Comments On The House Intelligence Committee Memo

Finally, after a long wait, we have the House Intelligence Committee memo detailing abuse by the FBI and Justice Department of the FISA process to spy on the campaign for President of the candidate of the opposing political party.  You will find the full text of the memo at this link.

Before getting to the memo itself, let's go back to March 4, 2017.  That's the day when new President Donald Trump issued a few of his most famous tweets, notably this one at 4:02 AM:

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

The New York Times immediately reacted with outrage, in an article posted later that same morning with the headline "Trump, Offering No Evidence, Says Obama Tapped His Phones":

President Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones at Trump Tower the month before the election, leveling the explosive allegation without offering any evidence.

Oops -- looks like Trump has now been proved right, and the New York Times wrong.  The March 4 Times article also includes this Clintonesque non-denial denial from an Obama spokesman:

A spokesman for Mr. Obama said any suggestion that the former president had ordered such surveillance was “simply false.”

Were you fooled by that one?  Of course Obama didn't "order" the surveillance.  That's not even a relevant question.  Did Henry II "order" the murder of Thomas Becket?  ("Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?")  Try asking something relevant:  Did the people who signed off on the initial FISA application (FBI Director Comey and Deputy AG Sally Yates, according to the memo) at least run this by their boss (AG Loretta Lynch)?  Of course they did.  You would never, never get to that level of authority in life if you weren't smart enough to run something of this obvious significance and risk by your boss.  And did one or more of those three similarly run this by the big boss, Obama?  Same comment.  The chance of that having happened is one hundred thousand percent.  It will be strenuously denied until the day when one or all of Comey, Yates and Lynch are under criminal investigation.

One more thing before we get to the memo itself.  Just prior to release of the memo the FBI issued a statement opposing the release, the key line of which is "we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."  Note that there is no mention that they dispute any of the facts actually contained in the memo; instead the concern is supposedly over "omissions" of additional facts, which may or may not provide context.  More on that later.  Meanwhile, news reports about FBI maneuvering prior to the release further indicated that the Bureau was mainly trying to get the White House to redact the names of various officials that appear in the document.  Whoa!  A couple of points:

  • In any private business a subordinate who set about to undermine the boss on a matter that is the boss's decision to make, and of this importance, and in this kind of hugely public way, would last about 1.47 nanoseconds before getting fired.  Whatever you might think of the importance of FBI "independence" -- and even if you think that the FBI has some kind of right to seize the prosecutorial discretion function from the President in defiance of the Constitution -- it can't be OK for these subordinate officials to stab the boss in the back like this and think there should be no consequences.  It's not the FBI's decision whether a document should or should not be declassified, and indeed they have no explicit role in declassification at all.  It is the President's decision and his alone.  If they have a view of the matter, there is only one right thing to do, which is to make your case to the boss.  And then abide by his decision.  And if you don't like his decision, quit.  You have no right to your job, and you don't have to work for the President if you don't like him.  But as long as you work at the FBI, you work for the President, whether you like it or not.
  • And then look at the list of names that they wanted redacted.  No little guys here.  It's all the very top brass of Justice and the FBI from the late Obama administration (excepting Lynch, whose name does not appear).  You already know all the names except for maybe one:  Comey and McCabe from the FBI (I guess we now know why McCabe suddenly disappeared); then-DAG Yates, then-Acting DAG Dana Boente, and last-but-not-least Rod Rosenstein.  Who do these people think they are to try to conceal their involvement in this from the public?

Now to the memo itself.  We've basically known since CNN reported it last April that the Clinton/DNC-financed Steele Dossier was used as at least part of the application for a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign.  That is now confirmed.  But now there's considerably more detail.  To me, the most important new points are (1) the very senior DOJ and FBI officials knew that the Steele Dossier was paid for by the DNC and Clinton, but did not disclose that in the FISA application that they signed, (2) Steele's main contact at DOJ was Associate DAG Bruce Ohr, whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, but these facts were also concealed in the FISA applications, and (3) the head of the FBI's counter-intelligence division admitted to the Committee that the verification of the Dossier was in its "infancy" at the time of the initial FISA application.  So the top Obama-appointed brass all knew that they were getting a FISA warrant to spy on the opposition political campaign in a presidential election in its final weeks based on unverified information paid for as opposition research by their side.  Does anybody see any problem with that?

OK, back to you, FBI.  What facts could possibly be out there that would be "material omissions" that would "fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy"?  For example, maybe it's possible that there could be other information that was in the FISA application and was also part of the basis on which the warrant was obtained.  So?  If the Steele Dossier was not necessary to the application, it would not have been included.  Therefore, it must have been viewed as necessary by the people making the application -- Comey and Yates in the first instance.

And how about the endless cries for prosecution of President Trump for "obstruction" over the firing of Comey?  Now we know that Comey was the guy who signed the improper and deceptive initial FISA application.  If that isn't grounds to fire him, I can't think of what would be.

And finally, how about Rod Rosenstein?  The depth of his implication in the improper conduct at issue is not clear from this memo.  The inference would be that he signed off not on the initial application, but on a subsequent renewal that must have occurred after the campaign was over, and probably after Trump was President.  But, was Rosenstein in on the initial application in any way?  And even if he wasn't, did he make the corrections to the renewal application he signed to inform the FISA court of the provenance of the Steele Dossier and of its lack of verification by the FBI?  Obviously, these questions are highly relevant, with Rosenstein now purporting to be "overseeing" an investigation by Mueller of the President himself, involving this very same subject matter.

According to Axios earlier today, President Trump was asked in light of the memo "if he still had confidence in Rosenstein."  Trump responded, "You figure that one out."  I think I have figured it out.  What do you think?  Would you have confidence in him?