September 23, 2020

CIA Director Gina Haspel is reportedly keeping a tight lock on Russian intelligence.

Nine current and former officials tell Politico that Haspel "has become extremely cautious about which, if any, Russia-related intelligence products make their way to President Donald Trump's desk." She has also reportedly been cracking down on the agency's "Russia House," which produces intelligence on the country — but exactly why she's doing so is up for debate.

Last year, Haspel started having the CIA's general counsel review "virtually every product that comes out of Russia House" before it heads to Trump — an "unprecedented" workflow, Politico reports. Haspel's "scrutiny" has led to some "recent dust-ups" with Russia House analysts, including the firing of the house's head this year, four current and former officials tell Politico. Another Russia House analyst reportedly quit after Haspel said he had lied about intelligence. "She calls analysts liars all the time,” said one former CIA official.

But another official said it's not a matter of Haspel trying to censor the agency from Trump, who is "extraordinarily sensitive around the subject of Russian meddling," Politico reports. It's more about "quality over quantity," the official said. "Scrutinizing intelligence product and process is exactly what is expected of Director Haspel," CIA Press Secretary Timothy Barrett told Politico, adding she "ensures intelligence is corroborated, double-checked, and then run through the wringer once more." Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:38 p.m.

President Trump has declared himself "the least racist person in the room" without a hint of irony.

During Thursday night's presidential debate, moderator Kristen Welker asked Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden to speak directly to Black parents and address why they have to give their children a "talk" about systemic racism in America. Biden gave a personal response about why Black parents have to tell their children how to behave with police, but he never had to do the same with his children. Trump, meanwhile, focused on how he had granted clemency to some incarcerated people and passed a criminal justice reform bill.

At the end of his meandering response, Trump then made a big statement: "I am the least racist person in this room." "I can't even see the audience because it's so dark. But I don't care who's in the audience. I'm the least racist person in this room," he later repeated. Biden responded with a dose of sarcasm: "Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we've had in modern history." Trump didn't get the joke. Kathryn Krawczyk

Opinion
10:30 p.m.

President Trump's characterization of his trade war with China at the presidential debate Thursday evening was an unusually vivid reminder that he does not, in fact, understand how tariffs work.

"China is paying," Trump said. "They're paying billions and billions of dollars. I just gave $28 billion to our farmers — "

"Taxpayers' money," Democratic nominee Joe Biden interjected.

"It was China — " Trump paused. "It's what?"

"Taxpayers' money," Biden reiterated. "It didn't come from China."

"Yeah, you know who the taxpayer is? It's called China," Trump crowed. "China paid $28 million, and you know what they did to pay it, Joe? They devalued their currency, and they also paid up. And you know who got the money? Our farmers. Our great farmers, because they were targeted."

This misconception — that the country targeted by U.S. tariffs pays those taxes — seems to be lodged deep in Trump's mind. "Billions of Dollars are pouring into the coffers of the U.S.A. because of the Tariffs being charged to China," he tweeted in 2018, thrilling that this would "just make our Country richer than ever before!"

The reality is that U.S. tariffs on foreign imports are paid, as Biden said, by American consumers. Tariffs do raise revenues for Washington, but they do so at the U.S. public's expense, as foreign producers pass these costs along to their customers. Tariffs don't put foreign funds in Washington's coffers.

So that $28 billion in farm subsidies Trump touted — which many farmers, for the record, have said is a shoddy substitute for free trade — was indeed paid by American taxpayers. Because of Trump's trade war, we're spending more on imported goods (paying our own government's tariffs). And we're also paying to subsidize farmers whose business has been hurt, perhaps irreparably, by Chinese retaliation to the tariffs Trump imposed, evidently without a clue about what they really do. Bonnie Kristian

Opinion
10:29 p.m.

Sometimes, virtue signaling is good.

During Thursday night's presidential debate, amid dueling accusations of personal and familial corruption between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden tried to steer the conversation back to the ostensible reason Americans were watching the debate in the first place: To see which candidate would serve their needs and desires best.

"It's not about his family or my family," Biden said. "It's about your family."

It was a great line. Somewhat astonishingly, though, Trump mocked Biden for this assertion. "Typical politician," he grumbled.

Trump wasn't actually wrong. Politicians have been invoking a mythical family making decisions around a dinner table almost since dinner tables were invented. It's a well-worn, even hokey trope that The Simpsons once satirized memorably.

But some tropes are valuable, venerable traditions. By invoking the dinner table, Biden was reminding Americans that governing is more than scandal-mongering, navel gazing and trying to win the day on Fox News. It is about creating the conditions for citizens to survive and even thrive, both as individuals and as a broader community. We vote for candidates — not for them to serve themselves, but to serve us.

Trump suggested that he became president because of his refusal to invoke the dinner table. "I'm not a typical politician," he said. But "typical" is sometimes another word for "normal" — and Biden's chief selling point in this campaign has been a return to normalcy. If the polls are any indication, a lot of Americans are sitting around their dinner tables hoping for just that. Joel Mathis

10:13 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called President Trump's attacks against his family during Thursday night's debate "malarkey," adding, "there's a reason for it. He doesn't want to talk about substantive issues."

When asked by moderator Kristen Welker about election security, Trump instead pivoted to talking about Biden and his family, repeating an allegation from a GOP report claiming they received more than $3 million from Russia. Trump mentioned these allegations — which Biden denied — multiple times, and Biden moved to shut him down after being asked a question about China.

Biden said the debate isn't "about his family and my family. It's about your family, and your family is hurting badly. If you're a middle class family, you're getting hurt badly now. You're sitting at the kitchen table this morning deciding, well, we can't get new tires, they're bald, because we have to wait another month or so, or are we going to be able to pay the mortgage, or whose going to tell her she can't go back to community college. Those are the decisions you're making."

Trump scoffed at Biden, calling his remarks "a typical political statement ... the family around the table, just the typical politician. I'm not a typical politician and that's why I got elected." Catherine Garcia

10:05 p.m.

President Trump has a miracle scenario brewing in the back of his mind.

During Thursday night's presidential debate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden outlined his plan to expand the Affordable Care Act under a proposal he's coining as "BidenCare." But Trump would "like to terminate ObamaCare" and "come up with a brand new beautiful plan," which he thinks will pass Congress because the Democrats would be under "tremendous pressure." "We might even have the House by that time," Trump said, repeating that "I think we're going to win the House."

Trump later revealed a bit more about his overly hopeful House victory plan: He's counting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) failure to pass a coronavirus relief plan to flip a few Democratic seats, ignoring the fact that the House already passed its plan months ago.

This ObamaCare-bashing dream also neglects the fact that Republicans held the House, Senate, and presidency at the beginning of Trump's term but failed to pass a health care plan, and that he still hasn't come up with a health care plan since then. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:00 p.m.

President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden went toe-to-toe at the final presidential debate on Thursday over their respective tax returns. "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life," Biden stressed. "We learned that this president paid 50 times the tax in China," he added, evidently citing a report in The New York Times this week that Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C. paid nearly $200,000 in taxes in China between 2013 and 2015.

Biden went on to say, "I have released all of my tax returns. Twenty-two years. Go look at them. Twenty-two years of my tax returns. You have not released a single, solitary year of your tax returns. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling? … Release your tax returns, or stop talking about corruption."

In his response, Trump repeated the falsehood that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. But "much more importantly than that," Trump went on, "people were saying $750. I asked [my accountants] a week ago, 'What did I pay?' They said, 'Sir, you prepaid tens of millions of dollars.' I prepaid my tax."

The Wall Street Journal's Richard Rubin offered some clarification of the comment: "Though it's not clear exactly what [Trump] meant, it's common for people to make estimated income tax payments in advance and then use those balances to settle their tax liability, just like salaried people have income taxes withheld from their paychecks and settle up on their tax returns," he wrote.

The New York Times' Peter Baker added, however, that "when [Trump] says he paid millions of taxes, that does not mean he paid federal income taxes. According to the tax records our colleagues obtained, he paid just $750 in 2016 in federal income taxes and $750 in 2017 and zero in 11 of 18 years examined." Watch the back-and-forth below. Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

9:32 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had a powerful response to President Trump's insistence that America should learn to live with COVID-19.

As he has throughout the pandemic, Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus during Thursday's final presidential debate. He talked about how he went to the hospital after his COVID-19 diagnosis but recovered quickly, implying that Americans can easily defeat the virus. "We're learning to live with it," Trump insisted.

Biden relayed a different reality. He spoke directly to Americans who lost loved ones to the pandemic, and then spun Trump's words into a message about all the Americans who have died. "Learning to live with it?" Biden questioned. "People are learning to die with it."

More than 220,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and millions have contracted it. Case counts and hospitalizations have started to spike again in recent weeks as businesses and schools reopened. Kathryn Krawczyk

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