrella entity supervising the 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies, released a report drawing on intelligence from the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency that found Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election and aspired to help Trump. At a news conference with Trump in Helsinki in July 2018, President Vladimir Putin of Russia denied interfering in the election. But when asked by a reporter if he had wanted Trump to win, he replied bluntly: “Yes, I did.”

Yet Trump never accepted this and often actively disputed it, judging officials who expressed such a view to be disloyal. As a former senior adviser to Trump, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, “You couldn’t have any conversation about Russia and the election without the president assuming you were calling his election into question. Everyone in the White House knew that, and so you just didn’t talk about that with him.” According to this former adviser, both John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, who were Trump’s national security adviser and acting chief of staff in 2019, went to considerable lengths to keep the subject of Russian election interference off the president’s agenda. (Bolton and Mulvaney declined to comment for this article.)

The president’s displeasure with any suggestion that he was Putin’s favorite factored into the discussion over the N.I.E. that summer, in particular the “back and forth,” as Dan Coats, then the director of national intelligence, put it, over the assessment that Russia favored Trump in 2020. Eventually, this debate made it to Coats’s desk. “I can affirm that one of my staffers who was aware of the controversy requested that I modify that assessment,” Coats told me recently. “But I said, ‘No, we need to stick to what the analysts have said.’”

Coats had been director of national intelligence since early in Trump’s presidency, but his tenure had been rocky at times, and earlier that year, he and Trump agreed to part ways; Coats expected to resign near the end of September. So it surprised him when on July 28, not long after he was approached about the change to the N.I.E., Trump announced via Twitter that Coats’s last day in office would be Aug. 15. In the days to come, Coats’s regular meetings with Trump on intelligence matters continued. During those conversations, Coats told me, the president never explained what prompted his sudden decision.

Coats’s interim successor would be retired Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire, who at the time was director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Maguire had served under eight presidents in a military or government capacity. Within the intelligence community, his appointment elicited relief but also worry: “From the very beginning,” one former senior intelligence official told me, “there was a lot of consternation over not getting Maguire fired.” One issue looming over the new acting director was the fact that the N.I.E., which had yet to be finalized, contained a conclusion that the president had often railed against.

One of the intelligence officials most directly acquainted with Trump’s opinions on the agencies’ work was Beth Sanner. A veteran of the C.I.A., Sanner now serves as the O.D.N.I.’s deputy director for mission integration. Her responsibilities include delivering the president’s daily brief, the regular presentation of new intelligence findings of pressing importance that Trump, like his predecessors, receives.

Delivering the P.D.B., as it is known, requires an astute understanding of the briefer’s audience. Sanner, who earlier in her C.I.A. career was flagged for promotions by managers who viewed her as an exceptional talent, was tough but also outgoing. In a rare public appearance at an online conference hosted by the nonprofit Intelligence & National Security Alliance last month, Sanner offered a window onto her experience as Trump’s briefer. “I think that fear for us is the most debilitating thing that we face in our personal or professional lives,” she said. “And if every time I went in and talked with the president I was afraid, I would never get anything done. You might be afraid right before you get there. But then you’re there; let it go. You are there because you’re good.” She had learned over time how to put Trump at ease with self-deprecating humor. Encountering the limits of his attention, she once said (according to someone familiar with this particular briefing), “OK, I can see you’re not interested — I’m not interested, I don’t even know why I brought this up — so let’s move on.”

In early September, an email went out from an O.D.N.I. official to the N.I.E.’s reviewers with the latest version attached — which, according to the email, “includes edits from D.M.I. Beth Sanner. We have highlighted the major changes in yellow; they make some of the KJ language clearer and highlight … Russia’s motivation for its influence activities.”

No longer did Key Judgment 2 clearly state that Russia favored the current president, according to an individual who compared the two versions of the N.I.E. side by side. Instead, in the words of a written summary of the document that I obtained, the new version concluded that “Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the U.S. will diminish under a different U.S. president.” The National Intelligence Board approved the final version at a meeting on the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2019.

Such a change, a former senior intelligence official said, would amount to “a distinction without a difference and a way to make sure Maguire doesn’t get fired.” But the distinction was in fact both real and important. A document intended to explain Russia’s playbook for the upcoming elections no longer included an explanation of what Russia’s immediate goal was. Omitting that crucial detail would later allow the White House to question the credibility of the testimony of intelligence and law-enforcement officials who informed lawmakers of Russia’s interest in Trump’s re-election in a closed-door congressional committee briefing early this year. It would also set in motion Maguire’s own departure, in spite of the efforts to protect him.

Relationships between presidents and the intelligence agencies they command are often testy, and Trump is hardly the first president to ignore or mischaracterize intelligence. But the alarm in the intelligence community over Russian interference on behalf of Trump’s election in 2016, and Trump’s reciprocal suspicion of the intelligence community, immediately marked their relationship as categorically different from those with past presidents. “Trump’s first encounter with the intelligence community as president-elect was in meetings with James Comey, John Brennan and James Clapper, all of whom turned out to be involved with spying on President Trump’s campaign,” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said in a statement responding to a list of factual queries for this article. The investigation of Trump’s campaign, McEnany said, was “the greatest political scandal and crime in U.S. history.” (Although the F.B.I. investigated links between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials, a 2019 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence that it had tried to place informants inside the campaign. No claims of spying on the campaign by other American intelligence agencies have ever been substantiated.)

The depth of Trump’s animosity has been known since before his inauguration. What has not been known is the full extent of how this suspicion has reshaped the intelligence community and the personal and professional calculations of its members, forcing officials to walk a fine line between serving the president and maintaining the integrity of their work. The brunt of Trump’s discontent has been borne by those who work in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was established in late 2004 at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to facilitate better communication among the intelligence agencies. The O.D.N.I.’s directors and briefers, like Sanner, have been the community’s most direct point of contact with the president. In the past, that proximity was straightforward. A briefing would be given, and then the briefer would leave the Oval Office so that the president could discuss policy options with his advisers.

Under Trump, intelligence officials have been placed in the unusual position of being pressured to justify the importance of their work, protect their colleagues from political retribution and demonstrate fealty to a president. Though intelligence officials have been loath to admit it publicly, the cumulative result has been devastating. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, compared the O.D.N.I.’s decline under Trump to that of the Justice Department, where “they have, step by step, set out to destroy one of the crown jewels of the American government,” he told me. “And they’re using the same playbook with the intelligence community.”

The O.D.N.I.’s erosion has in turn shaped the information that flows out of the intelligence community to the White House — or doesn’t. The softening of Key Judgment 2 signified a sobering new development of the Trump era: the intelligence community’s willingness to change what it would otherwise say straightforwardly so as not to upset the president. “To its credit, the intelligence community resisted during the earlier part of the president’s term,” Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told me. “But by casting out Dan Coats and then Maguire, and replacing them with loyalists, I think over time it’s had the effect of wearing the intelligence community down, making them less willing to speak truth to power.”

This “wearing down” has extended well beyond the dismissal of a few top intelligence officials whom the president perceived to be disloyal. It has also meant that those who remain in the community are acutely mindful of the risks of challenging Trump’s “alternative facts,” as the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway once memorably described them — with consequences that are substantive, if often hidden from view.

That concern was palpable among nearly all of the 40 current and former intelligence officials, lawmakers and congressional staff with whom I spoke — among them more than 15 people who worked in, or closely with, the intelligence community throughout Trump’s presidency. Though these people would discuss their experiences only in exchange for anonymity out of fear of reprisal or dismissal, the unusual fact of their willingness to discuss them at all — and the extent to which their stories could be confirmed by multiple sources, and in many cases by contemporaneous documents — itself was a testament to how profoundly Trump has reordered their world and their work. As one of them told me: “The problem is that when you’ve been treated the way the intelligence community has, they become afraid of their own shadow. The most dangerous thing now is the churn — the not knowing who’s going to be fired, and what it is you might say that could cost you your job. It’s trying to put out something and not get creamed for it.”

Like the rest of America, the thousands of people making up the U.S. intelligence community were divided by the election of Donald Trump. Many were wary of a candidate who pledged to bring back waterboarding and assassinate families of ISIS members, who praised WikiLeaks and played down Putin’s extrajudicial assassinations by observing, “What, you think our country’s so innocent?” Three weeks after beginning to receive his first intelligence briefings as a candidate, Trump publicly offered the dubious claim that his briefers “were not happy” that President Obama and his administration “did not follow what they were recommending.” Listening to Trump throughout the campaign, Michael Hayden, who directed the C.I.A. under both George W. Bush and Obama, told me, “I was really scared for my country.” But others in the community were rankled by what they saw as Obama’s passivity in global affairs and were receptive to the prospect of a change.

On Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, Trump addressed an audience of agency employees at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va. Standing in front of the agency’s Memorial Wall, an austere slab of marble engraved with more than a hundred stars commemorating the agency officers who died in service to their country — three C.I.A. paramilitary officers had recently been killed in Afghanistan — he proceeded to unleash one of his stream-of-consciousness diatribes. “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me,” he declared. He complimented himself on his pick for secretary of agriculture and admonished the Bush administration for not having seized Iraq’s oil after invading the country. He bragged about his inauguration speech and repeated his false claims about the mammoth crowd it attracted and his record number of appearances on the cover of Time magazine. He questioned the judgment of whoever it was who had chosen to build the C.I.A. headquarters lobby with so many columns.

“I was literally in tears,” one senior agency official at the time told me, “as I watched him standing in the most hallowed place we have — so disconnected, talking about himself, asking why our building had columns.” A second agency veteran angrily characterized Trump’s speech as “a near-desecration of the wall,” adding: “I’m tearing up now just thinking about it.”

Trump bragged to the C.I.A. audience that he would be the agency’s most lavish supporter: “You’re going to get so much backing. Maybe you’re going to say, ‘Please don’t give us so much backing.’” But in truth, he already had reservations about the intelligence community. The C.I.A. director John Brennan and the former director Hayden had publicly criticized various statements he made during the campaign. The former acting director Michael Morell, who advised Hillary Clinton’s campaign, had described Trump in an op-ed as “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” At Langley headquarters before his speech, Trump met with several of the C.I.A.’s top officials and, according to someone familiar with the conversation, asked several of them individually whether they had voted for him.

Two weeks before his inauguration, the president-elect and his senior aides received a briefing at Trump Tower led by the departing director of national intelligence, James Clapper, outlining the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Trump was friendly and attentive but also dismissive. “Anybody’s going to tell you what they think you want to hear,” Trump told them, according to Clapper.

Toward the end of the briefing, Trump’s new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, began to discuss drafting a press statement. Priebus, Clapper recalled, “wanted to include language in it that we said Russian interference had no impact on the outcome of the election. Well, we didn’t have the authority to make that judgment. The only thing we said was that we saw no evidence of tampering with the votes.”

As the briefing concluded, James Comey, director of the F.B.I., spoke with Trump alone. There was another matter to disclose: a dossier compiled by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which discussed Russia’s entanglements with Trump’s campaign and the candidate himself. (Many of these claims were never substantiated or were later disproved outright.) Fusion GPS, the research firm that was involved in producing the dossier, had confidentially organized briefings on Steele’s findings for a handful of reporters. But when BuzzFeed published the dossier four days after Comey’s briefing, the president-elect blamed intelligence officials. “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ out into the public,” he tweeted the following morning. “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

Clapper spoke with Trump that afternoon and defended the intelligence community. Trump did not apologize, and he instead asked Clapper to release a statement refuting the dossier’s claims. Clapper declined to do so.

Trump’s hostility was not purely a matter of self-interest. As a candidate, he often railed against the foreign policies of his predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike — in particular the Iraq war, a debacle that was inseparable from the failures of the intelligence community. After it was reported in December 2016 that the C.I.A. had concluded that Russia interfered with the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, his transition team released a press statement declaring, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Once Trump was in the White House, a former Trump-administration official recalls: “I cannot tell you how many times he randomly raised the Iraq war. Like it morally offended him. He believed the intelligence community purposely made it all up.”

But the gross intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war offered a subtler cautionary tale too. The Bush administration had a tendency to see only what it wished to see of that intelligence, to contort and mischaracterize semi-educated guesses as unassailable facts — a tendency that, in Trump, was compulsive to a nearly pathological degree. As one intelligence veteran who occasionally briefed Trump told me: “On a visceral level, his view was, ‘You all are supposed to be helping me.’ But when you’d bring in evidence that Russia interfered, that’s what he’d refer to as not helpful. Or when he’s wanting to turn the screws on NATO, we’d come in with a warning of the consequences of NATO falling apart. And he’d say, ‘You never do things for me.’”
Historically, the C.I.A. has learned to accommodate the individual presidents it serves, though always with the tacit understanding that the “first customer” would not abuse the courtesy. Bill Clinton’s famously fluid schedule made it difficult for him to commit to daily one-on-one briefings. (When a man in a stolen Cessna 150 plane crashed it into the South Lawn of the White House in 1994, the mordant joke around the C.I.A. was that it was the agency’s director, Jim Woolsey, trying to get a meeting with the president.)

Still, Clinton read his briefing material. George W. Bush, whose father had been a C.I.A. director, faithfully took his briefings six mornings a week — though it famously did not result in his heeding the August 2001 briefing titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.” Obama, too, took daily briefings for most of his presidency; Lisa Monaco, his homeland-security adviser, earned the presidential nickname Dr. Doom for her grim counterterrorism updates. The briefings were a ritual through which the intelligence community implicitly made the case for itself as something that transcended partisanship and operated on a time scale beyond mere presidencies.

It was inevitable that some adjustments would prove necessary for Trump, novice as he was to government. The new president’s interests were primarily economic, a field that was never the intelligence community’s strong suit. Under Trump, intelligence officials learned to “up our econ briefings game,” as one of them told me.

But the culture clash posed more serious problems too. Trump was accustomed to cutting deals and sharing gossip on his private cellphone, often loudly. He enjoyed being around billionaires, to whom he would “show off about some of the stuff he thought was cool — the capabilities of different weapons systems,” one former senior administration official recalled. “These were superrich guys who wouldn’t give him the time of day before he became president. He’d use that stuff as currency he had that they didn’t, not understanding the implications.” Trump also stocked his President’s Intelligence Advisory Board with wealthy businesspeople who, when briefed by one intelligence official, “would sometimes make you uncomfortable” because on occasion, “their questions were related to their business dealings,” this individual recalled.

The chairman of that advisory board, Stephen Feinberg, is co-chief executive of Cerberus Capital Management, which owns DynCorp, a major defense contractor that has won several lucrative military contracts. Feinberg was a friend of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose expansive role in the new administration also created unease within the intelligence community. “His attitude,” one former intelligence official recalled of Kushner, “is like that of his father-in-law, who always thought that people who weren’t trying to be wealthy but instead went into public service were lesser.” There were obvious security issues that seemed not to have occurred to Kushner, who “would have the Chinese ambassador and his minions wandering around the West Wing unescorted,” recalled one former senior administration official. (The White House disputes this. “No foreign nationals are allowed to roam freely in the West Wing,” McEnany said in a statement.)

Early in the administration, Kushner and an aide showed up to Langley headquarters — conspicuous in their fitted suits — for a meeting to learn how the C.I.A. functions. The agency accommodated them, but afterward, according to one participant in the meeting, concern developed within the agency about Kushner’s potential conflicts. His complicated international business interests, as well as his evolving friendship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, had raised serious concerns among officials responsible for awarding security credentials. A further concern, another former senior intelligence official said, “was just his cavalier and arrogant attitude that ‘I know what I’m doing,’ without any cultural understanding of why things are classified, that would put our intelligence at risk.”

Trump publicly claimed to know little about Kushner’s security-clearance problem. But in fact, the president “made a huge deal of it and tried to pull all sorts of strings and go around the system,” one former official recalled. Another former official said, “I’d hear the president say, ‘Just do it, just give it to him.’ I’m not sure he understood what it actually meant. He made it sound like Jared was just trying to join a club.”
Some of Trump’s intelligence advisers feared that his carelessness would inevitably get him in trouble when dealing one on one with cannier foreign leaders. “When you’re a president, any slip can be used,” one former national-security aide said. Because of Trump’s indiscretion, one former senior intelligence official told me, the intelligence office of at least one foreign country — a NATO ally that had sent troops to Afghanistan — was discouraged by that country’s president from interacting with its American counterparts, for fear that Trump would be briefed on the information and subsequently blurt it out to the Russians. The president did precisely that four months into his tenure, sharing sensitive intelligence about ISIS with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting in the Oval Office, reportedly exposing a source of Israeli intelligence in the process. Two years later, Trump would tweet a surveillance photograph of a damaged space facility in Iran, a sensitive image that almost certainly came from a U.S. drone or satellite.

Trump’s indiscretion wasn’t the only issue. Officials came to realize that his lack of interest and tendency toward distraction posed their own concerns. His briefers, a former senior administration official said, “were stunned and miffed that he had no real interest in the P.D.B. And it wasn’t just the P.D.B.; it was almost anything generated by his N.S.C.” — Trump’s National Security Council. “He kind of likes the military details but just doesn’t read briefing materials. They’d put all this time and effort into these briefing papers, and he’d literally throw it aside.”

Recognizing that Trump responded to visual material, his aides for a time tried to compose briefs out of photos, charts and a limited number of captions, until it became evident that such a presentation would not convey all that a president needed to know. But it remained a challenge to engage Trump, a former adviser said: “Anyone who’s ever briefed him wouldn’t get more than three or four minutes into it, and then the president would go off on tangents.” Such tangents, a former intelligence briefer said, would include Trump’s standing in the polls, Hillary Clinton’s email server and the prospect of holding a military parade in the United States.

For one briefing that concerned an adversarial nation’s weapons system, the C.I.A. briefer arrived with a prop: a portable model of the weapon in question. “Trump held it in his hands, and it’s all he paid attention to,” a former senior intelligence official recalled. “The briefer would be talking about range and deployment, and all the president wanted to know was: ‘What’s this made of? What’s this part here?’”

From the 2016 campaign to early 2019, Trump’s principal briefer was Ted Gistaro, a much-respected C.I.A. veteran whom the president called “my Ted.” Sometime in the spring of 2019, Gistaro accepted a posting overseas, though not before unburdening himself to a former colleague. “I knew you’ve heard how bad it is,” the colleague recalled him saying. “Believe me, it’s worse than that.” (The O.D.N.I. declined requests for an interview with Gistaro.)

By that spring, Trump was souring on Gistaro’s boss, Dan Coats. A 77-year-old former Republican senator who was once in the running to be George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Coats had denounced Trump during his candidacy for his “totally inappropriate and disgusting” comments in the “Access Hollywood” tape. He had not expressed interest in the job of director of national intelligence, and Trump had not even bothered to interview him for it. It was Vice President Mike Pence, a friend from Indiana, who extended the offer on Trump’s behalf and who later swore him in.

Shortly after nominating Coats for the director job, Trump invited him to a dinner gathering at the White House residence. According to the special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian election interference in 2016 and Coats’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Trump asked his guests what they thought of James Comey. When Trump asked if anyone knew Comey personally, Coats replied that Comey had been a good F.B.I. director and advised the president to get to know him better.

According to the same report and testimony, barely a week into Coats’s tenure as director of national intelligence, he was asked by Trump to publicly clear the president of Russia-related wrongdoing. Coats carefully replied that it was not in his purview to do so.

The president repeated his request in an evening phone call. Coats, an avid college-basketball fan, was watching the Final Four N.C.A.A. semi-finals at the time. He was struck by the abjectness of the new president, alone in the White House on a Saturday night, talking to a near-stranger while his family remained in New York. But he did not buckle. He advised Trump to let the investigation run its course. “I made sure that if the information in the briefing was exact and true, it had to be presented to him, regardless of what the consequences might be,” Coats told me. “And I kept reminding people putting together the P.D.B. that they could in no way modify anything for political purposes.”

This was especially perilous when the subject was Russia. In “The Room Where It Happened,” John Bolton’s recently published memoir of his ill-fated stint as Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, Bolton recalled watching the president chafe over sanctions on Russia. In 2018, the U.S. government initiated a cyberattack against the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm singled out by Mueller for its efforts to influence the 2016 election. Although the Trump administration would later point to this as proof of the president’s toughness on Russia, three individuals who had real-time knowledge of the attack told me that Trump did not specifically order it.

In March 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen warned a gathering of foreign diplomats that there would be harsh consequences for meddling in the 2018 midterm elections — at which point the Russian representative stormed out of the meeting. The White House communications office subsequently complained privately to the Department of Homeland Security that Nielsen’s remarks were off-message. That July, at an N.S.C. meeting convened for the express purpose of discussing election security, Nielsen got only five minutes into her opening presentation before Trump interrupted her with a barrage of questions relating to the wall he wanted built along the Mexico border.

Coats, too, was at the N.S.C. meeting. He had received a more public snubbing on the subject just a few days earlier, when President Trump, standing alongside Putin at the news conference in Helsinki, responded to a question about Russian meddling in the 2016 election by saying, “Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia.” But, Trump went on, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Coats responded later that day with a statement reaffirming “our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” Coats’s defense “added fuel to the fire,” Bolton later wrote.

Despite the president’s aggressive indifference on the subject — or because of it — some of his cabinet officials remained concerned that Russia could throw the upcoming elections into turmoil and perhaps even disrupt the results. To them, the intelligence relating to Putin’s aims was indisputable. So was the president’s intransigence. As Bolton would write, “Trump believed that acknowledging Russia’s meddling in U.S. politics, or in that of many other countries in Europe or elsewhere, would implicitly acknowledge that he had colluded with Russia in his 2016 campaign.”

It was against this backdrop that Coats, Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis worked together to write an executive order in the summer of 2018 that would enable sanctions on foreign countries trying to interfere with the American electoral process. Trump wasn’t briefed on these efforts, because, as one individual involved in the process recalled, “there was a belief that such a meeting would go sideways.” Instead, according to Bolton’s book, on Sept. 12, 2018, as several aides gathered with the president to discuss the border wall, Bolton seized the moment and held out the executive order for Trump to sign. Suspiciously, the president asked whose idea the executive order was. Bolton volunteered that it was his. “Oh,” Trump said, and he signed it.

Among other things, the executive order set in motion the process of drafting the intelligence assessment that Coats would be asked by a subordinate to change 10 months later. But by the time the order was signed, the fraying relationship between the president and his director of national intelligence was already on the verge of unraveling altogether. On Jan. 29, 2019, Coats and other intelligence-agency leaders presented the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment to the Senate Intelligence Committee. As had now become customary for many public statements that might contradict Trump’s own, the O.D.N.I.’s senior staff labored over the draft of the director’s opening statement and then cleared it with the N.S.C. staff. Still, its stark depictions of Russia’s ongoing election meddling, North Korea’s determination to maintain its nuclear arsenal and the resilience of ISIS amounted to a sweeping rebuttal to the president’s claimed foreign-policy accomplishments.

Trump tweeted his displeasure the following day, writing, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Two days after their testimony, Coats and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, met with the president, with Bolton in attendance as well. Later, Trump tweeted: “Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office who told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media. … We are all on the same page!”

That was far from the truth, Coats told me. “We basically said this is what we said, and it had already been presented to White House personnel because we knew it was sensitive. The president was not happy that Gina and I pushed back on that and that it was approved by the White House. He said, ‘How did this happen?’”

But, Coats added, “when he made the remarks about going back to school, I knew my time was coming to an end.” Behind his back, Trump was referring to Coats as old, lazy, ignorant and, Bolton wrote, “an idiot.”

Coats was not going to become another Jeff Sessions, the attorney general who spent nearly two years twisting in the wind and weathering scorn until the president finally fired him. He prepared a letter of resignation. Trump rejected it, but only because of its timing: He didn’t want Coats to leave while Mueller’s investigation was ongoing. Coats agreed to wait, figuring that a departure date near the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, made sense. He also began suggesting potential replacements to the White House.

A federal statute stipulated that should the position of director become vacant, it should be filled on an acting basis by the O.D.N.I.’s deputy director. In this case, that was Sue Gordon, a well-respected former C.I.A. official and onetime deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. When Coats recruited Gordon to be his deputy and introduced her to Trump in 2017, he informed the president that she had been a captain on the Duke women’s basketball team. Trump commented on her height and then, without discussing Gordon’s qualifications for the job, asked her a series of basketball-related questions, concluding by asking Gordon who was likely to win the N.C.A.A. tournament.

A few months after her initial meeting with Trump, Gordon appeared onstage at an intelligence forum with four former directors of the C.I.A., including Brennan and Hayden. The unprecedented war of words between a sitting president and the two former intelligence czars had continued (and would only intensify a year later, when Trump declared that he had revoked Brennan’s security clearance). On this panel, Brennan said that Trump had “undermined” the intelligence community by refusing to accept its assessment of Russia’s election meddling. Hayden asserted that “the most disruptive element in the world today is the United States.” Gordon, the panel’s moderator, kept the conversation moving.

This would be enough to brand Gordon as disloyal to some in Trump’s inner circle, putting her in the same camp as her boss, Coats, who had won over the intelligence community’s senior officials by protecting their work from the pressures coming from the White House. By contrast, both of Trump’s C.I.A. directors seemed more willing to accommodate the president. His first director, Mike Pompeo, aggressively worked to develop a close relationship with Trump. At the Aspen Security Forum in the summer of 2017, Pompeo said that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election — and “the one before that and the one before that.” A year later, when British intelligence officials requested assistance from the C.I.A. in investigating the apparent poisoning of a double agent by Russian operatives, Pompeo was initially disinclined to offer assistance, saying to a roomful of subordinates, according to someone with knowledge of the conversation, that because Britain had done nothing to help the United States when it came to Iran, he saw no reason the United States should help on this matter.

Haspel, who replaced Pompeo after he was tapped to run the State Department, had previously overseen one of the C.I.A.’s notorious overseas interrogation facilities known as “black sites” — a fact that endeared her to Trump, according to one former intelligence official. “He loved that Gina is a badass,” the official said. “He loved her involvement in the prisons.” Still, the director also felt obliged to show her supportiveness in ways that others in the agency found inappropriate, from applauding during Trump’s State of the Union address to saying publicly of his North Korea policy, “After years of failure, I do think that President Trump has shown a lot of wisdom in reaching out his hand to the North Korean leader.”

Coats exhibited no such pretenses of fealty. “What we were standing up for was the integrity of the intelligence,” he told me. That included the intelligence community’s N.I.E. assessing Russia’s interference campaign. “There was a lot of back and forth on that assessment” relating to Russia’s preference for Trump, Coats acknowledged to me. Still, the director held firm by not modifying the assessment. It would be one of his last acts as director of national intelligence.

On Sunday, July 28, Trump announced via Twitter that Coats would be replaced by Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas, a Republican and an outspoken Trump defender. Just four days earlier, while questioning Mueller at a House Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the special prosecutor’s report, Ratcliffe argued that while Trump shouldn’t be above the law, he “damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume 2 of this report puts him.” Some speculated at the time that Ratcliffe’s performance was a job audition.

But Ratcliffe’s nomination for director was immediately stalled by accusations that he had inflated his résumé. In the interim, Adam Schiff, by now one of Trump’s most prominent congressional critics, suggested that Sue Gordon would be “superbly qualified” for acting director. Trump’s son Donald Jr. promptly tweeted: “If Adam Schiff wants her in there, the rumors about her being besties with Brennan and the rest of the clown cadre must be 100% true.” Gordon elected to resign.

Joseph Maguire was named acting director instead — a relief to those in the intelligence community who had recoiled at the thought of a Trump loyalist like Ratcliffe overseeing them. But Trump himself made clear that their relief would be temporary. Explaining to the White House press corps why Ratcliffe was his preference, he said: “I think we need somebody like that that’s strong and can really rein it in. As you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They’ve run amok.”

On July 19, 2019, nine days before Trump announced Coats’s departure, Coats created a new post within the intelligence community: election-threats executive. He awarded the job to an analyst named Shelby Pierson, who had worked in the community for over two decades, most recently as a Russia issues manager, before Coats asked her in 2018 to serve as the O.D.N.I.’s crisis manager for election security.

Less than a month later, a C.I.A. whistle-blower reported to the O.D.N.I. inspector general that Trump and members of his administration had pressured Volodymyr Zelensky, the recently elected president of Ukraine, to investigate the activities of Joe Biden, by then the likely Democratic presidential nominee, and his son Hunter. The nation was soon consumed with the impeachment proceedings against Trump over the Ukraine affair. Beneath the din, Pierson and other senior intelligence officials continued to meet and review Russia’s influence campaign, past and present. They learned that in the 2016 election, Russian cyberattacks compromised voter-registration databases in Illinois and Florida and hacked a Florida-based election-software vendor. They learned as well that Russia would be focusing its 2020 efforts on the battleground states. It was during this same period that the N.I.E. was finalized. In early February of this year, Pierson and other intelligence officials gave a classified briefing on prospective election threats to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Nothing about the contents of this briefing made its way into the press.

On the morning of Feb. 13, Pierson testified before the House Intelligence Committee in the secure hearing room beneath the Capitol Visitor Center that the committee uses for classified briefings. The committee had recently held hearings on the grounds for Trump’s impeachment; tempers were raw and partisan confrontations inevitable. The day before the hearing, a White House official called the committee staff to ask whether someone from the West Wing could sit in on the top-secret hearing. Denied permission to do so, an employee from the White House Office of Legal Counsel nonetheless showed up that morning and was denied entry.

The conference room was full, and nearly every committee member was present. Pierson sat at the witness table, alongside senior officials from the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the N.S.A. and the Department of Homeland Security. Upward of two dozen support staff sat behind them. Pierson began with a routine prepared statement about Russia’s ongoing efforts.

After she finished, Schiff pointedly asked Pierson if the available intelligence suggested whether Russia had a preference in this November’s outcome. Pierson replied that it did, and that Russia’s preference was for the current president. This was in keeping with Key Judgment 2 of the previous July’s N.I.E. draft — the finding that was softened in the final version issued five months before the hearing. Pierson turned to the F.B.I. official seated beside her at the witness table. The bureau official concurred with Pierson’s assessment.

The congressional questioning that followed “was very contentious,” one attendee recalled. A number of Republican members of Congress vehemently objected to Pierson’s assertion that Putin favored Trump. Representative Will Hurd of Texas, a former C.I.A. case officer, expressed doubt about the sourcing of Pierson’s assessment. Asked by one of the Republicans about the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Pierson acknowledged that there was recent evidence in the primaries of pro-Sanders activity from Russian trolls and bots. Still, as Coats had, Pierson stood behind the intelligence community’s original judgment. The hearing was adjourned before noon.

Pierson reported to Maguire that the briefing had been heated. Indeed, sometime later that day, according to a former senior intelligence official with knowledge of the events, the House committee’s ranking minority member, Representative Devin Nunes, relayed to Trump what Pierson said in her testimony. The following day, Feb. 14, Trump was given a routine intelligence briefing on election security. Three subject-matter briefers, along with Haspel, Beth Sanner and Maguire, were in attendance.

In the middle of the briefing, according to one participant, Trump interrupted and said to Maguire: “Hey, Joe, I understand that you briefed Adam Schiff and that you told him that Russia prefers me. Why did you tell that to Schiff?” Trump went on to say that he heard this from several members of the committee and wanted to know why Maguire had not informed Trump.

Maguire tried to explain that it was another intelligence official who had given the testimony, during a routine bipartisan hearing. But Trump continued to question Maguire, and the meeting then broke up. According to the participant, as they were leaving, Sanner said: “Mr. President, Joe is not out to undermine you.”

Maguire left the Oval Office knowing that he would soon be fired. On the evening of Feb. 19, he was informed by Robert O’Brien, who succeeded Bolton as national security adviser, that Maguire’s likely replacement would need to be let into O.D.N.I. headquarters the following morning. That morning, Maguire greeted his successor, wished him well and left the building for good.

The new acting director was Richard Grenell, Trump’s ambassador to Germany. A 53-year-old former United Nations ambassador’s spokesman, media consultant and Fox News commentator with no previous experience in the intelligence community, Grenell was best known as a pugnacious Trump loyalist who made undiplomatic comments about his host country’s unwillingness to contribute more to NATO.

Grenell assured Pierson that her job was safe, as Pierson herself later acknowledged to The Times and other media outlets. At the same time, Pierson would have to sit by in silence as administration officials insisted to the media that in the Feb. 13 briefing, she had misrepresented the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments about Russia’s preference for president. On ABC’s “This Week” three days after Maguire’s departure, O’Brien told the host, George Stephanopoulos, “I haven’t seen any evidence that Russia is doing anything to get President Trump re-elected.”

Instead, O’Brien said — echoing a talking point Trump delivered at a rally two days beforehand, and which Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, would also use that same morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — that Russia’s likely preference would be Bernie Sanders, a socialist who “honey-mooned in Moscow.” (Sanders visited Russia around the time of his wedding, though not on a honeymoon.) Unnamed “people familiar with the matter” leaked to The Washington Post a classified briefing that took place over a month earlier on Jan. 8, in which the F.B.I. informed Sanders that Russia appeared to be aiding his campaign — omitting the N.I.E. authors’ view that the aid was seen in Moscow as a means to the end of re-electing Trump.

Grenell’s staff, meanwhile, instructed Maguire’s chief of staff, Viraj Mirani, to clear out his office. Other departures would follow during Grenell’s tenure: the O.D.N.I.’s principal deputy, Andrew Hallman; its chief of operations, Dierdre Walsh; its inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who had delivered the Ukraine whistle-blower’s complaint to the House Intelligence Committee after Maguire declined to do so; and Russell Travers, Maguire’s acting replacement as director of the National Counterterrorism Center. An adviser assigned to Grenell, the former Nunes protégé and Trump N.S.C. staff member Kashyap Patel, undertook a thorough reorganization of the O.D.N.I. Even Grenell was wary of Patel, who had expectations of being the acting director’s deputy and who while on Nunes’s staff reportedly shared dubious information about Ukraine with Trump, though that was not his field of expertise. (Patel has denied this.)

With Coats and Maguire both gone, Patel set about fulfilling a White House request to cut the O.D.N.I.’s staff, according to someone familiar with the events. The concern within the intelligence community was that downsizing could offer a pretext for purging individuals like the anonymous C.I.A. analyst who filed the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint. As Sean Patrick Maloney of the House Intelligence Committee told me, “It seems pretty clear to me that in the wake of the whistle-blower complaint, he’d put a bunch of political hacks in charge, so that he’d never have to worry about the truth getting out from the intelligence community.”

In May, Ratcliffe was confirmed as director in spite of the earlier concerns about his résumé. Grenell returned to Germany. In response to detailed questions regarding this article, Grenell offered a statement blasting “the typical Washington types that hate the fact that Donald Trump is a Washington outsider unwilling to play the Washington game.” Trump “won’t just let the system do its thing and give us another Iraq W.M.D.-style assessment,” continued Grenell, who served as a spokesman in the State Department during George W. Bush’s presidency.

Schiff believes that the decision by Joseph Maguire, an apolitical official with the respect of the intelligence community’s rank and file, not to forward the Ukraine whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress was an instructive moment. “Looking back on Director Maguire’s decision to withhold the complaint,” he told me, “I don’t think that would have been done, but for being aware that the administration would have been unhappy had he not.”

The options faced by the intelligence community during Trump’s presidency have been stark: avoid infuriating the president but compromise the agencies’ ostensible independence, or assert that independence and find yourself replaced with a more sycophantic alternative.

But Schiff argues that this is a false choice. For Maguire, “Withholding it was not enough to keep his job,” Schiff said. “And I think people need to understand this about Donald Trump: It will never be enough when you attempt to do his bidding. He’ll bring in personnel who are more malleable, and the result is a degradation in the quality of the information. Maguire is now an object lesson for those in the intelligence community.”

I spoke with Schiff on Friday, July 24. Earlier that day, the O.D.N.I. released an official statement about election security threats by William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and a Trump appointee. “At this time,” Evanina’s statement said, “we’re primarily concerned with China, Russia and Iran — although other nation states and nonstate actors could also do harm to our electoral process.”
Once again, the compromise was small but hardly meaningless: As several retired intelligence officials pointed out to me, it conflated the aboveboard “influence” campaign conducted by China — pressuring politicians, countering criticism — with the clandestine “interference” efforts by Russia to subvert the voting process. A week later during a classified briefing, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, upbraided Evanina for his misleading statement.

Just as this article was going to press — and shortly after I submitted a list of questions to the O.D.N.I. relating to its struggle to avoid becoming politically compromised — Evanina put out a new statement. In it, the O.D.N.I. at last acknowledged publicly that Russia “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’” In the same statement, however, Evanina also asserted for the first time that both China and Iran were hoping to defeat Trump. As with the preceding statement, the O.D.N.I. made no distinction between Russia’s sophisticated election-disrupting capabilities and the less insidious influence campaigns of the two supposedly anti-Trump countries. Like its predecessor, the statement seemed to be tortured with political calculation — an implicit declaration of anguish rather than of independence.

It called to mind something the former C.I.A. acting director Michael Morell said several months before, when we were discussing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. “This is the only time in American history when we’ve been attacked by a foreign country and not come together as a nation,” Morell said. “In fact, it split us further apart. It was an inexpensive, relatively easy to carry out covert mission. It deepened our divisions. I’m absolutely convinced that those Russian intelligence officers who put together and managed the attack on our democracy in 2016 all received medals personally from Vladimir Putin.”

Robert Draper is a writer at large for the magazine. He is the author of several books, most recently “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” which was excerpted in the magazine. Draper is a native Houstonian and a former staff writer for Texas Monthly and GQ and has written about politics for the magazine since 2008.