House Republicans cannot be allowed to obstruct justice

Former U.S. district judge John S. Martin, writing in The Post to debunk the baseless proposal by House Freedom Caucus members to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, observes:

The actions of the Freedom Caucus members are not only baseless, they are also shameful. While they call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Rosenstein, it may be more appropriate to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate an attempt to corruptly obstruct justice by members of Congress who so obviously use their office to intimidate the deputy attorney general and to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

.. Their inexcusable acts include:

  • The caper by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in which he scurried over to the White House to review classified documents and then tried to push the fake “unmasking” scandal;
  • Nunes’s memo falsely stating that information about the Christopher Steele dossier’s origins was omitted from the Foreign Intelligence Security Court warrant application to conduct surveillance on suspected spy Carter Page;
  • The outing of a confidential intelligence source;
  • The badgering of Rosenstein for documents from an ongoing investigation and the bogus impeachment articles cooked up by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio);
  • False accusations against the FBI (e.g. accusing FBI officials of aiding Hillary Clinton in the campaign) that were discredited by the inspector general’s report; and
  • Refusal to obtain relevant documents (e.g. the blocked phone number that Donald Trump Jr. called in close proximity to the Russia meeting in June 2016).

.. Congressmen, Trump lawyers and White House aides conferring with intent to mislead investigators and the public, to disable the inquiry and/or to discredit law enforcement sounds an awful lot like obstruction of justice. Conversations or documents relating to that sort of conspiracy are in no way privileged.

.. Norman Eisen, Laurence Tribe and Caroline Frederickson wrote in February: “Endeavoring to stop an investigation, if done with corrupt intent, may constitute obstruction of justice. Plotting to assist such action may be conspiracy to obstruct justice. Normally, what is called ‘speech or debate immunity would provide a strong bulwark against any such liability for Mr. Nunes or his staff.” However, they argued, “Mr. Nunes and company may have ranged so far afield that those protections no longer apply. Under the clause, mere peripheral connection to legislative acts cannot serve as a fig leaf to shield criminal conduct.” They argued that if “a member or staff employee of the House Intelligence Committee engaged with the White House to stifle the special counsel inquiry, it would be difficult to see how such collaboration would be” protected by the speech or debate clause.

.. An investigation into Republican House members’ antics is critical if we want to hold them responsible for actions injurious to our criminal justice system. It is also necessary in order to uncover who if anyone they were colluding with on the White House side of the operation. Any White House official and/or lawyer — with or without the president’s knowledge — scheming to obstruct the investigation in concert with members of Congress needs to be investigated and held accountable.

.. Rather than simply play defense on behalf of Rosenstein and the Russian investigators, defenders of the rule of law need to go on offense, demanding Nunes, Meadows and Jordan come clean on their actions in support of a president trying to thwart a legitimate investigation. It all needs to come out.

At least six people close to Trump almost certainly knew about offers from Russians of dirt on Clinton

at least six members of Trump’s broader team knew about offers of dirt from Russians during that campaign — and, depending on how that information was shared, as many as 10 may have, including Trump.

.. Torshin-Trump Jr. In May, a former member of the Russian parliament named Aleksandr Torshin made repeated efforts to contact Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s son. He sent multiple emails hoping to set up a meeting with Trump Jr. when both were at a National Rifle Association convention in Kentucky. The two met briefly at a dinner associated with that event. It is not clear whether Torshin had any information to offer Trump Jr.

.. Agalarov-Veselnitskaya-Trump Jr.-Manafort-Kushner.

.. It is apparent that Agalarov and Trump Jr. almost certainly spoke on the phone multiple times before that meeting and that Trump Jr. informed both Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort of what was being offered.

.. The question is whether any of those three also informed Trump. There is good reason to think he knew. The night that the meeting time was set up, following calls between Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner — and the day after Trump Jr. had a call with a blocked number before agreeing to the meeting — Trump told reporters, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

When that dirt did not materialize, the speech about Clinton the following Monday did not either.

.. Dvorkovich-Page.

.. This is noteworthy not only because of the connection between Page and a senior government official but because of what other reports suggest about Page’s time in Russia. Specifically, the controversial dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele includes a report from mid-July alleging that Page met with a Russian official who “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ ” — compromising material — “the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.”

.. WikiLeaks-Trump Jr. The following month, Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks exchanged private messages on Twitter. None of those messages suggest Trump Jr. and the organization coordinated the released of information damaging to Clinton. But the exchange occurred shortly before WikiLeaks began releasing the emails stolen from Podesta in early October.

.. So we are confident the following people were offered or told about information allegedly incriminating Clinton:

  • George Papadopoulos
  • Roger Stone
  • Michael Caputo
  • Donald Trump Jr.
  • Jared Kushner
  • Paul Manafort

It is possible that the following other people knew about or received similar offers, too:

  • Stephen Miller
  • Carter Page
  • J.D. Gordon (if Page was offered dirt)
  • Donald Trump

Trump’s argument has long been that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. That claim increasingly depends on how one defines “collusion.”

Who Cares about Truth Anymore, Anyway?

For Plato/Socrates, the philosopher is the guy who breaks free of the cave’s shackles and sees the reality behind the shadows.

.. Consider the articles of impeachment filed against Rod Rosenstein this week. I am not disputing that there are serious people with serious complaints about Rosenstein. But this was not the work of serious people. I would think that reasonable people could agree that impeaching any government official is a serious thing. Impeaching this official in particular, given the stakes and the controversies associated with him, is a particularly serious affair.

.. Impeachment, moreover, is not an appropriate remedy for Rosenstein’s alleged transgression of insufficient transparency. He, after all, works for the president, who is ultimately responsible for the information the Justice Department gives to Congress and who can order Rosenstein to disclose more on threat of removal. Congress is overstepping its authority in micromanaging the executive branch by seeking to impeach an official for refusing to turn over information that the president has not ordered him to turn over. Congress appears to have only once used the impeachment tool against an executive-branch official other than the president — in 1876, when it impeached Secretary of War William Belknap after he resigned for accepting bribes and kickbacks in office.

If the impeachers were seriously outraged — truly, seriously, outraged — by the executive branch’s behavior, they might be moving to impeach the executive.

.. Or, at the very least, they would be imploring the president to order Rosenstein to hand over these materials or to fire Rosenstein for refusing to do so.

They’re not doing that. Why? Because they’re putting on a show. This impeachment effort is a prop in the passion play, a talking point for Hannity’s opening monologues and the president’s Twitter feed.

.. for Trump, when we buy things from abroad — and by we, I mean individual citizens and firms in a free country — we are literally being “robbed.” Jacob Sullum on the president’s Iowa speech yesterday:

“Our trade deficit ballooned to $817 billion,” Donald Trump said during a speech to steelworkers in Granite City, Illinois, yesterday. “Think of that. We lost $817 billion a year over the last number of years in trade. In other words, if we didn’t trade, we’d save a hell of a lot of money.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the president exaggerated the size of the 2017 trade deficit by 48 percent. But that’s a mere quibble compared to his fundamental misunderstanding of what that number means, which in turn reflects a zero-sum view of economic exchange that does not bode well for the outcome of a tariff war supposedly aimed at promoting free trade.

.. Trump’s trade defenders offer a verbal Escher drawing in defense of Trump’s trade policies. “Tariffs are great!” they say. “But Trump doesn’t really believe in tariffs, he wants “free trade,’” they add as well.Well if tariffs are great, why favor free trade? Why favor free trade if tariffs would save us a hell of a lot of money?

.. And the economists who say “that’s not how any of this works”are reduced to the nitpickers who complain that the most implausible thing about the TV series 24 is that the traffic in L.A. would make the whole story impossible. The nitpickers are right — it’s just that no one wants to hear it.

.. charismatic personalities have replaced — or are replacing — traditional institutions as sources of information, morality, and politics. There’s no better example in the moment than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who strikes me as a kind of lame reimagining of a young Barack Obama with a woman in the lead. Cortez doesn’t know a lot about economics, beyond some handy buzz-phrases and shibboleths. She likes to brag about how she knows what the Gini coefficient is but thinks unemployment is low because people are working two jobs.

Did the FBI Have a Spy in the Trump Campaign?

Did the FBI Have a Spy in the Trump Campaign?

Something tells me Glenn Simpson did not make a mistake. Something tells me the co-founder of Fusion GPS was dead-on accurate when he testified that Christopher Steele told him the FBI had a “human source” — i.e., a spy — inside the Trump campaign as the 2016 presidential race headed into its stretch run.

The Justice Department’s inability, or at least unwillingness, to reveal exactly how, when, and why the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation has fueled suspicions that a spy who worked for both the FBI and the CIA was deployed against the Trump campaign, probably in Britain — where Papadopoulos had met with suspected agents of the Kremlin, and where Steele compiled the dossier via reports from his unidentified sources.

From painstaking research, Nunes and committee staff believe they have identified such a spy. When they demanded information about this person — whose name remains unknown to the public — the Justice Department’s response was not “No, you’re wrong, there was no spying.” It was first to bloviate that the department would not be “extorted” (Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s unusual understanding of what is more commonly known as congressional oversight) and then to claim that providing the information sought by the committee would risk “potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities.”

By now, Nunes has learned that if he is catching flak, he is over the target.

.. Simpson explained that Steele had met with at least one FBI agent in Rome in mid to late September 2016. The former British spy had provided the unverified allegations he had compiled to that point

.. Simpson explained to the Senate committee (my italics):

Essentially, what [Christopher Steele] told me was [the FBI] had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source, and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump campaign.

.. Sounds like the FBI, with support from the CIA, had some cooperative intelligence venture with British authorities that enabled the Bureau to monitor Trump-campaign figures. That is significant because Papadopoulos has acknowledged meeting in Britain with people who claimed Kremlin ties and who told him Russia had thousands of Clinton’s emails. Did the FBI’s British operation involve using a spy to interact with Trump-campaign figures, such as Papadopoulos, on British soil? Brennan didn’t say.

.. Christopher Steele, the former British spy with extensive British intelligence and FBI connections, told his friend Glenn Simpson that the FBI had penetrated the Trump campaign with a “human source” who was helping corroborate the dossier.