Seeking Truths in the Memos Maze
Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 9, 2018
It is now clear that there are more “memos” to be released, each with some pieces of fact or assertion buttressed by conclusions that inevitably will be read as favoring one party or another.
With each release, we can expect counter-memos, and we can expect that various self-selected partisan supporters will offer interpretation to sway us to see the facts as they see them.
Almost separate from the documents are the quick actions of the president himself, consistently jumping into incomplete information to declare his own vindication with each memo.
Lest anyone suggest we are ignoring these memos, just what are they? And — understanding that you and I don’t have the facts at hand to judge what is true–what is the worst that could they suggest? For sure, Americans will spend a lot of time and effort running each one to ground. Hey, the White House apparently is redacting the Democratic version of the House Intelligence Committee memo before is goes out.
The most interesting memo may be one that says President Barack Obama wanted to be kept up to date about the FBI’s investigation of the Hillary Clinton emails.
A separate memo seeks to unearth how information from a Hillary Clinton adviser made it way to former British spy Christopher Steele, whose statements in a dossier were used to support a FISA warrant for surveillance of a Trump associate, Carter Page, who was meeting with Russians.
Yet another is a threatened memo about the State Department’s ties with Steele. In today’s Washington Post, Jonathan Winer, a former official in the department, pre-empts it with a description of his own activities talking with Steele.
Clear so far? Hang in; there are a lot of names and organizations involved.
It may feel as if we are going in circles here, but at heart are questions about whether the FBI allowed instances of bias among key staff members in its investigations, basically the current charges from Republicans. Last year, it was Democrats who thought so. Some of those Republicans seem to have bias in their own zeal of protecting the president against any other FBI or Justice Department proceedings. Others seem genuinely concerned with possible missteps at the top of the nation’s law enforcement agencies.
In any event, a lot of stuff is bubbling up about FBI practices during the Clinton email investigation, in the FISA court applications, and generally in the prosecution of the Russia investigations. It is all complicated, and interpretations inevitably are seen as partisan.
Let’s start with a new report from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the same guy who previously had found “evidence” of a “secret society” meeting within the FBI, only to acknowledge that he had missed a joke in the message he had cited. Now he says that among 384 pages of texts between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, FBI lawyer (the two were lovers), there was at least one that said former President Barack Obama wanted to be kept up to date about everything the FBI was finding. Johnson said that message concerned investigation of the Hillary Clinton emails.
Strzok and Lisa Page were both involved in the Clinton probe, and then later, Strzok was included in the Special Counsel’s staff inquiries into all-things-Russia until Robert S Mueller III, the special counsel, learned of the texts and ousted Strzok.
In a Sept. 2, 2016, text exchange, Lisa Page wrote that she was preparing talking points about the investigation because “Potus (Obama) wants to know everything we’re doing.”
While this, as in each of these memos, may have a relatively innocent explanation, President Trump already has weighed in, tweeting “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!” Not unexpectedly, Trump would have us believe that there has been a wide (Democrat-centric) conspiracy out there to help Hillary Clinton in the election and to entangle his administration in a false, or at least confused, set of investigations into possible cooperation with Russians to influence the election in a partisan manner.
While you could understand that Obama would want to ensure that the election went on without Russian information, it is not immediately apparent why he would need to know about the progress of an earlier FBI investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server. At a stretch, Obama could have been worried about whether a private email server had been hacked and classified information leaked to American foes overseas, or maybe, as Johnson would have it, he wanted to control the investigation altogether. However, The Wall Street Journal reported that the text that Johnson had highlighted referred to overall Russian influence in the 2016 election, not to the Clinton email server probe. Oh, well.
Separately this week, we’ve had an updated, public release of a partly declassified member to Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod J. Rosenstein from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was partially declassified and made public on Friday, 2 February. The senators assert that in October, 2016, while he was compiling his dossier, Christopher Steele received information relevant to the to the dossier from an associate of the Clintons. During an interview, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who has read all the relevant classified documents, suggested that the Clinton source was Sid Blumenthal. The senators have said that they believe documents show that Steele lied to the FBI or to a British court and want Rosenstein to order a separate probe to determine whether there were lies to the FBI.
Among other things, Blumenthal once worked for the State Department, which may explain why Republicans are calling for a look at the State Department activities and documents during the Obama administration, which is why some want to look at State Department records.
Now they add this: “One memorandum by Mr. Steele . . . states that his company ‘received this report from [redacted] US State Department,’ that the report was the second in a series, and that the report was information that came from a foreign sub-source who ‘is in touch with [redacted], a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to [redacted].’ It is troubling enough that the Clinton Campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility.”
You can see the limitations of both the fact-finding and the politics at play. Remember, the special counsel’s office already knows whatever it needs to know from the Steele work; this is either about the FBI’s practices or a broad-brush attack on investigating Trump altogether.
Just for coincidental amusement, an FBI informant named Douglas Campbell connected to the Uranium One controversy told three congressional committees in written testimony he was told that Moscow routed millions of dollars to America with the expectation it would be used to benefit Bill Clinton’s charitable efforts while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quarterbacked a “reset” in US-Russian relations. Of course, Democrats have cast doubt on Campbell’s credibility, TheHill.com reported.
Apparently, we have investigative fever, so long as it promotes a partisan end.
All of this has to do with the way that the FBI and Justice Department do their business, not on whether the Russians are trying to influence U.S. elections, spread discord, or try to infiltrate the various political parties — all of which I take as a base assumption. Little of this has anything to do substantively with whether the president committed an obstruction of justice, and almost nothing to do with what will happen if such a criminal charge ever emerges.
But it all has a lot to do with whether we believe government officials and the fairness within our top law enforcement agency.