Archives for category: Propaganda

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.

For months, the Trump administration refused to hold press conferences to avoid answering questions from the press. Then came the pandemic, and two things happened. First, Trump stopped holding rallies for his base because it was too dangerous to hold them (ironic since he sides with the protestors who believe the pandemic is a hoax). Second, Trump realized that he could substitute daily “briefings” for his rallies, where he controls the venue and the actors, just like a reality show, with him playing the role of president.

Charles Blow of the New York Times says the free press should stop giving Trump free media in the run up to the election.

He writes:

“Around this time four years ago, the media world was all abuzz over an analysis by mediaQuant, a company that tracks what is known as “earned media” coverage of political candidates. Earned media is free media.

“The firm computed that Donald Trump had “earned” a whopping $2 billion of coverage, dwarfing the value earned by all other candidates, Republican and Democrat, even as he had only purchased about $10 million of paid advertising.

“As The New York Times reported at the time, the company’s chief analytics officer, Paul Senatori, explained: “The mediaQuant model collects positive, neutral and negative media mentions alike. Mr. Senatori said negative media mentions are given somewhat less weight.”

“This wasn’t the first analysis that found that something was askew.

“In December 2015 CNN quoted the publisher of The Tyndall Report, which also tracks media coverage, saying Trump was “by far the most newsworthy story line of campaign 2016, accounting alone for more than a quarter of all coverage’ on NBC, CBS and ABC’s evening newscasts.”

“Simply put, the media was complicit in Trump’s rise. Trump was macabre theater, a man self-immolating in real time, one who was destined to lose, but who could provide entertainment, content and yes, profits while he lasted.

“The Hollywood Reporter in February of 2016 quoted CBS’s C.E.O. as saying, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” because as The Reporter put it, “He likes the ad money Trump and his competitors are bringing to the network.”

“I fear that history is repeating itself.

“For over a month now, the White House has been holding its daily coronavirus briefings, and most networks, cable news channels and major news websites have been carrying all or parts of them live, as millions of people, trapped inside and anxious, have tuned in.

“The briefings are marked by Trump’s own misinformation, deceptions, rage, blaming and boasting. He takes no responsibility at all for his abysmal handling of the crisis, while each day he seems to find another person to blame, like a child frantically flinging spaghetti at a wall to see which one sticks.

“He delivers his disinformation flanked by scientists and officials, whose presence only serves to convey credibility to propagandistic performances that have simply become a replacement for his political rallies.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic, but we are also in the middle of a presidential campaign, and I shudder to think how much “earned media” the media is simply shoveling Trump’s way by airing these briefings, which can last up to two hours a day.

“Let me be clear: Under no circumstance should these briefings be carried live. Doing so is a mistake bordering on journalistic malpractice. Everything a president does or says should be documented but airing all of it, unfiltered, is lazy and irresponsible.

“As the veteran anchor Ted Koppel told The New York Times last month, “Training a camera on a live event, and just letting it play out, is technology, not journalism; journalism requires editing and context.” He continued, “The question, clearly, is whether his status as president of the United States obliges us to broadcast his every briefing live.” His answer was “no.”

“We have trained the American television audience to understand that regular programs are only interrupted for live events when they are truly important, things that the viewers need to see now, in real time. These briefings simply don’t reach that threshold. In fact, some of what Trump has said has been dangerous, like when he pushed an unproven and potentially harmful drug as a treatment for the virus.

“No amount of fact checkers, balancing with the briefings of governors, or even occasionally cutting away, can justify carrying these briefings live. The scant amount of new information that these rallies produce could be edited into a short segment for a show. The major headlines from these briefings are often Trump’s clashes with reporters, the differences he has with scientists and the lies he tells. Just like in 2016, it’s all theater.

“Donald Trump doesn’t care about being caught in a lie. Donald Trump doesn’t care about the truth.

“Donald Trump is a bare-knuckled politician with imperial impulses, falsely claiming that, “When somebody’s the president of the U.S., the authority is total,” encouraging protesters bristling about social distancing policies to “liberate” swings states, and saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be “overthrown, either by inside or out.”

“Trump has completely politicized this pandemic and the briefings have become a tool of that politicization. He is standing on top of nearly 40,000 dead bodies and using the media to distract attention away from them and instead brag about what a great job he’s done.

“In 2016, Trump stormed the castle by outwitting the media gatekeepers, exploiting their need for content and access, their intense hunger for ratings and clicks, their economic hardships and overconfidence.

“It’s all happening again. The media has learned nothing.”

A few days ago, Trump opened his daily press briefing with a White House-made video intended to prove that he acted decisively to counter the coronavirus threat. The video was a response to a major story in the New York Times about his failure to take the virus seriously but to compare it to the common flu. Trump
smiled smugly as the taxpayer-funded tribute to Trump played.

As this story in the Intercept by Robert Mackey demonstrates, the video had a fatal flaw. Its timeline showed that Trump did nothing in the month of February, at a time when decisive action as needed.

The reporters were not fooled.

But, as CBS News correspondent Paula Reid pointed out to Trump after the video ended, there was a huge gap in the timeline: It mentioned absolutely no action by him in February and there was, as the Times had noted, a period of “six long weeks” after the travel restrictions until he “finally took aggressive action to confront the danger the nation was facing.”

In fact, the only entry on the video timeline for February — the month Trump held mass campaign rallies and described criticism of his handling of the virus from Democrats as “their new hoax” — was February 6: “CDC Ships First Testing Kits.” The fact that those test kits were defective, a massive failure at a critical moment, seems like an odd thing to brag about.

Having seemed so pleased with himself while the video was playing, Trump looked stunned by Reid’s observation that its timeline showed the period of inaction the Times had described. “The argument is that you bought yourself some time,” by imposing the partial travel ban from China, Reid noted. “You didn’t use it to prepare hospitals, you didn’t use it to ramp up testing.”

As Trump interrupted to denounce her as “so disgraceful,” the correspondent pressed on to ask what, exactly, Americans were supposed to take away from his gauzy video tribute to himself? “Right now nearly 20 million people are unemployed. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead. How is this sizzle reel or this rant supposed to make people feel confident in an unprecedented crisis?”

Trump had no response but to shift back to praising himself for restricting travel from China in January. “But what did you do with the time that you bought?” Reid asked. “The month of February… the video has a gap.”

After the briefing, Eric Lipton, one of the authors of the investigation that so enraged Trump, observed on Twitter that nothing in the video or the president’s comments “undermines even a single fact in the stories we published over the weekend.”

“The truth remains that the nation’s top health advisers concluded as of Feb. 14 that the U.S. needed to use targeted containment efforts to slow the virus spread,” Lipton added. “Trump then waited until March 16 to announce his support for these measures.”

Thank heavens for the free press!

The Daily Howler covers the media. In this post, it points to the daily dose of propaganda meant to distract and impress the public, when the government is in fact lying. The lying is facilitated by media protocols that encourage deference to the authorities. That’s why you seldom see a White House reporter say simply, “but that’s not true” or “that’s not what you said last week.”

Consider the way Commander Trump, and the media suits, have brought us our own North Korea.

If we were the rational animal, everyone would have realized, long ago, that something seems to be badly wrong with Commander Trump. Everyone would have taken the unfortunate measure of such statements as this:
“You have 15 people, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be close to zero.”
The commander said that on February 26. Yesterday, one month later, the actual number was at least 82,000. It was likely much greater than that.

In a rational world, it would have clear, a long time ago, that something was and is wrong with our bold commander.

There may be an issue of mental health. There may be an issue of cognitive impairment. There may be illness and impairment. But this would have been clear long ago.

In a rational world, rational people would have discussed these obvious possibilities. In our world, press corps elites declared that we mustn’t conduct such discussions.

We can finally taste the fruits of such conduct. We’ve ended up, all this week, watching North Korean TV.

What happens in North Korean TV? In our version of the system, useless elites find the craziest person in the society and put him on prime-time TV. They do it day after day after day.

The cases of coronavirus in the U.S. passed 100,000 in Friday, the most of any country in the world. But don’t worry. It’s all under control. The craziest person in our society said so.

Jennifer Senior has been one of my favorite writers for many years. Her columns are always incisive and intelligent.

She is now an opinion writer for the New York Times. In this column, she expresses the extreme frustration I feel whenever I watch Trump speak to the press, surrounded always by people chosen for their obeisance and loyalty.

She writes about a recent press conference. A friend who used to work on Wall Street told me that the market was rising that day, but as soon as Trump began boasting and misleading, the stock market dropped 1,000 points.

What Trump makes clear in this time of national and international crisis is that he is utterly incapable of empathy or compassion. Whatever the topic, he demands adulation.

Senior writes:

In a time of global emergency, we need calm, directness and, above all, hard facts. Only the opposite is on offer from the Trump White House. It is therefore time to call the president’s news conferences for what they are: propaganda.

We may as well be watching newsreels approved by the Soviet Politburo. We’re witnessing the falsification of history in real time. When Donald Trump, under the guise of social distancing, told the White House press corps on Thursday that he ought to get rid of 75 to 80 percent of them — reserving the privilege only for those he liked — it may have been chilling, but it wasn’t surprising. He wants to thin out their ranks until there’s only Pravda in the room.

Sometimes, I stare at Deborah Birx during these briefings and I wonder if she understands that this is the footage historians will be looking at 100 years from now — the president rambling on incoherently, vainly, angrily, deceitfully, while she watches, her face stiff with the strangled horror of a bride enduring an inappropriate toast.

If the public wants factual news briefings, they need to tune in to those who are giving them: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose addresses appear with English subtitles on Deutsche Welle. They should start following the many civic-minded epidemiologists and virologists and contagion experts on Twitter, like Harvard’s Marc Lipsitch and Yale’s Nicholas Christakis, whose threads have been invaluable primers in a time of awful confusion.

These are people with a high tolerance for uncertainty. It’s the president’s incapacity to tolerate it — combined with his bottomless need to self-flatter and preserve his political power — that leads, so often, to his spectacular fits of deception and misdirection. At his Thursday news conference, a discussion of chloroquine and other experimental therapies formed the core of his remarks, when those drugs and therapies are untested and unproven and, in some cases, won’t be ready for several months, as NBC’s Peter Alexander pointed out the following day.

“What do you say to Americans who are scared?” Alexander pressed.

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” Trump answered.

Only a liar — and a weak man with delusions of competence — would be so unnerved by the facts.

Compare this to Cuomo, who takes questions at his news conferences calmly and systematically — and, more to the point, has a substantive response when asked the same questions about anxiety. He hears it. He relates to it. He says it’s real.

“People are in a small apartment, they’re in a house, they’re worried, they’re anxious. Just, be mindful of that,” the governor said Friday. “Those three-word sentences can make all the difference: ‘I miss you.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘I’m thinking about you.’ ‘I wish I was there with you.’ ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this.’ ‘I’m sorry we’re going through this.’”

On Friday, Cuomo said something else that was quite striking, as he was issuing his executive order for nonessential workers in New York to stay home, other than to run errands or exercise outside. “If someone wants to blame someone or complain about someone, blame me,” he said. “There is no one else who is responsible for this decision.”

Cuomo is nothing if not politically shrewd. He knows full well how this comment compares to Mr. Trump’s “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

But telling the media that they’re peddling fake news is straight from the playbook of the political gangsters of the last century. So many of Trump’s moves are.

Having each of his cabinet members fulsomely thank him for his leadership and congratulate him for his “farsightedness” before each of their remarks: Check. Making sure each one stays on a message, even if that message has nothing to do with his or her purview: Check.

(Alex Azar may have been the worst offender, speaking Friday to the urgency of closing the southern border. He’s the secretary of health and human services, not homeland security. Yet he was parroting Trump’s message about the coronavirus, one specifically tailored to the base: We’re keeping brown immigrants from spreading it.)

How about Orwellian doublespeak? Ooooooh, check. Trump and his team are continually deploying words and phrases that disguise a reality that suggests the opposite. Vice President Mike Pence talks about a “strong and seamless” partnership with the states, when at the same time Mr. Trump is trolling the states, telling Cuomo to get his own respirators.

Pence speaks relentlessly of a “whole-of-government approach,” when in fact the government is hollowed out — defunded to fight pandemics, denuded of experts — and broken in shards, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sidelined in this fight, and the president’s task force now mutely competing with a shadow group run by the president’s son-in-law.

On Friday, Trump said he cherished journalism, and his secretary of state complained about disinformation on Twitter. There are simply too many two-plus-two-is-five moments to count.

But most dangerous of all is Trump’s insistence that things are fine, or will be shortly, that they’ll be stronger and better and greater than ever. We don’t have any evidence that this is true, and the president finds any suggestion to the contrary quite rude. When a journalist pointed out to him on Thursday that the economy had all but ground to halt, Trump cut him off.

“What’s the rest of your question?” he snapped. “We know that. Everybody in the room knows that.”

Here’s the truth: Things might be hard — unfathomably hard — for months, perhaps even north of a year. Anyone who’s reading or listening to other sources of news besides the president knows that. It takes sensitivity and strength and intelligence to speak truthfully to the public about imminent hardship, the prospect of enduring pain.

So I listen to Justin Trudeau, a sci-fi experience, a dispatch from an alternate universe that prioritizes the needs and anxieties of the middle class. He speaks about concerns: The kids will be all right. There’ll be food. You won’t be booted out of your home. Not how our president is speaking right now, but it’s a road map for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 to follow.

And I listen to Cuomo, who says the same thing. His news conference on Friday was about the practical things, knowing the entire state — country, globe — had just taken a precipitous slide down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with food, shelter and safety now topmost on many people’s minds. No one can evict you for 90 days. We’re getting hospital beds. We’re recruiting doctors and nurses in training to fight this fight, and we’re coaxing medical professionals out of retirement.

Then he spoke from the heart. One of his daughters was in quarantine. “To tell you the truth, I had some of the best conversations with her that I’ve ever had,” Cuomo said. She was alone for two weeks. “We talked about things in depth that we didn’t have time to talk about in the past,” he continued, “or we didn’t have the courage or the strength to talk about in the past — feelings I had, about mistakes I had made along the way that I wanted to express my regret and talk through with her.”

He was expressing fallibility. Imagine that.

By now, the California Charter Schools Association knows that they are harming public schools, where 80-90% of California’s students are educated.

By now, the CCSA knows that charter schools do not get higher test scores than public schools.

By now, they know that their industry is rife with corruption and fraud, and some of its leaders are serving jail time or on the lam.

By now, they know that charters do not have a secret sauce.

By now, they know that all they fight for is survival and power.

But they are pouring millions into the four contested seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District races, hoping to regain control so they can continue to do the bidding of Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Bloomfield.

Here is the latest from the LA Education Examiner in the closing days of the campaign. 

See here for the money dump in the closing days of the campaign, with nearly one million going to a charter candidate running against Scott Schmerelson.

Here is Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times, reporting on the ugly smear campaign against Scott Schmerelson. 

Charter supporters are angry at Schmerelson, first because he supports public schools, but also because he revealed that more than 80% of the LA charters have vacancies.

Blume writes:

A million-dollar attack campaign is underway portraying Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson as greedy, corrupt and determined to score fast cash by exposing children to deadly vaping and McDonald’s French fries.

One mailer — which included a cartoonish image of Schmerelson, who is Jewish, bedecked with a gold dollar-sign chain and holding a cigar and fistful of cash — came under fire as anti-Semitic and its use was halted.

Behind the surge of negative mailers in this West San Fernando Valley board district is an intense effort by charter school supporters to defeat Schmerelson and elect Marilyn Koziatek, a district parent who works at a local charter school managing community outreach efforts.

The pivotal race could tip the board majority toward the protection and expansion of charter schools, which enroll about 1 in 5 district students. Charter advocates are especially concerned about a new law that will soon give school boards more authority to reject new charters.

Blume reports that the charter industry has stopped sending out its antiSemitic image of Schmerelson but that’s a meaningless gesture since it was already sent out in a mass mailing.

 

Five years ago, Kevin Welner and Gary Miron explained why you should not believe claims about charter “wait lists.”

At the same time that they released this caution (2014), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools [sic] put out a press release claiming that more than one million students were wait-listed to get into charter schools.

Five years later, the New York Times cited this press release by NAPCS to substantiate a statement that “hundreds of thousands” of students were on charter wait lists. On the other hand, Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson posted on his Facebook page that more than 80% of the charter schools in LA had vacancies.

Welner and Miron gave nine reasons not to believe unverified claims about hundreds of thousands of students waiting to get into charter schools.

They posted this caution after the NAPCS [sic] claimed in 2013 that precisely 902,007 students were on wait lists for charter schools.

Here are nine reasons to be skeptical of the numbers offered by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Reason #1: Students Apply to Multiple Charter Schools

The NAPCS estimate is complicated by the fact (acknowledged by NAPCS in its 2013 announcement) that “families often apply to multiple charter schools….” Because of this practice, NAPCS downsizes its own topline number by over 400,000 students. That is, instead of the 920,007 waitlist students given as the 2013 topline number, NAPCS later adds: “at a minimum, more than 520,000 total individual students – many of whom are on multiple charter school waitlists … are on waitlists across the country.” In practice, many families may apply to one or more charter schools along with district-run schools or programs. Such students receive offers at a variety of schools (multiple charter and/or district options) but may choose a district school option. In short, a given charter school application may not reflect a student’s first choice.

Reason #2: The Waitlist Numbers Cannot Be Confirmed

Even the NAPCS 520,000 estimate is problematic. For most jurisdictions,2 it is derived from unaudited and unauditable numbers reported to NAPCS through a survey it administers annually. The survey apparently asks for the number of applications received, as well as the number of available seats. The waiting list numbers are then calculated as applications minus seats.

There is no state or federal indicator that is called “waitlist.” Instead, this is a statistic developed by NAPCS and others who hope to advance the argument that, “With such demand, it is up to our elected officials to remove the facilities and funding barriers that exist to ensure that every child has the option to attend a high-quality public charter school” (Nina Rees, NAPCS president and CEO).3

Open the link to read the other seven reasons.

 

Gary Rubinstein is the Myth-Buster of the Resistance. He has achieved this eminent position because of his intolerance for hype, propaganda, and lies.

In this post, he bust the myth that low-income charter school graduates have a dramatically higher college graduation rate than low-income public school graduates.

In fact, he shows, charter school graduates have the same college graduation rate as their mothers!

Education Reform propaganda at The74 would try to make you believe that while low income students generally graduate from college at a rate of about 9%, charter school graduates complete college at a rate of 3 to 5 times that.

The main flaw in any comparison between the college graduation rates of charter school graduates to low-income students, in general, is that the charter school students do not represent a random sampling of the general population of low-income students.

In The Alumni, Richard Whitmire says that charter schools that have 5 times the expected college completion rate are ones that only counted their students who persisted until 12th grade in their charter schools.  Since for some charter schools, this only represents about 25% of the students who started in that charter school, this even more of a biased sample.  But, Whitmire explains, the one network that has the most valid way of doing a fair comparison is the famed KIPP network.  Since KIPP counts, in their data, any students who enrolled in KIPP, even if they left soon after starting.  And he says that KIPP students, including ones who didn’t persist at KIPP, graduate college 3 times the expected rate.

Reform supporting billionaire John Arnold commissioned Mathematica, a data analysis company, to study the college enrollment and college persistence of KIPP students.  Instead of comparing KIPP students to the general population, they compared KIPP students to students who had applied to the KIPP lottery but did not get into KIPP through the lottery.  This is a much more valid way of measuring the impact of KIPP.  The big takeaway, as I wrote about in my previous post, was that students who applied to KIPP, whether or not they got into KIPP, had a college persistence rate of about 3 times the general low-income population and that students who applied but didn’t get into KIPP had about the same college persistence as students who applied and did get into KIPP.  So students to apply to the KIPP lottery are the ones who, on average, were much more likely to persist in college — something that Whitmire never mentions in The Alumni.

But this Mathematica report includes some other relevant data that I didn’t pick up on when I wrote the last post.  Fortunately there was a discussion among some readers who commented on the last post which pointed this out.

In 2018 the National Center For Education Statistics published a report called ‘First-Generation Students College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes.’  In it they say that about 70% of students who have a parent who completed college also complete college compared to about 35% of students who do not have a parent who completed college.  This confirms what most people would expect for so many reasons and this is why we celebrate when students are the first in their family to graduate college.  It means that the descendants of those students will also be more likely to go to college…

At this point, Gary displays a graph from the Mathematica study.

Notice that last line.  It says that of the students entering the lottery about 27% of them had mothers who finished college.  This makes the fact that about 30% of the students in the study (which includes students who got into KIPP and also students who did not get into KIPP) have persisted in college through four semesters even less surprising.

 

Gary Rubinstein has a deep aversion to hypocrisy, hypes, and propaganda.

He read a widely publicized report saying “research shows” that graduates of KIPP have higher college completion rates than their peers.

But then he discovered that the research shows no significant difference between KIPP students and their peers in college completion rates. 

His post debunks Richard Whitmire’s erroneous claim that KIPP students finish college at a rate three to five times greater than students who went to public schools. It is also a valuable lesson in reading and interpreting research findings or claims that “research shows.”

He begins:

The way reformers misuse data follows a very simple and predictable plan:  First they get some skewed data, then pick a ‘researcher’ to interpret the skewed data.  The ‘researcher’ then writes a report which gets touted in The74, EduPost, and eventually even makes it into more mainstream publications like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.  Since the report is filled with nonsense and half-truths, within a few weeks the truth comes out and the report is discredited, but not before the damage was done and the spin has made it into folklore.  When this happens, the reformers will then ‘move the goalposts’ and get some more skewed data and start the process over again.

An example of this is the July 2017 report by Richard Whitmire called ‘The Alumni‘.  Whitmire has written books about both KIPP and about Michelle Rhee so I think you get the idea of what his point of view is.  In this poorly researched project he concludes that “Data Show Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average“.

This was probably the easiest report I ever debunked.  The biggest flaw was that for most of the charter schools, they were only counting the percent of graduating seniors who persisted in college and then comparing that percent to the overall percent of all low-income students — an apples to oranges comparison.  Whitmire acknowledges this in another post about the methodology in which he says that only KIPP counts students who leave the school before they graduate and that their numbers are much lower, but still at 38% which is at least triple the expected graduation rate for low income students.

A second flaw, and this one is very difficult to compensate for, is that charter school students are not a random sampling of all students since many families choose no to apply to them.  So you get a biased sampling even if you do count all the students who get into the charter school and not just the ones who make it to graduate from the charter school.  And even though I and others have discredited his report, it is something that still gets quoted in the main stream media.

Just recently, however, I learned of a report generated by Mathematica and funded by the John Arnold Foundation.  I think that Mathematica is a very reputable company and even though reformers often hire them to produce reports, sometimes those reports reach conclusions that reformers were not expecting.

In this case, the report called “Long-Term Impacts of KIPP Middle Schools on College Enrollment and Early College Persistence” , reached a result that completely contradicts Whitmire’s claim that “Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average”.

Read on to see just how overblown is the KIPP myth about the college success of their students

Here’s the relevant summary of what they found:

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