Russia Collusion Redux

The FBI wouldn’t open an investigation on suspect grounds, staff it with haters of former President Trump, and deploy the most intrusive means imaginable predicated on lies and half truths, would they?  Sadly, we already know the answer to this question…

Last week, we learned that former President Donald Trump is under investigation for violations of the Espionage Act, Obstruction of Justice, and the mishandling or destruction of classified information.  These details only came to light somewhat unwillingly, after an unprecedented FBI raid on the President’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida prompted so much political pressure the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland had no choice except to unseal the warrant.  In the wake of these revelations, the Attorney General himself and many a talking head in the media, some of them real card carrying experts, insisted this step would never be taken without appropriate care and safeguards.  These measures include approval from a federal judge to execute the warrant, the exhaustion of other less intrusive avenues to obtain the information, and an investigation that began only after legitimate probable cause was established, that is the Department of Justice has good reason to believe the former President might be a spy in the first place.  Unfortunately, neither Attorney General Garland, nor President Joe Biden, nor anyone else in a position of authority have offered any details of any kind that might assure the public these measures were actually followed.  We’re expected to simply take them at their word that the diligent professionals at the FBI and the Department of Justice would never, ever open an investigation into a president or a presidential campaign without them.

It couldn’t possibly be the case that President Trump is a victim of a combination of political bias, professional overreach, and outright incompetence.  The FBI wouldn’t open an investigation on suspect grounds, staff it with Trump haters, and deploy the most intrusive means imaginable predicated on lies and half truths, would they?  Sadly, we already know the answer to this question:  This is precisely what occurred starting in the summer of 2016 when then-candidate Trump was targeted by the FBI for potentially colluding with Russia to interfere with the presidential election later that year, only the names have changed.  At the time, Special Agent Peter Strzok headed an investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane, which targeted several people associated with the Trump campaign including George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and of course Trump himself via these conduits.  The tactics employed against the four men in question included confidential human sources and warrants to spy on their communications, warrants which much like the recent raid on Mar-a-Lago were approved by judges and therefore considered to be absolutely legitimate in every way.  Every safeguard was followed.  This mantra was repeated endlessly in the mainstream media and by Democrat politicians for over two years.  We were informed in no uncertain terms that the court and the FBI could not possibly be in error on this matter for whatever reason.  After all, President Obama himself declared the investigation must be conducted “by the book.”  Any concerns that something untoward may have been afoot are entirely unfounded, the stuff of paranoia and conspiracy theories.  It couldn’t possibly be the case that the FBI acted improperly or carelessly in such an important matter.

Three years later, however, we learned that’s exactly what they did, over and over again for a period that lasted almost a full year.  A report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz released in December 2019 found at least 17 material errors in four warrants applications for surveillance against Carter Page.  In the Inspector General’s own words, these were “significant inaccuracies and omissions” as a result of “serious performance failures” that reflected poorly on “the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision.”  These “errors” generally fell into two categories, the reliability of the information they relied on as a predicate for the warrants and claims about Mr. Page that ran counter to the actual facts.  Mr. Horowitz determined that the warrant applications were based almost entirely on the infamous Steele Dossier, a suspect hodgepodge of opposition research funded by Donald Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton.  At the same time the FBI was using the dossier as evidence against Mr. Page, falsely claiming that the information had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” they were learning that Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the dossier itself, couldn’t be trusted.  Sources had “raised doubts about the reliability” of Mr. Steele’s reporting, but they failed to inform the court about these revelations, meaning they intentionally presented evidence they knew was tainted to obtain the warrant.  In addition, the FBI reported false information about Mr. Page himself, declining to tell the court that Mr. Page had worked on behalf of the US government against Russia from 2008 to 2013.  In fact, they told the court the opposite.  That Mr. Page was “not a source,” and they were willing to falsify documents to do it.  FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email in that regard, adding the specific phrase “and not a source,” on August 14, 2020.  The FBI also reported a meeting between Mr. Page and a Russian official as suspicious, though Mr. Page had duly informed the government of the meeting as was required.  In other words, Mr. Page did the right thing, but they went after him anyway.

Progressives are fond of asserting that Inspector General Horowitz ultimately found the investigation itself was properly predicated and conducted without political bias or influence.  In his view, Crossfire Hurricane began “in compliance” with applicable policies including an “authorized purpose” with “adequate factual predications.”  No “political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations” into the respective Donald Trump campaign team members.  This finding identified the original impetus of the investigation as a conversation between George Papadopoulos at a bar in Britain, London’s Kensington Wine Rooms, rather than the suspect Steele Dossier.  Mr. Papadopoulos is supposed to have informed a member of a foreign government that he was aware Russia was in possession of information potentially damaging to the Clinton campaign.  The person he spoke to, however, was an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, who had close ties to Hillary Clinton herself.  Mr. Downer had previously arranged a $25 million donation to the Clinton Foundation, meaning the source for both the dossier and the conversation trace back to Donald Trump’s opposition. The court was not informed in either case.  Even more mysteriously, the original claim that Russia was in possession of this damaging information traces back to Joseph Mifsud, an obscure Maltese academic whose motives remain completely unknown.  The FBI insists he was working for Russian intelligence.  Republicans insist he was working on behalf of either Hillary Clinton or even US intelligence.  Mr. Mifsud himself has since completely disappeared; no one has seen him since 2019.  Regardless, Mr. Papadopoulos has expressed regret for not reporting his original conversation with Mr. Mifsud, saying the “stupidest thing I did was actually gossiping about it with foreign diplomats.”  An investigation into the precise origins of Crossfire Hurricane is still ongoing under the auspices of Special Counsel John Durham.  We do not know what else he may find, but what we do know does not reflect positively on the FBI’s ability to investigate Trump fairly by any means.  There is a documented record of hiding and altering information to obtain warrants, as well as relying on false information to begin with.

Many conservatives, including me, have also taken issue with the Inspector General’s assertion that the investigation was undertaken without any political bias after the release of text messages between the lead agent, Peter Strzok and an FBI lawyer who was also his lover, Lisa Page.  We cannot say to what extent their personal feelings influenced their professional behavior, but even a cursory review makes clear both individuals loathed President Trump and his supporters, something fierce.  Mr. Strzok describes then candidate Trump as “awful” and an “idiot.”  The Republican Convention was “PATHETIC.”  The prospect of Trump winning was “fucking terrifying.”  Nor was this disdain limited to the candidate himself.  Trump supporters were also a target of his ire. After visiting a Walmart in Southern Virginia, he wrote, “Just went to a southern Virginia Wal-Mart.  I could SMELL the Trump support.”  The only question is whether or not he acted on those feelings in his professional capacity leading the investigation.  Contrary to the claims of Inspector General Horowitz, there is at least some indication he did exactly that, though divining a person’s motivation is admittedly a tricky business.  Conservatives point to at least two instances of potential malfeasance.  First, when Ms. Page wrote Mr. Strzok, asking, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” He responded, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”  Mr. Strzok also suggested he had an “insurance policy” against a potential Trump Presidency in another exchange.  While neither is conclusive, fair minded people should agree there is the suggestion that deep-seated political bias played some part in the origins and conduct of the investigation, not to mention that it still remains unclear precisely what schemes Mr. Strzok might be referring to.

It is also undeniable that accusations of Russian interference or spying in general concerning politicians have been treated differently in the past.  No one was surprised that Russia tried to influence the 2016 campaign or even infiltrate a candidate’s network.  Generally speaking, this is what Russia has done for over 50 years in some form or another.  The question has always been why the FBI chose to mount an intrusive investigation complete with confidential sources, otherwise known as spies, and surveillance rather than approach candidate Trump and issue a defensive briefing.  This has been standard practice in the past.  For example, when the FBI learned that California Senator Dianne Feinstein had a Chinese spy in her employ for 20 years, they didn’t conduct a sting operation to determine what information she may have accidentally or intentionally relayed to Beijing.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the initial infiltration in August 2018, “Besides driving her around when she was in California, the staffer also served as gofer in her San Francisco office and as a liaison to the Asian American community, even attending Chinese Consulate functions for the senator.  According to our source, the intrigue started years earlier when the staffer took a trip to Asia to visit relatives and was befriended by someone who continued to stay in touch with him on subsequent visits.”  Senator Feinstein released a statement on her dealings with the FBI after the breach was revealed, “Five years ago the FBI informed me it had concerns that an administrative member of my California staff was potentially being sought out by the Chinese government to provide information. He was not a mole or a spy, but someone who a foreign intelligence service thought it could recruit. The FBI reviewed the matter, shared its concerns with me and the employee immediately left my office. He never had access to classified or sensitive information or legislative matters. The FBI never informed me of any compromise of national security information.”  She was never investigated or surveilled to our knowledge, much less the target of any raids, and she is not alone.  California Congressman Eric Swalwell also had dealings, perhaps even sexual relations, with a Chinese spy, Fang Fang.  The FBI took the same approach as Senator Feinstein.

No one has ever explained why nothing like this was ever attempted with President Trump, making it no mystery why conservatives continue to claim he’s been treated differently than Democrat politicians.  He has.  There is a proven track record, stretching back years.  I’m reminded of two old adages, “Once bitten twice shy,” and “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  It is possible the Department of Justice and the FBI have taken the appropriate steps to ensure we aren’t witnessing a redux of the Russia Collusion fiasco, but in the absence of clearly articulating what these steps are and providing full transparency, there is no rational reason for Trump supporters to give them the benefit of any doubt.  The Department of Justice is now refusing to release the underlying information behind the raid. It is only reasonable to question why when we’ve all seen this movie before:  Once again, there is the accusation that President Trump is a unique threat to national security, possibly sharing materials or colluding with a foreign power to undermine the United States.  Just like last time, we’re being told to trust the people in charge.  They don’t play politics and only operate “by the book.”  We’re supposed to do this while these same people continue to leak defamatory information about the nature of the investigation, complete with shadowy references to “nuclear secrets,” even as they tell us with a straight face that it’s unethical or even illegal to speak about ongoing investigations.   Also the same is the attitude of much of the mainstream media.  They’re more than happy to report on these leaks as though they were well-established facts while fully engaged in rampant speculation about exactly how much trouble Trump might be in.  Apparently, it’s not their job to ask what’s really different in this case except the names of the people involved and the specifics of the charges, but someone certainly has to.  Otherwise, we might as well be watching a movie we’ve already seen before and hoping the ending is different this time around.

5 thoughts on “Russia Collusion Redux”

  1. Thank you, will do. I agree: Everyone is always telling me that I should do this or that with my work. My response is: It’s hard enough to get my wife to read my stuff, much less take over the world. Building an audience isn’t easy by any means. After 20 years of trying, I had finally had a film released by a real distributor in 2020. Our take has been less than $200. Good luck! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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