Don’t get lost in the fog of a partisan war the Trump administration and House Republicans are manufacturing to discredit — if not derail — the federal criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
All of this is happening just as special counsel Robert Mueller wants to question President Donald Trump and his inner circle to determine whether the White House tried to obstruct the probe.
Here’s what the claptrap perpetrated by Rep. Devin Nunes, the compromised chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is about:
His staff wrote a four-page memo that supposedly summarizes voluminous classified documents that triggered one channel of the FBI’s investigation of Russia. The memo purports to show how the FBI fraudulently persuaded a federal judge to issue a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign operative. While it very well might have some details that could embarrass the FBI, the memo contends that the key information supporting the Page warrant comes from a dossier by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. He once worked for an opposition-research firm first hired by Sen. Ted Cruz and then by Hillary Clinton to look into Trump’s business dealings in Russia.
Before the FBI can ask a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for permission to spy on a U.S. citizen, it must demonstrate that it had an open case on the individual. The FBI did open a case on Page, having first questioned him in 2013. And before the request even gets to court, the Justice Department vets all FBI supporting evidence. So for the Nunes memo to be accurate, dozens of FBI countersurveillance agents and career Justice Department officials, and the federal judiciary, would have had to be part of a plot.
Christopher Wray, the FBI director appointed by Trump, said in a statement this week: “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Trump’s Justice Department said that releasing the memo would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
Nunes has long been working on this narrative that the FBI probe is illegitimate. The suspect memo is his latest trick. The memo is expected to be released through an obscure provision of House rules. It will not contain any of the documents submitted to the court to verify its accuracy. That’s because FISA court proceedings are classified to protect intelligence-gathering techniques and undercover operatives. Is there, for example, other incriminating evidence about Page that justified the warrant? It’s all very cynical.
But it’s really much more nefarious.
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and replaced him with Wray because he didn’t think Comey was loyal. Now Wray is threatening to resign. The FISA court application was reportedly signed by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller. Trump wants Mueller fired, but Rosenstein is standing in the way. So the only way to get rid of Mueller is to get rid of Rosenstein, and Trump needs a reason to do so. Voila, a memo!
The fog is real, but the picture is clear.