Administrative State • America • Donald Trump • Law and Order • Post • separation of powers • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker) • Trump White House

The McCabe Report is Just an Appetizer

What a delicious hors d’oeuvre Michael Horowitz gave the world on Friday! The inspector general for Department of Justice finally issued his eagerly awaited (eagerly awaited by some of us, anyway) report on Andrew McCabe, the disgraced former deputy director of the FBI.

Note that this is only an appetizer. In the coming weeks, Horowitz will follow up with entrees on the FBI’s partisan activities in the 2016 presidential election and, later, another report on (if I may employ the term) collusion with the State Department.

As of this writing, it is unclear exactly what the scope of the inspector general’s inquiries will be.

Speaking for myself, I hope the dessert course includes a close look at the January 5, 2017 meeting at the White House meeting at which President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, NSA director Susan “By the Book” Rice, and acting Attorney General Sally “Insubordinate” Yates were briefed by the country’s chief spooks—former FBI director James “Higher Loyalty” Comey, NSA chief Michael Rogers, CIA chief John “I Voted for Gus Hall” Brennan, and James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence who delighted the television audiences everywhere when he instructed Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was “a largely secular organization” that had “eschewed violence.” The country was in the very best of hands back then! What was the subject? Exactly what they were and were not going to tell the incoming administration about the ongoing investigation into possible Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election? The “knotty question,” as Andrew McCarthy put it in a searing column on the event, was how to “engage” the incoming administration while also keeping them in the dark. Amazing.

But I digress. We’ll have to wait for Horowitz to serve up the additional courses he has cooking. But right now we can enjoy his refreshing treat of McCabe-kabob, grilled to perfection.

Andrew McCabe, you might recall, was a central player in the pseudo-investigation of Hillary Clinton’s misuse of classified information and self-enrichment schemes while Secretary of State. He was one of the people who made sure that went nowhere. He was also a central figure in the get-Mike-Flynn operation and, later, the Great Trump Hunt that has been occupying Robert Mueller for nearly a year.

McCabe leaked information about an investigation to a Wall Street Journal reporter, lied about leaking in casual conversations with superiors as well as under oath. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, digesting a preliminary report on McCabe’s conduct, fired him in March 2018 (not even a month ago, but it seems like forever).

The Left got its collective nappy in a twist over that, claiming that it somehow impeded Mueller’s boundless fishing expedition and also that it was callous to Andrew McCabe because he was fired just a day before he was entitled to his full pension. (He did not, by the way, “lose his pension” as some reported, merely a final escalator, and it is not even clear that that will survive litigation.)

For his part, McCabe took to the pages The Washington Post to deliver a weepy threnody of self-pity and attempted self-exoneration. It was an embarrassing performance. “I felt sick and disoriented,” he sniffed. He complained of President’s Trump’s “cruelty.” Just as the President had been a meany to James Comey, so he was to little Andy. “The president’s comments about me were equally hurtful and false, which shows that he has no idea how FBI people feel about their leaders.”

But the meat of McCabe apologia is contained in these few sentences:

I have been accused of “lack of candor.” That is not true. I did not knowingly mislead or lie to investigators. When asked about contacts with a reporter that were fully within my power to authorize as deputy director, and amid the chaos that surrounded me, I answered questions as completely and accurately as I could. And when I realized that some of my answers were not fully accurate or may have been misunderstood, I took the initiative to correct them.

As the recent Inspector General’s report shows, however, every claim in those sentences is a lie. To wit:

We found that, in a conversation with then-Director Comey shortly after the WSJ article was published, McCabe lacked candor when he told Comey, or made statements that led Comey to believe, that McCabe had not authorized the disclosure and did not know who did. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.5 (Lack of Candor – No Oath).

We also found that on May 9, 2017, when questioned under oath by FBI agents from INSD, McCabe lacked candor when he told the agents that he had not authorized the disclosure to the WSJ and did not know who did. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath).

We further found that on July 28, 2017, when questioned under oath by the OIG in a recorded interview, McCabe lacked candor when he stated: (a) that he was not aware of Special Counsel having been authorized to speak to reporters around October 30 and (b) that, because he was not in Washington, D.C., on October 27 and 28, 2016, he was unable to say where Special Counsel was or what she was doing at that time. This conduct violated FBI Offense Code 2.6 (Lack of Candor – Under Oath).

Allow me to translate the central phrase here: “lack of candor” is DOJ bureaucratese for “false statements, misrepresentations, the failure to be fully forthright, or the concealment or omission of a material fact/information,” i.e., lying.

Bottom line, partisan hack Andrew McCabe leaked information to the media about an ongoing investigation because he wanted to help Hillary Clinton and harm Donald Trump. He then lied repeatedly about his behavior both under oath and in unsworn conversation with superiors. He deserved to be fired by Jeff Sessions. I think he also deserves to be prosecuted. But since he is a Hillary partisan and Trump hater, I very much doubt he will be. [Update 21 April: Andy McCarthy has just posted a very clear dissection of McCabe’s complicated and contradictory skein of lies.]

Still, reading Michael Horowitz’s meticulously researched report is a bracing experience. And who knows, perhaps Andrew McCabe was prudent to assemble a $500,000 GoFundMe legal defense fund. “It is not easy,” Jonathan Turley noted at The Hill, “to transform oneself from a once-powerful public official terminated for cause to the equivalent of a late-night, mud-splattered stray seeking shelter. However, McCabe had the media, which portrayed him as a noble civil servant viciously and unfairly targeted by Trump operatives.” Thanks to Michael Horowitz, however, we now know that, far from “noble.” Instead, he was a lying, partisan hack. What we’ll find out next, I predict, is that he was also part of the largest political scandal in U.S. history: a concerted effort by operatives in the Department of Justice, the FBI, and other intelligence agencies to influence the course of a presidential election and then, when that didn’t work, to sabotage the people’s choice.

This meal is far from over. But I suspect that Michael Horowitz will be filling out the menu at least as robustly as that fisher of men, Robert Mueller.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Administrative State • America • Congress • Democrats • Economy • Energy • Environment • Government Reform • Post • Progressivism • separation of powers • The Constitution

Federal Rulemaking: Some Are More Equal Than Others

Contrary to myth, frogs don’t swim around, unaware of danger, as the water around them gradually heats to a boil. Only humans are that stupid.

One degree at a time, with Americans little aware, our constitutional republic has morphed into a regime largely controlled by bureaucrats, who propagate far more rules than Congress passes laws. In 2015 alone, federal agencies made 3,554 new rules versus 224 new laws passed by Congress.

In making each rule, the bureaucracy uses a process that shuts out most Americans.

First, an agency consults with “stakeholders,” those with a special interest in an issue, as it cobbles together a proposed rule. Regular people aren’t included.

Consider the rules on dishwashing machines. Beginning in the 1980s, federal regulations dramatically increased the price of dishwashers while slowing them down. (It used to take an hour on average to wash and dry dishes. Now it takes two and a half hours.) Dishwasher manufacturers, “greens,” and other well-organized groups were consulted during the rulemaking process, but not typical American consumers. Today, most people with dishwashers know that the machines work poorly—manufacturers get piles of complaints—but few people have any idea that their own government is the reason for this irritating change.

“Public Comment” is a Joke
After an agency proposes a rule, there is a period, usually 30 to 180 days, when members of the public may comment. Comments are supposed to represent the voice of the people, but they’re really the voice of a small segment, those with Washington lobbyists or with staffers who pore through the
Federal Register (the government’s journal) looking for proposals that threaten or promote their interests.

In August, I testified at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires that gasoline be blended with “renewable” fuels such as ethanol. Within limits, EPA bureaucrats set the level of that requirement.

The hearing was held at the Hyatt Regency near the U.S. Capitol. Some 150 other people also testified, representing the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the National Biodiesel Board, the American Petroleum Institute, and the like, along with environmentalist groups. Those of us who attempted to represent consumers, who are forced to buy this stuff, could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

During my testimony, I noted that the fuel rule obliges “members of the federal bureaucracy—who are neither elected nor accountable to the voters—to do the job that the Constitution gives to Congress. In place of republican democracy, we get hearings, and we get the gathering of comments from those who are well-organized enough to follow the course of proposed regulations and to provide written or oral remarks.” I pointed to row after row of special-interest representatives seated behind me at the hearing. “Not exactly grassroots America,” I said.

“Testing the Limits” of Lobbying Law
When the comments don’t go their way, bureaucrats cheat.

That happened with the Waters of the United States, one of the few proposed sets of rules to which millions of Americans paid attention. The federal government is supposed to make the rules for waters that carry people and goods between countries or between the various states of our nation, but the EPA wanted to expand its power, giving itself control of virtually every stream, creek, pond, and ditch in the country.

The New York Times exposed the EPA’s attempt to manufacture the appearance of public support for the rule. “In a campaign that tests the limits of federal lobbying law, the agency orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grass-roots organization aligned with President Obama.”

The EPA “sponsored a drive on Facebook and Twitter to promote its proposed clean water rule in conjunction with the Sierra Club. At the same time, Organizing for Action, a grass-roots group with deep ties to Mr. Obama, was also pushing the rule. They urged the public to flood the agency with positive comments to counter opposition from farming and industry groups.” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy pointed to the favorable response. “We have received over one million comments, and 87.1 percent of those comments we have counted so far . . . are supportive of this rule,” she told a Senate committee.

Meanwhile, they threw away comments they didn’t like. The Washington Times reported that, when Ken Kopocis, head of the EPA’s Office of Water, was pressed by a member of Congress “to divulge the ratio of positive comments to negative comments on the rule, Kopocis demurred. He said many of the comments both pro and con were part of mass mailing campaigns, and the EPA discarded them.”

This is What Democracy Looks Like?
Normal people, upon learning details of the “public comment” process, quickly recognize it as a fraud, as a way of subverting the democratic, constitutional system that is supposed to be the foundation for government in this country.

Bureaucrats see the “public comment” process as “real” democracy.

A bureaucrat friend explained to me her thinking and that of her colleagues: American democracy is broken, with billionaires like the Koch brothers electing Republicans to Congress and state legislatures even though Republicans are awful people. Real democracy, she said, is represented in the rulemaking process, in which “everyone has a say,” and all interests can be weighed fairly before the final rule takes effect. Those rules, she said, are written by knowledgeable people who have Americans’ best interests at heart.

To the bureaucrats, it’s like the leftist chant: “This is what democracy looks like!”

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

2016 Election • Administrative State • America • Center for American Greatness • Congress • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Law and Order • Post • Republicans • Russia • separation of powers • The Constitution

New Pro-Mueller Ad Overlooks His Sketchy History

Following the FBI’s shocking raid Monday at the home, office, and hotel room of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, Republican lawmakers are rallying behind the still-unjustified investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. (Like just about everything else the probe has produced so far, the Cohen matter appears unrelated to anything Russian.)

Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will partner with Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to introduce legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller if Trump fires him. The bill would give Mueller a 10-day window to “seek expedited judicial review of a firing.”

GOP leaders offered their verbal support: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)—whose committee is investigating possible misconduct into how the Obama Justice Department obtained a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign—said it would be “suicide for the president to want, to talk about firing Mueller.” Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned “the consequences of [firing Mueller] are some that not even the president can anticipate. And I think it would be a mistake.”

NeverTrumpers, who fantasize about Mueller hauling the president out of the White House in handcuffs, have formed yet another group to solidify congressional support for the special counsel. On Wednesday, “Republicans for the Rule of Law” aired an ad during “Fox and Friends”—Trump’s must-watch morning program—that touted Mueller’s credentials and urged viewers to call their representatives to demand they “protect the Mueller investigation.” (The ad conspicuously did not mention Trump-Russia election collusion, the crime Mueller was hired to investigate in May 2017.)

Republicans for the Rule of Law is led by Bill Kristol, editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, and NeverTrump’s de facto leader. Kristol has the opposite of the political Midas Touch: Everything and everyone he promotes—from the Iraq War to Sarah Palin to Evan McMullin—are losers. So it’s unsurprising that Kristol’s latest effort again misses the mark.

While the new ad canonizes Mueller as a war hero and patriot, it overlooks Mueller’s mishandling both of his current investigation and of key FBI matters when he headed that agency:

The Anthrax Case: As Daniel Ashman writes for The Federalist, Mueller “has been botching investigations since the Anthrax attacks.” The month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, letters laced with anthrax killed five people, injured more than a dozen more, and panicked D.C. lawmakers and the public. (Kristol, who exploited every post-9/11 crisis to justify war, immediately called anthrax “the Iraq-favored biological agent” and suggested President Bush could use the attacks to act against other countries.)

Under the direction of then-FBI Director Mueller, the agency for years pursued the wrong man, Army scientist Steven Hatfill, for the crimes. Hatfill’s apartment was raided on live television (thanks to a tip by Mueller’s team), he was subjected to round-the-clock surveillance, and he lost his job. He filed a lawsuit in 2003 accusing “FBI agents and Justice Department officials involved in the criminal investigation of the anthrax mailings of leaking information about him to the news media in violation of the Privacy Act.” After Hatfill was exonerated in 2008, the Justice Department settled his lawsuit for nearly $6 million.

Congress was not happy with how Mueller conducted the probe. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) told the New York Times, “this case was botched from the very beginning. The FBI did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous theory of the case that has led to this very expensive dead end.”

But Mueller continued to fumble the probe; it cost someone his life. Mueller accused another Army researcher, Bruce Ivins, of the attacks. Ivins committed suicide after learning he was the new suspect. Despite widespread doubt that the FBI finally had its man, the agency resisted an independent investigation by asking the National Academy of Sciences to review its proof. But that report didn’t go Mueller’s way, either. The NAS said the scientific evidence did not connect Ivins to the crime. No one was ever brought to justice and the most expensive investigation in FBI history, with Mueller at the helm, was a flop.

Sexual Misconduct and Harassment: In May 2015, the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report on the handling of sexual misconduct allegations at the DOJ’s four law enforcement agencies between October 2008 and September 2012. Mueller ran the FBI during that time. The report slammed the FBI for its initial refusal to cooperate with the probe:

The OIG’s ability to conduct this review was significantly impacted and delayed by the repeated difficulties we had in obtaining relevant information from the FBI. Initially, the FBI refused to provide the OIG with unredacted information that was responsive to our requests. Therefore, we cannot be completely confident that the FBI provided us with all information relevant to this review.

Once the FBI finally began to cooperate, the information was heavily redacted and “prevented the OIG from understanding the nature and circumstances of the allegations.” The inspector general eventually discovered several cases that were not included in FBI’s preliminary trove.

Investigators discovered that the FBI would routinely categorize sexual misconduct or harassment accusations as a general infraction in violation of protocol. For example, an assistant chief responsible for training agents on child exploitation and human trafficking “engaged in multiple consensual and commercial sexual encounters over a 7-year period with foreign nationals, including prostitutes, strippers, students in his classes, and members of foreign law enforcement.” He was charged with unprofessional conduct instead of a sex-related offense. The inspector general also criticized the FBI for “instances where it failed to open investigations at headquarters into allegations of serious sexual misconduct and sexual harassment when called for by its criteria.”

After the OIG report was issued, Grassley issued a statement condemning the FBI’s failure to work with the inspector general: “The FBI is not above the law. It has an obligation to comply with the Inspector General Act. That means, FBI employees cannot legally be spending their time withholding and reviewing documents before providing them to the IG.” (James Comey had taken over the department by then.)

Trump-Russia Investigation: After a year of work, the Mueller team has not produced a single charge or conviction related to collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The case against his biggest target so far—ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn—appears to be in jeopardy. Shortly after taking over the case in December, Judge Emmet Sullivan requested exculpatory evidence from Mueller’s team; Flynn’s sentencing is now delayed until at least May.

Sullivan replaced Judge Rudy Contreras, who was recused from the case a few days after Flynn’s plea deal. Although the reason for the recusal remains unclear, Contreras also serves on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and reportedly approved the warrant to spy on Carter Page. Newly-released texts between FBI lead investigator Peter Strzok and his mistress, Lisa Page show the pair tried to connect with Contreras as the Trump-Russia collusion hoax got underway in July 2016.

And a forthcoming inspector general report on Andrew McCabe, fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, reportedly accuses the former deputy director of ordering agents to alter their notes about witness interviews. This might include Strzok’s interview with Flynn.

Andrew McCarthy has raised significant objections to several aspects of the Mueller probe, including his team of lawyers, his flouting of Justice Department rules (here and here), his failure to produce any evidence thus far of the Trump-Russia collusion crime, and his handling of the Manafort and Papadopoulos cases.

Lee Smith at The Tablet argues that Mueller’s focus on an obscure January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles proves his investigation is a ruse: “It’s not an investigation that the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading—rather, it’s a cover-up. Mueller’s job is to obscure the abuses of the U.S. surveillance apparatus that occurred under the Obama administration.”

There may be political and even legal reasons why Trump should not (yet) fire Robert Mueller. But the notion Mueller’s career is “unimpeachable,” as Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) insists, simply is not supported by either past or present behavior. If Mueller’s boosters want to convince the public this investigation is legitimate, they should do it on the merits of the case and realistic portrayal of the man leading it, rather than hold him up as untouchable.

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Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

2016 Election • Administrative State • Conservatives • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Government Reform • Intelligence Community • Law and Order • Post • Republicans • separation of powers • The Constitution • The Leviathian State • the Presidency • The Resistance (Snicker) • Trump White House

Mueller at the Crossroads

Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 in reaction to a media still gripped by near hysteria over the inexplicable defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

For nearly a year before Mueller’s appointment, leaks had spread about collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign that supposedly cost Clinton a sure victory.

Most of these collusion stories, as we now know, originated with Christopher Steele and his now-discredited anti-Trump opposition file.

After almost a year, Mueller has offered no evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians. Aside from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a few minor and transitory campaign officials have been indicted or have pleaded guilty to a variety of transgressions other than collusion.

Ironically, the United States has often interfered in foreign elections to massage the result. Recently, Bill Clinton joked about his own efforts as president to collude in the 1996 Israeli election to ensure the defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu. “I tried to do it in a way that didn’t overtly involve me,” Clinton said.

The Obama Administration did the same in 2015, when it used State Department funds to support an anti-Netanyahu political action group.

Since Mueller’s investigation began, a number of top FBI and Department of Justice officials have either retired, or were reassigned or fired.

With the exception of former FBI Director James Comey, all left their jobs due to investigations of improper conduct that took place during the 2016 election cycle. Most were under a cloud of suspicion for lying, having conflicts of interest or misleading investigators.

Mueller is reaching the crossroads of his investigation and faces at least four critical decisions.

One, Mueller can wind up his investigations now. He can write a report affirming that he has found no evidence while conducting his originally assigned inquiry: Donald Trump did not collude with the Russians to throw the election his way.

Two, Mueller might pause and await Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report concerning possible Department of Justice and FBI abuses pertaining to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. If Horowitz finds credible evidence of lawbreaking, then Mueller might seek indictments based on the IG’s likely actionable evidence.

Three, Mueller could continue to investigate anyone close to the Trump campaign for another year. If he did that, he would confirm that his inquiry has descended into a political cause. If Mueller calibrates the release of his findings to the fall midterm elections, he will be hailed by Trump opponents as a crusading prosecutor—despite finding nothing related to collusion. A Democratic takeover of Congress would shut down congressional investigations of FBI and DOJ wrongdoing and further empower Mueller.

Four, Mueller could more evenly apply his investigations of lying, obstruction of justice and collusion during the 2016 campaign. That way, he would reassure the country of equal treatment of all under the law.

For example, in his search for instances of lying, Mueller might also re-examine the false testimonies given to investigators by McCabe and by Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin.

In his search for Russian collusion, Mueller might also investigate Steele, Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS and the Clinton campaign. All used Russian sources to leak unproven gossip and smears to the press in an effort to warp the 2016 election.

In his search for obstruction of justice, Mueller might also investigate whether top DOJ and FBI officials deliberately misled the FISA Court by withholding evidence that the Steele dossier was flawed. Did Justice Department officials inform the FISA Court that Steele’s dossier was hired research paid for by the Clinton campaign? Did they tell the court that the FBI had stopped using Steele as a source for purportedly leaking information to the media? Did they tell the court that Comey was on record as saying the Steele dossier might not have been credible?

In his search for felonious behavior concerning the leaking of classified documents, Mueller might determine:

1) Whether the memos regarding presidential conversations that Comey leaked to the press were classified;

2) Whether former top national security and intelligence officials—among them John Brennan, James Clapper, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes and Susan Rice—requested that the redacted names of surveilled Americans be unmasked, and whether officials then illegally leaked those names to the media;

3) Whether FBI officials such as Comey and McCabe leaked confidential findings from their investigations to the press during the 2016 campaign and lied to investigators about it.

If the special counsel’s investigation has turned into a political cause, Mueller will no doubt prefer the third option. That is, Mueller’s report (and possibly more indictments of minor campaign aides) would likely appear shortly before the midterm elections. If Democrats win the House, then they will probably shut down all congressional investigations of the FBI and the DOJ—and perhaps all reviews of the actions of Mueller himself.

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2016 Election • Administrative State • America • Americanism • Deep State • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Post • separation of powers • the Presidency • Trump White House

‘Chaos’ Theory: Turnover is Good for the Administration

The media spent a lot of time in recent weeks howling about the turnover in the Trump Administration. The Huffington Post, for example, published an article on March 2 by Nick Visser headlined “The Growing List Of Trump Administration Departures Will Make Your Head Spin.” CNN on March 28 featured a piece by Jan Diehm and Sam Petulla that opened with the broadside: “President Donald Trump’s administration has been marked by a series of exits from high-ranking officials. Appointments expected to last for years have only made it a matter of days, ending in chaotic departures.” That same day USA Today “updated” its running tally. Rachel Maddow frequently complains about the turnover rate on her eponymous MSNBC show.

These reports—and there have been many others in the increasingly redundant media—distort the record. Have there been departures from the Trump Administration? Yes. But according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the executive branch employs more than 2 million civilian workers. Turnover is inevitable in a workforce that large.

Of course, the media is really obsessed with turnover among “high-ranking” executive branch officials, an amorphous category of jobs that has been enlarged by the media to make it appear as if more people of consequence have left the Trump Administration than actually have.

For instance, both CNN and USA Today include Angella Reid on their lists, yet they fail to explain why the White House chief usher should be regarded as a “high ranking” administration official. Also worth noting is that Reid and many others were holdovers from the Obama Administration. It hardly seems inappropriate for a Republican president to want to replace “high-ranking” personnel from a previous Democratic Administration.

The following is a chronological list of men and women who have left the Trump Administration after occupying what most objective observers would characterize as “high-ranking” positions: Sally Yates, Michael Flynn, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Andrew McCabe, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, H. R. McMaster, and David Shulkin. Some on this list had engaged in official misconduct that required their removal, and a few others left because of policy differences with the president and/or performance shortcomings.

Those forced out for misconduct include Yates, an Obama appointee who was fired as acting attorney general when she refuse to implement President Trump’s order imposing a travel moratorium on people from certain nations with known ties to terrorism; Flynn, who was fired as national security advisor for lying to Vice President Mike Pence; Comey, another Obama appointee, who was fired for mishandling the investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server; Price, who was forced to resign as secretary of Health and Human Services for spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private flights; McCabe, yet another Obama appointee, who was fired as the FBI’s deputy director for instructing FBI officials to speak to the media about an investigation involving the Clinton Foundation and for misleading investigators about his actions; and Shulkin—likewise a former Obama Administration official—who was fired as secretary of Veterans Affairs after a scathing report from the VA’s inspector general that found he had spent an inordinate amount of time sightseeing during a European trip funded by taxpayers and had inappropriately accepted a gift of Wimbledon tennis tickets during the trip.

Spicer and Priebus were forced out as, respectively, White House press secretary and chief of staff, because they were not doing a good job. Bannon was fired as President Trump’s chief strategist for contradicting the president about North Korea and for asserting he could make personnel changes at the State Department.

Chief Economic Adviser Cohn, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Adviser McMaster are being replaced because of policy and personal differences with the president.

Obviously, the president should terminate high ranking officials guilty of misconduct or who are not doing their jobs well. He also has unambiguous authority under the Constitution to replace officials who disagree with his policy positions or who don’t mesh with him personally. What do you think “serves at the pleasure of the president” means? It’s his policies the administration is carrying out.

The real problem isn’t too much turnover in the executive branch but rather that there is not nearly enough.

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, approximately 90 percent of the more than 2 million civilian workers in the executive branch are “Non-Seasonal Full-Time Permanent Employees,” or what are more commonly known as federal bureaucrats. Polls consistently show most Americans hold the federal bureaucracy in low esteem. They are of the opinion that the bureaucracy is too large and too slow, and that federal workers are overpaid, under-qualified, and don’t work hard enough.

President Trump echoed the broad public sentiment in his State of the Union Address. “All Americans deserve accountability and respect—and that is what we are giving them,” he said. “So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

President Trump’s background is in business, not politics. Successful business leaders demand accountability from the people who work for them. The president should be commended rather than criticized for bringing that needed perspective to Washington.

Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Congress • Democrats • Department of Homeland Security • Donald Trump • Government Reform • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • military • Post • Republicans • separation of powers • The Media • Trump White House

With Omnibus, Trump Makes the Best of a Bad Situation

People are unhappy about the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, and just so. But while this anger at the president for signing the legislation is reasonable, President Trump is not to blame for the situation that created it, no matter how much the NeverTrump crowd insists that he is. It’s possible the omnibus could provide the president the key to accomplishing his most important goal.

After his initial hint that he would veto the bill, the president ultimately signed it while reaffirming he was “unhappy” and “disappointed” with various provisions. While the bill does include funding for some key areas of Trump’s agendaincluding border security and fighting the opioid epidemiche insists it does not do enough for immigration enforcement. His main reason for signing was the huge appropriation for the military: $700 billion, the largest increase in defense spending in 15 years.

Trump signed, but with plenty of misgivings toward Congress, which must pass another funding bill in September. He warned that he would “never sign another bill like this again.”

Trouble is, this bill had broad bipartisan support. In the House, 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted yes, for a total of 256 overall “Yea” votes; 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats voted “No,” with three Republicans and four Democrats not voting. In the Senate, 65 senators voted in favor of the legislation: 25 Republicans, 39 Democrats, and one Independent. Only 23 Republicans, eight Democrats, and one Independent voted “No,” with three Republicans not voting.

One Man Alone Could Have Fixed It
Of course, there was a brief period when all it would have taken was one brave legislator to stop the entire bill. At the moment of the vote to allow the bill to proceed, when Senate rules say the vote must be unanimous.

It was here that most eyes turned to the one man who had been the bill’s loudest critic: Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He had repeatedly criticized the bill on Twitter, supported a possible veto, and threatened a potential shutdown over it.

For all his posturing, what did the quasi-libertarian senator do? He voted yes along with everyone else to let the vote proceed. At that point, his vote against the final bill was mere symbolism. So much for Paul and his “principles.”

After the omnibus passed, Congress immediately left town for a two-week recess. That meant if Trump had vetoed the bill, nobody would have been in town to renegotiate. The government would have “shut down”—though as we all know by now, a “shutdown” is never really what the doomsayers make it out to be.

Nevertheless, shutdowns make for “bad optics,” as the flacks say. The president would have had no political cover, unlike earlier in the year when Democrats forced a shutdown over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Despite their best effort to paint lawbreakers as victims and Trump as a monster, the Democrats and their allies in the kept media lost the shutdown battle and caved quickly. This time, the focus would have been on Trump exclusively.

But the president had another problem: given the margin of “yeas,” there was a strong likelihood that the Republican-controlled Congress would have overridden the Republican president’s veto. Trump didn’t need that kind of embarrassment, especially with a highly anticipated summit with North Korea in the works.

A Possible Silver Lining
Instead, the president did the honorable thing—or the closest thing to it under the circumstances. He refused to stoop to the same level as the Democrats and shutdown the government when doing so would have held the military hostage. He had only two options: Veto the bill, hurt the military, temporarily shut down the government before eventually being overridden, and divide the base; or pass the bill, and divide the base.

Given the choice, it’s clear he made the best of a rotten situation, blasting Congress and warning he won’t sign another garbage bill. He didn’t just put Democrats on notice, either. The Republican establishment is in his crosshairs, too.

Even with a spending bill as bad as this, there may be a redeeming factor that overcomes so much bloat and pork.

The reality is, Congress provided billions for improvements to the existing border fence, but included no money for a border wall specifically. Does it matter? During his signing speech on Friday, Trump hinted at something extraordinary: He could classify the border wall as a national security issue. That would then place the multibillion-dollar project under the purview of the Pentagon, with construction by the Army Corps of Engineers, once the president settles on one of eight design prototypes. During his trip to the border in California earlier this month, Trump seemed to hint at which of the eight designs he would pick.

On Sunday, the president was more explicit on Twitter:

Again: the omnibus allocated $700 billion in defense spending. The White House has been considering the use of defense dollars to build the wall since last summer. All that was missing was the money. Now that Congress has approved a massive hike in defense, Trump may have the means to a very important, highly coveted end. Congress would howl, but it just might work.

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Injunction Junction, What’s Your Function?

Since taking office, President Trump has phased out President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for illegal aliens, initiated a travel ban, put in a place a new policy on refugees, and stripped federal grants from sanctuary cities.

So, why aren’t any of these policies in place? Because each of them has been blocked by individual judges at the lowest level of the federal judiciary. District judges, empowering themselves with a judicial tool known as the national injunction, have single-handedly blocked the president from implementing his electoral mandate.

The national injunction has been called “a major political weapon for stopping a president’s program,” and for good reason. Indeed, in just the first year of Trump’s term in office, district courts have halted major, substantive efforts by the president to repeal regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency, to change Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage and to reinstate a ban on transgender troops. In total, Trump has been hit with 22 national injunctions—more than any other president in our history.

But on immigration policy, in particular, the courts have blocked nearly every single attempt by Trump to exercise his constitutionally granted executive authority. Lower court judges trip over themselves in a dance of judicial absurdity all with one aim—to stop the president from doing what he is constitutionally authorized to do.

The judicial action surrounding Trump’s travel ban is a key example. It took lower court judges less than 24 hours to issue rulings against the ban, and give them broad, nationwide application. Judges in New York and Boston were first to the starting line. Once the administration modified the ban, the judge in Boston lifted his injunction—only for judges in Seattle and Virginia to declare nationwide injunctions. After a third modification, courts in Hawaii and Maryland made policy for the nation.

Seemingly skeptical of the outright hostility shown by the lower courts to the president’s national security powers, the Supreme Court put an end to the lower court squabbling earlier this year by permitting immediate enforcement of the ban until it officially rules in June.

District courts have also wielded national injunctions against the president’s attempt to roll back President Obama’s constitutionally suspect DACA program. After his Justice Department concluded that the DACA program was a clear overstep of constitutional authority, President Trump began phasing it out—using his executive authority to end the program in the same manner President Obama used his authority, erroneously, to create it.

Yet again, individual judges would not let it stand. Judge William Alsup in San Francisco used a local case to impose a nationwide halt to Trump’s efforts. A similar ruling from a judge in New York followed shortly thereafter.

This poses an obvious question: why are lower court judges in New York and California allowed to decide a question for the entire country? Voters sent Donald Trump to office, but increasingly, it is the district court judges who are shaping and changing national policy.

Legal scholars have raised the alarm, noting that the increased practice of national injunctions diminishes the quality of arguments within the legal system. More insidious is the effect these injunctions are having on the fundamental relationship between executive and judicial power. As one law professor put it, “national injunctions are transforming the relationship between the courts and the political branches.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly has called the practice into question. Setting aside the legal minutia, he addressed the importance of the issue for non-lawyers, writing “This is a question of who gets to decide the policy questions facing America: Is it our elected representatives, or elected president, or unelected lifetime-appointed federal judges?”

In an age rife with partisan hostility, this is a vital question to be asking. Voters provide electoral mandates to their Congress, and to the president. Judges are asked to interpret the law neutrally, not to decide its outcome. Nowhere does the Constitution grant judges the right to veto a president’s actions because they disagree with him on policy grounds. As UCLA law professor Samuel Bray put it, “payback is no way to run a legal system.”

So what can be done? How can our federal system return to one president, rather than a president who is forced to defer to multiple self-appointed legal chancellors? 

Legal scholars and members of Congress are posing solutions. The Constitution also provides avenues to restore the badly undermined separation of powers. The last piece in this series will lay out options for restraining a practice that threatens not just President Trump’s agenda, but the very nature of our representative government.

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‘Never Again’? Omnibus Bill Is a Product of the Swamp

Thinking about the $1.3 trillion—that’s “trillion” with a “t” for “terrifying”—omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed on Friday, I wonder who is most unhappy about that incontinent, 2,232-page monument to congressional irresponsibility. (A small token of its irresponsibility—and its contempt for the public—was that the bill had to be signed a mere 17 hours after being passed by the Senate. “Otherwise”—cue the scary voice and Halloween music—“the government will shut down!” Is that a threat or a promise?)

There have been all sorts of lists of winners and losers. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “We Democrats are really happy” with the bill, which will stuff enough cash into the bloated congressional gizzard to keep the government wheezing along through September. Many, nay most, on the other side of the D.C. gastrointestinal tract are not happy. “With Omnibus Signing,” as one representative headline put it, “Trump Formally Surrenders To The Swamp.”

I had myself, like other fiscally responsible Americans, hoped that President Trump would veto that bill, as he suggested he might as late as Friday morning. Still, it is well to keep in mind a fundamental truth that some canny tweeter put with pithy conciseness: “Regardless of how you feel about the #omnibus, it’s still a good day when you wake up and realize Hillary Clinton is not our president.”

True, too true. And remember, politics in democratic countries always involves compromise. I was not convinced that the president got enough of what he wanted—a measly $1.6 billion “down payment” for the border wall, for example (he wanted $25 billion) in exchange for the Candyland giveaways to the Dems. But let’s leave the particular budget items to one side. The bill was simply too big. I think the government should spend less money, especially on things unrelated to national security. That Republicans, reputedly the party of fiscal sanity, occupy the White House, control both houses of Congress (as well as a majority of state legislatures and governorships) and that this is is the best they can do suggests how difficult public thriftiness is.

Rot Runs Deep
Or perhaps it merely suggests how wide and deep the D.C. swamp is, and how corrupt most politicians from both parties really are. It is amazing how quickly the power and perquisites of public office transform ordinary men and women into inveterate swamp dwellers, concerned overwhelmingly with maintaining and enhancing their status, not the commonweal.

Did I mention that Congress gave itself a raise of $60 million in the bill? Spending other people’s money is easy once you get the hang of it. One thing Congress never seems to get around to considering seriously is term limits. Can you blame them? Power. Riches. Influence. Social position. All for life if they’re lucky. Who would wish to turn off that spigot—especially when there are millions upon millions of saps (that would be us taxpayers) willing to pay for it all? Nope, most lawmakers, once they get to the promised land of the Capitol, are not going budge if they can help it.

But I digress. I ask again: Who is most unhappy about the passage of the omnibus spending bill?

It may seem ironic, but I think it may be President Trump. He signaled his dissatisfaction with the bill early on and, as I say, talked about vetoing it. “It’s not right,” he said, “and it’s very bad for our country.” When push came to shove, however, he signed it only, he said, because of the robust provisions it made for military spending: pay increases for those who defend us as well as money for new military hardware.

Noting correctly that the president’s “highest duty is to keep America safe,” Trump said he signed the bill as a matter of “national security.” The U.S. military had suffered grievously under Barack Obama. The world is an increasingly dangerous place and yet our military readiness and capability have been sharply eroded. The military provisions of the omnibus bill will go a long way towards addressing that deferred maintenance.

Far-Fetched Remedies
Nevertheless, he said in announcing his signing of the bill, he would “
never sign a bill like this again.” Like many of his predecessors, President Trump asked for an end to the filibuster. He also asked for a line-item veto so the president was not presented with an all-or-nothing choice.

The problem, of course, is that ending the filibuster would remove not only a major opportunity for partisan grandstanding but also an important tool of legislative blackmail. And providing the president with a line-item veto would introduce an element of transparency into the legislative process that would be deeply incompatible with the imperative to feather one’s nest and grease the wheels of politics without the irritating incursion of public scrutiny and accountability. So: I doubt it will ever happen.

This dog’s breakfast of a spending bill illustrates a fundamental fact about the metabolism of modern American politics. Republicans, when they’re in charge, allow Democrats to indulge in massive domestic spending in exchange for money for the military. Democrats, when they’re in charge, deny Republicans money for military spending in exchange for massive domestic spending and tax increases. You see how it works. It’s analogous to the one-way ratchet the Democrats employ on so-called social issues and judicial decisions. As far as is humanly possible, the trend goes in one direction only: towards more and more “progressive”—and expensive—positions.

It will be interesting to see whether Donald Trump will be able to keep his promise not to sign another such example of fiscal incontinence. It will be interesting, too, to see how his battle against the swamp proceeds. Will he be able to maintain—and, perhaps, even improve on—the tax cuts he won at the end of last year? Will he get his wall? Will he stanch the flow of illegal immigration and do something about the thousands upon thousands of alien miscreants who are here now, preying on our communities? Will he be able to keep up the pace of prosperity-enhancing deregulation? Will his economic policies spark the sustained 3-4 percent growth we need? Will he, finally, manage to evade the real collusion story of our times: the collusion between our intelligence and law-enforcement institutions, on the one hand, and the Clinton campaign and deep state operatives from the Obama Administration, on the other, to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency?

The point is, last week’s passage of the omnibus spending catastrophe did not take place in a vacuum. It is part of the elaborate choreography of the swamp. There are already hints that President Trump may be cannier about swamp draining and fiscal responsibility than is widely appreciated. In any case, this spending bill cannot be understood in isolation from the whole package of D.C. initiatives. There are thousands upon thousands of “civil servants” whose daily suspiration adds, drop by drop, to the swamp. Most of them detest Donald Trump. Most of them cannot be fired. That is the hand the president was dealt. Ronald Reagan faced something similar. He did not get everything he wanted, not by a long shot. But he got some critical things accomplished in his eight years. Were I betting man, I’d wager that Donald Trump has some important, some world-changing victories to look forward to in the nearly seven years he has left as president.

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A ‘Higher Loyalty’ to Their Inflated Sense of Virtue

Some portion of the reading public is eagerly awaiting A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, the aptly titled exercise in self-serving historical revisionism by James Comey, the disgraced former FBI director who was fired last May by President Trump.

The reading material in which I am most interested at the moment is the report by Michael Horowitz, the Obama-appointed inspector general of the Department of Justice who has been toiling away for the last year investigating the DOJ and the FBI for its handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

Comey’s aria, currently swaddled with embargoes, is due out April 17. Horowitz has said he aims to release his report “in the March, April time period.”

So there is a lot to look forward to. Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director, said that the report will contain “some pure TNT.” I have no doubt that’s true.

Adventures in “Ethical Leadership”
On Saturday, in the aftermath of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s sacking, Comey tweeted:

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Well, yes. Comey’s Twitter profile informs the world that these days he is “writing and speaking about ethical leadership.” It also notes that he is “taller and funnier in person.” I hope so.

As for “ethical leadership,” we needn’t even wait for his book to understand exactly how he embodies ethical leadership. When the College of William and Mary announced last month that Comey would be coming to teach a class on the subject, the announcement was accompanied by a statement from Comey. “Ethical leaders,” he said, “lead by seeing above the short term, above the urgent or the partisan, and with a higher loyalty to lasting values, most importantly the truth.” The Wall Street Journal, digesting this declaration, published a useful classroom aid for students struggling with the question of ethical leadership.

Week One case study: The FBI is investigating a presidential candidate for mishandling classified emails as Secretary of State. The director decides on his own to violate Justice Department rules and exonerate that candidate in a public statement to the media, letting an aide replace the legally potent phrase “grossly negligent” in a draft of his statement with “extremely careless” in the final version.

Possible test question: When and under what circumstance may a federal official decide that the rules that bind others do not apply to him?

The Journal also offers a topic for a breakout session:

Having exonerated that candidate, the FBI director intervenes in the campaign again only days before Election Day, saying new evidence has required him to reopen the email case. Two days before the polls open he says that the new evidence turned out to be nothing of consequence. Was the FBI director protecting the rule of law, or his own reputation?

Presumably, Comey will talk not only about his favorite topic, himself, but will also provide other examples of ethical leadership. The Journal has some good advice about that as well. Consider, for example, Mr. Comey’s good friend Robert Mueller. Long before he embarked on his quest for the Holy Grail—i.e., the destruction of Donald Trump—Robert Mueller was involved in other high profile cases. The Journal suggestion for Week Three focuses on one of those.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York are convinced that the man behind the 2001 anthrax mail attacks is a government virologist. They spend years pursuing him and destroying his reputation through the media, only to concede years later that they had fingered the wrong man.

Students will examine the ethics of trial-by-media and the risks to the fair administration of justice from prosecutors who ignore contrary evidence.

The Journal has other illuminating exercises that prospective readers of Comey’s book and students for his class will find useful.

About the McCabe Firing
For my part, I am more interested in seeing what Michael Horowitz’s report has to say. We can glean a little about it by noting that some of its contents provided the basis for the recommendation from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility that Andrew McCabe be fired. On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took time off from his recusal and did just that.

It is worth noting who did what to whom. The Left and its NeverTrump Chihuahua enablers exploded in a frenzy of vituperation at the news that Andrew McCabe had been fired just a day before he was eligible for his full pension. His bitter statement following his firing was full of recriminations. “It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation,” he said.

But the bad cop in this scenario was not Donald Trump—though the president did, understandably, take pleasure in the news. Nope, McCabe’s downfall was the result of his own actions: unauthorized leaks to the media, “lack of candor” under oath (a fireable offense), not to mention his failure to disclose the $700,000 contribution to his wife’s political campaign from the Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe.

Writing at the Lawfare blog, Quinta Jurecic Benjamin Wittes outline the process:

[A]lthough Sessions made the ultimate call to fire McCabe, the public record shows that the process resulting in the FBI deputy director’s dismissal involved career Justice Department and FBI officials—rather than political appointees selected by President Trump—at crucial points along the way. To begin with, the charges against McCabe arose out of the broader Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.

One of the most interesting details to emerge from the Comey-McCabe Affair is the . . .  er, tension between what McCabe has just said about who said what to whom and with what authority and the testimony of Comey before Congress under oath. In his post-firing statement, McCabe said “I chose to share [information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server] with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As deputy director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter” (my emphasis).

But as Jonathan Turley reports at The Hill, “If the ‘interaction’ means leaking the information, then McCabe’s statement would seem to directly contradict statements Comey made in a May 2017 congressional hearing.”

Asked if he had “ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation” or whether he had “ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation,” Comey replied “never” and “no.”

What, never? Well, hardly ever.

Things are happening very fast in the Swamp Drama surrounding Robert Mueller’s Galaxy Quest. We’ll have to wait on the inspector general’s report to fill out some details about Andrew McCabe’s activities. Already, though, a lot of unsavory allegations are swirling about. The investigative journalist Sara Carter, for example, just told Fox News “I have been told tonight by a number of sources . . . that McCabe may have asked FBI agents to actually change their 302s”—that is, the forms that FBI agents are required to complete after interviewing a subject to memorialize the contents of their interview.

The level of hysteria that greeted McCabe’s firing is instructive. Many people, friends as well as opponents, criticize President Trump for his freewheeling tweets. But how about this tweet emitted by former CIA Director John Brennan after McCabe’s firing:

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There’s a lot to be said about John Brennan. Lee Smith has some of the unsavory details in a recent essay in Tablet. At the end of the day, Brennan is the fons et origo of the whole Trump-Russian collusion fantasy. Although that narrative is unraveling before our eyes, the principle of inertia assures that Mueller’s team of 17 pro-Clinton prosecutors will toil on. Will they, I wonder, have anything to say about John Brennan’s lying to Congress about whether or not the CIA spied on them under his direction (they did). And surely the public should be reminded that Barack Obama’s director of our premier foreign intelligence service voted for Gus Hall, general secretary of the Communist Party of the United States, in 1976.

J. Edgar Hoover described Hall as “a powerful, deceitful, dangerous foe of Americanism.” He was that. But Brennan voted for that despicable representative of a monstrous ideology anyway. He was “unhappy with the system,” he had what James Comey calls “a higher loyalty”—not to the boring rule of law but to the projection of his own self-infatuated idea of virtue. It was ever thus with “idealists,” which is one thing that makes them so dangerous to our republic.

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2016 Election • Center for American Greatness • Congress • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Government Reform • Hillary Clinton • Intelligence Community • Jeff Sessions • Obama • Post • Republicans • Russia • self-government • separation of powers • The Left • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker) • Trump White House

Americans Deserve a Full Hearing on the Trump-Russia Hoax

The House Intelligence Committee closed its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, concluding there is “no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the committee’s probe, said his team interviewed 73 witnesses and reviewed more than 300,000 documents over the past 14 months.

But the media overlooked one damning nugget. The committee report disputes a key finding by President Obama’s intelligence team that Vladimir Putin and his regime “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” According to Conaway, trained analysts examined the underlying documents of the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (which remain classified) and he said “the piece about Putin’s purported preference for Trump, we think, is not supported by the evidence. We disagree with them.”

Then why did the Intelligence Community make that claim? “That [IC review] started in early December and was finished in January, coinciding with an attack on the Trump presidency throughout that timeframe, and seemed to underpin that narrative that somehow Putin had more effect on the election than he should have, and delegitimize the Trump presidency,” Conaway told Tucker Carlson on Fox News. “That was a part of that narrative.”

Translation: Days before Trump’s inauguration, known political operatives—FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—released a report with the imprimatur of the world’s most powerful intelligence apparatus to bolster the pernicious plotline that Putin helped Trump win the election and was henceforth an illegitimate president.

Considering the shameful post-election conduct by top Obama officials, including Comey and Brennan, and the possibility that Clapper leaked information to the press after he briefed Trump on the IC report, is anyone surprised? How many rats do we have to smell before we fumigate the nest? When will Americans get clear answers, and when will people publicly be held accountable for their role in propagating this ruse?

It doesn’t look like anytime soon. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now considering a request by the House Judiciary Committee for a second special counsel to look into this mess, insisting the Justice Department is not “capable of investigating these fact patterns in a fashion likely to garner public confidence.” Sessions indicated he prefers allowing his department’s inspector general to take the lead. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday asked Sessions for a second special counsel to work with Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Pardon my French, but WTF?

Before time potentially runs out on a Republican-led Congress, GOP lawmakers must hold public hearings to expose how the Obama Administration hatched and executed the Trump-Russia election conspiracy, which the press then propagandized and weaponized. This needs to be done without delay. And it needs to happen whether or not Sessions names another special counsel.

Here’s why: For nearly two years, the nation has been consumed by what is quite possibly the biggest scam—and scandal—in American political history. The Trump-Russia hoax has monopolized news coverage, dominated the attention of the nation’s top lawmakers, and led to a costly, freewheeling investigation that is destroying people’s reputations and livelihoods without any proof yet that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were in cahoots before November 2016. Robert Mueller’s investigation has outraged and distracted an easily outraged and distractible president, prompted the resignations of key aides, and handcuffed the federal government’s top lawyer. He is now subpoenaing Trump’s business empire for documents related to Russia and “other topics,” the New York Times reports.

But the most odious purpose of continuing to peddle and “investigate” the Trump-Russia fantasy is to obfuscate the real scandal: Top officials in the Obama Administration collaborated with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic National Committee to torpedo Donald Trump’s candidacy and undermine his presidency after he won.

Thanks to investigations by the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, we know that the Obama Justice Department used a politically funded and preposterous “dossier” to win the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s approval to eavesdrop on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, just a few weeks before the election and without revealing the document was produced by the rival campaign.

The dossier was also used to plant news articles written by activist-journalists to sow public suspicion about the Trump campaign working with the Russians to influence the election’s outcome. (At least one article was then used as evidence on the FISA application for Page.) And it’s likely that the dossier and subsequent surveillance was used by Obama chiefs to justify the unmasking of Trump campaign aides in intelligence reports. Text messages between FBI officials have exposed serious political bias, and several Justice Department bigwigs have been outed for questionable political activity, media leaks, and ties to the firm that produced the dossier. Mueller’s team is compromised.

But despite all the evidence of malfeasance, Obama loyalists and apologists in the media—some who carry around mini figurines of the former president to demonstrate their fealty—have done little to demand answers about what happened.

Instead of chasing down Christopher Steele or Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson or Peter Strzok or Susan Rice, reporters are chasing down Florida grandmothers who attended Trump campaign rallies. With the exception of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and writers Andrew McCarthy and Sara Carter, very little in-depth coverage has been given to this scandal. Traditional news outlets have been complicit from the very beginning in raising the temperature of the Trump-Russia fever dream and continue to give the Obama administration cover, just like they did during the Benghazi terrorist scandal and IRS targeting scandal.

Congress should not allow it to happen again.

Perhaps the Senate should convene a select committee, but whatever the format is, it needs to happen fast. Democrats are hoping the clock runs out on the Republican majority in Congress; if that occurs, we’ll never get the truth about what happened at the Obama White House and Justice Department in the months before and after the November 2016 election.

The roster of potential witnesses is long. Here is my personal short-list:

  • Christopher Steele: The ex-British spy was the author of the dossier. Without his handiwork, there is no Trump-Russia chimera. Since it’s possible Steele was paid by the FBI—i.e., American tax dollars—and is now the subject of a criminal referral, he has some explaining to do. How did he collect the information contained in the dossier? What was his relationship with the FBI? What led to his termination as a source by the FBI? Was he paid by anyone associated with the Russian government?
  • Glenn Simpson: The Fusion GPS principal should explain publicly how he came in contact with the FBI, what his firm’s relationship was with the agency, and if he leveraged FBI contacts to pitch news stories to the media. Most important, Simpson should explain his connection to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who famously met with Donald Trump, Jr. in June 2016. Simpson met with Veselnitskaya before and after her Trump Tower meeting. Why? Since this meeting is major grist for the Trump-Russia rumor mill and Trump, Jr. has been questioned about the brief encounter, it’s imperative that Simpson explain his role in possibly setting up the president’s son to meet with the Russian lawyer.
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz: This is where the story began: The alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email system by Russian operatives. Yet Schultz, the DNC chief at the time, refused to turn over the server to the FBI for inspection. Why? Since mid-2016, the media and the anti-Trump mob have relied on a dubious report from a private cybersecurity company with ties to the same law firm that retained Fusion GPS.  Plenty of questions here.
  • James Comey, John Brennan, James Clapper: This triumvirate should explain the specific intelligence that led them to conclude that Putin influenced the election in favor of Donald Trump. Also, they should justify why they purportedly “unmasked” Americans in classified reports and defend leaks of classified information to the media. The three also should be scolded harshly for their unprofessional and provocative politicking over the past year. It is inexcusable.
  • Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr, James Baker: Answer everything. Defend the texts, the politicking, the leaking, the connection between Ohr, a top DOJ official, and his wife, a Fusion GPS employee. And tell us who at the top was giving the orders. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now considering a recommendation to fire McCabe based on an internal investigation.)
  • Carter Page: The target of the Obama administration’s secret spy mission should talk about how this has impacted his personal and professional life. Despite being surveilled for suspicious activity for a year, Carter is a free man, giving interviews and suing news organizations for defamation. Worst foreign agent ever.
  • Shailagh Murray: Murray was Obama’s senior communications advisor when all this went down. Murray’s husband, Neil King, worked with Glenn Simpson at the Wall Street Journal. After the election, King went to work for Fusion GPS. Was Murray the conduit between the White House, Fusion GPS and the media? How much of Fusion’s bidding in the press was Murray doing in the summer and fall of 2016?

I think that’s a good start.

Of course, there are plenty of other folks that Americans should hear from: Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and John Kerry. The FISC judges. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Perhaps the publishers of the Washington Post and the New York Times and owners of CNN to answer for their egregious, prodigious reporting on the Trump-Russia scheme, and how their coverage may have aided the attempted political annihilation of a sitting president and fueled one of the most destructive political environments in U.S. history.

Years from now, perhaps an enterprising researcher will develop a model to evaluate how much time and money was diverted away from serious issues to focus on what now appears to be a colossal hoax unrivaled in the annals of U.S. presidential campaigns. But for now, we are mired in a nonstop loop of leaks, accusations, tweets, indictments, opinion columns, and cable news tirades all serving as a collective life-support system to keep alive the anti-Trump mob’s singular hope of taking down the man it despises.

Americans are exhausted. We are angry. We deserve answers. So, Congress, get to work. And don’t screw it up.

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Schiff Losing the Memo Wars

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) launched the third salvo in the “Great Memo Wars” over the weekend, and after overshooting his target, it’s apparent that the Democrats either didn’t know what they were doing when they released their rebuttal memo on so-called “Russian collusion,” or they were again seeking to create confusion or misdirection.

Perhaps unwittingly, however, Democrats did confirm a couple of the main facts related to use of the Fusion GPS/Steele dossier’s role in securing FISA warrants for Carter Page and the broader Russian investigation.

In sum, the Democrats admitted that Department of Justice and FBI used a piece of partisan propaganda to secure a legal warrant to spy on U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. In addition, that the DOJ and FBI obtained this warrant via a falsified application filled with lies of omission about the deeply partisan nature of the dossier’s author and funders.

Democrats argue in the Schiff memo that the dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele played only a narrow role in securing the warrant. But this claim stands at odds with the Grassley-Graham memo which states: “Then on March 17, 2017, the Chairman and Ranking Member were provided two relevant FISA applications, which requested authority to conduct surveillance of Carter Page. Both relied heavily on Mr. Steele’s dossier claims.”

Steele has admitted, under oath, that he received and included “unsolicited-and unverified-allegations” in his dossier. Yet the DOJ and FBI still used this dossier, filled with misinformation from unknown Russian sources and unverified allegations, and used it to secure a FISA warrant. It doesn’t matter if you believe the Democrats or Senators Grassley and Graham as to the extent the dossier was used: all parties agree it was used for the FISA warrant.

It’s noteworthy that despite current claims that the dossier was narrowly used, Democrats felt distinctly different about it a year ago. Schiff had it read into the Congressional Record, with CNN breathlessly reporting that there was in fact a dossier used to secure a warrant to spy on a Trump associate. These same Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media are now back-pedaling faster than an outfielder who underestimated a fly ball. They sold the American people on the unquestionable veracity of this earth-shattering dossier, but now they can’t downplay its importance enough.

While the Democrat memo is a sad attempt to distance the Democrats and the Left from the dossier, it’s notable that in its 10 pages, the memo is deafeningly silent on the issue of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s testimony in front of the House Intel Committee in December 2017. According to the Nunes memo, McCabe testified that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] without the Steele dossier information.” Democrats on the House Intel Committee have claimed in media appearances that Nunes’ claim is untrue, yet not one attempt existed in their memo to refute McCabe’s claim.

The dossier wasn’t just used once to renew applications for a FISA warrant. Instead, usage of the dossier occurred multiple times, potentially four times according to the Nunes’ memo. Consider the timeline of what took place: On October 21, 2016, the FBI applied for and received a FISA warrant to spy on Page using the dossier (how pivotal the dossier may have been in the request to the court doesn’t matter; it was used). Then fast forward to early January 2017, when James Comey testified under oath that he described the dossier to then-President-elect Trump as “salacious and unverified.” But remember that with FISA warrants there are 90-day renewals. Sometime later in January, Comey signed off on a renewal application that used, according to the Nunes memo and Grassley-Graham memo, that very same salacious and unverified dossier as part of its justification.

The Grassley-Graham memo states that the FISA applications, two of which they had in hand, relied heavily on the Steele dossier. This likely means that in the first 90 days of spying on Carter Page, there was little that was legally compelling gained from that surveillance and monitoring. There was not enough to buttress FBI and DOJ efforts for renewal of the warrant. Therefore, the dossier again became justification.

Lest we forget, in this entire process, securing a FISA warrant is supposed to be, as Andrew McCarthy of National Review has pointed out, a last, extreme measure. It does not appear that the FBI attempted to interview Carter Page at any juncture, despite having a previous relationship with him. Instead, according to the Nunes’ memo, the dossier was used in every FISA application by the DOJ and FBI; every 90 days, four times, meaning over the course of 360 days of spying on Carter Page, they were still having to use an unsubstantiated and unverified piece of partisan propaganda to justify their continued spying.

It’s important to note, Page was not necessarily the only victim here. With Page’s phones tapped and his online activities monitored, it’s quite likely that over a year’s time potentially hundreds of innocent Americans had their private conversations monitored and their privacy invaded. Anyone who contacted Page or contacted by Page ended up swept up in this investigation.

Now we got to where we’re at in this entire back and forth because someone lied to somebody along the way and likely for political purposes. Despite the claims of the Schiff memo that the Justice Department and FBI were “transparent” about where the dossier originated, the paragraph dealing with the subject reads: “An identified US Person, who indicated to Source #1 that a US-based law firm had hired the identified US person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. . . The identified US person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. . . The FBI speculates that the identified US person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”

There’s a very simple term for the above words: lies of omission. Such as in never stating that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC were involved in the funding of the dossier by paying a law firm to commission it.

Yet the question does remain as to where the lying began. It is safe to speculate that it occurred when the FISA application had to be signed off on by the Justice Department and FBI lawyers at the very beginning. They would have seen the supporting documents and would have known the source of the dossier. It’s important to note that these lawyers are not junior level lawyers, but senior level, and ones who deal with the FISA courts on a weekly, if not daily basis. It is potentially at that juncture that the FISA application documents were in fact falsified through lies of omission.

The entire process of the FISA courts is based on the honesty and integrity of senior lawyers and management at the Justice Department and the FBI. If federal agents and prosecutors fooled the FISA judges by lying about the source of the underlying documents (i.e., the dossier), the trust between Justice, the FBI, and the FISC courts must now be shattered. If, God forbid, the FISC judges knew who funded the dossier and still approved the FISA warrants, then we are living in a police state where fake partisan dossiers can be used as justification for spying on American citizens.

None of the scenarios are good as to what took place with the Steele dossier and the FISA warrant process. What is becoming clear, however, is that people at the Justice Department and FBI need to be investigated, prosecuted, and the guilty parties must serve jail time. At minimum, the entire FISA regime needs to be re-examined and likely reformed. If there are no serious investigations, and no serious reform, then we are imperiling the rule of law, and allowing the unelected bureaucrats in federal law enforcement to further erode the republic.

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Equal Justice Under Law: ‘Well, We’re Waiting’

Atop the entrance to the United States Supreme Court is engraved a solemn promise for every American to see: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Unconscionably, it is a promise that historically was broken with respect to many Americans, whose unjust treatment is rightly recorded and recounted as a reminder that, where the rights of some citizens are infringed, the rights of all citizens are endangered. Concomitantly, wherever some citizens are considered above the law, justice for all citizens is imperiled. Consequently, the ongoing effort to fulfill the promise of equal justice under law is essential to preserving and promoting social cohesion. In the effort’s absence, citizens lose trust in the authority of government institutions. In a nation founded on the “consent of the governed,” people may begin to rethink their consent to abide the decision makers and their decision-making.

It is this lack of institutional trust that the swamp’s political and media elites have ignored in their less-than-objective and largely inaccurate denunciations (and rationalizations) concerning the rise of President Trump. No, it wasn’t all the “-isms” the elites suggest have inspired the “deplorable” movement. These smears only served to reinforce the seminal objection of large swaths of the citizenry spurred to vote for Trump: namely, people believe the swamp does what the swamp wants, whenever it wants, because the swamp can with an impunity born of political position and power.

For Trump voters especially (though this should be true for all Americans), swamp supremacy has been a galling inversion of the constitutional prescription that citizens are the sovereigns and their government is the servant. In other words, it is a betrayal of the promise of equal justice under law.

Given the disgraceful abundance of evidence, it makes diabolical sense why the swamp ignores this primary motivation of “deplorable” voters: bluntly, for going on a decade, the swamp’s political and media elites have committed and are even now covering for their own abuses and potentially criminal activities, such as: “Fast and Furious,” Benghazi, IRS (and possibly FBI) political targeting; Hillary Clinton’s classified emails on an unsecured server; unmasking American citizens; leaks of classified information; NSA and FISA abuses, Uranium One, etc.

Compounding the this crisis of confidence among citizens in the promise of equal justice under law is the fact a special counsel, in what is tantamount to an unconstitutional general warrant, was appointed outside of Department of Justice guidelines to investigate possible “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. The investigation is based upon a bogus dossier concocted by a former foreign agent who, paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, actually colluded with Kremlin-connected Russians to affect the outcome of a U.S. election because he was “desperate” to stop Trump.

Further, the congressional committees investigating and uncovering abuses and potential crimes in this debacle of justice have met with stonewalling from executive branch agencies over which they have oversight. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has even been threatened by the media’s swamp denizens with calls to have the special counsel charge him with obstruction of justice for conducting his constitutional duty of congressional oversight. Yet, while these congressional investigations continue to reveal Obama-era abuses and potential crimes, Congress has no power to prosecute them. And rightly so.

That constitutional duty falls to the president and thus, now, to the Trump White House. Whether this administration is pursuing investigations into any of these matters is a subject of much conjecture, in which one gleans citizens’ creeping fear the swamp will again evade accountability for is misdeeds and malfeasance. This fear is not unfounded, for the swamp is adept at papering over rather than prosecuting is miscreants and criminals. The swamp’s rationalization for this unequal justice under law is that to air its “dirty laundry” would erode public confidence in its institutions—i.e., the swamp.

Elected to drain that swamp, it would be a final, biting irony if the Trump Administration succumbs to this canard rather than to exhibit confidence in the public’s ability to handle the truth; and heed the public’s demand for and need to uphold equal justice under law—a demand and need succinctly articulated by the esteemed jurisprudential scholar, Judge Smails: “Well, we’re waiting!”

Who sane can blame the public for its lack of trust in the swamp? After all, thanks in large part to President Trump, the public is already well aware of and enraged by the ways the swamp thinks itself above the law and has conducted itself in a manner “so illegal!”

Wonder if the president knows someone who will do something about it any time soon?

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The Schiff Obstruction

Readers of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit will recall the philosopher’s withering comments about “the dogmatism of mere assertion” which yields naught but an empty and deceptive feeling: self-certitude.

I thought about Hegel’s comments this morning when looking through the Democrats’ attempted rebuttal of the memo released earlier this month by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.

It is interesting to compare the two memos, both as rhetorical artifacts and as substantive contributions to the debate over possible “Russian collusion” in the 2016 presidential election. Even a comparison of their physical appearance is revealing. Let’s start there.

The Republicans’ memo, overseen by Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a three-and-a-half-page précis of findings from an ongoing oversight investigation into the behavior of the FBI and Department of Justice during the 2016 election cycle. It is prefaced by a brief letter from presidential counsel Donald McGahn to Congressman Nunes laying out the rationale for declassifying the memo and releasing it to the public. Each page of the memo is marked “UNCLASSIFIED” and the legend “TOP SECRET NOFORN” (for “no foreign nationals”) on each page is struck through with a heavy black stroke. Otherwise it is clean.

The Democrats’ memo, overseen by ranking minority member Adam Schiff, spills on to a tenth page. It is probably only about a half again as long as the Republicans’ memo, however, because—in addition to bearing the “Unclassified” stamps and strike-throughs of the “top secret” advisories—its text is littered with redactions: many passages of the text are blotted out. Were those redactions required by the FBI? By the executive branch? It was not said. Nor was it said why the Democrats did not take the redactions on board and present a clean text. I do not know the answer. My suspicion is that they wanted the blocks of black to stand as mute, non-specific but nonetheless graphically incriminating witnesses to their allegations.

For example, much of the memo deals with Carter Page, the American businessman who briefly served as a volunteer foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. In a section of the memo headed “Page’s Connections to Russian Government and Intelligence Officials” we encounter the following: “As DOJ described in detail to the Court, Page had an extensive record as”—as what? We don’t know. The juicy news is submerged beneath a minatory stroke of black.

Similarly, after informing us that a “Russian intelligence officer targeted Page for recruitment”—eyebrow raising, what?—we read that “Page showed”—another black stroke, starving knowledge but inflaming the imagination. What did Page show? Interest? Did he promise to smuggle the nuclear launch codes into Moscow? We don’t know. But we can think the worst.

My favorite of these little party favors comes in a discussion of Page’s alleged activities during the 2016 campaign. Remember: the issue that prompted Devin Nunes to compile and release his memo in the first place was the suspicion that the police power of the state had been mobilized to spy on an American citizen—Carter Page—for partisan ends. Remember: the FBI sought and obtained a warrant (actually, four successive warrants) from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Page. The first was granted in October 2016, just weeks before the presidential election. That warrant gave the spooks carte-blanche to rifle through Page’s emails, texts, and phone conversations. Given his connection to the Trump campaign, the warrant also amounted to a free back-door pass to the Trump campaign’s communications as well.

According to the Nunes memo, almost the sole basis for the warrant were allegations gleaned from the infamous Steele Dossier, the 17 memos prepared from June to December 2016 by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, for the opposition research firm Fusion GPS. I say “almost” because the FISA application (which has not been made public) apparently also referenced a story from Yahoo News by Michael Isikoff. But that story, by Isikoff’s own admission, depended entirely on information imparted to him by Christopher Steele. “One bare assertion,” as Hegel put it, “cancelling another”?

So what had Carter Page done to warrant the warrant? For starters, according to the Steele Dossier, he had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, Vladimir Putin’s bosom buddy, and chairman of Rosneft, the giant Russian integrated oil company that commands annual revenues of some $65 billion. According to the Steele Dossier, Sechin offered Page a brokerage commission on 19 percent interest in Rosneft if the sanctions against Russia (imposed because of their absorption of Crimea in 2014) were lifted should Donald Trump become President.

That, I submit, is ridiculous on its face. It would certainly, by a factor of about a zillion, be the biggest payoff in history. Steele (who admitted that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president”) gives no source for the allegation beyond an unnamed “Sechin’s associate.” For his part, Carter Page has vigorously denied the allegations and has filed a defamation suit against several entities. Discovery should be fun.

But here’s the thing. A key part of the Democrats’ memo is challenging the assertion that the critical evidence for the FISA warrant was the Steele Dossier, that “salacious and unverified” document (to employ the eloquent phrase of James Comey, the disgraced former Director of the FBI). Here is how the Democrats’ memo deploys its rebuttal. “In subsequent FISA renewals,” the memo says, “DOJ provided additional information obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting.”

Wow. Let’s have it! Whatdya got? Three bullet points—count ’em, three!—the first two of which are entirely blacked out. The third reads: “Page’s [blacked out phrase] in Moscow with [blacked out word or two] senior Russian officials [blacked out line and a half] as well as meetings with Russian officials.”

So in their physical presentation, the two memos are very different. How do they stack up in other ways? The Nunes memo, as I said, had its origin in the alarm Republican lawmakers felt at the spectacle of the coercive (and inquisitive) power of the state deployed against an American citizen to further a rival political campaign. The Democrats’ memo touches briefly on George Papadopoulos, the 30-year-old policy advisor for Trump who was charged last summer with lying to the FBI (that’s a felony unless your name is Clinton).

But the motor of the memo revolves around Carter Page. Did you know that Mr. Page traveled to Russia? Suspscious, no?  It gets worse. He did business in Russia, with Russians! And as if that weren’t bad enough, he delivered a university commencement address in Russia—“an honor,” the Democrats’ memo darkly informs us, “usually reserved for well-known luminaries.” Gosh.

The Democrats’ memo speaks of Carter Page being a “target for recruitment.” On the contrary, he was vetted by a Russian intelligence agent. But of course everyone who is anyone is vetted by Russian intelligence: diplomats, celebrities, prominent businessmen, your Aunt Millie. If the Russians think a mark can help them, they’re there with an offer. But as it happens, the agent who vetted Carter Page concluded that he was an “idiot” not worth bothering with. The Dems’ memo notes that the FBI had been watching Page since 2013. But of course there are many reasons intelligence services might take an interest in people. One reason, which the Dems’ memo neglects, is that person A, who is innocent, might help you get to person B, who is not. The memo does not note that Page actually helped the Bureau build a case against the Russian industrial spy Evgeny Buryakov. Nor does it note that Page has never been charged with a crime. 

The great irony surrounding the “Russia Collusion” soap opera is that, after a white-hot investigation of nearly a year, the only collusion to have emerged implicates the Clinton campaign, not Trump’s. As I noted elsewhere, it was the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee who secretly paid for the Steele dossier—facts that, pace assertions to the contrary by the Democrats, were concealed from the FISA Court when the applications were made.

And where did Mr. Steele get his lurid stories? Why, from a congeries of unnamed Russian “sources close to the Kremlin.” Nota bene: a piece of opposition research, paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, was fed to the FBI, which used it to obtain secret court warrants to spy on people inside the Trump camp. In other words, the Clinton campaign indirectly colluded with Russian sources, first to affect the election and then, when that didn’t work, to undermine the incoming administration.

That’s the real story behind these memo wars. And stay tuned. Devin Nunes has alerted us to the advent soon of Phase Two, regarding the State Department’s role in this melodrama, and even Phase Three, which will bring it into the inner corridors of the Obama administration.

The Democrats screamed bloody murder when they learned that Nunes planned to publish a summary of his investigation’s findings. They said they were all about protecting the integrity of our wonderful intelligence services; they were concerned that “sources and methods” not be revealed. But all that was clearly a blind. What they feared was the exhibition of the truth about the biggest American political scandal in living memory.

There’s a lot we still do not know. But cast your mind back over the last several months: think of the stunning revelations that have appeared one by one: about James “Higher Loyalty” Comey leaking classified information and lying to the FBI; about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the amorous anti-Trump FBI agents; about Fusion GPS (co-founded by Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter) which was conducting anti-Trump research. Later we learned that Fusion GPS had “conducted opposition research” (that’s shop-talk for “conducting a smear campaign to destroy someone”) against Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who, as The Washington Post reported, “was tortured and killed in a Russian prison in 2009 after uncovering a $230 million tax theft by 23 Kremlin-linked companies and individuals close to President Vladimir Putin.” We learned about Bruce Ohr, once upon a time Associate Deputy Attorney General (i.e., number 4 in the DOJ), who had undisclosed meetings with Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson. Then we learned that Bruce Ohr’s wife, Nellie, was employed at Fusion GPS “to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump.” And on it goes.

The Democrats’ memo makes some effort to counter, neutralize, or distract from these realities. But Andy McCarthy—who has just posted at must-read anatomy of the Dems’ memo—is right: “The Schiff Memo Harms Democrats More Than It Helps Them.” As I say, there’s a lot we don’t know. But the Nunes memo presented a number of disturbing revelations. The Dems, on the other hand, are stuck in the “dogmatism of mere assertion.” Their performance in this memo is partly comic, but mostly it’s contemptible, dishonest, and alarming. Fortunately, early returns suggest that the people—outside the precincts of CNN, The New York Times, and other infected redoubts—understand the truth. It bodes well for the republic. For the Democrats, not so much.

[Updated 2/26]

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Is Impeachment the Answer to Judicial Overreach?

As someone who writes frequently on the topic of judicial activism, I am often asked, “What is the solution?” This is a vital question. Put another way—as I did in a previous essay at American Greatness—Can Activist Judges Be Controlled?

The short answer is: With great difficulty, yes. But if it’s a quick and easy answer you want, forget it. The current crisis took decades to develop. It won’t be resolved with a sweeping gesture.

The “imperial judiciary” is the result of myriad different influences, including the politicization of the law (the triumph of Legal Realism), the Left’s capture of legal academia, the transformation of the legal establishment (state bar associations and big law firms) into an elitist special interest group, and the conversion of the Senate confirmation process into a gauntlet to punish outspoken conservative nominees, such as Judge Robert Bork in 1987.

Understand, too: Congress is complicit in all of this. Congress helped foster a dysfunctional administrative state ruled by unaccountable bureaucrats and unelected judges. Congress has enacted incomprehensible statutes full of ambiguous terms, and delegated their interpretation to administrative agencies. Despite insolent judicial decisions brazenly misapplying laws, our elected representatives have consistently failed to rein in the black-robed tyrants. The immigration laws now defied by contemptuous judges in Hawaii, San Francisco, and elsewhere are, after all, congressional enactments. The judicial resistance is a challenge not only to the election of President Trump but also to the legitimacy of political decisions made by the legislative branch of government. But does Congress care?

Supine Legislators Spurn Responsibilities
When President Obama usurped the legislative branch’s constitutional prerogatives with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Congress did nothing. When judges usurped legislative and executive authority, blocking the president’s travel moratorium and his attempt to rescind Obama’s lawless executive action on DACA, Congress did nothing—no criticism of the judges responsible, no threat of hearings, nor attempts to limit the courts’ jurisdiction over immigration cases, or cracking down on district court judges’ ability to issue nationwide injunctions. Nothing. Lawmakers’ response, rather, has been characteristically supine

So when I hear critics of the judicial resistance call for the impeachment of activist judges as a solution, I wonder who exactly in Congress is going to lead that parade. Even with Republican majorities in both chambers, our 535 senators and representatives cannot collectively pass a balanced budget, repeal Obamacare, fund a border wall, control rogue agencies, or cut federal spending. Indeed, the GOP Senate faces a backlog of outstanding judicial nominees awaiting approval, and just barely averted granting mass amnesty to 2 million illegal aliens with virtually no concessions in exchange.

These are the stalwarts who will impeach miscreant federal judges? Don’t make me laugh.

Judicial activism is a serious problem, with no easy solutions. Judicial term limits or elections for federal judges would require a constitutional amendment—a near-impossible hurdle. Ditto constitutional amendments (or a convention of the states) to “fix” all the erroneous decisions the Supreme Court has issued over the years, distorting the Constitution’s original meaning. What good would it do to amend the Constitution to overturn incorrect judicial decisions if the errant judges could simply misinterpret or ignore the amended language (as they did the original text)?

Pursuant to Article III, Congress has plenary power over the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts, and the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court, but has shown no inclination to use that power to resist judicial encroachment, for fear of being accused of tampering with the “independence of the judiciary.”

This risible canard—the “independence” of the courts from the law itself—has been relentlessly promoted by the cheerleaders for judicial activism in the legal academy, commentariat, and bar, and Congress has no political will to resist it any more than they can manage to resist other popular tropes. The political scalding that Franklin Roosevelt received over his aborted “court packing” scheme in 1937 (which accomplished its goal of nudging recalcitrant justices to uphold New Deal reforms) would deter a cowardly Congress from pursuing this route.

“Borking” Originalists
As I
previously reported (quoting “The Great One,” Mark Levin, certainly no squish on this subject), since the unsuccessful impeachment of Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1804, the “limited and extraordinary power of Congress to impeach and remove a judge from his post has been denuded to the point where a judge or a justice must act in a flagrantly illegal fashion before that conduct would be considered beyond the Constitution’s ‘good behavior’ standard as it is currently interpreted.” This quote is from Levin’s excellent 2005 book, Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America.

I share Levin’s assessment, which is not a bad rule of thumb as long as the Left dominates the Beltway media and Congress cowers in fear of being targeted by liberal special interest groups.

For example, imagine if People for the American Way, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or some other equally phony left-wing propaganda outfit decided to “bork” sound originalist judges already confirmed to the federal bench, such as Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, or Neil Gorsuch. If “impeachment” was a viable political tool, requiring no more than a majority vote to remove a sitting judge, aggressive Democrats would be clamoring to impeach conservative judges day and night.

In fact, liberal journalists have already begun making noises about impeaching Justice Clarence Thomas, for events that allegedly occurred at or before his confirmation hearings in 1991! Fortunately, the Samuel Chase “precedent” serves as a firewall to prevent this type of mischief, and it would behoove conservatives to think long and hard before re-opening that particular Pandora’s Box.

Ultimately, only one solution exists to the problem of judicial activism, and that is to restore a culture of respect for the modest judicial role contemplated by the Framers, honoring the separation of powers, reviving federalism, and demanding fidelity to the Constitution as written (not the “living Constitution” favored by progressives) on the part of all branches of the federal government—judicial, legislative, and executive.

We did not arrive at our current predicament overnight, nor can we escape from it easily or quickly. As a nation we must insist on constitutional government—“a republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin warned—and resolve to muster the political will to enforce the long-ignored Constitution entrusted to us by the Founding Fathers. There is no alternative.

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How to End the Judiciary Class War

The following is an excerpt from The Judiciary’s Class War by Glenn Reynolds, just published by Encounter Books.

___________________________________

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, we heard a lot about America’s division into two mutually hostile camps: a largely coastal, urban party run by educated elites and a largely rural and suburban “flyover country” party composed of people who did not attend elite schools and who do not see themselves as dependent on those who did. This divide is more fundamental than mere partisan identification, as Democrats and Republicans belong to both groups.

One of the best formulations of this division comes from photographer Chris Arnade, who has spent years documenting the lives of America’s forgotten classes. In his characterization, America is split between the “Front-Row Kids,” who did well in school, moved into managerial or financial or political jobs, and see themselves as the natural rulers of their fellow citizens, and the “Back-Row Kids,” who placed less emphasis on school, and who resent the pretensions, and bossiness, of the Front-Row Kids.

Since the mid-20th century, the judicial branch has been the domain of judges who are not merely highly educated but educated in the particular way that law schools require. They are, in short, Front-Row Kids of the first order.

What does that mean? Well, for one thing a Supreme Court (and a judiciary in general) that is overwhelmingly dominated by viewpoints from one side of our society’s great divide is likely to be insensitive to viewpoints held by those on the other side. It may well be the case that the beliefs of the Back Row aren’t just being overridden, but rather that the justices aren’t even aware of those viewpoints at all.

A court that is unaware of, or that disregards, the values and viewpoints of half the country is very likely to rule in ways that inflame existing divisions, and perhaps even create new ones. There may be cases where that’s appropriate—as the Romans used to say, “Fiat iustitia, ruat caelum,” or “Let justice be done though the heavens fall”—but even in such cases, it would be better if the court fully appreciated what it was doing. If the courts were focused on narrow, technical legal issues, this would matter less. But the judiciary, and in particular the Supreme Court, has occupied a much greater role than that for longer than I have been alive.

Americans have been lectured to for decades about the importance of diversity, about the need for institutions that “look like America,” and so on. Yet the judiciary is one branch of the government that looks a lot more like an Ivy League faculty than like America as a whole. This has not escaped people’s attention, particularly as the Supreme Court renders decisions that reach directly into their daily lives. (And it doesn’t help that—as with Ivy League faculties—the justices’ written output is overlong, turgid, and self-referential, a far cry from the crisp, punchy, accessible output of the Marshall Court in the early 19th century.)

So what is to be done? Well, there are drastic remedies available if people think the problem is severe enough: An elected judiciary (or at least an elected Supreme Court) would give the Back Row the same power to influence the federal judiciary’s makeup as it has in the legislative and executive branches. What’s more, the need to run for election, and possibly reelection, would ensure that justices paid far more attention to the views of non-elite Back Row Americans. It’s true, of course, that the Constitution provides for no such thing, but if the problem is sufficiently serious an amendment is not out of the question. And, after all, many states do just fine with elected judiciaries.

Even without a constitutional amendment, we could resurrect colonial practice (or emulate the practice of some contemporary nations) and appoint some non-lawyer judges. The Constitution contains no requirement that federal judges and justices be attorneys; that has always been the practice, but we’re constantly hearing that established customs need to change to meet the needs of today, and perhaps what we need today is a judiciary that is less inbred. Although there has never been a non-lawyer justice on the Supreme Court, at least such a departure from history would not require a constitutional amendment.

In the short run, I would encourage presidents and senators to look at appointing—both to the Supreme Court and to the federal judiciary generally—people with experience as state judges, preferably from states where judges have to run for office. There are plenty of first-rate people who fit this description, men and women who would make fine judges, and who would be at least somewhat more sensitized to the world of the Back Row than the usual lineup of judicial thoroughbreds.

Likewise, perhaps it’s time to reach beyond Harvard, Yale, and Columbia law schools as a source. There are many fine lawyers and judges who are graduates of state law schools, or private schools outside of the Ivy League. The Supreme Court would function at least as well, I suspect, with a few graduates from places like Texas, or Kansas, or Pepperdine.

Earlier generations of justices—like earlier generations in general—contained far more military veterans. The U.S. military is probably the most diverse institution in America in very many ways, and a nominee with military experience—especially if it involved actual work with troops in the field or sailors at sea—would understand a lot about America that your average Harvard Law grad missed.

Perhaps Congress should reinstate the practice of riding circuit. For many years, Supreme Court justices filled their off months on the Court by traveling around and sitting on appellate courts in various locations. A revival of this practice would expose the justices to much more of America, especially if the justices sat as district court judges occasionally.

Aside from the election of justices, these are all suggestions that the president, and the Senate, should step back from the judicial thoroughbred template that has governed the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments for several decades and look at different types of candidates who would bring a broader social awareness to the work of judging.

Although the politics of confirmation fights are probably against me, I hope these suggestions get some attention. As our society is more and more riven by the Front Row–Back Row divide, it would be helpful to have a Supreme Court that looks more like America. Such an outcome would be better for the country, and better for the long-term legitimacy of the Court itself.

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‘Deep State’ Unmasked

Former FBI Director Jim Comey’s leaks to the press, the bias in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the Strzok-Page texts, anti-Trump “secret societies” within intelligence agencies, and the damning Nunes memo. Taken together, it’s tough to escape the conclusion that the “deep state” is real and it doesn’t like President Trump.

The president apparently poses enough a threat that an all-star lineup of senior intelligence agency directors, from John Brennan (CIA), Andrew McCabe (FBI), Jim Comey (FBI), James Clapper (DNI), and Michael Hayden (NSA and CIA), have all exploited intelligence assets and relationships in a concerted effort to undermine the Trump Administration.

Most of them certainly seem to be opposed to Trump and to enjoy being in the opposition. Consider Comey’s newfound status as a progressive darling in the “fight for justice.”

But who comprises the rank and file of the deep state, and why are they so opposed to Trump? Historian and columnist Paul Gottfried might have some answers, having lived among “them” in the Beltway bog, which he charmingly describes as “full of smug, striving liberals” in the 1980s. It seems little has changed since then, except that the number of smug strivers has increased along with housing prices in Northern Virginia and the tonier parts of Maryland.

“I work for our government,” was the introduction de rigueur of Gottfried’s furtive neighbors, spooky suits entrenched in and aligned with the deep state. “Those who uttered this were stiff and arrogant and almost always pronounced themselves for the ‘Left,’ or for whatever was fashionably leftist at the time,” Gottfried writes. Sure, there were Reaganites among them, excused as “amiable hypocrites” by Gottfried, for their purporting that they had embedded themselves with big government in order to shrink it.

“But their leftist counterparts,” writes Gottfried, “were far more unsettling.” They were “out of touch with most Americans but imagined they understood what was best for all of us.”

“Just as our Deplorables rightly suspect,” Gottfried continues, “these ‘public servants’ loathed gun owners, religious Christians, and the residents of fly-over country. Their fellow-citizen were there to be ‘regulated,’ and these experts hoped to make all economic transactions rational and humane.”

All this cosmopolitan preening from our off-the-books betters happened in spite of the fact that while they preached progressive precepts, they “racially and socially segregated themselves” from their neighbors. But that “did not prevent them from loudly lamenting the low-class white bigots, whom they intended to re-educate.” The nature of the deep state is a lot less esoteric when you understand who fills its ranks—Yalies like Anderson Cooper who stay on with the CIA after their summer internships.

“What I concluded from these encounters and from my sojourn in the Washington suburbs is that the deep state has true loyalists,” Gottfried writes.

They’re afraid Trump might mean business about “draining the swamp,” and they’re understandably irritated that he rules by executive order and through cabinet secretaries who are not in harmony with the permanent government. Because of their network of support, extending to the major media, leftist and neoconservative publicists, and major educational institutions, the deep state holds a very good hand.

Still, there are those unconvinced of an effort by a number of our three-letter agencies to undermine the president. In 1963, when FBI Chief William Sullivan wrote that the Bureau “must mark [Martin Luther King Jr.] now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security,” intelligence agencies then posed a threat to freedom. When the CIA wiretapped the phones of journalists and stalked their every move, intelligence agencies then posed a threat to democracy.

But when those agencies, which have remained consistent in their underhandedness for decades, target a president who stands incongruently with the progressive march of this country, the press and left-wing punditocracy exonerate them of past misdeeds, because they are alleged to be “subject to the rule of law and [are] democratically accountable.”

Compare The Atlantic’s newfangled fondness for intelligence agencies in, “What Happens When Intelligence Agencies Lose Faith in the President?” to their 2014 article, “How the FBI Tried to Block Martin Luther King’s Commencement Speech.”

The best example of this turnabout might be a July 2016 Atlantic article, “Since its inception, the [CIA] has wooed filmmakers, producers, and actors in order to present a rosy portrait of its operations to the American public.” You don’t say? “The [CIA] has established a very active spin machine in the heart of the entertainment capital, which works strenuously to make sure the cloak-and-dagger world is presented in heroic terms.”

It is axiomatic that the mission of these national security agencies is categorically imperative, and it is true that they are more often than not staffed with patriots doing good work and who desire to keep this nation safe, but it also evident that the leadership of national security agencies is capable of acting on behalf of their own vested interests rather than on behalf of those of the American people whom they are entrusted to steward.

President Eisenhower presciently warned against the union of martial assets and incumbent elites—both embedded and aligned within the deep state—that might someday wield unwarranted influence, wherein “[t]he potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Eisenhower feared that this coalition would entrench itself to influence domestic policy and social order, expanding its reach and power under the facade of the national interest. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” Eisenhower believed, could check the power and corruption of such a complex.

Put partisanship aside, when Americans prove incapable of policing their assets, they validate, reinforce, and expand the role of the deep state as the unqualified wardens of America. It is in the best interests of everyone to set straight the agencies we have entrusted to protect our communities.

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Swatting Mr. Trump

Let’s assume your neighbor is a jerk. His kid broke your window playing ball and he doesn’t think he should pay for it. He throws empty beer cans over his fence into your backyard. His 10 dogs, all the size of Shetland ponies, use your yard for a toilet and snarl if you try to shoo them away. You complain but he laughs it off. “Kids break stuff, you can get a nickel back on those cans, and dogs go where they want. They wouldn’t bother you if you stayed inside and didn’t bother them.” You go to the authorities but as is too often the case, they just file a report. But even this is too much for your jerk neighbor. You disrespected him. He knows how to get even. He’ll SWAT you.

By SWAT, he doesn’t mean smack you like a mosquito. The authorities take physical violence more seriously than broken windows, beer cans, and defecating dogs. Instead, he’ll use the authorities against you. One night, he calls 911. With a bit of tech foolery, he managed to spoof your phone number so that the 911 operator believes the call is coming from your house. She hears an insane voice wailing that he’s high on something nasty and that he has killed his wife, has taken hostages, and wants to kill some cops. She quickly dispatches a police special weapons and tactics team. Adrenalin pumping, they surround your house and smash their way in, guns at the ready. If you’re lucky, you don’t get killed but under the age-old rule of smoke-meaning-fire, your neighbors wonder what you did to get all those cops so excited.

This sort of thing has happened with fatal results. In December, Wichita police shot and killed Andrew Finch after Tyler Raj Barris allegedly got upset over a $1.50 bet. Barris, a Los Angeles man known online as “SWAuTistic,” set up his opponent for a “swatting,” but got the address wrong and sent the police to Finch’s home. Police mistakenly thought Finch was pulling a gun when they shot him.

President Donald Trump is the victim of something much like a SWAT attack. The jerk neighbors behind it are Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee she controlled operating through the law firm Perkins Coie. The firm served as a “cut out,” allowing unethical and perhaps criminal actions to be concealed using attorney-client privilege. The fake 911 call was the Steele dossier, which asserts that Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election. One year and millions of taxpayer dollars later, those assertions remain unsubstantiated.

The dossier was composed by Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy associated with Fusion GPS. The “GPS” in Fusion GPS doesn’t refer to the Global Positioning System that helps you drive to the dentist. It stands for “Global Research, Political Analysis, Strategic Insight.” “GPS” is shorter than “GRPASI,” which sounds like a foreign expression for what those dogs were doing in your yard.

The accuracy of Fusion’s “intelligence”  product doesn’t appear to be a top concern. It is the damage the information can do that’s important. Vague, mysterious sources make creating dirt easier. They also make refuting it more difficult.

Steele claimed he got his information from “assets” in Russia that included members of its intelligence service. If those sources weren’t imaginary, they must have barely contained their giggles as they invented their stories. Real Clinton associates also helped Steele compile his dossier, feeding him allegations about Trump. They probably giggled, too. It must have been fun for them to concoct fanciful charges against the man who dared to oppose the coronation of Clinton.

Once the dossier was compiled, it had to be made public. Somebody had to place the  911 call so the authorities would respond spectacularly. Steele shopped the dossier around, hoping to find someone gullible enough or hateful enough to publicize it. In a SWAT attack, the caller puts as much lurid drama into the fake call as possible to grab the dispatcher’s attention. The dossier did this with a sleazy story—an allegation that Trump had paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed where President Obama and his wife once slept. Despite this bit of shock schlock, the news media held back—at first.

Fortunately for Clinton and the DNC, they had allies in the FBI and the Justice Department who also wanted to destroy Trump. One of Fusion GPS’s employees was Nellie Ohr, an opposition researcher assigned to Trump. She passed on Fusion GPS’s dirt to her husband, Bruce Ohr, an associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department. Ohr, in turn, passed the dossier along to the FBI. There anti-Trumpers joined in the swatting. It was as if the neighborhood watch and the homeowners association helped your jerk neighbor SWAT you by shrieking in the background while he made his fake 911 call: “Murder! Murder! Heeelllppp! He’s gonna kill us alllll!

The FBI and Justice Department presented the Steele dossier to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as containing credible information and got a FISA warrant to secretly spy on Carter Page, a low-level volunteer foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign who apparently had never even spoken with Trump. He wasn’t even a part of the campaign when the FISA court approved the first of three warrants authorizing a year-long surveillance. The warrants allowed the FBI to retrieve past electronic communications from when Page was a part of the campaign. Consequently, the FBI saw everything the campaign had shared with Page, and some of that information may have found its way to the Clinton campaign.

To bolster their case for the warrant, the FBI included an article from Yahoo! News. They didn’t tell the court that nothing in the dossier had been verified, that its sources, including Russian intelligence agents, had never been checked out, that the author of the Yahoo! article had gotten his material from Steele, and that the dossier’s creators had been paid $12.4 million by Clinton and the DNC.

Defenders of the warrant claim the surveillance was a continuation of FBI scrutiny of Page begun in 2014. He had done business with Russians there and in America and given a public speech at a Moscow university dealing with U.S.-Russian relations. That scrutiny, however, hadn’t produced evidence of wrongdoing or reason to spy on him during the 2016 presidential race. The only new allegations against Page came from the dossier.

The memo released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes revealed that FBI Deputy Director Andrew G. McCabe admitted the Bureau wouldn’t have obtained the FISA warrant without using the Steele dossier. Federal law enforcement relied on a bunch of lies from Russian agents, hearsay three times removed, and other guff to justify spying on the campaign of a presidential candidate they detested.

Steele would eventually be hired to “research” more smears for the FBI then fired for lying about leaking information to the media. That must have burned as his boss, FBI Director James Comey, would later confess to leaking details of the investigation to the press through a buddy, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman. Richman now claims to be Comey’s attorney, so again attorney-client privilege will help hide alleged lawbreaking, in this case, by “straight-shooter” Comey.

The SWAT attack on Trump has yet to be resolved but as it would be with your jerk neighbor, Clinton and the DNC have succeeded in turning phony smoke into phony fire. Who should we blame? The promoters in the media are certainly unethical and unfair, those in government are unethical and some are felonious, but the jerk neighbor is Hillary Clinton.

A presidential campaign doesn’t spend millions on a complicated dirty trick involving the FBI and the Justice Department without the boss authorizing it. The polls showed her victory was certain, so she may have felt little need to push the scam hard during the election. It only became urgent when she lost. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes in Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign described how Clinton summoned her top minions the day after the election and they determined that they would not blame her lousy campaigning, her many scandals, her record of failure as secretary of state, the corrupt Clinton Foundation, the pay-for-play sale of American uranium to Russian interests, her imperial sense of entitlement, or her pantsuits. They blamed subversion by a Russian-Trump cabal that not only let her off the hook for her defeat but also provides her with a heroic victim narrative for another presidential run. She may be 73 next time around but that won’t reduce her ambition.

As evidence of Clinton’s single-minded drive to be president, we should recall an effort backed by her campaign to influence the Electoral College. A month after the election, 68 electors, led by Christine Pelosi, the daughter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, demanded that Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper provide a briefing to all of the electors. The substance of this briefing would have been the Steele dossier. The idea was to use the dossier’s lies—shrouded in the prestige of Clapper’s office—to convince electors to reject the outcome of the election and hand the presidency to Hillary. Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta sanctimoniously declared that the electors “have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed.”

All Clinton needed was 39 Trump electors to switch. The swatting of the Trump presidency would have been complete.

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Why Did the FBI Set Up Trump?

The FBI spied on the Trump campaign. The pretext was that the campaign, and possibly Donald Trump himself, was compromised by the volunteer efforts of foreign policy advisor, Carter Page. Stories diverge regarding Page, his reputation, and his involvement with the Russian government.

Some sources say energy consultant Carter Page was a shady character under FBI surveillance potentially since 2013, while others suggest he was an FBI informant or undercover agent, assisting the FBI with stopping Russian espionage efforts as late as March 2016. Nonetheless, the cover story of the FISA warrant is that in June 2016 he was compromised by or working with Russia to advance its interests. In furtherance of these spying efforts, he joined the Trump campaign. And thus the FBI’s next step was not to arrest him, nor to warn the Trump campaign, but instead to begin surveillance of Page. It first attempted to do so in June 2016, but only succeeded in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign in October 2016.

The scope of that surveillance is presently unknown. Unlike the abuses detailed in the House Intelligence Committee memo, such information might genuinely endanger national security. But we know the FBI (and NSA) have some pretty extensive capabilities and, depending on Page’s degree of access to the campaign, this surveillance would expose Trump, others on his campaign team, and the campaign strategy itself to scrutiny by the Obama administration. This is undoubtedly what Trump meant with the infamous “wires tapped” tweet in March 2017.

Even taken at face value, this is all strange. If the Russians were genuinely interfering in the election, and positioned people inside at least one of the major campaigns to do so, couldn’t the FBI have warned the campaign? After all, there are news reports that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns were given broad and generic warnings about infiltration as late as July of 2016. They were each privy to classified intelligence briefings as well. Would it make sense to allow this sharing of information to continue if genuine foreign interference were afoot?

This would certainly not be a standard practice. One of the FBI’s stated counterintelligence strategies—it’s on their website—particularly for business interests is “raising public awareness and informing industry leaders.”

This is not mere lip service. In 2009, the DOJ successfully prosecuted a naturalized American citizen, Dongfang “Greg” Chung, in connection with his work as a contractor for Boeing. The press release regarding his conviction quoted the FBI director in charge of Los Angeles as stating, “FBI counter-intelligence agents and NASA received the full cooperation of the Boeing Company in building this three-year investigation, the successful outcome of which marks the first conviction by trial under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. I’m confident this milestone conviction will serve as a deterrent to would-be spies contemplating theft of precious U.S. secrets.”

If the concern were that Trump was a victim of the Russians, extensive surveillance of his campaign and its personnel would be unwarranted. He, like Boeing, could have been warned and, presumably, would have cooperated with an investigation or, at the very least, fired the shady character.

This is where, I believe, the Steele Dossier comes into play. Without the Steele Dossier, Trump and his campaign is a mere victim, no different from any other company or entity that faces foreign infiltration, which should be warned of the infiltration. But with the Steele Dossier, Trump becomes a potential co-conspirator, actively cooperating with or compromised by Russia, due to “pee pee antics” that permit blackmail and other scurrilous nonsense contained in it. Without the Steele Dossier, even with FISA surveillance of Page, there is no need also to risk Trump and the leakage of the confidential material to which he was privy. So the Steele Dossier was critical not merely to securing the FISA warrant—though apparently it was—but was also in order to do so secretly, without any notice, warning, or communication to Trump—one of two major party presidential nominees—that a person involved in his campaign presented a potential risk to national security.

If the campaign were warned, of course, the opportunity to get critical potential intelligence on the campaign, its strategy, and any potential (but totally unknown) wrongdoing by Trump would disappear. And this is why the memo and the underlying warrant are so damaging to the reputation of everyone involved in their procurement. Not only was a hatchet job dossier paid for by the Clinton Campaign and used to get a FISA warrant without bothering to tell the FISA court this important fact of its provenance, but, more important, this hatchet job justified keeping Trump himself in the dark about the ongoing surveillance and threat posed by a member of his campaign team.

Further, the warrant and the underlying Steele Dossier permitted endless speculation and politically motivated character assassination of Trump for alleged Russian Collusion through to the present. Yet there was no Russian Collusion. There was Page—who may have colluded—and there was the Trump Campaign, which knew nothing about this. We know this because, after months of surveillance that continued through the transition, there is still no evidence of collusion, let alone of a crime, involving the Russians and Trump. And, more important, we know the only reason he was surveilled for such was because of the totally unbelievable and Clinton-campaign-financed Steele Dossier.

Taken together, this was an entirely inappropriate and likely unprecedented use of national security surveillance assets against a presidential candidate. But why was it done? After all, right up until election night, almost everyone thought Hillary would win, and that includes most of those involved in this caper: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Rod Rosenstein.

The likely answer is more sinister still, revealed by the “insurance” talk of supposed lovers Peter Strozk and Lisa Page. If Trump won, this would be an opportunity—they figured—to discover something illegal. After all, with mountains of malum prohibitum rules and regulations on everything from campaign finance to taxes and how you dispose of freon, one would expect almost anyone would run afoul of some picayune law or another, which would become known only with constant surveillance.

In the absence of that, if Carter Page were not merely a target but an infiltrator, he—or someone similarly situated—could seek to create crimes where none were present. Consider the infamous briefing that took place involving “Kremlin lawyer” Natalia Veselnitskaya with Donald Trump, Jr. All of the emails concerned with setting that up at least hint at her Russian government connections in a very open and obvious way, i.e., a way that would get picked up by FISA warrants, NSA surveillance, and God knows what other spying capabilities the government has. Yet with all of these attempts, some quite clumsy, it does not appear anything happened.

Everyone presumably considered that Hillary winning the election was the more likely scenario. It seems strange to take these risks under that circumstance. But in that case, the highly politicized Obama Administration’s FBI and Justice Department would be under Clinton management. Those responsible for this “gift” may have concluded they would be rewarded. And they could have curried additional favor with Her Highness by prosecuting Trump post-election in an effort to salt the fields and permanently discredit him, his movement, his associates, and the Republican Party. Alternately, they could simply let the surveillance go unreported and unnoticed; no harm, no foul.

What no one counted on in this entire mess was that Trump would win, and that Trump was sophisticated and experienced enough not to take any of the bait. Not only did he win, but he fired Comey, saw McCabe resign under a cloud, and is now in a position—with the help of Congress—to expose fully the extent of the Deep State and its abuses of powerful law enforcement tools in the service of low, partisan ends under President Obama.

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Why FISA-gate Is Scarier Than Watergate

The Watergate scandal of 1972-74 was uncovered largely because of outraged Democratic politicians and a bulldog media. They both claimed that they had saved American democracy from the Nixon Administration’s attempt to warp the CIA and FBI to cover up an otherwise minor, though illegal, political break-in.

In the Iran-Contra affair of 1985-87, the media and liberal activists uncovered wrongdoing by some rogue members of the Reagan government. They warned of government overreach and of using the “Deep State” to subvert the law for political purposes.

We are now in the midst of a third great modern scandal. Members of the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice sought court approval for the surveillance of Carter Page, allegedly for colluding with Russian interests, and extended the surveillance three times.

But none of these government officials told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the warrant requests were based on an unverified dossier that had originated as a hit piece funded in part by the Hillary Clinton campaign to smear Donald Trump during the current 2016 campaign.

Nor did these officials reveal that the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, had already been dropped as a reliable source by the FBI for leaking to the press.

Nor did officials add that a Department of Justice official, Bruce Ohr, had met privately with Steele—or that Ohr’s wife, Nellie, had been hired to work on the dossier.

Unfortunately, such disclosures may be only the beginning of the FISA-gate scandal.

Members of the Obama Administration’s national security team also may have requested the names of American citizens connected with the Trump campaign who had been swept up in other FISA surveillance. Those officials may have then improperly unmasked the names and leaked them to a compliant press—again, for apparent political purposes during a campaign.

As a result of various controversies, the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, has resigned. Two FBI officials who had been working on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the so-called Russia collusion probe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, have been reassigned for having an improper relationship and for displaying overt political biases in text messages to each other.

The new FBI director, Christopher Wray, has also reassigned the FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, who purportedly leaked the Steele dossier to a sympathetic journalist.

How does FISA-gate compare to Watergate and Iran-Contra?

Once again, an administration is being accused of politicizing government agencies to further agendas, this time apparently to gain an advantage for Hillary Clinton in the run-up to an election.

There is also the same sort of government resistance to releasing documents under the pretext of “national security.”

There is a similar pattern of slandering congressional investigators and whistleblowers as disloyal and even treasonous.

There is the rationale that just as the Watergate break-in was a two-bit affair, Carter Page was a nobody.

But there is one huge (and ironic) difference. In the current FISA-gate scandal, most of the media and liberal civil libertarians are now opposing the disclosure of public documents. They are siding with those in the government who disingenuously sought surveillance to facilitate the efforts of a political campaign.

This time around, the press is not after a hated Nixon Administration. Civil libertarians are not demanding accountability from a conservative Reagan team. Instead, the roles are reversed.

Barack Obama was a progressive constitutional lawyer who expressed distrust of the secretive “Deep State.” Yet his administration weaponized the IRS and surveilled Associated Press communications and a Fox News journalist for reporting unfavorable news based on supposed leaks.

Obama did not fit the past stereotypes of right-wing authoritarians subverting the Department of Justice and its agencies. Perhaps that is why there was little pushback against his administration’s efforts to assist the campaign of his likely replacement, fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Progressives are not supposed to destroy requested emails, “acid wash” hard drives, spread unverified and paid-for opposition research among government agencies, or use the DOJ and FBI to obtain warrants to snoop on the communications of American citizens.

FISA-gate may become a more worrisome scandal than either Watergate or Iran-Contra. Why? Because our defense against government wrongdoing—the press—is defending such actions, not uncovering them. Liberal and progressive voices are excusing, not airing, the excesses of the DOJ and FBI.

Apparently, weaponizing government agencies to stop a detested Donald Trump by any means necessary is not really considered a crime.

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Black Lines Matter

We now have a side-by-side comparison of two FBI-redacted versions of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s criminal referral of Christopher Steele for lying to the FBI. After releasing a heavy-redacted memo on Monday, committee chairman  Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) put out  an updated version late Tuesday after the FBI removed several of its earlier redactions. It offers a glimpse into what the Bureau initially considered to be classified information, and seems to justify what Grassley called his “loss of faith in the ability of the Justice Department and the FBI to do their job free of partisan, political bias.” (You can read my initial take on the memo here.)

The memo also supports many of the key findings by the House Intelligence committee, including Steele’s secret dealings with the press and the failure of the Justice Department and the FBI to inform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about the political funding and source of the so-called dossier.

Written by Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on January 4, the memo presents disturbing evidence about how the FBI, DOJ, Steele, and Fusion GPS, with the help from one well-known reporter, colluded to convince the FISA court to surveil Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. The original redactions were not made to protect national security or safeguard a valuable source: They were made to cover-up the way the FBI manipulated the FISA warrant process and relied mostly—if not solely—on a dishonest, politically-funded foreign operative to gain approval to spy on a U.S. citizen.

The Bureau repeatedly blacked-out references to the FBI’s “relationship” with Steele. It redacted nearly two entire pages that showed what kind of dubious information was included in the initial FISA application, and how the FBI continued to cite Steele’s work in FISA renewals even after the agency fired him for divulging his work to a reporter.

Here are some of the key redactions that were reversed yesterday. Now, keep in mind, this is information the FBI did not want the public to see. Ask yourself why as you read along:

  • Former FBI director James Comey told the committee in March 2017 that the “FBI included the dossier allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.” The FBI also told FISC that “based on [Steele’s] previous reporting history with the FBI, the FBI believes [Steele’s] reporting to be credible.”
  • The October 21, 2016 FISA warrant application “consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the dossier. The application appears to contain no additional information [emphasis added] corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page. Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims.”
  • Just as House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes said, the FISA applications did not inform the court that Steele was being paid by a rival presidential campaign and major political party: “The application failed to disclose that the identities of Mr. Simpson’s [Fusion GPS principle Glenn Simpson] ultimate clients were the Clinton campaign and the DNC. It appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associated of the opposing presidential candidate.”
  • The FBI did its own version of double-dipping by citing the dossier and a Yahoo News article that also relied on Steele and the dossier. The Bureau told the court that the article, written by Michael Isikoff who just confirmed he met with Simpson and Steele in September 2016, corroborated Steele’s dossier: “Given that the information contained in the September 23rd news article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered doing his/her research [redacted]. The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press.” We now know he did, and it’s kind of amazing to think that no one in the FBI was the least bit concerned that Isikoff’s piece was sourced from Steele.
  • Steele went rogue weeks before the election because he was “bothered by the FBI’s notification to Congress in October 2016 about the reopening of the Clinton investigation.” He was bothered or his boss—Hillary Clinton—was bothered? At Simpson’s direction, Steele “independently and against the prior admonishment from the FBI to speak only with the FBI on this matter, released the reporting [on the dossier] to an identified news organization.”

But here’s the biggest allegation the FBI did not want you to see: “This FISA applications are either materially false in claiming that Mr. Steele said he did not provide dossier information to the press prior to October 2016, or Mr. Steele made materially false statements to the FBI when he claimed he only provided the dossier information to his business partner and the FBI. Mr. Steele’s apparent deception seems to have posed significant, material consequences on the FBI’s investigative decisions and representations to the court.” Even after the FBI knew Steele was dishonest, was aware he was a paid agent of a presidential candidate, and could not corroborate the dossier’s claims, the Bureau continued to use him as the primary—if not the only—source to authorize spying on Carter Page. (I hope the lawyers are lining up to represent him.)

Here, Grassley and Graham sum up the whole thing perfectly (this was also originally redacted): “Thus, the basis for the warrant authorizing surveillance on a U.S. citizen rests largely on Mr. Steele’s credibility.”

Now, we await the minority response memo authored by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). What could they possibly say? That this whole Trump-Russia collusion scheme began with a drunken dialogue between 20-something volunteer George Papadopoulos in the spring of 2016? That a footnote in the application claiming, as Grassley wrote, “to a vaguely limited extent the political origins of the dossier” as proof the FISA court knew Hillary Clinton and the DNC paid for Steele’s work? That surely the FISC judges read Yahoo News and Buzzfeed, so they would be well aware of this?

But an even more pressing question is why the FBI not only sought to stonewall Nunes’ investigation and prevent supporting documents from being released, but insisted on shielding the now-exposed information in the Grassley memo to begin with? This is a question that should be answered in public, preferably in a hearing, so we can finally hear their excuses out in the open. No more hiding behind black lines.