Saturday, April 20, 2019

Now They Tell Us ...

But did they ever tell the FISA Court (FISC)?

Anonymous sources, including one in DoJ, are now telling us that the FBI "had doubts" about the Russian source for Christopher Steele's "dossier." The NYT reports:

By January 2017, F.B.I. agents had tracked down and interviewed one of Mr. Steele’s main sources, a Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West, according to a Justice Department document and three people familiar with the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. After questioning him about where he’d gotten his information, they suspected he might have added his own interpretations to reports passed on by his sources, one of the people said. For the F.B.I., that made it harder to decide what to trust.
Agents did not believe that either the source or Mr. Steele was deliberately inventing things, according to the former official. How the dossier ended up loaded with dubious or exaggerated details remains uncertain, but the document may be the result of a high-stakes game of telephone, in which rumors and hearsay were passed from source to source. 
Another possibility — one that Mr. Steele has not ruled out — could be Russian disinformation. 

Let's go step by step.

By January, 2017, FBI agents had "tracked down" one of Steele's "main sources." Really? Tracked down ... how? Pardon my skepticism, but I think a proper translation of this narrative would run something like this ...

By January, 2017, the FBI had finally persuaded Steele to allow them to speak to someone whom he claimed was a source of information for his dossier. In other words, by that point in time Steele had worked out a story with a Russian he knew, had rehearsed it, and thought it might work for purposes of an interview. And who was this dynamite source, who could pass on what Westerners were meeting with which Putin insiders? "A Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West." That's not very impressive as sources go, even allowing for protection of the "source's" identity.

But then they drop a real bombshell--this source, this "Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West," turns out to have been passing on tittle tattle from other "sources." And of course neither the FBI nor Steele would, even accepting that this was true, have access to those sources--who may or may not have ever existed. Obviously Steele must be a big John le Carre fan, since this reads exactly like the "source Merlin" setup in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy--with Steele, appropriately enough, playing Bill Haydon, the Russian "mole."

I'm not going to say I'm surprised that the FBI fell for this nonsense--people in all walks of life tend to believe what they want to believe. That, of course, is granting the FBI a considerable benefit of the doubt. However, I am going to say that I'm surprised, even a bit shocked, that they would have been so reckless as to put themselves so far on the wrong side of the law as to:

  1. Present this stuff to the FISC without any elementary steps taken to verify it, but representing this "information" as passing the probable cause standard of scrutiny;
  2. Fail to pull the plug on the FISA immediately when they came to have doubts, and inform the FISC of this decision;
  3. Not only continue the FISA but renew it three times despite their doubts--again, without flagging these serious problems.

And they did this without any credible backup stories or excuses that I'm aware of. Yes, they claimed they trusted Steele, based on past experience with him, but that's not a terribly credible excuse either (cf. Just How Reliable Is Christopher Steele?) In my opinion that excuse is unlikely to hold much water when push comes to shove--like, at a criminal trial. Not only will the FBI be required to explain why they presented this material to the FISC without full disclosure and caveats regarding their inability to verify it, but Bruce Ohr will be testifying that he told everyone who would listen just how biased Steele was.

If it comes to that point, I doubt that many people in a position to judge will be entertaining much uncertainty as to "How the dossier ended up loaded with dubious or exaggerated details." Nor will those in a position to judge have much sympathy for the FBI's conduct, considering what it's objective was: to spy on a presidential campaign organization.

So, perhaps what this story represents is the dawning awareness at the FBI that CYA time has arrived. If those who were involved in the Carter Page FISA are in a position to finger higher level officials who were behind all this, they'd better be doing that sooner rather than later. Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff will not save them from Bill Barr.

POSTSCRIPT: Am I the only person who wonders how Rod Rosenstein has been spending his days at DoJ for the last two months. Redacting the Mueller report could have been accomplished in one long workday. Perhaps, rather than stonewalling IG Horowitz he's now assisting Horowitz's inquiries. Perhaps he's trying to convince Horowitz of what he told the House--that he didn't actually bother to read that final FISA application. Ouch! That'll be a tough sell, one way or another. Either he was lying or he was grossly derelict in fulfilling his duties. Then again, maybe he has some other interesting stories to relate.


  1. This is the passive formulation- mistakes happened.

  2. Yeah, sh*t happens. But these guys will soon be, if they aren't already, in the unenviable position of having to explain to unsympathetic interviewers why they made mistake after mistake, and all tending in the same direction.

  3. I would think "accidentally" corrupting the FISA process to initiate FBI persecution of Americans who "coincidentally" are political opponents of your boss - is tho opposite of upholding the constitution, and deserves severe federal prison punishment.

    1. We'll soon be learning what Barr's view on that is. He's already said he thinks spying on a poltical campaign is "a big deal."

  4. Mr. Wauck,

    I have a burning question for you? Why didn’t AG Barr make Mueller either exonerate or recommend charges be filed against the President? AG Joe would’ve said “You made this bed, you lie in it.” Perhaps AG Barr has plans for Mueller?

    Did you notice Rosenstein’s wooden appearance? Commenters on the left and right have noticed. This tells me that something is going on. Either RR struck a deal for cooperation to expose Mueller, Weissmann, et al. I’ll say again that I don’t understand Mr. Barr praising Rosenstein and Mueller. Although one could read between the lines that more was implied than a thank you.

    Speaking of thanks, my thanks for pointing to Will Chamberlain. He is one sharp (and engaging) man.

    Can you imagine the arrogance and haughtiness of Weissmann’s plan to charge Trump? Where does he deduce that he is a superior officer to the President? As much as I dislike this cast of characters and want them all punished, Weissmann has to be in the top five of deserving a reckoning.

    DJT’s pushing so hard to keep and expand the senate was brilliant and led to the feckless Sessions moving on. Do you think that Weissmann would’ve charged obstruction for the President expanding his senate majority so that he could bring in Mr. Barr and end the witch hunt? I’m joking with the comment. Unfortunately with Weissmann’s twisted thinking, Weissmann maybe he would’ve tried such a stunt.

    Happy Easter.

    1. "Why didn’t AG Barr make Mueller either exonerate or recommend charges be filed"

      Listen to Chamberlain explain about obstruction. They wouldn't want a recommendation that charges be filed--how do you get out of that, politically? I suspect there was a bit of a deal with Mueller: Barr wouldn't permit any such recommendation on principle, because he'd already said it was an illegitimate and irresponsible theory. But he let them go ahead and present their investigation on the theory of giving them as much rope as they wanted to ultimately hang themselves. Barr will be testifying before the Senate and the House. He'll be grilled on obstruction and you can count on it--he'll be loaded for bear.

      "I don’t understand Mr. Barr praising Rosenstein and Mueller."

      It cost him nothing. When he testifies re obstruction, the gloves will be off. He already stated in his 2018 memo that the obstruction theory was bad law and irresponsible. He'll double down on that.

      Re the Chamberlain video re Barr getting appointed, he leaves out that before the election Grassley stated that Trump deserved an AG he could work with. That means the Senate was involved in the decision to dump Sessions and bring in Barr. They knew Barr was confirmable--that's what they needed from Trump, and his campaigning sealed the deal.

      I totally agree re Weissmann.

      Re RR, I think he's got some real legal problems and is being required to cooperate. It's known that the IG was investigating him already re the FISA. His approval of the Special Counsel was also dodgy in the extreme.

      Christ is risen!

    2. I actually don't buy parts of Chamberlain's theory. It was clear to me since at least the end of 2017 that the obstruction investigation wouldn't be directed at the Comey firing or even to the events detailed in the Comey memos to self- I figured out that they were mostly trying to induce an overt act such as firing the SC, and lacking that would revert to trying to indict for the public criticisms of the Special Counsel that Trump unleashed on a regular basis. Now, wasn't really aware of the specific statute they would try to invoke- I am no lawyer- but had I been such a person with Barr's history, I would surely have been able to predict exactly which statute they would attempt to use. Barr didn't need the President's attorneys to give him the inside information. I think Barr acted on his own initiative with the letter to Rosenstein, and he then became the only candidate to replace Sessions.

      I still think the real change's that lead to the outcome we got Thursday is that Rosenstein got outed by McCabe, and lost whatever perceived even-handedness he had. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the Rosenstein White House meeting immediately following the publication of that story- it could not have been a fun meeting for Rosenstein.

      Of course, holding the Senate allowed the replacement of Sessions, and after that I think Mueller realized there was no point in trying to take this any further.

      Was their bargain in the report? I doubt it. There was no way to spin Volume 1, so no need to offer a deal for that. As for Volume 2, the idea that you can obstruct by publicly declaring your innocence is so outlandish, I don't think Barr cared to stop them from doing that. Politically, it is a dead end for the Democrats, and he is perfectly willing to let them have the keys to the car. I think better heads will eventually prevail in the Democratic leadership, but it is still an open question of whether or not they impeach.

    3. Makes sense to me--to do obstruction on the Comey firing would have been a bridge too far for any obstruction theory, simply from the fact that no obstructive actions followed on the firing--which couldn't have been obstructive in itself. But we're not dealing with honest legal theorists here, and Barr's memo had all angles covered.

      Speaking of being a fly on the wall, how about a fly in Airforce One? Recall the much publicized flight to Florida in which Rosenstein rode along with Trump, and Trump proclaimed they had a "beautiful relationship"? That would've been 10/14/18, I believe.

    4. I think the conversation was basically this- "You have three choices- (1)resign, (2)recuse yourself, or (3)rein Mueller in until the AG is free to take back control of the department. Rosenstein was smart in picking (3).

    5. It will be interesting to see where RR comes out in all this. If he was offered those three options and chose 3, and is now cooperating, that could by him some slack for what I regard as criminally irresponsible behavior. And maybe just delete the "irresponsible."

  5. I should read your whole column before commenting. You may've partly addressed my RR question. Please do still weigh in.

    Thank you.

  6. The Progressives (and their media allies) are in a quandary. Do they continue on a course of political suicide by pursuing impeachment regardless of the Mueller report? Do they make a full court press in the media to rationalize the coup criminality as some sort of legitimate but bungled investigation gone astray (and thereby hope to minimize collateral damage)? Why not do both at the same time? Yeah, that's the ticket!

    If Barr doesn't do something definitive, this national nightmare will never end.