Terry H. Schwadron
July 22, 2018
Once again, release of secret law enforcement records from the beginning days of the all-thing-Russia investigation are roiling the debate about its legitimacy, except that actually looking at the documents helps the exact opposite of what President Trump says about them.
The president decided to show the FBI and Justice just who’s in charge by overlooking their objections to release of highly confidential source materials — redacted, but still secret — with the obvious motive of undermining the investigation by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The New York Times and other news organizationshad asked for the documents if they were released under freedom of information laws, and published them.
What’s important about the release of these documents:
· At first blush, it turns out that no matter what the documents actually say, what is most significant is the political spin that comes with such actions. The president tweeted without any evidence that the documents show possible illegal spying by the government of people in his campaign sphere, for example, even though the documents seem to show the opposite.
· In February, Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee had issued dueling memos about the documents, again to opposite conclusions about whether the special counsel’s investigation had its start in beginnings that relied too heavily on the Christopher Steele dossier about Trump without identifying who paid for the work and related details. In fact, these documents showed that the dossier was not the main focus of investigative filings to the relatively secret FISA could that allowed — and renewed approvals — for warrants to surveil Carter Page, a Trump associate who had contact with Russians. In other words, these documents show less support than ever for the Republican objections to the Mueller probe.
· Carter Page issued a statement that he was not a Russian agent, though that was not the allegation at hand. There were no denials about the more central aspects of the documents’ investigative findings — namely that Page had raised suspicions about his repeated contact with Russians. Page, of course, has not be charged by the Mueller probe. The documents released reflected FBI investigation of Page well beyond the dossier information.
So, once again, you and I are left to sort all this out. Your choices are to ignore the whole thing, to accept the conclusions that best fit with your overall world view of U.S. politics, or actually to read the documents towards a purpose of trying to understand the ins and outs of all this.
It takes little stretch of the imagination to conclude that our self-centered president wants all to read these documents (or news coverage about them) solely as vindication for himself. After all, he was not the target of those early day FISA warrants.
In doing so, however, the president thumbed his nose at the FBI and Justice and ignored their entreaties not to break with traditional roles and demand (and declassify) documents that could reflect “sources and methods” within their investigations. One conclusion, then, is that Trump, in pursuit of his own agenda, has again put Trump first — before country, law enforcement, a tradition of separation between the White House and Justice, and anything resembling truth.
For Rep. Devlin Nunes, R-CA, and allies Bob Goodlatte, R-Va, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-OH, and Trey Gowdy, R-SC, these documents seem to undercut their efforts to shelve the Mueller investigation. If anything, they seem to support the Democratic conclusion that there was plenty of concern about Page outside the Steele dossier, and there was plenty of discussion in the filing to undermine the effort to undermine.
In the Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote, “Nunes’s efforts to raise questions about the surveillance warrant, granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, were even less robust than they seemed at the time. With the release Friday of a redacted copy of both the initial warrant application targeting Page in October 2016 and the three 90-day extensions of the warrant, we can get a better sense of just how far from the mark the Nunes memo actually was.”
Bump’s column offers substantial detail on how the actual documents veer from Nunes’ interpretations.
Meanwhile, the president’s continuing troubles explaining away his one-on-one meeting conclusions demeaning U.S. intelligence to find ways to accept Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s denials of involvement in the U.S. elections are a factor in looking at these documents. Trey Gowdy, for example, is splitting with the president over inviting Putin to visit the White House this fall, saying that some members of the president’s administration should consider quitting if Trump won’t listen to their advice.“It can be proven beyond any evidentiary burden that Russia is not our friend and they tried to attack us in 2016,” Gowdy told Fox News host Bret Baier. “So the president either needs to rely on the people that he has chosen to advise him, or those advisers need to reevaluate whether or not they can serve in this administration. But the disconnect cannot continue.”
Also breaking with Trump was Sen. Mario Rubio, R-Fla, and to some degree, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC.
We now have politics about how political figures should see Russia, as well as their efforts to meddle. Great. It all makes me hope that Special Counsel Mueller will offer the best-thought, independent review of exactly what went on.
I find it refreshing to see that more Republicans are finding it possible to say outright that Trump is spinning completely made up theories in an attempt to undermine Mueller.