Right Opinion

Facts, Leaks and the FISA Memo

Bill Wagner · Jan. 29, 2018

There is apparently a vote coming up today on whether to make public the House Intel Committee memo on possible FISA surveillance abuses that may have targeted Trump folks during the 2016 campaign. I would vote no. But before you shoot the messenger, let me explain why.

If you look at the major investigations going on — such as Trump/Russian collusion, Hillary emails, FBI/Justice department anti-Trump bias, and potential FISA abuses — most of what we supposedly know has come from leaks, half-truths, and media speculation; facts are conspicuous by their absence. Same with the memo. It’s supposed to be “classified” because it summarizes the underlying docs, many of which are themselves “classified,” or so we are told. But that hasn’t stopped GOP members from talking about what the docs show, while at the same time telling us that they can’t talk about it. As night follows day, Democrat members are characterizing those disclosures as incomplete, misleading and biased and are calling instead for all of the underlying documents to be declassified and released. This is likely a head fake since it would involve substantial delays while the relevant intel agencies scrubbed the docs for possible damage to national security. But I think we ought to call their bluff.

Summary memos would only lead to more he said/she said interpretations, and the only way the country will ever be satisfied would be to see the raw data and decide for ourselves. If that takes time to prevent true national security damage and leads to some redactions, so be it. If the summaries we have heard so far are even remotely true, the conclusions will not change if the country has access to the docs, and it would put the feature unique in these investigations front and center — facts. We know the “dossier” was used to get FISA warrants, but we don’t know what was involved in the process. If in fact the books were cooked by intel agencies and the FBI to get a judge to authorize spying on any Americans, much less those who were officials of the opposing party’s campaign, that would dwarf every other potential criminal act in the entire process. Along the way, the Justice Department IG is doing his thing, and it might not be the worst outcome to have his report coincide with the release of the underlying docs. His report is going to be the cover for wrapping this up anyway, so why not?

I am so tired of the selective leaking on these very serious matters, so admittedly that is coloring my view on how to handle the memo. But remember, we have had almost 18 months of Trump/Russia investigations, and not one piece of evidence (usually referred to as “facts”) of any collusion, much less a crime, has surfaced. A couple of lesser lights have run afoul of process crimes, but what was supposed to have been the main event has gone nowhere. Even the shift to possible obstruction of justice by Trump has fizzled. First it was Trump firing Comey to “get the Russian thing off his back.” How did that work out for Trump? The investigative machinery stayed in place and doubled down, and eventually he got a special prosecutor. If firing Comey was supposed to obstruct justice, it may have been the biggest flop in history.

Then it was Trump trying to get the FBI to “go easy” on Flynn. We have no idea what was really said, but it sounds like someone making a moral case not to destroy someone who had given so much to his country over a process crime. There’s no question that Flynn screwed up, lied to the feds (regardless of how minor the characterization was about a meeting with a Russian ambassador) and deserved to be censured. In fact, he had already been fired by Trump for a similar indiscretion. But how much is too much? It was not an order from the chief executive, who had the power to pardon Flynn anyway, but just a suggestion, and as everyone came to their sense, the idea that this might constitute obstruction has faded away.

The next try was the Trump Tower meeting with Trump folks and the Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary. Nothing happened, but the fact that Trump might have participated in a discussion that considered characterizing the meeting as an adoption chat was somehow proof of obstruction. When is the last time anyone heard anything about that meeting? So, just in time to undercut Trump’s brilliant performance in Davos, The New York Times puts an article on the front page, claiming that six months ago “Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, but was refused.” According to the story, Trump told his counsel to fire Mueller but backed down when the counsel threatened to quit. Consistent with my above comment about the sourcing of articles on these subjects over the last year or more, the Times attributed the story to “four people who were told about the matter.” By my count, that’s at least two steps removed hearsay with nary a named source on the record. And let’s not forget that nothing happened. This is supposed to prove that Trump is obstructing justice, even though it’s an article about a non-event.

In the fair and balanced category, I’m also tired of listening to media interpretation of the meaning of the texts between the FBI agents. I could come up with innocent explanations for every one of the supposed anti-Trump communications. That’s not my concern; what is mind-boggling is that senior FBI folks put stuff like that in writing and still have jobs. But if we doubt motives and see some deep anti-Trump conspiracy, why not just put those involved under oath and ask them?

Even the Hillary email stuff falls into the same camp. While the media is obsessing over Trump’s supposed obstruction, they seem to forget that Obama went on national TV and told the world that Hillary was innocent. After all, he knew she never meant to compromise national security. Funny how that same logic showed up in Comey’s speech that cleared her. Obama wanted the email controversy off the table so it would not get in the way of Hillary’s administration when (not if) she was elected. He made his preferences clear (obstruction anyone?), and Comey (and other political animals in the intel community) found a plausible way to carry it out.

The two agents have texts signaling that they should go easy on Hillary because she might get back at them when she became president if they went into her interview “loaded for bear.” But that could just be human nature, a joke, or simply doing the bidding of the powers that be. Ditto the “secret society” reference. Focus on what they actually did, not what they said, in a text. Sure there is enough evidence to get them fired for stupidity alone. But the actions began at, and were essentially directed from, the top. Ditto with the FISA stuff. There will be evidence that the rules were stretched, but that’s exactly what Obama put in place late in his administration. The dossier will be shown to have been “part” of the application process, not the “primary” justification. And that is precisely why the entire Hillary/FISA fiasco will end with quiet FBI/Justice retirements with pensions (as just happened with McCabe) and other wrist slaps. Life will go on. Everyone knows that to dig further would bring everything back to Obama’s doorstep. And no one wants to go there.

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