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Opinion DHS whistleblower’s charges could be worse than we thought

Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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As you know, a whistleblower at the Department of Homeland Security recently made a series of startling allegations: He claimed, among other things, that top DHS officials brought intense pressure on him to help hype the threat of organized leftist violence to try to bolster one of President Trump’s favorite reelection narratives.

This is only one of many ways in which top officials have placed their official duties and the levers of government at the disposal of Trump’s reelection needs. This blog compiled a list of examples along these lines earlier this week.

But there’s another buried layer in the whistleblower complaint that may constitute yet another way in which this is happening.

The whistleblower, a senior official named Brian Murphy, also alleges that he was ordered by acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf “to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.”

Murphy claims Wolf said that directive originated from White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

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At first, this seemed as if it might have just been another way in which top Trump officials were trying to obscure the importance of Russian interference in the election, in keeping with Trump’s longtime efforts to make that interference disappear.

But over at the Lawfare blog, Susan Hennessey and Jacob Schulz suggest that this might be more serious than it first appears: What if it constitutes an effort to cook the intelligence to literally create from scratch a largely fabricated narrative in its own right that Trump could campaign on?

As Hennessey and Schulz document, many of Trump’s top officials and campaign propagandists have been relentlessly repeating the line that China, not Russia, poses the greatest threat to our election. And some of them have also claimed that China wants Joe Biden to win and Trump to lose.

Indeed, the most devoted pro-Trump propagandist of all — Trump himself — has repeatedly said this.

And the second-most devoted pro-Trump propagandist of all — Donald Trump Jr. — also made the same claim at the GOP convention, asserting that “the intelligence community recently assessed that the Chinese Communist Party favors Biden," because “Beijing Biden” is “weak on China.”

That’s comical, given that Trump’s trade wars with China are an utter disaster, and he spent weeks bolstering China’s insistence that it had the coronavirus under control, to push the lie that we didn’t need to worry about it here.

But put that aside for now. The question, as Hennessey and Schulz note, is whether this pressure on the DHS whistleblower to report on interference by China and Iran rather than by Russia was deliberately done “to benefit the president’s political interests and harm the president’s political opponent.”

In this telling, the abuse would be far worse than we originally thought.

As you may recall, a recent assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that Russia had undertaken a “range of measures” to interfere in our election, primarily by denigrating Biden. But it also noted that China and Iran were hostile toward Trump.

Yet that assessment didn’t say China was taking any active steps to interfere. It only noted that China had a preference for Trump to lose. Only Russia is taking active measures, the assessment said. Yet for some reason China was also included.

This angered Democrats, who charged that this appeared designed to false-equivalence away the seriousness of Russian interference, as Trump wants. Indeed, U.S. officials also privately suggested as much. (Meanwhile, his attorney general, William P. Barr, may soon release an interim report on the Russia investigation designed to undercut findings about Russian interference last time.)

That would be bad enough on its own. But the question now is whether this directive was really about helping to create an entirely distinct foundation for another one of Trump’s campaign narratives: Trump is so tough on China that it is trying to interfere in our election in hopes that “Beijing Biden” will win.

As Hennessey and Schulz suggest, this would mean “intelligence authorities and positions of public trust might have been used to engineer the narrative from the outset.”

If so, this would be absolutely in keeping with many other abuses we’ve seen, such as Barr constantly inventing narratives about the fraudulence of vote-by-mail to provide cover for Trump to try to invalidate countless ballots against him, or Trump’s GOP Senate allies running a fake investigation to validate a largely invented narrative about Biden’s son Hunter.

And it would be yet another example of the way in which we keep thinking we’ve penetrated through to the very worst of the corruption here, only to see another layer peeled back to reveal still more.

In 2019, The Post's editorial board argued the president tried to manipulate the justice system, wrongdoing that Congress must not let go. (Video: The Washington Post)