New: The IC broadly agrees that Russia has been funding Taliban ops. But a central dispute, outlined in recent ODNI memo, remains over motives and ability to tie specific killings to $$. Lawmakers now paralyzed over a response. W/@AndrewDesiderio: https://t.co/Crvm7kpS4n
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) July 7, 2020
Alternate headline: How much will the GOP do *not* to publicly discuss this, during an election year? Anything they can get away with, according to Politico:
… Citing disputed intelligence assessments and interagency squabbles, lawmakers emerged from top secret briefings cautious and mostly tight-lipped about the veracity of news reports suggesting that the Russians had American blood on their hands.
Those lawmakers — mostly Republicans — repeatedly stressed that there was no consensus on whether the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit, orchestrated the bounties, despite news reports from The New York Times and others that have detailed the alleged scheme with increasing specificity.
“I think there are contradictory pieces of intelligence on this,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 4 GOP leader and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said after a classified briefing.
The Trump administration also appeared to sow doubt over the issue, with President Donald Trump and his aides either questioning the accuracy of the intelligence or labeling reporting on the bounties an outright hoax. And congressional Republicans recently rejected an amendment to the annual defense policy bill, written by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), that would impose new sanctions on Moscow.
Democrats and Republicans alike have supported stricter sanctions on Russia as punishment for its malign activities, including its interference in the 2016 election and its annexation of Crimea in 2014. But the Trump administration has repeatedly hesitated to fully deploy the sanctions regime Congress authorized in 2017, and Republicans have rarely used their leverage to press the White House on the issue.
“There’s still a whole series of questions about what our policy is vis-à-vis Russia, and why there seems to be this unwillingness to call out Russian bad actions,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee…
In the meantime, Democrats appear to be giving Ratcliffe, the nation’s top intelligence official, a chance to prove himself as a nonpolitical figure, given his history as a strident defender of the president. Some congressional officials raised eyebrows about the timing of his memo — which concluded that the interagency assessments of the bounty intelligence were still mixed and incomplete — given White House attempts to frame the issue as too uncertain to warrant an immediate response. But people familiar with the document said it was straightforward and factual.
“I don’t think Ratcliffe has been in this job long enough to characterize whether he’s going to play it straight and do his job or whether he’s going to be in more of a political role,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Intelligence Committee. “I think he has a lot to do to build confidence given his previous role on cable news networks.”
“I didn’t support Mr. Ratcliffe,” added Warner. “Now he’s in, I want him to be successful. And as long as he is transparent and forthcoming with this committee — and we have tried to treat everybody with respect — I want to work with him.”
Democrats emphasized that they still had confidence in the career civil servants who make up the vast majority of the U.S. intelligence community, but said they are concerned Ratcliffe would not tell the president what they believe he needs to hear.
“I’ve made it clear that I think the executive branch has an obligation to be straight with the American people, and the list could go on, but he’s the guy that’s going to be held accountable,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an Intelligence Committee member, said in a brief interview. “In the last 48 hours, the administration isn’t even close to a passing grade.”…
As I remember it, the GOP was trying to set up Blount as the fall guy for every intelligence failure going back to the start of the impeachment hearings, for the heinous crime of being insufficiently loyal to Dear Leader. So it wouldn’t really surprise me if it turns out Blount gets to be the Repub figurehead ceremonially sacrificed to cover the whole party’s complicity in Trump’s Russia-related treason. Our job as Democrats, of course, will be fighting to ensure that the Treason Enabler Party doesn’t escape a scouring of every single one of their accomplices.