Several months ago, I urged the Trump team to declassify everything related to the activities of the Justice Department and FBI in the Hillary Clinton investigation and any “Russia” matters. It was not an easy call due to privacy issues and national-security considerations, but I felt (and still do) that the loss of confidence in our federal justice and law-enforcement apparatus was more important and could only be cured with full transparency and accountability.
Although disappointed, I understood the logic that waiting at least until Robert Mueller finished his work was better optics and politics for Team Trump. Now it appears that, thanks to the new attorney general and the soon-to-be-released Mueller report, we are finally headed in that direction. And Democrats along with those in the gun sights of the various reports and disclosures are quaking.
Let’s start with Barr’s characterization of the FBI as “spying” on Team Trump. According to Webster’s, spying is defined as keeping a secret watch on someone to obtain information, so there is no question that spying occurred. The only issue is whether that spying was justified or, using Barr’s characterization, had a proper predicate. Barr has his doubts and wants to study the matter, but some of those who might be targets of this kind of probe, like James Comey, are claiming to be puzzled.
In one of the best examples of utterly circular logic, Comey stated that the FBI does not do spying; it does “court-ordered surveillance.” What a great choice of words. First, what’s it’s called is a distinction without a difference when both go to the same place — namely, secretly watching someone to get information. But even better is the use of the word “ordered.” Comey wants us to think that some court “ordered” the FBI to conduct the spying (or whatever you want to call it) when in fact what he is referring to is a court authorization of a request by the FBI to conduct the spying. The court doesn’t order the FBI to do anything; it merely says “yea” or “nay” to a request application made by the FBI.
Most importantly, the court makes that decision based on the information provided by the FBI in the application. So if the application data is flawed, then the court order is flawed. One of Barr’s “predicate” reviews will address this issue. Did the FBI provide inaccurate or incomplete information to the FISA Court? And if so, was it deliberate, or was it an oversight?
That’s an important distinction because the latter leads to a slap on the wrist along with a promise never to do it again, while the former could result in time being served in the Big House.
In testimony last summer, a top FBI lawyer carefully parsed an answer to a question about the FBI’s role in the FISA applications. He claimed that the FISA warrants were by definition legitimate because the FISA Court said so, but he dodged on whether the FBI cooked the books in the application. This is more circular logic that Barr appears poised to sort out, along with multiple other avenues of inquiry into exactly how our justice institutions have conducted themselves.
I am forever puzzled as to why people like Comey act the way they do. It is the rare individual who rises to the top of the law-enforcement food chain, and it would not seem necessary to pad one’s résumé. I guess you could say the same thing about Al Gore and the Internet or Hillary and her helicopter landing under fire in Bosnia.
But Comey didn’t need to cook the books on Trump to ingratiate himself with his next likely boss, particularly by playing fast and loose with the courts. The odds were overwhelmingly in Hillary’s favor right up to Election Day, so maybe he thought there was only upside. (But tell that to Richard Nixon and the Watergate crowd as well.)
Comey knows his comments are circular and depend 100% on whether there was sufficient legal justification for spying on Team Trump if done by the book. And yet he tries to deflect. But even if there were enough evidence to justify a belief that Russia might be compromising some Trump folks, Comey repeatedly told Trump he was not a target, so why not just go to Trump and warn him about the suspicions the FBI might have had with his staff?
That’s precisely what the FBI normally does and that’s exactly what the FBI did with Sen. Dianne Feinstein when it became known that one of her staff members had connections to Chinese intelligence. Congress wasn’t briefed by Comey either, and the excuse seems to be that the matter was “too sensitive.” It will be interesting to watch Comey try to square that circle when Barr calls him in.
Similar issues surround two other recent events.
The first event was the arrest of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame. The media tried to spin this as justifiable comeuppance because he was a Russian agent involved in disseminating hacked DNC emails to help Russia in its efforts to get Trump elected.
Assange has denied that Russia was involved at all, but the media focused on it anyway. The fact is, however, that Assange was arrested for conspiracy with Bradly (“Chelsea”) Manning to hack classified government info and not for any Russian connection or for disseminating the hacked information. It’s amazing how the Democrats and media seem to accept Comey’s misinformation but refuse to believe Assange that there was no Russia conspiracy in the release of the DNC emails.
Lest we forget, the reason the Democrats were so upset about the DNC emails being hacked and leaked is because they showed the DNC totally in the tank for Hillary and torpedoing Bernie Sanders. Embarrassing, but hardly a dial mover in the election.
The other event was the indictment of Obama’s former White House counsel Greg Craig. Apparently, he was doing some work for Ukraine that could possibly have required him to register as a foreign agent. This is the same so-called requirement that virtually every lobbyist is aware of and promptly ignores. And no one (unless, say, you are Michael Flynn) gets called out for it. But Craig is not being charged with violating this requirement; he is being charged with lying about it to the feds.
His defense is that he was not doing work that would require registration anyway, so the fact that he might have fibbed about something that is not a violation should be a “no harm, no foul” situation. He even admitted that he didn’t want these activities to step over the foreign-agent bar because if he had to register, he would be ineligible for more government jobs in the next Democrat administration when the Left beats Trump in 2020. Try telling that circular argument to those in Mueller’s crosshairs.
This is being spun by the Democrats and media as proof that Mueller’s probe was not a witch hunt, since the feds really are equal-opportunity indicters. They’re even going after Obama’s top counsel, for goodness’ sake.
Craig will get points for being the sacrificial lamb. An appropriate amount of time will be allowed to pass, and then a deal will be struck wherein Craig will plead ignorance of the details of the law, admit that if he had only known he would have conducted himself differently, agree to never do it again, and be set free with an agreement not to lobby for Ukraine for the next three weeks.
Barr best hurry.