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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Are You Kidding Me?

It's hard to overstate the debt of gratitude that conservatives owe to sundance at Conservative Tree House for the quantity and quality of information he has brought to bear on the Russia Hoax. Just yesterday he had an excellent reprise, tying various threads together: Why Flynn? – A Confluence of Highly Charged Political Events … Therefore to read the very same day such a ... I want to choose the right word ... deeply unserious blog by the same author is beyond disappointing. Way beyond. And yet that's truly about the kindest thing I can say about Solutions?

The problem for which sundance claims to have a solution is the institutional corruption of our federal justice system, specifically the politicization of the DoJ and FBI:

The institutions of the DOJ and FBI are corrupted; not just a few people within it, but rather the entire apparatus has been weaponized, over time, by participating political members who have politicized every function within the institution.

Let's grant the premise for the sake of the argument. What is sundance's solution?

Any solution has to come from a position external to the organization or the cycle will simply continue.
Putting a former U.S. DOJ official in charge of the DOJ, regardless of former term or professional/honorable intent, only maintains the status quo. The career mechanisms inside the organization will expel any action adverse to their interests, and the rules are set to aide their retention.

He's speaking here of Bill Barr, Trump's nominee to replace Jeff Sessions as AG. And so there's no chance that you'll mistake who he has in mind, he has a picture:

Friday, December 28, 2018

A Message Of Hope

For Christians, Christmas is perennially a season of hope, so it seems an appropriate time of year to offer a message of hope to conservatives generally. In the comments to recent articles regarding the ongoing Russia Hoax a note of resignation and even dejection has been noticeable. And yet even as the assault on our constitutional order continues (and I use this phrase advisedly) there are, I believe, positive developments--even reasons for cautious good cheer.

The most obvious positive result is to be found in the results of the midterm elections. True, the GOP lost the House, yet on the positive side Paul Ryan--who played a key role in slowing down the House investigations into the Russia Hoax and even, as it turns out, the initial dissemination of the Clinton campaign's "dossier"--is gone. That alone is a positive development, as is the emergence of a more unified Republican caucus.

On the Senate side the news is even better. The GOP majority has been expanded--an historically unlikely achievement. Traitorous members have been discarded--McCain, Flake, Corker--and replaced by either more conservative new senators or new senators who owe their election to Trump's remarkable campaign effort and who will therefore be in his debt. This bodes well for confirmations, both of judges--including very possibly another seat on the Supreme Court--but also for perhaps the key cabinet position: the confirmation of a new Attorney General to replace the feckless Jeff Sessions.

Already, in that regard, we have good news. Matt Whitaker, the acting AG, has been cleared by an internal ethics review at DoJ to supervise Team Mueller. Of course, emboldened by their success with Sessions, the usual Democrat suspects brought forward the by now standard demands for recusal, citing Whitaker's past criticisms of Mueller. Whitaker, despite anonymous DoJ sources suggesting recusal out of "an abundance of caution," wisely and out of a strong sense of principle, refused to recuse. The notion that anyone who has paid attention to ongoing events in the public life of the nation and who has both an opinion and the gumption to express that opinion, should recuse himself from a position of authority is too bankrupt for serious consideration.

The stage is now set for Whitaker to play an active role in oversight of Team Mueller. If the Democrats have a problem with that, there is a ready solution. They can try their luck with Bill Barr by allowing his confirmation as AG to proceed expeditiously.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

UPDATED: Judge Sullivan's Challenge

Despite the fact that Judge Sullivan totally shot himself in the foot with his absurd speculation regarding the possibility of General Flynn being charged with treason, it does appear that Sullivan remains focused not only on the misconduct (read: possible criminal conduct) by Team Mueller and the FBI, but also on the legal insufficiency of the charge against General Flynn--False Statements to the US Government, 18 USC 1001.

In that regard, legal tweeter Techno Fog flagged this fascinating exchange--note that the "Kelner" who responds to Judge Sullivan is one of Flynn's attorneys, Michael Kelner:

Near adjournment, Judge Sullivan mentions that he will likely have "many, many, many more questions" - including: 1) how the gov't investigation was impeded 2) What was the material impact of the crimes /end


The important point Sullivan has in mind comes toward the end, when he says:

"These are questions that you would prepared to answer anyway, such as, you know, how the government's investigation was impeded? What was the material impact of the criminality? Things like that."

Obviously Flynn's lawyer, Kelner, likes what he's hearing, is very much in favor of "things like that," and he says so:

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

UPDATED: Setting False Statement Traps Is Not Official FBI Business

As the slow motion drama of the Michael Flynn prosecution winds slowly toward sentencing, it has become increasingly clear that the conservative commentariat feels conflicted. On the one hand, they can't approve of what appear to be lies on the part of Flynn--inexplicable as this appears to have been in the circumstances (Flynn knew that the FBI had a recording of his conversation with the Russian Ambassador). On the other hand, there seems to be something distinctly fishy about the entire case against Flynn. The evidence of investigative and prosecutorial misconduct--possibly including criminal acts--has become overwhelming. Nor has Robert Mueller's reply to the Flynn response to the sentencing memorandum allayed any of those misgivings--quite the contrary, as Scott Johnson (one of the Powerline bloggers) puts it:

I find the reply memo to be a shocking document. Something does not compute.

Something is clearly wrong with it all. Whether or not Flynn lied, it all seems so unfair, including the very way in which the agents conducted the interview. Another of the Powerline bloggers, Paul MIrengoff nicely sums up what we instinctively know was going on:

There’s no mystery about what happened to Flynn. Towards the end of the Obama administration, this decorated General and top intelligence official left the government and became the leading critic of the administration’s national security policy.  
Compounding his offenses against the deep state, Flynn joined the Trump campaign team. ...  
For the deep state, this was the last straw. Once Flynn was named Trump’s national security adviser, it sought revenge. ... 

Yet, the question arises: Is there a legally principled way to address the Flynn situation, one which does justice to Flynn--despite his misconduct--but preserves the integrity of our justice system and, crucially, of our courts? I believe there is and addressed it this past Saturday. The solution should, in fact, be glaringly obvious, but has escaped notice--most likely because it requires an examination of the basic principles underlying law enforcement in our constitutional system. In our system of law the State is not authorized to simply test its citizens--citizens are entitled to be left alone unless law enforcement has some articulable reason for approaching them. Let me state this very bluntly, with application to the Flynn case, before examining it in more detail:

False Statement Traps Are Not Official FBI Business. The FBI has no authority to interview random people to see whether they will lie. They must have an articulable reason for the interview to begin with--one that flows from their official duties. All else must follow from that.

It's About Sanctions Relief For ... What?

In two recent blog posts--Crossfire Hurricane: The Theory Of The Case and More On Mueller's Theory Of The Case--I outlined what I view as the centrality of sanctions relief for Russia to Team Mueller's continuing jihad against the Trump administration. In the most straightforward version of the theory, Trump would have entered into a straightforward but corrupt quid pro quo with "the Russians": sanctions relief for Russia in exchange for something of value--some type of help for Trump's campaign, be it the release of supposedly "hacked" DNC emails or unspecified "dirt" on Hillary. This would constitute bribery under the terms of the Bribery statute (18 US Code 201), which covers not only government officials but also any "person selected to be a public official." In a more convoluted version of the theory, outlined in More On Mueller's Theory Of The Case, a case might be attempted--relying on the same corrupt transaction--for fraud against the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371).

While this theory of a sanctions relief for DNC emails deal is featured early on in the Steele "dossier" reports, I have always believed that the famous Trump Tower meeting was an early attempt to involve the Trump campaign in just such a corrupt quid pro quo deal. I described it in this way:

Monday, December 17, 2018

About That Contingency Plan

Back in October I wrote a shortish blog (by my usual standards) called The Russia Hoax As Contingency Plan, in which I argued that the Russia Hoax was developed as a contingency plan to steal the presidential election in case Hillary lost. I noted that while the Russia Hoax really took off just before and after the election, it actually had deep roots, all the way back to at least early Spring of 2016.

And now we get confirmation of that from no less authoritative a source than Christopher Steele himself!

When last we heard of Christopher he was embroiled in a law suit in London:

Christopher Steele was dragged into court in a defamation suit filed by three Russian bankers in London who claim they were smeared in a discredited Slate article about a computer server, Trump Tower and Moscow’s Alfa Bank — the three Russian bankers, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan also filed a lawsuit against gutter oppo research firm Fusion GPS.

The Gateway Pundit notes that Slate's fake news story about the Alfa Bank was tweeted out by Hillary Clinton just one week before the election, based on hot new "information" that Christopher had just dreamed up in report 112 of his "dossier".

Steele has just responded to interrogatories in the case, and the Washington Times has provided us with one response:

Mr. Steele wrote: “Fusion’s immediate client was law firm Perkins Coie. It engaged Fusion to obtain information necessary for Perkins Coie LLP to provide legal advice on the potential impact of Russian involvement on the legal validity of the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election.
“Based on that advice, parties such as the Democratic National Committee and HFACC Inc. (also known as ‘Hillary for America’) could consider steps they would be legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the outcome of that election.”

And here's an image of the original, per Sean Davis, including the questions Steele was responding to:




And there you have it: Russia Hoax as contingency plan. I'd call it official now. And this is what's been behind "the resistance" for the past two years. A Russia Hoax dreamed up by an agent of a Foreign Power to overturn a US election. Any bets on the amount of column space or air time this will get in the MSM?

UPDATED: Dersh Gets It Right

Today on Fox News Alan Dershowitz hit a hanging curve out of the ball park--and followed up with an article at The Hill: Did Michael Flynn lie? Or did the FBI act improperly? I have only one, partial, reservation with regard to his statements, which I'll make clear.

Quite simply Dershowitz states:

Is it the proper role of law enforcement to conduct criminal morality tests to determine whether citizens will tell the truth or lie when given the opportunity to do either by FBI agents?

As I've been saying, the answer--perfectly obvious to any sane person--is: Absolutely not! Dershowitz then takes it a step further, referring to Mueller's handling of potential witnesses:

Is it proper to target individuals for such tests for the purpose of pressuring them into becoming witnesses against the real target? These are important questions for all citizens who care about civil liberties and prosecutorial abuses.

That one is bound to involve trickier factual situations, but there's no doubt that Dershowitz is touching on exactly what he describes: "important questions for all citizens who care about civil liberties and prosecutorial abuses."

Here's my reservation and, as I said, it's only a partial reservation that pertains to the particular circumstances of the Flynn case. Dershowitz is absolutely clear that Flynn did nothing wrong in speaking to the Russian Ambassador. I only wish that Dershowitz had made it equally clear that the FBI had no business interviewing Flynn because there was nothing to talk to Flynn about that was within the field of the FBI's duties--neither criminal nor national security.

Mueller's "Enterprise" Witchhunt

In past articles on the Russia Hoax I've stressed that the guidelines that govern FBI investigations are the key to understanding the Deep State's assault on the Trump administration. In that regard I have several times referred to the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane case as a sort of "umbrella" investigation, one that subsumes the investigations on given individuals, such as Carter Page. The whole issue of the precise nature of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation has arisen once again, in the context of disgraced former FBI Director James Comey's testimony last week before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). I think it will prove helpful to revisit this topic because, as I hope to show, there are important consequences that flow from this.

What Kind Of Investigation Is Crossfire Hurricane?


Back on March 20, 2017, then FBI Director Comey testified before HPSCI regarding Russian "active measures" during the 2016 election. Chairman Nunes characterized the committee's work as concerned with Russian "active measures" during the 2016 presidential election, but the Democrats stated that it was all about "collusion" between the Trump campaign and "the Russians." In his testimony Comey confirmed for the committee that the FBI's investigation, which we now know as Crossfire Hurricane and which began in late July, 2016, was concerned with "any coordination between people associated with the Trump campaign and the Russians."

This is important, because in Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rod Rosenstein's letter of May 17, 2017, in which he appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel (SC), Rosenstein's authorization closely tracks Comey's testimony:

The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump; ...

There are several important bits of information that we need to take special note of in this.

  • First, Mueller is not starting up a new investigation--he's taking over an already existing investigation, the same one that was confirmed by Comey two months earlier. 
  • Second, and very importantly, Mueller's investigation is not authorized as a general investigation into Russian "active measures" (i.e., interference, meddling) in the 2016 campaign but instead is rather narrowly focused on "coordination between people associated with the Trump campaign and the Russians."

In other words, Rosenstein did not authorize Mueller to investigate coordination between people associated with the Clinton campaign and the Russians--only the Trump campaign.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

UPDATED: Russia Hysteria, False Statements, And The Michael Flynn Affair.

Flynn's Rise


Where to start with the Michael Flynn saga? We could start with Flynn's outspokenness regarding the origins of ISIS that so angered the Obama administration, or perhaps with his interference in Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's jihad against former FBI agent Robyn Gritz, but presidential candidate Donald Trump's revisionist ideas about relations with Russia--and Trump's criticism of the sacred cow of sanctions--perhaps gets to the heart of the matter more quickly.
In late March 2016, steaming toward the Republican nomination ... Donald J. Trump made a lengthy case for giving President Vladimir V. Putin what he wanted most: relief from American-led sanctions for his annexation of Crimea.
... from the start of his campaign in mid-2015, several months before prosecutors say his company began considering a deal in Russia, Mr. Trump departed from the normal Republican hard line about Russia, attacking President Barack Obama’s approach because it alienated a potential partner.
“I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin,” Mr. Trump said soon after announcing his run for the presidency. “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
This kind of talk set off alarm bells in the globalist establishment of the Deep State. Opposition research went into high gear. By July, 2016, the "sources" for ex-MI6 spook Christopher Steele's "dossier" were telling him that it was all a done deal: "the Russians" had done the DNC "hack" and had already entered into a quid pro quo with Trump: Putin would pass the emails to Wikileaks and Wikileaks would serve as a cutout for the release of the emails that would power Trump to the presidency. In exchange for sanctions relief. The Russia Hoax was up and running, and no one in the establishment media or the political establishment in Washington, DC, was questioning the official version of the "hack" nor the provenance of the rumors that began to circulate about Trump and Russia.

Where was Flynn in all this? Flynn was in retirement, having in 2014 been "forced out of the DIA after clashing with superiors over his allegedly chaotic management style and vision for the agency." He and his son started up a consulting firm, in which Flynn displayed a rather promiscuous penchant for changing his views depending on his clients' requirements. He also displayed a cavalier attitude toward reporting requirements regarding his status as a foreign agent under FARA as well as DoD and DoS requirements for retired military officers. Clients included Russian and Turkish entities.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

UPDATED: More On Mueller's Theory Of The Case

In the week since I wrote Crossfire Hurricane: The Theory Of The Case the conservative commentariate has continued to deny that Mueller is investigating any Trump crimes. As I stated earlier, I agree in that overall assessment of the Russia Hoax--that any crimes are fictional or ... trumped up--but I disagree in this respect: I believe that Team Mueller does have a theory of the case and is continuing to work to find proof for that theory.

As an example of the type of conservative commentary I'm referring to, Paul Mirengoff at Powerline Blog published two blogs, one last night and one this morning, regarding the Mueller "probe": Report: Mueller Pressing Hard on Trump Tower Meeting and Mueller’s theory: Trump defrauded voters. In fact, Mirengoff touches on some central issues that deserve more attention and which, when properly understood, reveal the scope and aim of the highly secretive Mueller operation.

A lot of clarity can be gained by looking at the whole Mueller operation in light of the Steele Dossier. The central allegation of the Dossier boils down, quite explicitly, to the simple proposition: Trump entered into a corrupt quid pro quo arrangement with "Russians": a bribery scheme. This is the aspect of the Mueller case theory I examined in the blog that's linked above, the bribery statute: 18 US Code 201(b)(2). The Dossier's version of this general proposition is that, in exchange for the release of DNC emails by the Russians through Wikileaks--"a thing of value," in that the release of emails could lead to Trump's election--Trump agreed to grant sanctions relief to Russia.

But "dirt on Hillary" works just as well as "a thing of value" to be exchanged for sanctions relief, for purposes of the bribery statute.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Crossfire Hurricane: The Theory Of The Case

For those of us who try to follow developments in the Russia Hoax it's easy to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the big picture: what I call the "theory of the case." Every investigation needs a guiding theory, even a hoax investigation, and a solid grasp of that overall case theory is a big help in coming to grips with the big picture.

To arrive at the overall theory driving the Russia Hoax it's useful to look at two aspects together: first, the Carter Page FISA, and second, Rod Rosenstein's letter authorizing the Special Counsel.

We've all heard the criticism of Rosenstein's authorization letter: it fails, the critics say, to cite a criminal violation, and so the appointment of Mueller as Special Counsel is illegitimate because the regulations governing the appointment of a Special Counsel require that a criminal violation be stated. But like so many things we think we know, this turns out not to be true at all.

For starters, the regulations only state that the Attorney General (or, in our case, the Acting AG) has to "determine[] that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted"--it doesn't state that the actual criminal violation has to be named. I agree that the presumption must be that no investigation should be initiated without some specific criminal statute in view. Moreover, it's natural and fair that the subject of an investigation should know what he's being investigated for, and just as natural that the investigator should like to keep the subject in the dark about as much as possible. What would be a reasonable sounding explanation for refusing to cite a criminal statute? The reason is right there in Rosenstein's letter:
The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017 ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

UPDATED: Trump: Declassification Best Used To Counterpunch

In an interview with the New York Post earlier today, President Trump directly addressed the issue of the best time to declassify Russia Hoax related documents. Recall that back on September 17, 2018, Trump had ordered the declassification of several categories of documents but then, within days, decided to withhold declassification, citing frantic phone calls from "close allies" of the United States, begging him not to declassify the documents:
The documents include Justice officials’ request to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and memos on DOJ official Bruce Ohr’s interactions with Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial dossier that alleged Trump ties with Russia.
Trump initially agreed to declassify the documents, including text messages sent by former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew G. McCabe as well as Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Ohr. Trump allies believe the revelations will show favoritism toward Hillary Clinton and a plot to take down Trump.
Trump then reversed course, citing the need for further review and concern of US allies.
In the interview Trump characterized himself as a "counter-puncher" and stated that his preferred strategy of counter punching would likely lead him to use declassification as a weapon if the Democrats decided to go down the path of harassing his administration, saying: "I’m a counter-puncher and I will hit them so hard they’d never been hit like that.” According to the Post Trump further spelled out exactly what disclosure of those documents would reveal: that the FBI, the Justice Department and the Clinton campaign had conspired to set him up.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Is The Deep State Feeling The Heat?


Bad as it may have been, the worst of the Russia Hoax was not the abuse of the FISA electronic surveillance regime for political purposes. Nor is the worst even the patent involvement of our intelligence agencies--and in particular the FBI and CIA--in electoral politics. No, the worst aspect of the Russia Hoax is that our intelligence agencies, including elements of DoJ and the State Department cooperating with the Clinton campaign, enlisted the intelligence services of foreign powers--first in their effort to defeat the candidacy of Donald Trump and, when that effort failed, turning their efforts to what can only be described as an attempted coup against the elected President of the United States. Shockingly, these later stages of the Russia Hoax have included members of the Legislative Branch who, in the face of clear evidence that the true collusion with foreign powers was that of the Clinton campaign, have worked to delay and to ultimately obstruct Congressional oversight and investigation of the entire Russia Hoax. So reckless was this conspiracy that the players have not hesitated to cynically stir up public hysteria against Russia, a foreign power which, while often hostile to US interests, had no role in colluding with the Trump campaign.

Shortly before the Midterm elections, in the face of determined stonewalling of Congressional oversight by DoJ and the FBI, the President played what has always been his trump (!) card--he ordered the declassification of most of the documents that are central to the Russia Hoax. Led by DAG Rosenstein, the forces of the Deep State were able to delay the release of the documents, but President Trump made it clear that he favors declassification--and sooner, rather than later. Two weeks later, an uneasy stalemate persists. DoJ and Team Mueller have claimed that release of the documents would constitute "obstruction"--a patently bogus claim, but Trump has extracted the resignation of Jeff Sessions and his replacement with Matthew Whitaker as the Acting AG, who also replaces Rosenstein as the supervisor of Team Mueller. The anti-Trump forces are currently attempting to stymie Trump's latest move with attacks on the Whitaker appointment, while declassification hangs fire. And Democrats, newly empowered by their capture of the House, are threatening to tie Trump up with investigations of his finances, on the pretext of the Russia Hoax.

Nevertheless, there is maneuvering going on behind the scenes, and evidence that the Deep State forces of both the US and the UK are feeling Trump's pressure. The Daily Telegraph, in a surprisingly little remarked upon article, informed the world that MI6 is battling Donald Trump to stop him from releasing documents linked to the "Russia probe".

The article itself is an interesting mix of special pleading and disinformation, clearly reflecting the views and interests of the British Deep State. For starters, it's long been clear that the "Russia probe" is really the "Trump probe"--any purported focus on Russia amounts to no more than the hope that, if enough mud (Russia Hoax material) is thrown at the wall (Trump), some of it may stick. For the rest, the article coyly offers a glimpse of what we all know to be true--the British were deeply involved in the Russia Hoax almost from the start--while attempting to maintain deniability with transparent euphemisms. For example, we read that

Monday, November 19, 2018

Fake News, Real News, Hot News

On the Fake News front we have some depressing real news--or, as real as polling gets:

John Hinderaker at Powerline, in The Ultimate Fake News, digs down into a poll run by The Economist/YouGov during the first week of November. The poll asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” Hinderaker points out what every sentient human person now knows for fact:
There is no evidence–I repeat, none–that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies. I am not aware of any plausible theory on which a foreign power could tamper with vote tallies. To say that Russia tampered with vote tallies is as credible as asserting that the moon is made of green cheese.
Nevertheless.

The poll reveals, paraphrasing Hinderaker's summary, that

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

UPDATED: Call For The Dead

As reported by the Daily Caller's Chuck Ross, as recently as 9/7/18 the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was claiming that Joseph Mifsud--the shadowy Maltese professor who appears to have been instrumental in drawing George Papadopoulos into the Russia Hoax--"was missing and may be deceased." Mifsud had variously been reported to have had close ties to Russian intelligence, or to British intelligence, or to other Western intelligence services. It was Mifsud who, according to the FBI interview of Papadopoulos in January, 2017, had introduced Papadopoulos to a woman who falsely claimed to be Vladimir Putin's niece and it was Mifsud who Papadopoulos also said told him that Russia was in possession of thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails (Mifsud has denied all this).

The DNC's claim drew a quick response from Mifsud's longtime friend and lawyer, Stephan Roh. Roh appears to be as shadowy in his connections as is Mifsud. According to Wikipedia,
Roh is a Russian-speaking German lawyer and multimillionaire with close ties to Russia, has worked alongside Mifsud for years. Papadopoulos's wife, who briefly worked for Mifsud, has described Roh as Mifsud's lawyer, best friend, and funder. Roh owns multiple businesses, many headquartered in Moscow or Cyprus; he also co-owns Link University, where Mifsud taught. Roh was detained and questioned by investigators on Robert Mueller's Special Counsel team in October 2017.
Roh told reporters that, while Mifsud has not been seen since November of 2017, the DNC's claim of Mifsud's decease was "nonsense".
I got it from really good sources. They say that he is alive, that he has another identity, and that he is staying somewhere, at a nice place,” Stephan Roh told The Daily Caller News Foundation on Sunday.
“I just this morning got a message, indirectly, that he is alive and that they have provided him with another identity,” added Roh, who did not describe his sources.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Whither The Russia Hoax Witchhunt?

I had barely finished digesting the Midterm election news yesterday morning and begun wondering how the new lay of the land might affect the Russia Hoax, when events began unfolding. President Trump has never been mistaken for someone who dithers when action is called for. He quickly requested and received the resignation of AG Jeff Sessions, then inserted Sessions' Chief of Staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, as Acting AG, pending the naming of a permanent replacement (rumors are already circulating that Janice Rogers Brown is under consideration).

The move had been anticipated since at least August, when key GOP senators gave Trump public backing for the change: Key Republicans Give Trump a Path to Fire Sessions After the Election. As Bloomberg reported, both Lindsay Graham and Chuck Grassley, both of whom had previously opposed firing Sessions, publicly approved removing Sessions and even provided a time frame for action:

The pivotal message on Thursday came from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who oscillates between criticizing many of the president’s policies and defending a president who sometimes invites him to go golfing at a Trump-branded resort.
“The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham told reporters.
But he added that forcing out Sessions before November “would create havoc” with efforts to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as well as with the midterm elections on Nov. 6 that will determine whether Republicans keep control of Congress. 
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, also changed his position on Thursday, saying in an interview that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to tackle that explosive possibility.

Even at this stage, with an Acting AG, the legal landscape appears to have changed drastically. What's more, this drastic change takes effect immediately--while the Republicans still control the House.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Could Papadopoulos Blow The Russia Hoax Wide Open?

On November 2 Dan Bongino conducted a fascinating interview with George Papadopoulos. The most convenient way to digest the interview is at Jeff Carlson's blog, which has a link to the interview on Bongino's radio show as well as a full transcript of the interview. What emerges from the interview is, in my view, convincing evidence that Papadopoulos was, in Chuck Ross's words, the target of an "FBI sting." Actually, that characterization doesn't even go far enough. What seems clear at this point is that the FBI--representing the US Government and as an agency of the Department of Justice--targeted Papadopoulos and attempted to manipulate him into appearing to be a vehicle for Russian influence in the Trump campaign. The FBI had no reason to believe that Papadopoulos had any connections to Russian officials before they targeted him. The fact is, Papadopoulos' academic background and previous experience was in what could be broadly termed "Eastern Mediterranean" politics--Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel. Moreover, in his published writings he actually evinced a degree of hostility to Russian influence in that region. When the FBI's attempt at framing Papadopoulos in this manner predictably fell flat, Papadopoulos was indicted on trumped up "false statements to the FBI" charges stemming from a harmless misstatement--not a lie.

The entire interview is well worth listening to--to capture Papadopoulos' personality--and also worth reading closely for the details that emerge. Chuck Ross's digest is also useful as a summary. Bongino's tone is remarkable. He's well prepared for the interview and, as he goes into the details of how Papadopoulos was groomed to be a fall guy in the FBI's war against Trump, his tone is incredulous to the point of hilarity at times--the FBI's setup is that transparent. Bongino has difficulty throughout in restraining himself from exclaiming at Papadopoulos' only too obvious naivete. For his part, Papadopoulos is naturally reluctant to portray himself as a complete dupe, but even he at a certain point ends up quoting his wife, who exclaimed to him:

"What on earth are you pleading guilty for, when this guy [Mifsud] is obviously setting you up?"

Rather than attempt an exhaustive analysis of the many intriguing threads of information that can be found in the interview, what I'd like to focus on are two particular themes in Papadopoulos' narrative: 1) That he was the subject of a FISA, and 2) that his conversations with FBI intelligence assets such as Halper, Downer, and Mifsud were "recorded".

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Is It Time For The Courts To Get Involved In The Russia Hoax?

Back in February of 2018 Hugh Hewitt, law professor and pundit, conducted a fascinating interview on his radio program with Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. As it happens, that interview serves very nicely as an introduction to a development that hasn't received much attention, coming as it does in the leadup to the Midterm elections. That development was reported by John Solomon in The Hill: Silence of 'the lambs': The deafening quietude of the FISA court and John Roberts. Let's begin with the Hewitt/Nunes interview.

Hewitt and Nunes revealed themselves to be very much aware of not only the legal aspects of the Russia Hoax, specifically regarding the Carter Page FISA, but also of the Constitutional aspects. This is entirely understandable, given that all three Constitutional branches of the US Government were either involved in the approval of the Carter Page FISA or are now involved in getting to the bottom of the Russia Hoax--in which the FISA aspects present the most danger of criminal liability.

As the interview progressed, Hewitt raised the very possibility that Solomon now refers to: that of interviewing Chief Justice John Roberts, who appoints the FISA Court (FISC) judges. Hewitt clearly believes that the Judicial Branch has a lot at stake in the Russia Hoax and therefore considers that it would be a good idea for Congress to approach the Courts. The exchange begins with a discussion of the Separation of Powers issues involved in Congress seeking to interview the Chief Justice, but it then moves to the issue that's at the heart of criminality in the Russia Hoax: the apparent effort by the FBI and DoJ to disguise from the FISC the true origins of the material that came to be known as the Steele Dossier. The FBI's subterfuge was embodied in a footnote to the FISA application, and Hewitt gives it as his opinion that the footnote constitutes a "material omission. He also cites the opinion of a Federal judge to that effect as well. Here's the exchange:

Sunday, October 28, 2018

UPDATES: The Spy In The Trump Campaign

Sundance at Conservative Tree House has a fascinating blog up tonight. He begins from a tweet by George Papadopoulos:



While I cannot disclose the information publicly, it’s a fact that both me and congress know who the SPY within the campaign was. Congress will likely include it in a report later on. Eyes were everywhere during 2016.



Sundance posits that the source was the former US Representative from Michigan, Mike Rogers--not to be confused, as we'll see, with former NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers. Rogers, the former US Rep., was a Special Agent for the FBI in Chicago from 1989 - 1994 (I didn't know him, but recall hearing the office buzz when Rogers resigned to go into politics). More to the point, after leaving the House in 2014, having served as Chairman of the Permanent Select Committe on Intelligence, Rogers joined the Trump campaign in 2016 as national security adviser. Sundance points out Rogers' dodgy role in the Benghazi whitewash and then asks: "So how did Decepticon Rogers come to be an advisor to the Trump campaign?" Unfortunately, he offers no views on that.

Rogers was abruptly terminated within days after the election--much to the dismay of the Washington DC establishment. For example, in the Washington Post David Ignatius reported the dismissal in telling terms:


Just how far the new administration may depart from long-standing U.S. national-security policies was demonstrated by Rogers’s own departure.
You could imagine the jaws dropping Tuesday across the intelligence community when people heard the news of Rogers’s ouster. ... the intelligence agencies literally don’t know what to expect next.

Sundance himself ties Rogers' dismissal to the well known visit of Admiral Mike Rogers to Trump Tower a few days after the election, which led to the move of the Trump transition team headquarters from Trump Tower to a Trump golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. However, once again, sundance offers no further details.

The question, then, becomes: What would the NSA Director have to do with a human source inside the Trump campaign? Wouldn't that be the purview of the FBI? Would the NSA Director even know of the existence, much less the identity, of such a source? And even supposing that Admiral Rogers disclosed the existence and identity of a human source inside the Trump campaign, why would that necessitate a removal of the Trump transition team from Manhattan to rural New Jersey? Wouldn't removal of the source from the transition team solve the problem, without the need for a disruptive move?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Is It Possible To Be Guilty Without Violating The Law?

In the comments section to Did James Baker Really Skate? Mike Sylwester (h/t) and I had an interesting discussion regarding the Mueller/Weissman theory of prosecution for "conspiracy to defraud the government." To the best of my knowledge this theory has never been tested on appeal: defendants in the cases in which this theory has been used have--again to the best of my knowledge--pled guilty to other charges. Now, it appears that this theory is about to be put to the test in Mueller's "Russian bot case" against Concord Management and Consulting in the Southern District of New York. Judge Dabney Friedrich has issued a three-page order in which she requires that the Government answer her questions about their theory of prosecution. The judge's doubts about this theory of "conspiracy to defraud the government" can be read in the full order here. However, the gist of the problem and of the judge's objection to the Government's theory (in slightly, but only slightly, simplified form) is as follows.

According to the Government, Concord engaged in various social media activities related to US politics but failed to register as an agent of a foreign power under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). However, the judge points out that in previous hearings the Government has also maintained that to make its case it will not have to prove that Concord actually violated any regulatory law (such as FARA) but only that Concord engaged in "deceptive acts" that "interfered with the regulatory functions" of the government "in a way that precluded [the government] from ascertaining whether those substantive statutes were violated." In other words, the Government is maintaining that it needn't prove that Concord actually was acting as an agent of a foreign power, but that it was "deceptive"--and thus engaged in a conspiracy--because they didn't register with the government so that the government could make that determination.

Judge Friedrich's objection to this theory thus comes down to this: how can a failure to register be "deceptive" if the Government is unable to show a duty to register in the first place? To which I say, Good question!

The real explanation to all this is one that, unlike the Mueller/Weissman theory, won't make your head hurt. The explanation is that Mueller/Weissman never imagined that the Russian defendants would hire competent US attorneys and contest the bogus case. They thought this prosecution would be a freebee.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Did James Baker Really Skate?

There's been a fair amount of comment and outrage over the revelation by DoJ's OIG yesterday that a "senior FBI official" 1) accepted tickets to a sports event from a journalist, 2) lied under oath about it to the OIG (he first maintained that he had paid for the tickets, then admitted 5 days later that he hadn't), 3) but then was able to avoid criminal prosecution when prosecution was declined, although he subsequently "retired." In a legal environment in which the supposed crime of "lying to the FBI" has become for prosecutors that-than-which-nothing-more-heinous-can-be-conceived, this certainly smells at first whiff of swampy dealings.

And who am I to say that that's not exactly what's going on? On the other hand, there is another quite plausible possibility.

Everyone seems to agree that the "senior FBI official" in question is James A. Baker, former General Counsel to the FBI, whose more recent excellent adventures in the criminal justice system have been chronicled here: James Baker Identifies Another Source Behind the FISA Application and It's James Baker's Turn To Throw Rosenstein Under A Bus. It seems clear that the the threat of prosecution for making false statements to the government (18 USC 1001) was a major part of the legal leverage that was exerted on Baker to get him talking to OIG, Congress, and prosecutors. He apparently sang in bell like tones to Congress and is also said to be cooperating against his former good friend, James Comey. He has also been identified as "Mr. FISA" in the FBI, the top lawyer in the FBI who vetted the Carter Page FISA.

All that being the case, until I learn otherwise I'm going to assume that Baker is facing additional criminal jeopardy involving fraudulent filings with the FISA court and other aspects of the Russia Hoax. That means that he has not evaded prosecution entirely, but only for a relatively minor part of his exposure. I expect that he will continue his cooperation, and that will be the proof that he still faces possible prosecution. Further, given the seriousness of his misconduct I will be sorely disappointed if Baker is not required to plead guilty to some significant criminal charge. If that should happen--if he really does skate in the end--count me among the first who will charge: corruption.

Let me add that, in my opionion, Baker is positioned to be an extremely important witness for the Government if prosecutions occur in the future. As General Counsel to the FBI he was, basically, Comey's lawyer for official purposes. As such he would also have cooperated closely with many top officials at DoJ who have been implicated in the Russia Hoax: among others whose names come to mind I would count Bruce Ohr, David Laufman, John Carlin, Sally Yates, and Mary McCord. It goes without saying--but I'll say it anyway--that he would also have been privy to most of the Russia Hoax and NeverTrump machinations at the FBI itself. For that reason, and for reasons similar to those I outlined in Whose Afraid of Lisa Page? Baker's cooperation and testimony is a game changer when it comes to swamp draining at the FBI and DoJ.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Russia Hoax As Contingency Plan

Remember, back in August, 2016, when Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were obsessively texting one another? One exchange went something like, well, exactly like this:

"[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" Page texted Strzok.
"No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it," Strzok responded.

Fast forward a couple of years and here we are in October, 2018, just about two years after Trump's electoral triumph, and for reasons best known to themselves Ben Rhodes and Jen Psaki have decided to reveal to NYMag that the Russia Hoax was a key part of the Obama Administration's--and presumably the Clinton campaign's--contingency plan to, well, steal an election: Obama Had a Secret Plan in Case Trump Rejected 2016 Election Results. We're all adults--right?--so there's no need to quibble over the meaning of words like "results." Here's what Rhodes and Psaki are saying:


The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton. Some Republicans were already aware of Russian interference from intelligence briefings given to leaders from both parties during the chaotic months before the election. “We wanted to handle the Russia information in a way that was as bipartisan as possible,” Rhodes said. 
The existence of the postelection plan has not been previously reported. A July 2017 op-ed by Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, refers to Obama directing his staff to “prepare possible responses” to claims of Russian interference in the election.
Psaki said the plan was one of a larger set of “red-teaming” conversations to address how the White House should respond to postelection scenarios that did not have any historical precedent. “There was recognition that we had a Democratic president who was quite popular but also divisive for a portion of the population,” she said. “For them, just having him say the election was legitimate was not going to be enough. We didn’t spend a lot of time theorizing about the worst thing that could happen — this isn’t a science-fiction movie. It was more about the country being incredibly divided and Trump’s supporters being angry. Would there be protesting? I don’t want to say violence, because we didn’t talk about that as I recall.”

A lot of internet blog commenters have been belly aching about Trump putting a hold on his declassification order in the runup to the midterm elections, but this seems just as good--real red meat for the GOP base. Why Rhodes and Psaki thought it was a good idea to feed the GOP base like this is anyone's guess. I realize NYMag doesn't cater to that base, but Fox alertly picked this story up. But back to 2016 ...

Of course, the Obama and Clinton camps never foresaw--or so they claim--Trump winning the election. They feared a squeaker, a cliff hanger. Or, two years on, that's their story. So let's try a thought experiment of sorts. By dispensing with some of the coded language or doublespeak we come up with this more succinct version of what Rhodes and Psaki are saying:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Trump, Declassification, Leverage

I think interested observers are now in a position to put the whole Russia Hoax in some sort of global perspective--quite literally, as we'll see, in important respects. Recent posts by bloggers who write from widely varying perspectives give us the ability to discern the current state of play.

Let's start with the domestic front of the Russia Hoax. Sundance at Conservative Tree House has an excellent post up: President Trump and DAG Rod Rosenstein – “No Collusion”, No Immediate Worries … The overall theme is one that's dear to sundance's heart: leverage. The state of play is this. Congressional investigation has progressed to the point that it's clear beyond cavil that the entire Russia narrative is, in fact, a hoax and a fraud--both on the American people in general but also on our legal system. Which is to say, that real criminal liability exists for the key players who developed the plot against Trump. John Solomon summarizes what Congress has discovered in succinct fashion:


There is now a concrete storyline backed by irrefutable evidence: The FBI allowed itself to take political opposition research created by one party to defeat another in an election, treated it like actionable intelligence, presented it to the court as substantiated, and then used it to justify spying on an adviser for the campaign of that party's duly chosen nominee for president in the final days of a presidential election.
And when, nine months later, the FBI could not prove the allegation of collusion between Trump and Russia, unverified evidence was leaked to the media to try to sustain public support for a continued investigation.

But sundance spells out very specifically where the greatest risk--and therefore the greatest leverage--lies:


Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein created the special counsel under fraudulent pretense.  That origination material (Ohr 302’s, FISA pages, origination EC, and Page/Strzok messages) is now a risk to the Deputy AG.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

UPDATED: It's James Baker's Turn To Throw Rosenstein Under A Bus

Not long ago I did a blog with the title: Dems Throw Wray And Rosenstein Under The BusJohn Solomon is now reporting that, according to James Baker in his recent House testimony, that business about Rosenstein maybe wearing a wire against Trump was no joke--or at least not from the perspective of the FBI--Former FBI lawyer: Plot to record, remove Trump not a joke:

Baker told lawmakers he wasn’t in the meeting that McCabe had with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in which the subject came up. But he did have firsthand conversations with McCabe and the FBI lawyer assigned to McCabe, Lisa Page, about the issue.
“As far as Baker was concerned, this was a real plan being discussed,” said a source directly familiar with the congressional investigation. “It was no laughing matter for the FBI.”

Solomon is properly circumspect about what might be behind Baker's statements--after all, this could be simple truth-telling, or it could be payback for Rosenstein's cooperation with Trump in recent weeks? It remains possible, even likely, that Rosenstein wanted nothing to do with McCabe's idea of recording President Trump and seeking to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, no matter what his personal views on Trump. On the other hand, the FBI leadership--knowing what their criminal jeopardy was should Trump become aware of their shenanigans during the 2016 election--doubtless saw this as a life and death matter. For them. It wouldn't be for Rosenstein, although Rosenstein went on to create his own problems for himself--appointing the Special Counsel, approving the final FISA, all on fraudulent grounds. Solomon rightly stresses the extraordinary implications of all this:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

UPDATED: James Baker Identifies Another Source Behind the FISA Application

It's been known for some time that James Baker, the former General Counsel of the FBI, has been cooperating with investigators. As General Counsel Baker was essentially former Director James Comey's legal adviser, just as Lisa Page filled that function for former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Today, while the rest of the country remained focused on the Kavanaugh nomination, Baker testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pursuant to a confidentiality agreement that was reached with Baker and his attorneys. In general terms Baker responded to questions about the origin of the Russia Hoax operation--apparently terming the handling of the investigation "abnormal" and influenced by the political views of those handling it--as well as about the sourcing of the FISA application.

The most important aspect of Baker's testimony today, which Rep. Jim Jordan characterized as "pretty explosive", appears to have been the new information that Baker provided about the sourcing for the FISA application. To this point it has been assumed that the probable cause for the FISA application largely rested on the so-called Steele "dossier"--both Comey and McCabe have confirmed that. However, today Baker told Congress that there was another source as well. Per Fox News:

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What Are Our 'Allies' Afraid Of?

We've all read by now that President Trump's recent declassification order regarding key documents in the Russia Hoax led not only to mad scrambling in the hallways of DoJ and the FBI, but also to frantic phone calls from "close allies" of the United States, begging Trump not to declassify those documents. Which naturally leads to the question, What are those "allies" (the UK and Australia) so afraid of? Once again I want to point to Jeff Carlson's excellent work at The UK and Australia Have Reason to be Concerned About Declassification. Carlson goes into great detail, but for our purposes I'll focus simply on the UK and the role of GCHQ--their counterpart of our NSA.

The role of GCHQ is an aspect of the Russia Hoax that I've alluded to to one degree or another in at least four separate blogs. Let's review those references quickly:

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Why Were FBI/DoJ Texts Ever Redacted?

I'll keep this brief, because the in depth version can be read at Jeff Carlson' excellent blog: Why Did the DOJ Redact Text Messages Sent by FBI Employees Strzok and Page.

We've all heard the whining from FBI/DoJ that releasing the unredacted texting of Comey, McCabe, Stzok, Page and the rest of the Russia Hoax gang would pose a risk to national security by exposing sources and methods or other classified information. Carlson convincingly demonstrates that that's all hogwash.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Really? Rosenstein Wanted To Wear A Wire Against Trump?

That's pretty wild--the Deputy Attorney General offering to "wear a wire" against the President of the United States--and yet that's what the NYT is reporting, and they wouldn't publish fake news, would they? And they say he proposed this line of action because he was upset over the firing of James Comey. Clearly he hadn't been paying any attention at all to what Comey and the FBI had been up to for the past year or two--if anyone deserved firing, Comey deserved it richly. Interestingly, Rosenstein doesn't actually deny the story, instead he called it "inaccurate" and "factually incorrect." As opposed to "totally untrue" or "fake news." So we're probably safe in assuming that something like this really did transpire, and leave Rosenstein and the NYT to quibble over the details.

But what's the point in all this? I believe that, following so closely on the letter of the infamous Sub-Gang of Four "requesting" Rosenstein and FBI Director Wray (as well as DNI Coats) to clear any declassifications with them before disclosing any of the material to the President, this story is designed to place even more pressure on Rosenstein--as the person most centrally involved in and in control of the declassification process. As I elaborated in Dems Throw Wray And Rosenstein Under The Bus:
In effect the "request" by the Gang of Eight Democrats amounts to a demand that Wray and Rosenstein openly choose sides. In place of the "slow walk" strategy of documentary release that has so frustrated Congressional Republicans, Wray and Rosenstein are being "requested" to openly side with the minority party by defying a Presidential order. There is a carrot and a stick attached to this request. The stick, of course, is that if the much ballyhooed "Blue Wave" makes landfall in the US and Wray and Rosenstein haven't cooperated with the current minority, then the full fury of the new Democrat majority would be unleashed against them. The carrot is the fact that neither Wray nor Rosenstein are in good graces with President Trump. Presumably that new Democrat majority would protect Wray and Rosenstein from an enraged President Trump--if they've cooperated. By revealing publicly the fact that Wray and Rosenstein may have been colluding with the Democrats in an attempt to thwart what President Trump sees as a "crowning achievement" of his presidency--cleaning up the corruption of the FBI--the Democrats are clearly attempting to muscle Wray and Rosenstein into open opposition to Trump. They have shown their gratitude to them by placing them directly in the path of a bus named Donald J. Trump.
This new story will certainly increase the pressure on Rosenstein. After all, it has to increase the likelihood that Trump will fire Rosenstein after the midterm election. Rosenstein would therefore have a choice: stick with Trump and get fired, or side with the Dems by attempting to thwart the declassification order--and gain the everlasting gratitude of Democrats. Which might last for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

UPDATED: Dems Throw Wray And Rosenstein Under The Bus

Make no mistake about it--that's exactly what happened yesterday when the four Democrat members of the Congressional Gang of Eight sent their letter to the three Executive Branch officials who will be primarily responsible for acting on President Trump's declassification order regarding documents related to the Russia Hoax.

In the letter Senators Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff "request" DNI Dan Coats, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray to provide them "an immediate briefing ... prior to any disclosure of the affected material ... to anyone at the White House." Note the essential outrageousness of the "request." The reasoning behind the "request" is based on the assertion that the Special Counsel investigation (i.e., the Russia Hoax) "implicates the President's own campaign and associates." In effect, the claim is that once a Special Counsel is appointed a President is no longer President--at least not for matters related to the Special Counsel's investigation--which we all know can be virtually unlimited. In other words, the Special Counsel act abrogates the US Constitution with its system of checks and balances: agencies of the Executive Branch that report to the President under the US Constitution should now report to Congress!

Key to this reasoning, however, is the assertion in the letter that these three officials--Coats, Rosenstein, and Wray--have already given verbal assurances that such information would not be provided to the White House:
One June 27, 2018, we wrote again to memorialize the verbal assurance you provided us that DoJ and FBI would not provide the White House or any of the President's attorneys with access to sensitive information briefed to a small group of designated Members.
That the letter may not actually accurately reflect the "verbal assurances" can be seen from DNI Coats' later (7/12/18) written response in which he agreed that "sources and methods" must be protected. That goes without saying, of course, but who thinks that sources and methods are what are really at issue in this declassification? The terms of the order itself expressly exclude large sections of the Carter Page FISA order--precisely those sections which reference sources and methods (for full details see Andy McCarthy's Reading the FISA Redactions). In any event, as McCarthy also makes abundantly clear, the redacting of the previously released FISA order leave precious little to the imagination--except, perhaps, for those who are deficient in that respect.

What's really at issue here is the release--unredacted--of texts relevant to the Russia Hoax that were sent by two fired former FBI officials: former Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andy McCabe. Anyone who thinks that Comey and McCabe spent their time texting about sources and methods simply hasn't thought this through. Clearly the Democrats are in a state of near panic, and that suggests that they know that Comey and McCabe were probably texting regarding matters relevant to the Russia Hoax, and those texts were going to members of Congress and/or officials in the Executive Branch--and to the virulently anti-Trump media.

By sending this letter--even if it may not accurately reflect the nature of the "verbal assurances"--the Democrats have definitively thrown at least Wray and Rosenstein under the bus. Of course this is a measure of the Democrats' increasing desperation regarding the Midterm elections, but it also may be a shrewd attempt to place Wray and Rosenstein in a real bind.

In effect the "request" by the Gang of Eight Democrats amounts to a demand that Wray and Rosenstein openly choose sides. In place of the "slow walk" strategy of documentary release that has so frustrated Congressional Republicans, Wray and Rosenstein are being "requested" to openly side with the minority party by defying a Presidential order. There is a carrot and a stick attached to this request. The stick, of course, is that if the much ballyhooed "Blue Wave" makes landfall in the US and Wray and Rosenstein haven't cooperated with the current minority, then the full fury of the new Democrat majority would be unleashed against them. The carrot is the fact that neither Wray nor Rosenstein are in good graces with President Trump. Presumably that new Democrat majority would protect Wray and Rosenstein from an enraged President Trump--if they've cooperated. By revealing publicly the fact that Wray and Rosenstein may have been colluding with the Democrats in an attempt to thwart what President Trump sees as a "crowning achievement" of his presidency--cleaning up the corruption of the FBI--the Democrats are clearly attempting to muscle Wray and Rosenstein into open opposition to Trump. They have shown their gratitude to them by placing them directly in the path of a bus named Donald J. Trump.

The alternative for Wray and Rosenstein is to take their oaths of office seriously (yes, I know that sounds hopelessly old fashioned) and do their duty--perhaps also in the hopes that this will impress the President in their favor. Adding weight to this consideration may be the fact that the "slow walk" strategy--let alone open defiance--may prove difficult to maintain even in the short term of the runup to the Midterm elections. Wray and Rosenstein would be placed in the position of stonewalling a Republican majority that now has the backing of a Presidential order--and that Republican majority will be just as eager for the pre-election release of those documents as the Democrats are desperate to prevent their release. If the Republicans hold their majority in the face of betrayal by Wray and Rosenstein, the hapless duo could expect no mercy.

We may expect to learn what their choice will be in the near future. However, before closing I do want to point out that this dilemma that Wray and Rosenstein face is one that is very much of their own making. In particular, there is the matter of appointment of a Special Counsel in the first place. In Who's Afraid of Lisa Page I noted:
John Solomon, in his brilliant article (One FBI text message in Russia probe that should alarm every American), has shown that Strzok's texts actually demonstrate FBI bias at the very inception of the Special Counsel investigation. In a series of texts dated 5/19/17 (two days after Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel) Strzok stated to Page: "you and I both know ... there's no big there there." Page, in testimony to the House that followed on that of Strzok, has confirmed that the sense of this text referred to the allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. In fact, the texts show that Strzok explicitly viewed the Special Counsel investigation not as an investigation into criminal wrongdoing--as required by the Special Counsel statute--but as "an investigation leading to impeachment." In other words, he viewed the Mueller "probe" as an essentially political use of the Special Counsel statute to rid the Washington establishment of a president they didn't want.
Solomon has recently followed these thoughts up with a direct quote from Page's testimony: Lisa Page bombshell: FBI couldn’t prove Trump-Russia collusion before Mueller appointment. In his article Solomon quotes Page as testifying regarding any element of truth in the whole Russia Hoax:
“It’s a reflection of us still not knowing,” ...
and
Page opined further, acknowledging “it still existed in the scope of possibility that there would be literally nothing” to connect Trump and Russia, no matter what Mueller or the FBI did.
“As far as May of 2017, we still couldn’t answer the question,” she said at another point.

"May of 2017." What she's actually saying is: as of the appointment of the Special Counsel!

Solomon follows this up with the very pointed observation:
It might take a few seconds for the enormity of Page’s statements to sink in.
In what Page stated, she was, in effect, not going beyond what others had already said, including Comey and McCabe. But that leads inexorably to the question that Solomon poses:
If there was no concrete evidence of collusion, why did we need a special prosecutor? 
Page’s comments also mean FBI and Justice officials likely leaked a barrage of media stories just before and after Mueller’s appointment that made the evidence of collusion look far stronger than the frontline investigators knew it to be. Text messages show contacts between key FBI and DOJ players and the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the New York Times during the ramp-up to Mueller’s probe. 
And that means the news media — perhaps longing to find a new Watergate, to revive sagging fortunes — were far too willing to be manipulated by players in a case that began as a political opposition research project funded by Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and led by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who despised Trump.

Indeed--why did we need a Special Counsel? Why did we need the DoJ questioning the very legitimacy of a new administration, based on a transparent hoax, cooked up by a sleazy oppo research firm for the losing candidate? Did that serve the country, has it served the country? One asks oneself, with whom did Rosenstein sit down and seriously discuss such a momentous decision? Did he challenge those advancing the idea, cross examine them as would befit an experienced attorney? Did he question the reliability of the supposed sources? "Enormity" is the word Solomon uses, and it's well chosen.

This is the background to the increasing desperation of Democrats, and to the remarkable letter from their Gang of Eight members. The stakes in this are enormous for the country. We are in the midst of a true constitutional crisis. The Democrats are playing for keeps, with every weapon at their disposal, but they're up against one of the most remarkable and cunning politicians--against all the odds--that this country as every seen.

UPDATE: sundance at Conflicting Reports Over DOJ and FBI “Classification” and “Redaction Removal”… has provided a useful breakdown and analysis of the various categories of documents affected by Trump's declassification order. First he provides the breakdown, into four broad categories, quoting the order itself:

1) “pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page.”

(2) “all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation.”

(3) “all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.”

(4) “publicly release of all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr”.

Like me (see above), he sees most of this as relatively unproblematic. Certainly little that would be newsworthy will come out of the unredacting of the FISA application (#1). And also like me he sees the unredacting and release of the texts (#4) as the 'political "biggie"'.

Where I disagree, albeit cautiously and speculatively, is with regard to the other two categories.. I speculate that the Ohr debriefings of Steele (#2) could provide a record of tittle tattle (Steele seems to have had a taste for that) that could prove uncomfortably revealing regarding the involvement of the British intelligence services in US politics at the behest of our own intelligence services. Those documents might also shed light on any contacts Steele may have had with our State Department or the CIA. All that could be explosive.

I also disagree regarding the FD-302s that were "prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications (#3). Given that the FISA applications were largely based on the Steele "dossier" I wouldn't expect them to be particularly revealing. To the extent that sources--Halper, Mifsud, Downer--would be revealed, it's hard to see what legitimate objections could be raised, since they've already been burned. Are there other sources that we don't know of at this point? Possible, but I've seen no indications of that.

Finally, to repeat what I observed above, the Presidential Order gives Congress far more leverage than they have previously had. I believe that there is enough time before the midterm elections to use that leverage. The result should be that delay will no longer be an option--only resignation, and that would be self defeating since the "acting" replacements would surely comply immediately.

Prognosis: Trump emerges once again triumphant from this exercise in political judo.

FURTHER UPDATE: I just listened to Sara Carter explaining that the FBI kept "two sets of books" on the Russia Hoax. She says revelation of this will expose "an abuse of power the likes of which this country has never seen before." Yeah, that sounds about right. The President's declassification order, of course, covers ALL sets of books. Uh oh! Carter also rightly notes, as I have, that the existence of the Presidential Order drastically changes the power equation between the Deep State and Congress. At this point, ALL Republicans have a strong political interest in getting this stuff out ASAP, and with the declassification order in place they have all the leverage they need.

YIKES--ANOTHER UPDATE! Scott Johnson, Dems sweat declassification, asks, "Hey, what about Coats?" He's referring to the absence of Coats' name from my subject line.

Perhaps I could have been a bit clearer. I had two reasons for not including Coats:

1. Coats is a bit of a special case in this declassification schema. His only real involvement has to do with the FISA application (the other docs are more or less agency specific property--whereas FISA falls within a much broader regulatory scheme). As I pointed out, Andy McCarthy did a great job of demonstrating that, despite the redactions, the release of the FISA apps already accomplished leaves little or nothing to the imagination. As a result Coats has no skin in the game, probably couldn't care less what anyone says.

2. Coats, in his written response to the Sub-Gang of Four, actually quoted by them, cleverly deflects their assertions by blandly stating that he agrees that sensitive sources and methods should be protected. Everyone knows that that's not at all what's at stake here--what's at stake is politically sensitive information that is not at all protected by the the sources/methods exception. The declassification order expressly exempts  from the FISA declassification those pages that contain the sources/methods information (McCarthy explains that particularly well). As for the rest of the docs, the likelihood that there are any sources/methods problems are slim to none--and very easily dealt with.

As a result, Coats--perhaps showing that he learned a thing or two in his time as a Senator--has IMO removed himself from jeopardy. Rosenstein and Wray? Uh, not so much.