Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 6, 2018
Oh boy. The two, separate realities that have opened in Washington — and on cable television — over investigating official wrongdoing are growing fangs. And getting weird.
I can handle complexities, but what we have before us is a distracting mess, almost a “swamp,” as someone we know might call it.
As we all know, what had started as a series of bipartisan questions relating to organized Russian influence in the 2016 presidential elections has since sprawled into inquiries into cooperation from the Trump campaign, into possible obstruction of justice charges stemming from actions around the firing of James B. Comey Jr. as the FBI director, into possible financial misdoings among the Trump campaign team and, of course, about lying to the FBI.
Along the way came three separate congressional investigations and the work by very respected Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Up until now, the special counsel effort has resulted the first indictments of Trump campaign colleagues Michael T. Flynn, Paul J. Manafort and George Papadopolous.
Now there are calls for a second special counsel to look at bias by the first special counsel. Sound like an attempt to get at the truth?
Just this week, The New York Times reported that Trump was involved in several intersecting actions that could be reviewed in an obstruction of justice investigation. The reporting included efforts by the White House’s own lawyers in their failed effort to dissuade Trump from firing Comey exactly because it might represent obstruction, efforts to keep Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the eventual investigation, and efforts by staffers for Sessions asking congressional sources for dirt on Comey in order to justify the coming dismissal.
And now comes the not-so-bipartisan other shoe.
After threats and prodding from President Donald Trump, the Justice Department has begun a renewed inquiry into any “pay-to-play” entanglements or other illegal activities while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State. According to The Hill.com, law enforcement sources said at least one witness already has been interviewed about whether the Clintons promoted policy in return for support of the Clinton Foundation or donations. The Washington Post says the probe has been quietly under way for months by an FBI team based in Little Rock, Ark. As described, this probe is exploring donations and operations of the Foundation. Officially the FBI is not commenting.
Republicans in Congress have been pushing for reopening investigation of Clinton’s handling of emails and the 2010 decisions regarding approval for Uranium One, a Canadian company sold to Russians. Trump himself tweeted this week that Clinton aide Huma Abedin should be jailed for her handling of Clinton’s emails, based on news reports about a conservative group that used the Freedom of Information Act to look at the emails she handled. Those are the same emails that the FBI had said did not rise to prosecution levels.
Now Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Linsey O. Graham (R-SC) have recommended that the Justice Department investigate for possible criminal charges Christopher Steele, the former British spy and author of the notorious dossier alleging Trump campaign coordination with the Kremlin during the 2016 election.
The criminal referral marks an escalation in challenges by Republicans to the FBI’s credibility and calls for examination as to whether Steele lied to the FBI, a crime. The actual referral was kept private, but it is a clear statement that what needs investigating is not the meat of the issues at hand, but what has gone into the official Russia investigation.
In other words, investigate the investigators. The move was criticized both by Democrats and by legal experts who see it as part of the effort to muddy the investigative waters.
It’s a theme that plays out over cable television. On MSNBC and CNN, there are talking heads talking every aspect of what constitutes obstruction of justice, ethics and appropriate White House behavior. On Fox News, there is virtually no mention of these items, but plenty about those trying to unroot anti-Trump bias in the FBI and Justice. It is as if there are two worlds, two countries, two realities.
Steele’s role has always proved a matter of debate. The White House and Republicans argue that his reports were false and biased, since he was hired with money from a small opposition research company called Fusion GPS, that in turn had been hired first by Republican opponents and then by a lawyer associated with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
And there is more to come, with Republican House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes separately going after the dossier as being used inappropriately as evidence for seeking special warrants that allowed federal authorities to listen in on international figures who were talking with Americans, including Flynn and Manafort. During this last week, Speaker Paul Ryan met with Rod J. Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, and Christopher Wray, head of the FBI, to secure release of the dossier and related paperwork and witnesses to the House Intelligence Committee.
Apparently rather than try to unearth what we have before us as possible crimes by the President of the United States, these Republicans want to throw up as much smoke as possible about Democrats, about the lines of inquiry into the special counsel’s office and within the FBI and Justice itself.
There is so much dust in the air right now that it actually is difficult to keep things straight. There is also an abundance of puffed-up indignation over lying and possible criminal action — by anyone other than the President himself.
In the meantime, little is being done to publicly identify and end influence campaigns by foreign powers in our elections. Investigating Clinton won’t protect American elections, nor will undermining the FBI investigation.
One thing that is supposed to make America Great is to ensure that no one is above the law.