A whistleblower’s complaint alleging that records of a call made by President Donald Trump was handled in an unusually secretive way has shone a spotlight on how such calls are monitored – and how they can be hidden.The whistleblower, a US intelligence official, believed that the transcript of the call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky was kept in a secret electronic space not for national-security reasons – but for political purposes.The rough transcript of the call, according to the complaint, was first classified as secret and later top-secret, ensuring that only those with the highest clearances would be able to read it.This was a red flag, according to the whistleblower, as it showed that White House officials were not only aware of the politically sensitive nature of the call but were trying to hide this information from others in the US government.Mr Trump’s critics say the call was an attempt to convince Ukraine’s leader to investigate his rival, Vice-President Joe Biden, to further the president’s own political goals, and that White House aides were trying to cover his tracks.
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Media captionWhat we know about Biden-Ukraine corruption claims
President Trump and his aides deny the allegations, and say there was “nothing different” about the handling of the transcript of the phone call or where it was stored electronically.So what’s the normal practice?Who listens to the call?Traditionally, officials from the US national security council (NSC) brief the president before a call with a foreign leader. Then the briefers sit in the Oval Office with the president while he speaks on the phone with the foreign leader. “At least two members of the NSC are usually present,” according to USA Today.There will also be officials sitting in a secure room in another part of the White House, listening to the president’s call and taking notes. Their notes are known as a “memorandum of telephone conversation”, and like many things in Washington it has an abbreviation: “memcon”.The president’s calls with foreign leaders are also transcribed by computers. Afterwards, as former White House officials explain, the human note takers compare their impressions with an electronic version of the call. The notes from the officials and from the computerised transcriptions are combined into one document. This transcript may not be perfect, but it is done as carefully as time and resources allow. In the case of the president’s phone call with Mr Zelensky, according to the whistleblower’s complaint, about a dozen people were listening to their conversation.Since Mr Trump came to office, briefings before a phone call can be hastily arranged and by people with varying levels of expertise, according to one former NSC official, who says they were sometimes asked to listen in on calls at the last minute.
Mr Trump speaking on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 as officials take notes
How is a transcript of a call classified as secret or top secret?Officials who work in the executive secretary’s office of the US national security council decide on the level of classification for the transcript of a call, explain former White House officials. If the transcript contains information that could put national security or lives of individuals at risk, the transcript is classified as top secret and is kept in a protected area. The Project on Middle East Democracy’s Andrew Miller oversaw Egypt for the national security council during the Obama administration and became familiar with the process of classification. Miller says that he understands why some transcripts should be deemed top secret. But, he says, there was nothing in the call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky that rose to that level.”I don’t see what’s in there that would justify it being top secret,” says Mr Miller. “This had to be done for political reasons.”
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What happens if a transcript is stamped ‘top secret’?Classifying the transcript of a call as “top secret” means that only individuals in the US government with the highest level of security clearance can see the material. As former officials explain, these transcripts are shared through a system known by an acronym, Jwics, which stands for Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, a network that is used by people who work in the intelligence services.
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Frequently, though, the transcripts are stored in areas that are secret but not guarded with this extraordinary level of security. Classifying a transcript as secret – but not top secret – means that officials can discuss the contents of the presidents’ calls more easily with others who work in the government. Was the security-classification system used in the proper manner in this case?Mr Kudlow and other presidential advisers say the phone call itself was fine – and so was the handling of the transcript. They strongly disagree with the whistleblower’s assessment. But others say the president’s phone call and the secrecy surrounding the transcript demonstrated an abuse of presidential power.”Security classifications are designed to protect lives,” says Brett Bruen, a White House official who served in the Obama administration. “If all of a sudden, they become a means to protect the political standing of the president, it means we no longer have a national-security classification system that is credible.”Mr Miller agrees – he says that keeping a transcript of a phone call secret just because you want to protect the political prospects of your boss undermines the system. Those who work at the White House swear an oath not to the president, he says, but to the US constitution: “Your primary loyalty should be to the country – not to the individual.”
Obama urges voters to focus on down-ballot races to combat gerrymandering
The video represents the latest attempt by top Democrats to focus attention on down-ballot races, like those for state legislatures across the country. The party hopes that they can take control of a handful of state legislatures in November, wins that could be key because the state bodies elected in 2020 will play major roles…
“You’ve heard a lot about the presidential race, maybe too much,” Obama says in a video for NowThis News, “but there is a lot more that will be on the ballot this fall.”
Obama adds: “In this election, the state leaders we elect will help redraw electoral districts all across the country.”
Obama is not new to the fight over redistricting and has focused a portion of his post-presidency work on the issue, including by folding his Organizing for Action group into the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group run by his former attorney general, Eric Holder, that looks to link Democratic issues with the need to take on gerrymandering.
“President Obama has said this is an all hands on deck moment, and one of the main drivers is redistricting that will happen based on November’s results,” Eric Schultz, an Obama adviser, said. “Now more than ever, we need to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. The Presidential campaign generally gets most of the attention, but President Obama believes these other races are mission-critical.”
The former president says in the video that he doesn’t think people “completely appreciate how much gerrymandering affects the outcome” of elections. The video then notes how Republicans swept into control in key states during the 2010 elections, allowing them to redraw maps in places like Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Ohio.
Obama argues that many priorities of his presidency, including immigration reform and gun control measures, were thwarted, in part, because of gerrymandered districts electing Republicans to Congress.
“Those maps will stand for 10 years, that could mean a decade of fairly drawn districts where folks have an equal voice in their government, or it could mean a decade of unfair partisan gerrymandering,” Obama says in the video.
The video was made with NowThis News, a progressive mobile news outlet.
Democrats, emboldened by considerable excitement among their party’s key voters, hope they can flip at least one legislative body in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Minnesota. And the party hopes it can make substantial inroads in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgia and Florida.
Groups like the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and Forward Majority, a super PAC that aims to pour millions into key state legislative races, have been leading the fight to focus Democratic attention to these races.
Forward Majority announced earlier this month that they would direct $15 million into state legislative races in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, so-called Sun Belt states where Democrats believe President Donald Trump could lead voters to reject Republicans in November.
“Without having a seat at the table next year, we will likely see an unprecedented level of gerrymandering,” said Forward Majority co-founder Vicky Hausman, who argued that these four states “represent the most powerful points of leverage in our democracy.”
The is partly a newfound focus for Democrats on down-ballot races like state legislatures. Republicans spent millions to control the legislative bodies over the last decades, leading Democrats to lose control of several state legislatures during Obama’s presidency.
But Democratic groups have been making the case, like Obama does in the video, that these local officials wield notable power on everything from how a state responds to something like the coronavirus pandemic to how they deal with issues of police brutality.
“This year, educate yourself on the candidates at every level on your ballot,” Obama says. “They can make a profound impact on your community and our country.”
The Atlantic writer: ‘I scared myself’ writing this story – CNN Video
The Atlantic staff writer Barton Gellman tells CNN’s Don Lemon that he believes President Trump will not concede defeat if he loses the 2020 presidential election.
Outrage over lack of charges in Breonna Taylor’s death turns into protests across the US
(CNN)Outrage and heartbreak boiled over into protests in many cities across the US on Wednesday after news broke that none of the three officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death were charged with her killing.More than six months after Taylor was shot to death after Louisville police officers broke down the door to her apartment while…
(CNN)Outrage and heartbreak boiled over into protests in many cities across the US on Wednesday after news broke that none of the three officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death were charged with her killing.More than six months after Taylor was shot to death after Louisville police officers broke down the door to her apartment while executing a warrant, a grand jury decided to indict only one of the three officers involved on first-degree wanton endangerment charges. The charge applies to the risk put on Taylor’s neighbors, but does not hold the officer responsible for her death. From Louisville to Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, masses of people congregated to protest the decision. Police in Portland declared protests gathered outside the Justice Center a riot. And in Seattle, 13 people were arrested after a night of multiple fires and protesters throwing glass bottles and fireworks at police, authorities said. “We will go to our graves proclaiming that Breonna Taylor did not get justice from the Kentucky attorney general’s office,” attorney for the Taylor family, Ben Crump, told CNN’s Don Lemon Wednesday.Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician and aspiring nurse, was described by relatives as a hard-working, goal-oriented young woman who placed an emphasis on family, Crump said demonstrations over her death are “righteous anger.”In anticipation of potential unrest, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order setting a statewide 72-hour curfew starting at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday. 2 officers shot in Louisville protestsShortly before the curfew began, there were reports of gunfire near one of the marches in Louisville. Two of the responding officers were shot and had non-life-threatening wounds, Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder told reporters. A suspect was in custody, he added.Three videos obtained by CNN appear to show the gunshots and the scene that was set before they rang out. One video livestreamed by the Louisville Metro Police Department shows police moving forward as three apparent flash bands are fired into the air toward the protesters. Nine shots can be heard in a police video.”Shots fired, shots fired,” a voice is heard saying on the police livestream. “Officers down … take cover.” One officer is in surgery, Schroeder told reporters. The FBI Louisville office is asking for the public to continue to submit any videos related to the shooting of the officers, according to a post on the FBI’s website.Meanwhile, another suspect was detained in Denver, where police say a vehicle was driven into a protest Wednesday night. There were no injuries, police said in a tweet.At least one person was knocked to the ground in the protest that was peaceful up until the vehicle rammed into the crowd, CNN affiliate KCNC reported. The deadly raid on Breonna Taylor’s homeThe incident that ended Taylor’s life began with a narcotics investigation on March 13. Former Det. Brett Hankison, Sgt. John Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove were executing a search warrant on Taylor’s home, though her ex-boyfriend was the focus of the narcotics investigation. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested on drug charges last month and told a Kentucky newspaper that she had nothing to do with the probe into an alleged drug trade that spurred the warrant. Taylor was sleeping next to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker III, in the early hours of March 13, when they heard a noise. They both got up and walked to the door.”She’s yelling at the top of her lungs — and I am too at this point — ‘who is it?’ ” recalled Walker, her boyfriend. “No answer. No response. No anything.”Police forced entry into the home, and Walker said he couldn’t see but he fired one shot. After entering, Mattingly was shot in the leg, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said on Wednesday. The chaotic police operation that night was exacerbated by Hankison, who was accused by his own department of “blindly” firing 10 bullets into Taylor’s apartment from an outdoor patio. Hankison was fired in June, the Louisville police chief said, but he is appealing his termination. His attorney, David Leightty, has declined to comment.Cameron argued the officers were “justified in their use of force” because Taylor’s boyfriend fired first. Charges aren’t related to her deathHankison was charged with endangering not Taylor’s life, but those of the people in the next apartment, Crump said. Crump said the decision was an insult to Taylor’s family and an outrage to the community.”The fact that you’re going to charge for bullets going into an apartment but not for bullets going into Breonna Taylor’s body is outrageous,” Crump told CNN’s Don Lemon Wednesday. “There are two justice systems in America: one for Black America, one for White America.”First-degree wanton endangerment is a Class D felony, the lowest of four classes of felonies. The maximum sentence is five years; the minimum is one year.The NAACP said in a statement that the justice system “failed” Taylor and the charges against one officer do “not go far enough.””The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life was a tragedy,” said Cameron, the first Black person to hold the post and a rising Republican star. “The answer to that question is unequivocally yes.”Cameron called the Taylor’s death “a gut-wrenching emotional case.” He defended the length of the investigation, saying the time reflected “how important it was to get this right.””I certainly understand the pain that has been brought about by the tragic loss of Ms. Taylor. I understand that as an attorney general who is responsible for all 120 counties, in terms of being the chief legal officer — the chief law enforcement officer, I understand that. I understand that as a Black man — how painful this is, which is why it was so incredibly important to make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact.”CNN’s Eric Levenson, Konstantin Toropin, Mark Morales and Shimon Prokupecz contributed to this report.