Tag Archives: Nunes

Shilling for Trump

Well, well, well. As the rumors of more indictments of Trump acolytes circulate in the winter winds of Washington, the Trump enablers in Congress appear to have been overcome with a bad case of nerves. They are pulling out the stops in an overt effort to derail the investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller before it makes another public move against the Trump team. Trump himself approved the release of classified information in the now infamous “Nunes memo,” and promptly tweeted that the memo completely exonerated him of any charge of collusion or obstruction of justice. In case you don’t do Twitter, here is what he said:

This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!

Au contraire, I suggest that his personal involvement in the release of the memo and attempt to use it to thwart the Mueller investigation represents, by itself, hard evidence of a direct attempt by Trump to obstruct justice by interfering in the investigation regarding his and his allies conduct. Bad move.

Today I want to turn to Alan Dershowitz who, not long ago, was a “regular” on CNN, first as a seemingly independent “legal expert” and then, increasingly, making partisan arguments in support of Trump’s position that “because I am President, I can do no wrong.” Dershowitz, a highly educated and aggressive advocate, is now a “regular” on Fox News.

Dershowitz has now argued that the Nunes Memo is a credible document entitled to respect andfurther validation. See http://fxn.ws/2DYLWDO While acknowledging that the memo is a “second hand, hearsay, account,” Dershowitz nevertheless says the memo establishes “probable cause” (the legal standard for making an arrest), for further investigation. His use of the term “probable cause” is an unsubtle way of suggesting, without saying it, that the Nunes document is evidence that a crime was committed by the FBI and/or Justice Department in applying for legal permission to surveil Carter Page, a Trump promoter and campaign worker. Dershowitz repeats his earlier call for a “nonpartisan commission of objective experts to investigate the entire issue of Russian involvement in the election and other claims made by either party about any unfairness surrounding it.” [my emphasis]

Putting aside where on this planet and this country, such “objective experts” might be found, Dershowitz, to his credit, adds that the Democratic version of the Nunes claims, also “secondhand and hearsay,” should also be released (not happening while Republicans are running things) and that this will “help to level the playing field.” Then, subject to “real needs of national security,” whatever that means and whoever would decide, the public should get the entire “redacted version” of the FISA application for surveillance of Carter Page and be able to judge for themselves whether the FBI and Department of Justice engaged in a flam-flam, not once, but at least four times, with the FISA judges (different ones for each renewal of the FISA warrant).

So what we have here, according to Dershowitz, is a situation where secondhand, highly partisan hearsay “information” from Republicans like Nunes with a history of secret dealings with the White House about the Russia election interference raises sufficient issues that we should stop the Mueller investigation and start all over again with a “nonpartisan commission” of “objective experts” to consider the issues raised by Russian interference, all because of a partisan contention that one person was surveilled inappropriately supported only  by “secondhand hearsay” information.

If this weren’t so serious. it would be laughable. Whether or not it’s true that Congress should have proceeded by nonpartisan commission rather than a special prosecutor, it is too late to change trains. The Mueller investigation is way down the tracks. The desperate maneuver of releasing only the Republican version of the Nunes memo indicates pretty clearly that the heat is being felt in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Whether deliberate or not, Dershowitz’s argument would lead to a massive slowdown, perhaps a complete shutdown, of the entire investigation, which is, of course, exactly what Trump and the Republicans in Congress wanted when they released the memo.

Dershowitz disagrees, of course, arguing that the “American public has lost faith in the objectivity of congressional committees.” No doubt, they have. Why would it be otherwise? The secret maneuvering of the Republican leadership, Nunes’s dark-of-night visits to the White House and all the other nonsense would give the Pope a headache. The notion that the public can effectively act as a jury viewing a heavily redacted document while Republicans and Democrats hurl invectives at each other about its meaning is a bridge way too far, a prescription for delay and ultimate failure. Imperfect as the process may be, the Special Prosecutor has the intelligence, independence and proper tools to do the job that needs doing.

If the President would just shut up, the entire process, and the American people in the bargain, would be well served. The fact that he keeps proclaiming his innocence when he hasn’t been charged with anything is quite telling. His behavior is that of a guilty person flailing in panic at the realization that his conduct is about to be laid bare for the world to see.

As a final word on this, do not fall prey to the facile word play of skilled advocates like Dershowitz. His legal credentials and carefully crafted arguments may seem reasonable on the surface. Before making a judgment about this, read the piece in Politico by Paul Rosenzweig at http://politi.co/2DW2fkG entitled “Even If You Take the Nunes Memo Seriously, It Makes No Sense.” The conservative R Institute, with which Rosenzweig is a Senior Fellow, sits quite far from the left wing of the Democratic Party. He is clearly not a partisan for the anti-Trump side of this fight.

The article addresses this: “let’s take the Nunes memorandum on its merits and assume that it is what it purports to be—an accurate summary of a purported problem with the FISA application process. What then should we make of it?” Rosenzweig, in my opinion, eviscerates the Nunes/Dershowitz/Trump position on the FISA application.  Read it – it’s short and accessible — and then judge for yourself.

The White House Press Corps Must Do Its Job

Most weekdays White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds a Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, during which members of the White House “press corps” sit in a small room, listen to a recitation of White House “news” and, when signaled by Spicer, ask him questions. March 28 was No. 30 in the series. You can, if so inclined, read the transcripts of these events, with a day’s delay, at http://bit.ly/2nMPMqv. The contests are also covered on radio and sometimes on television. I caught part of the March 28 episode on radio, during which Spicer lambasted a reporter for “shaking your head” while he was rejecting her question, and decided to read the entire transcript.

Because the mission of the free press is to discover and report the factual news, what we might call reality or as close to reality as they can get, while the working hypothesis of the Trump administration is that the free press is out to get the President through “fake news” (i.e., anything Trump doesn’t like), these sessions often have a competitive edge to them. Indeed, you might say there is a lot of hostility, both expressed and implied. Some of this conflict is natural and has been around for decades. The White House always wants the news to be good and the press brings to the table an innate skepticism about much of what politicians have to say. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has, perhaps uniquely, declared open war on the press, describing it, in a phrase borrowed from dictators and autocrats over the ages, as the “enemy of the people.”

Turning to the Spicer performance, he said this:

“One of those places that he [Trump] hopes to find common ground with Senate Democrats … is the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  Yesterday, many Senate Democrats began declaring support for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s partisan filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch….

Leading Democrats have lamented these tactics as recently as last year [citing statements by Senator Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Senator Claire McCaskill who tweeted “[T]he constitution says the Senate shall advise and consent.  And that means having an up-or-down vote.”] ….

When the shoe was on the other foot, when a Supreme Court nominee for a Democratic President went through the confirmation hearings and meetings with senators from both parties, neither Justices Kagan nor Sotomayor faced an attempted Senate filibuster.  Both received Republican votes in support of their confirmations.

In fact, during the Kagan nomination, on the Senate floor, when Senate Leader Harry Reid planned to file a cloture motion to bring Kagan to a vote, it was then-Senator and now current Attorney General Jeff Sessions who … asked Senator Reid to proceed with a vote without the need for overcoming a Republican filibuster.

Judge Gorsuch has met with most of the Senate Democratic caucus.  He has gone through days of hearings and answered probing questions.  He is eminently qualified and deserves the deference and consideration from the minority Senate Democrats that President Obama’s selections were given once they had gone through the confirmation process.” [Italics added]

Wow! That one takes my breath away. Notice the phrasing “when a Supreme Court nominee for a Democratic President went through the confirmation hearings” and “once they had gone through the confirmation process.” That language enables Spicer to completely ignore the fact that the Republicans refused to give even a hearing to President Obama’s nominee for the same Supreme Court seat. Nicely done, Mr. Spicer. You juked and dodged around that one without a challenge!

Later, Spicer said: “… the President was pleased to see that Ford announced $1.2 billion investment in three manufacturing facilities in Michigan, just two weeks after automobile executives came to the White House and met with the President.”

Another whopper. Trump once again claims credit for something that Ford Motor Company, according to its President for the Americas, as reported in the Detroit News, has been working up for “quite some time. It’s a mixed bag here for what’s new.”  http://detne.ws/2nGDC24. Ford’s own announcement on March 28 did not mention Trump or their meeting. http://ford.to/2nedho9.

Eamon Javers of CNBC asked this:

“… the White House is saying that they’re going to reverse President Obama’s so-called “war on coal.”  But a lot of people in the coal industry suggest that jobs are just not going to come back in that industry, based on the way the industry has changed, technology and other things.  Does this administration have an estimate of how many jobs will be created as a result of the actions it’s taking today?

Spicer’s response: “I’m not aware of one, an estimate….” He went on the say that miners and mine owners who had been invited to the White House were big supporters and that was enough.

Clearly, the White House has no clear idea what the job-creating effects of the reversal of environmental restrictions on the coal industry will be. The administration is simply taking the word of the industry that it’s “going to make coal great again,” and is disregarding the painstaking work that went into the Clean Power Plan to estimate the benefits and costs, as required by law. The MCGA move will result in huge environmental damage while likely yielding an insignificant number of new jobs.

But that is small potatoes compared to what followed.

Francesca Chambers of Mail Online asked:

“Yesterday you weren’t able to tell us very much about Congressman Nunes’s visit to the … White House grounds to view classified information last week.  A Democrat on the committee today said that the White House would have known that he was here.  The same Democrat also said that it looked like a criminal cover-up to him.  My question to you is, have you learned any more information since we had this conversation yesterday about how he would have even gotten in and how he would have gotten cleared?

Here is Spicer’s response:

“I think the thing that’s important to note is there is somewhat of a double standard when it comes to classified information.  When leaks are made illegally to the press, and you all report them, the coverage focuses almost entirely on the substance of the allegation and that are part of an illegal lead, not on the illegal nature of the disclosure, the identity of the leaks, or their agenda.

But when the information that is occurring now, which is two individuals who were properly cleared — or three, or whoever he met with — I don’t know — that they are sharing stuff that is entirely legal with the appropriate clearances — and then there is an obsession on the process.

… it’s a backwards way that when you all report on stuff with sources that are leaking — illegally leaking classified information, that’s appropriate and fine.  No one questions that — the substance and material.  When two individuals, or however many are engaged in this process, have a discussion that is 100 percent legal and appropriate and cleared, suddenly the obsession becomes about the process and not the substance.

And I think that it is somewhat reckless and — how the conversation over classified information is discussed without — while sort of attempting to press a false narrative that exists.  So while it is completely appropriate to share classified information with individuals who are cleared, it is clearly not the case to do that when it is illegally leaked out.  And I think that’s sort of the irony of how this whole conversation has …. [Note: transcript ends here]”

Spicer never came close to answering the question that was asked, which was: ““have you learned any more information since we had this conversation yesterday about how he would have even gotten in and how he would have gotten cleared?” Instead, he launched an attack on the media’s treatment of leaks, the standard playbook for almost every question that relates to whether Trump and colleagues colluded with Russia to influence the last election.

And he got away with it! The closest he came to a substantive response is this exchange with another reporter: “So we’re taking what you’re saying as assurances that Chairman Nunes’s decision to call of [sic: s/b “off”] that hearing did not have anything to do with any pressure from with [sic] White House? Spicer’s answer: “No.”

Then there was this exchange:

“Does the President still believe that climate change is a hoax?

Spicer’s reply:

“I think you will hear more today about the climate and what he believes.  I think he understands — he does not believe that — as I mentioned at the outset, that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth, and caring about the environment.  And that’s what we should be focusing on.  I think, at the end of the day, where we should be focusing on is making sure that all Americans have clean water, clean air, and that we do what we can to preserve and protect our [transcript ends].”

Of all the questions asked at this briefing, that one, you would think, could be answered with a simple, direct “yes or no.” The equivocation suggests that the actions the President has taken to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency and other abrupt removals of restraints on air and water pollution show that the President of the United States sticks to his earlier claims that “climate change is a hoax.”

It’s also a fair conclusion that, despite the dissembling, the press corps never laid a glove on Spicer or Trump, despite multiple opportunities to challenge falsehoods, distortions and deflections. It’s perhaps too early for a final judgment but this experience suggests that Trump is winning the disinformation battle with the media. If so, we are in serious trouble.

If you are concerned about this, you should communicate with the principal media organizations on which you depend to find out and report the truth. Tell them they must not sit like lumps of clay when confronted with overt dissembling, avoidance of hard questions and outright false statements. It is difficult, but the members of the White House press corps must aggressively press for answers to their questions and challenge the evasions with which the March 28 event was replete.

For Whom Is the Chair of House Intelligence Committee Working?

In a report published this afternoon in USAToday, http://usat.ly/2nojfXw, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee was attributed as saying that “communications involving members of President Trump’s transition group were “incidentally collected” by U.S. intelligence officials following the November election.”

According to the report, updated from its first publication,

“Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., did not identify other transition members swept up in the surveillance, adding that he has viewed “dozens” of such intelligence reports that appeared “legal” but perhaps “inappropriate.” “What I’ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because some of it appears to be inappropriate,” Nunes told reporters at the White House after briefing the president on the findings. [Note that the original USAToday story included this line, “”I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.”] [Note also that Sean Spicer has been reported saying that Nunes spoke to the press before informing Trump]

The chairman said the intelligence reports were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the collection was related to broader intelligence gathering activities.

….

Nunes also has rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. And he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.” [emphasis added]

“Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday. Nevertheless, Trump, while meeting Wednesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ statements.

” I must tell, you I somewhat do,” the president said. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.” Before briefing the president, Nunes said he also notified House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., of the information. Nunes suggested that the information came from one or more whistleblowers. “It came through the proper channels and the proper clearances,” Nunes said. “This was information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to see.”  He said the National Security Agency has been cooperative, but the FBI so far has not.

Nunes said the surveillance itself appeared to be legal — presumably through a warrant from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — but that the concern was what intelligence agencies did with that information. He would not rule out that senior Obama administration officials received the intelligence or that they were involved in the “unmasking” of the citizens identified in the reports. [Note that he can’t rule Obama’s officials “in” either] But he also re-stated his belief that Obama did not order the wiretapping of Trump Tower, as Trump himself has suggested in a series of March 4 tweets and subsequent public remarks.

“From what I’ve read, there seems to be some level of surveillance action — perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right,” he said. Nunes said nothing he shared with the president was within the scope of the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump associates. “The reports I was able to see did not have anything to do with the Russia investigation,” the congressman said. “The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there, and I have a duty to tell him that.”

The source of that duty is not clear. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee does not report to the President. I would think that in the midst of an on-going FBI investigation involving the President’s staff, present and former, and possibly the President himself (the investigation is in early stages), the chair would not go running to the President with every piece of information he discovers that he thinks helps exonerate the President or gives more ammunition for the thoroughly discredited claims that the former President Obama ordered electronic surveillance of Trump Tower. Moreover, Nunes concedes that the surveillance he claims to have discovered was legal. The basis for his suggestion that it was not “right” is not clear.

The first USAToday report also stated that “White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the Nunes’ information as “startling,” saying that it required additional investigation.” Clearly, Nunes’s disclosures have had the intended effect of bolstering the President’s team in promoting the false narrative that Trump Tower was surveilled.

This hasty action by the chair of the Intelligence Committee speaks volumes about the objectivity of the Republican-managed Committee’s involvement in the FBI investigation and is further compelling, indeed overwhelming, evidence for the need to appoint an independent prosecutor to oversee the investigation of the Trump-Russia connection.

The USAToday report goes on to quote Nunes thus: “I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.” And then this:

“The chairman said the reports and incidental collection of names were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the activities were elated [sic] to intelligence gathering.”

I am not an expert in these matters but I’m having a hard time distinguishing between these disclosures by the chair and what the Trump administration, and the chair himself, have repeatedly decried as “leaks.” Apparently, the only bad leak is one that doesn’t help the false presidential narrative. Furthermore, if the documents reviewed by the chair were indeed related to “intelligence gathering,” why did he feel it was appropriate for him to rush to the White House with the information?

Despite all this hoopla, the report states that “Nunes also rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. But he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”  By disclosing this “unrelated information,” Nunes appears to have fed the President the talking points he needs to continue his discredited (by both the FBI and NSA) claim of wiretapping. Chair Nunes has, it seems to me, removed the last shred of doubt about his inability and/or unwillingness to lead a proper investigation into the President and his minions. He is too beholden to the President and way too anxious to exonerate him. What is required here is an independent leader of a serious investigation. Failing that, any ultimate exoneration by the Republican led House Intelligence Committee will be suspect.