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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

After NATO weapons, U.S. intelligence shines for Ukraine

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1941, Joseph Stalin assumed the premiership of the Soviet Union, replacing Vyacheslav M. Molotov.

The big idea

America facilitates two big Ukraine military achievements

The role of NATO-provided weapons in Ukraine’s battlefield victories over Russian troops has been well documented — the Javelins killing tanks, Stinger missiles and Soviet-era air defenses knocking out planes, dealing setback after setback to Moscow’s forces.

But news reports over the past couple of days showcased the role U.S. intelligence-sharing has played in making possible two of Ukraine’s most remarkable feats in the war: the killing of a large number of Russian generals, and the sinking of Moscow’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.

The revelations have come on the heels of a dramatic escalation of U.S. and allied arms shipments to Ukraine, which have included artillery, radar and armored vehicles, as well as training on how to use them — developments largely unthinkable in the war’s earliest days.

There have been few public objections from Congress to the increased aid and training. Polls show President Biden’s mix of aid and training for Ukraine, sanctions targeting Moscow, and rejections of engaging in direct combat with Russian forces, to be in line with public preferences.

But lurking behind every decision to help Ukraine lies American and allied calculations about what Russian President Vladimir Putin can accept without dramatically escalating the conflict, which he began by pouring tens of thousands of soldiers into Ukraine Feb. 24.

Remarkable development

That’s partly what makes the breaking news over the past couple of days so remarkable.

My colleagues Shane Harris, Paul Sonne, Dan Lamothe, and Michael Birnbaum report on the April missile strike that sank the Moskva:

“The United States provided Ukraine with intelligence that helped Kyiv attack and sink the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, in one of the most dramatic battlefield successes of the 71-day old war, according to people familiar with the matter.”

  • The strike “may not have been possible without the U.S. assistance” and “it is unclear how many Russian sailors died in the attack, but U.S. officials believe there were significant casualties.”
  • Still, the United States “had ‘no prior awareness’ of Ukraine’s decision to strike the warship, a U.S. official said. The official noted that the U.S. government shares maritime awareness with Ukraine to help the nation defend against threats.”
  • Without the U.S. intelligence, “Ukraine would have struggled to target the warship with the confidence necessary to expend two valuable Neptune missiles, which were in short supply, according to the people familiar with the strike, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.”
  • The official U.S. line is the intelligence being shared is only to help Ukraine defend itself. What Ukraine does with it is outside U.S. purview (though obviously if Washington truly objected, they could downgrade the intelligence sharing).
  • “We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
  • The United States is providing “real-time” intelligence, according to a Ukrainian official.

NBC News first reported the link between U.S. intelligence sharing and the sinking of the Moskva.

Targeting generals

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Julian E. Barnes, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt reported Wednesday evening: “The United States has provided intelligence about Russian units that has allowed Ukrainians to target and kill many of the Russian generals who have died in action in the Ukraine war, according to senior American officials.”

“Ukrainian officials said they have killed approximately 12 generals on the front lines, a number that has astonished military analysts.”

“The United States has focused on providing the location and other details about the Russian military’s mobile headquarters, which relocate frequently. Ukrainian officials have combined that geographic information with their own intelligence — including intercepted communications that alert the Ukrainian military to the presence of senior Russian officers — to conduct artillery strikes and other attacks that have killed Russian officers.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson issued a statement reading, in part: “We do not provide intelligence with the intent to kill Russian generals.”

Top U.S. military and intelligence officials have been bragging about the volume of information being shared with Ukraine.

“We have opened up the pipes,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Senators on Tuesday

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, told lawmakers in March the intelligence sharing is “revolutionary in terms of what we can do.”

At the same hearing, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, who heads both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, said that “in my 35 years” he has not seen better sharing of speedy, actionable intelligence.

What’s happening now

U.S. unemployment rate remains 3.6 percent, near 50-year lows

“U.S. employers added 428,000 jobs in April, capping a year of solid growth, adding more fuel to an already robust recovery. The unemployment rate remained steady at a pandemic low of 3.6 percent, the Labor Department said Friday,” Abha Bhattarai reports.

“The labor market has added more than 6.5 million jobs during the past year and is on pace to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer, though economists say there are signs that this record streak of employment gains is beginning to moderate.”

Pelosi announces new minimum pay for House staffers

“Capitol Hill staffers, particularly those at the start of their careers, have historically have been overworked and underpaid, and live in a city where the cost of living isn’t cheap,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report for Post Politics Now.

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took a step Friday to address that. In a letter to lawmakers, she announced a new minimum annual salary for House staffers of $45,000, effective Sept. 1.”

Law enforcement officials warn of potential violence in DC and nationwide in wake of draft opinion

“An alert generated Thursday by US Capitol Police and reviewed by CNN warned about far-right calls for violence against a religious group planning an upcoming protest in support of abortion rights at the court,” CNN's Whitney Wild reports.

  • “Multiple sources told CNN the recent developments could embolden violent extremists to engage in attacks or other criminal activity targeting abortion clinic staff, patients or clinic facilities.”
The war in Ukraine

‘Next stage’ of Mariupol evacuation underway

“Heavy fighting continues at the besieged Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, where Russian forces are intensifying their attack. A senior Ukrainian official said Friday that almost 500 civilians had been evacuated from the steel plant and its surroundings, adding that ‘the next stage is underway in rescuing our people’ from the facility,” Adela Suliman, Andrew Jeong, Adam Taylor, Jonathan Edwards, Ellen Francis and Emily Rauhala report.

More key updates:

Follow our live coverage of the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

The quid pro quos of Gordon D. Sondland

“Do you remember Gordon Sondland? His turn in the spotlight happened two impeachments and one insurrection ago, which felt like another lifetime until Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Suddenly, in retrospect, the bumbling and angling revealed during Trump’s first impeachment proceedings took on a sheen of portent. And Gordon Sondland — who courted and championed Volodymyr Zelensky long before the Ukrainian leader became a wartime legend — thinks that he looks, in retrospect, not at all like a doofus,” Dan Zak writes.

How millions of Russians are tearing holes in the Digital Iron Curtain

“Daily downloads in Russia of the 10 most popular VPNs jumped from below 15,000 just before the war to as many as 475,000 in March. As of this week, downloads were continuing at a rate of nearly 300,000 a day, according to data compiled for The Washington Post by the analytics firm Apptopia, which relies on information from apps, publicly available data and an algorithm to come up with estimates,” Anthony Faiola reports.

… and beyond

It’s Chief Justice Roberts’ Court, but does he still lead?

“Roberts’ court was facing challenges even before the leak, which the chief called a ‘betrayal of the confidences of the Court,’”  the Associated Press's Jessica Gresko reports.

“Polling has shown a notable decline in the public’s approval of the court. And there have been recent calls for term limits for the justices and for increasing the number of justices as well as for a code of ethics, particularly following reports that Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, implored Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff to act to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Confirmation hearings for the court’s newest justices have been contentious.” 

U.S. police trainers with far-right ties are teaching hundreds of cops

“One police instructor who has taught 560 officers in recent years has joined one extremist group and supported other far-right movements. Others have echoed QAnon and other fringe conspiracy theories on social media,” a Reuters investigation found.

The Biden agenda

Karine Jean-Pierre to be next White House press secretary

“Jean-Pierre, who has served as Psaki’s top deputy since the start of the administration, will immediately become the public face of the Biden White House and the first Black person to hold the high-profile job of delivering the president’s daily message and fielding questions from an often skeptical press corps,” Tyler Pager reports.

Justice Dept. boosts focus on environmental cases that harm the poor

“The Justice Department is ramping up enforcement of environmental cases that officials say disproportionately harm poor and marginalized communities, creating an office to help coordinate investigations and expanding the breadth of litigation against companies and local or state governments that appear to violate federal laws or commit civil infractions,” David Nakamura and Darryl Fears report.

How same-sex marriage shaped Joe Biden

“Biden had risen in politics in almost perfect parallel with the gay rights movement (his name first appeared on a ballot the same month as the world’s first pride march) but had always kept its priorities at a remove from his own. That changed in 2012: the adulation he received from activists and donors for what he said in that interview helped transform Biden from an ambivalent, low-key supporter of the LGBTQ community’s interests to someone who considers his role as its ally newly central to his political identity,” Sasha Issenberg writes for Politico Magazine

Biden to announce voluntary 3D printing initiative during trip to Ohio

“President Joe Biden will announce the launch of a new voluntary initiative to boost the use of 3D printing in domestic supply chains during his trip to Ohio on Friday, according to two senior administration officials and a White House fact sheet touting the announcement,” CNN's Sam Fossum reports.

Biden and Harris met with labor organizers from Amazon and Starbucks

“The meeting was intended to discuss how the recent organizing successes can inspire other workers to join or form a union, according to the White House,” the New York Times's Noam Scheiber reports.

Nuclear power, visualized

“Fear of nuclear energy has made it harder to stand up to dictators and slow down global warming. Is it time for a rebrand?” our colleague Harry Stevens explains how nuclear power works in this interactive.

Hot on the left

‘We should not defund’: Democrats press Pelosi for vote on police funding

“In an effort to address rising crime rates, 19 mostly moderate House Democrats are urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote soon on bipartisan legislation that would increase funding for police departments across the country,” NBC News's Scott Wong reports.

  • “As national crime rates increase, including homicides, car jackings, and assaults, now is the time to support local law enforcement through passage of bipartisan, bicameral commonsense legislation,” the Democrats wrote Friday in a letter to Pelosi, D-Calif., that was first shared with NBC News.

Zoom out: “The letter is the latest sign that Democrats, fighting to preserve their fragile majority this fall, are concerned about rising crime and the ‘defund the police’ messaging from progressives that contributed to the party’s loss of 13 House seats in the 2020 election.”

Hot on the right

Trump set the stage for Roe’s demise. For now, he doesn’t wanna talk about it.

“The former president, never one to shy away from taking credit for accomplishments, real or imagined, has yet to crow about the majority draft opinion. And when asked about it in interviews, he steered clear of anything resembling a victory lap. Instead, he expressed displeasure that the draft leaked and sidestepped weighing in on the issue of abortion rights. On Wednesday night at Mar-a-Lago, he told POLITICO he was waiting to see ‘finality’ in the case,” Politico's Meredith McGraw and Jonathan Lemire report.

“Trump has yet to put out a statement on the draft opinion and has only addressed it when asked in interviews. In one, he even conceded that a portion of the public might blame him for what could soon transpire.”

  • “Some people maybe say it’s my fault,” he said of putting three conservative justices on the Supreme Court during an appearance Wednesday on the Christian Broadcast Network. “And some people say, thank you very much.”

Today in Washington

At 3 p.m., Biden will meet with manufacturing leaders at United Performance Metals in Hamilton, Ohio.

Biden will speak and call for Congress to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act at 3:45 p.m.

At 4:30 p.m., he will leave Cincinnati for New Castle, Del., where he will arrive at 6:55 p.m.

In closing

Alfred Baldwin, chief Watergate eavesdropper and lookout, is dead at 83

Alfred C. Baldwin III, a former FBI agent who served as the chief eavesdropper and lookout for the Watergate burglars, but then became a key government witness in the scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon, died Jan. 15, 2020, at a care center in New Paltz, N.Y. He was 83,” Harrison Smith reports.

Like Watergate conspirator James W. McCord Jr., whose death in 2017 was not widely reported for two years, Mr. Baldwin did not want his death publicized.”

Thanks for reading. See you next week.