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New Trump Appointee Puts Global Internet Freedom at Risk, Critics Say

WASHINGTON — When Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker and ally of Stephen K. Bannon, recently fired the heads of four U.S. government-funded news outlets, many became alarmed that he would turn the independently operated organizations, as well as the Voice of America, into “Trump TV.”

But Mr. Pack, the new chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, also cleaned house last month at the lesser-known Open Technology Fund, an internet freedom group overseen by the agency Mr. Pack now runs.

Many worry that the move could have an even greater effect.

In less than a decade, the Open Technology Fund has quietly become integral to the world’s repressed communities. Over two billion people in 60 countries rely on tools developed and supported by the fund, like Signal and Tor, to connect to the internet securely and send encrypted messages in authoritarian societies.

After Mr. Pack was confirmed for his new post on June 4, following a personal campaign of support by President Trump, Mr. Pack fired the technology group’s top officials and bipartisan board, an action now being fought in the courts. A federal judge on Thursday ruled in Mr. Pack’s favor, a decision that plaintiffs will likely appeal.

On Friday, Mr. Pack appointed an interim chief executive, James M. Miles, to head the fund, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Miles is little known in the internet freedom community, and his appointment needs approval from the fund’s new board, which is stacked with Trump administration officials and chaired by Mr. Pack.

The move was a victory for a lobbying effort backed by religious freedom advocates displeased with the fund’s work and who are often allied with conservative political figures.

This battle revolves around software developed by Falun Gong, the secretive spiritual movement persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party.

Some Falun Gong members have become notable players in American politics. The Epoch Times, a newspaper started by Falun Gong practitioners, has spent millions of dollars on pro-Trump ads, including conspiratorial ones, on Facebook and YouTube — and was even banned by Facebook last year from buying more ads because it had tried to evade advertising rules.

Now, allies of Falun Gong are making a big push for the Open Technology Fund and the State Department to give money to some of the group’s software, notably Ultrasurf, developed about a decade ago by a Falun Gong member.

Their thinking is that if enough Chinese citizens have this software to bypass the Great Firewall of government censorship, the citizens will see news about repression by the Communist Party.

But pieces of circumvention software like Ultrasurf are considered old, and they are not widespread in China, according to cybersecurity experts. Just as important, Chinese patriots or nationalists who have access to reports critical of the Communist Party — including students in the United States — often do not change their views.

“Anyone who has studied China’s information control regimes and the evolution of Chinese technology knows that funding a set of circumvention tools is not going to bring down the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a former Beijing bureau chief for CNN who directs an internet freedom program at the New America Foundation that has received State Department funds before.

Critics also warn that if lobbyists get their way and shift the fund’s focus toward solely supporting software like Ultrasurf, it could set back the fight for internet freedom by decades.

Both Democrats and Republicans are worried. Leading Republican senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, wrote to Mr. Pack in a letter on Wednesday with five other senators expressing their “deep concern” about his staff cuts, saying the moves raised “serious questions about the future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media” under his leadership. Other Republican members of Congress said earlier that they were concerned about the Open Technology Fund.

The group started in 2012 as a pilot program within Radio Free Asia. It was founded by Libby Liu, then the president of the broadcasting outlet. Seven years later, Congress allowed it to become an independent nonprofit grantee of the Agency for Global Media. Lawmakers appropriated $20 million to the group for its 2020 fiscal year.

The bulk of the money goes to incubating new technology that promotes human rights and open societies. The group supports projects such as widely popular encrypted messaging tools like Signal and technology like Pakistan’s first 24/7 hotline for confidentially reporting sexual harassment.

The Open Technology Fund also looks to create and train a community of technical experts who can fend off sophisticated cyberattacks against internet freedom.

One of the bedrock principles of the Open Technology Fund is to support open-source technology. Creating and funding tools that are open source means a worldwide collective of programmers can examine the products to ensure they are safe and secure for people in repressed societies to use, cybersecurity experts say.

“Imagine a teenager in a country where being L.G.B.T.Q. is illegal, and they just want to have a normal social life,” said Isabela Bagueros, the executive director of the Tor Project, a nonprofit digital privacy group. “The internet enables that, and if you provide the security for them to do so, it is extremely important as a part of life.”

At the heart of lobbying efforts supporting the Falun Gong developers are Michael J. Horowitz, a Reagan administration budget official, and Katrina Lantos Swett, the daughter of the former congressman Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and a noted champion for human rights.

During the time Mr. Pack assumed his role, they have worked to advance their agenda.

On June 13, three days after Mr. Pack took office, Mr. Horowitz was a guest on a talk show hosted by Mr. Bannon, who was formerly Mr. Trump’s chief strategist. Mr. Horowitz denounced Ms. Liu, who was the chief executive of the technology fund. Ms. Liu happened to be tendering her resignation to the board that day, effective in July. Mr. Pack fired her on June 17 and dismissed the board.

Ms. Swett has been vocal about her displeasure with leadership at the fund because they have shied away from focusing most of the group’s funding toward programs like Ultrasurf. She claims it is one of the most effective tools to fight against China’s firewall, despite criticism from experts who warn that since Ultrasurf is closed source, there is no way to independently verify its performance or assure end users that they are not being tracked.

“Open source versus closed source, we don’t get hung up on those things,” Ms. Swett said.

Many internet freedom experts disagree with this approach.

“There is no person in their right mind who should be advocating for closed-source applications,” said Nima Fatemi, the founding director of Kandoo, an internet freedom nonprofit. “When we’re talking about people inside Iran, China and Russia who are already facing so much oppression, using these tools don’t guarantee safety or security; they actually put them in more danger.”

The day after Mr. Pack assumed office, Ms. Swett sent him and officials at the State Department a letter requesting that $20 million in funding be steered toward firewall circumvention programs like Ultrasurf. The State Department declined to comment.

And one day after Mr. Pack fired Ms. Liu, officials with the White House’s National Security Council received communication from the Lantos Foundation advocating the funding of programs like Ultrasurf.

Ms. Swett denied contacting the National Security Council herself, but she said she could not rule out whether someone on her foundation’s staff reached out to the organization. The National Security Council did not return an email seeking comment.

Current and former officials at the fund were also alarmed when Mr. Pack froze much of the organization’s funding a day after being sworn in.

Around $2 million was budgeted to train Hong Kong residents in fighting Chinese cyberattacks. Stopping it would have dealt a potential blow to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. More than $7 million was allocated to fund technology that could fight attempts to block access to news provided by U.S. government-funded broadcasting outlets like Voice of America.

The agency unfroze the nonprofit’s funding over a week ago, according to an email obtained by The New York Times. The U.S. Agency for Global Media did not return a request for comment.

An initial pitch for funding Ultrasurf reached its peak around 2009 and 2010, during the first Obama administration. Mr. Horowitz, a religious freedom advocate, was a leader in those efforts. The company has received at least $8.4 million in funding from the U.S. government since 2013, according to records reviewed by The Times.

It stopped receiving money in 2017 after an internal analysis by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a precursor to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, showed that the program’s “cancellation had no impact” on allowing Chinese citizens to circumvent the country’s firewall to access news sites like Voice of America Mandarin, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

Ultrasurf estimates that it has over six million users in places like China, Iran and Russia, according to unverified analysis provided by Clint Jin, the company’s founder and a member of Falun Gong.

Multiple cybersecurity experts raised doubts about the company’s numbers.

“It’s a myopic, single-tool solution to a very complex, diverse problem,” Nathan Freitas, the founder of the Guardian Project, a collective of cybersecurity experts, said of firewall circumvention software like Ultrasurf. “It’s showing up with a hammer to solve everything.”

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Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, tests positive

Donald Trump Jr. looks on as Kimberly Guilfoyle speaks during a ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign rally at Williamsport Regional Airport, May 20, 2019 in Montoursville, Pennsylvania.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior Trump campaign official and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, tested positive for coronavirus while in South Dakota on Friday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Trump Jr., the eldest son of President Donald Trump, tested negative, the person said.

Neither Trump Jr. nor Guilfoyle traveled with the president on Air Force One as the president went to Mount Rushmore for a July 4th weekend celebration, the person said.

They both planned to attend but never made it to the site. Requests for comment from Guilfoyle and Trump Jr. were not immediately returned Friday night.

Guilfoyle is expected to drive back to the East Coast to avoid interactions with other people, two people familiar with the matter said.

The White House says Trump is tested for the coronavirus daily.

The New York Times first reported that Guilfoyle tested positive.

The development occurred on a day in which there were more than 53,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported across the United States, according to NBC News counts.

Guilfoyle, who is Trump Victory Finance Committee chair, spoke at Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in the introductory program ahead of Trump’s remarks in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 23.

But it is unknown when or where she was exposed to the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

While the site of exposure is not known, since the Tulsa rally multiple people who attended have tested positive for the virus, including a journalist and at least two members of the campaign’s advance team.

In addition, six campaign staffers tested positive hours before the rally but were not present at the event.

On Thursday it was announced that former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who attended the Tulsa rally, tested positive for COVID-19.

He received the positive result on Monday, and on Wednesday he developed symptoms serious enough that he required hospitalization, a  posted to his Twitter account said.

Cain, 74, did not need a respirator and was awake and alert at an Atlanta area hospital, the statement said.

It is not known when Cain was exposed to or contracted the illness.

Trump’s campaign said in a statement Thursday that Trump did not meet with Cain at the Tulsa rally.

There have been more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with more than 130,000 deaths linked to the disease, according to NBC News’ count.

Cases have been rising in a number of states, and 19 states have either rolled back or paused reopening plans due to the illness.

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Biden Raises $141 Million, Topping Trump For Second Straight Month

Former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee raised $141 million in June, his campaign announced Wednesday night, topping the total haul of President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee for the second straight month.

Trump and the RNC combined to raise $131 million. 

Both campaigns massively improved upon their fundraising from May, when Biden and the DNC banked $80.8 million and Trump raised $74 million.

Biden has now outraised Trump in both months since reaching a joint fundraising agreement with the DNC in late April, which allowed him to raise much larger sums from a single donor. Trump and the RNC have had a joint fundraising agreement for years.

The Trump campaign, which is trailing by significant margins in public polling, has long planned to have a major financial advantage over the Democratic nominee. But Biden’s fundraising strength, powered by donors large and small, likely means that advantage is smaller than the Republicans would like. 

The Trump campaign said it has more than $295 million on hand, while the Biden campaign did not release a total. The Biden campaign ended May with just $82 million in the bank. 

The Trump campaign announced its fundraising total with great bombast and confidence earlier Wednesday only to be one-upped by Biden’s team Wednesday night.

“After yet another haul of record-breaking support, the voters are speaking loud and clear ― they support President Trump,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement at the time. “As Joe Biden remains hidden in his basement, President Trump is leading this country to a Great American Comeback that will reignite our economy, restore law and order, and usher in a new era of strength.” 

“There’s real, grassroots energy for Joe,” Biden campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon countered on Twitter, noting the Biden campaign’s fundraising list had grown by more than 2.6 million people over the past three months. 

The Biden campaign’s haul was part of an auspicious month for the finances of left-leaning groups and campaigns. The wave of activism powered by the Black Lives Matter movement and growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic led to a record-shattering $392 million in payments through ActBlue, a digital donation processor for Democrats and liberal groups. 

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Judge Blocks Deportation Of 16-Year-Old Boy Who Claims Trump Is Using The Coronavirus As An Excuse

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A federal court judge on Wednesday blocked the deportation of a 16-year-old boy as part of the first legal challenge to a controversial Trump administration policy that has turned back thousands of immigrants at the southern border by citing the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed in Washington, DC, by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a 16-year-old Honduran boy who fled to the US to seek protection from persecution in his home country. The teen, who was seeking to stop his imminent deportation, was the first to challenge an unprecedented policy that has all but shut down asylum at the southern border.

Administration officials have said they are following public health orders designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the US, but advocates like the ACLU argues the government is using the health orders as an excuse to violate federal laws that govern the processing of unaccompanied minors.

Department of Homeland Security officials have turned away thousands of immigrants at the southern border by using a March order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that bars the entry of those who cross into the country without authorization.

Advocates said the judge’s decision could be significant moving forward.

“The court concluded that CDC and the Trump Administration likely lacked the authority to expel children and asylum-seekers under the public health laws,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney leading the case. “If the administration were to get away with using the public health laws as a deportation mechanism, it would be historically unprecedented.”

The order was issued by US District Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, pending further litigation.

Previously, unaccompanied children from Central America picked up by Border Patrol agents would be sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they would be housed in shelters across the country as they began officially applying for asylum and waited to be reunited with family members in the US. But those referrals have dipped since the issuance of the CDC order. Instead, unaccompanied children at the border are turned back by DHS officials under the order.

The ORR referral process was created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by then-president George W. Bush in 2008. Under the law, US Customs and Border Protection officials are generally required to refer the children within 72 hours to the US refugee agency.

The 16-year-old Honduran boy facing deportation has been in CBP custody since June 4, according to the ACLU lawsuit.

He fled the Central American country, attorneys said, after witnessing a murder and gang members later threatened him. His father lives in the US.

Advocates said the use of the CDC order is “extreme in seeking to eliminate statutory protections for vulnerable noncitizens and children. And it is not only a ban on entry but provides for summary expulsion for those who entered the country.”

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Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump over killing of Qasem Soleimani

People gather to protest the US air strike in Iraq that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who headed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds force in Sanaa, Yemen on January 6, 2020.

Mohammed Hamoud | Andalou Agency | Getty Images

Iran’s government has issued an arrest warrant for U.S. President Donald Trump over the killing of its top commander Qasem Soleimani in January, the country’s semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday.

Tehran is also reportedly asking Interpol for help, according to Fars. Ali Alghasi-Mehr, the attorney general of Tehran, named Trump and 35 others Iran has accused of involvement in Soleimani’s death as facing “murder and terrorism charges,” and was quoted as saying he had asked Interpol to issue “red notices” for them — the highest level notice Interpol can issue on an individual to pursue their arrest. 

Trump, however, is in no danger of arrest and it’s highly unlikely Interpol would honor Iran’s request, as the international agency’s guidelines forbid it from “undertaking any intervention or activities of a political” nature.

The Trump administration has so far not responded to Iran’s announcement. Interpol did not immediately reply to a request for comment from CNBC. 

Soleimani led Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign operations wing of the elite paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Trump administration labeled him a terrorist, and Washington deemed him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The 62-year-old Soleimani was killed in a drone strike directed by Trump in early January while in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, in a move that sent regional tensions and oil prices soaring and triggered a retaliatory attack by Iran and its proxies on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.  

In emphasizing Soleimani’s significance, one defense analyst called the strike “the equivalent of Iran killing the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then taking credit for it.”

Less than a week after the drone strike, on January 8, more than a dozen Iranian ballistic missiles hit Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s western Anbar province and a base in Erbil in the country’s north. There were no deaths.

The death of Soleimani, revered as a hero in much of Iran, prompted three days of nationwide mourning across the country. And while Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the retaliatory attack as a “slap on the face” to the U.S., he said it was “not enough,” suggesting further action. 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards vowed “severe revenge” on the U.S. and experts warned of Iranian-led attacks on U.S. military bases and energy facilities in the region, cyberattacks and potential attacks via Iran’s numerous proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. But confrontation between the two adversaries has been relatively quiet since, at least compared to the previous year — something some experts attribute to the coronavirus crisis, which has engulfed both countries. By late February, Iran had become the Middle East’s epicenter of the disease. 

Last year saw the U.S. accuse Iran of blowing up multiple foreign tankers in the Persian Gulf, the Iranian downing of a U.S. drone, and more sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by the Trump administration as both parties move closer to terminating the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Iran has announced numerous steps to roll back its adherence to the Obama-era deal, meant to curb its nuclear program in exchange for economic relief, ever since Trump withdrew the U.S. from it in 2018. 

Washington and Tehran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.

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Veterans Group Rips ‘Traitor’ Trump Over Russian Bounties To Kill U.S. Soldiers

A group of veterans opposed to President Donald Trump released a new video calling him out over reports that the U.S. government knew the Russian military paid bounties to Afghan militants for killing American soldiers. 

On Friday, The New York Times reported that Trump was briefed on the situation in March, but took no action against Russia. To the contrary, Trump said he would like to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the next G-7 meeting in September.

Trump said on Twitter that he was not briefed about the alleged bounties, called the Times “fake news” and claimed “nobody’s been tougher on Russia” than his administration. 

VoteVets ripped into him. 

“Putin owns Donald Trump,” the organization wrote on Twitter, along with the #TRE45SON hashtag that went viral over the weekend. The group also released a new video:

“Intelligence reports on his desk. He says nothing to his master. Takes no action to protect us,” the voiceover stated. “If you’re going to act like a traitor, you don’t get to thank us for our service.”

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Trump admits it: He’s losing

What should have been an easy interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday horrified advisers when Trump offered a rambling, non-responsive answer to a simple question about his goals for a second term. In the same appearance, the normally self-assured president offered a tacit acknowledgment that he might lose when he said that Joe Biden is “gonna be your president because some people don’t love me, maybe.”

In the hours after the interview aired, questions swirled within his inner circle about whether his heart was truly in it when it comes to seeking reelection.

Trump has time to rebound, and the political environment could improve for him. But interviews with more than a half-dozen people close to the president depicted a reelection effort badly in need of direction — and an unfocused candidate who repeatedly undermines himself.

“Under the current trajectory, President Trump is on the precipice of one of the worst electoral defeats in modern presidential elections and the worst historically for an incumbent president,” said former Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg, who remains a supporter.

Nunberg pointed to national polls released by CNBC and New York Times/Siena over the past week showing Trump receiving below 40 percent against Biden.

If Trump’s numbers erode to 35 percentage points over the next two weeks, Nunberg added, “He’s going to be facing realistically a 400-plus electoral vote loss and the president would need to strongly reconsider whether he wants to continue to run as the Republican presidential nominee.”

Behind the scenes, Trump and his team are taking steps to correct course. In the week since his Tulsa rally, the president has grudgingly conceded that he’s behind, according to three people who are familiar with his thinking. Trump, who vented for days about the event, is starting to take a more hands-on role in the campaign and has expressed openness to adding more people to the team. He has also held meetings recently focusing on his efforts in individual battleground states.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who effectively oversees the campaign from the White House, is expected to play an even more active role.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale was blamed internally for the Tulsa rally failure. Some people complained about him trumpeting that 1 million people had requested tickets, a boast that fell flat when thousands of seats sat empty during Trump’s speech.

Parscale has been a target of some Trump allies who argue the campaign is lacking a coherent strategy and direction. But people close to the president insist that Parscale’s job is safe for now. Trump, who visited the campaign’s Arlington, Virginia headquarters a few months ago, has told people he came away impressed with the sophistication of the organization.

Parscale, whose background is as a digital strategist, has received some reinforcements in recent weeks. Longtime Trump adviser Bill Stepien was given added responsibilities in the campaign, including working with political director Chris Carr and the Republican National Committee on voter turnout. And Jason Miller, a veteran of the 2016 campaign, was brought back to serve as a chief political strategist, a position that had been unfilled.

But those internal moves have done little to calm Republican jitters about the president’s personal performance. Fox News host and Trump favorite Tucker Carlson issued a blunt warning on his show this week that the president “could well lose this election.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another close Trump ally, told reporters that the president needs to make the race “more about policy and less about your personality.”

Trump’s team insists the president’s numbers are bound to improve as he steps up his public events and intensifies his attacks on Biden. People involved in the campaign say they have settled on two main avenues to go after the former vice president: That he’s beholden to liberals who want to do away with law and order, and that he’s a consummate Washington insider.

The campaign has begun a massive TV ad campaign going after the 77-year-old former vice president, including over his mental capacity and his nearly five-decade political career. Hoping to make inroads with African-American voters, Trump’s campaign is running ads slamming Biden over his central role in the 1994 crime bill.

The commercials are airing in an array of states including Georgia, a traditionally red state where Trump suddenly finds himself in a fight. The cash-flush campaign is expected to remain on the TV airwaves in a host of key states through the election.

Veterans of Trump’s first presidential campaign liken their current predicament to the nightmarish summer of 2016, when he was buffeted by an array of self-inflicted scandals — from his criticism of a Gold Star family to his attack on a federal judge of Mexican ancestry.

Then as now, Trump trailed badly.

“There was similar fretting in 2016 and if it had been accurate, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House right now. Joe Biden is the weakest Democrat candidate in a generation and we are defining him that way,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “We are four months from Election Day and in the end it will be a clear choice between President Trump’s incredible record of achievement and Joe Biden’s half-century of failure in Washington, D.C.”

Still, Trump advisers acknowledge that tearing down Biden will require a level of discipline he isn’t demonstrating. They have pleaded with Trump — who has used his Twitter account to vilify critics from MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to former National Security Adviser John Bolton — to stop focusing on slights that mean little to voters.

Biden’s low-profile during the pandemic has made it that much harder for Trump to land a punch, his advisers said.

But Republicans say he and his campaign need to figure out something soon.

“The key factor has been that Biden has been able to stay out of the race,” said David McIntosh, the president of the pro-Trump Club for Growth. “Republicans have to start defining Biden and put resources and effort and consistent messaging behind it.”

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Biden slams Trump over report Russia offered bounties for U.S. soldiers

Joe Biden has accused Donald Trump of betraying his duty as president, after a report claimed the White House knew for months Russian intelligence offered Afghan militants bounties to kill U.S. soldiers but did not punish Moscow. 

“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale,” Biden said during a virtual town hall Saturday. “It’s betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way. It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas.”  

The New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. determined months ago a Russian military intelligence unit offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. 

Trump was briefed on the intelligence and the White House National Security Council discussed the findings at a meeting in late March, according to the Times, which cited officials briefed on the matter. Officials developed options from a diplomatic complaint to sanctions, but the White House has not yet authorized a response, the Times reported, citing the officials. 

The Wall Street Journal also reported Saturday that a Russian spy unit paid militants in Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops, citing people familiar with classified American intelligence. The assessment was delivered to the White House earlier this spring, a person familiar with the intel told the Journal. 

The White House on Saturday denied that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were briefed on the matter, but did not dispute the validity of the intelligence as described in the New York Times’ report. 

“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”

“This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” she added. 

The Trump administration reached a deal with the Taliban in February to reduce its troop presence and established a cease-fire, with the goal of completely withdrawing from Afghanistan in 14 months.

Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, slammed Trump for inviting Russia to join a summit meeting of seven world powers, known as the G-7, in Washington this September after allegedly being briefed on the plot to kill U.S. soldiers. Russia was kicked out of the group in 2014 after annexing Crimea from Ukraine. 

“President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months according to the Times and done worse than nothing,” Biden said.

“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden continued. “He has had this information according to the Times and yet he offered to host Putin in the United States and sought to invite Russia to rejoin the G7.”

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, said he immediately reached out to the Trump administration after reading the New York Times’ report and “will be talking with them in the very near future.” 

“If accurate, the administration must take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable,” McCaul said. The Texas congressman said the report deepens his concerns about the Russian government’s “malicious behavior globally.”

“From invading Ukraine, propping up dictators around the world and interfering in U.S. and European elections, the Putin regime has shown time and again it cannot be trusted and is not our friend,” McCaul said. 

Biden said he took the report personally as the father of a soldier who served in a war zone. His son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, deployed to Iraq in 2008 with the Army National Guard. 

“But I don’t just think about this as a candidate for president. I think about this as a dad, a father who sent his son to serve in harm’s way for a year in the Middle East and in Iraq, and I’m disgusted on behalf of those families whose loved ones are serving today,” Biden said. 

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‘Tre45on’ Trends After Bombshell Story Claiming Trump Knew Putin Had Bounty On U.S. Troops

Critics erupted Saturday after an explosive New York Times story asserting that Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly offered a bounty to Afghanistan militants for American soldiers they killed — and that Donald Trump knew about it.

Both the White House and Putin denied the story Saturday. But it was concerning enough that several critics spoke out. The hashtag “Tre45on” — using 45 from the 45th president — was trending nationally on Twitter in reaction to the story Saturday.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden said Saturday that if true, the report is a “truly shocking revelation.”

Not only has Trump allegedly “failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, but Donald Trump has also continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” said Biden. He called Trump’s presidency a “gift to Russia.”

 Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called the behavior “traitorous.”

The Times reported Friday that Trump was informed by U.S. intelligence back in March that a Russian military intelligence unit offered rewards to Islamist militants last year for successful attacks on American and coalition troops. Some bounty money was paid, American intelligence believed, according to the Times.

Despite being informed of the situation, Trump took no action, sources told the Times. Not only that, but he offered to invite Putin in a phone call to attend the G-7 Summit in the U.S. in September, despite the strong objections of Canada and Britain, the Kremlin reported this month.

Sources later also confirmed the Times story to The Washington Post and CNN.

Veteran journalist Dan Rather indicated the story was not out of the realm of possibility, given Trump’s mysterious slavish devotion to Russia’s president for possible reasons “ranging from craven to treasonous.”

The never-Trumper GOP Lincoln Project — founded by lawyer George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway — already popped out an ad lashing Trump on Saturday over the situation. “How can Trump lead America when he can’t even defend it?” it asked. 

Former Trump friend and short-time White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said it’s time for Trump “to go,” and called him a “puppet” of Putin.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied in a press briefing that Trump was informed of the bounty on American troops. “The CIA Director, national security adviser, and the chief of staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the vice president were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” McEnany said.

The Russian Embassy said in a tweet that the Times’ reporting was an attempt to create “new fake stories.”

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Trump spreads new lies about voter fraud, stoking fears of a ‘rigged election’

Trump tweeted an article highlighting Attorney General William Barr’s recent comment that expanding mail-in voting “absolutely opens the floodgates to fraud.” (This specific claim has been debunked many times.) Trump added his own commentary to the article, tweeting, “This will be the Election disaster of our time. Mail-In Ballots will lead to a RIGGED ELECTION!”
Trump then tweeted an all-caps missive with many of the debunked claims he’s been pushing all year: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!”
In a third tweet Monday morning, Trump said “Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nations history – unless this stupidity is ended,” and accused his political opponents of “using Covid in order to cheat by using Mail-Ins,” without providing proof.

Nonpartisan election experts rejected Trump’s claims on Monday within minutes of his tweets.

“That info is FALSE,” David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and research, tweeted in response to Trump’s posts Monday morning. “There is zero evidence to support it, and states have many protections in place to prevent rigging of mail ballots.”
It would be a “waste of paper” for foreign countries to print fraudulent ballots, tweeted Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida who runs the United States Elections Project and is a leading authority on voting data and statistics. “The legally valid (ballots) printed by election officials have many safeguards to protect against fraudulent voting.”
In fact, contrary to Trump’s claims, there are many more cases of eligible voters who didn’t receive their mail ballots on time, and therefore potentially being disenfranchised, than there are examples of people fraudulently casting multiple ballots, according to a CNN review of data from a half-dozen recent primaries. Officials are trying to resolve these issues before November.
A Twitter spokesperson said Monday that the company reviewed Trump’s three tweets and determined they did not violate the company’s rules, even though they flagged Trump’s similar posts last month. Twitter pointed to its “civic integrity policy,” which says Twitter won’t take action on “broad, non-specific statements about the integrity of elections or civic processes.”

The same claims about “rigged elections” were posted to the President’s account on Facebook on Monday. Facebook did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on Monday morning.

This new line from Trump — that foreign countries might hijack mail-in voting to meddle in the US election — puts him in a contorted position. Trump and senior members of his 2016 campaign welcomed Russian interference in that election, according to special counsel Robert Mueller. And since taking office, Trump has not spoken out forcefully against foreign meddling, until now.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which plays a leading role in identifying and countering foreign election security threats, declined to address Trump’s claim that foreign governments will “print millions” of mail-in ballots in the upcoming election. An official from the intelligence office referred questions about these unfounded claims back to the White House.

Trump’s claims on Monday were part of a larger effort to tarnish the legitimacy of mail-in voting, which the President claims will help only Democrats, even though nonpartisan researchers consistently say it doesn’t provide any major partisan advantage. As Trump slips in the polls against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, he has ramped up his criticism of postal voting.
Since the pandemic emerged earlier this year, numerous public polls have indicated that a large majority of Americans support expanding access to mail-in voting for the November election. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that 59% of American voters believe that all eligible voters in the US should be allowed to vote by mail, while only 38% opposed the idea.
Here’s a breakdown of CNN’s past fact-checks on mail-in voting and US elections.

This story has been updated to include a request for comment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as a comment from a Twitter spokesperson that Trump’s tweets did not violate the company’s “civic integrity policy.”

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