No longer checked by the “cloud” of a looming investigation into the Chief Executive, Republicans are on the verge of initiating a multi-pronged legal attack into more than a dozen former FBI and DOJ officials, a strategy that has been building evidence and momentum over the past two years. The current year’s attack extends and builds off of prior waves of investigative activity documented in the Spring of both 2017 and 2018, with the overarching theme of the offense centered around a fortified position “secured” and “developed” by former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
The Present ‘Turmoil’
The release of William Barr’s Summary Letter of the Mueller Report on the Sunday of March 24th triggered a series of strong and coordinated political and legal moves by Republican leadership, spearheaded by the President. On Monday the 25th in the Oval Office while visiting with the President of South Korea, President Trump openly opined about people who have done “treasonous things against our Country” in reference to the underwhelming conclusions of the Mueller Probe. Hours later on the White House lawn, Press Secretary Sara Sanders was calling for former Directors James Comey of the FBI, James Clapper of the ODNI, and John Brennan of the CIA, all to be called before Congress and to be deposed under oath anew.
Even prior to the close of the Probe, the pace of the news cycle had quickened such that reporters were already noticing the change in climate. Jeff Carlson has a robust chronicle of the major events transpiring in the weeks immediately before and after, with a comment on the recent uptick in temperature:
The weeks leading up to the pending release of the special counsel report have given us a nearly unprecedented volume of news events connected to the Spygate scandal, Ukraine, and ongoing investigations. From the release of depositions to the the latest comments from newly installed Attorney General Bill Barr, the news flow has been nearly overwhelming.
To help digest some of these events, it is helpful to review the prior, parallel eras of increased investigative activity by Republicans to establish a foundation through which to filter what is currently transpiring.
The Past Foundation: Spring Cleanings
In Spring of 2017, only 60 days into his presidency, Trump’s “wiretap” tweet initiated and framed the nascent scandal now known colloquially today as #Spygate. This wasn’t just any political scandal, this was the current POTUS directly accusing the former POTUS of the largest political scandal in United States History. The cascade of events that immediately followed resulted in two separate bombshell leaks of top secret intelligence concerning Carter Page. First it was disclosed that the aide was a former witness to the successful prosecution of Russian spies in a case that had only closed in March of 2016. One week later it was then revealed that Carter Page was also the target of a current Title 1 FISA warrant, obtained upon probable cause that the FBI suspected him of acting as a foreign agent for Russia.
One year later in Spring of 2018, the formerly revealed Carter Page FISA application is the subject of the Nunes Memo and an in-tandem release of a criminal referral on Christopher Steele. Both the Memo and the Referral concern potential irregularities of underlying mechanics used to secure probable cause in the FISA application, with specific focus on FBI interactions with Christopher Steele and his interactions with the Media.
Due to the political climate in both 2017 and 2018, any questions whatsoever into the FBI, no matter how well founded, were derided as naked attempts to block or “discredit the Mueller probe”. Both the memo and the referral were dismissed with outright lies and hysterics that were willingly parroted by a compliant media with much fanfare. David Kriss of Lawfare blog breathlessly charged: “The Nunes memo was dishonest. And if it is allowed to stand, we risk significant collateral damage to essential elements of our democracy.” This was strong stuff, certainly troubling if true! Today we know that it was not true. But at the time, there was no shortage of legal “analysts” calling for obstruction of justice charges against Nunes for daring to make a legal critique of a FISA application surrounded by wholly unprecedented circumstances. As late as February 2019 on the one year anniversary of the Nunes critique, Lawfare experts were busy nudging us to move-on from any examination of the Carter Page FISA application. Judge Bates assured us:
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.Former FISA Presiding Judge John Bates Feb 16, 2019
The emphatic comments by Bates only seem to underscore a gross misapprehension of directly-relevant events that transpired in 2018.
On March 28 2018, the Office of Inspector General of the DOJ launched an official investigation into the precise allegations outlined in the Nunes Memo. Two months later on May 21, AG Rosenstein expanded the scope of the original FISA review to include looking explicitly at whether FISA application processes were suborned by political motivations:
“The Department has asked the Inspector General to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”
Two weeks later in June, a 30yr veteran Director of Security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was arrested in connection with the dual leaks concerning Carer Page in 2017. In the indictment it was revealed that the leaks triggered an immediate FBI counterintelligence operation that deployed both SIGINT and HUMINT assets to assess the leak network and apprehend James Wolfe. Less than 30 days later in July, two high profile reporters in connection with the leaks were quietly reassigned out of career-long beats in National Security reporting, presumably due to legal exposure for violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. And by November, Republicans amended a list of documents they’d like declassified in the Russia investigation to include email exchanges that reportedly indicate FBI officials were aware that Steele, the former MI6 British intelligence operative then working as a confidential human source for the bureau, had contacts with news media before the FISA warrant was secured.
By the Spring of 2019 it should have been impossible to ignore the growing chorus of questions concerning the Page FISA application. Yet nevertheless, the promise of Mueller-Time afforded most experts the luxury of simply dismissing any serious discussion of the underlying merits as “obstruction”.
On March 24th however, that all changed.
The Present Spring Cleaning
With the President calling for investigation into “treasonous things” and his Press Secretary calling for subpoenas of three former Intelligence Directors, across the Hill on the same Monday, Lindsey Graham held a mini press-conference detailing a sweeping road-map to future investigations in the post-Mueller landscape. While Graham touches on a broad range of concerning FBI behaviors in both MidYear and Crossfire investigations, his initial and overarching remarks are centered squarely on the Carter Page FISA.
What happens next? I have been talking since late 2017 about the other side of the story. The FISA warrant issued against Carter Page, based on a dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, is at a minimum disturbing. Whether or not it’s illegal, I don’t yet know, so I’m going to get answers to this.
What makes no sense to me, is all of the abuse by the DOJ, and the FBI, the unprofessional conduct, the shady behavior. No one seems to think that’s much important. Well that’s going to change I hope. I’ve been calling since the end of 2017 for a special counsel to be appointed to look at whether or not the FISA warrant process was abused for political purposes. Whether or not an intelligence investigation was opened up, regarding the trump campaign as a backdoor to spy on the campaign.
Two days later, Carter Page, the former campaign aide who has never met or spoken to Donald Trump, was giving an interview for the Hill announcing that the “real” Russia investigation was only just beginning:
What happened this past weekend is really just a sideshow… I think you’re gonna have Congressman Biggs on from House judiciary, and what that committee is doing to get to the bottom of this, and really the leadership of Chairman Graham on Senate Judiciary… this is really the start, of the real Russia investigation.
Carter further noted that: “There was a lot of money flows going on behind the scenes, and so again, we’re at the very start of this investigation. We’re really in the initial days and hours.” This foreshadowed more specific statements he would make one week later about Christopher Steele receiving payments simultaneously from “the FBI, DNC, and allegedly some Russian oligarch.”
By Thursday of the same week, House Republicans called on Adam Schiff to resign as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in a letter, stating “we have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your Constitutional responsibility and urge your immediate resignation as Chairman of this Committee.” The Republicans, foreshadowing possible legal exposure for Adam Schiff, noted that the “findings of the Special Counsel conclusively refute your past and present assertions and have exposed you as having abused your position to knowingly promote false information.” In another interesting twist of events, it appears that the President himself may have evidence of Senator Schiff leaking information to CNN reporters from a classified deposition concerning none other than Carter Page.
To Be Continued…
Due to length and time concerns I am going to pick up Part II of this piece next week.
In the second half, we will discuss Nunes recent criminal referrals which bear directly on aforementioned FISA mechanics; Willam Barr’s “affirmation” of political influence, aka “unauthorized surveillance”, aka “spying”; former Directors’ telling reactions thereto; and how the entirety of the Republican offensive predicated upon FISA malfeasance has almost everything to owe to “idiot former campaign aide” Carter Page as deliberate architect and curator of the strategy.