Lois Lerner’s Last Laugh

If Congress did its job, nobody would be talking about another special counsel.

When House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes subpoenaed documents and testimony from the FBI and Justice Department, he was stonewalled for months. In a last-minute bid to circumvent the committee’s demands, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met with Speaker Paul Ryan. The two men ended up agreeing to comply with the subpoenas—but only because Mr. Ryan informed them they would be found in contempt if they did not.

This kind of stonewalling has fed the agitation on Capitol Hill for a second special counsel, who would look into everything from the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation to the use of the Christopher Steele dossier to obtain warrants to listen in on members of the Trump campaign. The calls are mistaken. But the frustration is real

.. But missing here is any discussion of the powers Congress itself has, including but not limited to the subpoena and contempt powers that ultimately forced Mr. Wray and Mr. Rosenstein into compliance.

.. If it only has the backbone, Congress can get what it wants out of the federal bureaucracy. Several executive-branch officials—including Justice’s Bruce Ohr and FBI lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page —will soon testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Possibly some or all of them will invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

If Congress insists on its prerogatives, however, that wouldn’t be the end of the story. Witnesses who plead the Fifth can still be compelled to testify. The price is that the compelled testimony, and evidence derived from that testimony, couldn’t be used against the witness in a prosecution.

A special counsel might not like this, given his emphasis on indictments and prosecutions. But Congress should, because its end goal is political accountability. Which would be up to the American people to impose after learning exactly what abuses have transpired.

FBI Director Defends Handling of Background Check of Former Trump Aide

The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said his agency first flagged issues with its background check of Rob Porter to the administration in March, a timeline that conflicts with what the White House said it knew about the former aide’s past.

.. Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the FBI last year gave multiple updates to the White House on its findings about Mr. Porter. After sharing a partial report on Mr. Porter in March, the FBI provided its completed background check on Mr. Porter to the White House in July, Mr. Wray said.

.. Last fall, White House counsel Don McGahn told Mr. Kelly there was “an issue” involving Mr. Porter’s clearance, according to an administration official, who said Mr. McGahn didn’t provide many details. Mr. Kelly was surprised to learn that Mr. Porter, 40, had been married before.

The chief of staff, a retired four-star general, also expressed dissatisfaction about the number of White House aides who were operating under interim security clearances. “His view was, ’We would never have this at the Pentagon,” the official said.

Trump’s New Solicitor General Could Fire Russia Investigator Robert Mueller

Francisco was a partner at Jones Day, which Bloomberg Businessweek has called“Trump’s favorite law firm.” The outlet reported in March that at least 14 lawyers from the firm had joined the Trump administration or had been nominated to do so, including Don McGahn, the White House counsel.

.. lawyers from “Trump’s favorite” firm contributed only $7,422 to Trump’s campaign, compared to $267,899 to Hillary Clinton’s.

.. Francisco also is an expert at the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarians in the legal world. The executive vice president, Leonard Leo, is said to have secured the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Gorsuch and FBI Director Christopher Wray also are listed as experts there. Francisco has donated thousands of dollars to federal election candidates, all Republicans, though not to Trump.

..  Ted Cruz, who once worked with Francisco at the law firm Cooper & Kirk. “He’s a brilliant lawyer & a principled conservative.”

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.”