Memo: How to Create a Swamp
Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 2, 2018
The more complicated that President Trump and the House Republican majority make this issues about release of a memo that selectively relies on pieces of classified information to attack the FBI, the simpler the significance.
There appears no end to the number of ways that the president and allies will go to protecting Trump from what seems a tightening circle around obstruction of justice charges involving Trump and his family.
With the president apparently having decided not to block the memo, or order redactions of mention of classified documents, we’ll all shortly be able to make a judgment. We can be sure that the dizzying eddy of near-simultaneous events, findings, declarations and generally impatient stamping of institutional government feet is proving to be mightily tremendous in seeking to muddy the waters.
Nevertheless, what is crystal clear is an attempt to undercut those in charge of the investigation into questions of whether Donald Trump or his campaign and White House staffs were involved with Russian attempts to influence the election or to obstruct justice in covering up. Were there any question, the president issued a tweet this morning that made it obvious: “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans — something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!”
And so, we now sit on the cusp of a major constitutional crisis in which the president sees righteousness in seeking to discredit and likely remove those Justice Department officials who are investigating him. We have the FBI crowing that the memo is rife with omissions, biased and inaccurate in its conclusions, and we have Republicans in Congress letting it all happen.
The only question now seems to revolve around the manner and method of publicizing the memo’s contents, even if it means reading classified information into the congressional record. Among other things, it leaves the futures of Trump appointees Christopher Wray at the FBI and Rod Rosenstein at Justice, pictured above, at risk.
My mental hypocrisy meter readings and the number of things you have to believe as happening in a conspiracy both are over the top. You’d have to accept that U.S. intelligence agencies were wrong, that the FBI and Justice officials (including Republican appointees) were inventing reasons to go after Trump, that a single individual agent could bias such an investigation.
Just to recap:
- The House Intelligence Committee majority, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), wrote a four-page memo attacking early decisions in the Russia investigation that they say improperly used an unproved dossier assembled as anti-Trump campaign fodder to persuade a secret federal FISA court to allow surveillance of at least one Trump associate, Carter Page, for cooperation with Russians. The vote to publicize the memo was along political party lines. Among other things, Nunes and the White House refuse to say whether they worked on the memo together.
- The Democratic minority complains that the actual memo differs in final language from what was approved by the majority, and gripes that their own longer rebuttal memo isn’t being publicized in like manner.
- More reports continue to arise in the news media that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is honing in on lies spun by the Trump staff, including communications director Hope Hicks, about a Trump Tower meeting with Russians who had offered to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton. In short, the new details tighten the case against the president himself.
- It has been widely reported that the president wants to remove Rod J. Rosenstein as deputy attorney general with oversight of the Mueller investigation. The memo apparently points in his direction for missteps in the FISA applications, allowing the president more ammunition to remove Rosenstein, who, in turn, is the only official who can stop Mueller.
- After Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray were rebuffed by Chief of Staff John Kelly from stopping the memo, Wray went public with a “grave” warning, its highest such level, about publicizing a memo that is inaccurate and incomplete. It is highly irregular for the FBI and Justice Department to buck the president publicly, but then, it is highly irregular for the president to be talking about firing anyone who wants to investigate him.
- At one point, it came out that Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents singled out for bias because of anti-Trump messages he shared with his lover, was the same Peter Strzok who wrote the October note to Congress re-opening the Hillary Clinton email. The “bias” claims are either wacky or equally aimed in both directions.
- Throughout all of this, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, insists that the memo is about the narrow issue of specific missteps, and is not an indictment of the FBI or Justice. His words are simply not credible.
- And the president’s legal team is leaking hints that perhaps it will not cooperate with open questioning of the president by prosecutor Mueller.
While few know the details of the memo, the general outlines rely on the use of the unproved dossier assembled by GPS Fusion and former British spy Christopher Steele to get the original FISA warrant, which has led to other leads in the Russia investigation. GPS was hired first as Republican opposition research against Trump, and then continued with Democratic money from a lawyer affiliated with the Democratic National Committee. House Republicans see this as tainting initial steps of the whole Russia investigation.
There is a lot of talk about just how out-of-order this brouhaha has become, and how each player is overstepping bounds towards the larger target of misbehavior by the president as candidate and in office.
Let’s not lose focus through all the distraction that this investigation is about criminal acts by the campaign, its players, and by the president of the United States.