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President Trump chairs a UN Security Council meeting. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

At the U.N. on Wednesday, President Trump repeatedly claimed that China is meddling in the U.S. midterm elections. But his administration has provided no evidence that that's true, according to any useful definition of "election meddling."

In three different stage appearances, the president conflated predictable tactics triggered by his trade war — including tariffs targeted by China at influential states and a clearly labeled "advertorial" about the farm bill in an Iowa newspaper — with Russian-style interference of the sort that clouded the 2016 U.S. elections.

Why it matters: These are serious times, with serious threats. If the accusation of election meddling is to mean anything, it has to mean actions that are covert, illegal or violating an international norm. Unless the Trump administration has intelligence that it hasn't revealed, China's moves are none of those things.

Without offering details, Trump told the U.N. Security Council:"Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election — coming up in November — against my administration. They do not want me —or us — to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade."

The rest of the day: The administration soon followed with a press call from a "top administration official" that focused on the ad and tariffs. Trump mentioned the ad and tariffs in a tweet and subsequent appearances before the press.

To be clear: The United States also targets tariffs in order to achieve political goals. Trump may not like it when China does the same, but it's neither covert nor illegal.

  • The ad, which Trump singled out as "[ads] that don't look like ads, that look like editorials," was a four-page insert clearly identified as "sponsored by China Daily" on the top of the page. It was more an argument in favor of bilateral trade than a political advertisement aimed at electioneering.

The scoreboard: Despite being accused of what sounded like a minor act of war, China likely leaves New York happy with Trump's general posture. On Tuesday, Trump offered a speech before the General Assembly emphasizing the importance of national sovereignty.

  • "Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination," Trump said.
  • China regularly makes the same point about "cyber sovereignty" to promote a fragmented, locally governed internet that lets it control information domestically.
  • The U.S. and other nations have always treated that idea in the past as an attempt to legitimize crackdowns on free speech and freedom of protest.

Codebook reached out to lawmakers interested in cybersecurity, law enforcement, state secretaries of state (who oversee elections) and cybersecurity firms — including those who have traditionally been hawks on China. No one would confirm the administration's charge of Chinese election interference.

A flustered Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) pointed out to reporters that the White House has a history of trying to divert attention from scandals and that, if the president really wanted to do something to protect election integrity, he could back the Senate's bipartisan election security bill.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: Former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

5 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

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