From left, FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and CIA Director John Brennan arrive at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on world wide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
In a piece for Real Clear Politics, which originally appeared at Real Clear Investigations, writer Eric Felten does a commendable job detailing the “prisoner’s dilemma” playing out among intelligence agency heads implicated in manufacturing a collusion narrative against the 2016 Trump campaign.
“There’s no overstating institutional animosities and how likely they are to affect efforts to find out the full story of what happened in the 2016 election,” Felten writes. “The Department of Justice, the FBI, the State Department and various intelligence agencies are supposed to cooperate, working together to amplify their efforts through coordination. Instead, they often end up at odds, competing for the praise and resources that come with successes and laying off on others the blame that attends mistakes and failures.”
Via a”former CIA official” who appeared in a Fox News interview, Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Director of the CIA John Brennan have already been pointing their fingers at Comey as the advocate of using Steele’s salacious dossier in obtaining FISA warrants. The New York Times and other media outlets have taken up the cause of warning that assets may be compromised and recruiting will suffer if Barr declassifies information pertaining to what the DOJ has uncovered during their investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
As further proof, Felten uses the now-famous incident where, prior to testifying before Congress, former FBI Director James Comey insisted he was instructed to refer to the Hillary Clinton email probe as a “matter” instead of an “investigation” by none other than Obama-appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
In September of 2015, Lynch and Comey were preparing to testify on Capitol Hill and expected to be asked about the Hillary Clinton email probe — code-named the Midyear Exam — which at that point had not been officially acknowledged. “I wanted to know if she [Lynch] would authorize us to confirm we had an investigation,” Comey told lawmakers. “And she said yes, but don’t call it that; call it a ‘matter.’ And I said why would I do that? And [Lynch] said just call it a ‘matter.’” Comey says he reluctantly went along with Lynch’s demand, even though it gave him “a queasy feeling.” He worried “that the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our work with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity, which was inaccurate.”
Lynch of course pushed back by saying she may have referred to the investigation as a “matter” but that she never instructed Comey to officially call it that.
Could it be this is the shape of investigations — sorry, matters — to come? The spectacle of former power players parsing verbs at one another? It may seem a sound defensive strategy now, but it will grow harder to craft phraseology subtle enough to slip out of trouble. Legalistic sparring becomes increasingly difficult as the number of those being put under oath proliferates, and as the number of investigations mount. The game theory concept known as the “Prisoner’s dilemma” is confounding enough when there are two players having to figure out whether to trust one another or sell each other out. Make it multi-person, game theorists point out, and the difficulty for the players grows exponentially.
The honor among this particular band of “thieves” appears to be slowly crumbling as they all run to their respective corners and try to cover their own behinds. And while Felton notes that “even in the best of times, departments and agencies such as Justice, State and the FBI find themselves in back-stabbing bureaucratic battles of all against all,” the management of these agencies under Obama seems to have been run by people who were particularly petty and uncooperative when it came to working with other agencies and even co-workers within their own agencies.
Take the exchanges between FBI agents and lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page:
As things unravel further, they’re likely to get nastier. In part that’s because the FBI doesn’t just hate the Department of Justice. If the Page-Strzok texts are any indication, the bureau doesn’t much like the State Department either. “DOJ is a wild pain in the ass,” Strzok texts Page. “Not as bad as State, but still.” Faced with sending some documents about the Hillary email investigation to Foggy Bottom, Page texts, “I’m not giving State an advance warning. F them.” Strzok responds, “And yes, totally. F State. No heads up.”
They not only sneered at their colleagues across the street (Justice and the FBI are housed on opposite sides of Pennsylvania Avenue), their feelings toward their bureau co-workers ranged from diffidence to detestation.
Consider the infamous text from Strzok to Page: “Just went to a southern Virginia Wal-Mart,” Strzok wrote. “I could SMELL the Trump support.”
Lost in the noisy outrage over the Trumpy odors insult has been Page’s reply: “Yep, out to lunch with Sally” Moyer, Page texted. “We both hate everyone and everything.”
As the investigation into the investigators ramps up — and, perhaps more importantly, as the public is availed of how Washington bureaucrats behave even in agencies as serious as intelligence — it will no doubt become increasingly clear that the Obama administration had created a poisonous culture of pettiness and divisiveness that fails to work no matter the organization. The vitriol of Strzok and Page would have caused an outfit as humble as a corner grocery store or an intramural sports team to fail miserably. Such was the culture under 8 years of the Obama administration.
Given the paramount heights to which both Strzok and Page had risen within the FBI, it’s unlikely they were outliers among the bureau’s management class. Their casual contempt for co-workers and for the departments of Justice and State can’t be attitudes far out of step with those of their seventh-floor colleagues. Sticking it to State and Justice and even (perhaps especially) the fellow down the hall: If that was the culture of the FBI’s leadership when the investigators were riding high and enjoying the power that came from collaborating with State and Justice in the pursuit of a president, just imagine how they are likely to behave toward one another now that they have become the pursued rather than the pursuers.
Imagine indeed. For all the grief the Trump administration takes in the press for White House employee backbiting and a lack of administration cohesiveness, the nastiness displayed by the Russia collusion investigators, both pre- and post-Mueller report, shows an Obama administration rife with an “every man for himself” mentality rather than an “e pluribus unum” philosophy. As declassification begins, expect the circular firing squad to start shooting to kill.