Biden on Russian bounties story: Trump doesn’t seem to be “cognitively aware” of what’s going on

Trump

“I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive ability with the cognitive ability of the man I am running against,” he said today at a press conference, his first in three months.

He’s really going there, is he?

There’s no avoiding the issue of mental competence in this campaign, as you know if you saw the Rasmussen poll last night. The public has suspicions about Biden, especially the cohort of senior citizens that seems interested in voting Democratic this year but might need some persuading. Biden’s evidently decided that, if this fight is coming, he might as well go on offense.

“The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty if that’s the case,” he went on to say of Trump and the intelligence on Russian bounties targeting U.S. troops. “And if he was briefed and nothing was done about this, that’s a dereliction of duty.”

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This reminds me a bit of Team Bush’s strategy against Kerry in 2004, which was to take Kerry’s core strength — his military service — and turn it into a weakness via the Swift Boat stuff. Biden’s strategy looks to be a twist on that, to take his own core weakness — the doubts about his acuity — and try to make it Trump’s. The president, after all, doesn’t always have “the best words” during interviews. He relies heavily on verbal tics like “strongly” and “powerfully.” He’s never been a stickler about the finer details of policy, which frequently leaves him filibustering in interviews when he gets a question about specifics. Biden has material to work with. And the advantage he has is that he doesn’t need to convince the public that Trump’s “lost a step.” All he needs to do is convince them that acuity is an issue for both of them to some extent, which makes it a wash. He’s trying to neutralize the subject of cognitive decline on Election Day, not hang it around Trump’s neck.

The fact that the White House’s best defense on the Russian bounties story for the moment is that the president don’t read his intelligence briefing materials makes it that much easier for Biden.

The Times has new information this afternoon about that intelligence. The spin from John Ratcliffe and Gina Haspel is that the intel about the bounties is still being reviewed. Essentially, it’s half-baked; you don’t serve it to the president until it’s fully cooked. Whoever’s leaking to the NYT obviously wants to counter that perception because they’re now sharing details about the evidence. The suspicions about bounties don’t just come from jihadi prisoners telling U.S. interrogators what they think they want to hear. There’s a money trail, allegedly.

American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, which was among the evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence.

Though the United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban before, analysts concluded from other intelligence that the transfers were most likely part of a bounty program that detainees described during interrogations. Investigators also identified by name numerous Afghans in a network linked to the suspected Russian operation, the officials said — including, two of them added, a man believed to have served as an intermediary for distributing some of the funds and who is now thought to be in Russia.

“The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump,” the Times continues, which, I take it, explains the leaker’s motives. The story goes on to say that yesterday’s briefing at the White House for some House Republicans was delivered mainly by Mark Meadows and John Ratcliffe, who had recently been House members themselves, as well as yes-man NSA Robert O’Brien. The point of it seems to have been to arm the audience with the talking point that the intelligence just wasn’t ready to share with the president yet and that’s why he wasn’t briefed. The Times leaker is trying to counter that. Additionally, NBC is confirming this afternoon that the White House had some intel about the bounties as early as 2019, a claim sources also made to the AP. The longer the time horizon for this story becomes, the harder it is to believe that it was never mentioned to POTUS.

Trump enemies beyond Biden are piling on about it this afternoon. Some of those enemies are “soft” opponents…

…and some are the opposite:

Even Senate Republicans (well, some Senate Republicans) are demanding answers, which makes me laugh. What are they going to do if Trump tells them no?

“I want to understand how it’s conceivably possible that the president didn’t know. How does that possibly happen?” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said. “Number two, what is their plan to make sure that our enemies know that if you target American servicemen and women, the consequences are going to be draconian? And right now, I want to hear their plan for Taliban and GRU agents in body bags.”

Oh, knock it off. The caucus has been good soldiers for Trump for three and a half years, they’re not going to start challenging him in the home stretch of an election on which control of the Senate depends. Especially with Biden pushing the matter front and center in the campaign. Time for partisans on each side to line up.

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