Apologies to all for not being on the job when yesterday's big New York Times compilation of the latest FBI leaks dropped on the world. I was off arguing in New York's Appellate Division that the public has the right to have access to the non-official emails of execrable ex-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on the subject of misusing his criminal prosecutorial powers to persecute climate change skeptics. (To view my argument, you can follow this link; however, you will need to be a subscriber to an information service known as Lexis. By the way, the court seemed to think that the big issue for them to decide was whether my two-year-old request for the Schneiderman emails was "moot" now that Schneiderman resigned in disgrace a couple of weeks ago. Really??)
In the intervening day since the latest FBI revelations, a few thousand commentators have already thrown in their thoughts on the situation. Rather than repeat what many others have already said, I will just offer a few observations.
First, I told you so. On the question of FBI, and Obama administration, surveillance of the Trump campaign, sadly things are playing out just as I predicted over a year ago (April 7, 2017), in a post titled "Reasonable Inferences About The Weird Obsession With Russia." The gist of that post was that you would be very unlikely to go wrong by inferring, even from what was known then, that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration had succumbed to the overwhelming temptation to use the tools of state surveillance to advantage their political friends and disadvantage their enemies.
Very few human beings, and maybe none, given political power and control of the apparatus of government, can resist the temptation to misuse the powers of the state to advance themselves and disadvantage their opponents politically. When the government's powers can be used in secret, the temptation becomes close to irresistible.
In case you are not a student of history on this subject, that post went into some detail on previous abuse of state surveillance powers by Presidents, including Lyndon Johnson in his use of the FBI and CIA to spy on the Goldwater campaign, and Richard Nixon in his attempted use of the IRS to get dirt on his political enemies. I would be rather confident that those also were not the first or only such abuses.
Second, many have noted the rather strenuous efforts of the New York Times to spin this long story as best they can to be kind to their friends who have provided the leaks. Those efforts include burying the most damning revelations deep inside a long story that seems to be mostly about other things. But, for the benefit of those who are not experts at this art, I thought I might single out a particularly egregious instance of strenuous spin. The issue is whether FBI agents were eager to undertake an investigation of Trump in order to undermine him, or alternatively whether they were anxious and concerned as to whether they were doing the right thing. You won't be surprised at which way the Times spins it, under a boldface heading "Anxiety at the Bureau":
Crossfire Hurricane began exactly 100 days before the presidential election, but if agents were eager to investigate Mr. Trump’s campaign, as the president has suggested, the messages do not reveal it. “I cannot believe we are seriously looking at these allegations and the pervasive connections,” Mr. Strzok wrote soon after returning from London. The mood in early meetings was anxious, former officials recalled.
Really? Let's see if we can get hold of an original of that August 2016 Strzok text. Here it is at the ABC News site:
“OMG l CANNOT BELIEVE WE ARE SERIOUSLY LOOKING AT THESE ALLEGATIONS AND THE PERVASIVE CONNECTIONS. What the hell has happened to our country!?!?!??”
What? Do you mean that the saintly, hallowed New York Times would alter a quote by deleting the "OMG" at the beginning, deleting the all-cap format, and deleting the subsequent sentence? Read the actual text, and you of course immediately realize that what Strzok was expressing was not "anxiety" about the investigation, but rather excitement that it would now proceed full speed ahead as he was hoping it would. Keep this in mind if you were thinking of buying into the spin of any of the rest of the Pravda piece. Spin like: "The F.B.I. investigated four unidentified Trump campaign aides in those early months. . . . Each was scrutinized because of his obvious or suspected Russian ties." And trying to find politically advantageous information to undermine Trump had nothing to do with it? Sure!!!
So, leaving aside the spin, what do we learn from these latest leaks that is new? We learn that this was not just about an improperly-obtained FISA warrant, obtained very late in the campaign and based on weak Hillary/DNC opposition research. No, it was also about, at least (1) National Security Letters, plus (2) at least one "informant" (I would call it a spy) placed in the campaign. And it began much earlier in 2016 than anything previously revealed, although they don't give any good timeline.
Do you know what National Security Letters are? Those are the letters that the government can send to banks and financial institutions and ISPs demanding that they reveal all of your financial transactions and personal information, and by the way also notifying the recipient that informing you of the request, or that they are producing information to the government about you, is a crime. Unlike a FISA warrant, the government does not need to go through a court to issue a National Security Letter. To learn more about NSLs, go to my March 2013 post about them here. As I wrote there:
[T]his is all done behind your back, without any ability on your part to object or even to know that it is going on. (The existence of these NSLs is the principal reason why you should assume that all your electronic communications and bank transactions are monitored by the government at all times. Use cash.)
One final question: Did President Barack Obama, and candidate Hillary Clinton, know what was going on? And, indeed, were they giving overall direction to the activities? So far, I haven't seen any evidence. On the other hand, I know what the reasonable inference is.