For 15 months the Democrats – and a fair number of Establishment Republicans – have been attempting to de-legitimize the presidency of Donald Trump by connecting members of his campaign to Russian efforts to influence the election. Thus far they have much less than one would expect with a cast of characters made up of inexperienced family members (Don Junior; Jared Kushner), re-worked international intelligence consultants (Paul Manafort; Carter Page; General Flynn), and naive kids (George Papadopoulos) playing in the major leagues for the first time. There has been a constant drumbeat of new outrages which will secure the case against Trump, until they melt away to be followed by the next outrage.
A different perspective, lurking in the background, is that the Democrats and ambitious functionaries in the outgoing administration took it as a certainty that Hillary Clinton would win the election, that they were free to use their positions to boost her prospects, and there would be no consequences (and in fact some likely career benefit) for cutting corners. That attitude persisted from at least the time that her e-mail problems emerged in March of 2015, and included bad actors in the State Department, the Obama White House, the Justice Department, and the FBI. With Trump’s surprise election, it was better to play offense, in the anticipation that there really was collusion, rather than to play defense.
The Nunes memo is a breakthrough. True, it is only one piece of a much larger mosaic – it does not address whether anybody was colluding with the Russians or whether there was obstruction of justice by the president; it doesn’t even address what, if anything, was found by wiretapping Mr. Page. What it does, however, is incontrovertibly demonstrate that people in the senior levels of the Justice Department (Bruce Ohr) and the FBI (Andrew McCabe) knowingly asked the FISA court for approval to wiretap a member of the Trump campaign, relying on highly questionable information, without telling the court that it was developed by agents of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. That the FBI official’s wife received a $700,000 campaign contribution from a member of the Clinton machine, and that the Justice Department official’s wife worked for the opposition research firm digging up the fake dirt pushes the reality beyond a John Grisham novel.
Thanks to the voluminous e-mails and text messages between senior FBI agent Peter Strzok and his FBI attorney lover, we have extensive context. The animus extended below the ranks of political appointees. FBI Management assigned the same biased person to lead the Clinton e-mail investigation (where he wrote the language preventing indictment for abuse of secret information), to participate in the interrogation of General Flynn about his Russian contacts, and to manage the Steele dossier investigation. That FBI and Justice Department management allowed such an overtly anti-Trump agent to play a central role in each of these cases speaks volumes about a broader problem. Perhaps some will come out in the ongoing Justice Department Inspector General investigation; perhaps not.
What we don’t have – at least yet – is an aggressive Justice Department taking a look back at subjects which were not addressed properly by the corrupted FBI of James Comey. One would be a special prosecutor to revisit the Clinton handling of confidential information and all of its surrounding subterfuge. A second would reach back to the corruption of the Clinton State Department in the Clinton Foundation – lubricated sale of Uranium One to a member of Putin’s inner circle. A third would be the White House led scheme to monitor conversations of foreign nationals with members of the Trump campaign, ask the NSA to “unmask” the American participant in the conversation, and leak insinuating information to the press.
And it is worth thinking through the “worst case” outcome of the Mueller investigation – a fulfillment of the dreams of Nancy Pelosi and the Washington Post. For mechanics, Mueller brings an indictment for some as yet unknown discussion that somebody in the Trump entourage had with someone in the Putin circle; the House (after a surprising Democratic November take-over) votes on articles of impeachment; the Senate (probably still in Republican hands) needs a two-thirds majority to find Trump guilty and remove him from office. No chance. For those hoping to just throw sand into the gears of the Trump presidency, it is worth noting that the Bill Clinton impeachment occurred in December of 1999, he was acquitted two months later, and he served the remaining year of his second term. This is a ultimately political question, not a legal one.
At some point the question will be “what is best for the country” – how can we reestablish confidence in our essential governmental institutioins – not “how can we re-litigate the 2016 election”, or “how can we punish people for abuses in the Obama administratioin?” Absent the vitriol of the #Resist movement and the animosity (and ratings) of much of the media, we would probably be moving on. Hopefully the Nunes memo will be a nudge in that direction – after a brief (but thorough) cleansing.