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Fusion GPS Goes Public at Last

One of the main subplots of the “Russia thing” soap opera, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a dossier of information compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleging that President Donald Trump had a long history of shady business dealings with various Russian organizations and that the Russian government worked diligently to get him elected. It also had some very salacious stories about Russian prostitutes, which delighted all the late night comics, and it’s gotten a lot of attention.
To Trump’s die-hard defenders, what was scandalous about the dossier was its very existence. Although it was first commissioned by the right-of-center Washington Free Beacon, which was hoping to stave off Trump’s insurgent campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, and then funded by some unknown Republican donor who still held out faint hope in latter stages of the primary race, it was eventually funded by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and that’s enough to taint it on talk radio. The former British intelligence agent relied on the sources he’d developed as the MI6 agency’s top Moscow spy, and apparently that’s what Trump means when claims that Clinton and the Democrats colluded with the Russians. There were a couple of quickly proved errors, too, and much was hard to verify.
What Trump’s defenders called the “dodgy dossier” or the “debunked dossier” and even the mainstream news is now calling the “infamous dossier” quickly became it’s own scandal. It was alleged that the dossier was the evidence presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to open the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-intelligence probe into Russian meddling in the American presidential election, and therefore all of its findings should are the fruit of a poisoned tree. Last summer that Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee hauled in the top two people at Fusion GPS, the private investigating firm started by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporters that had hired the former British intelligent agent, and grilled them for ten straight hours of a closed hearing. Information about the testimony was leaked that allowed the talk radio hosts to paint the pair as a couple of conspirators out to smear Trump’s stellar reputation, and their dossier as “dodgy” and “debunked” and at the very least “infamous.”
On Monday the top two Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, even referred that British intelligence agent to federal law enforcement for criminal investigation. That was apparently a step two far one of the committee’s top Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who audaciously defied her Republican colleagues and longstanding tradition by releasing all 300 pages of that long ago testimony by the two guys at Fusion GPS.
The two guys at Fusion GPS had always insisted their testimony be made public, and so had a lot of other people who suspected that they’d made a better case for themselves than the talk radio talkers suggested with the selectively leaked information. As it turns out, it’s clear why they wanted the testimony made public and the Republicans didn’t.
They credibly deny any political motivations, rightly noting they offer their opposition research services to both Republicans and Democrats, testified they found reasons to believe federal law enforcement also had sources warning of Russian meddling in the election, and noted that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent they’d hired, had an excellent reputation with America’s intelligence agencies. Recent reports suggest that one of those sources was the Australian ambassador to the United States, who reported to the American former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Popadopoulos had been drinking with him one evening and bragged that his candidate had dirt on his Democratic rival straight from the Russian government, reports indicate that others who listen in on Russian calls had passed along similar warnings, and that happened before Steele started snooping around.
We’re not clear what criminal acts Grassley and Graham think that Steele might have committed, but he doesn’t seem convincing as the bad guy in the whole “Russia thing.” Despite the aforementioned quickly proved errors in what he frankly acknowledged was raw and unfinished intelligence gathering, and even though a lot of it has not yet been verified by a subpoena-wielding special counsel probe, much of it holds up well. Steele’s early allegation that the Russians were making a concerted effort to help Trump in the election is now the consensus opinion of America’s intelligence community, Trump’s Central Intelligence director has blamed the Russians for the hacking of the DNC, his Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged Russian hacking attempts on 20 state election offices, all the social media sites have testified to Congress that the Russians used them to spread propaganda, and Trump himself begrudgingly mumbles his slightly equivocating agreement. Steele called the FBI to warn them of Russian meddling, which is more than Donald Trump Jr. did when some Russians he knew to be connected to the Kremlin offered dirt on Clinton, and even the talk radio conspiracy theories are based on the assumption that his word was good enough for the FBI and the FISA court.
There’s also been a lot of solid reporting by respected publications and broadcast programs around the world that backs up Steele’s accounts of Trump’s shady dealings with Russians, the aforementioned idiot Trump Jr. has bragged to the press about all the Russian money flowing into the family’s still wholly-owned businesses, and the special counsel team of investigators includes some lawyers famed for their past money-laundering and Russian mob prosecutions. The special counsel already has a couple of guilty pleas, including the aforementioned idiot Papadopoulos, as well Trump’s short-lived and very Russia-connected national security advisor Mike Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently contesting a variety of Russia-related charges, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is clearly in the investigative cross-hairs, and the special counsel has reportedly requested an interview with Trump himself.
Trump’s lawyers will probably protect him from anything short of some written answers to written questions, and his defenders on “Fox & Friends” and talk radio and the Senate intelligence committee will surely come up with some spin, but from our seat on the sidelines the “Russia thing” doesn’t seem likely to end soon. We’ll not venture any predictions how it all turns out, and it may all turn out to be a grand conspiracy between the “deep state” and the “globalists” to prevent Trump from making American great again, but we don’t expect that those Fusion GPS guys and that former British intelligence agent turn out to be the bad guys.

— Bud Norman

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An Oratorical Drone Strike

As we write this Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is still talking on the Senate floor, waging a filibuster against the confirmation of Paul Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All the press reports have dubbed Paul’s effort an “old-fashioned” filibuster to distinguish it from the modern easy-to-use variety, which is any procedural maneuver to block a simple majority, and some could not resist a reference to the climactic scene of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The marathon speech-making was intended as a protest against the Obama administration’s drone policies, which claim broad powers to strike against Americans without due process, but the tactic might have garnered more attention than the point it was making.

Which is a shame, because the drone policy deserves careful public scrutiny. In testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder offered an assurance that “the government has no intention” of carrying out drone strikes in America but nonetheless insisted it has a right to do so in an “extraordinary circumstance.” Holder cited the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, as examples, but questioning by Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz revealed that more ordinary circumstances also suffice. Cruz asked “If an individual sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?” A discomfiting amount of hemming and hawing followed before Holder replied that he did “not think that that would be an appropriate use of lethal force.” Only when pressed further by Cruz, who noted that he had asked about the legality rather than the propriety of such an attack, did Holder concede that there might be constitutional issues involved.

Such an expansive view of government power seems odd coming from Holder, who had been an outspoken critic of the previous administration’s harsh interrogation techniques, formerly insisted on civilian trials for such terrorists at Halide Sheik Mohammad, and whose law firm had noisily represented several of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but none of the senators bothered to question him about the consistency of his views. Many critics of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism protocols have undergone similar conversions since Obama took office, so perhaps the senators felt it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant comment.

Some will contend that Obama’s critics are guilty of the same hypocrisy, and there probably are a few conservatives out there who would have felt quite comfortable with the new drone policies under the old administration, but Paul comes from strictly libertarian wing of the Republican and has been opposed to the war on terror’s expansion of government powers since the beginning. Although we have our doubts about Paul’s isolationist tendencies, they serve him well in this instance.

— Bud Norman

The Sex Scandal Sideshow

Although it’s a most embarrassing confession to make, we must admit that we were initially just a bit pleased to learn that Gen. David Petraeus had resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency because of an extramarital affair. Not because we wished to see the previously impeccable reputation of someone who has done great service for his country destroyed, and certainly not because we relished the grief that the revelation has no doubt caused his wife of many years and the rest of their family, but only because we hoped that the addition of a titillating subplot would bring much-needed public attention to an outrageous White House scandal that the national media had been determined to ignore in the last weeks of the presidential election.
Now, however, the titillating subplot threatens to overshadow the bigger, more important story.
The press has been investigating the Petraeus affair with the same gleeful fervor it always brings to the task of piling on fallen heroes, or at least those fallen heroes suspected of certain political party affiliations, and they’ve already uncovered a slew of salacious details. There’s not just a revered married military man having illicit sex with a comely young woman, and under a desk in a war zone, no less, but also the soap operatic spectacle of an accomplished professional woman hacking into her lover’s supposedly highly secured e-mail account to send threatening letters to yet another woman, this woman even younger and comelier, and to add a twist of the sort usually only found in movies by the Coen brothers, there’s an FBI agent investigating it all who develops his own crazed crush on the other other woman and sends her a series of salacious e-communications that include shirtless pictures of himself. We have no idea what story lines are being played out on the reality shows these days, but for pure salacious tawdriness they surely can’t match the Petraeus saga.
There’s more than just a prurient interest here, of course, even if that does seem to be driving the news coverage. All of the reporters can reassure themselves that they’re exposing an appalling lapse of judgment by a man at the very top of the intelligence community, raising legitimate questions about the competence of the investigative agencies that are supposed to be safeguarding against shenanigans, and although it will go largely unmarked the journalistic and publishing establishments that once lauded a woman with such unethical research techniques and poor mental health as Petraeus’ lover has also been called into question. The public has a right to know about all of it, and a certain degree of public scrutiny and opprobrium is appropriate.
Let us hope, though, that these enticing details don’t obscure the more sobering fact of four Americans dying in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. They were sent by their government into a land that had been bombed by American air power into a state of near-anarchy, denied sufficient security after repeated pleas, denied help even as government officials watched their futile struggle for survival on live video, and then the reason for their deaths was lied about for days by numerous government, with the lie making a scapegoat of an obscure filmmaker who had exercised his constitutional right to make a low-budget video. New reports raise fresh suspicions about possible “enhanced interrogations” that the government was conducting in Libya in violation of an executive order that the president has long preened, and there’s still more investigating to be done.
Much of the country would be quite relieved if the buck were to stop with Petraeus. When the general was bringing enough to stability to Iraq to allow for a peaceful and honorable withdrawal of American troops he was pilloried by the left, with the MoveOn.org group calling him “General Betray-Us,” the New York Times giving them a discounted ad rate to do it, and the woman who is now the Secretary-of-State-in-hiding saying that his claims of success required a “suspension of disbelief.” The heroic stature that Petraeus gained when his claims were proved true only further enflamed the left’s resentment, and although the criticism somehow disappeared once he was brought onto the Obama administration it was inevitable they would turn on him again once his usefulness had ended.
The ultimate responsibility for the fiasco, however, lies with the man who appointed Petraeus. Whatever his faults, and there are apparently more of them than had previously been supposed, Petraeus was not the man who failed to provide the necessary security, he was not the man who repeatedly lied about the incident, and he was not the one man who punished an American citizen for criticizing Islam. The man responsible for these outrages was recently re-elected as the President of the United States, and although his role in this mess isn’t very sexy it deserves the greatest degree of scrutiny nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

A Strange Case of Selective Outrage

Do you remember when Karl Rove deliberately endangered the life of Valerie Plame by exposing her identity as a top-secret undercover spy in order to punish her husband for his brave dissent against the war in Iraq? It was in all the papers and on all the news shows, and even gave rise to feverish fantasies on the left about George W. Bush’s top advisor being frog-marched off to prison where he would finally get his just deserts.

You might well have forgotten, and quite understandably so, because it all turned to be bunk. A multi-million dollar investigation led by a special prosecutor eventually discovered that it was not Karl Rove but rather Richard Armitage, a close ally of media darling Colin Powell, who had leaked Plame’s affiliation with the Central Intelligence Agency. The revelation wasn’t illegal, since Plame was actually a desk-bound analyst for the CIA, and it didn’t pose such a danger to her life that it prevented her from posing for glamour photos to accompany a fawning article in Vanity Fair. Nor was the leak made in retaliation for her husband’s brave but inconsequential dissent, which was a public pose at odds with the testimony he had secretly given to the government.

We were reminded of the long-ago incident by a comment posted at the essential Instapundit site, which contrasted the outraged media reaction to that phony controversy with the conspicuously scant coverage of case of the al-Qaeda infiltrator who helped thwart an underwear bombing attempt. This involves an actual double-agent, who was actually exposed, and is now in actual danger of his life, seemingly because someone in the administration was seeking political gain.

The initial news reports emphasized that a plan to explode airplanes full of Americans had been averted, and quoted administration officials who clearly hoped it would impress voters with the James Bond-like efficiency of the Obama counter-terrorism effort, but subsequent and less widely-played have stories proved more embarrassing to the administration. First it was revealed that the would-be bomber was in fact a British national of Saudi Arabian heritage who had been planted in al-Qaeda by British intelligence agencies, and the next wave of stories in the British press revealed that the previous revelations had endangered the agent’s life, possibly allowed the escape of al-Qaeda’s most accomplished bomb-builder, and infuriated the British government.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to look into the matter, but soo far there seems to be no cry from the national media for special prosecutors or frog-marched suspects. Perhaps it’s because Plame was a rather comely blonde woman, and the unnamed but unmasked infiltrator presumably is not, but it does seem darned peculiar.

— Bud Norman