Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 25, 2018
A lot of dust is being kicked up by the disclosures this week that Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions spent “several hours” being interviewed by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s office, seemingly putting the questions about all-things-Russia and specific questions about possible obstruction of justice closer to the White House. Last night, even President Trump said he would speak under oath to Mueller.
At the same time, there is a spreading campaign of muddiness being churned by Republican congressmen about all-things-FBI, focusing variously on a few individuals in the Department of Justice who either themselves or their spouses have expressed support for anti-Trump politics, who met as a “secret society,” who misused unproved information to get needed warrants. The argument is that this is enough to undercut the special counsel investigation.
From where I sit, despite all the breathlessness about each of the developments, all of these are the stuff that is supposed to happen, the sort of dog-bites-man version of news. That all this political hype is being spun up into a meringue of concern at the same time that similar hype is being created for the annual Superbowl strikes me as an appropriate coincidence.
On the one side, how else would you expect Mueller to conduct an investigation? Of course, Mueller needed to talk with Sessions, Stephen Bannon, Jared Kushner, and Rod Rosenstein (who probably needs to recuse himself from the investigation), all people who participated in one form or another of the events around the firing of James B. Comey Jr. as head of the FBI. And he will need to talk to Donald Trump too, as the central character in the play.
But to hear the hyperbole on the cable news shows, you would think that America is headed for the cliff any moment now.
Either Trump will answer all the questions out there, or his lawyers will be successful in limiting the president’s legal exposure. If the president flip-flops and decides to pursue an “executive privilege” strategy, we’ll have a nice, fairly pointed legal debate. But it will be resolved, even if it needs to go to the Supreme Court.
The point is, all of this has already garnered its own preparations, its own playbook, just like the football teams. There’s no need to generate fake drama here. If the question of whether the President of the United States committed an illegal act is not considered dramatic on its own, we have a bigger problem.
Meanwhile, we continue to learn unsavory daily details, like the fact that Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, never told his boss, the president, that he had been questioned by the FBI — in the White House. It also was reported that Trump inappropriately asked deputy FBI head Andrew McCabe which candidate he had supported in the election. What exactly we are supposed to understand from such details is never clear.
Now, at the same time, the arrival, almost on cue, of distracting efforts to undermine the Special Counsel’s efforts, is pretty much expected too. In fact, the case that Republicans like Devin Nunes, (R-CA) the House Intelligence Committee reflects a strange effort whose influence is spreading quickly among Republicans in Congress. These congressmen are acting as pickets on the Trump defensive fence, looking to publicize anything that will throw Mueller’s expected charges off-kilter.
The reason that I find the effort notable is that it presages the real problem that lies ahead: What are the House and Senate Republicans going to do if the findings are that the president actually committed a crime while in office? For that matter, what will they do about stopping any foreign influence attempts against this year’s election? With all their time in these areas going into protecting their own against anything that might look bad, we have made little progress at hardening our election processes from hacking and actual vote manipulation, without regard to whether Russians were colluding with a few Trump campaign staffers.
The Washington Post took a look at the main Republican claims. Here is a link, but in summary, there are four main claims:
— The dossier assembled by Fusion GPS and former British spy Christopher Steele was mistakenly used to justify FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrants leading to surveillance that, in turn, pointed to meetings between Russians and some Trump staffers. The dossier has allegations largely unproved. Testimony has it that the FBI, which did pay for some of Steele’s expenses, already was investigating Trump staff when the dossier surfaced. It’s not enough to undermine the Special Counsel.
— A four-page memo by Devin Nunes summarizing the worst of FBI practices surfacing in this last year is being distributed among congressmen, but never shared with the FBI to affirm or deny. I don’t get this at all — it is written by Nunes. How does that undercut Mueller, who is assembling actual evidence in a criminal investigation?
— FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, were conducting a romantic affair via FBI messages, among other things also including their desires for Trump to lose. Strzok, who had worked on the Hillary Clinton probe, went on to join the Mueller investigative team until he was dismissed upon Mueller’s learning of the texts. However, Republicans are using the texts as evidence of bias in the special counsel probe. A big question is raised by five months’ worth of missing emails between the pair. Strok and Page also mentioned being in a “secret society,” which is weird and apparently meant as a private joke; yesterday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc said an FBI informant told him that the secret society held meetings to oppose Trump. In any case, none of all of this says don’t believe Mueller’s evidence.
— McCabe, redux. It turns out that McCabe’s wife in 2015 ran for office in Virginia, and received Democratic money. By inference, McCabe is targeted as a biased person in a position to oversee the special counsel investigation into, among other things, the firing of his former boss.
Following all the names and roles is a lot of work, for sure. Using congressional time to undermine the FBI and Special Counsel probe seems to me to be a distraction and a waste of time. Republicans have plenty of time to not do anything about whatever the special counsel comes up with.
Let’s complete the process before we encourage voters to ignore its results.