Manafort May Be the Key

Jeremy Stahl wrote at Slate:

The Russians appeared to start to develop a deeper sophistication around U.S. politics in the spring and summer of 2016. This coincided with the same brief period that Manafort was in charge of the Trump campaign. The Russian efforts included purchasing political ads for Trump and against Clinton on social media starting in April, staging pro-Trump rallies and false flag “pro-Hillary” events starting in June, and doing the sort of low stakes political dirty tricks that have been a mainstay of the Republican Party for decades.

For his part, former CIA Director John Brennan speculated on Friday that it would emerge that U.S. persons had actively conspired with the Russians. “While some may have been unwitting, I do think that some individuals maybe were knowledgeable about what they were doing and basically strayed from what they should have been doing,” he told MSNBC.

 If you missed Franklin Foer’s profile of Manafort in The Atlantic, do read it. It’s fascinating. This includes some details on Rick Gates, who has been one of Manafort’s sidekicks for several years. Manafort is an amoral sleazebag of the first order who has sucked up a mega-fortune for himself by out-sleazing other sleazebags, and it’s a wonder to me some mobster didn’t put a hit out on him years ago.
Reports that Bob Mueller has pressured Gates to flip on Manafort has upped the ante in the Trump-Russia investigation. The Guardian reports today:
The Guardian reported in December that the FBI asked officials in Cyprus for financial information about FBME, a defunct bank used by wealthy Russians that has been accused of serving as a money launderer by US financial regulators. FBME has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Manafort served relatively briefly as Trump’s campaign manager. He resigned from the campaign in August 2016 following media reports that raised questions about his former work as a lobbyist for pro-Kremlin forces. On the day he resigned, Manafort opened a shell company that received $13m in loans from two businesses with ties to Trump, according to media reports.

Manafort also had business ties to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

On Friday, new court documents filed by prosecutors alleged that bail documents submitted by Manafort had revealed new alleged criminal conduct involving bank fraud. Prosecutors said that Manafort had obtained a mortgage on a property using fake profit and loss statements, which overstated his income by millions of dollars.

Obviously, Mueller is squeezing Manafort to flip on Trump, and I’ll bet he’ll succeed. If the Russian mob doesn’t get to him first, anyway.

Trump seems to know the walls are closing in:

President Trump lashed out with fresh anger about the intensifying Russia probe over the weekend, accusing Democrats of enabling a foreign adversary to interfere in the 2016 election and attacking the FBI as well as his own national security adviser.

In a defiant and error-laden tweetstorm that was remarkable even by his own combative standards, Trump stewed aloud about the latest indictments brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III against Russians for their elaborate campaign to denigrate the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and push voters toward Trump.

See also:

President Trump began the weekend believing that something good had just happened to him. An indictment leveled against 13 Russians for interfering with the 2016 election had not accused him or anyone around him of wrongdoing. “No collusion” was his refrain.

But once ensconced at his Florida estate on Friday, Mr. Trump, facing long hours indoors as he avoided breezy rounds of golf after last week’s school shooting a few miles away, began watching TV.

The president’s mood began to darken as it became clearer to him that some commentators were portraying the indictment as nothing for him to celebrate, according to three people with knowledge of his reaction. Those commentators called it proof that he had not won the election on his own, a particularly galling, if not completely accurate, charge for a president long concerned about his legitimacy.

Many people have pointed out that the indictments announced Friday pretty much invalidates the infamous Nunes memo. Jennifer Rubin:

Republicans’ clumsy efforts to attack the FISA warrant for Carter Page or to smear Comey don’t matter. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s (R-Calif.) plots and antics and concocted memo are irrelevant. The investigation, at least a good deal of it, rests on facts that are unknown to the House Republicans and are beyond dispute. No Republican is going to stand up to say the indictment is a “hoax” or the allegations against these 13 Russians are “fake.” …

Indeed, Republicans look precisely like the “unwitting” operatives in the indictment who reportedly lent assistance to the Russian operatives. Republicans’ efforts to distract and distort the growing body of evidence make them unwitting (we hope) pawns in the Russians’ efforts to deny their role. (If House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has any political survival skills, now would be a good time for him to yank Nunes off the Intelligence Committee.) And incidentally, Democrats might want to forget about their counter-memo now that the GOP and Nunes have been utterly discredited. They don’t need to stab a corpse.

Trump is so obviously guilty of something that even the terminally clueless Thomas Friedman is connecting the dots:

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system — a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.

And Manafort could be the key to unraveling the whole mess.  See also “Could Paul Manafort Bring Down the Whole Trump Family” by Bob Dreyfuss, from August 2017.

Twilight of The Memo

The Memo wasn’t out for an entire 24 hours before Devin Nunes began backtrackng. He told a Fox News interviewer that no, he hadn’t seen the underlying evidence on which his memo was based (which we already knew, but which probably wasn’t clear to most folks).  All he knows about the underlying evidence he got from Trey Gowdy, he says.

You remember Gowdy, the guy who announced his retirement from the House right after he found out the memo probably was going to be released? Gowdy tweeted this yesterday after the big reveal:

Helen Nakashima reports for WaPo that intelligence officials say the FISA court was, in fact, informed that some of the intelligence on the warrant application was underwritten by political entities. Although the warrant didn’t specifically name the Democrats, I’m sure the court was smart enough to infer that it would have been someone opposed to Trump who paid for the intelligence.

Many have pointed out that warrants are granted based on dodgy sources all the time — criminals, mobsters, terrorists. Surely Democrats are not outside those bounds. The reason there are warrants is not to go directly to indictment but to check out the intelligence and find out if it is true. Duh.

I already noted yesterday that some guy at RedState found an error in the Nunes Memo that seriously damages its arguments. And although most Fox News bobbleheads are still hyping the memo, I understand Shepard Smith pretty much tore the thing apart on the air yesterday.

Safe, centrist USA Today headlined reactions to the memo release as a backfire on Trump and the GOP.

When the House Intelligence Committee finally did its dramatic reveal of the so-called Nunes memo, several things were immediately clear — and all were bad for committee chairman Devin Nunes and President Trump , the man his efforts were ultimately intended to benefit.   …

…Most of the allegations in the Nunes memo had already been aired, and others were quickly discredited as misleading or undercut by other information that was excluded from the memo. Indeed, to the extent the document contained any surprises, it was the degree to which it actually undermined the attacks that the president and his allies had been advancing.

There’s a longer analysis at the Lawfare blog that’s worth reading all the way through, but I want to just point out a couple of spots. Here’s one:

To the extent that the complaint is that Page’s civil liberties have been violated, the outraged are crying crocodile tears. For one thing, it is not at all clear that Page’s civil liberties were, in fact, violated by the surveillance; the memo does not even purport to argue that the Justice Department lacked probable cause to support its warrant application. It does not suggest that Page was not, after all, an agent of a foreign power. What’s more, the only clear violation of Page’s civil liberties apparent here lies in the disclosure of the memo itself, which named him formally as a surveillance target and announced to the world at large that probable cause had been found to support his surveillance no fewer than four times by the court. Violating Page’s civil liberties is a particularly strange way to complain about conduct that probably did not violate his civil liberties.

Also, too:

But this notion has at least three big problems. First, it’s not remotely clear that anything in the contemporary Mueller investigation is the fruit of surveillance of Carter Page. For all we know, the surveillance of Page produced material of counterintelligence value that is utterly extraneous to anything related to the Mueller investigation. What’s more, if the complaint is that the surveillance of Page somehow amounts to surveillance of the Trump campaign (as Donald Trump Jr. suggestedFriday), the dates don’t add up: The FISA court granted the initial warrant against Page in October 2016, almost a month after he left the Trump campaign at the end of September. Moreover, as Paul Rosenzweig notes in Politico, a FISA warrant granted only weeks before the election would not have been able to produce any evidence until well after votes had been cast.

The other two problems are that “there is no legal basis on which to assert that a defective warrant against one person systematically delegitimizes an entire investigation” and “the memo itself falsifies the premise that the probe was the illegitimate offspring of Christopher Steele.”

Well, so much for that.

Nunes Showed His Hand. It’s a Busted Flush.

Well, they released the memo. No bombshell. Nothing in it we hadn’t anticipated. You can read it here.

It’s also the case that there are no redactions, but I see nothing in it that would seem to me to be a security problem. There’s been a lot of hyperventilating over nothing, in other words.

James Comey probably sums it up best: “That’s it?”

Andrew Cohen, at Charles Pierce’s place, posted a graphic:

Cohen also said,

It reads like a shoddy legal brief. Specifically, one written in haste by an attorney who knows he doesn’t have the law or the facts on his side so he gins up a compelling narrative, hoping the reviewing court or opposing counsel doesn’t dig too deep into the record to find all the holes. …

…They’ve written what amounts to a series of political talking points, like the kind you would see in a campaign fundraising letter, designed to make the FBI and the Justice Department look bad, and to make the targets of the investigation, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, look like victims of dark chicanery. …

…This memo, this creature, would not stand up in court and it should not stand up in the court of public opinion. No judge would allow it into evidence, no expert witness would rely on it for an opinion, no one would swear to its contents under penalty of perjury. It raises countless more questions than it answers—and, really, the only question it answers accurately is how far Rep. Devin Nunes and his fellow travelers at the House Intelligence Committee have been willing to go to protect the White House from an investigation into Russian tampering, an investigation we know that a vast majority of Americans want to see completed.

See also Josh Marshall’s analysis.

The key hinge in the memo is that it consistently seeks to suggest that the Dossier was the heart of the government’s case or even the entirety of the government’s case without actually providing any evidence for this claim or – critically – describing any other evidence the government may have had or may have included in the application. I see two key places in the memo where they make this case. On page 2 the memo states the dossier was “an essential part” of the government application. On the bottom of page 3, the memo says: “Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.”

The latter quote is simply a characterization of what McCabe said. His actual quote would be critical to judging its significance. …

IMO what McCabe allegedly said is the most damaging thing to the investigation in the memo, but as I understand it, disclosing the connection to Clinton was not a requirement. “The idea that you could only put material in a FISA application that is guaranteed not to be tainted by anybody with possibly questionable motives is not an idea that has any currency in law enforcement circles,” Jonathan Swan wrote at Axios. It would be nice also if we had an actual quote, in context.

Again, there’s nothing here that changes what has been speculated about the memo over the past several days. It’s all about disingenuously connecting Hillary Clinton (through the Steele Dossier) to the FISA warrant and claiming that because the warrant application didn’t specify who commissioned the dossier, the warrant was tainted. That’s really all there is to it. We’ve already gone over why the FISA warrant wouldn’t have been extended based on the Steele Dossier alone, and also why it’s not a given that the inclusion of the Steele Dossier on the warrant application was a problem. Basically, it’s only a problem because Trump apologists say it is.

Jonathan Swan goes on to say that the memo could still be used to fire Rod Rosenstein. Also,

Part of the reason this memo is generating such a broad variety of reaction is that the vast majority of Americans don’t know anything about FISA or the authorities the intelligence community have to surveil Americans. Intel geeks are writing this off as underwhelming, but Americans who are uninitiated to FISA may find this troubling.

So it depends on who wins the spin game. But that’s not exactly Democrats’ strong suit, unfortunately.

Along those lines, Dahlia Lithwick thinks the memo is a Trump win:

The Devin Nunes memo is, as was widely expected, a dud. It reveals nothing new, and answers none of the crucial questions raised by former law enforcement officials who have said there is nothing in this report that warrants its release. …

… The memo is so silly, and technical, and logic-defying on its face that it’s easy to miss the fact that its genius lies in precisely that.  Unless one ambles comfortably in the murky weeds of the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, this will all be just arcane and confusing enough to mean nothing. For the vast majority of Americans, it will be enough that the president has now declared that his own federal intelligence apparatus is corrupt and out to get him, and has conveniently produced an enemies list that conveniently sweeps in all the villains, from Christopher Steele to Dana Boente to Sally Yates to Andrew McCabe, who have declined to play on the president’s “team.” If the point here is to raise doubts about every investigatory agency capable of scrutinizing Trump, it has been achieved.

On the other hand, they dumped this thing on a Friday, and on Super Bowl weekend, no less. See also “The Nunes Memo Is a Complete Flop” by Jeremy Stahl.


Did anyone notice the stock market dropped 666 points today? I’m not making that up — it’s 666 points. I seem to recall that a big dip on a Friday usually leads to a bigger plunge on Monday. We’ll see.

And did you hear the one about three of Rick Gates’s lawyers told a federal court yesterday that they were immediately withdrawing from the case? The reasons for this are sealed. There is speculation that Gates, a former Trump campaign aid who has been indicted by Bob Mueller for money laundering and other things, will start cooperating. Gates recently hired Washington attorney Tom Green, who has defended perps in Watergate and Iran Contra, among other things.

Update: Someone at RedState of all places actually called out an error in the memo that further damages what little credibility it had.

The Nunes Memo: Say What?

Yesterday the White House or Trump or somebody said the Nunes memo would be released today. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff and Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy are, according to several sources, the only Congress critters who have seen the underlying intelligence on which the memo allegedly is based. Late yesterday, Gowdy announced he would be retiring from Congress after his current term ends. Coincidence?

Quinta Jurecic reports for the Lawfare blog that during the January 29 House Intelligence Committee meeting, Rep. Nunes claimed that the Committee had already been investigating the Department of Justice for several months, which was a surprise to many of the committee members.

The motion is to postpone the vote until the FBI and Justice Department can review the Nunes memo in full and brief the committee. Nunes announces that “the Department of Justice and the FBI have been under investigation by this committee for many, many months for FISA abuse and other matters … I would urge my colleagues to vote no, we are not going to be briefed by people that are under investigation by this committee.”

None of the Democrats appear to have been aware of this investigation. Quigley argues that Nunes has violated , which requires the committee to conduct investigations “only if approved by the chair in consultation with the ranking minority member”—meaning Schiff. But Schiff says that this is the first he’s been formally notified of it.

Also, too:

Quigley asks Nunes whether he has coordinated the memo with the White House. “As far as I know, no,” says Nunes. Quigley then asks whether any of the majority’s staff have coordinated with the White House. Nunes refuses to answer and cuts him off.

Translation: Yeah, the White House had a hand in creating the Nunes memo.

Even later yesterday, Schiff announced that the memo sent to the White House that Trump allegedly will approve releasing had been altered from the one Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted to release. Daniel Politi at Slate:

The White House is reviewing the four-page classified memo that is broadly expected to be released as early as Thursday or Friday—although Schiff’s accusations could ultimately push back that decision. Calling the changes to the memo “deeply troubling,” Schiff said “the White House has been reviewing a document since Monday night that the Committee never approved for release.” Although the Democratic lawmaker didn’t reveal what the changes entailed, he characterized them as “substantive” and said the memo should be recalled.

Politi also wrote,

Trump is still very adamant he wants the memo to be released, but Axios reports there are “rumblings that there could be an 11th-hour extenuating circumstance, perhaps related to Schiff’s tweet.”

However, the link Politi provided to Axios doesn’t seem to be working, and I can’t find any such thing at Axios. Perhaps Axios spiked the report.

Lots of news outlets are reporting that Trump is telling associates that the Nunes memo will discredit the various investigations. But this is the same guy who thought that firing James Comey was a good idea. It’s past noon in Washington now, which means Trump will be up and beginning his day of pretending to work. We’ll see if the memo gets released.

Charles Pierce:

… open conflict had broken out between the White House and FBI director Christopher Wray over the release of the memo. It is Wray’s considered opinion that the memo is a crock.

What Wray said yesterday: “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Charles Pierce continues,

All of which, in combination with the complete surrender of the Republican congressional leadership to this fairy tale, leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is more going on here than political damage control. People are breaking too much rock over this matter for that to be the case. People are risking too much to keep the cover story aloft. The original Watergate cover-up was not designed to shield the burglars; it was to keep a lid on five years of crimes and dirty tricks. There is too much energy being expended in too many directions here for there not to be something seriously wrong at the bottom of this affair.

It might be Russian ratfcking. It might be dirty money being cleaned through the First Family’s” business. It might be a complex combination of both. But not even this president* is dumb and/or arrogant enough to risk a massive constitutional crisis simply to save himself a little embarrassment concerning the circumstances of his election. Even I give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

I don’t give Trump the benefit of the doubt on that one, but as I wrote earlier this week, I suspect there are people advising Trump to not release it, for his own sake.

Here’s one more tidbit from LawFare:

It’s interesting to compare the unanimous Republican vote to #ReleasetheMemo with the less-than-enthusiastic attitude of much of the committee majority toward the document itself. When Benjamin Wittes and I  to the offices of every committee Republican (except Nunes) and asked whether the representatives had faith in the factual conclusions of the memo, only three members of the committee answered in the affirmative (six did not respond to our repeated requests to contact them, and three responded but conspicuously did not answer our question as to the memo’s integrity). But all thirteen Republicans voted for the document’s release. Likewise, of the majority, only Nunes, Conaway and King speak up over the course of the meeting—and Conaway’s points are mostly procedural, not a substantive defense of the memo. Also notable is that Rep. Chris Stewart told us last week that he would support the Nunes memo’s release if sensitive information were redacted, and yet voted for the unredacted memo’s publication. During the meeting, Conaway similarly voiced concerns over publication of classified information—albeit regarding the minority memo—but voted in favor of the unredacted Nunes memo’s release as well.

This tells me that Republicans on that committee were under crushing pressure to vote for releasing the memo, even if they had doubts about the memo. Make of that what you will.

Update: At Talking Points Memo, David Kurtz writes that Trump himself is giving away the scam.

Trump has no feel for such nuance, no ability to play the long game on this. He’s giving away his own feint! CNN now reports:

President Donald Trump continues to tell his associates he believes the highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools could help discredit the Russia investigation, multiple sources familiar with White House discussions said.

In recent phone calls, Trump has told friends he believes the memo would expose bias within the agency’s top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigations are prejudiced against him, according to two sources.

All the various angles on the Nunes memo fall away in light of this reporting. The charade is exposed for what it is–an effort to undermine the Mueller probe–which makes it a hell of a lot less effective as a charade.

Kurtz goes on to say that no one on the Nunes team is behaving the way a sober-minded person would behave if he sincerely believed some dastardly “deep state” conspiracy were going on in the Justice Department. Playing games with the memo is too obviously a misdirection tactic, not part of a serious investigation into anything.

Update: Just reported at WaPo – Trump expected to approve release of memo following redactions requested by intelligence officials.

Les atrocités du jour, or Why the Memo May Stay Undisclosed

So Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted to release the Nunes memo but quashed release of the Democratic memo that provides context showing that the Nunes memo is a crock. Typical. The ball has been punted to Trump, who has five days to decide whether he wants it released, or not.

Why wouldn’t he release it? Well, for one thing, according to people who know this stuff, there’s no way the FISA court would have approved an extension of the warrant on Carter Page if the original surveillance hadn’t turned up some compelling evidence. According to this very good backgrounder that I recommend, FISA warrants are good for 90 days, and if the original surveillance comes up dry, that’s it. And the backgrounder says that, given the time frame, the extension approved by Rosenstein would not have been the first, but (at least) the second extension.

It’s also the case that FISA warrants go through a stringent approval process that includes a boatload of lawyers before they are given to a judge, according to the backgrounder. Rosenstein would not have had sole discretion of approving it.

My bet is that Trump’s lawyers are going to tell him to keep the damn memo in a lead-lined box in hopes it doesn’t see the light of day.  However, the Judiciary Committee could release it, anyway, without his approval.

Indeed, Newsweek is reporting that The Memo admits Carter Page might have been a Russian agent. If he were a Russian agent while a member of the Trump campaign, that’s kind of not helpful to Trump’s claim of no collusion between his campaign and Russia, is it? Especially during the same week Trump is refusing to implement sanctions on Russia that passed Congress by an overwhelming majority vote.

Wait, what? Oh, yes, and as usual the excuses make no sense. See Aaron Blake at WaPo:

So to recap, the head of America’s foreign intelligence agency says Russia will attempt to do what it did in the 2016 election again in 2018 and that he hasn’t “seen a significant decrease in their activity.” But then the State Department announces that it doesn’t need to impose the sanctions that were meant to punish that behavior because the legislation is already serving as a deterrent? Pompeo seems to be saying the legislation hasn’t deterred Russia from trying to meddle in U.S. elections again — at least not to a “significant” degree.

For all of Trump’s talk about building an alliance with Russia as president, his administration has taken some tough positions. But his reluctance to sign these sanctions into law was crystal clear — he even called them “seriously flawed” but signed them knowing Congress could easily override his veto — and his continued doubts about Russian meddling in the 2016 election can’t help but make this decision seem convenient. And his administration’s contrasting narratives on the purpose and effectiveness of these sanctions could use some explaining. Otherwise, it risks looking as if it’s just ignoring Congress’s will.

Also, too:

The Guardian is reporting that the FBI has another dossier created by a former journalist named Cody Shearer. Shearer worked independently from Christopher Steele but allegedly turned up a lot of the same information. However, Shearer appears to be kind of a sketchy character, so this may not be much of a help to anybody.

Marcy Wheeler speculates that the Steele Dossier itself may actually have hurt Dems and helped Trump in 2016.

Here’s more background on how Andrew McCabe was pushed into stepping down.

See also Paul Waldman, “Trump’s Slow-Motion Massacre at the Justice Department.”

And no, I’m not going to watch the SOTU. I don’t have the strength.

Update: See Josh Marshall, “The Hidden F-U in the White House Russia Sanctions Response.

You’ve likely seen the reports that the Trump administration violated the spirit though probably not the letter of the new Russia sanctions law by simply deciding not to impose any sanctions. But the law also mandated that the administration produce a list of “senior political figures and oligarchs” in Russia. These individuals were not to be sanctioned themselves. But the list is meant to impose some stigma and, more importantly, serve as an implicit signal about which individuals might be sanctioned in the future.

The administration put out that list along with news it wasn’t going to impose sanctions. But many noted that it seemed almost identical to a list of oligarchs published in 2017 by Forbes. The most amazing thing is that when Buzzfeed asked the Treasury whether there was any truth to this, they said, candidly enough, yes. That’s where we got it.

Marshall points out that the law actually mandated a list of known Putin cronies. What the White House released was a list of Russians with the highest net worth, which included some dissidents.

That’s Why the Memo Is a Sham

The New York Times reported today that according to three people who have read it, The Unreleased Memo reveals that, some time last year, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved an application to keep Carter Page under surveillance. This is apparently the bombshell information that has so shocked and horrified the handful of Republicans who have read The Memo.

In case you misled your score card, Carter Page was a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who already had been under surveillance under a FISA warrant beginning in 2016, when he joined the Trump campaign, the BBC says. The FBI suspected Page of being an agent of a foreign government. “The FBI had reportedly had previously investigated Page because of his 2013 ties to Russian bank executive Evgeny Buryakov, who was convicted in 2015 of spying on the US,” the BBC continues. Page resigned from the Trump campaign in September 2016 as Trump’s alleged ties to Russia were gaining attention.

Seems to me that if some guy who has known ties to a convicted foreign spy joins a presidential campaign, putting him under surveillance is not outrageously out of bounds. So what’s the deal? The New York Times explains,

The memo’s primary contention is that F.B.I. and Justice Department officials failed to adequately explain to an intelligence court judge in initially seeking a warrant for surveillance of Mr. Page that they were relying in part on research by an investigator, Christopher Steele, that had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

So let’s get this straight — first, the shocked and horrified Republicans aren’t complaining about the original FISA warrant, they are complaining about the extension of the warrant. And they are complaining because they say the application for extension didn’t adequately explain that some of the allegations against Carter Page might have come from the Steele Dossier. Allegedly.

David Graham writes for The Atlantic,

First, there’s no obvious reason why the Justice Department couldn’t use information obtained in opposition research in a warrant application, assuming, of course, that it was accurate. Simpson said Steele approached the FBI with information he had obtained not at the behest of the DNC, but because he worried that there was information important to Americ the woran national security, and he had a duty to inform law enforcement. This is arguably in contrast to the behavior of the Trump campaign, which after being told that an agent of a foreign government wished to offer damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign ahead of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, chose not to inform law enforcement. Many political operatives have said they would have contacted the FBI under similar circumstances.

Second, it’s unclear what if any non-Steele information was referenced in the warrant application. Bradley Moss, a lawyer who works on national-security cases, said in an email that he expected any application would have used other sources.

So, there is nothing about the Steele research that makes it automatically out of bounds to use to obtain a warrant, and it appears that even if the Steele Dossier were a source, it wouldn’t have been the only one.

So, yeah, release the freaking memo.

Graphic Ripped Off a Wingnut Website


Several media outlets are reporting today that the Trump Administration and much of the Republican Party have targeted Rod Rosenstein as an enemy agent and part of the “deep state” conspiracy they imagine — emphasis on the word imagine — is trying to bring down Donald Trump. Aaron Blake writes at WaPo:

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is increasingly in President Trump’s crosshairs, and Trump’s long-standing wish to get rid of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe finally came true Monday. The subject of his derision in both cases? The idea that they are both essentiallyDemocrats.

Except they aren’t, really.

But in that way, they fit a growing pattern: Almost every person who has stood atop the supposed “deep state” law-enforcement-led conspiracy against Trump just so happens to be either a Republican or tied to the same party Trump belongs to.

Rosenstein? A longtime registered Republican. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III? He was a registered Republican when GOP President George W. Bush appointed him as FBI director, and he still was as of 2017. James B. Comey? A longtime registered Republican before testifying in 2016 that he no longer was. McCabe? As CNN reported recently, he voted in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

In case you missed it — yes, Andrew McCabe is stepping down from his job as FBI Deputy Director as of today, which is something he had already announced he would do. According to many reports, Trump had been pressuring him to quit. McCabe stayed on the job until he could retire at full pension.

But now the wingnut noise machine will be concentrating on Rod Rosenstein. Back to David Graham:

Attacking Rosenstein serves a dual purpose for Trump and his allies. If Rosenstein is forced to resign or fired, Trump would appoint a replacement who would become Mueller’s boss, and could fire the special counsel or move to limit his probe. The White House seems to recognize that firing Rosenstein merely to mess with the Mueller probe would be politically disastrous, but alleging misconduct in a warrant application could provide an excuse to push him out for other reasons. Even if Rosenstein doesn’t go, however, the current line of argument serves the purpose of undermining trust in the FBI and DOJ as they continue to investigate Trump.

I take it Rosenstein didn’t sign the original FISA warrant application for surveillance on Carter Page, just the extension. That explains why they’re hysterical about the extension application but not the original application.

See also “Trump’s most desperate move yet? Here’s what pushing out Rod Rosenstein would mean.”

Yeah, Release the Bleeping Memo. Please.

You may have heard about the #ReleaseTheMemo movement on the Right. Jane Coaston has written a backgrounder for Vox that explains the whole thing. The memo in question was written by Devin Nunes and his staff based on classified information shown only to Nunes (and his staff?). The memo has also been promoted by Devin Nunes as the proof that there is a sinister cabal in the Justice Department deliberately trying to undermine the Trump Administration.

For background on why nothing Nunes says deserves to be taken seriously, see  “Why Does Devin Nunes Still Have a Job?” by Joan Walsh. See also Burr: Nunes ‘created’ unmasking allegations against Rice by Max Greenwood at The Hill.

On the Right, The Memo has taken on mythic proportions; it’s like the Holy Grail of evidence of all the plots and knavish tricks of the evil liberal elite. But as with the phony Susan Rice “unmasking” scandal Nunes promoted last year, the mystique surrounding The Memo exploits widespread ignorance of how the FISA program actually works.

According to the New York Times, the memo alleges that a FISA warrant was issued targeting Carter Page, a Trump campaign consultant, based on the infamous Steele Dossier that was commissioned by the Clinton campaign, which makes the warrant evidence of anti-Trump conspiracy. Never mind that the allegation that the Steele Dossier was the sole instigator of the investigation into the Trump campaign has been thoroughly discredited.

Nunes is not releasing the memo because it contains classified information. But, of course, not releasing the memo works better for Nunes than releasing it. As long as its contents are a mystery, people can project all manner of plots into it. Once it’s released, once it’s a concrete thing, it loses its power. And it can be debunked. As a propaganda tool, however, The Unreleased Memo is brilliant.

Michael McGough wrote in the Los Angeles Times,

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) says the memo contains “some of the most alarming things I’ve ever read, and every single American citizen should be able to read that material as soon as possible.” “Jaw-dropping!” pronounced Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on his radio show that it appears the memo reveals corruption that’s “breathtaking in scope.”

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, not surprisingly, don’t find the document that big a deal. In a joint statement, they denounced it as a “misleading set of talking points” and questioned Republicans’ call for public release of the document. On Wednesday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the ranking member, announced that Democrats had drafted their own memo, “setting out the relevant facts and exposing the misleading character of the Republicans’ document so that members of the House are not left with an erroneous impression of the dedicated professionals at the FBI and the DOJ.”

Saying that it appeared Republicans were seeking to make their “spin memo” public, Schiff added: “We would strongly urge against this course, but would have to insist that our memorandum be likewise made public so that the entire nation is not then misled.”

On Wednesday, the Justice Department asked Nunes, reasonably, for an opportunity to review the memo before it was released publicly. The Democrats’ memo should be subjected to the same screening. If redactions are necessary in either document to protect sources and methods or the integrity of a criminal investigation, they should be made.

With that proviso, #ReleaseTheMemos — both of them.

That works for me.  Note that Rep. Peter King says Nunes won’t let the DoJ review the memo, however. See also Why an Unreleased 4-Page Memo From Devin Nunes Is Causing a Frenzy on the Right by Cristian Farias at New York magazine.