Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bergoglio's LetterGate--Continuity and Discontinuity

For the past week the world of the Vatican II Church, and especially that corner of it occupied by Ratzinger/Benedict cultists, has been consumed with the Ratzinger letter fiasco. Let's get the obvious out of the way right up front: the affair was a tawdry attempt by Bergoglio to trade on the continued popularity of Ratzinger among "conservative" Vatican II adherents, who place their hopes for the Church on Ratzinger's "hermeneutic of continuity." The clear intent was to influence those who invoke Ratzinger to justify their opposition to Bergoglio to drop their opposition. The Bergoglian scheme backfired in spectacular fashion amid an explosion of conspiratorial speculation, most of it suggesting that by use of secret decoder rings or other devices the letter can be seen to diss Francis' thought and his policy. (For thorough coverage of the controversy, a good source is Sandro Magister's blog.)

There is both more and less than meets the eye in most of this speculation. The implicit assumption behind most of it is that Ratzinger engaged in some sort of preturnaturally clever passive-aggressive ploy against Bergoglio and his communications team. The truth is that Ratzinger's letter is clearly carefully written, carefully worded, and therefore should be taken at face value. It is polite and fair as well as honest throughout. The reason this assessment is so widely resisted is obvious: those who blame all the Church's troubles on Bergoglio will resort to virtually any rationalization to avoid accepting that Ratzinger really is in fundamental "philosophical and theological" agreement with Bergoglio--that the two pontificates share an "inner continuity"--as the letter affirms. To admit this continuity would be to expose the whole Ratzinger-as-bulwark-of-orthodoxy construct as a baseless fantasy. And yet, when this continuity is accepted, the observer is free to consider the rest of the letter with an open mind, and the benefit of doing so is that the letter also gives a clear hint in the direction of the discontinuity that actually does exist between the two pontificates. This understanding will open broad vistas on the mortal danger facing the Church.

Let's start at the beginning with the aspects of the letter that the Bergoglian faction presented to the world as confirmation that Bergoglio's thought is highly esteemed by the Great Ratzinger. The simple truth is that Ratzinger fairly and honestly affirmed the basic "philosophical and theological" continuity of the two pontificates. Recall, that Ratzinger's letter was a response to the gift of "eleven small volumes," studies of Bergoglio's thought, that had been presented to Ratzinger by Dario Edoardo Viganò, the Prefect of the Secretariat of Communications at the Vatican. Viganò had apparently hoped to induce Ratzinger to write a positive review of the "eleven small volumes." Instead, Ratzinger declined to do so, politely but firmly. He did, however, offer some positive remarks. Ratzinger begins his letter as follows:

"I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose and react to the stupid/foolish [It. stolto] prejudice according to which Pope Francis is a man who is only concerned with practical matters and lacks any particular theological or philosophical formation, while I am solely a theoretician of theology with little capacity to understand the concrete life of a Christian today."


"I applaud this initiative" - Why not? Who would doubt that Ratzinger the academician would applaud a genuine effort to understand and explain the thinking of the current pope--or, one of the current popes, depending on your point of view? There is no reason to doubt the genuineness of this general sentiment.

"the stupid/foolish prejudice" - Initially, the Ratzinger/Benedict cultists seized on the seeming harshness of this expression to argue that the letter was a fraud, a fake. In fact, however, Ratzinger's longtime private secretary, Georg Gaenswein, has, as recently as July 17, 2017, used equally harsh language, referring to those who seek to find or create distance between the two popes as "stupid people." It would seem that Ratzinger's use of this language reflects a concern to be both fair and honest--fair to Bergoglio and honest regarding his cultist followers.

Ratzinger continues:

"The little volumes demonstrate, rightly so, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help in seeing the interior continuity between the two pontificates, albeit with all the differences of style and temperament."


"The little volumes demonstrate" - While this is certainly not an affirmation that Ratzinger has "truly read" the "little volumes" ("truly read" is an expression Ratzinger uses toward the end of the letter), I think we can take it that this is an indication that he has at least glanced through them to get a sense of their general thrust--as we will see, he definitely took note of the authorship of each volume. This would be counter to the widely asserted notion that Ratzinger refused to even glance at them, out of contempt for Bergoglio.

"Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation" - For many the use of the word "profound" is absurdly hyperbolic, but it's important to bear in mind that the word is quite relative. Compared to the dew, a puddle could be regarded as "profound" or "deep." In addition, we have to consider just what sort of philosophical and theological formation Bergoglio received. Anyone who has read Bergoglio's extremely modest literary output prior to becoming pope will be struck by the "conventional Ratzingerian" nature of his thought. Which is to say, his thinking can be characterized as informed by the "Spirit" of Vatican II, as embodied in Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, Lumen Gentium, and Dignitatis Humanae. And in my opinion no one person is better qualified to judge whether someone has an understanding of that spirit than Joseph Ratzinger.

A reflection on Bergoglio's remarks since becoming pope reveals, in my opinion, that his understanding of the "philosophical and theological" principles behind this "Spirit" of Vatican II is certainly far more than merely basic. It has also become clear, however, that his true sympathies as regards interpretation of Vatican II lie with what we might call the "Left Progressives", the Concilium wing, men such as Rahner and Kasper, as opposed to the "Right Progressives", the Communio wing-- Ratzinger, De Lubac, von Balthasar, etc. For our purposes, the main difference is the importance the Right Progressives place on continuity, the famous "hermeneutic of continuity," whereas the Left Progressives are willing to risk a rupture to get their way. Bergoglio himself has famously joked that he might provoke a schism--a rupture he is clearly willing to risk, although he apparently believes that his "hermeneutic of pastorality" can forge a new synthesis. So, in making his assessment, I think we can say that Ratzinger--who is undoubtedly aware of these differences--is determined to be fair and honest. He recognizes that Bergoglio has an excellent understanding of the common philosophical and theological principles of the two progressive schools of thought.

"they [the little volumes] help to show the inner continuity between the two pontificates" - Again we see that Ratzinger is being scrupulously fair and honest. While recognizing the differences, we should not allow those difference to obscure the essential kinship of the two schools of progressivism, their "inner continuity." That continuity is real and substantive. Nor should anyone suppose that Ratzinger would be so petty (from his standpoint) as to dismiss the Left Progressives as inconsequential thinkers. Many of them continued to be friends and colleagues of Ratzinger, who advanced their careers despite their disagreements. Ratzinger, it appears, is willing to put these differences down to "differences of style and temperament," lamentable as they might be, but not true differences of philosophical and theological principle.

Having provided this endorsement of Bergoglio's qualifications, however, Ratzinger declines in set terms to "write a brief and dense theological page about them". That, he says, would be against his long held determination that he would never express an opinion on books unless he had "truly read" them. He has not "truly read" the "eleven little volumes" and will not be doing so "in the near future" "if only for physical reasons." This is the paragraph that was deliberately obscured by the Vatican. As I have argued, above, I don't think this means that Ratzinger is completely unaware of the contents of the "little volumes". I believe his statement that they demonstrate the continuity of thought between the two pontificates is sincere. But there was another paragraph that was not only obscured but was actually deleted from the "complete text" of the letter that the Vatican released, and this is where matters become more interesting, in my view.

In that deleted paragraph, now made public, Ratzinger raises another matter. While he doesn't expressly state that this matter is part of his reason for declining to write the requested review--in fact, he expressly states that he raises this matter "solo a margine," "as a side note"--we may suppose that it may have been a factor. Here's what it is. Ratzinger writes:

"I would like to mention my surprise that among the authors [of the "eleven little volumes"] was Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate put himself in the spotlight by heading anti-papal initiatives. He ... virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the pope especially on questions of moral theology."

Again, I don't believe Ratzinger raises this issue as a petty personal matter, a matter of wounded pride. There are, I strongly suspect, two issues at play here, one of which goes to the matter of "style and temperament" and the other to an issue that at least approaches that of a principle.

Why should Ratzinger be so troubled by the inclusion of Hünerman as an author of this series of studies of Bergoglio's thought? Because Hünerman is an implacable critic of the papacy. Recall the importance that Ratzinger places on "continuity." And what office in the Church is the very organ of continuity, of unity? The papacy. That a pope--not just Bergoglio, but any pope--should avail himself of such an implacable critic of the papal magisterium, which is to say, of the very authority of the papacy, to sing his praises goes against everything that Ratzinger stands for. In fact, I believe that Ratzinger sees this as smacking of opportunism--a matter of "style and temperament" that is part of what I believe Ratzinger has come to detest in Bergoglio.

There is another aspect to this issue that I believe Ratzinger also has in mind, and that is the overall Bergoglian strategy or plan for the Church.

Everyone is aware that the "pastoral" gambit to gut morality of any objective standards, as articulated in Amoris Laetitia (The Loves of Letitia), is the brainchild of Walter Kasper. Kasper has many brainchildren, and another one of those children that Bergoglio has expressed approval for is that of a synodal Church, along the lines of Orthodoxy. What this means in practice is a communion of "national" churches--possibly to include Protestant "denominations"--each having authority even over moral and doctrinal matters. Yes, really.

At first glance, this may seem paradoxical--that an imperious man such as Bergoglio, known even as The Dictator Pope, should be a proponent of a decentralized Church. Would that not diminish his own office? And what of his own unrelenting efforts to force his will on the rest of the Church? There is, I think, a method to the seeming madness. Bergoglio, we have been told by those closest to him, is determined that his remaking of the Church in his own image and likeness shall be irreversible. What is the one way sure to accomplish that? By inducing each national bishops' conference to accept the principles enunciated in Amoris Laetitia. I believe Bergoglio is convinced that by setting the national churches adrift on the ocean of Amoris Laetitia they will sooner rather than later conform to the Liberal zeitgeist of the Spirit of Vatican II. Outliers will be gradually drawn in, if they want to be players--led to compromise until there will be a new unity with the Spirit of the Modern World. The goal of Vatican II will then be truly accomplished.

This ultimate goal is acceptable to Ratzinger as well--he was, after all, the architect of much that was most radical at Vatican II--but I believe that he objects both to the ruthlessness of the strategy as well as to the danger that, rather than unity, the whole will simply dissolve. Thus, while Ratzinger sees and accepts the "inner continuity" of Bergoglio's thought with his own, as a matter of temperament he is distrustful of Bergoglio's impatience and ruthlessness, fearing a blowup. So this is the real discontinuity between Ratzinger and Bergoglio. One of "style and temperament," not of principle.

And what of the future? One thing is clear: the future for faithful Catholics cannot be won by a return to the Ratzingerian "hermeneutic of continuity." It will only be won by a return to a radical hermeneutic of faithfulness to ... the Faith, the Apostolic Tradition. In all ideological struggles compromise parties lose out in the end. Ratzinger's idea of continuity is no more than a compromise, a go-slowism or appeal to gradualism, and it has lost out to the radical hermeutic of rupture. The debacle of the hierarchy shows that gradualism cannot be regained, cannot restore a unity or order that never really existed in principle. To seek further clarity on the way forward we will need to examine further a key Ratzingerian position: the concept of the "living tradition" that was enshrined in Dei Verbum at Vatican II.

Monday, March 5, 2018

UPDATED: A Colloquy with Fr Hunwicke on Typology--And Much Else

Fr John Hunwicke, the erudite liturgical scholar, recently published a blog post in which he took up the cudgels in defense of the traditional typological form of exegesis: The Liturgy of the Hours, friday week 2; eviscerated! He even went so far as to maintain that typological exegesis is the only defense against problematic passages in the Psalms:

The reason why it is so questionabe to expurgate a psalm in the way that LH does is: expurgation still leaves words like "There is no crime or sin in me, O Lord", and leaves them decontextualised . If such things are said simplistically, they can only foster a very dangerous sense of of complacency and self-righteousness. ...
I am not one who believes that every psalm needs to be read in the Divine Office. History gives imperfect support for such an integralist approach to the Book of Psalms and their use in Christian worship. ...
Lastly, I draw your attention to the root of the problem: the loss in the Western Church of the Typological Method which was the heart of scriptural exegesis in both the Patristic and Medieval periods and in both East and West. When people discuss the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, dicussion often seems nowadays to be mired in reductionist considerations ... Of course vast swathes of Scripture provide enormous difficulties ... are in fact not so much unusable as potentially positively poisonous ... IF we do not trace out the richly complex patterns of intertextuality which formed the basis of their apprehension by Christians before the dark shadow of the 'Enlightenment' fell upon the study of Scripture. The Bible is, indeed, highly dangerous if we do not use it in the Tradition. Reducing Scriptural semiotics to the naked Historicism of the 'Enlightenment' is to hand the Bible over to the Devil.

I offered the following comment:

I"m unaware of Jesus ever tracing out "the richly complex patterns of intertextuality" when explaining Scripture or teaching. Some might say, how about when he "opened" the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? but unfortunately neither this nor any other example of Dominical "tracing out" was actually preserved by the disciples. What was preserved was examples of remarkably modern, if you will, exegesis. For example, when Jesus offered his teaching on divorce he stated that Moses--Moses, be it noted, not God in the revealed Word of God as we V2ers are wont to incessantly repeat--allowed divorce out of the hardness of their hearts. If we take that approach seriously, and of course we should, I suspect that Jesus didn't have much time for typology, any more than he had for the "traditions of men."
Typological exegesis is fundamentally subjective in nature, and basing it on the tradition of men doesn't alter that fact. I suggest that what the Church really needs is to free itself from the false either-or dichotomy of Typology v. Enlightenment style rationalism. To paraphrase Paul, if our faith is based on "richly complex patterns of intertextuality" then ...

To which Fr Hunwicke responded:

Well, Mr Wauck, even liberal commentators seem to be convinced that the Lord really did see himself as the antitype of the Temple. And if you are right in your conviction that he had little time for Typology, clearly SS Peter and Paul got things badly wrong. We seem to be back to the dreary old liberal Prod nonsense about how the Apostles completely misunderstiood etc. etc.. Not in my name!!

I offered a somewhat lengthier comment in response (available in full at Fr Hunwickes blog, linked above), which I've edited to avoid repetition of material that appears in the rest of the post, below:

The whole issue of the proper approach to scripture is, of course, too complex and important a topic to be dealt with readily in the comments section of a blog. ...
To the liberal commentators who "seem to be convinced" that Jesus saw himself in terms of typology--as regards the Temple, Torah, and other familiar Jewish "symbols"--I would reply as follows:
... [see below]
What we see here is that, of course Jesus is speaking with a consciousness of Jewish symbolism and institutions, but he goes well beyond typology to address what we might call his own unique existential reality that surpasses all types.

In the fuller response that follows, which will still be inadequate to the full scope of the issues raised, I'll write as if I were responding to Fr Hunwicke directly.

First of all I want to be clear that I welcomed some of your remarks--specifically concerning the problematic nature of many passages in the psalms for any Christian. Certainly, the faith of a Christian who doesn't find some of the psalms troublesome is in need of challenge. And the same goes for significant other portions of the OT. It's for reasons along these lines that I find B16's recommendation of "canonical exegesis" hopelessly simplistic. And I will add in that regard that both as head of CDF and as pope Ratzinger did feel constrained to confirm the absolutely fundamental nature of historical critical scholarship--despite his obvious reservations which I've documented amply elsewhere. What I'm suggesting, and for all my criticisms of Benedict I believe he would be on my side in this, is that the Church stands very much in need of--and get ready for this--a new paradigm for understanding revelation. That's a huge topic, susceptible to misunderstanding of the either/or type: either typology or Enlightenment rationalism (dreary old liberal Prod nonsense). It may then be useful to quickly address your rapid fire objections.

Did Jesus claim to be an "antitype" of the Temple? I suggest not: "I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here." Jesus is placing himself above the Temple. That's not typological language. To extend that thought, a major point in the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus is placing himself above the Torah--not truly as a type of the Torah. And his listeners understood this dynamic: he teaches as one having authority (on his own authority), you're making yourself equal to God, etc. And so I repeat what I said earlier--Jesus' stance toward the Israelite/Jewish scriptures has a remarkable and decidedly modern--but not modernist--cast to it. His demolition of expectations of a Davidic messiah ("YHWH said to my lord ... then how can the Messiah be David's son?") comes immediately to mind, as does his deconstruction of the ideology of chosenness based on blood ("God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones"). I think this analysis can be applied throughout the Gospels when we're dealing with the words of Jesus, and can be clearly distinguished from editorial (not redactorial) comment. We need to seriously reflect on the fact that the Gospels are complex documents, both historical and theological in nature, both from the perspective of Jesus himself as well as that of the authors.

Did Peter and Paul get things badly wrong? Paul certainly thought Peter got things badly wrong in the episode at Antioch--actually accusing Peter of acting in a way that was "inconsistent with the truth of the Gospel." That's a pretty serious accusation. Does it mean, then, that Peter's own letters are to be regarded as letters of straw? No. But it does suggest that, just as the early Church--including its leaders--was still coming to terms with the reality of Jesus, so too we need to be careful about hastily and uncritically embracing everything we read either in the early Christian writings themselves or in the writings of the Fathers. Was Paul himself too accommodating regarding the practice of proxy baptism--his approach appears inconsistent with the principles he lays out in Romans and was rejected by the Church. Was he too rigorist in his strictures on women's head covering ("for the sake of the angels")? Perhaps--and those are among the easier examples that could be cited.

But how about Paul and his well known fondness for Midrashic exposition and typology (the rock is Christ, etc.)? Here I would make two suggestions. The first is that Paul faced different challenges than we do today. In his argumentation with Jews or Judaizers or those who were simply under the influence of Jewish style exegesis Paul turned their arguments against them. But our challenges are different, and Paul himself acted differently in two other circumstances, both of which are telling, and both of which are highly relevant to our current crisis--faced as we are with neo-gnostic attempts to reinterpret the "truth of the Gospel" in terms of modernist ideologies.

First--when push came to shove. When push came to shove, Paul rested his argument firmly on historical fact, not typology: If Christ be not risen ...

Secondly, when Paul sought to lay out the gospel that he proclaimed in a systematic way--in Romans, but especially in the critical first two chapters of that letter in which he sketches out the principles of what we could call his theology or even theory of Man in history--we find nothing in the way of typology. What we do find is a remarkably modern--but, again, not modernist--line of thought. A line of thought worthy of a disciple of Jesus.

So, very briefly, the approach to revelation that I suggest is based on Paul's theology of Man in history, according to which Jew and Gentile stand on a similar footing--but according to which Israel is God's vehicle to prepare for His self revelation in Jesus--and John's view of the purpose of revelation: to reveal the identity of the God who is creator and Father. I have illustrated this approach throughout this blog, and notably in analyzing the ideas of the Catholic scholar Mark S. Smith. This, I maintain, is the prism or paradigm through which to view the Israelite scriptures in their relationship to God's self revelation in Jesus--and thus to the New Testament writings. I don't say this is an easy path, but ease of passage was never part of the promise. I simply maintain that these principles are sound and allow us to 1) distinguish between the legitimate uses of critical scholarship in the social sciences (history, linguistics, etc.) and the false appeal to a deconstructive rationalism; and to 2) restrain appeals to typology to their proper use, avoiding the inherent tendency toward subjectivism in this approach when applied to exegesis. This latter point is of great importance for us at this juncture in history because in a modern context I believe a reliance on typology can too readily be deformed in a modernist direction. The great challenge facing the Church is to reconnect to Apostolic Tradition in its historical reality. A "traditionalism" that yields to the ideological temptation and seeks refuge in the "traditions of men"--even those of the Fathers--in the form of a typology that cuts itself off from the objective reality of Jesus cannot be faithful to the "truth of the Gospel," which is Jesus. To criticize this type of "traditionalism" need not mean to succumb to Enlightenment rationalism or its modernist offspring. That is a false dichotomy.

In closing, let me add as I have in the past: The fear of reason is not the beginning of wisdom. As Fr. Brown explained to Flambeau how he saw through Flambeau's masquerade as a priest in The Blue Cross: “You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.” This is the great temptation to which so many in the Church have yielded, and which we must overcome. It is at the heart of the current debacle of Catholic morality and theology.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

REUPDATED: Mueller's Emerging Strategy?

​It appears we're starting to see a pattern emerging from recent reports of Mueller's activity--a pattern that may amount to a strategy. Recall that on February 16, 2018, Mueller indicted 13 Russians for attempting to create confusion during the 2016 Presidential election. Of course, there are other credible theories, such as that the laughable activities of these Russians amounted to no more than attempts to make a bit of money off gullible intenet users. Certainly, as Andy McCarthy pointed out,
"Mueller’s team made it clear that the Russians neither colluded with any U.S. citizens nor had any material effect on the election’s outcome." 
Further, the 13 Russians are all in in Russia​ and will therefore never stand trial--which means Mueller will never have to prove the dodgy charges in the indictment.

Now, according to NBC News via Gateway Pundit, Mueller is said to be preparing indictments against more absentee Russians--more risk free indictments that he'll never be called upon to back up. This time the claim will be that these Russians were responsible for the famous DNC hack. That would be the famous DNC hack in which the DNC refused to allow the FBI to examine their server: DNC Refused FBI Access to Its Servers … Instead Gave Access to a DNC Consultant Tied to Organization Promoting Russia Conflict. Once again there are alternative explanations, such as that the "hack" was done by an insider--perhaps a Sanders sympathizer--simply by downloading the data onto a thumb drive.

Of course none of that has been proven, tantalizing as some theories may be. But has Mueller and his Gang had access to the DNC server, the better to bolster their indictment and rebut alternative explanations? As of December 17, 2017, Andy McCarthy believes the answer to that is: No. And as McCarthy asks: "... if not, what’s the point of his investigation?" Good question. Maybe the point is more political than anything else.

Let's ask ourselves, What's the benefit in what Mueller is doing? Supposing that Mueller has come to the obvious conclusion--that as even Peter Strzok, he of the many texts, speculated, there's just no "there" there in the Russian collusion narrative. If that were the case Mueller could simply say so and close up shop. But what if he wants to provide ammunition for a Democrat impeachment effort should the Dems retake the House? The benefit then becomes obvious: by indicting absentee Russians Mueller keeps the Great Russia Hoax narrative alive, and the indictments allow for a collusion narrative that may deceive the great unwashed.

That's pretty obviously the thrust of the questioning being directed by Mueller at recent witnesses. His line of questioning points toward bogus theories of obstruction that involve Trump doing things that are totally within his discretion as President--like, contemplating firing Jeff Sessions, or actually firing Comey. As Paul Mirengoff at Powerline remarked this morning, re reports that 'Mueller is investigating President Trump’s “private comments and state of mind” during the period when he issued a series of tweets belittling Attorney General Jeff Sessions':
According to the Post, the thrust of Mueller’s inquiry is to determine whether the president’s goal was to oust Sessions in order to pick a replacement who would exercise control over Mueller’s investigation.
If this story is true, it demonstrates why the nation needs someone in the Justice Department to exercise control over Mueller’s investigation. It also confirms the suspicion that Mueller is either nuts, desperate to get Trump, or both. [my emphasis]
Again, however, the point may not be to actually make such farfetched obstruction cases at all--for those wondering how farfetched the theories Mueller seems to be playing with are, Andy McCarthy lays it all out. No, the real point seems to be to keep throwing mud against the wall. The mud doesn't need to stick for purposes of an indictment. It only needs to provide talking points for an impeachment. And to anyone who thinks these types of talking points--the Great Russia Hoax narrative plus farfetched obstruction theories--are insufficient for an impeachment, I say this: You haven't been paying attention to the "Resistance" for the past year.

This, I think, is Mueller's emerging strategy.

PS: There are cautions regarding all this--and especially regarding the obstruction narrative. One is voiced by Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith (who also has vast experience at DoJ): Why Hasn’t Rod Rosenstein Recused Himself From the Mueller Investigation? Goldsmith doesn't plump for a particular alternative theory, although he floats at least three. He does conclude: "Something here doesn’t make sense."

The puzzle over Rosenstein's failure to recuse himself will always remain, but it is what it is. This idea of Mueller's strategy does account for most of what Goldsmith is talking about. One way or another it appears clear that Mueller is consistently looking at obstruction related narratives. The real question is: To what purpose? I say, most probably he has a political purpose in mind.

VERY BRIEF UPDATE: Perhaps I should have made explicit what I had in mind re impeachment. Obviously, there would be no conviction in the Senate, but the real point is to attempt to cripple the Trump presidency. I know all this sounds like a longshot, but at this point it seems this is all the Left has to hope for.

REUPDATE: Confirmation that this is indeed the Mueller focus--providing talking points for an impeachment--can be found in the story that came out yesterday regarding Mueller's supposed interest in the theory of the general conspiracy statute:

The statute makes it illegal for two or more persons to ‘conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.’”
The authors add that “unlike conspiracy to commit an offense, conspiracy to defraud the United States need not be connected to a specific underlying crime,” and “defraud” is not defined by the law.

Legally, this is obviously a complete can of worms. But as I argued above, a succesful indictment and prosecution isn't the real point. That might or might not happen, but this strategy provides a rationale for continued investigation (or witch hunting, if you prefer) and, if all else fails, a rationale for impeachment.

See here for a fuller account with plenty of links.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

UPDATED: What's The Reality Of How The Fisa Process Normally Works?

In my various blogs on this subject I've been highly critical of the FISA Court's handling of the Carter Page FISA application--and rightly so, as I continue to believe. Therefore, the brief part of the linked blog that particularly caught my eye was this paragraph:

Mr. DOJ stated that he prepared and presented FISA applications to the FISA Court. The reason that the rate of applications approved is so high is because the standards are so high with the court. Mr. DOJ knows that applications have to be well written and cover all the bases before being provided to the court. He reviewed applications for a time and was responsible for reviewing them. They had to be perfect when they went to the court. When the FISA applications were sent to the FISA Court to spy on President Trump, the fact that any information was omitted or hidden from the court, was a criminal act.

I have no desire to defend criminal conduct, and that's exactly what I've seen in this outrageous affair all along. With that said, however, I will state that "Mr. DoJ's" characterization of the way FISA applications were treated comports exactly with my own experience. We were always told that we simply couldn't afford to have less than the absolute highest standards of integrity when it came to the preparation of FISA applications. If any doubt in that regard were ever allowed to enter the minds of the FISC judges the results could be disastrous for the effective conduct of our investigations. This was drummed into us whenever the subject of FISA came up.

So, that being the case, a serious question is presented. Was the FISC lulled into a false sense of trust in the integrity of FBI/DoJ representations to the court in their FISA applications precisely because of an excellent track record--because the applications had virtually always lived up to the representations made in them? Did the four judges who handled the original Page application and its renewals perhaps put too much weight on whatever assurances were made to them? As I stated in a comment in the previous thread, we may never know the answer to that question:

Was this case handled any differently than others? It'll be hard to ever determine that, because get a load of this: FISA court responds to Republican leaders' requests for info on Trump aide surveillance:
"Collyer [presiding judge of the FISC] wrote that any such transcripts would be classified and noted that a "typical process of considering an application" would not include a "systematic record of questions we ask or responses the government gives."

UPDATE: In an email this morning I made this remark regarding the lack of a "systematic record" at the FISC:

In the absence of a "systematic record," are we to presume a non-systematic or unsystematic record was kept? It's hard to imagine what a "non-systematic" record would be. Or might it be the case that this is a euphemism for "no record at all?"

Another correspondent informs me that it has been reported that the FISC judges largely leave the vetting of FISA applications to their law clerks. In such a situation one can easily imagine any "questions and responses" taking place in the context of informal discussions between FISC law clerks and DoJ attorneys. Any record keeping might well be "not systematic" or very possibly non-existent.

No doubt much of this can be traced to the anomolous constitutional status of the FISA system itself, and the fact that the FISC doesn't really correspond to any type of court that is authorized under the US Constitution. How to safeguard the rights of US citizens while also ensuring the national security while working within the structure of the Constitution is no easy matter, given the explosion of communicatin technology that we have witnessed in our lifetimes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rivkin & Casey on the Threat of FISA Abuses

Over the years I have enjoyed reading and--I like to think--have learned a good deal from the articles by David B. Rivkin Jr. and  Lee A. Casey, which appear regularly on the Op-Ed pages of the WSJ. So it was with disappointment that I read their brief article today: FISA Abuses Are a Special Threat to Privacy and Due Process: The standard for obtaining an intelligence surveillance warrant is lower than that in a criminal investigation.

Rivkin and Casey are unquestionably correct that FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) abuse poses a special threat to privacy and due process--the privacy aspect has become all the more chilling as the extent to which we live our lives in ways that are readily accessible by electronic means of surveillance has increased exponentially. Consider: when FISA was first passed into law, there were no cell phones, no internet. As we are now learning, however, an even greater threat perhaps is posed by the weaponisation of the Executive Branch departments and their agencies against their political opponents and critics, using the facilities made available through FISA. Much of this new awareness has focused on the FISA warrant that was obtained by the FBI to target Carter Page, a low level adviser to the Trump Campaign for a few months in 2016. The concern, beyond the targeting of Mr. Page, is that the FISA warrant was then leveraged to broadly target virtually anyone who had been in contact with Mr. Page.

As is apparent from the title, Rivkin and Casey lay much of the blame for the abuse in this case on the legal standard for obtaining a FISA warrant. I say "much of the blame" because they also blame, and rightly so, the officials of the Executive Branch (DoJ and FBI) who withheld critical information from the FISA Court (FISC). Both of these contentions are, however, misguided: the first in whole and the second in significant part.

As with any warrant, the standard used to obtain a FISA warrant is that of "probable cause" to believe a certain set of facts that have a legal significance. Here is how Rivkin and Casey explain the difference between warrants used in criminal cases and the FISA warrants that are used in counterintelligence cases (they are also used in cases of sabotage and international terrorism, but the Page case was a counterintelligence case):

Because the purpose of counterintelligence is to gather information, not necessarily to prosecute criminals, the standards required for issuance of a FISA order are less demanding than those governing warrant requests in criminal cases. In both contexts a finding of “probable cause” is required. But an application for a criminal warrant must show, among other things, that “there is probable cause for belief that an individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a particular offense” under federal law. Under FISA, it’s enough to show probable cause that the targeted U.S. person’s “activities may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States” (emphasis ours).
This difference is subtle but crucial. The FISA standard is far easier to meet ...

I have no doubt of Rivkin and Casey's good faith, but their quote of FISA leaves out a crucial condition. Here is the full wording of section 50 U.S. Code § 1801(b)(2)(A) which they quote (please note that use of the term "any person" in this section indicates that US Persons are specifically included):

50 U.S. Code § 1801 - Definitions
(b) “Agent of a foreign power” means—
(2) any person who—
(A) knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power, which activities involve or may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

When the "may involve" is read in the light of the first clause--which specifies that the probable cause for a warrant includes probable cause to believe that the "person" is knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power--we can see that this standard is not an "easy" one to meet. By its very nature, clandestine activity is activity that is designed to be hidden and difficult to discover. When it is supported by a "foreign power"--and in the Page case we're dealing with Russia, a foreign power with a long history of proficiency in clandestine tradecraft--the challenge for counterintelligence agents is all the more difficult.

Evidence that the FBI, the lead counterintelligence agency for the US, is well aware of this standard is amply apparent from a training document on how to obtain a FISA warrant that is available online. The document, What do I have to do to get a FISA warrant? (also referred to as the "FISA recipe") was produced by the FBI's National Security Law Unit and, for our purposes, states very clearly (we can assume that it is easy enough to present probable cause that Russia is a "foreign power"):

... Probable Cause to Believe What?
... If a US person is alleged to be acting on behalf of a foreign entity, the court must first find probable cause to believe that that entity is a "foreign power," as defined in subsection 101(a). There must also be probable cause to believe that the person is acting "for or on behalf of" that foreign power, as well as probable cause to believe that the efforts undertaken by the target on behalf of the foreign power constitute ... clandestine intelligence activities.

I think anyone can see from this that the showing to the FISC will need to include some very specific facts: facts that show probable cause to believe that the US person (here, Carter Page) is acting for or on behalf of Russia--which indicates an agency relationship--and also that the US Persons efforts on behalf of Russia "constitute ... clandestine intelligence activities." I submit that this is not nearly so easy as Rivkin and Casey believe it is. Which brings us to the second part of their contention: Who is to blame for this FISA abuse?

Let's dispose of the easy part first. Was the FBI at fault for withholding crucial facts--such as the political origins of the "dossier" on which the FBI was relying and the uncorroborated nature of the "information"? Absolutely. Every approving official who signed off on the warrant application was certifying that good faith efforts had in fact been made to ensure that the allegations being presented to the FISC were true to the best of their knowledge. Clearly that was, at best, a misrepresentation but more than likely--at least for some of the individuals involved--a knowing falsehood, a fraud on the FISC. These officials, and former officials, could well be facing actual jail time.

However, the judges on the FISC, as on any court, are not discharging their own serious responsibilities if they do no more than rely on the representations made by government officials. They have their own duty to safeguard the integrity of the process. In a recent blog, The Schiff Memo and the Scandal of FISAGATE, I presented Congressman Schiff's defense of the FBI's (and DoJ's) abuse of the FISA process. In his now well known memo, Congressman Schiff claims that the application for a FISA warrant satisfies the requirements that we've set out above. Contrary to his contentions, I think that any disinterested examination of what was presented to the FISC (we don't have the actual application, but we assume that Congressman Schiff is putting the best face on the matter) can only lead to the conclusion that the application doesn't come close to establishing the required probable cause.

We can break this down into a few general categories.

First, the FBI is said to have had an independent basis for investigating Page and his relationship with Russians (some of whom included intelligence officers) dating back to 2013. As we have seen, however, if this was in fact presented in these terms to the FISC, this is a very serious misrepresentation, for several reasons. In Schiff's account, there is no indication of a showing that an agency relationship had been established between Page and the Russians; nor that Page had engaged in clandestine intelligence activity "for or on behalf of" Russia. Further, there seems to have been no showing that there was continuity of action from 2013 to 2016 when the application for the warrant was submitted. Without such a showing the information might very well be considered "stale." But by far the most important factor that seems to have been withheld from the FISC is that during the activity referred to in 2013 Page was in fact officially acting "for or on behalf of" the FBI against the Russians, and he continued in that relationship up until about March of 2016. And the Russians had every reason to know this, because of court filings that described the actions of a US Person whom we now know was Page.

Second, Schiff describes "suspicious activities" on the part of Page. Page traveled to Moscow. Page gave a commencement address. Page (according to the "dossier") met a Russian who was under US sanctions. None of this was clandestine, nor was it intelligence activity absent additional facts that the FISC would have had reason to accept.

Third, Schiff presents the claim that Russian actions toward Schiff were typical of the way the Russian intelligence services attempt to cultivate and "recruit" agents. This may or may not have been the case, but none of it involves "clandestine intelligence activity" on the part of Page. Such information might be relevant to assessing whether the Russians involved in this activity were themselves intelligence officers, but it has nothing to do with whether Page was an agent of Russia, was acting for or on behalf of Russia, and as part of "acting for or on behalf of Russia" was engaged in clandestine intelligence activity.

As I've already indicated, the US government officials who put together and then submitted this farrago of misrepresentations and outright nonsense to the FISC should be facing a serious day of reckoning for their actions. However, that doesn't absolve the four FISC judges, because unless the misrepresentations that Congressman Schiff presented to the public in memo went far further than what we have seen, none of this came close to meeting the probable cause standard set out in FISA. And that should have been readily apparent to those four judges. The bottom line is that standards are all fine and good, but they are effective only if they're applied. In this case they clearly were not.

There are constitutional questions regarding the entire FISA regimen. I won't go into them, but they were recognized by Congress and an attempt was at least made to take those reservations into account when FISA was passed. That said, the legal standards incorporated in FISA appear reasonable and are not part of a rubber stamp process of approval. The true problem at this point appears to be one of ensuring adequate oversight and review not only of the Executive Branch agencies but also of the actions of a court that operates in secret, so that the American people can be confident that the applicable standards really are being adhered to.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Schiff Memo and the Scandal of FISAGATE

The Schiff memo is out, and as could have been expected it's a complete joke from a strictly legal standpoint.

It's first point is that the Steele "dossier" wasn't the catalyst for the FBI counterintelligence (CI) investigation of--in effect--the Trump campaign. Well, duh! I think all sentient humans already knew that the real catalyst was Trump becoming the odds on favorite to win the Republican nomination. Can we agree to agree on that?

But as regards this business of the FISA warrant against Carter Page there's more to be said, and it's worth our while to take a closer look at Schiff's attempt to defend the way the FISA process worked in this case.

Schiff begins his discussion of the actual application for a FISA warrant on Page with a fib: "DOJ's warrant request was based on compelling evidence and probable cause to believe Page was knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the US." Close, but no cigar.

The "FISA recipe" used by the FBI for internal training is rather more specific about the required showing for a warrant; its requirement goes beyond that of simply "assisting." The "recipe" states (p. 3) that "the efforts undertaken by the target [Page] on behalf of the foreign power [Russia] constitute [for our CI purposes] ... clandestine intelligence activities." That's very specific probable cause. Pages own efforts must constitute clandestine intelligence activities. Not just assist, but constitute.

Well, then, accepting for the sake of argument that Schiff may have misspoken, what does he have to tell us on that score?

Page resided in Russia from 2004 to 2007 and pursued business deals with Gazprom. Clandestine intelligence activity? Please.

A Russian intelligence officer targeted Page for recruitment. Does that mean that Page was engaged in clandestine intelligence activities? No, it doesn't. The nefarious activity has to do with the Russian intelligence officer--not Page (more on that later). And the fact that Page was willing to provide Russians with open source research on the energy sector (as we know from the complaint filed against his Russian contacts in New York in 2013) doesn't constitute clandestine intelligence activity, either.

The Russians who targeted Page for recruitment were indicted in New York (actually, a complaint was filed against them). Clandestine intelligence activity? Are you kidding?

The FBI interviewed Page "multiple times" about his Russian contacts. I would hope so--that's their job, just like notifying Florida authorities of credible concerns about Nikolas Cruz was their job. At least these NY agents were on the ball, but ... contacts with Russians? Please show me the clandestine intelligence activity!

This is all Schiff has to tell us about Page and the Russians before his association with the Trump campaign. No single one of these factors constitutes clandestine intelligence activity, nor does any combination of these factors constitute clandestine intelligence activity. Result? No FISA for you. Not on Carter Page. At least that's how it's supposed to work. If the FISA law is followed.

Now there are some more matters of interest here, but we can best work our way into them by returning to Schiff's initial assertions.

At the beginning of Schiff's "narrative" about Page and the Russians, he claims that "the FBI had an independent basis for investigating Page's motives and actions during the campaign, transition, and inauguration." What Schiff is saying is that the activities we've just enumerated--all of which happened anywhere from three to twelve years before Page became involved in the Trump campaign--form an "independent basis for investigating" Page. Let's accept Schiff's claim as a true statement--but with important reservations. Because Schiff is fibbing again, hiding the ball a bit. How so?

In previous comments I've described in some detail the structure of FBI CI investigations, as laid out in the relevant AG Guidelines. That structure is very important if we want to understand what's going on here, and why this whole thing is bogus. Schiff speaks of "investigating." But the Guidlines lay out (as usual, for our purposes) two distinct types of investigation: the "Preliminary Investigation (PI)" and the "Full Investigation (FI)." Let's take the last one first. The FI is initiated when there's probable cause to believe a US person is a knowing agent of a foreign power, that is, he's acting at the direction of the foreign power against the interest of the US. In other words, he's a spy, or, more correctly, there's probable cause to believe that he's a spy. If you can make that showing, then you get a FI and with that you can apply for a FISA warrant--if you can show the clandestine intelligence activity. But, no FI, no FISA.

Then what's a PI for? The PI is for situations that are similar to exactly what Schiff describes concerning Page: the FBI has become aware that someone (Page) is in contact with a foreign power (Russians) and wants to find out more about Page--about his motives, about his actions. There is no probable cause at this point to believe that Page is an agent of the Russian government. Why would the FBI be interested in Page in that case? Because the FBI wants to recruit him to be an "asset" that they can use against the Russians he's in contact with--usually to try to recruit the Russians but sometimes to build a criminal case against them. Naturally they'll want to learn a bit more about this guy who's in touch with Russians to determine whether he's trustworthy, but since there's no probable cause to believe he's an agent of the Russian government there's no FI and there can therefore be no FISA.

So guess what happened back in 2013? The complaint that the FBI filed against the Russians (NB, not against Page) makes it as plain as anyone could wish that Page was cooperating with the FBI against the Russians, just as he's been telling anyone who will listen to him. So, yes, the FBI had an independent basis for investigating Page back in 2013; they investigated his motives and actions, decided he was trustworthy, and Page helped the FBI build a case against the Russians. In fact, from 2013 to 2016 Page was officially "on the books" of the FBI as a cooperating source against the Russians. And that's why the distinction between investigating with a PI versus investigating with a FI is important. Schiff wants you to think that investigating is just investigating, but it ain't so. As their informant or cooperating source, the FBI was convinced that Page was on their side against the Russians. Do you think they told all that to the FISC when they applied for a FISA against Page in 2016? Neither do I.

The bottom line so far? Page's past connections with Russians could have had absolutely no relevance for obtaining a FISA against him--not if the full story had been presented to the FISC. That means that Andrew McCabe was telling the HPSCI the truth when he told them: no "dossier" no FISA. So what of that?

We'll ignore the "additional information" that Schiff claims was provided for the FISA renewals--after all, without the original FISA to begin with there couldn't have been any renewals. What can Schiff tell us about that original FISA application?

Well, it turns out that after Page joined the Trump campaign he engaged in "suspicious activities" What kind of suspicious activities?

For starters, he traveled to Moscow, in July 2016. OMG! An American traveled to Moscow! Please judge, can we turn that man's life inside out? How much more like clandestine intelligence activity does it get, than taking a flight to Moscow?

It gets worse, though. While in Russia he gave a university commencement address! Now that, for sure, that's gotta be clandestine intelligence activity, right? If you'll believe that, there's this bridge in Brooklyn ...

Beyond this nonsense, all Schiff can present us is that Steele's "information"--entirely uncorroborated as it was--was "consistent with" FBI accounts of how the Russians go about trying to recruit someone. But remember, when you go to the FISC for a FISA warrant you're required to present probable cause to believe that "a US person is himself knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activity at the direction of a foreign power," not some generalized narrative based on "uncorroborated information that the Russians are engaged in activity that's consistent with their typical methods of trying to recruit someone." If any of this stuff were true, the logical action for the FBI to have taken would have been to open another PI and tried to use Page again. As if the Russians wouldn't have been aware of what he'd done against them in 2013. But none of this provides a shadow of the probable cause that's required for a FI or a FISA warrant.

And yet, within the month, by "late July, 2016," the same month in which Page traveled to Moscow, the FBI had opened an investigation on Page. From being a source for three years, up to March, 2016, Page was now the subject of an investigation. This was clearly a top priority. And, as Schiff reminds us, over the course of a year or so that warrant was renewed multiple times--certified by an Acting AG (Dana Boente) and by Rod Rosenstein himself, the newly minted Deputy AG, and approved by four separate Federal judges, no less.

Aren't these guys, like, highly educated, paragons of legal integrity and, like, all that? If what I've been saying is true, then how could this have happened? Surely when these highly educated lawyers and judges were placed in positions that required them to pass on the sufficiency of FISA warrants, wouldn't somebody have briefed them on the required standards for such warrants? Wouldn't somebody have maybe whispered in their ears, Y'know, there does need to be some pretty specific probable cause before you sign on that line there? Surely somebody in the FBI or DoJ with a bit of experience could have taken the time to brief them on these things? After all, these matters may seem a bit arcane as compared to everyday life, but it's not exactly rocket science. I think about ten minutes would suffice.

Let me assure you: everything I've said here is the God's honest truth. And that's the real scandal to me, because this stuff is really very serious. Back when I was first initiated into the world of FISA, landline telephones were the thing. Really--I can remember those days, including the day in about 1994 when the FBI entrusted me with my very own telephone on my desk. Not a shared phone. But nowadays we live connected in ways that most of us never give a thought to. Well, that's all accessible to our benevolent federal government. And if there's anything we learn from this sordid episode, it should be that we the people really do need to take back some control over FISA.

Now, in closing, a few words about the Nunes rebuttal. From my perspective it's basically fine. I mean, what we've just been through is a bit excruciating, but ultimately like shooting fish in barrel. Unfortunately, from my perhaps narrow perspective, Nunes played it a little too safe. I can only assume that he wanted to avoid sounding "soft" on Russians. In this specific area of concern to me what he did was to use what I'd describe as debating points. What I mean is this. To Schiff's claim that the FISA warrant was based on "compelling evidence" and "probable cause" that predated Page's involvement in the Trump campaign, Nunes responds with a rhetorical question: if that stuff was so compelling why is it that the "dossier" was needed at all, much less that it ended up being the bulk of what was presented to the FISC? It's a legitimate argument as far as it goes, but my very strong view is that the question of the required legal standards being ignored is an issue that needs to be hammered at--over and over, at every opportunity. This is about fundamental Fourth Amendment rights--it's far too important to slide past that with a rhetorical jibe. Now, in fairness, I'm aware that Nunes has addressed this forthrightly in interviews, but it simply has to be placed in the documentation whenever the question comes up.

In addition, Nunes points out that the Russian intelligence officers, back in 2013, referred to Page as "an idiot." OK, that's a legitimate point, too--shouldn't the FISC have been made aware of that? Yet, inexplicably, Nunes makes no reference to the fact that Page was an official FBI source for at least three years, all in the relevant time period. Would knowledge of that fact have led the FISC judges to sit up and take notice? I'd like to think so but, frankly, and in my carefully considered opinion, it remains nothing short of scandalous that they approved the warrant even on the slanted and dishonest presentation that they were given.

ADDENDUM: I do want to make clear that, in singling out the role of the certifying DoJ officials and the FISA Court (FISC) in this scandal, I in no way wish to excuse the obvious fraud that was perpetrated by the what appears to have involved virtually the entirety of upper management at the FBI as well as their counterparts at DoJ. However, whatever one may think of the constitutionality of the FISA regimen, this system of certification by the top level at DoJ plus submission to the new FISC was designed to provide independent review to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights. That responsibility was clearly not met.

Friday, February 23, 2018

John Lamont: The Bergoglian Assault on the Faith

I've just finished reading John Lamont's lengthy essay at Rorate Coeli: "The Meaning of Amoris Laetitia According to Pope Francis." This essay, in my view, has a direct bearing on an issue raised by Fr Hunwicke's recent blog post Sedevacantism. In that post Fr Hunwicke posed the question:

"Suppose a pope were, additionally, to require of every Catholic explicit assent ex animo to heresy as a necessary condition for Communion with himself, what would be the situation?"

Lamont's essay is important because it 1) sets out the principles of how we must proceed in judging situations such as the current crisis in the Church, and 2) he follows through and draws conclusions, as well as pointing out what steps need to be taken--but have not been taken.

Briefly, the first part of Lamont's essay deals with Bergoglio's clarification of Amoris Laetitia (AL) by means of a statement in the October 2017 issue of the Acta apostolicae sedis (AAS), the journal that publishes the official acts of the Holy See. The statement incorporates a letter to Bergoglio from the Argentine bishops giving their interpretation of the meaning of AL and their plans for implementing it. They interpret AL as clearly contravening established Church doctrine and practice and state their intent to implement it in that light. Also included is Bergoglio's letter to the Argentine bishops in which he states that their interpretation is the "only possible interpretation." Finally, there is a statement by the Vatican Secretary of State to the effect that the statement is being published as part of the "authentic magisterium." Lamont is clear on this point: whatever we may think of the authority of such a statement, it is authoritative in establishing that Bergoglio's intent in writing AL was to contravene established Church teaching.

So, if not exactly requiring explicit consent from the faithful, we have already seen theologians and philosophers being dismissed for criticizing precisely the views expressed in this statement in the AAS. At a minimum, conformity through silence is now being required by increasing numbers of bishops. Lamont makes the point that all this contradicts established teaching as well as, most recently, the teachings contained in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio (FC), which JP2 issued in the wake of the 1980 Synod of Bishops.

Now, just prior to publication of Lamont's essay, I had commented in response to a comment at Fr Hunwicke's blog--quoted above. The commenter, rick allen, raised precisely this issue, what should we do if voices in our head are telling us that the pope is wrong? He wrote in part:

"Why leave the question at popes? What if an ecumenical council makes a dogmatic statement I think is heretical? What if, in the fourth century, I genuinely and deeply believed that the homoousian was a seriously heretical departure from the apostolic faith?
"The Catholic Church is unlike any other because it claims an infallible magisterium. It claims that there is a divinely sanctioned office capable of resolving dogmatic disputes, and I as a Catholic recognize that the pope's judgment on these matters is more to be trusted than mine. 
"So to ask what I would do if the pope were heretical assumes that I have the capacity to judge the pope. I don't think I do.
"So what do I do when I still judge him wrong? I leave it to the Holy Spirit."

I responded:

"rick allen makes an important point. Since we now know beyond any cavil of a doubt that a duly elected pope (I accept for purposes of this comment Fr Hunwicke's stipulation) can launch a conspiracy "to undermine in advance the teaching of future popes. Strangling renascent orthodoxy before it has the chance to be born," we ought to be asking ourselves--with rick allen: Why not an ecumenical council? In this current crisis we have "woke" Catholics who have raised the alarm, voiced dubia, issued corrections, etc. Blogged! But what if ...
"What if there has been, or have been, ecumenical council(s) that have put forward theological views that have gained widespread acceptance, perhaps by ambiguity, perhaps by other means? Certainly voices of concern regarding certain documents of Vatican II are being increasingly raised in non-SSPX circles--dare I say, in what were heretofore regarded as impeccably post-Conciliar circles? What then?
"rick allen's response to such dubia is Cupichian: "I leave it to the Holy Spirit." If you have doubts, said Cupich to Prof. Rist at Cambridge, examine your conscience--could it be that you no longer believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
"My response is: We must rely on our God given resources. Historical study based on sound philosophical principles will lead us to a clear vision of the Apostolic Tradition."

So, with all that in mind, let's look at how Lamont addresses the manifest conflict between AL and FC.

First, how must we proceed in judging such conflicts? Lamont first poses the question:

"What are we to make of this assertion of Amoris laetitia, now that its meaning has been settled by the AAS statement? One position is that of Cardinal Kasper, according to which the assertion is a legitimate exercise of papal teaching and disciplinary power that must be accepted and followed by all Catholics. Another position is that of the correctio filialis, according to which the assertion denies a divinely revealed truth and must be rejected as a heresy."

He then points out that a duel between conflicting papal statements with similar levels of authority will settle nothing:

"The complete opposition between Familiaris consortio and Amoris laetitia on these topics effectively disposes of Cardinal Kasper’s claim that the teaching of Amoris laetitia must be accepted by Catholics. One cannot appeal to papal authority to show that the teaching of one apostolic exhortation must be accepted over the completely contradictory teachings of the same sort. This cancelling out of papal authority claims leaves us with the question of which of these contradictory teaching should be believed by Catholics. What has to be done to answer this question is to determine which of the contradictory positions is actually true."

That is the position I took in response to rick allen. Claims of "inspiration" must be set aside; there is an objective standard for judgment. We must employ our faculty of reason and conduct historical research to determine which papal statement is in accord with the Apostolic Tradition--the Faith handed down from Jesus to the Apostles and the Church. Jesus never promised that life in the Church would be easy, that disagreements and even scandal would never arise. And yet, in a sense, matters are easier for us today than they have been in the past--the resources of critical scholarship have made access to a truly informed understanding of the Apostolic Tradition a far more realistic possibility in respects that are of particular concern in this current crisis. In other words, there's no magical solution, just scholarly plugging away.

Lamont next conducts his analysis. We will skip that and simply state that his conclusion is that AL does, objectively, contradict authentic Catholic teaching, but that Bergoglio "has not been authoritatively told that he is upholding heresy." In Lamont's view, that is a step that should be taken by ecclesiastical authority. He notes that while bishops are not able to command a pope, they are able to teach authoritatively. They also have the duty to warn the faithful when a pope falls into heresy--but, unfortunately, none of this has been done (with a very few notable exceptions). However, he quickly adds, seconding Fr Hunwicke's view:

"The fact that Pope Francis has not been authoritatively told that he is upholding heresy does not mean that he is simply in error about marriage, divorce and the Eucharist. One does not have to commit the canonical crime of heresy in order to knowingly reject the teaching of the Catholic Church. ... Pope Francis knows that he is contradicting Catholic teaching on this subject; he has composed Amoris laetitia precisely to reject the exposition of this teaching that is to be found in Familiaris consortio. He may think that that adhering to the Catholic faith does not require assenting to the past teachings of the magisterium. It is likely in fact that he does think this; this modernist position is generally held by progressive clerics of his school of thought, and he has shown signs of agreement with it in a number of statements. But acceptance of modernism is itself a more profound and universal form of heresy than rejection of specific divinely revealed truths, since it does away with the whole notion of divine revelation and faith in its teachings. There is no parallel to this betrayal in the entire history of the Papacy. ... Pope Francis is attacking Christ’s teaching in a planned and systematic fashion because he is opposed to it."

This is a very important point. On all sides one hears the argument that until Bergoglio actually commits a canonical crime there is nothing to be done--we can't even state the obvious, that he is a heretic. But just as the US Constitution isn't a suicide pact, neither is the Church. Aquinas defines heresy quite simply: "Therefore heresy is a species of unbelief, belonging to those who profess the Christian faith, but corrupt its dogmas.​" If it is established objectively that a pope is corrupting the Faith while cleverly avoiding openly committing a canonical crime, the faithful--and bishops above all--have both the right and the duty to speak out.

Lamont then faults the bishops collectively for failing in their duty to call Bergoglio out, and concludes:

It would be wrong however to think that Pope Francis is the worst scourge afflicting the Church. ... In a healthy Church the problem of a heretical Pope can and will be dealt with by the Catholic bishops, just as the immune system of a healthy body will react to disease and eradicate it. The immune system of the Church at the present is not operating. The bishops of the Catholic Church have remained silent about the heresy in Amoris laetitia, and have thereby abandoned the faithful. ... Pope Francis has stated in official magisterial documents that they are papal teachings that they must accept. He has been supported in this by a large number of bishops. Pope Francis has thereby put pressure on all the Catholic faithful to reject divinely revealed truth. ... In order to protect the faithful from the attack on their belief and salvation that is being made through Amoris laetitia, it is necessary to address the falsehoods in that document itself, and to condemn them by appealing to an authority that justifies the rejection of a non-infallible papal letter; the authority of divine revelation expressed in the Scriptures and repeated by the magisterium of the Church. ... It would be sufficient to take the lesser step of simply addressing the faithful to condemn Amoris laetitia as heretical. Aside from Bishops Bernard Fellay and Henry Gracida, no Catholic bishops have done this.
"This almost unanimous betrayal of their office by Catholic bishops, and the episcopal infidelity that this betrayal reveals, is the fundamental problem in the Church. Without this massive infidelity there would have been no constituency to elect Pope Francis in the first place, and if he had nonetheless managed to be elected he would not have been able to mount an overt assault on the faith. If this fundamental problem is not solved, the repudiation of the heresies in Amoris laetitia or even the deposition of Pope Francis will not produce any lasting benefit. Other evils of a similar kind will recur, since the causes of Pope Francis’s career and actions will remain. A basic reform of the Church that addresses and eradicates these causes is what is needed."

There's much more, and I urge one and all to read it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Of London, Rome, And Christopher Steele

In Christopher Steele As Frontman I briefly alluded to a somewhat obscure aspect of Steele's activities:
No wonder Steele has been so reticent to testify under oath. Especially since, if he retains ties to British Intelligence he could be prosecuted for espionage under British law for simultaneously working as a source for the FBI.
I believe it's a well established fact that British Intelligence (GCHQ) as well as the Intelligence Services of several other European countries (including, really, Estonia!) colluded with US Government agencies (presumably the CIA) in the effort to avert a Trump presidency. Perhaps they feared Trump, or perhaps they naively believed the MSM narrative that President Hillary was inevitable and thought this was a smart way to curry favor with the incoming administration. It backfired and, in the case of the British, in a very public way: GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan quits for 'personal reasons' after just two years. Right--who wanted that job anyway? And what was that date? January 23, 2017, giving only three days notice? Surely this had nothing to do with Trump being inaugurated, when was that? January 20, 2017, the very same day Hannigan gave his notice? Yes, very messy, and we can probably trace PM May's rocky relationship with Trump to this, oh, misunderstanding.

But, Steele. What are the possibilities regarding his intelligence affiiliations? Perhaps he still works for British Intelligence in some role, even after his retirement. After all, the fulsome praise for Steele in yesterday's WaPo profile of the former spy could be taken that way:
Steele’s former boss Richard Dearlove ... said Steele became the “go-to person on Russia in the commercial sector” following his retirement from the Secret Intelligence Service.
Let's see. Steele never went to Russia after he retired. How did he become the "go-to" guy, in that case, except on the basis of his time in Russia for MI-6? So it seems plausible that the it was MI-6 that kept "going-to" Steele for his expertise on the Russian commercial sector. Retired but, well, not totally.

On the other hand, we know for a fact that he was carried as an asset by the FBI--else how could the FBI "fire" Steele for blabbing about his relationship with the FBI to David Corn, for goodness sake.

So, that leaves us with a number of possibiities:

Steele was in this to further Brit interests.

Steele was in it as a hired gun for a faction of the American Deep State.

Steele, personally thought the interests of both Britain and the American Deep State coincided.

Steele didn't care whose interest came out on top as long as he got paid.

There are almost certainly other possibilities, too. Of course, for Her Majesty's Government, the important thing is that Trump himself doesn't care whether Steele was acting with British government knowledge to further what the British saw as their interests, or whether they were merely trying to curry favor with their Deep State masters on the Potomac--in either case Trump was, and is, seriously pissed. As witness his public humiliations of PM May.

Frankly, it's a bit difficult to sort out.

On the one hand, the fact that Steele openly told David Corn that he was working with the FBI would be consistent--or, not inconsistent--with Steele being in the employ of the Brits, working with their knowledge to influence the US election. But maybe the Brits got their wires crossed. Steele's trips to Rome to meet FBI contacts have the appearance of concealing these contacts from British Intelligence. Was this done because Steele genuinely wanted to conceal these contacts or did he do this to play up the cloak and dagger stuff with the FBI? I would plump for the latter, because Steele's current legal maneuvering in London certainly makes it appear that was, in fact, still serving as an agent of the British government when he was working with the Hillary Campaign (an umbrella organization covering such sub-groups as Fusion GPS, the FBI, and the DoJ):
A British court ruled last week that Mr Steele should be required to undergo a lengthy pre-trial questioning session, but Mr Steele and his lawyers have pushed back on that decision.
“The Order is likely to require Mr Steele to answer questions in circumstances where his answers would .... require the disclosure of sensitive intelligence information which would endanger UK national security interests and personnel,” Mr Steele’s lawyers wrote in court papers.
My guess is that Steele's maneuverings--which presumably have the blessing of the British government--are being made to avoid further public embarrassment to the Brits, who are desperately groveling and attempting to rebuild the ties to the Trump administration that they so thoughtlessly trashed.

However, regarding those meetings in Rome with the FBI, it's interesting to place them in our timeline. Unfortunately, we don't have precise dates for all the meetings. We know that shortly before his falling out with the FBI Steele met with agents in Rome on October 3, 2016, to discuss financial arrangements for the future. However, he had already met with the agents earlier when things were starting to heat up--in August, 2016. It would be nice to know the exact date of those August meetings in Rome, for the reason that August 16 was when the "insurance policy" text was sent. Vanity Fair says "early August."

Actually, Rome meetings before or after--or both--work well enough for our timeline. By August the FBI would have known what they wanted or needed--really, really needed, as sundance says--from Steele: "stuff" to get the FISA on their target of choice, Carter Page. The October meeting fits in as well. By that point Steele would have delivered the "stuff" and, pleased with the take, the FBI was ready to discuss further projects and further payments.

Sometimes it's nice to simply flesh out the details, to get a feel for how things were worked in practice. A work in progress.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

UPDATE: IMPORTANT: Rep. Jim Jordan's Timeline to the Election

In an interview with Fox News Rep. Jim Jordan very handily ties together all the dates and events we've been referencing into a convenient timeline--one that is pregnant with meaning--and then shows the importance of those dates and events to the blockbuster story of today: Obama's desire to know everything the FBI is doing (as stated in a 9/2/16 Lisa Page text to Peter Strzok).

Harris Faulkner begins the interview by asking whether Jordan thinks this new text revelation is a "problem" for Obama. In response Jordan immediately points out that the text has to be understand in the context of a timeline, and proceeds to sketch that timeline out.

July 5: Hillary Email Investigation--closed.

Later in July: Strzok opens Trump/Russia investigation.

Sept 2: "POTUS wants to know EVERYTHING we're doing."

Having laid out the bare bones of the timeline, Jordan doubles back: Understand, he says, that between the opening of the Trump/Russia investigation and the September 2 "POTUS wants to know EVERYTHING" text comes the "insurance policy" text on 8/16/16. Then, just to make sure Faulkner gets the significance of what he has in mind, Jordan repeats the timeline, this time inserting the "insurance policy" text:

July 5: Hillary Email Investigation--closed.

Later in July: Strzok opens Trump/Russia investigation.

Aug 16: "Insurance Policy" text.

Sept 2: "POTUS wants to know EVERYTHING we're doing."

Jordan's point is that the Hillary Email Investigation is well past, as we pointed out earlier. Therefore, "potus wants to know everything we're doing" can't be focused on Hillary's emails. Of course, since POTUS wants to know everything, if something new comes up on that he'll want to know about it, but that's not the focus. The focus is on the future, the remaining weeks before the election. Jordan is quite clear in his mind that the key to all this is the "insurance policy" text, which comes between the opening of Russia/Trump and the Potus wanting to know everything the FBI is doing.

Now, Jordan thinks the reference to an "insurance policy" means that Strzok is saying that the FBI needs something that will "guarantee" that Trump won't get elected. Therefore, he's suggesting that Obama wants to know everything the FBI is doing to guarantee that Trump won't get elected. Here I think Jordan's a bit off track, in the sense that it's not that simple.

Strzok is no dummy. He knows there are no guarantees to be had. As we sketched out in the first post in this series, the whole point of the "insurance policy" text is that the FBI needs to be prepared (have an "insurance policy" in place) just in case Trump is actually elected. Strzok makes his meaning clear by likening Trump's election--the unthinkable event to be insured against--to "the unlikely event you die before you're 40." In other words, just as was stated in earlier, the "it" that was decided upon in the strategy session in Andy McCabe's office is a specific action, a path forward, that will function like an insurance policy. But the path forward isn't, can't be, a guarantee that Trump won't be elected. That's the whole point of the text:
"I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I'm afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40."
Now, of course Strzok and his superiors in the upper echelons of the FBI (Priestap, McCabe, Page, Comey, et alios) will be doing all in their power to prevent that unthinkable event from occurring, just as one would take all precautions lest "you die before you're 40." But the specific action, "it", is something that will help the FBI in the dark days that will ensue if Trump is elected. That specific action, one that actually occurred, must in my mind be obtaining the FISA warrant targeting Carter Page. As we're now seeing, this strategy was always going to be fraught with danger, because they all knew that the FISA warrant could only be obtained by fraud. That's precisely why Lisa Page suggested at the meeting that perhaps they needed to simply act on the conviction "that there's no way he gets elected", rather than taking this risky step.

But the decision was made to go for the FISA, feelers were put out to get more "stuff" for the dossier with which to target Carter Page. The purpose of the FISA warrant on Carter Page of course included collecting intelligence on the Trump campaign that might be of use to Hillary, but that was always going to be a long shot--far from the "guarantee" that Jordan speculates about in the interview. Fundamentally, it was intended to collect information that might serve to protect the FBI's interests--as viewed from the executive offices on the 7th Floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building. And now we're living in the midst of the "rest" that will become history.

UPDATE: To show the usefulness of timelines for bringing clarity to the often murky world of politics and espionage, sundance at Conservative Treehouse articulates this morning the same conclusions as above, concluding with--the "insurance policy" text. Note what's implicit in this high risk strategy--retroactive legal authority is also an insurance policy going forward:

"All of the evidence points in one transparently obvious direction; toward a 2016 collaborative effort structured to use a counterintelligence operation to conduct wiretaps and surveillance on the presidential campaign of candidate Donald Trump. The FISA Title-1 surveillance approval of Carter Page was retroactive legal authority to do so.

"The FBI and DOJ certainly went to extra-ordinary lengths to get that FISA Title-1 warrant approved; even to the extent of misleading the FISA court on the validity of the underlying documents.  The DOJ/FBI ‘small group’ really seemed quite desperate to gain that FISA Title-1 surveillance authority…

"…. they really, really needed it:

…”I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40″…

UPDATE: New Is Coming Fast And Furious Today

The big news, of course, is the release of new Strzok/Lisa Page texts, and especially one dated Septermber 2, 2016, in which Lisa Page says Comey will be briefing Obama, adding "potus wants to know everything we're doing."

According to Fox News "this text raises questions about Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation." However, I'm a bit skeptical. Of course, "everything" means "everything," so if the FBI did something on the Clinton email investigation then Obama would want to know that. But that investigation had supposedly been disposed of, with Hillary exonerated, back on July 5, 2016--two months before the text, and close two months before Comey's decision to take a New Look at that "matter."

So, in context, my guess is that Rep. Louis Gohmert is correct in saying that this means "the President [Obama] wants to know what they [the FBI] are doing to try to stop Trump.” "Stop" might be a bit, but only a bit, strong. Perhaps "undermine" would be a better description of the FBI's role.

All in all, this is Very Big. I think it's been more or less assumed all along, but to have it confirmed in black and white ...

ADDENDUM: While not strictly related to the above, this blog linked below makes an excellent point. Everyone is talking FISA these days, but another investigative instrument in the national security field is the National Security Letter (NSL). NSLs are the National Security version of subpoenas. If you're wondering what takes Congressional committees so long to investigate these matters and why reports in unedited form can be so voluminous, this is one reason. Thorough investigators will want to know about all NSLs that were issued around any given investigation:

Where the bodies are buried

By Joe Herring

UPDATE: In an article dated yesterday, February 8, 2016, How The Media Buried Two Huge FBI Stories Yesterday, Mollie Hemingway dwells at length on the news we examined above--including the "potus wants to know everything we're doing" text. In doing so she cites a WSJ article dated February 7, 2016, which I had ignored because of the absurd "understatement" of the title: Text From 2016 Shows Obama’s Interest in FBI Employees’ Work. The article is detailed and confirms that "associates" of Obama confirm that he was not at that point interested in updates on Clinton's emails but rather on "Russia." Which is to say, Trump.

UPDATED: Christopher Steele As Frontman

This will be short and sweet. Well, the sweetness will depend on individual taste.

What seems to be slowly emerging from the murky background of the Russia Hoax--or perhaps I should be saying The Great Russia Hoax--is that Christopher Steele was more of a frontman for the "dossier" than an actual author. While his writing skills are not in doubt, honed as they were in his days as a student Leftist at Cambridge, it's becoming clear that his true usefulness to the Clinton Campaign had to do with his credentials. The FBI and DoJ couldn't very well go in front of the FISC with an application and attached affidavit and tell the judge, This is something that Nellie and the boys or, as might be, Sid and the boys, came up with. No, much better to be able to talk about a former Spook from an allied country with experience of Russian matters, who has Russian sources, who knows their tradecraft, methods, and goals. Who is familiar with their desire to sully the purity of our political processes. And perhaps best of all, conservatives and Republicans tend to be an Anglophilic bunch, and thus less inclined to question the representations of a source from "British Intelligence."

On closer examination, that narrative didn't hold up well to closer examination. Assuming the truth of what we've been told about Steele, he hadn't been in Russia for many years, hadn't even been in MI-6 for quite a few years. His "sources," such as they were and given the tumult of Russian politics since the end of the Cold War, could be regarded as stale at this point, without further authentication. And, importantly, since he admits at the very least to have been dealing with these sources through intermediaries, verification of any of their assertions would be problematic--to say the least.

As it is, what we are now learning from House investigations is that the primary authors of the "dossier" appear to have been long time Clinton operatives: Sid ("Sid Vicious") Blumenthal and Cody Shearing. With assistance from Nellie Ohr--Fusion GPS employee and wife of associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr (since, twice demoted), who seems to have been the liaison between the Clinton Campaign and FBI/DoJ. Or, perhaps more accurately, that liaison was a sort of cooperative, spousal, affair.

No wonder Steele has been so reticent to testify under oath. Especially since, if he retains ties to British Intelligence he could be prosecuted for espionage under British law for simultaneously working as a source for the FBI.

As a sidenote to these British connections, it's interesting still to watch the interactions between Trump and Theresa May. Public consciousness of the precipitate resignation of the head of GCHQ has receded (he resigned for "personal reasons" giving only three days notice, not at all coincidentally, immediately after the inauguration of President Trump). Perhaps the Brits will think better of "meddling" in US politics the next time the likes of a John Brennan comes calling.

BRIEF ADDENDUM RE INTEL REPUTATIONS: Christopher Steele was regarded within British Intelligence circles, as well as within American intelligence circles, as a Great Expert on things Russian--especially Russian intelligence matters. But such reputations in the intelligence world need to be taken with a large dose of salt. They are easily gained and difficult to refute, in the ordinary course of events. To offer just one example, the FBI "handlers" (both metaphorical and literal) of Katrina Leung over a period of about 20 years were no doubt regarded as Great China Experts. Their reputation as experts was maintained over the course of two decades, and vanished in the relative blink of an eye. As James Comey might say,
All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like a flower of the field ...

UPDATE: Senator Grassley's memorandum makes interesting, if understated, reading. For example, regarding the subject of this post, we read on page 8 (of 10):
Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it [the dossier] unsolicited--and unverified--allegations.
Oh my! How ... promiscuous! And in the next paragraph we learn that these "unsolicited--and unverified--allegations" [emphasis in original] were provided, not to put too fine a point on it, by "Clinton associates." Senator Grassley finds that Steele's use of this material "raises additional concerns about his credibility." Indeed! And thus Steele's notable reticence to speak of these matters under oath.

In defense of Mr. Steele, he was being paid by the Clinton Campaign. One could hardly expect him to refuse material from his benefactors just because it consisted of "unsolicited--and unverified--allegations." Mr. Steele is, no doubt, a man of honor who felt obliged to give his paymasters their money's worth.