Quick Takes: Senate Republicans Finally Admit the Obvious

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* This is what passes for a breakthrough from Republicans these days:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has determined the U.S. intelligence community was correct in assessing Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of helping then-candidate Donald Trump, contradicting findings House Republicans reached last month.

“We see no reason to dispute the [intelligence community’s] conclusions,” the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said Wednesday in a joint statement with its vice chair, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who added: “Our staff concluded that the … conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”

* The New York Times has done some investigative work to address the criticism directed at them for publishing an article on October 31, 2016 stating that the FBI had uncovered “no conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” The result is an interesting overview of how the agency initially handled the Trump/Russia probe, whose code name was Crossfire Hurricane. In it, they give us this tidbit on that “source” that is spurring the latest right wing conspiracy theory about the FBI spying on the Trump campaign.

…at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said.

* Cambridge Analytica is in the news again.

The Justice Department and the F.B.I. are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political data firm, and have sought to question former employees and banks that handled its business, according to an American official and other people familiar with the inquiry.

Prosecutors have questioned potential witnesses in recent weeks, telling them that there is an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica — which worked on President Trump’s election and other Republican campaigns in 2016 — and “associated U.S. persons.” But the prosecutors provided few other details, and the inquiry appears to be in its early stages, with investigators seeking an overview of the company and its business practices.

* Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee today.

The whistleblower told lawmakers that former vice president of Cambridge Analytica and Trump ally Steve Bannon, “saw cultural warfare as the means to create enduring change in American politics.”

“The company learned that were segments of the population that responded to messages like ‘drain the swamp’ or images of walls or indeed paranoia about the deep state that weren’t necessarily reflected in mainstream polling or mainstream political discourse that Steve Bannon was interested in to help build his movement,” Wylie told lawmakers. He said that under Bannon’s leadership at Cambridge Anlaytica, U.S. clients could request testing voter suppression efforts in their contracts.

“Steve Bannon is a follower of something called the ‘Breitbart doctrine’ which posits that politics is downstream from culture. So if you want any lasting or enduring changes in politics you have to focus on the culture. When Steve Bannon uses the term culture war, he uses that term pointedly and they were seeking out companies that could build an arsenal of informational weapons to fight that war,” he added.

* David Drucker writes about a possible Pence “shadow campaign.”

Indeed, buzz about Pence’s political aspirations has become something of a parlor game in Washington. While Trump remains the alpha and omega of Republican politics, Pence has quietly taken the lead on virtually all the midterm drudgery usually overseen by the president—making endorsements, conferring with party power brokers, meeting with voters in battleground states.

* Here’s another one of Trump’s so-called “populist” campaign promises that seems to be going down the drain:

President Donald Trump’s plans to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement this year looked unattainable Tuesday after negotiators appeared too far apart to strike a deal before a deadline this week.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan had set this Thursday as an informal deadline if the administration were to push a pact through the Republican-controlled Congress before a new slate of lawmakers arrives in Washington next year, possibly led by Democrats.

* On the good news front…

Senate Democrats secured a win on net neutrality Wednesday afternoon in a showdown on the chamber floor, a development they believe will stir up passion among young voters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John Kennedy (Louisiana) crossed party lines, joining the Senate’s full Democratic caucus in a 52-47 floor vote. That meant approval for a resolution that would undo the FCC’s 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules.

* Finally, Georgia’s gubernatorial primary is next Tuesday and Republican state senator Michael Williams doesn’t seem to be getting much traction in a crowded field of six candidates. So what do you do to raise your profile among Republican primary voters? You sell yourself as a one-man deportation force, of course.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.