Bolton to meet Russian counterpart in Geneva

National security adviser John Bolton will meet with his Russian counterpart in Geneva this week. CNN's Samantha Vinograd has the weekly presidential briefing.

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 5:37 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 5:49 PM

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States. Modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues the President needs to know to make informed decisions.

Here's this week's briefing:

Christmas came early for Putin: Clearance contagion

We assess that President Vladimir Putin views your decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance as an opportunity to advance his mission against the United States.

Putin is focused on sowing divisions in the United States and reactions among elected officials to your decision on Brennan's clearance have fallen mostly along partisan lines. Senior Democrats condemned your decision, while most Republicans supported you or stayed quiet. We should assume that Russia's digital and bot army will amplify these partisan divisions.

Russia's propaganda machine likes to highlight criticism of alleged US shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties. Russia will likely amplify the narrative that your decision is a dire attack on free speech and that US democratic freedoms are under attack. This helps Putin make the US-led liberal democratic order look weak and by comparison makes him feel stronger.

Putin also wants to undercut confidence in US institutions, and he probably wants to spin your decision as indicative of a widening chasm between you and the intelligence community. His team will likely spread the message that you made this decision based on your executive authority -- which is what press secretary Sarah Sanders said in her initial press briefing on the clearance revocation. Putin's minions will highlight that neither Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats nor CIA Director Gina Haspel were consulted before your final decision on Brennan's clearance, fueling the narrative that you made this decision on your own without consulting the experts. And his trolls could spread the message that this is just the latest indication you made a decision with national security implications without your key advisers.

As a bonus for Putin, a growing bipartisan group of former intelligence professionals are criticizing your decision, further supporting the idea that you and the intelligence community are divided.

Putin is also probably pleased with your Wall Street Journal interview -- in which you drew a correlation between revoking Brennan's clearance and his involvement in the "rigged Russian witch hunt." He may use this statement to push the narrative that you are assailing the free functioning of our democratic legal system by trying to silence officials who worked on Russian election interference. He'll play both sides, though, doing what he can to stoke the idea that you are trying to cover something up.

Your tweet about Brennan's mistakes while CIA director may also be used by Putin to fuel conspiracy theories about the agency, much like the deep state conspiracy theories about the FBI and its purported politicization. This helps him in his goal of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions.

China: Wargaming

We are engaged in multiple wars with China, which you referenced in your tweet when you said, "All of the fools that are so focused on looking only at Russia should start also looking in another direction, China." With $16 billion worth of US tariffs against China going into effect this week, our trade war with China is ongoing.

Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen is in Washington this week. While he will participate in relatively low-level trade talks, the fact that President Xi Jinping is open to talking again may mean Xi is feeling domestic pressure to negotiate an end to the trade war.

However, you should expect the war of words to continue, especially because Xi likely took note of National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow's statements last week emphasizing your "willingness to continue this battle." Kudlow's comments about the Chinese economy and yuan "slipping" were likely viewed as threats against China, and they'll respond with threats of their own.

National security adviser John Bolton's comments expressing concern over potential Chinese hacking of US elections are also likely going to elicit a response of some kind from Beijing. Chinese officials know that Russian election meddling has been met with US sanctions but also caused internal divisions for your team, so they will likely feign dismay but won't be overly concerned about any repercussions.

More tariffs aren't the only kind of strike the Chinese may be planning against us. The Pentagon now assesses that the Chinese military -- with its estimated $190 billion defense budget last year -- is "likely training for strikes against US and allied targets." The Pentagon is also reporting that China is increasing efforts to develop its nuclear capabilities, including by developing its ability to launch nuclear missiles from the air. This would give it a full triad (air, land and sea) of nuclear capable delivery systems, a signal that they are preparing to match us in conventional, as well as unconventional, areas of engagement.

Syria: Stepping back

Your decision to withhold $230 million in development assistance to Syria is likely being met with cheers from Russia and Iran, who will see it as an indication that you are handing more control -- literally and figuratively -- over to them. Because your tweet says it is time for other "countries [to] help us," involved parties -- including President Bashar al-Assad, ISIS and members of our coalition -- probably think you are announcing a draw down in US assistance in Syria in advance of a US troop draw down, which they know is one of your near-term goals.

Iran and Russia may also feel that they can use your tweet to show you're willing to cut assistance and use Syrian lives as a negotiating tactic to get other countries to contribute more militarily and financially to improve the situation in Syria. On the heels of your decision to cut US assistance, Putin publicly called for more humanitarian assistance for Syria. Putin is no humanitarian -- he has backed "animal Assad" and Assad's grave human rights abuses -- but Putin wants to position himself as the power center for postwar Syria on all fronts, because it gives him more control and you less.

Syria will likely be a key agenda item for Bolton's meetings with the Israelis and later with the Russians in the coming days. We assess that Israel will be focused on our efforts to counter Iran in Syria while the Russians will, because they want less of us in Syria, reassure Bolton that the United States stepping back is responsible.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 725353

Reported Deaths: 13373
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion990831737
Lake53265963
Allen40302675
Hamilton35392408
St. Joseph35350550
Elkhart28304438
Tippecanoe22315217
Vanderburgh22252396
Porter18596306
Johnson17856376
Hendricks17121313
Clark12908191
Madison12549339
Vigo12400244
Monroe11827168
LaPorte11736210
Delaware10595185
Howard9837215
Kosciusko9358117
Hancock8225140
Bartholomew8038155
Warrick7761155
Floyd7636177
Wayne7007199
Grant7003174
Boone6660101
Morgan6543139
Dubois6143117
Marshall5973111
Dearborn577977
Cass5777105
Henry5675102
Noble556583
Jackson500172
Shelby488596
Lawrence4482120
Gibson434191
Harrison433071
Clinton426653
DeKalb424184
Montgomery423188
Whitley393739
Huntington386980
Steuben381857
Miami379766
Knox371190
Jasper362147
Putnam358260
Wabash352578
Adams340554
Ripley338670
Jefferson328881
White312554
Daviess295499
Wells290481
Decatur283392
Fayette278462
Greene276285
Posey270733
Scott264553
LaGrange264270
Clay258645
Randolph239781
Washington239332
Spencer230831
Jennings229048
Starke213852
Fountain211846
Sullivan210942
Owen196356
Fulton194240
Jay190930
Carroll187820
Perry182537
Orange182154
Rush172725
Vermillion167843
Franklin167235
Tipton161945
Parke145616
Blackford134332
Pike132834
Pulaski116045
Newton107034
Brown101441
Crawford99114
Benton98114
Martin87515
Warren80915
Switzerland7828
Union70610
Ohio56211
Unassigned0413

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1078734

Reported Deaths: 19344
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1253471392
Cuyahoga1113202107
Hamilton797471200
Montgomery512091012
Summit46916933
Lucas41890782
Butler38250580
Stark32150907
Lorain24874480
Warren24236297
Mahoning21439586
Lake20548368
Clermont19719238
Delaware18478131
Licking16384210
Fairfield16116199
Trumbull15974466
Medina15213262
Greene15013244
Clark13942297
Wood13038188
Portage12792201
Allen11590231
Richland11300198
Miami10656215
Muskingum8787132
Wayne8760210
Columbiana8743229
Pickaway8540121
Marion8502135
Tuscarawas8461243
Erie7840154
Hancock6884126
Ross6830152
Ashtabula6765169
Geauga6664148
Scioto6393101
Belmont5837167
Union569647
Lawrence5542102
Jefferson5487151
Huron5419119
Darke5342122
Sandusky5322120
Seneca5258121
Athens518158
Washington5138109
Auglaize487884
Mercer479785
Shelby467693
Knox4477110
Madison435061
Putnam4263100
Ashland420989
Fulton420469
Defiance417797
Crawford3960106
Brown392457
Logan380976
Preble378498
Clinton369961
Ottawa366179
Highland353161
Williams337275
Champaign329658
Guernsey315353
Jackson311851
Perry294550
Morrow283739
Fayette281049
Hardin270164
Henry267966
Coshocton263958
Holmes2591101
Van Wert242663
Pike237333
Adams236552
Gallia235048
Wyandot230654
Hocking214862
Carroll191047
Paulding171740
Meigs144339
Noble133437
Monroe131242
Morgan108323
Harrison107437
Vinton82115
Unassigned02
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