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.