The one thing all food fights have in common is that they leave an awful mess. Well, the Republicans and Democrats in Washington are engaging in one lulu of a food fight and the resulting mess will take quite a while to clean up. The stain and stench are apt to hang around for many years and many Administrations. The dueling majority and minority reports of the House Intelligence Committee are merely the latest volleys in this very long running food fight.
The hall monitor couldn’t say, for sure, who really started it. The cause celeb for the current round in this food fight, however, was the rather creepy decision to include as justification for an FBI application for a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant to tap the telephone of a private citizen (Carter Page), a rather creepy memorandum known as the Steele Dossier. The Steele Dossier is creepy because it was paid for by the Hillary Clinton Campaign and the DNC, which the FBI knew, but failed to mention in its FISA application.
The Steele Dossier, the reader will remember, is the gumshoe work of Christopher Steele that former FBI Director James Comey described as “salacious and unverified.”
Part of the justification cited in the application for the FISA warrant was a Yahoo News story about a trip to Moscow Mr. Page took in July 2016. This was represented in the FISA application as corroboration of information about Mr. Page in the Steele Dossier. The problem is that the news story wasn’t corroboration of anything because it was apparently planted by none other than Christopher Steele himself.
We don’t know if the Steele Dossier was a major contributing factor in the decision to grant the FISA warrant but, if it was, that would seem to us to be, well, rather creepy too. After all, the Clinton campaign and the DNC routed over $160,000 to Steele rather circuitously through a law firm, and the now notorious operations research firm, Fusion GPS, none of which was, specifically, divulged to the FISA Court.
This brawl is but the latest iteration of our body politic at war with itself. Our leading and most respected civil libertarians, regardless of party, are aghast at the avalanche of leaks emanating from within our intelligence community. Leak upon leak by operatives in our own government of telephone conversations, discussions and internal files suggest a staggering level of snoopery and leaking from which no one, public or private seems immune.
So just what does the so-called Nunes memorandum (the report released by the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee) tell us. One could easily make the case that the FBI’s FISA application to eavesdrop on Carter Page was creepy and inappropriate…because it was. But here’s the thing: whether Carter Page is an innocent civilian or a nefarious character isn’t relevant, if the FISA application to bug him sullied the rigorous standards FISA establishes before the government can bug a private citizen.
It appears to us, and we’re no fans of President Trump, that the application to bug Page in an effort to find dirt on Trump made a bit of a mockery of FISA’s stringent standards for obtaining such a warrant.
The now disclosed animus toward Trump of individuals involved in the investigation is, of course, troubling. FBI agent Peter Strzok was eventually pulled from the investigation when his avowed hatred of President trump was revealed in texts between him and his paramour.
It gets worse. According to the memo released by the House Intelligence Committee Republicans, Christopher Steele told associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” That tidbit was also left out of the FISA application, as was information about Ohr’s wife working for Fusion GPS.
All of this creepiness is, however, dispositive of nothing. The Steele Dossier simply wasn’t the basis of the government’s investigation into Russian meddling in our election, nor was it the basis of the Mueller investigation into whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Trump inner-circle wannabe George Papadopoulos was already in the investigative crosshairs as far back as July 2016 and he has already pled guilty to lying to the FBI.
We understand that Special Counsel Robert Mueller may yet bring a case against President Trump. We also believe that if he does, it will be justified by the evidence. Mueller has served the country with uncommon distinction and the partisan attacks mounted to impugn his integrity are regrettable. In fact, the considerable efforts to impugn the integrity of Robert Mueller may be the creepiest aspect of this entire sorry affair.
As we wrote at the top of this essay; food fights leave an awful mess.