Advertisements

A Sunny and Relatively Mild Weekend in the Ongoing “Russia Thing”

Except for Tiger Woods’ surprisingly near miss at the British Open and a scary hostage situation at a Trader John’s store in Los Angeles there wasn’t a lot of distracting news over the weekend, which left plenty of room in the news cycle for more talking head talk about the ongoing fall-out from President Donald Trump’s most recent foreign tour and the latest developments in the “Russia thing.”
One of our brothers is in town and the weather’s been as nice as one can hope for around here, so we might not have noticed if we hadn’t stopped by Kirby’s Beer Store for a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons on Sunday afternoon. A lawyer friend of ours, the only regular at the notorious northeast dive with a juris doctorate, was staring at his “smartphone” and chuckling gleefully as he read the written argument that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain various warrants to investigate a ¬†fellow named Carter Page way back when he was a little-known Trump campaign official in final days of the race against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.
The document was mostly black lines of predictably redacted paragraphs, and our friend is a professional Democrat who owes his current low-level judicial position to his party’s meager number of appointments, but we’ve long known him to be one of the good guys and his arguments that that the un-redacted disproved Trump’s apologists proved convincing.
If you’re been obsessively following the whole convoluted “Russia thing” from either of the two available prospectives, you by now know that the FBI first got involved in the affair when it obtained those FISA court warrants, and that the Trump-ian perspective is that it was a worse-than-Watergate attempt to spy on the Trump campaign to benefit of “Crooked” Hillary’s effort, based only a discredited dossier by a foreign intelligence agent with Russian ties and paid for by “Crook” Hillary’s effort, along with a “fake news” article in some obscure internet site, along with other “deep state” shenanigans, but that’s all the harder to explain after the FBI made the highly unusual step on Saturday of publicly releasing even a heavily-redacted FISA warrant application.
As our Democratic friend undeniably points out, the document notes that the disputed dossier was produced by an English intelligence officer who had long proved a reliable source in many counter-intelligence operations, and frankly acknowledges the partisan funding of the document that talk radio had long insisted they concealed, which is more bi-partisan than talk radio wants to admit, and clearly hints that all the redacted parts probably reveal how the FBI had reason to suspect Page was an unregistered Russian agent even before he became one of candidate Trump’s top foreign policy advisors.
All the rest of it looks bad for Trump from our third perspective here on the political sidelines. That supposedly discredited dossier alleged the Russians were waging a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election on behalf of Trump, and by now that’s the consensus conclusion of Trump’s very own top intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees, and all the big social media companies and most of the country’s secretaries of state have confirmed two of those prongs with sworn testimony before congressional committees. The dossier also included some salacious and still-unsubstantiated about Russian prostitutes and rather unusual sexual fetishes, but given all the news about pay-offs to a Playboy playmate and and a porn star and the rest our president’s much-bragged about sexual adventuresome nothing seems unthinkable, and the warrants were renewed by Republican appointees to the Republican-created-and-renewed FISA courts during both Democratic and Republican administrations..
Not to mention all the fallout from that foreign trip when Trump was conspicuously friendlier to Russian than he was to America’s traditional allies and his own top national intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees.
None of this convicts Trump of any impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, of course, but we think our Democratic friend is justified in exulting that it all means the “Russia thing” investigation will continue on its ominous course.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

No Thanks for the Memo-ries

The potential public release of a four-page memo penned by California Rep. Devin Nunes about the possible abuse of American surveillance laws by the Federal Bureau of Investigation dominated the news on Thursday, and if it is released as expected this morning we’re sure it will dominate at least another 24 hour news cycle. The memo will have to be pretty darned good to justify all the fuss, however, and we don’t expect it will be.
It’s complicated enough to fill all those column inches and broadcast hours with explanations, and it’s merely a subplot in the “Russia thing” that still hasn’t been explained after nearly two years of the best media efforts, but a lot of things that are hard to explain aren’t worth the effort. This one’s worth following, though, as it is a telling subplot of that “Russia thing,” which does matter, and illustrates just how awful almost everyone involved can be.
In case you’ve lately been too happily busy to be following the subplot, Nunes is a proudly partisan Republican who wound up in charge of the House committee charged with investigating the “Russia thing.” He quickly established a reputation as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump against all the various “Russia thing” suspicions, and was so zealous about that he wound up resigning his chairmanship after an embarrassing impromptu news conference where he announced he was taking some unreleased exculpatory evidence to the White House and it turned out he’d obtained the evidence from the White House and it wasn’t very exculpatory. Despite his self-proclaimed recusal from the matter he penned a four-page memo which reportedly outlines the reasons he believed the whole “Russia thing” was cooked up by some FBI agents who used a phony-baloney Democrat-bought “dossier” to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts to spy on the Trump presidential campaign in the most scandalous case of political espionage since President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign had those inept burglars try to bug the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building.
Meanwhile all the Trump apologists on Fox News and talk radio and the comments sections of the far right internet sites and in Congress have been insisting the real “Russia thing” is actually a Russian-aided plot by the “deep state” and the “fake news” and assorted other “globalists” loathe to make America great again, so they’ve been clamoring for a while to have the memo publicly released. They’ve finally got an authentic government document to corroborate their conspiracy theories, and “release the memo” has become a popular “hashtag” with both Russian “‘bots” and actual people, and after his overshadowed State of the Union address Trump was caught on a “hot mic” telling a congressman that there was a “100 percent” chance the memo was about to be released.
Neither Trump nor his apologists seem to realize how complicated it all is, though, and we don’t expect the long-awaited four pages will be worth the risk they’re taking. It’s an authentic government document, to be sure, but so is the unreleased memo written by the Democrats on the House’s investigative that reportedly outlines all the more plausible reasons they think Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to affect the American presidential election, and by now no one puts much stock in anything just because it’s an authentic government document. Nunes is entitled to his opinions, but the public is entitled to regard it as nothing more than the opinions of a proudly partisan politician.
To whatever extent Nunes’ opinions are informed by the classified information he’s seen as the deposed chairman of a House investigative committee, it gives credence to the objections of the FBI and other intelligence-gathering agencies that the release will reveal sources and methods that are better left classified. That includes the Trump-appointed leaders of those bureaus and agencies, so that abandonment of longstanding Republican principles further complicates the matter, even if the Democrats opposed to release of the memo stand credibly accused of the same hypocrisy.
The accusation that FISA laws have been is also tricky for the Republicans, whose resolute anti-terrorist stand got the laws passed over the objections of those bleeding-heart Democrats and addle-brained libertarian types of Republicans  who warned the law could be too easily abused by rogue government actors for all sorts of mischief. Nunes was one of the most outspoken Republicans who supported the laws, which now requires a lot of explaining.
The more reasonable sorts of Republicans assured the public that the FISA laws were carefully written enough to require a very high standard of proof to win a warrant to surveil an American citizen, and that a highly compelling case must be made that the national security was at stake, and so far as well can tell those assurances have proved true. Nunes’ four-page memo reportedly asserts that the FISA courts handed out wiretaps on all sorts of sinless Trump campaign officials on the basis of a phony-baloney Democratic-funded dossier by some shady foreigner, but the next 24 hours of news will explain how it’s more complicated than that.
By all accounts it takes more than a four-page memo of partisan opinions to obtain a FISA warrant, what’s already been reported in the “fake news” and subsequently acknowledged by Trump would probably suffice, the rest of what the feds had to get their disputed surveillance warrants would surely reveal all sorts of sources and methods better left classified. To whatever extent the FISA courts used that phony-baloney dossier from some foreigner only demonstrates the carefully vetted and Republican-confirmed jurists gave credence to the findings of a respected former British intelligence agent.
Maybe those four pages will be so jam-packed with juicy details that it convincingly explains the whole “Russia thing” as a plot by the Democrats and the “deep state,” and we’ll be obliged to give it a fair reading. If it turns out to be just another piece of an obstruction of justice case, though, we won’t be surprised.

— Bud Norman