The plot thins
One of the traits Donald Trump admires in himself is that he's a "very flexible person." That came in handy as Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued his long-awaited report on how the FBI conducted the Russia investigation.
Contrary to claims by the president and his supporters, the FBI was justified in opening the probe. Contrary to Trump's charges, the bureau wasn't driven by bias against him. Horowitz faulted the FBI for "serious performance failures," including 17 “significant inaccuracies or omissions” when it obtained a surveillance warrant on Carter Page, a 2016 campaign foreign policy adviser. (But he also found the eavesdropping justified.) Contrary to Trump and his allies, the dossier compiled by former British agent Christopher Steele with some unsupported allegations didn't spark the investigation, though the FBI relied too much on it for too long.
But contrary to the overall thrust of Horowitz's findings (full text here), Trump declared them to be “far worse than anything I would have imagined.” Sticking to the parts of his story that Horowitz debunked, Trump declared, “This was an overthrow of government. This was an attempted overthrow and a lot of people were in on it and they got caught, they got caught red-handed.” (Watch a video clip.)
As he did with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report, Attorney General William Barr piped up to offer Trump reinforcement and dispute the IG finding that the FBI acted correctly in the beginning of the probe. "The FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said in a statement.
In an unusual move, the prosecutor Barr named to conduct a still-ongoing criminal inquiry into the Russia probe's origins also took his views public. "We advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication" — the basis of the bureau suspicions — "and how the FBI case was opened,” said Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham.
Trump can barely wait to hear Durham's report. “It’s got its own information, which is this information plus, plus, plus,” he said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray parted ways with Barr and Durham's suggestion that the investigation should not have happened. While pledging the bureau will "learn the lessons" from mistakes Horowitz exposed, "I think it's important that the Inspector General found that in this particular instance the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization," Wray told ABC News. On Tuesday, a fevered Trump attacked Wray.
Ivanka and the secret agent man
One of the most unexpected revelations in the IG's report is that Steele, pushing back at the idea he harbored anti-Trump bias, revealed he had "been friendly" with a Trump family member for some years. He even gifted the person "a family tartan from Scotland."
ABC News reports that Trump was Ivanka, the president's eldest daughter. They met at a dinner in 2007 when Steele was still in the spy game and kept in touch, discussing later the possibility of doing business together.
Ivanka was managing foreign business projects, while Steele had moved on to a private intelligence business. The exchanges did not lead to any formal arrangements, but the contacts continued through 2015.
Bias went both ways
Two villains in Trump's version of the "hoax" are the FBI "lovers" — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — who had an affair and swapped texts disparaging Trump. But Horowitz said he found no evidence that personal political agendas affected the probe and neither of the pair was a top decision-maker.
Horowitz’s report notes that key figures including agents and sources were Trump fans. The day after the election, one supervisory agent was eager to join any investigation of the Clinton Foundation.
Janison: Trump's Saudi tiptoe
A president with few inhibitions about giving offense had responded oh-so-delicately to the terrorist shootings on U.S. soil by a member of Saudi Arabia's military elite, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Trump accepted King Salman's condolences and assertions that Saudis "love the American people." Absent were Trump's yearslong series of fierce cries about Islamic terrorism, about getting "smart," about the need for "extreme vetting" of outsiders, about banning Muslims from the U.S. until we "figure out what's going on," even calling for the torture of suspects' family members.
What's different? His son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is in a privileged alliance with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump backs the kingdom's war in Yemen. Trump frequently exaggerates the volume of U.S. business with the kingdom.
Impeachment marches on
House impeachment hearings have taken on something of a ritualistic familiarity as Democrats check the boxes aimed at drafting the articles of impeachment as early as this week and a full House vote by Christmas.
On Monday, the Judiciary Committee heard Democratic and Republican counsels interpret the evidence through partisan lenses.
“President Trump’s persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security,” said Dan Goldman for the Democrats.
“Baloney," said Steve Castor for the Republicans.
The Washington Post reported Monday night that Democrats expected to draft two articles of impeachment against Trump: one on abuse of power, the other on obstruction of Congress.
Newsday's Tom Brune has five takeaways from the hearing.
Anatomy of Afghan quagmire
A trove of more than 2,000 government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.
The documents — obtained under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle — were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. Interviews with diplomats, generals, Afghan officials and others who played a direct role in the conflict acknowledged warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.
Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump promised they would avoid falling into the trap of "nation-building" in Afghanistan, but did anyway, the Post writes. Trump has said he wants the U.S. out. His administration has been negotiating with the Taliban and considering whether to withdraw the remaining 13,000 U.S. troops.
What else is happening:
- Former FBI Director James Comey took the IG's report as a rebuke to Trump's claims of a "witch hunt" and even "treason." Comey tweeted: "So it was all lies. No treason. No spying on the campaign. No tapping Trumps wires. It was just good people trying to protect America." He also wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that, "Unfortunately, it appears that Barr will continue his practice of deriding the Justice Department when the facts don’t agree with Trump’s fiction."
- Trump is planning to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday in Washington. During their last meeting in May 2017, Trump happily related his firing of "nut job" Comey and reportedly dished classified information.
- Rudy Giuliani told a pro-Trump podcast Monday that he was shocked AT&T turned over his phone records, including info on his calls with the president, to the House Intelligence Committee. "I would think they would've" asked, Giuliani said. "I would think they would have at least gone to court to try to find out if they were violating attorney-client privilege."
- Elizabeth Warren says she believes Americans are ready for a presidential-vice presidential ticket with two women. In an interview with The Associated Press, she said she'd also be "open" to asking former Vice President Joe Biden to run again for his old job.
- Pete Buttigieg, under increasing pressure to reveal the clients he served while working after college for the McKinsey management consulting company, can do so now. He was released from a confidentiality agreement.
- North Korea launched another insult at Trump Monday, calling him a “heedless and erratic old man.” The comment from a senior North Korean official, former nuclear negotiator Kim Yong Chol, came after Trump tweeted that Kim Jong Un wouldn’t want to abandon a special relationship between the two leaders.