How To Spin The Most Extreme Corruption To Make It Seem OK

The recently departed Bill O'Reilly would often call his TV show the "no spin zone."  It was a good effort on his part, but I would say that almost everything that comes out of a human being's mouth is spin of one sort or another.  That's particularly true in matters that relate to a person justifying his own conduct.  Even the biggest crooks in the world always have a narrative going on in their heads to excuse what they are doing as being perfectly OK. 

As an extreme example of this phenomenon, consider the lead headline in yesterday's New York Times:  "Russia-Trump Tie Was Big Concern Of Ex-C.I.A. Chief."  In the on-line version the headline is "Ex-C.I.A. Chief Reveals Mounting Concern Over Trump Campaign and Russia."

Nice try.  Here's my alternative headline for the same article:  "Ex C.I.A. Chief Brennan Offers Preposterous 'Russia' Cover Story To Excuse Blatantly Illegal Government Spying On Trump Campaign."  My alternative headline is just the other "spin."  

The gist of the article is that Brennan supposedly initiated use of CIA and FBI resources to snoop on the Trump campaign because of what he says was "concern" about contacts between that campaign and Russia.  Excerpts:

 John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, described on Tuesday a nerve-fraying few months last year as American authorities realized that the presidential election was under attack and feared that Donald J. Trump’s campaign might be aiding that fight. . . .  “I know what the Russians try to do,” Mr. Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including U.S. individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly.” . . .  [I]ntelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered in the election. . . .    

One thing I've learned from 40 years in the litigation business is this:  there's no definitively disproving what a person says about what is going on in his own head.  "I think," "I believe," "I concluded," "I was concerned," and so forth are all ultimately non-disprovable.  On the other hand, we are entitled to apply our common sense to the situation to see if such justifications are credible.

Let me start with this:  The citizens of the United States have given truly awesome powers to federal government law enforcement and intelligence agencies for one and only one reason, which is to keep the people safe.  For that purpose, and that purpose alone, we have acquiesced in the creation of the CIA, the NSA and the FBI, with their enormous and frightening investigatory and surveillance powers.  The single biggest corruption in which these agencies can engage is the use of their powers to interfere in the election process, and thus to disadvantage one side of the political divide in favor of the other.  The use of the investigative and surveillance powers of the CIA/NSA/FBI by government officials as a weapon against political adversaries is a far, far, far worse corruption than, say, merely taking a bribe, no matter how large;  and is a far, far, far worse corruption that merely embezzling millions, or even billions, of dollars from the government's coffers.  Misuse of the investigatory and surveillance powers against political adversaries goes to the very integrity of the democratic process, and indeed to the right to control the investigatory agencies themselves.

And therefore, if the officials of any of those agencies have used any of their powers to investigate or surveil the campaign of a political adversary, they had better have a damned, damned, damned solid basis for it.  And by a damned, damned, damned solid basis, I do not mean self-serving assertions of mere "suspicion" or "concern."  Anybody can assert "suspicion" and/or "concern" at any time they feel like it, for little or even no reason.  It's the ultimate non-falsifiable baloney.  If these enormously powerful agencies are going to engage in activities at this level of irresistible temptation of extreme corruption, they'd better have extremely specific facts indicating an extremely specific crime being committed.  This is no trivial matter.  If the CIA and the FBI and the NSA can invoke their frightening powers on the basis of a mere claim some kind of vague "suspicion" or "concern," and thereby launch an investigation of the political adversaries in the midst of a presidential campaign, then nothing about our political system is safe.  They can always claim "suspicion" or "concern."  If those are the criteria, you can be one hundred percent certain -- as certain as the night follows the day -- that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies will always be misusing their powers to interfere in every political contest of any consequence in this country at all times.  The temptation is just too strong.  It's the very definition of evil.

And let's be clear about one more thing:  this is a completely partisan issue.  The employees of the federal government in the Washington area -- and that includes the principal staffs of the CIA, FBI and NSA -- consist of ninety plus percent partisan Democrats.  If they can get away with using their investigatory and surveillance powers on the basis of self-serving statements of "suspicion" and/or "concern" to investigate and surveil politicians in political campaigns, then those powers will always be used to advantage the Democrats and disadvantage the Republicans.  That applies irrespective of which party may happen to be "in power" in the presidency or Congress at some moment in time.

So what did Brennan offer in the way of the "damned, damned, damned solid basis" to justify his conduct?  In a word, nothing.  Here's a longer Brennan quote, this time from Byron York in the Washington Examiner:

"I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign," Brennan testified. "I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. . . .  

Brennan claims to have learned that there were "contacts and interactions" between members of the Trump campaign and Russian representatives, and, supposedly, he "know[s] what [they] try to do."  So?  His statement is just another way of saying that he had and has nothing whatsoever in the way of specific facts as to actual wrongdoing.  There is absolutely nothing illegal about members of the Trump campaign having "contacts" or "interactions" with representatives of Russia.  Without doubt, representatives of the Trump campaign had "contacts and interactions" with representatives of at least 30 or 40 of the important countries in the world.  That's an important part of the job of a campaign, to be ready to run the foreign policy of the United States in the event that their candidate wins.  For that matter, representatives of the Clinton campaign, with one hundred percent certainty, did the same.  Go further:  suppose that members of the Trump campaign actually "colluded" with representatives of Russia to figure out ways to try to defeat Hillary.  That is not illegal, let alone criminal!  Kudos to (otherwise partisan Democrat) Alan Dershowitz for making this obvious point in multiple forums over the past several days, for example here.  Is he the only Democrat left in America for whom civil liberties and the integrity of our democracy are more important than momentary partisan advantage?

So which is the worse problem:  (1) that Russia may have been "colluding" with one of the campaigns to disadvantage the other, or (2) that the CIA, FBI and NSA were working to help one campaign against the other, including by using their investigatory and surveillance powers?  It's not even close.  Russia has no ability to launch criminal probes in the United States.  Russia has no ability to threaten prosecution in the United States.  Russia has no ability to sweep up emails and financial records in secret in the United States and use them to prosecute political adversaries.  Russia has little to no ability to utter "leaks" to a friendly press to advance its political objectives.

But nevertheless the Trump/Russia story rolls on every day in the New York Times, Washington Post, et al.