Thursday Reads: Open Warfare Between Trump and FBI, DOJ

A woman on a bench reading a newspaper in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, 1955. (Getty Images)

Good Morning!!

On Tuesday morning, I wrote that Monday had to be one of the worst days in the monstrous Trump “presidency.” It was true then, but yesterday was even worse.

Trump is engaging in open warfare with his own Justice Department and the FBI. He reportedly plans to release an inaccurate memo cooked up by his number one toady in Congress Devin Nunes as early as today–even though the Director of the FBI and top officials in the Justice Department have stated publicly that the memo creates a false narrative and will pose a “grave” danger to national security, even endangering lives.

On top of all that, we got breaking news on the Russia investigation yesterday, and more came out today. There’s no way I can cover everything in this post, but here are some important articles to check out.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on Nunes’ Intelligence Committee has an op-ed in The Washington Post today: Rep. Nunes’s memo crosses a dangerous line.

On Monday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) moved to release a memo written by his staff that cherry-picks facts, ignores others and smears the FBI and the Justice Department — all while potentially revealing intelligence sources and methods. He did so even though he had not read the classified documents that the memo characterizes and refused to allow the FBI to brief the committee on the risks of publication and what it has described as “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” The party-line vote to release the Republican memo but not a Democratic response was a violent break from the committee’s nonpartisan tradition and the latest troubling sign that House Republicans are willing to put the president’s political dictates ahead of the national interest.

The reason for Republicans’ abrupt departure from our nonpartisan tradition is growing alarm over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. In a matter of months, the president’s first national security adviser and a foreign policy adviser have pleaded guilty to felony offenses, while his former campaign chairman and deputy campaign manager have also been indicted. As Mueller and his team move closer to the president and his inner circle, a sense of panic is palpable on the Hill. GOP members recognize that the probe threatens not only the president but also their majorities in Congress.

In response, they have drawn on the stratagem of many criminal defense lawyers — when the evidence against a defendant is strong, put the government on trial. The Nunes memo is designed to do just that by furthering a conspiracy theory that a cabal of senior officials within the FBI and the Justice Department were so tainted by bias against President Trump that they irredeemably poisoned the investigation. If it wasn’t clear enough that this was the goal, Nunes removed all doubt when he declared that the Justice Department and the FBI themselves were under investigation at the hearing in which the memo was ordered released.

This decision to employ an obscure rule to order the release of classified information for partisan political purposes crossed a dangerous line. Doing so without even allowing the Justice Department or the FBI to vet the information for accuracy, the impact of its release on sources and methods, and other concerns was, as the Justice Department attested, “extraordinarily reckless.” But it also increases the risk of a constitutional crisis by setting the stage for subsequent actions by the White House to fire Mueller or, as now seems more likely, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, an act that would echo the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre.

MSNBC reported this morning that if the memo is released, FBI Director Christpher Wray is prepared to publicly debunk the contents point by point.

Politico: Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre Is Happening Right Before Our Eyes, by Norm Eisen, Carolyn Fredrickson, and Noah Bookbinder.

The FBI issued an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, pushing back on the release of a partisan congressional memo alleging the bureau used improper evidence to obtain legal permission to surveil a Trump campaign adviser. We’ve never seen anything like it. “[T]he FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

The memo, written by Congressman Devin Nunes and barreling toward public circulation at the president’s discretion, has already created a firestorm, and it is not even out yet. Nunes fired back at the FBI hours later, claiming, “It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign.”

Benches lined with people reading newspapers with headlines of the D-Day invasion in Pershing Square Park June 6, 1944, Los Angeles, CA, John Florea, LIFE Photo Archive.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: This memo is the latest escalation in an eight-month effort to tarnish the Russia investigation that might be the most significant smear campaign against the executive branch since Joe McCarthy—only here, the effort is being led by the head of that branch himself. As the New York Times reported, the Nunes memo seems like a dagger aimed by President Trump at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the Russia probe for the Justice Department.

Republican huzzahs over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment were still echoing when the opening salvo of this shocking campaign was launched: the claim that Mueller had disqualifying “conflicts.” Never mind that the Justice Department cleared Mueller of conflicts before he was appointed. Or that ethical standards do not remotely support disqualification over issues like Mueller’s professional acquaintance with James Comey, his employment at a firm that represented Trump associates, or even a long-ago dispute over the amount of fees Mueller owed at a Trump golf course. These meritless conflicts claims have continued to resurface like a game of whack-a-mole, popping up elsewhere after they are knocked down.

There’s much more at the link. It does seem that Trump is attempting what a number of commentators have called  “a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre.” Nixon attempted to take over the Justice Department in one dramatic night; Trump has been doing the same thing over a period of many months.

After a long day of reports on Trump’s feud with FBI Director Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, CNN broke the news that Trump had made another implied request for loyalty–this time from Rosenstein.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December seeking President Donald Trump’s help. The top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation wanted Trump’s support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel’s Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was “on my team.”

The episode is the latest to come to light portraying a President whose inquiries sometimes cross a line that presidents traditionally have tried to avoid when dealing with the Justice Department, for which a measure of independence is key. The exchange could raise further questions about whether Trump was seeking to interfere in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into potential collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia and obstruction of justice by the White House.

At the December meeting, the deputy attorney general appeared surprised by the President’s questions, the sources said. He demurred on the direction of the Russia investigation, which Rosenstein has ultimate authority over now that his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has recused himself. And he responded awkwardly to the President’s “team” request, the sources said.”Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President,” Rosenstein told Trump, the sources said.

Frenchmen reading newspaper reports of JFK assassination

Also last night The New York Times reported that Trump’s communications director Hope Hicks could be in trouble for possibly planning to obstruct justice. The Daily Beast summarizes: Report: Witness to Tell Mueller He Was Concerned Hope Hicks Obstructed.

Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for President Donald Trump’s legal team, will reportedly tell special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks said Donald Trump Jr.’s emails about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians “will never get out.” According to The New York Times, Corallo was concerned that Hicks “could be contemplating obstructing justice.” Hicks’ lawyer, Robert P. Trout, told the Times that Hicks “never said that.” Those emails, written by Trump Jr., appeared to show that his initial explanation for why he took the meeting with Russians was false. The emails showed that Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, even though the White House statement said the meeting centered around Russian adoptions. Corallo resigned from the Trump White House last summer.

This morning Charles Pierce has some interesting commentary on yesterday’s news: Getting to the Bottom of the Memo Cesspool.

For a time, the optimists in the president*’s camp were pitching as a worst case scenario that Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian ratfcking of the 2016 presidential election would end up at worst delivering obstruction prosecutions with no underlying offenses—essentially, that some underlings, in an effort to help out the president*, were too vigorous in their efforts, and less than vigorous about telling the truth. I mean, hell, it’s an argument. It’s the “third-rate burglary” argument gussied up for our times, but it’s an argument nonetheless. However, that dog no longer chooses to hunt.

Pierce summarizes the Hope Hicks story and the back and forth between Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff. Then he notes:

People buying out of town newspapers in Times Square during newspaper strike.December 1953.© Time Inc.Ralph Morse

Is it even necessary any more to point out that, if he so desired, the president* could declassify those parts of the memo that are classified and release the thing in 10 minutes? The only people keeping the memo from being released are the people bellowing the loudest about releasing it at all.

These two stories obscured the revelations late Wednesday afternoon that open conflict had broken out between the White House and FBI director Christopher Wray over the release of the memo. It is Wray’s considered opinion that the memo is a crock. From CNN:

Wray sent a striking signal to the White House, issuing a rare public warning that the memo about the FBI’s surveillance practices omits key information that could impact its veracity. The move set up an ugly confrontation between Wray and Trump, who wants the document released. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the FBI said in a statement. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

All of which, in combination with the complete surrender of the Republican congressional leadership to this fairy tale, leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is more going on here than political damage control. People are breaking too much rock over this matter for that to be the case. People are risking too much to keep the cover story aloft. The original Watergate cover-up was not designed to shield the burglars; it was to keep a lid on five years of crimes and dirty tricks. There is too much energy being expended in too many directions here for there not to be something seriously wrong at the bottom of this affair.

April 1942. An unknown diner reading World War 2 headlines from the Detroit News in a downtown Detroit cafe. Photo by Howard McGraw, of the Detroit News.

It might be Russian ratfcking. It might be dirty money being cleaned through the First Family’s” business. It might be a complex combination of both. But not even this president* is dumb and/or arrogant enough to risk a massive constitutional crisis simply to save himself a little embarrassment concerning the circumstances of his election. Even I give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

Pierce is right. Trump and Nunes are risking too much with all this obvious obstruction. Trump has to be afraid of something very serious having to do with cooperating with Russia or about his finances.

One more interesting Russia story from CNN: Special counsel seeks delay in scheduling Flynn sentencing.

Attorneys for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the special counsel’s office told a federal court on Wednesday evening they are not ready to schedule a sentencing hearing for Flynn.

The government was set to deliver a status report on Flynn’s case to the court Thursday, but both sides have asked to delay the deadline for that report until May 1.

Previously, a status update in the case of George Papadopoulos, President Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser, which the special counsel is also overseeing was delayed from February until mid-April.

This news suggests that Mueller is still getting valuable information from Flynn and Papadopoulos.

I’ll have more links in the comment thread. What’s your take on the current situation?

45 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Open Warfare Between Trump and FBI, DOJ”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I heard two rumors yesterday about why Trey Gowdy decided not to run for reelection. One was that he was hoping for a federal judgeship, the other was that he was in line to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. But according to Politico he’s just sick of partisan politics. That seems hard to believe after the Benghazi nonsense.

    Gowdy finally had it with Washington

    A rising star that many Republicans once considered a dark-horse for speaker of the House, Gowdy announced Wednesday he would not seek reelection or any political office and would instead return to the justice system. Sources close to him say he wants to return home, practice law and maybe teach and write a book with his friend Sen. Tim Scott.

    “Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” the South Carolina Republican said.

    And in a sign of Gowdy’s desire to step back from public life, he recently turned down a golden opportunity to become a federal judge.

    It really says something that a GOP “rising star” has a point on top of his head.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    David A. Graham at The Atlantic: The Peril of Taking on the FBI

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Wired: Here’s What Happens If ‘Magnificent Bastard’ Mueller Gets Fired

  4. Pat Johnson says:

    Rachel hinted that Gowdy was one who also reviewed “the memo”. She suggested he may have read something that caused an abrupt end to his reelection.

    He was already sending out donation requests prior to his reading of the memo so it appears he was involved in seeking another term.

    The question is: what did he read that caused him to withdraw so unexpectedly?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Gowdy is the only Repub who read the underlying intl material. He doesn’t seem comfortable with the attacks on Mueller. He recently said that he thinks Mueller is the ideal person to do the investigation and that he should be permitted to complete it.

  5. Pat Johnson says:

    There is something quite sinister going on here then just “help make me president and I will lift the sanctions”. There is just too much interference from other players besides the Trump crowd.

    Why has the GOP become so complicit? Trump isn’t even a “nice guy” you would go out of the way for to damage your own career and integrity. What makes them all “hang” together so steadfastly?

    It is the complicity of the GOP itself that is actually doing the damage. A few standing up to President Stupid would likely throw a curve at Trump and put and end to this destruction.

    It would not surprise me in the least to discover actual Russian agents working inside the government of the US. Tons of money has been filtered into RNC quarters that have more than likely found its way into individual coffers of GOP candidates.

    There is a reason beyond just a cover up on behalf of Trump. I believe it goes much deeper than just unreleased tax returns and money laundering.

    Look at how badly the GOP wants Mueller pushed out. How far they have gone to smear the FBI and the intelligence community. This is not just all about Trump.

    I think it is something bigger and more evil then we first imagined.

    Or I may just be losing it these days owing to the insanity of Trump.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No, Trump seems truly desperate and some House GOP members are really going out on a limb, including Ryan. If they actually cooperate with the WH to obstruct, they can be charged by Mueller. Don’t forget, Ryan has said he’ll likely be retiring too. What drove Chaffetz out? This just isn’t normal.

      • teele says:

        I don’t know, but I wish my “representative” would quit, too. He just got his payoff for changing his vote on the TrumpCare/RyanCare vote last year: tariffs imposed on competitors of the washing machine manufacturer founded by his grandpa, a company he owns a lot of stock in. He was apparently not bright enough to work for the family business, but was crooked enough to send to DC for 30 years to gain them some advantages under the table.

      • Fannie says:

        I keep thinking somebody high up is going to be knocking on his damn door. Chaffetz flew the coup.

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        And wasn’t it strange all those republicans going to some conference a week after tRumps illegal meeting with those Russian spy masters?

        • Catscatscats says:

          And apparently the only issue they reached agreement on was the “memo,” because that of course is more important than say funding the gov or infrastructure,

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      I think along the same lines with you Pat!

  6. And yet so many still support him. Are they blind or are they just unwilling to admit he is a dangerous imbecile?

    • bostonboomer says:

      I don’t know if you mean his base or the Republicans in Congress. I think the base is brainwashed by Fox News and the Congressional Repubs are either compromised in some way by Russia or they’re afraid of Trump and his base.

      But it really looks like something strange is happening. Take a look at the piece by Charles Pierce linked in the post.

      • Fannie says:

        Amen. Want proof, I talked with an 80 year old lady, and asked her if she knew about Stormy and Trump. I told her the story, and she said Fox hasn’t even mentioned her name. Bam.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Wow. Vanity Fair says that Robert Wagner is now a person of interest in Natalie Wood’s death.

    Could Natalie Wood’s Mysterious Death Finally Be Solved?

    Robert Wagner is now a person of interest in the case of Natalie Wood’s 1981 death. The actor, who was married to Wood at the time, was, investigators say, the last person to be seen with Wood the night that she drowned at the age of 43 off the coast of Catalina Island in California. The unsolved case reopened in 2011, and now, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigators tell CBS’s 48 Hours that Wagner is someone to question in the case. Per Deadline, Wagner “refused comment to 48 Hours or participation in the report.”

    “As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina told 48 Hours correspondent Erin Moriarty, per CBS News. “I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”

    In 2012, the Los Angeles County’s coroner office amended Wood’s death certificate to read “drowning and other undetermined factors,” thus opening up a new round of questions. And Corina told 48 Hours that Wagner’s story hasn’t been consistent. “I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina says of Wagner. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”

  8. dakinikat says:

  9. Minkoff Minx says:

    This is very OT, but can anyone give me any first hand knowledge of any of these towns:

    Vernal Utah
    Fountain Colorado
    Highlands Ranch Colorado

    Uh, thanks in advance.

    • quixote says:

      Vernal UT is a place I’ve actually been through. Good thing: has the Dinosaur National Monument with, I believe, petroglyphs in it as well. Everything else: dusty little town that expends all its energy trying not to blow away. (I should add that I’m one of them coastal elites, grew up in Cambridge Mass, what can I say, so I have a pretty bad attitude toward dusty right wing towns. It might be a great place for someone who fits better.)

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        We may not have a choice in the matter…ugh. We survived the first round of layoffs. Now comes the next level of Dante’s hell.

        • quixote says:

          Oh, so you’re not just asking about, say, a road trip or something. As a place to live: Vernal was going to get one of those massive retorts to refine shale oil that was found in the region. The shale oil turned out to be such low quality it was like asphalt, so they gave up on that. Oil extraction (and fracking? not sure) is big all around there. The oil is trucked in to town, so driving anywhere involves dealing with oil trucks. Are you getting the impression I would not recommend Vernal? Yup. Plus, I gather the Mormon community is fairly clannish, and advancement is usually tough unless you’re part of the group.

          It is real Big Sky country, though. There are Uinta Indians and their land around there. Some good hiking. Pronghorn antelopes. So if living out of town and not next to an oil well is an option, it might be quite nice.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    • Sweet Sue says:

      Disgraceful. Truly disgraceful.

    • Enheduanna says:

      There is no limit to the viciousness of these thugs. I’ve never before had this poor an opinion of local law enforcement; because of the types of men it attracts. Even more so for ICE.

  11. Sweet Sue says:

    Wouldn’t it be funny if the Koch brothers turn out to be Russian moles?