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Avril Haines, Biden’s pick for top spy, to tell Senate she’ll keep politics out of intelligence analysis

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WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s nominee to lead America’s vast spying bureaucracy is expected to tell senators weighing her confirmation that she will protect whistleblowers, speak truth to power and keep politics out of intelligence analysis, according to excerpts of her prepared statement obtained by NBC News.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday to consider the nomination of Avril Haines, who was a national security official during the Obama administration, to become director of national intelligence. She would oversee 18 intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Haines, who was deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, will also tell lawmakers that she intends to prioritize countering China, bolstering cyber defenses and anticipating the next pandemic, according to the prepared remarks.

“We should provide the necessary intelligence to support long-term bipartisan efforts to out-compete China — gaining and sharing insight into China’s intentions and capabilities, while also supporting more immediate efforts to counter Beijing’s unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations, whenever we can,” she intends to say.

“At the same time, the DNI should see to it that the Intelligence Community’s unique capabilities are brought to bear on the global Covid-19 crisis around the world, while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises — enabling U.S. global health leadership and positioning us to detect future outbreaks before they become pandemics.”

Haines would become the first woman in the job, which was created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to better coordinate the sprawling American intelligence bureaucracy. She would succeed John Ratcliffe, a Republican former member of Congress from Texas who appears to have gotten the job because of his loyalty to President Donald Trump and because the acting occupant of the job, Richard Grenell, was deemed so unacceptable by Senate Democrats that they were willing to confirm Ratcliffe to be rid of him.

Among other things, the director of national intelligence oversees the presidential intelligence briefing process. But the director does not run covert operations ordered by the president — the CIA director retains that power.

The excerpts of Haines’ testimony do not mention the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but the issue of whether the FBI and other agencies have a handle on domestic extremism is likely to come up at the hearing. While the job of national intelligence director focuses mainly on spying abroad, it includes jurisdiction over the National Counterterrorism Center, which analyzes intelligence about both domestic and international terrorism, and last year it published a report noting that there is no “whole of government” effort aimed at domestic terrorism.

“If I have the honor of being confirmed, I look forward to leading the Intelligence Community on behalf of the American people — to safeguarding their interests, advancing their security and prosperity, and to defending our democracy, our freedoms and our values,” Haines, who joined the government in 2008 as a State Department legal adviser, intends to say.

To be effective, she will add, “the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power — even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult.”

“To safeguard the integrity of our Intelligence Community, the DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she will say.

After Haines and other Biden nominees were introduced in November, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter that Biden’s Cabinet picks “will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”



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Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy ‘seriously considering’ Senate bid against Rubio in 2022

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephanie Murphy is taking preliminary steps toward challenging Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in next year’s midterm election, launching the kind of statewide “listening” tour that often precedes a campaign and is being done virtually because of the pandemic.

“I’m seriously considering [running for Senate] either in ’22 or ’24,” Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday.

“The only person Marco Rubio cares about is Marco Rubio,” the third-term Democrat charged. And, she added, “I know what it takes to defeat a powerful Republican incumbent because I’ve done it.”

But first things first — the kind of soft launch that’s designed to build statewide name-recognition and is not explicitly about mounting a campaign. A four-minute video accompanying the announcement of her virtual “Cast Forward” tour of the state has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign launch biopic.

“My family escaped communist Vietnam and we were rescued by the U.S. Navy, and so I owe this country my life,” Murphy says in the video. “My parents, facing a future where their children would not have opportunity or freedom or democracy, decided that we might die in search of light, that that was better than to live on in darkness.”

Murphy would be facing a campaign with a state party in turmoil after Joe Biden won the presidency but lost Florida by three-and-a-half points in November. Republicans control the governor’s office and both U.S. Senate seats.

Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential primary to Donald Trump in 2016, won re-election to his Senate seat that year by about 8 percentage points, and he dodged a potential political maelstrom when Ivanka Trump decided against a rumored primary challenge for next year.

Earlier this week, Murphy played down a possible Senate bid in an interview with NBC News.

“I’m really kind of focused right now on doing my job, serving my community,” Murphy said then. “Of course, there will come a time where I hope I can, you know, share my experiences of winning in a district that very much mirrors the state more broadly. But this isn’t the moment. Right now, I’m really focused on trying to get the next Covid bill across the finish line.”

By Wednesday, she was less coy, acknowledging that she’s actively considering a campaign against Rubio. But she insisted that her listening tour isn’t designed as the platform for that bid.

“This isn’t about that,” she said.

The sessions will focus on five areas, according to a news release set to go out widely on Wednesday: Covid response; combating misinformation; fighting climate change; advancing social justice; and countering voter suppression.

The virtual tour is designed to help Florida Democrats find the right message to attract voters in the midterms, no matter who their candidates for various offices are, Murphy said.

“I think I have some ideas and experience to offer, but most importantly I want to listen,” she said.

As for Washington Democrats who think Florida is a waste of time and money for their party — and there are more than a few of those in the nation’s capital — Murphy said it’s winnable.

“Florida isn’t a red state,” she said. “It’s a hard state.”

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Michel Barnier makes thinly veiled threat to UK if EU boats are shut out of British waters

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MICHEL BARNIER has issued a thinly veiled threat to the UK saying its waters must remain open or Britain risks losing access to the EU’s electricity markets.

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Lawyers have found the parents of 105 separated migrant children in past month

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WASHINGTON — The lawyers working to reunite immigrant parents and children separated by the Trump administration reported on Wednesday that they have found the parents of 105 children in the past month.

The steering committee of pro-bono attorneys and advocates working on reunification said it had yet to find the parents of 506 children, down from 611 on Jan. 14, 2021, the last time it reported data to a federal judge overseeing the process.

Of those 506 children, the lawyers said the parents of about 322 are believed to have been deported from the U.S., making it more difficult to find them.

The lawyers are not required by the judge to say how many of the parents and children have actually been reunified.

The Biden administration recently formed a task force that will place the responsibility of finding and reuniting the families separated by the Trump administration, primarily under the “zero tolerance policy” of 2018, in the hands of the federal government. In their court filing on Wednesday, lawyers representing the separated families and working to reunite them said they would work with the task force going forward.

Lawyers for the Justice Department said they expect the task force will “resolve many — if not all — outstanding issues” related to the lawsuit out of the Southern District of California that resulted in the reunification process overseen by the judge.

One reason it has been so hard to find parents who were separated from their children is that many agreed to be deported without their children in order to allow their children to remain in the U.S. to claim asylum, their lawyers say.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and a lawyer representing the separated families in the lawsuit, has said the task force should commit to bringing back those deported parents to the U.S. under special protections in order to reunite with their children.

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