Through The Smog: Last Week’s Stories You Might’ve Missed

The Weekly Windshield Wiper Clearing Through Media B.S.
From left- Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

From left- Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Paul Ryan Announced That The GOP Will Move To Completely Defund Planned Parenthood In Their Obamacare Repeal

On Thursday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that as part of the GOP’s efforts to repeal certain pillars of Obamacare, so too would they move to totally defund Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood has been on the republican agenda for some time, but only now, with Donald Trump as president, do they have enough power to make it a reality. This is expected to happen as soon as February.

Many in the Republican leadership are wary that Donald Trump, who has been known to flip-flop on the issue, may decide to break with his party’s agenda, and veto the decision should the bill make it to his desk. However, this should be considered very unlikely with a Vice-President like Mike Pence.

The Democrats and Planned Parenthood President, Cecile Richards, plan to fight the GOP’s assault on women’s healthcare against surmounting odds.

U.S. Intelligence Report On Russia’s Interference: Key Takeaways

On Friday, the Office of The Director of National Intelligence releases its highly anticipated declassified report on Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The report included an assessment coordinated among the CIA, FBI, and NSA. Here are the key takeaways:

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

Although it has been widely reported via leaks from the intelligence community (IC), this was the first time the IC officially stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered Russia’s attempts to influence the course of the US election. The IC has previously stated that this was an attempt to undermine the democratic process but this was the first time they outlined additional details on the motive, pointing to their intention to denigrate Hillary Clinton in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence

This cleared up the previous confusion surrounding whether or not the CIA and FBI are in agreement on Russia’s motive to help elect Trump. The report dives into the reasons behind the motive, one of them being Putin’s grudge against Hillary Clinton. The report also mentions that Russia believed they could more effectively push forward their international interests under a Trump presidency.

Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

The IC expanded on Russia’s methods throughout the report, detailing their spread of propaganda through their state-funded news agency Russia Today (RT) and online paid trolls. They pointed to RT’s unfavorable coverage of Hillary Clinton and their partnership with Wikileaks. The report didn’t dive too deep into the specific activities of the paid trolls, other then the fact they “spread Russian messaging.” It has been reported that Russian trolls were partially responsible for the spread of fake news across the web.

These concepts are nothing new. The collection of foreign intelligence and spread of disinformation are methods that have been used by Russia since the Cold War. The expansion of the internet has simply amplified their strategies, making them more effective.

We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.

The report identified GRU as being behind the release of information obtained in the hacks on US organizations. It also asserts that despite the objections of its founder Julian Assange, Wikileaks’ source throughout the 2016 presidential election was indeed the Russian government. Although this wasn’t detailed in this report, it has been recently reported that the IC has identified the middlemen that Russia used to deliver the information to Wikileaks.

Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign.

This excerpt is important to note because apparently President-elect Donald Trump didn’t read it. Trump’s transition team released a statement after Trump was briefed by the IC, claiming that the RNC was not successfully hacked. This is false. Not only has it been previously reported that the RNC was indeed hacked, the IC report clearly states that Republican affiliated targets were hacked but Russia did not release the info they gathered. This further bolsters the IC’s conclusion that Russia was undergoing a one-sided effort to disparage Hillary Clinton and elevate Donald Trump to the presidency.

We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.

The report ended on a predictive note. The US intelligence community believes that Russia will use what they learned from their disruption of the US presidential election and apply it around the world. Russia’s goal is to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order worldwide. It has already been reported that Russia used similar propaganda initiatives to influence the Italian referendum that led to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepping down. Germany, France, and the Netherlands, who all hold elections next year, are bracing for the possibility of Russian cyberattacks elevating right-wing candidates and disrupting their democratic processes. Will these efforts be successful? That’s up for the people to decide at the voting booths.

Not All Of Trump’s Nominees Have Completed Their Ethics Reviews; Hearings Are This Week

Walter Shaub, Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), sent a letter to top Senate Democrats on Saturday voicing his concerns regarding the fact that some of President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees have not been fully cleared by the OGE. He stated:

“The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me. This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews. More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings. I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process.”

“During the Presidential transition, not all of the nominees presently scheduled for hearings have In fact, OGE has not received even the initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings.”

Shaub went on to mention how these reviews, which include full financial disclosures, can take weeks and are meant to sniff our any potential conflicts of interest the nominees might face.

ABC News reports that Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security Gen. John Kelly, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, and Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary nominee Ben Carson have not completed the OGE’s review process.

According to the Associated Press, some of the more controversial Trump picks, Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, have already submitted their ethics forms. So has Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis and Secretary of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao.

The DNC, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), have all called for the GOP to delay these hearings until these reviews are completed to the OGE’s satisfaction.

In response to the calls for a delay, incoming White House Chief of Staff and ex-RNC head Reince Priebus said there is “no reason” to delay. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Kentucky), who wanted full ethics reviews completed for Obama’s appointees before their hearings, said that “…All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration in having not only lost the White House but having lost the Senate. I understand that, but we need to sort of grow up here and get past that.”

This coming week is packed with confirmation hearings. As of now, there is no word as to whether or not any of these hearings will be delayed. Keep a look out.

Tuesday, Jan. 10
Nominee: Sen. Jeff Sessions — Attorney General
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 10 and 11.

Nominee: John Kelly — Homeland Security secretary
Confirmation hearings: Jan. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 11

Nominee: Betsy DeVos — Secretary of Education
Confirmation hearings: Jan. 11 at 10 a.m.

Nominee: Elaine Chao — Secretary of Transportation
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 11 10:15 a.m

Nominee: Rex Tillerson — Secretary of State
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 11

Thursday, Jan. 12

Nominee: Ben Carson — Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 10 a.m.

Nominee: Wilbur Ross — Secretary of Commerce
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 10 a.m.

GOP Revives Holman Rule That Allows Them To Slash Federal Workers’ Pay To $1

Proposed and passed last week by House Republicans, the Holman Rule will allow members of Congress to propose amendments to appropriations bills that cuts entire federal programs, as well as the ability to reduce any single federal worker’s salary to just $1.

The archaic rule, which was discarded in 1983, was reintroduced as part of the 115th Congress’ Rules Package on Tuesday, under the smokescreen of press that was allotted toward the House Republicans’ vote to gut the independent investigative agency, the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The Will Of The People Prevails, Media Hands Victory To Trump — An Inside Look At The Ethics Vote

The man responsible for reviving an obstructionist rule that dates back to the 19th century was none other than Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA.). Griffith cited waste from a federal program that’s receiving $80,000,000 in funding to protect and care after wild horses that reside on federal land as the reason for having this added to the rules package for 2017. Griffith also noted that he is aware of the potential for Congress’s newly acquired power to be taken too far. In an interview with the Washington Post he is quoted as saying,

“I can’t tell you it won’t happen. The power is there. But isn’t that appropriate? Who runs this country, the people of the United States or the people on the people’s payroll?”

However, what’s most unnerving about the Holman Rule is that we could begin to see our representatives target federal workers over differences in ideology and politics. Which in effect, could result in the silencing of individuals who speak on issues that do not mesh with the political agenda of the controlling party (e.g. climate change, gender equality, and those currently working for the IRS) — further corrupting our government.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD.) came out against the ruling on Tuesday stating that,

“Republicans have consistently made our hard-working federal employees scapegoats, in my opinion, for lack of performance of the federal government itself, and this rule change will allow them to make shortsighted and ideologically driven changes to our civil service.”

1876 Holman Rule named after Rep. William Holman (D-IN)

News // Congress / Democracy / Planned Parenthood / Politics / Underreported