Republican members of Congress, the Trump Administration and Trump’s new hatchet man in the Justice Department, William Barr, are all soon going to meet their Waterloo. A meeting which took place last month while Trump was in London, for his visit with the Queen, is predictive of the anti-climactic outcome of the GOP’s politically motivated, staged revenge investigation against the FBI.
Unidentified sources within the Justice Department, revealed to Reuters that a team of lawyers from the DOJ, assigned to the Office of the Inspector General in that agency, flew to England to have a sit down questioning of Christopher Steele, author of the much contested “Steele Dossier”. As background to that development, a look at the history of the GOP and Trump’s struggle to flip the script over the last few years is foundational.
The Steele Dossier
The Steele Dossier has persistently been a point of contention between supporters of Trump, (GOP House members, media surrogates and Trump’s base) versus America’s intelligence community and their defenders in the media and Congress. Republicans and Trump, have been angry from the very onset of the FBI’s investigation that eventually led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to head an inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Angry Members of the “House Freedom Caucus”, of which Congressman Justin Amash (I-MI), was until recently a member, have been foghorning that the Mueller investigation was a sham from its very inception, telling reporters that the original court authorizations for search warrants was based on false material in the dossier.
Strzok and Page
We’ve reported before on the contrived campaign to discredit the FBI and acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by holding various pointless hearings prior to the 2018 mid terms. One such hearing was a post election, last gasp, frustration laden grilling of FBI agent Peter Strzok – whose only misdeed was a trivial bit of poor judgment in some frank messaging between him and colleague Lisa Page, referencing the progress and prospects of pending investigations of the Trump campaign within the bureau.
The interrogation, as expected by onlookers, yielded nothing but some notable exchanges in which Strzok embarrassed members of the committee panel – or probably more to the point, the panel members embarrassed themselves.
They demonstrated about as much gravitas as Harry and Lloyd, the lead characters in the 1994 comedy, “Dumb and Dumber”, and that might be a generous assessment.
It’s important to note that despite all the hyperventilation about Strzok and Page and the insinuation that they allowed their personal views about Donald Trump, to interfere with their professional duties, the Inspector General’s report on that subject, yielded no such conclusions. Quite the contrary, the report stating that:
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed.”
Investigate the Investigators
Since then, there has been a ramping up of the narrative from the right, that the very initiation of an investigation of Trumpland was illegitimate. Some have nicknamed this the “investigate the investigators” crusade. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, protested that:
“I am 100 percent convinced that if the Republican Party had hired Mr. Steele to go to Russia and investigate Clinton and the report was prepared and given to the Department of Justice — and you used a warrant against a Clinton associate and the underlying information in the dossier proved to be garbage, everybody in the world would have it on the front page.”
Heather Digby Parton, writing in Slate, sets the background:
When Donald Trump started his term facing the most serious presidential scandal in history, Republicans had a problem. It was the FBI, the most revered police agency in the country, that had uncovered it, which made their usual character assassination a little bit risky. As we discovered, that didn’t stop them. They went after the FBI as if the whole bureau was full of Clintons, not sparing even a thought for what conservatives had always held out as a sacred institution.
The central theme of the obfuscation and pettifogging of the GOP is the fallacious, but insidious notion that the “deep state” saboteurs acted in concert with Democrat party operatives to throw shade on and de-legitimize the outcome of a fair election.
This, they define as a wide cabal of plotters within our intelligence services, who agreed and purposed among themselves to derail the Trump presidency by commencing with an investigation, the basis of which was poisoned with specious and deceitful filings with a federal court.
None of this has any substance to it, and we’ve reported in substantial detail that the FBI had considerable probable cause to petition the FISA court for authority to surveill Carter Page as well as look closer into the activities of George Papadopoulos, who now wants to withdraw his guilty plea and seek a pardon from Donald Trump.
What you won’t hear from Republicans is that U.S. District Judge John Bates, who once led the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has categorically rejected their claims that the court was in any way misled by the FBI in their applications for warrants. Judge Bates told Lawfare’s David Kris and Nate Jones in a podcast interview:
“I will note and note with some force that I have seen nothing that indicates that the court was misled, that the Department of Justice or the intelligence community made misrepresentations to the court. And not only have I seen nothing that would indicate that, I have heard nothing that persuasively makes that case.”
The object the alleged plot orbits around, involves, as the Trump apostles present it, a document – the Steele Dossier, which they assert is a product of a partisan oppo research operation. That’s sort of the conspiratorial big-bang theory of the Trump / GOP tactical plan to neuter the political consequences of Trump and his campaign’s intrigues.
Simultaneous with all of this, is Trump, who, particularly when he senses that his voting base is not sufficiently obsessed with him and lacking fever pitch fervor, tweets about “hoaxes”, “witch hunts” and portrays himself as a victim, rather than the perpetrator the record shows him to be.
Any statements Trump’s made to shift the focus away from himself, are one variation or another on the theme expressed in this statement:
“We’ve had very bad things happen and those people are certainly to be looked at. I’ve been looking at it for a long time and I’m saying, ‘Why haven’t they been looked at?’ They lied to Congress, and many of them, you know who they are. They’ve done so many evil things.”
The GOP House Judiciary Memo
The entire history of Republican attempts to discredit the initial FBI probe and the subsequent Mueller investigation, has been a litany of wildly speculative accusations and innuendos, none of which have survived fact checks and deeper examination.
You will recall, for example, all the drama surrounding the “memo” produced exclusively by GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee, which was publicized, while the minority report was withheld, blocked for three weeks by Trump, because he wanted the Republican report to gain traction in the alternate facts universe and Fox News.
The Democratic response is good reading, sets the record straight on a host of misrepresentations of the GOP document and you can access it here.
The scope of the entire chain of claims and counter-claims is too long to recite here, but is outlined well in this report from LawWorksAction.org.
The I.G. Report
The amateurish counter-intelligence game of the GOP and their partisans inside the Justice Department presided over by William Barr, are about to unravel.
In March of last year (2018), Michael Horowitz, Inspector General within DOJ, initiated an investigation aiming to determine if their was any impropriety in the FBI’s use of the Steele Dossier in the application of a warrant they requested to monitor Trump campaign operative Carter Page.
That investigation has dragged on for over a year and in April of this year, Barr informed members of Congress that Horowitz’ probe would conclude in May. May has come and gone, but a wrinkle has surfaced that is making the architects of the “investigate the investigator” subterfuge quite nervous.
The legal team Horowitz sent to England to interview Steele, it has been reported by Reuters, found that as the 16 hour conference spanning two days wore on, Steele’s testimony to them evinced credibility, the sources using the term “sufficiently credible” to describe the impressions of the DOJ legal delegation. Natasha Bertrand, writing in Politico, illuminates the details:
The interview was contentious at first, but investigators ultimately found Steele’s testimony credible and even surprising. The takeaway has irked some U.S. officials interviewed as part of the probe — they argue that it shouldn’t have taken a foreign national to convince the inspector general that the FBI acted properly in 2016. Steele’s American lawyer was present for the conversation.
In reality, this will have only been the most recent discussions with U.S. officials that Steele has been engaged in. Steele has had lengthy exchanges with the investigators conducting the Mueller report and has submitted written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last August.
One other interaction that Steele had with a Justice Department official, Associate Deputy Attorney Bruce Ohr, has been the subject of a big stink from both Trump and members of Congress. Ohr met with Steele in Washington D.C. at the end of July 2016.
At the meeting, Steele outlined various items of intel he had received from back channel sources within circles close to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including that the Russians had ‘Kompromat’ (damaging information on Trump).
The Q and A, between Steele and the I.G.’s attorneys, has thrown a wrench in the timeline of the report, but the overall worthlessness of the results so far has prompted Barr to order U.S. Attorney John Durham to conduct a separate inquiry on the very same subject matter; in other words, Barr has to go through the motions and drag this silly mess on for no discernible reason other than to placate Donald Trump and the right wing media circus.
As is typical, the “investigate the investigators” shiny object will turn out to be a deluxe nothingburger with everything on it, but that reality will be of no consequence to Trump’s voting base. “Nothing to see here, move along.”