The Memo Doesn’t Make Its Case 

The truth requires greater transparency

.. That experience teaches me that the memo simply doesn’t make its case. Indeed, it gets less persuasive — and the material omissions more glaring — with each successive read. It might disclose the existence of troubling FBI misconduct, but the fair-minded reader has no way of knowing whether it does.

.. A good summary always supports assertions with evidence. A good summary provides context. A good summary even includes relevant information that contradicts its thesis so that the reader can evaluate the best counter-arguments. 

.. legal arguments typically depend on lawyers taking thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of pages of depositions and documents, crafting a concise narrative, and communicating that narrative to a judge — with citations referring to the relevant evidence and quotations of it as well.

.. If there is no citation or quotation, a judge will typically ask the lawyer, “Counselor, what record evidence supports that assertion?”

.. One of the first and most vital assertions in the entire memo is the claim that “the ‘dossier’ compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.” This statement is initially offered without proof. One has to read down to the next page to see any reference to evidence:

Furthermore, Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.

.. When I read this, I had two immediate thoughts. First, what did he actually say? And second, why the subtle change in language from the argument that the “dossier” was an “essential part” of the FISA application to the statement that the warrant wouldn’t have been sought without the dossier “information”? The “dossier” and the “information” are not the same thing.

.. An effective memo would do more to end the debate. How? By quoting the relevant portions of McCabe’s testimony.

Better yet, it could quote the testimony and attach an appropriately redacted copy of the testimony as an appendix.

.. Even the characterization that the dossier was “essential” is a judgment call based on evidence unavailable to the public. Even worse, it was a judgment call based in part on evidence unavailable even to the rest of the committee.

.. memo should have plainly stated the agreement between the DOJ and the committee, along with the reasons for this agreement.

.. good summaries don’t just support conclusions with evidence, they provide vital and necessary context. On this point, the memo fails utterly.

.. it fails to answer the following questions:

  1. How did the FISA application actually describe Steele?

    .. Democrats are arguing that the political nature of his work was appropriately disclosed.  Don’t we need the actual words used to properly evaluate whether the FBI materially misled the court?

  2. In addition to the information from the Steele dossier, what other information did the FISA application include?
  3. To what extent did the multiple renewal applications depend on the information in the dossier? The memo notes that a FISA order must be renewed every 90 days, and each renewal must be supported by an “independent” probable-cause finding. A Trump appointee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, signed at least one of these FISA applications. He apparently believed that the request was supported by probable cause. Why?
  4.  What is the “information” regarding Papadopoulos that triggered the opening of the investigation in July 2016 — a full three months before the Page FISA application? The memo provides information obviously designed to impair the credibility of that investigation — by referring to FBI agent Peter Strzok’s well-known political leanings — but it provides no information about any facts supporting the opening of the probe, leaving the reader with the impression that it was opened solely because Strzok dislikes Trump.

I also wrote above that a good summary “even includes relevant information that contradicts its thesis.” The memo omits any such information, but a Democratic rebuttal exists.

.. But even if the public reviews the Democratic rebuttal, the process is still flawed. The proper way to resolve explosive claims of political bias at the highest levels of government isn’t by dribbling out short memoranda but by issuing comprehensively researched and comprehensively supported majority and minority committee reports.

..it’s not by itself scandalous to review political opposition research — a politically motivated person is no more suspect than the terrorists and criminals who routinely provide information used to support even the most intrusive warrants.

.. When I was in Iraq, we were constantly aware that our sources had their own axes to grind. They didn’t want to defeat their opponents in an election. They wanted them to die in a hail of gunfire.

.. Biased sources are an inherent part of intelligence-gathering.

 

Inside the FBI: Anger, worry, work — and fears of lasting damage

In the 109 years of the FBI’s existence, it has repeatedly come under fire for abuses of power, privacy or civil rights. From Red Scares to recording and threatening to expose the private conduct of Martin Luther King Jr. to benefiting from bulk surveillance in the digital age, the FBI is accustomed to intense criticism.

What is so unusual about the current moment, say current and former law enforcement officials, is the source of the attacks.

The bureau is under fire not from those on the left but rather conservatives who have long been the agency’s biggest supporters, as well as the president who handpicked the FBI’s leader.

.. Wray’s defenders say there is a more strategic reason for the new director’s approach — by relying on long-standing law enforcement policies and procedures, he believes the FBI can navigate through the current political storms and get back to a position of widespread trust across the political spectrum, according to people familiar with his thinking.

.. “Following established process is important,” one person said. “Process can protect us.”

.. Comey’s firing shocked the FBI’s workforce. In the aftermath, many employees posted pictures of him at their desks or other workspaces.

.. Others express doubts about emulating Mueller’s detached approach, worried that Wray’s calculation not to publicly spar with the president may lead to a gradual erosion of the bureau’s reputation and clout.

.. On Friday, over Wray’s objection, Trump authorized the release of the Nunes memo and declared, “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.’’

.. He has called his own attorney general “beleaguered” and claimed the bureau’s reputation was “in tatters.”

.. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Fox News there was “evidence of corruption — more than bias but corruption — at the highest levels of the FBI,” and pointed to texts between two key officials who were once assigned to both the Clinton and Trump probes suggesting a “secret society” at the FBI. Those messages about a “secret society” are now widely seen to be a joke, but that has not diminished Republicans’ fervor

.. it conducts criminal investigations independently and without regard to the will of the chief executive. Trump has defied that norm. He asked Comey for a vow of loyalty, then inquired with Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey after Trump fired him, for whom he voted.

.. The memo itself, though, doesn’t prove the case. It doesn’t have the kind of evidence in it that you would need to see to say that there was an abuse of that authority.”

..  While the president might now feel he wants the bureau under his firm control, Hosko said, he might regret that if a like-minded president took office and ordered investigations of Trump or his family.

.. Current and former law enforcement officials expect the struggle for control of the FBI to intensify.

.. “Republicans think this is just part of the war they are fighting.”

Who’s Who Among Trump’s Law-Enforcement Targets

The president has attacked key FBI, Justice figures involved in investigating him

President Donald Trump’s attacks on top Justice Department and FBI officials on Friday mark his latest escalation of rhetoric on officials who one way or another have a hand in investigating ties between the president’s associates and Russia.

  1. Jeff Sessions, attorney general
  2. Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general
  3. Robert Mueller, special counsel
  4. Christopher Wray, FBI director
  5. Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director
  6. Peter Strzok, FBI investigator

A Reckoning for the FBI

The House memo reveals disturbing facts about the misuse of FISA.

The memo confirms that the FBI and Justice Department on Oct. 21, 2016 obtained a FISA order to surveil Carter Page, an American citizen who was a relatively minor volunteer adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.

.. The memo adds that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December 2017 that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought” without the dossier.

.. But the FBI failed to tell the court that Mr. Steele and Fusion were the main sources for that Yahoo article. In essence the FBI was citing Mr. Steele to corroborate Mr. Steele.

.. The FBI retained Mr. Steele as a source, and in October 2016 he talked to Mother Jones magazine without authorization about the FBI investigation and his dossier alleging collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The FBI then fired Mr. Steele, but it never told the FISA judges about that either. Nor did it tell the court any of this as it sought three subsequent renewals of the order on Mr. Page.

.. Mr. Steele and Fusion then leaked the fact of the investigation to friendly reporters to try to defeat Mr. Trump before the election. And afterward they continued to leak all this to the press to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s victory.

.. No matter its motives, the FBI became a tool of anti-Trump political actors.

.. President Trump should declassify it promptly, along with Senator Chuck Grassley’s referral for criminal investigation of Mr. Steele.

.. note that Democrats aren’t challenging the core facts that the FBI used the dossier to gain a FISA order or the bureau’s lack of disclosure to the FISA judges.

.. As to the claim that the release tarnishes the FBI and FISA court, exposing abuses is the essence of accountability in a democracy.

.. The question of FISA abuse is independent of Mr. Mueller’s work

.. Mr. Trump would do well to knock off the tweets lambasting the Mueller probe

.. Mr. Trump and the White House should consider the remedy of radical transparency.

Questions That Mueller Might Ask Trump

The most consequential could involve the President’s understanding of the rule of law.

.. His most consequential questions for Trump might not be about Russian influence over American voters but about the power that the President of the United States believes he has to control, or to abrogate, the rule of law.

To that end, Mueller might ask Trump why he has, or has not, fired various people. He might start with James Comey,

.. Mueller also will likely ask Trump why he fired Michael Flynn, his first national-security adviser, and what assurances he might have given him at the time.

.. Flynn was already in legal jeopardy, because he had hidden his contacts with Russians and because his lobbying firm had taken money from Turkish interests without reporting it. Comey testified that Trump nonetheless asked him to go easy on Flynn

.. Does the President imagine that the job of the Attorney General is to protect the law, or to protect him?

.. They also reportedly spoke to Mike Pompeo, the head of the C.I.A., and Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence. All were apparently asked whether Trump pressured them in regard to the investigation. If Mueller has these men’s statements in hand, he can see if Trump’s answers match theirs.

.. The President might not care. He has said that he has an “absolute right” to control the Justice Department and “complete” pardon power. Speaking to reporters last week, he mocked his critics: “Did he fight back? . . . Ohhhh, it’s obstruction.” Often, for Trump, fighting back has meant just saying that everything is Hillary Clinton’s fault. Indeed, if Mueller gets Trump talking about Clinton, it will be hard to get him to stop

.. The memo was shared only with House members, and reportedly alleges that the Russia investigation is tainted at its core, because, in an application to surveil Carter Page, a Trump-campaign associate, the F.B.I. made use of a dossier that had been partly paid for by the Clinton campaign.

.. Sessions had tried to get Christopher Wray, the new F.B.I. director, to fire McCabe; Wray refused.

.. Trump’s strategy seems obvious: to create confusion, suspicion, deflection, doubt, and, above all, noise.

.. if he does sit down with Mueller’s team, once the first question is asked there will be an interval of silence that only the President can choose how to fill. Will he try to turn the interview against Mueller? If Trump thinks that Mueller can be scared off by the prospect of being fired

The timing of Trump’s political grilling of Andrew McCabe is the most problematic of all

We just found out Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe received treatment from President Trump that has become oh-so-familiar to leading law enforcement officials: They are asked to do or respond to something with clear political and personal overtones, and are left uncomfortable about the whole thing.

The list of those who have similar stories is long, and it’s getting significantly longer this month. It includes James B. ComeySally YatesPreet Bharara and Jeff Sessions. And before the news about McCabe this week, there was yet another FBI director — the current one, Christopher A. Wray — who resisted Trump’s efforts to get him to push out McCabe. So just to sum up, that’s now all three of Trump’s FBI directors (including an acting one), along with both of his attorneys general (including one acting one). Noticing a pattern?

.. Trump asked McCabe about whom he voted for in the 2016 election and pressed him on his wife’s Democratic campaign for Virginia state legislature right after Trump dismissed Comey:

The Oval Office meeting happened shortly after Trump fired Comey following failed efforts by the president to get the FBI director to back off from the Russia probe. Before the May 9 dismissal, Trump had also sought a loyalty oath from Comey and was annoyed that the FBI director would not state publicly at the time that Trump was not personally under investigation.

If there was one moment in Trump’s presidency in which his apparent efforts to affect the Russia investigation came to the fore, the firing of Comey was it. The White House quickly struggled to explain the firing, giving conflicting signals. And then Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News that he fired Comey with the Russia probe on his mind.

.. It was at this juncture that Trump decided to invite McCabe, the man in line to serve as Comey’s temporary replacement, to the Oval Office and decided to do almost precisely what Comey said Trump did to him: Hint at the idea that an FBI director should be loyal to the president. The parallels are striking.

.. Legally speaking, it’s difficult to know whether asking who McCabe voted for or venting frustration about Jill McCabe is particularly damning when it comes to Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice; we’re in uncharted legal territory here, and it’s not even clear what the standard is for a president obstructing justice. But it does fit with a clear and unmistakable pattern of Trump digging into whether top law enforcement officials would be loyal to him or otherwise asking them to do things that could benefit him personally in that investigation. And it suggests the effort continued almost immediately after Comey’s dismissal.
.. In the case of Comey and Sessions, Trump has been very upfront about how he desired such loyalty.
.. Trump fired Yates, Bharara and Comey, and he clearly wants to be rid of both Sessions and McCabe. The sixth — Wray — threatened to resign, according to some reports. All of them resisted Trump, and most of them have paid for that.
.. The McCabe situation is apparently of interest to Mueller’s investigation. And if nothing else, the timing of it fills out the picture of a president with a very consistent — and consistently problematic — stance toward his top law enforcement officials. The fact that Trump did this in the heat of the Comey firestorm suggests the pattern may be bigger than we know.

s Trump has already authored his own tell-all

Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

.. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,”

  1. attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes,
  2. urged“Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists,
  3. claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” reelection to keep up their ratings,
  4. displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health-care reform plan,
  5. claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming,
  6. boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un,
  7. tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book,
  8. and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

.. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

.. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick.

.. The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation.

He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate.

.. The Chinese have made an art of this

.. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

.. Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists.

  • .. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,”
  • Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned.
  • Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired.
  • Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

.. we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

.. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet, they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team.

.. GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader.

.. they will, eventually, be exposed. And by then, the country may not be in a forgiving mood.