I’ve found it impossible to set down all the facts as we, the public, know them so I’ll just give you here my view (opinion, if you like) of where things stand in the intense struggle between Donald J Trump and his followers and the FBI and the rest of us.
Let’s begin with Donald J Trump’s view: “I think it’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country…A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.”
I agree with Trump on the words but, of course, he and I are on different sides of the questions of what is the “disgrace” and who should be “ashamed of themselves.”
The motive for the attacks on the FBI (and Justice Department) is clearly to stop the Special Counsel’s investigation of possible collusion between members of the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian Government (and any other suspicious matters that may arise from such investigation). And if it can’t be stopped to pre-emptively undercut public support for any findings that cast an unfavorble light on Donald J Trump.
I hope we can agree on the observation of Senator John McCain – “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded.”
Here, now, is my “read” on how we got to this moment.
In the summer of 2016, the FBI finished it’s investigation of Secretaray of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and concluded that there was not enough evidence to charge her with a crime. At this point, FBI Director James Comey made his first mistake.
It was a close call that no crime should be charged. The conclusion was that considering the evidence uncovered there was no good chance of a successful prosecution. A few FBI agents working on the case disagreed. But the majority agreed.
However, instead of leaving it to the Attorney General to make the announcement, Comey took it upon himself to make a public statement to that effect.
Understanding that in the heat of the presidential campaign it would be a controversial finding, Comey further broke precedent by going beyond announcing the bottom line of “no criminal charge” and sought to deflect criticism from the Trump camp of the FBI by gratuitously critcizing Clinton’s actions.
In an early draft of the statement he would make, Comey was to say Clinton had been “grossly negligent” but the final wording of the statement he read said she had been “extremely careless.”
In either case, it was not Comey’s business as FBI director to express a public judgement on Clinton’s email actions other than to whether a crime should be charged.
Comey’s attempt to “leven” or “soften” the critcism from the Trump side was doomed to failure and indeed, the attacks on the FBI fromTrump and his supporters began as Trump led the charge to “lock her up!”
Then, just days before the election Comey made a second and even bigger mistake.
Stung by these attacks on his agency, Comey sought to make it clear he and the FBI were “playing it straight” by publicly informing Congress that another batch of Clinton emails had been uncovered.
He did this before knowing what was in those emails or whether they were duplicates of ones that had already been examined. Moreover, the new batch had been found a month before Comey revealed the discovery on October 28th. Had he informed Congress a month earlier and they had quickly been examined the impact on the election might have been far less severe.
As it happend, only two days before the election Comey announced there was nothing new in this batch of emails. But the damage had been done and we’ll never be able to prove whether this was the straw that cost Clinton the election but it is quite possible it was.
On election night in his victory speech Donald J Trump temporarily forgot his “lock her up” rhetoric and said on television –“Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very seriously.”
Once in office, however the fragments of evidence that there might have been collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign grew. It was the unanimous conclusion of the Government’s security agencies that the Russians had made strenuous efforts to turn the election in Trump’s favor. Did the Trump campaign people collude with the Russians on this?
And what was Donald J Trump’s reaction to these suspicions? He might have said “take a look, investigate, there’s nothing to find” but of course, the record is clear that he sought and is still seeking to prevent “taking a look.”
-Trump called such suspicions a “witch hunt.”
– He said he did not believe the security agencies, did not believe that the Russians had in any way sought to interfere with the election.
-He suggested that the suspicions about all this were planted by some “deep state” conspiracy orchestrated by former president Obama because he had beaten Hillary Clinton.
-He denounced Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from any investigation (as Justice Department ethics lawyers had recommended), saying that Sessions had been “disloyal” for not staying in charge to “protect the president.”
-Comey told Congress that Trump had sought a pledge from him of loyalty to the president. And that Trump had told him he hoped he could “let the Flynn matter go.”
Flynn was being questioned about meeting with the Russian Ambassador before the Inauguration and saying the incoming administration would not support new sanctions on Russia.
When Comey made these allegations public Trump fired Comey on the grounds that he had been unfair to Hillary Clinton (no, I am not making this up)! Actually, Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News when he fired Comey he was thinking of the Russian thing.
At this point, the demands for an Investigation became overwhelming. The Justice Department Deputy Rod Rosenstein (with Session’s recusal the officer with the duty to appoint a Special Counsel) named Robert Mueller the former FBI Director to begin one.
-Meanwhile, Trump continued to “poo poo” the idea of Russian election involvement but instead continued to praise Vladimir Putin, argue against new sanctions against Russia, pubicly revealed secret information to Russian diplomats and display his anger toward Attorney General Sessions for not protecting him.
-When Congress passed by overwhelming votes new sanctions against Russia, Trump refused to put them into effect.
The Investigation continued – criminal charges have been lodged against four Trump Campaign officials, including his initial National Security Advisor, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn. Flynn has pled guilty to lying to the FBI and may well now be co-operating with Mueller’s investigation.
Another of those indicted is former Campaign Director Paul Manafort, whose ties to Russia are well known. The charges agaisnt Manafort include Conspiracy against the United States, Money Laundering and making false statements to government investigators. While none of these directly drive to the question of Trump Russian collusion, the investigators contine to put pressure on Manafort to follow Flynn and tell them anything he might know on the subject in return for a lighter sentence recommendation.
Mueller also began examining the Trump Tower 2016 meeting which included Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer working for the Kremlin.
In an email, Donald Trump Jr. said that if the outside people seeking the meeting had dirt on Hillary Clinton he would “love it.”
When the Trump Tower meeting was about to come to light, a press statement was released which said the meeting “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children,” a statment which subsequetly proved to be mis-leading at best and probably just plain false.
And who prepared that statement? None other than Donald J Trump, flying back from Europe on Air Force One. Could this along with other actions to include asking Comey if he couldn’t “let the Flynn matter go” and then the firing of Comey be grounds for a charge of obstruction of Justice?
As details of Trump’s actons emerged and the Investigation proceeded, the efforts by Donald J Trump and many Republican supporters to pre-emptively dis-disceredit any adverse findings have intensified.
-Emails between two FBI agents who were in the unit investigating the Clinton emails showed that the male and female agent who were romatially involved strongly opposed Trump becoming president. Did that show that the entire investigation which resulted in not charging Clinton with a crime was fatally tainted?
-Trump charged that the FBI was “in tatters.”
-Mueller, whose “straight arrow” reputation was prasied initially by all sides began to come under direct and sometimes withering criticism.
-Fox Host Sean Hannity said “If we care about the Constitution” the Mueller probe must be disbanded immediately.” Hannity said Mueller was “A disgrace to the Amerian Justice System” and said “his credibility is in the gutter.”
I dwell on Hannity because such personal ad hominan attacks on a public servant whose integrity had never before been questioned absent any evidence to support them show how desperate the Trump defenders have grown.
As for Trump himsef, mutiple news stories report that last summer he decided to fire Mueller (as Nixon fired the Special Prosecuter examining him in 1973) and was only dissuaded from doing so by his White House Counsel who threated to quit if he did.
Which brings us to the Nunes Memo.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Deven Nunes (R-California), a Trump supporter of fierce loyalty, asked his staff to compose a memo attacking application to the FISA Court for a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page. Page was a campaign foreign policy advisor to Trump. In A 2013, letter Page claimed he was then a foreign policy advisor to the Kremlin.
Vox, a news and opinion website, writes the following:
“The memo focuses on surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser with business ties to Russia and open sympathies with the Kremlin’s foreign policy. The key allegation is that the surveillance of Page was improperly authorized — and potentially politically motivated.
In July 2016, while advising the Trump campaign, Page flew to Moscow and met with Russian officials. This raised eyebrows among US intelligence officers, to say the least. So the FBI and DOJ put together an application to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court — a court that approves surveillance warrants pertaining to national security and foreign intelligence — to start watching Page. The court granted the application.
The Nunes memo alleges that this surveillance was not properly vetted by the court; specifically, that it relied on the now-infamous Steele dossier, the document prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele alleging the existence of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russian government. Steele’s research was, partially and indirectly, financed by the Clinton campaign — which the memo alleges is a major problem.”
For the complete story, go to the Vox website and read it for yourself.
Alleging that the memo showed that the FBI investigators were motivated by bias against Trump, the Intelleigence Committee voted on a party line vote to release the memo against the objections of the FBI that it was “gravely concerned” about inaccurances in the memo and the Justice Department’s assertion that release of the memo was an “extraordinary reckless” push that would disclose methods of security investigation. The Committee further refused to release a rejoinder to the memo written by Committee Democrats.
Trump allowed the release and said the memo completely vindicates him. Moreover, when he was asked whether he intends to fire Rod Rosentein, one of the officials who signed the application to the FISA Court for a surveillance of Carter Page and the Justice Department official now overseeing the Investigation, Trump replied “You figure that out.”
Here are my concluding thoughts (opinions) on this mess.
Trump & Company clearly must have something of great importance to hide, facts they do not want to become public. We can all speculate on what those facts may be but these attempts to thwart and discredit the invetigation are not the actions of innocent people.
The Investigators then and now may, indeed, include people who don’t like Donald J Trump. Is that surprising? We all have opinions, is it reasonable to believe that investigators don’t? And are there surely not people in theFBI who do like Donald J Trump – ones, for instance, who wanted to charge Hillarhy Clinton but were in the minority?
The important thing is that the investigatiors (like reporters) work hard to keep their opinions out of their investigation – to let the facts unconvered speak for themselves.
The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan now says he will insist on release of the Democratic members response to the Nunes memo. Each of us can compare the two views directly.
More importantly, if the Investigation’s conclusions allege that Trump or any of his family or associates have engaged in “wrong doing” those conclusions will have to be supported by the evidence on which they are based, evidence which will be made public.
All of us, Sean Hannity included, can then consider the evidence on its merits and not on who compiled it.
Yes, I clearly believe that when the smoke clears there will be fire to examine. But that is an opinion based on the twists and turns to date but one which will finally rest on the conclusions and facts of the investigation.
In the meantime, we must all see to it that the effort to stop the investigation fails. We must insist that Mueller and his team be allowed to continue their work without pressure against them.
And if Donald J Trump should now move to fire Rosentein, FBI director Christopher Wray who has told the FBI to “keep calm and tackle hard” and anyone else who is part of our System of Justice, then we must oppose that in the most virgous ways at our disposal.
John McCain is right: “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.”