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Those of us who have closely followed the unfolding scandal at the Justice Department— particularly how the FBI abused its power not only to spy on the Trump presidential campaign but also on the president himself—have been frustrated with the inaction both of the White House and Congress. Documents have not been declassified as promised; letters by top lawmakers have gone unanswered with no consequence; and not one perpetrator in the biggest political scandal in history has been held accountable.
The New York Times over the weekend confirmed the worst suspicions: Andrew McCabe, a disgraced FBI official caught lying to federal investigators and fired by Trump, and his corrupt lackeys opened up a criminal and counterintelligence probe into President Trump on the flimsiest of evidence in May 2017.
Further, statements from William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, seem to indicate he would be deferential to Special Counsel Robert Mueller rather than focus on the real scandal. It was unclear whether a change in leadership at the Justice Department and on the Senate Judiciary Committee (Lindsey Graham took the reins from Charles Grassley this year) would restart stalled congressional inquiries.
A Clean-Up Pledge
But Barr’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday assuaged those concerns.
Republican senators expressed outrage that the FBI had investigated a sitting U.S. president, and Barr seemed to share their disgust. Graham brought up the Times article and asked Barr to “promise me and this committee to look into this and tell us whether or not a counterintelligence investigation was opened up by somebody at the FBI, Department of Justice against President Trump?” Barr confirmed he would. Graham read aloud derogatory texts, some including profanity, about Trump between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
Barr admitted he was “shocked” when he first saw the texts. Graham then walked through a litany of offenses at the Justice Department and FBI, including the FISA warrant on Carter Page and Fusion GPS’s ties to Justice official Bruce Ohr and his wife, Nellie, who also worked with dossier author Christopher Steele.
“We are relying on you to clean this place up,” Graham told Barr.
Grassley, the former chairman of the committee, went on a bit of a tirade about unanswered requests he sent to the Justice Department last year. One letter, sent October 17, asked for more information about an FBI agent who had accepted free tickets to a sporting event from a television news reporter who regularly covered the agency, violating FBI rules. The agent, since retired from the FBI, also wasn’t truthful when questioned by federal officials.
“Do you understand if you’re confirmed that you have an obligation to ensure the Justice Department responds to Congressional inquiries and to do it in a timely manner?” Grassley asked. Barr agreed.
Shoring Up Oversight—And a Bombshell Letter
House and Senate Republicans have been frustrated with stonewalling by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has thwarted their demands for testimony and materials related to the FISAgate scandal. (Or should we now call it FBIgate?) Reps. James Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have been harsh critics of Rosenstein; they moved to impeach him last year.
Jordan again recently requested that Rosenstein appear before the House Oversight Committee and respond to reports he offered to wear a wire to record President Trump. Rosenstein also advised Trump last September not to declassify key documents—including the FISA application on Carter Page and correspondence between top law enforcement officials, including ex-FBI Director James Comey—the president had pledged to release per Congress’s request.
But it appears that Barr will be more forthcoming than Rosenstein and act quickly to find out exactly what went down in the Justice Department in 2016 and 2017. Some of his underlings are one step ahead of him: Andrew McCabe is already under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. A grand jury apparently is looking into illegal leaks by McCabe to reporters in 2016 and lying about it to federal officials.
McCabe isn’t the only one in serious legal jeopardy.
As Barr was testifying Tuesday afternoon, Jordan and Meadows released their own bombshell letter about James Baker, the former FBI general counsel whose partial testimony was leaked to the Times for its January 11 article. Under questioning by lawmakers last October, Baker’s attorney disclosed that his client was being investigated by the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut.
“During the course of our investigation we interviewed [Baker] and discovered your office is investigating him for unauthorized disclosures to the media,” they wrote to U.S. Attorney John Durham. (Baker and FBI lawyer/McCabe confidant Lisa Page both resigned on the same day last year.)
The letter mentions two reporters—David Corn of Mother Jones and Franklin Foer, a writer for The Atlantic who worked for Slate during the 2016 presidential campaign. Both reporters posted explosive stories on October 31, 2016 about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Corn’s article is mostly about the dossier and clearly sourced by Christopher Steele, but his piece also references Foer’s article alleging unusual activity between a Trump organization email server and Alpha Bank, the largest private bank in Russia. The Alpha Bank connection was one more cog in the manufactured Trump-Russia collusion plot that could also be traced back to Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson.
Hillary Clinton cited the article in a tweet one week before Election Day, demanding that “it’s time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia.”
It’s unclear whether Baker was the source for one or both of those articles, but his lawyer refused to allow Baker to “answer the questions about whether he had conversations with reporters.”
The Real Scandal
Barr has his work cut out for him, and no time to waste. His inspector general now is working on a report about FISA abuse at the agency related to the 2016 election; the new attorney general should also disclose to the public the numerous FBI agents who improperly received gifts from reporters. (We want names.) Not one law enforcement or intelligence official has been identified or charged with illegally leaking classified information on Michael Flynn or Carter Page: Those disclosures are felonies.
As I wrote Monday, the Trump-Russia collusion peddlers are in the throes of death spasms after the Times article, desperate to keep their charade alive. But that manufactured scandal is in its final stages while the real scandal looks like it will finally get the attention by the nation’s top lawyer that it deserves.
To borrow a well-worn line of the so-called #Resistance, “the walls are closing in.”
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