How the Trump Administration Stepped Up Pursuit of WikiLeaks’s Assange

WASHINGTON — Soon after he took over as C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo privately told lawmakers about a new target for American spies: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Intent on finding out more about Mr. Assange’s dealings with Russian intelligence, the C.I.A. began last year to conduct traditional espionage against the organization, according to American officials. At the same time, federal law enforcement officials were reconsidering Mr. Assange’s designation as a journalist and debating whether to charge him with a crime.

Mr. Pompeo and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashed an aggressive campaign against Mr. Assange, reversing an Obama-era view of WikiLeaks as a journalistic entity. For more than a year, the nation’s spies and investigators sought to learn about Mr. Assange and his ties to Russia as senior administration officials came to believe he was in league with Moscow.

Their work culminated in prosecutors secretly filing charges this summer against Mr. Assange, which were inadvertently revealed in an unrelated court filing and confirmed on Friday by a person familiar with the inquiry. Taken together, the C.I.A. spying and the Justice Department’s targeting of Mr. Assange represented a remarkable shift by both the American government and President Trump, who repeatedly lauded WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign for its releases of Democratic emails, stolen by Russian agents, that damaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

A prosecution of Mr. Assange could pit the interests of the administration against Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Assange could help answer the central question of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III: whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the presidential race. If the case against Mr. Assange includes charges that he acted as an agent of a foreign power, anyone who knowingly cooperated with him could be investigated as a co-conspirator, former senior law-enforcement officials said.

Justice Department officials did not disclose the charges against Mr. Assange on Friday, prompting speculation around Washington about their nature. The case might be tied to the hacked Democratic emails, which are part of Mr. Mueller’s evidence of the wide-ranging election interference personally ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The charges could also be related to WikiLeaks’s publication last year of C.I.A. tools to penetrate computers and mobile devices, the so-called Vault 7 disclosures.

National security officials have long viewed Mr. Assange with hostility and considered him a threat. “He was a loathed figure inside the government,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who served as a deputy national intelligence officer for Russia under the director of national intelligence until May.

This account is drawn from current and former officials familiar with the government’s effort to step up scrutiny of Mr. Assange.

He first raised the ire of the American government in 2010 when Chelsea Manning, then known as Army Specialist Bradley Manning, began feeding classified documents from military computers in Iraq to WikiLeaks.

American law enforcement officials began seriously investigating the ties between WikiLeaks and Russia after Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed closely held intelligence secrets, escaped to Russia in June 2013. Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks editor and one of Mr. Assange’s close advisers, accompanied Mr. Snowden to Moscow. Law enforcement officials wanted to know what role the group played in brokering Mr. Snowden’s asylum in Russia.

A year later, F.B.I. and C.I.A. officials began arguing internally that Mr. Assange was an information broker, not a journalist, former officials said. At one point, they pushed for a meeting with President Barack Obama to make the case that he was not a journalist, according to people briefed on the talks. The meeting never occurred.

Inside the Justice Department under Mr. Obama, some officials expressed reluctance to pursue Mr. Assange because he could be construed as part of the news media. Obama administration officials were hesitant to wage a high-profile fight with Mr. Assange after being criticized heavily by the news media for obtaining records of journalists through court subpoenas in pursuit of leakers. The step is considered an intrusion on press freedoms.

Mr. Assange seemed to have crossed into uncharted ground by 2016 with the publication of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, former F.B.I. officials said. He was deliberately attacking Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump and coordinating with Russian intelligence operatives, wittingly or not, to maximize the damage to her campaign.

Mr. Pompeo, then a Republican congressman from Kansas, initially praised the WikiLeaks disclosures. But once he took over the C.I.A., his rhetoric hardened.

His first speech as director came a month after WikiLeaks published the archive of hacking tools stolen from the C.I.A., seriously eroding the agency’s ability to conduct electronic espionage.

Mr. Pompeo laid down a gauntlet. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” he said last April.

To support his assessment, Mr. Pompeo cited how the group had encouraged followers to join the C.I.A. and steal secrets, and how “it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States while seeking support from anti-democratic countries.”

After his speech, Mr. Pompeo headed to Congress to privately brief members conducting intelligence oversight on the C.I.A. efforts against WikiLeaks. Mr. Pompeo said the agency was conducting counterintelligence collection, which can include developing informants and penetrating computers overseas, officials said.

Mr. Pompeo also seemed to hold open the possibility that the intelligence community could begin other, more aggressive efforts to try to disrupt WikiLeaks. Some lawmakers expressed discomfort, according to an American official.

The speech by Mr. Pompeo, who has since become secretary of state, and other efforts were intended in part to pressure the Justice Department to intensify its reassessment of Mr. Assange, an intelligence official said.

Law enforcement officials had been trying to learn more about Mr. Assange’s knowledge of WikiLeaks’s interactions with Russian intelligence officers and its other actions, and for a time seemed willing to offer him some form of immunity from prosecutions in exchange for his testimony, reaching out to his lawyers. But Mr. Assange’s release of the Vault 7 tools ended those negotiations.

Senior Justice Department officials pushed in 2017 to declare internally that WikiLeaks was not covered by special rules governing how investigators interact with journalists. The regulations require higher-level approval to obtain journalists’ records, like phone logs and emails, as part of investigations into leaks of classified information. By releasing hacking tools and playing a role in disrupting the election, Mr. Assange, the senior officials argued, was acting more like an agent of a foreign power than a journalist.

Mr. Assange may have begun working with Russian intelligence without knowing with whom he dealt, said Ms. Kendall-Taylor, now a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security. The intermediaries and cutouts sent by Russian intelligence to deal with Mr. Assange were supposed to give him plausible deniability.

“But as he spent more time, the relationship with the Russians grew closer,” she said. “I would expect that he knows what he is doing by the end of this.”

Federal prosecutors began working on a sealed criminal complaint this summer, a former law enforcement official said. It was not clear whether the Justice Department declared that Mr. Assange was not a journalist or whether prosecutors gathered sufficient evidence to charge him without resolving that issue.

Mr. Assange’s case also has implications for Mr. Mueller.

In July, the special counsel charged 12 Russian military intelligence operatives with interfering in the 2016 election. That indictment contained thinly veiled references to WikiLeaks, identifying it as “Organization 1.” Notably, the indictment did not identify the organization as a member of the news media, and it asserted that the Russian operatives transferred their stolen documents to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks encouraged “Guccifer 2.0,” the online persona of the Russian operatives, to provide it with the Democratic documents because it would “have a much higher impact,” according to court papers.

Whether anyone connected with the Trump campaign worked with Mr. Assange or others to carry out Russia’s scheme to interfere in the 2016 presidential race is at the heart of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.

So far, no evidence has publicly emerged that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow’s disruption, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any “collusion” with Russia. But the special counsel’s office continues to summon witnesses before a federal grand jury, asking about interactions between allies of Mr. Trump and Mr. Assange through intermediaries or other means.

What has become abundantly clear since the election is that various associates of Mr. Trump’s tried their best to figure out what information Mr. Assange possessed, how it might harm the Clinton campaign and when he planned to release it.

About a month before the election, for instance, Donald Trump Jr., a key adviser to his father, sent WikiLeaks a private message on Twitter asking about speculation that Mr. Assange planned to soon release documents that would prove devastating to Mrs. Clinton. “What’s behind this Wed leak I keep reading about?” he asked. He has said he got no response and never corresponded with WikiLeaks again.

Charges against Mr. Assange would be a big step, said Joshua Geltzer, a former official in the Justice Department’s national security division. But, he added, the precise nature of the charges may not be known until Mr. Assange is in the custody of American officials. Mr. Assange has lived in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, forced there as he sought refuge from Swedish prosecutors who pursued him on charges of sexual abuse.

“The government has certainly been concerned about and looking at Assange for a long time,” Mr. Geltzer said. “Ultimately, the stakes are high in this one, given the complexities of the case, and the government must be prepared for that going in.”

Katie Benner and Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting.

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On Politics With Lisa Lerer: ActBlue, the Democrats’ Not-So-Secret Weapon

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

There have been a lot of Democratic winners this election cycle. Many are historic firsts. More than two dozen are veterans. And more than 100 are women.

But all have at least one thing in common: ActBlue.

The online giving platform emerged as the piggy bank of the Democratic resistance in the 2018 midterms, funneling nearly $1.6 billion in contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. That’s more than an 80 percent increase over what it brought in four years ago.

And while ActBlue wasn’t the sole source of small-dollar donors for Democrats, it was certainly a powerful one: The candidates, committees and organizations who used the platform — more than 14,500 of them — paid credit card transaction fees and, in turn, got to outsource their financial collections to tested, easy-to-use software. (The group, a nonprofit, funds its staff of about 100 through donations.)

Republicans have long benefited from stronger support among wealthy donors and the business community, relying on a network of lavishly funded super PACs. But ActBlue has changed the game for Democrats. Founded in 2004, the nonprofit has developed into a trusted platform, turning the once-cumbersome process of donating to a campaign into something that can be done with just one click of a cellphone.

The technology encourages small, recurring donations that go directly to candidates, giving campaigns more control over how the money was spent. The money can also be transferred quickly, wired from ActBlue into campaign coffers by the next morning.

“There used to be these old ways of thinking that there was just a finite pool of people to reach out to when you were doing it all on paper,” said Erin Hill, the executive director of ActBlue. “Technology can help democratize this process in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago.”

Of course, money doesn’t guarantee success. Four of the five House candidates who received the most in small donations lost their elections, according to a New York Times analysis conducted in mid-October. (ActBlue doesn’t release the top recipients of donations.)

But strategists on both sides say the flood of small dollars — helped along by $110 million from the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg — changed the race for Democrats in the final weeks of the election season, allowing the party to remain competitive in reach districts, dominate the airwaves and force Republicans to spread out their spending.

“Their money was astronomical,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC. “If you had told me last year this is how much money they would have to spend in these races, I would have laughed at you.”

Republicans, too, are noticing the power of small dollars. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, issued a dire warning to Republican donors in a meeting after the election, and he charged his political team with figuring out how to better tap into a wider pool of contributors.

“ActBlue wasn’t ActBlue in year one, two or three,” said Mr. Bliss. “Someone has to develop a brand. It’s doable but takes time.”

They’ll have a lot of catching up to do. In the early handicapping of the 2020 presidential race, some of the strongest potential contenders are those with expansive lists of small donors, a group that includes Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke, who lost his bid for a Texas Senate seat. That’s in part because of the success of Mr. Sanders, perhaps the highest-profile ActBlue user, who powered his 2016 primary campaign through small dollars.

“We don’t go away after a campaign,” said Ms. Hill. “Campaigns, whether they won or lost, they disappeared on Wednesday. We are permanent infrastructure.”

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Election week (now, month?) updates

We’re 10 days out from Election Day and votes are still (!) being counted. Here’s the latest on where things stand:

Senate races

• Florida is still, well, being Florida. Rick Scott, the Republican governor, held a 12,603-vote lead over the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. The state is now waiting for the results of a state-mandated manual recount. Here’s how that recount works.

Governor races

• The Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid to be the next governor of Georgia on Friday night. In a speech, she sharply criticized her Republican rival, Brian Kemp, but said she saw no legal path to overturn the results. Mr. Kemp is now poised to become governor in January. Read the latest here.

• Ron DeSantis, the Republican, leads his Democratic opponent, Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee by enough to avoid an order by state officials for a manual recount. Mr. Gillum said he would continue to push to have all votes counted before any election results were certified.

House races

• Democrats are up to a gain of 36 seats, from the 26 seats they had gained on election night. Six races are still outstanding in Utah, California, New York and Texas. We’re keeping a close eye on Utah’s Fourth District, where Representative Mia Love, the Republican, is trailing by just over 1,000 votes, and Texas’ 23rd District, where Representative Will Hurd, the Republican, leads by over 1,000 votes.

We’ll be updating the undecided races through the weekend.

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What to read tonight

Amazon is coming to Long Island City in Queens, N.Y., and Crystal City in Arlington, Va. Check out what those places look like now before they’re forever changed by the tech giant.

Thousands of Californians have fled the wildfires, driving through flames and losing almost everything. Here are the stories of nine of them. And here’s what you can do to help.

Sasha Issenberg, a friend of the newsletter, tries his hand at fiction with this fascinating extended thought experiment into what a “conscious uncoupling of these United States” could look like.

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… Seriously

I’m sorry, Sour Patch Kids cereal just sounds completely repulsive. But open to hearing arguments in favor. If you try it: PLEASE LET US KNOW. (And send pictures!).

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Thanks for reading. Politics is more than what goes on inside the White House. On Politics brings you the people, issues and ideas reshaping our world.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].

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Key US Senate Republican says acting AG comfortable with Russia probe

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Thursday (Nov 15) that acting Attorney-General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees a probe of whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, told him he had no concerns about Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation.

“He’s seen nothing out of bounds or no concerns at all about Mr Mueller,” Mr Graham, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters in comments confirmed by his spokesman.

Mr Graham, after a meeting with Mr Whitaker, said he was confident there would be no interference in the investigation and said he said he saw no need for Mr Whitaker to recuse himself as Democrats have demanded, the spokesman confirmed.

Mr Whitaker, a Trump loyalist and a former US attorney for the southern district of Iowa, had criticised the Mueller probe as too far-reaching before he was appointed by Mr Trump last week to run the Justice Department.

Mr Trump has denied that his 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia and calls the Mueller probe a witch hunt.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Mr Trump by undermining Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russia has denied any meddling in the election.

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White House aide Mira Ricardel removed after high-profile row with Melania Trump

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, AFP) – A senior White House official whom First Lady Melania Trump demanded be removed from her post has been transferred, the Trump administration said on Wednesday (Nov 14).

Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel “will continue to support the president as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the administration”, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The president is grateful for Ms. Ricardel’s continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities.”

Sanders did not say what Ricardel’s new job would be, and she did not respond to follow-up questions.

Melania Trump issued an unusual public statement demanding that Ricardel leave the White House after clashes between National Security Adviser John Bolton’s top deputy and the first lady’s staff over her trip to Africa last month.

Ricardel threatened to withhold National Security Council resources for the trip unless she or another NSC staffer were included in the first lady’s entourage, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Melania Trump and Ricardel have never met, the person added.

Asked on Tuesday about reports Melania Trump sought Ricardel’s ouster, her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said: “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

Bolton hired Ricardel in April from the Commerce Department. She previously worked in the Defense Department under President George W. Bush.

While Bolton likes her, according to Trump administration officials, Ricardel is widely disliked among other White House staff.

She’s regarded as inflexible and obsessed with process, which some officials complain has complicated coordination between the NSC and Cabinet agencies.

Ricardel’s ouster comes as Trump considers a range of changes to his administration. He said on Wednesday in an interview with the Daily Caller that he’ll soon “be making a decision” on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has reportedly fallen out of favour with the president over what he’s described as an illegal immigration “crisis” at the US border with Mexico.

But Nielsen remained in her job on Wednesday, two days after the Washington Post first reported that Trump planned to remove her, and she travelled to the border with Defense Secretary James Mattis to review the work of US soldiers Trump deployed before the midterm elections last week.

Nielsen is a close ally of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who preceded her at the Department of Homeland Security. It’s possible her departure may lead to his, though he has said he will serve through Trump’s re-election contest in 2020.

Trump was seen talking to Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, at an Election Night gathering last week, according to two people familiar with the matter – an encounter that’s fed rumours among Trump associates that Ayers may replace Kelly.

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Opinion | Truth and Virtue in the Age of Trump

Remember when freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose? These days it’s just another word for giving lots of money to Donald Trump.

What with the midterm elections — and the baseless Republican cries of voting fraud — I don’t know how many people heard about Trump’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, wife of casino owner and Trump megadonor Sheldon Adelson. The medal is normally an acknowledgment of extraordinary achievement or public service; on rare occasions this includes philanthropy. But does anyone think the Adelsons’ charitable activities were responsible for this honor?

Now, this may seem like a trivial story. But it’s a reminder that the Trumpian attitude toward truth — which is that it’s defined by what benefits Trump and his friends, not by verifiable facts — also applies to virtue. There is no heroism, there are no good works, except those that serve Trump.

About truth: Trump, of course, lies a lot — in the run-up to the midterms he was lying in public more than 100 times each week. But his assault on truth goes deeper than the frequency of his lies, because Trump and his allies don’t accept the very notion of objective facts. “Fake news” doesn’t mean actual false reporting; it means any report that hurts Trump, no matter how solidly verified. And conversely, any assertion that helps Trump, whether it’s about job creation or votes, is true precisely because it helps him.

The attempt by Trump and his party to shut down the legally mandated Florida recount with claims, based on no evidence, of large-scale voting fraud fits right into this partisan epistemology. Do Republicans really believe that there were vast numbers of fraudulent or forged ballots? Even asking that question is a category error. They don’t “really believe” anything, except that they should get what they want. Any vote count that might favor a Democrat is bad for them; therefore it’s fraudulent, no evidence needed.

The same worldview explains Republicans’ addiction to conspiracy theories. After all, if people keep insisting on the truth of something that hurts their party, it can’t be out of respect for the facts — because in their world, there are no neutral facts.

So the people making inconvenient assertions must be in the pay of sinister forces. In Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has probably won a Senate seat on the strength of late-counted ballots. Did you know that the state G.O.P. has filed a freedom of information request for information on interactions between election officials and, you guessed it, George Soros?

It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that this rejection of objective facts and insistence that anyone insisting on inconvenient truths must be part of a left-wing conspiracy dominated the Republican psyche long before Trump. Most notably, the claim that the overwhelming evidence for global warming is a giant hoax, the product of a vast plot involving thousands of scientists around the world, has been G.O.P. orthodoxy for years.

True, the party’s presidential candidates used to be mealy mouthed about rejecting facts and endorsing conspiracy theories, rather than being full-throated crazy. But Trump is only going where many of his party’s senior figures have been for a long time.

Anyway, my point is that the rejection of any standard besides whether it helps or hurts Trump extends beyond true or false to basic values. In Trumpworld, which is now indistinguishable from G.O.P.world, good and bad are defined solely by whether the interests of The Leader are served. Thus, Trump attacks and insults our closest allies while praising brutal dictators who flatter him (and declares neo-Nazis “very fine people”).

And the same goes for heroism and cowardice. A genuine hero like John McCain, who was critical of Trump, gets dismissed as a failure: “He’s not a war hero. … I like people who weren’t captured.” Meanwhile, Miriam Adelson, whose service to the nation basically consists of giving Trump campaign contributions, gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Oh, and this, too, predates Trump. Remember how Republicans denigrated John Kerry’s war record?

As with so much about the current political scene, it’s essential to realize and acknowledge that this is not a symmetric, both-sides-do-it situation. If you say something along the lines of “truth and virtue are now defined by partisanship,” you’re actually enabling the bad guys, because only one party thinks that way.

Democrats, being human, sometimes have biased views and engage in motivated reasoning. But they haven’t abandoned the whole notion of objective facts and nonpolitical goodness; Republicans have.

What all of this means is that what’s going on in America right now isn’t politics as usual. It’s much more existential than that. You have to be truly delusional to see the Republicans’ response to their party’s midterm setback as anything but an attempted power grab by a would-be authoritarian movement, which rejects any opposition or even criticism as illegitimate. Our democracy is still very much in danger.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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‘Tell Your Boss’: Recording Is Seen to Link Saudi Crown Prince More Strongly to Khashoggi Killing

WASHINGTON — Shortly after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated last month, a member of the kill team instructed a superior over the phone to “tell your boss,” believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, that the operatives had carried out their mission, according to three people familiar with a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing collected by Turkish intelligence.

The recording, shared last month with the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist whose death prompted an international outcry.

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consolate there, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.

Turkish intelligence officers have told American officials they believe that Mr. Mutreb, a security officer who frequently traveled with Prince Mohammed, was speaking to one of the prince’s aides. While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mr. Mutreb also said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”

“A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer now at the Brookings Institution. “It is pretty incriminating evidence.”

Turkish officials have said that the audio does not conclusively implicate Prince Mohammed, and American intelligence and other government officials have cautioned that however compelling the recording may be, it is still not irrefutable evidence of his involvement in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

Even if Mr. Mutreb believed the killing was ordered by the crown prince, for example, he may have had an inaccurate understanding of the origins of the order. Prince Mohammed is not specifically named on the recording, and intelligence officials do not have ironclad certainty that Mr. Mutreb was referring to him.

In a statement on Monday, Saudi officials denied that the crown prince “had any knowledge whatsoever” of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Referring to Mr. Mutreb’s instructions to “tell your boss,” the Saudi statement said that Turkey had “allowed our intelligence services to hear recordings, and at no moment was there any reference to the mentioned phrase in the such recordings.”

The Turks may possess multiple recordings, including surveillance of telephone calls, and the Turkish authorities may have shared the audio only selectively.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

The call was part of a recording that Turkish officials played for Ms. Haspel during her visit in October to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, but they did not allow her to bring it back to the United States. On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced that his government had shared the audio with Saudi Arabia, the United States and other Western allies.

But while Turkish officials have played the recording for American and other intelligence agencies and provided transcripts, the Turks have not handed over the recording for independent analysis, according to Turkish officials.

Turkey shared evidence from the case with “a large number of friendly nations,” a spokesman for Mr. Erdogan, Fahrettin Altun, said on Monday. Reacting to French criticism of Turkey’s handling of the case, Mr. Altun said that the Turkish government had played an audio recording for French intelligence officials and given them transcripts.

“Let us not forget that this case would have been already covered up had it not been for Turkey’s determined efforts,” Mr. Altun said.

The growing evidence that Prince Mohammed was involved in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is certain to intensify pressure on the White House, which appeared intent on relying on a lack of concrete proof of his involvement to preserve its relationship with the crown prince. Prince Mohammed has fostered a close relationship with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and the Trump administration has turned Saudi Arabia into Washington’s most crucial Arab partner.

Some Trump advisers have argued that they would need indisputable evidence of Prince Mohammed’s involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing before they would punish him or the kingdom more harshly. Turkish officials have said the recording contains evidence of a premeditated killing, in which Saudi agents quickly strangled Mr. Khashoggi and methodically dismembered his body with a bone saw.

The administration, according to current and former officials, is hoping that making some modest moves on sanctions and curtailing support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen will satisfy critics, including those on Capitol Hill.

But the shift in power in Congress, where Democrats take control of the House in January, is also increasing pressure on the administration to take more punitive action. The C.I.A. and other intelligence officials were set to brief Congress this week, and congressional leaders will press Ms. Haspel for her assessment of Prince Mohammed’s culpability.

Mr. Trump himself has suggested more information would be coming out. “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week,” he told reporters on Wednesday at the White House. “I am forming a very strong opinion.”

Signs of a hardening stance within the administration are emerging. The State Department issued a tough statement on Sunday saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Prince Mohammed in a phone call that “the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.”

Saudi officials planned to release their own inquiry in the coming days, but Turkey’s revelation that they and Western officials also have the transcripts of the recordings could force the Saudis to scramble before any presentation they planned to make.

Even without definitive proof, intelligence agencies had already concluded that only Prince Mohammed could have ordered the operation to kill Mr. Khashoggi, given the personal character of his governance and the depth of his control over the kingdom. Evidence from the tape also showed that Mr. Khashoggi was killed soon after he entered the room of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where the security team was waiting for him, further proof that the killing was planned, according to people briefed on the intelligence.

Current and former intelligence officials insisted that it is rare that all of the pieces of a complex puzzle like Mr. Khashoggi’s killing would ever be available. Intelligence, according to a former official, simply does not work like a spy thriller or television cop show where a case turns on a crystal-clear recording.

Investigators were unlikely to collect a piece of evidence that incontrovertibly links the crown prince to the killing, said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, who is set to lead the House Intelligence Committee next year.

“You are not going to have any of the people who carried out the murder speak openly about who they got their orders from or who is in the loop on it,” Mr. Schiff said in an interview. “That is not realistic to expect.”

The absence of direct evidence does not prevent the intelligence community from laying responsibility at Prince Mohammed’s feet. An intelligence assessment includes an agency’s best judgment on what happened based on the available facts and experience of officials.

Mr. Schiff promised that when he takes charge of the Intelligence Committee, he will investigate Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and examine Saudi Arabia’s actions more broadly in the Middle East, including its military campaign in Yemen, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.

“We need to do our own due diligence, we need to make sure we are getting good intelligence, and we need to make sure the administration doesn’t misrepresent to the country what foreign actors are doing,” Mr. Schiff said.

Nonetheless, current and former officials said they do not expect Mr. Trump to drop his support for Prince Mohammed.

“The Trump family and the president have built up such an overwhelming reliance on the crown prince that the relationship is now, in their view, too big to fail,” Mr. Schiff said.

Policymakers — not Ms. Haspel or Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence — will decide what sort of relationship to have with Prince Mohammed and what punishment Saudi Arabia should face for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, current and former officials said.

Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London.

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Matthew Whitaker: An Attack Dog With Ambition Beyond Protecting Trump

WASHINGTON — President Trump first noticed Matthew G. Whitaker on CNN in the summer of 2017 and liked what he saw — a partisan defender who insisted there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. So that July, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, interviewed Mr. Whitaker about joining the president’s team as a legal attack dog against the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

At that point, the White House passed, leaving Mr. Whitaker, 49, to continue his media tour, writing on CNN’s website that Mr. Mueller’s investigation — which he had once called “crazy” — had gone too far.

Fifteen months later, the attack dog is in charge. With little ceremony on Wednesday, Mr. Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and put Mr. Whitaker, Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff, in charge of the Justice Department — and Mr. Mueller’s Russia investigation.

People close to Mr. Trump believe that he sent Mr. Whitaker to the department in part to limit the fallout from the Mueller investigation, one presidential adviser said.

White House aides and other people close to Mr. Trump anticipate that Mr. Whitaker will rein in any report summarizing Mr. Mueller’s investigation and will not allow the president to be subpoenaed.

Friends said that Mr. Whitaker, a former tight end for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, has greater attributes beyond his loyalty to Mr. Trump.

“He’s been underestimated before,” said Brenna Bird, a Republican county prosecutor in Iowa. “Some people look at his football background and they think, ‘Oh, he’s just a football player.’ He was an Iowa Hawkeye — he’ll tell you that. But he built a solid legal career completely independent of that.”

Winding Down the Russia Investigation

The decision to fire Mr. Sessions and replace him with Mr. Whitaker had been in the works since September, when the president began asking friends and associates if they thought it would be a good idea, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The goal was not unlike the first time the White House considered hiring Mr. Whitaker. As attorney general, he could wind down Mr. Mueller’s inquiry like the president wanted.

Mr. McGahn, for one, was a big proponent of the idea. So was Leonard A. Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society who regularly advises Mr. Trump on judges and other legal matters. Mr. Whitaker had also developed a strong rapport with John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff. Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, was a fan, too.

Judging by Mr. Trump’s public comments, the closed-door charm offensive was working. In an October interview on “Fox & Friends,” Mr. Trump said: “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

(On Friday, after reports surfaced that Mr. Whitaker had called courts “the inferior branch” of government and had been on the advisory board of a company that a federal judge shut down and fined nearly $26 million for cheating customers, Mr. Trump made a bizarre comment to reporters that he was not familiar with Mr. Whitaker. “I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Mr. Trump said as he left for first leg of a weekend trip to Paris.)

By early October, Mr. Whitaker was close to becoming acting attorney general, people familiar with the situation said, because Mr. Sessions had put out feelers to the White House that he wanted to resign. His relationship with the president had so degraded by that point that he could not make the offer to Mr. Trump in person.

But White House officials wanted to wait until after the midterm elections, when any criticism would not affect voting.

The concern was well founded. At 2:44 p.m. Wednesday, hours after the election was over, Mr. Trump posted his decision on Twitter that Mr. Whitaker would “become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States.”

“He will serve our Country well,” the president wrote.

Within minutes, Democrats criticized Mr. Whitaker’s previous comments about the Russia inquiry and demanded that he recuse himself from overseeing it. He also came under fire for serving on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing in Miami, the company that has been accused by the government of bilking millions of dollars from customers.

Mr. Whitaker’s time as executive director of the conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which accused many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, of legal and ethical violations also came under scrutiny. So did his legal views, including his stated belief that Marbury v. Madison, which established judicial review, was a bad ruling.

For now, Mr. Trump is standing by Mr. Whitaker — at least as a temporary solution.

“You know, it’s a shame that no matter who I put in, they go after them,” Mr. Trump said before leaving for Paris. “It’s very sad, I have to say. But he’s ‘acting.’ I think he’ll do a very good job. And we’ll see what happens.”

From Football Field to the Courtroom

Mr. Whitaker’s roots run deep in Iowa, where he was born and attended high school not far from Des Moines. He accepted a scholarship and played tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes, with whom he appeared in the 1991 Rose Bowl. Mr. Whitaker scored a couple of touchdowns during his football career, including a clever one on a field goal fake.

Mr. Whitaker did not break any records playing for the Hawkeyes, but in Iowa, college football is king. Playing for the Hawkeyes could open doors.

“By Big Ten standards, he was not an exceptional athlete,” said Don Patterson, an assistant coach during Mr. Whitaker’s time on the football team. “The things we liked about him were all those intangibles that have so much to do with winning. He’s a very disciplined person. Very hard-working. Very committed. Very bright, obviously.”

Mr. Whitaker, listed as 6 feet 4 inches tall and 240 pounds on the Hawkeyes’s 1992 roster, embraced his status as a former football player. He graduated from law school in 1995, and as a lawyer, he became involved in Republican politics.

When he considered whether to run for state treasurer in 2002, Mr. Whitaker called an old friend from law school, Charles Larson Jr., who had become the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.

“I knew immediately he’d be a great candidate,” said Mr. Larson, who went on to serve as the United States ambassador to Latvia. “He’d be exactly the type of candidate we’d love to have run. He had a great profile as an attorney and former Hawkeye. There’s always appeal there.”

The son of an elementary schoolteacher and a sports scoreboard salesman, Mr. Whitaker became the Republican nominee for treasurer in 2002. He toured Iowa’s 99 counties, campaigned with Senator Charles E. Grassley and marched in a parade in Sioux City. But he finished a distant second to a longtime Democratic incumbent.

Two years later, Mr. Whitaker was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as the United States attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. He had no experience in law enforcement, but he had the support of Mr. Grassley, who recommended him. The most important cases Mr. Whitaker cited in his questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee dealt with a personal injury claim and breaches of contracts.

“Iowans knew him as a star football player, of course,” Mr. Grassley said in an interview.

‘Relentless,’ ‘Abrasive,’ but also ‘Iowa Nice’

In interviews this week with several Iowa lawyers and politicians who know Mr. Whitaker, an image emerged of a respected, competent and sharply conservative lawyer with two distinct personas: a relentless and occasionally abrasive lawyer who fought for his clients and a genial politician who personified “Iowa nice” and could make an instant connection with a stranger.

“He practices law the way he played football,” said Robert Rigg, a defense lawyer and Drake University law professor who once was involved in a case with Mr. Whitaker. “He’s very aggressive. He’s very passionate about what he believes in.”

Either way, Mr. Whitaker’s profile was suddenly much higher as a top federal prosecutor in Des Moines. He came under criticism for a case his office brought in 2007 against the first openly gay member of the Iowa Legislature, Matt McCoy, a Democrat.

Mr. Whitaker’s office indicted Mr. McCoy on an attempted extortion charge, accusing him of using his authority as a state senator to force a former partner in a home security business to pay him $2,000. The former partner was paid by the F.B.I. to act as an informant and for several months recorded his conversations with Mr. McCoy.

But the evidence was not convincing. After a five-day trial in United States District Court in Des Moines, a jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict of not guilty.

“It was a horrible case — it was made up — and it was designed to take a high-profile Democrat who was popular, openly gay and listed as one of the top 100 rising stars in the Democratic Party and smear me,” Mr. McCoy said in an interview.

Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, rebutted Mr. McCoy. “The allegations of improper prosecution are ridiculous,” she said. “The Justice Department signed off on the case. The F.B.I. investigated it, and career prosecutors handled the case every step of the way.”

As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Whitaker continued to show political ambition. Matt Strawn, a former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, said Mr. Whitaker was someone “known inside Republican circles as someone you want on your side in a fight.”

Mr. Whitaker was one of 61 candidates who applied for three spots on the Iowa Supreme Court in 2011. He arrived at his interview with his family and his minister, according to a person who was part of the vetting process, but he was eliminated early and was not one of the nine names advanced to Gov. Terry Branstad for consideration.

In 2012, Mr. Whitaker supported the presidential campaigns of Tim Pawlenty and then Rick Perry. And in 2014, he was one of several Republicans who sought his party’s nomination for a United States Senate seat. Mr. Whitaker finished fourth in the primary against Joni Ernst, who went on to win the general election.

Mr. Whitaker’s Senate campaign website outlined a platform that was conservative but well within the Republican mainstream. He described his opposition to abortion and the Affordable Care Act, and his support for gun rights, term limits and a limited role for government.

“Over the last few years, we have seen too many politicians disregard the Constitution as they voted to increase the size and scope of government,” Mr. Whitaker said on his campaign website. “I will use my legal experience gained as a federal attorney to hold them accountable.”

But on at least one issue, Mr. Whitaker bucked the party line, taking a surprising stand against the Renewable Fuel Standard, which led to an increase in ethanol production and a boon for Iowa corn farmers. In a 2014 column in The Cedar Rapids Gazette, he acknowledged that his position was considered “heresy in electoral politics in Iowa.”

“I want to do what’s right for my children and your children,” Mr. Whitaker said in that column. “Too many politicians are so worried about getting re-elected that they fear taking an unpopular position. I don’t.”

In recent days, Mr. Whitaker has also drawn criticism for his close ties to Sam Clovis, a fellow Iowan whose campaign for state treasurer he headed in 2014. Mr. Clovis, who later became an adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, is a witness in Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.

Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Clovis last year to a position in the Department of Agriculture, but Mr. Clovis withdrew from consideration after scrutiny of his qualifications and his connections to the Russia investigation.

Getting Noticed by Trump

By October of last year, Mr. Whitaker was telling people that he was working as a political commentator on CNN in order to get the attention of Mr. Trump, said John Q. Barrett, a professor at St. John’s University School of Law who met Mr. Whitaker during a television appearance last June.

His plan worked. Mr. Whitaker returned to the Justice Department in October 2017, having once again earned the support of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers inside the West Wing.

Colleagues described him as affable and said he quickly ingratiated himself with the staff in Mr. Sessions’s office and those elsewhere in the building. But that reputation shifted over time as some people began to view him as the eyes and ears of the White House, current and former Justice Department officials said.

During a briefing this spring on a sensitive criminal case that took place with members of Mr. Sessions’s staff, Mr. Whitaker sighed and rolled his eyes during the presentation, according to a person briefed on the episode. His behavior during the meeting quickly spread through the building and was considered by career prosecutors to be disrespectful. Some colleagues also began to regard him with caution.

“He is smart and politically astute,” said Gregory A. Brower, the former head of the F.B.I.’s congressional affairs office. “He’s certainly become well connected to the administration in a short time.”

Mr. Grassley spoke to Mr. Whitaker this week, after the president’s announcement, and Mr. Whitaker conceded that he does not know how long he will remain in charge of the Justice Department.

In truth, he told Mr. Grassley, he hasn’t “the slightest idea.”

Adam Goldman and Michael D. Shear reported from Washington, and Mitch Smith from Iowa City and Des Moines. Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Fandos, Katie Benner, Charlie Savage, Mark Landler and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman from New York.

Follow Adam Goldman and Michael Shear on Twitter: @adamgoldmanNYT and @shearm.

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Taylor Swift, Donald Trump and an America That Confounds the World

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau chief. Sign up to get it by email. Here’s where to find all our Oceania coverage.

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After Taylor Swift sang “Bad Blood” and “Gorgeous,” before the trapeze artists appeared, while the fireworks were bright and the rain was still bucketing down, I smiled and thought: This is so American.

That was last Friday, when she performed in Sydney at ANZ Stadium. I was there with my young daughter and son, and it’s not the first time I’ve contemplated what pop music could teach my kids about the United States.

As I wrote when they were toddlers in Mexico, “our ears pull in the first lessons of culture,” and America’s greatest appeal can often be found in the sounds showing off the country’s carefree creative exuberance.

Friday’s concert, though, came at a serious time: just a few days before the American midterm elections that determined control of Congress. And what I saw in Taylor Swift’s no-holds-barred extravaganza (even though I’m a middling fan of her music) was some important context for all of us trying to figure out what on earth is going on in the U.S. of A.

What it told me — or reminded me — was that the country is impossible to hold down, that it’s far too big and too dynamic for any one person to totally corral or define. No place that can produce Childish Gambino and Taylor Swift, or Lady Gaga and Cardi B, will ever be easy to control.

President Trump received a form of that message with Tuesday’s election results. Despite structural barriers that favor Republicans in many states (from gerrymandered districts to voter ID restrictions), the House of Representatives flipped to the Democrats.

The Republicans added seats in the Senate but the results will no doubt lead to more pressure for the president and more open political conflict.

House leaders have already signaled that they plan to use their subpoena power to demand more from Mr. Trump (including his tax returns) while the president has threatened that he would retaliate with investigations of his own.

But before the battle gets going, let’s take a breath and ask: What do the results tell us about the country on a deeper level?

A few things to look at:

1. District Maps: This New York Times map shows which parts of the country shifted to the left and to the right compared to 2016. The leftward tilt was pretty widely dispersed.

2. Exit Polls: Surveys of voters from the 1980s onward highlight divisions that are both racial and generational, with the age divide becoming especially striking.

3. Diversity: More women and more young, nonwhite lawmakers are heading to Washington, including the first Muslim and Native American women elected to Congress. That means the power structure will more closely resemble the country at large.

All three of those developments point to an electorate with more people who have become more frustrated with President Trump, including many of those who voted for him two years ago.

If the age trends hold, and with a bunch of the winners coming from the more moderate side of the Democratic Party, it may also mean a future with more consensus than we have now.

Imagine that, an America united. I admit, I have a hard time picturing it.

But if we look beyond the what-ifs and issues and ideology — if we really step back — maybe we can see something more illuminating.

The results and the messiness of American democracy — with ridiculously long lines to vote, with far too many ways to cast ballots, with oodles of money sloshing around from billionaires — all spotlight the jumble of paradoxes that have shaped the United States since settlement.

It’s a country founded as a utopian “city on a hill” — and defined by ruthlessness in capitalism and politics.

It’s a country where white nationalism is surging — and “Black Panther” is the year’s top box-office earner.

I could give you a dozen more of these with 10 minutes and a beer, but I don’t live there anymore so I won’t bore you with that.

And really, Taylor Swift said it best. With just her guitar, playing in the middle of a giant stadium, with most of her big budget production taking a rest, she stripped down America to its essence:

“We’re happy free confused and lonely in the best way,” she sang. “It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah.”

Now for some other stories. Because even Tay knows it’s not always about her or her country.

You know where to find us for more discussion: Our NYT Australia Facebook group, and at [email protected]

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Australia and Beyond

We had a busy week. So busy in fact, that I’m going to limit this week’s roundup to coverage connected to Australia and the region. Let’s dive in.

If you have a thoughtful 15 minutes…

• Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children: A reporter made it to Nauru for us and found, firsthand, the effects of Australia’s offshore detention policy. Part of what’s intensifying the desperation? Refugee rejections from the Trump administration.

• Geoffrey Rush’s Defamation Trial Becomes a #MeToo Reckoning for Australia: Does defamation law in Australia keep more women from coming forward?

• ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and the History in Historical Fiction: Most readers haven’t noticed or been worried by omitted details or factual mistakes in the book. But is there a greater imperative for novels about the Holocaust to get basic facts correct?

If you’re wondering about Australians and the world…

• He Helped People Cheat at Grand Theft Auto. Then His Home Was Raided. A gamer in Melbourne has had his assets frozen in connection with a popular video game cheat. He’s one of many being sued by game companies worldwide, raising questions about copyright and freedom.

• Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., Trump’s Pick for Ambassador to Australia, Offers Direct Line to President: Mr. Culvahouse is the third candidate the White House has selected to fill the post.

• Another Trump Scoop, a Giddy Reaction and a Reporter Under Fire: Jonathan Swan made a name for himself in Canberra, and is now a reporting star in Washington. But is he too quick to choose access over detachment?

• Australia Likely to Block Hong Kong Company’s Bid for Gas Pipeline: Citing national security concerns, Australia said it would probably block an effort by CK Group from acquiring the country’s largest gas and pipeline company.

• Robyn Denholm Succeeds Elon Musk as Leader of Tesla Board: Tesla said Ms. Denholm would step down from her role at Telstra once her six-month notice period is complete.

If you’re looking for something to smirk or smile about…

• What Sydney Can Learn About Dining From Another Sunny City: Our restaurant critic in Australia wishes that Sydney could take a few lessons from Los Angeles.

• Virgin Australia Airline Seeks to Thank Veterans for Their Service. Vets Say, ‘No, Thanks.’ Critics said the policy was too American, and at odds with Australia’s egalitarian ethos.

• Crossing Paths With Meghan and Harry, and Missing the Plane to Paradise: In New Zealand, our columnist immerses herself in Maori culture. Then rain, traffic and a lost (and found) passport complicate what should have been an easy Fiji trip.

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… And We Recommend

It’s time for our monthly Netflix guide. I started watching the new “House of Cards” — not sure how I feel about it yet.

We’ve also pulled together all the guides from previous months, putting them on a single collection page for easy browsing and so past recommendations don’t get lost.

Are there other things in media or life you’d like to see Times guides for? Let us know.

Here, for inspiration, are some other Times guides that aim to help you live a better life.

Damien Cave is the new Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. He’s covered more than a dozen countries for The Times, including Mexico, Cuba, Iraq and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.

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Opinion | Think 2020 Will Be Better for Senate Democrats? Think Again

As expected, the reality produced by Tuesday’s results will be a split Congress, with Democrats running the House of Representatives and Republicans in charge of the Senate. Republicans will expand their Senate majority from the current 51-49 to as much as 54-46, pending the outcomes of a few races that as I write are still too close to call, but in which Republicans hold slim leads.

Elected officials of both bodies will pay lip service to the idea of working together, and some of the more Panglossian pundits will express the hope that even this divided Congress will produce a deal on infrastructure spending or prescription drug prices. I guess maybe, but let’s be realistic. What seems more likely is not only lack of cooperation but also active warfare between the two bodies.

House Democrats will pass some progressive legislation, as they should, to show the nation their priorities heading into the next presidential election. But of course these bills will go nowhere in the Senate. If by some miracle the two chambers do manage to pass similar versions of a bill, the conference committee deliberations will be a food fight.

So this is what we can expect. Two more years of continuing resolutions and possible government shutdowns. And if the Republicans do increase their majority to 54, it seems entirely possible that the Democrats might not recapture the majority there for a very long time indeed.

I woke up Wednesday morning and, as people like me are wont to do, glanced over the Senate seats that will be up for re-election in 2020. On paper, they look better for the Democrats. This year, the Democrats were defending 26 seats, and the Republicans just nine. The Democrats’ 26 included 10 incumbents in states that President Trump carried. In 2020, it’s the Republicans who’ll be defending a majority of the seats — 22 out of 33.

That sounds hopeful, if you’re a Democrat. But if you look at the map, you see that most of the Republican-held seats are in states that would elect a dog before they’d elect a Democrat. Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming — you get the picture. All told, there are about 14 states where the idea of electing a Democrat to the Senate is all but inconceivable, and another three or four where it’s perhaps not inconceivable but where the stars would need to align just so. The numbers for comparably Democratic states are are perhaps 12 and I think zero.

Specifically with respect to 2020, if you had to ponder five possible pickups that would give the Democrats control, here are the states and senators on whom the Democrats need to focus: Susan Collins of Maine; first-termer Joni Ernst of Iowa; Thom Tillis of North Carolina, another first-termer; Cory Gardner of Colorado, a third first-termer; Jon Kyl of Arizona; and I suppose David Perdue of Georgia, or maybe John Cornyn of Texas, should the exciting Beto O’Rourke decide to take him on.

From that list, I trust you can see the problem. If Democrats are having to count on North Carolina (where the party last elected a senator in 2008) and Georgia (2000) and Arizona (1988), they’re barking up an awfully tall tree.

What can they do? People discuss long-term — and long-shot — fixes, like adding the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states the first chance they get. At an even greater extreme, maybe someday we should do to the Senate what Britain did to the House of Lords in 1911 and strip it of real lawmaking power. That may sound crazy, but something must be done. On Tuesday, according to The Times, Democratic Senate candidates garnered 45 million votes, and Republicans just 33 million (57 percent to 42 percent). Yet, the Republicans will gain perhaps three seats. That is not democracy.

In the nearer term, Democrats simply must find, field and finance candidates who can win statewide in purple states. I don’t mean centrists — look at Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, who got clobbered. I mean candidates who can first excite base voters, because they must do that to be competitive, but who can also go out and get some votes in parts of these states where Democrats normally get crushed.

To do this they need a rural policy — doing something real about the opioid crisis, for starters. Emphasizing a smart rural broadband program. Tom Vilsack, a former Democratic governor of Iowa who went on to be secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama, has outlined a “four-pillar” rural and agricultural program that Democrats could adopt, including an emphasis on exports, economic diversification and conservation. They should take heed.

I’m tired of watching election-night returns and seeing dots of blue in oceans of red. Democrats won’t make huge dents in those oceans, even with a solid rural strategy, but remember — they don’t need to. As close as many elections are these days, small dents will do just fine. But unless Democrats make them, they may not hold the gavels in the Senate for quite some time.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Michael Tomasky is a columnist for The Daily Beast, editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and a contributing opinion writer.

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Republican declares Georgia governor win, Democrat does not concede

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – Republican Brian Kemp’s campaign said on Wednesday (Nov 7) he had won Georgia’s high-profile governor’s race, but Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams vowed not to concede until all ballots were counted.

“Simply put, it is mathematically impossible for Stacey Abrams to win or force a run-off election,” Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

“Brian Kemp will now begin his transition as governor-elect of Georgia.”

Ms Abrams, 44, is trying to become the first black woman elected governor of a US state. Unofficial results from Tuesday’s election showed Mr Kemp leading by more than 60,000 votes and just over the 50 per cent threshold he needs to avoid a runoff under Georgia state law.

Ms Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said there were thousands more mail, provisional and absentee ballots, however, still to be tallied.

The Democratic campaign cited an “incredible amount of irregularities” on Election Day, including rejected ballots and broken voting machines, and said it would consider all options, including litigation, to ensure a fair election.

The Georgia contest was among three dozen governor elections on Tuesday.

In some states, the races were seen as an early test of the parties’ strength ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Democrats seized seven Republican-held governorships, including in several states that helped deliver Republican President Donald Trump’s surprise win in 2016, without suffering any losses.

But Republicans triumphed in Florida and Ohio, both swing states that could play an outsized role in 2020.

In Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum lost his attempt to become the state’s first black governor, suffering a narrow defeat to Republican Ron DeSantis in a racially charged contest.

Republicans also scored a major victory in Ohio’s governor race, where Mr Mike DeWine, the state attorney-general, defeated Democrat Richard Cordray.

But in Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers appeared to pull off a narrow win to deny Republican incumbent Scott Walker a third term.

Democrats also won gubernatorial races in three other states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Kansas – that supported Mr Trump in 2016.

In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer turned back Republican Bill Schuette, while in Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Mr Kris Kobach, a staunch Trump ally.

Democratic candidates also triumphed in Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and Nevada, where Republicans had held the governorships.

‘EVERY VOTE COUNTED’

The races in Florida and Georgia were seen as a test of whether liberal candidates could prevail in Southern states, where centrist Democrats have repeatedly lost, by appealing to a coalition of young and minority voters.

Both Mr DeSantis and Mr Kemp had strong support from Mr Trump, who travelled to their states in the closing days of the campaigns to energise Republicans at “Make America Great Again” rallies.

Democratic former President Barack Obama swooped in to boost the Democrats.

Mr Kemp, 55, oversees elections in his current role as secretary of state, a potential conflict of interest that drew repeated criticism from Democrats during the campaign. He refused to step down from his position and denied Democratic accusations that he used his office to suppress minority voters.

The fight for state power received less attention than the battle for control of the US Congress, but could have a major impact on issues such as congressional redistricting and healthcare.

Governors and hundreds of legislators elected this year will be in office when each state redraws congressional districts after the 2020 Census.

Going into Tuesday, Republicans controlled 33 governors’ mansions and two-thirds of state legislative chambers.

Democrats, playing catch-up after a net loss of 13 governorships and more than 900 state legislative seats during the eight-year Obama administration, fielded their largest slate of legislative candidates in more than three decades.

The party flipped six legislative chambers on Tuesday and now has complete control of state government in Colorado, New York, Illinois, Maine and New Mexico.

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