Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Trump’s Pursuers Now Being Pursued

The tables have turned in Washington, DC.

Democrats and other critics of President Trump who have never accepted the legitimacy of his presidency are on the defensive. The failure of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month-long investigation to support accusations that Trump or members of his campaign conspired with Russia to defeat Mrs. Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, or that Trump obstructed Mueller’s investigation, has forced Democrats to search for other evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by Trump to justify his removal through impeachment.

The deft handling by Attorney General William Barr of the Mueller report made it clear to the American people that Trump was innocent of collusion, and that there was insufficient evidence to support a charge of obstruction of justice. It also lent credibility to Trump’s claim that he had been the victim over the past two years of a witch hunt conducted by his political enemies and the media.

While the Mueller probe was in progress, evidence uncovered by Trump’s Republican supporters in Congress and conservative groups raised serious questions about the origins of the investigation, as well as the illegal tactics which were employed by the FBI and Justice Department officials. These included the wholesale leaking of classified information about the targets of the investigation to the media and the underhanded means which were employed by the Justice Department to obtain a secret FISA court surveillance warrant against a member of the Trump campaign.


Mueller’s report made virtually no mention of these issues, and focused exclusively on the actions of Trump and his campaign associates. But Barr clearly felt it was also his job as attorney general to clear up any suspicions of impropriety in the way the Trump-Russia investigation had been handled, from beginning to end. This included the Clinton campaign’s secret payment for the creation of British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier of unproven Russian allegations against Trump, and the dossier’s subsequent abuse by the FBI.

Democrats immediately claimed that Barr’s investigation is nothing more than a political diversion, but Trump’s supporters believe that Barr may be able to prove that the Clinton campaign was not the victim of a 2016 Russian conspiracy, but rather its perpetrator.

While Trump remains the primary target of congressional Democrats, they are growing more concerned about Barr’s determination to find out who was behind the original investigation, and to expose those responsible for the greatest political hoax in American history.


Barr is leading a three-pronged effort to uncover the roots of the bogus collusion investigation and identify who was responsible for it.

One of the investigations was started more than a year ago by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He is conducting an internal review into the FBI’s applications for a secret surveillance warrant from the FISA court on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The first application, in October 2016, was based primarily upon the false Steele dossier, whose accuracy was vouched for by senior FBI and DOJ officials.

In previous probes, Horowitz uncovered the partisan plotting against Trump by FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which led to their removal from the Mueller investigation. The IG also exposed lies told by Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe to DOJ investigators, which led to McCabe’s firing just before his scheduled retirement in 2018. According to Barr, IG Horowitz is preparing to release his report on the FISA application within a few weeks.

A second investigation, whose timeframe is unclear, is being conducted by US Attorney John Huber, based in Utah. He was assigned by former attorney general Jeff Sessions more than a year ago to look into the Russian collusion hoax, and his investigation has been conducted entirely under the radar.

Barr has assigned the third probe into the origins of Trump-Russia investigation to one of the DOJ’s most respected prosecutors, US Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, who is renowned for his impartiality.

Durham had been investigating the leaks of classified information which permeated the Trump-Russia probe for at least eight months. His name came up in congressional testimony on October 3, 2018, during the questioning of former FBI lawyer James Baker about his contacts with Mother Jones reporter David Corn, whose story describing some of the allegations in the Steele dossier was published a week before the 2016 election.

When Republican Congressman Jim Jordan asked Baker whether Corn had told him anything about the Steele dossier, Baker’s lawyer did not allow him to answer, because Baker was still the subject of a criminal investigation into illegal leaks. When Baker’s lawyer was asked who was handling that investigation, he said, “John Durham.”


On April 10, a week before Barr finished redacting the Mueller report for public release, he casually dropped a comment in his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee which alarmed Democrats. Barr indicated his intention to launch his own probe into whether the Trump-Russia investigation was properly handled, as well as the irregularities that were uncovered by Republican-headed congressional committees looking into the initial FBI counter-intelligence investigation.

“I think spying did occur,” Barr said. When questioned about his choice of words, which Democrats would later challenge, Barr emphasized that “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.” He then referred to accusations of government spying against the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War era, and how new rules were put in place at that time to prevent “our law enforcement agencies [from getting] involved in political surveillance.”

Barr said once more that “Yes, I think spying did occur” during the Trump Russia investigation, “but the question is whether it was adequately predicated. . . I need to explore that. I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.”

He then mentioned that “a substantial portion. . . is being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General” and that he was also “looking into. . . improper surveillance” by the FBI on the Trump campaign in 2016.

Barr said he was troubled that the FBI failed to follow the normal practice of notifying leaders of the Trump campaign, which included two former US attorneys, Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, that it was under investigation. “I just want to satisfy myself that there was no abuse of law enforcement or intelligence powers,” Barr said, and added that he would be looking into the involvement of other intelligence organizations in the Trump-Russia investigation, in addition to the FBI.


By announcing his intention to “investigate the investigators,” Barr gave Democrats reason to fear, and Republicans reason to hope, that he would expose the entire plot by Democrats and the Clinton campaign to fabricate the Steele dossier and promote its false accusations in an effort to destroy Trump’s candidacy, and then his presidency.

In an effort to discredit what Barr was likely to find, he was immediately attacked by Democrats and the anti-Trump media as a political-motivated hack and Trump apologist, despite Barr’s distinguished professional record for service in the Justice Department more than 25 years ago, including a prior stint as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.

Democrats accused Barr of acting more like President Trump’s personal lawyer than the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Barr denies that accusation, even though he makes no apology for supporting the president’s executive power. The attorney general explained in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he is much more interested in protecting the presidency as an institution than in defending the individual who is holding the office.

During his April 10 testimony, Barr was reluctant to make any flat accusations of wrongdoing by FBI or other government officials in their handling of the Trump-Russia investigation. He chose to characterize the issues which he had raised as “questions” he wanted answered.


At that point, Barr was already under attack by Democrats for having released his own summary of Mueller’s conclusions, two days after Mueller submitted his report to Barr, but before the report itself could be made public. In his summary, drafted with the help of then-Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Barr cleared the president of the two main allegations against him: conspiring with Russia and obstructing the subsequent investigation. This prevented Trump’s political enemies from initially spinning news coverage of the report’s findings in a way that would damage the president in the eyes of the public.

By May 1, in his voluntary testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee about his handling of the Mueller report, Barr was much more definite about the abuses he wanted to investigate in what would be nicknamed “Spygate” by the media.

When he was asked about “unauthorized media contact,” Barr said, “we have multiple criminal leak investigations under way,” apparently including Durham’s investigation of Baker.

Regarding the FBI’s decision to launch the original Trump-Russia investigation, Barr said, “I am looking into it and have looked into it. . . Yes, I have people in the department helping me review the activities over the summer of 2016.”

When asked whether any members of Trump campaign in addition to Carter Page had been put under surveillance, he said this was one of the things that he “needs to look at,” and that his team was “trying to reconstruct exactly what went down.”

Barr said that one of the reasons why he took the job of attorney general was because “I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump, and I thought it was damaging for the presidency over the long haul.” Barr feels that it is important to make sure that the presidency remains strong and independent enough “to provide leadership and direction” in times of national crisis.


Before he is through, Barr hopes to find the answers to as many of the nagging questions still surrounding the Trump-Russia investigation as possible. These include “how and why it was opened,” if it related to “the “lack of professionalism in the [Clinton] email investigation,” “when did surveillance of the Trump campaign begin,” and whether Mueller’s investigators failed to pursue some hot leads or buried important evidence about the Steele dossier.

Barr said that he has ordered a new investigation into the origins of the Russia probe because the answers he has gotten to many of these questions were “inadequate.”

Barr told Fox News last week that he believes that it is just as important that the American people be told about the abuses in the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election campaign as it was to inform them of the subversive activities by the Russians.

He added that the new investigation is necessary because Mueller was assigned to investigate only what the Russians were doing and he “did not look at the government’s activities” at that time. He also said that because some of the explanations he has been given “don’t hang together. . . I have more questions today than I did when I first started.”

Barr is pursuing these issues to help him piece together the answer to the biggest question of all: “How did we get to the point here where the evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous and accused of being a Russian agent? The evidence now is that [accusation] was without a basis. Two years of [Trump’s] administration have been dominated by allegations that have been proven false.”

Democrats are obviously extremely concerned about all the answers Barr may ultimately find.


Starting with his handling of the Mueller report when it was first delivered to him, Barr has proven himself to be cool under pressure. He is not afraid to express his legal opinions, even when he knows they are unpopular, and he is fully capable of defending them when they are attacked.

As he told senators at his confirmation hearing in January, Barr was initially reluctant to be considered for attorney general, because he was looking forward to retirement, “and I’ve had this job before. But ultimately, I agreed to serve because I believe strongly in public service, I revere the law, I love the Department of Justice and the dedicated professionals who serve there.”

Barr is a lifelong Republican. He had no relationship with Trump before he became president, and supported Jeb Bush during the 2016 GOP presidential primary campaign. But Trump has been delighted with Barr’s performance since becoming attorney general, especially his willingness to stand up to his critics.

Barr understands the rough and tumble of Washington politics. He seems to be impervious to threats, insults and intimidation. He is a man with a mission, and so far, he has not allowed anything to get in his way. That is why Democrats fear him.


Trump’s success in escaping formal censure by the Mueller report was due, in part, to the strategy of his private legal team. They urged him to comply with the special counsel’s every request, supplying Mueller with more than one million documents and access to witnesses in the Trump White House. That included 30 hours of testimony by then-White House Counsel Don McGahn, who revealed embarrassing but not incriminating inside information about Trump’s actions in response to the investigation. That cooperation eventually enabled Trump’s lawyers to successfully resist Mueller’s request for a face-to-face interview with the president, by arguing that prosecutors already had sufficient evidence to determine the president’s guilt or innocence.

However, once Mueller’s report was submitted, the White House declared the Russian collusion case closed and halted all further cooperation. Immediately upon Trump’s exoneration, several Democrat-led congressional committees deluged the White House and administration agencies with requests for Trump’s personal tax returns, his business and banking records and other kinds of evidence in a broad-ranging fishing expedition seeking information to use against the president, either in impeachment proceedings or his 2020 bid for re-election.


The Trump White House said it will refuse to comply with many of these requests, because they violate the principle of Executive Privilege, which protects the confidentiality of policy-related discussions within the executive branch of government from congressional inquiries.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have insisted that the White House has a duty under the Constitution to comply with the requests to enable the House to carry out its oversight responsibility for the workings of the federal government. But administration lawyers point out that the congressional oversight function is only implied by the Constitution and is not enumerated explicitly, and argue that the necessity to submit to the oversight function only applies when Congress is performing one of its enumerated powers, such as passing legislation.

According to that logic, if congressional Democrats had launched impeachment proceedings against Trump, the White House would be obliged to produce the documents requested. But since Pelosi and other congressional Democrats are not yet ready to take the political risk of impeachment backfiring, the White House is in a better legal position to defend its refusal to produce the requested documents.

Nadler has asked for documents from 80 federal agencies and Trump associates. Nadler’s committee, which has the power to begin impeachment proceedings, has launched investigations of Trump covering his business dealings, his interactions with the Justice Department, his communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the financial dealings of his inaugural committee, and the hush-money payments made on his behalf during the 2016 election.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to Nadler last week that the administration would not cooperate in the effort by Democrats on his committee to “harass political opponents,” and that they had no right to “pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations [the Mueller probe] conducted by the Department of Justice.” Cipollone said the committee had to narrow the “sweeping scope” of its requests and “articulate the legislative purpose and legal support” for each one before the White House would consider them.

Citing the conclusions of the Mueller report exonerating Trump, Cipollone added, “under the circumstances, the appropriate course is for the committee to discontinue” its investigation.

Nadler rejected that suggestion as “extraordinary,” and then added defiantly, “We will do no such thing.”


Nadler’s committee also voted last week to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt of Congress after he defied their request for a completely unredacted copy of the Mueller report and its underlying documents. Barr has argued that he is prevented by law from releasing portions of the report based upon grand jury materials which must remain secret. Barr prepared a special 98 percent complete version of the report for access by members of Congress only, in which only the grand jury material is redacted, but Nadler still insisted on holding the contempt vote.

Barr has taken the threatened criminal contempt citation from the House with a sense of humor. He told Fox News that the committee’s contempt vote was simply part of a “political circus that’s being played out. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Last week, when he met Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, he jokingly asked her, “Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?” Barr’s wisecrack was a response to a lighthearted comment by Pelosi a few days earlier noting that there was still “a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol” which Democrats could use on recalcitrant administration officials, but that she was afraid that it would soon become overcrowded. Pelosi’s response was to note that the House sergeant-at-arms was present and that he could be pressed into service if necessary. According to an account of the incident by the New York Times, Barr chuckled and walked away.

Reporters checking out the story were unable to find the jailroom in the Capitol basement, but they did find a 1902 newspaper report in the Washington Evening Star which refers to a jailroom “now occupied as the House of Representatives post office, in the southeast corner of the ground floor of the Capitol.” That room is apparently no longer in use.


Nadler has also requested that Robert Mueller appear before his committee to publicly voice any complaints he had with the way in which Barr handled his report. Mueller did send a letter to Barr stating his problems with the public reaction to Barr’s initial summary of his report’s conclusions, but in a phone call between the two, Mueller admitted that the summary was accurate, and agreed to work with Barr on redacting the report before it was released.

Barr and Mueller have a longstanding professional relationship, and even though Mueller has disagreed with the attorney general, it is not clear that he would be willing discuss their differences in public in such a politically charged atmosphere.

Trump and Nadler have been conducting a personal political feud since the 1980’s, when Nadler fought Trump’s development of a Manhattan real estate project in Nadler’s West Side legislative district.

Nadler has carried that feud to Washington. On the day after the midterm election last November, he was overheard by a reporter in a cell phone conversation on the Acela express train between New York and Washington talking to an associate about his plan to overwhelm Trump with investigations by his committee and eventually drive him from office.


Other Democrat-led committees have also continued to harass the president. Ignoring the conclusions of the Mueller report, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is still seeking evidence that the president and members of his family were guilty of obstruction of justice in the Russian investigation.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is still investigating what Trump and Putin discussed during their 2018 summit meeting in Helsinki and in their phone conversations.

Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, last week subpoenaed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig for six years of the president’s tax returns after the Treasury Department refused to turn them over. Neal based his request on a nearly century-old federal statute giving him, as chairman of the committee, the right to review any tax return.

However, a White House spokesman denied that the Trump administration is preventing Congress from carrying out its oversight responsibilities, and claimed that it is willing to “cooperate with any legitimate oversight request.” For example, the White House recently reached an agreement with Congressman Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, allowing White House Personnel Office official Carl Kline to testify on security clearance procedures. In addition, lawyers for Donald Trump Jr., after initially refusing, have agreed to allow him to return a second time to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, as it wraps up its report on Russian electoral interference.

The endless demand for documents and threats of legal action by Democrats are part of a deliberate strategy to prevent Trump from accomplishing any of his legislative objectives for the next 17 months, until the 2020 election. Legislative progress was unlikely anyway, given the political gridlock created by the division of power between the Democrats in control of the House and Republicans in control of the Senate and their immense mutual hostility and distrust.

But Democrat stalling and harassing tactics in House committees will not prevent Barr and his prosecutors from tying up the loose ends in the Trump-Russia investigation, and clarifying the role of the major former government figures now under close scrutiny.


First among them is former FBI Director Jim Comey, who was likely most responsible for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Donald Trump, and who, in retaliation for his firing by Trump, engineered the leak to the media which dictated the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel in May 2017.

Comey’s politically motivated actions during that period completely undermined the FBI’s carefully cultured reputation as an impartial, objective enforcer of the rule of law whose credibility is vital to democratic governance.

Despite everything that has transpired since July 5, 2016, when Comey declared Hillary Clinton to be innocent of mishandling classified information on her private email server, Comey insists that everything he and his FBI team did was strictly “by the book.”

Comey’s excuse for exceeding his legal authority by clearing the way for Mrs. Clinton to receive the Democrat presidential nomination a few weeks later was that Attorney General Loretta Lynch had compromised herself by meeting with President Bill Clinton on the tarmac of a Phoenix airport. He then compounded his interference in the presidential campaign by publicly reopening the Clinton email investigation less than two weeks before Election Day.

Given all that we now know about Comey’s role in setting up Donald Trump and his associates on false charges that they conspired with Russia, the former FBI director has finally dropped his claim to have acted out of strict political impartiality. Comey, a lifelong Republican, publicly urged Americans to vote for Democrat candidates in last fall’s midterm election.


In his recent op-eds and interviews, Comey justified his actions and those of other partisan political operatives, such as Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Andrew McCabe, who conspired against Trump with him. They used the immense authority of the FBI to advance the political goals of one party at the expense of the other, and considered themselves patriots for doing so.

Comey now argues that the president who fired him for good cause was so “amoral” and unfit to hold office that it justified Comey’s attempts to discredit him and drive him from the White House. Comey demonizes Trump as a “chronic liar,” who “eats your soul in small bites,” and whose evil personality is so strong that good men, including Attorney General Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, lack the inner strength and character to resist him.

Even more disturbing, the anti-Trump mainstream media has uncritically accepted Comey’s malignant portrait of the president, driven by his personal animus and political biases.

Those who have spoken out most clearly to condemn Comey’s tactics are the dedicated professionals, such as Kevin Brock, a former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, who dedicated his 24-year career with the agency to its principles which Comey betrayed.

Writing in an op-ed in The Hill, Brock declares that “the real FBI, the agents and analysts and support personnel who day in and day out truly conduct themselves ‘by the book,’” support Barr and his campaign to restore “the trust of the American people in the FBI. It is a value we should all be fighting for.”


Another recent revelation has further undermined the credibility of the Steele dossier, the key lie which drove the investigation. John Solomon of The Hill and Andrew McCarthy of the National Review report that on October 11, 2016, eight days before the FBI used the Steele dossier as the basis for the original FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page, Steele met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec, who took notes on the conversation which have recently surfaced.

Steele told Kavalec that he had already passed his dossier allegations about Trump to media outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post, a clear violation of his confidentiality agreement with the FBI.

Kavalec quickly realized that a key element in Steele’s description of the alleged Trump-Russia plot was bogus. Steele claimed that the conspiracy involved transfers of money and information through the Russian consulate in Miami. But as a State Department official, Kavalec knew that the Russians had no consulate in Miami.

Kavalec transmitted her conclusion that Steele was an unreliable source of information in an email to FBI Special Agent Stephen Laycock, who was the FBI’s section chief for Eurasian counterintelligence. He passed the warning to the FBI team running the Trump-Russia investigation, led by Peter Strzok, but they ignored it, and allowed the dossier to be used a few days later as the basis for the first FISA surveillance warrant application.


According to Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller, Steele identified to Kavalec two of his Russian sources for the dossier allegations. One was former Kremlin spy chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov, and another was a top Kremlin advisor, Vladislav Surkov. All that is needed to close this circle of deceit is the fact that Trubnikov had ties to Stefan Halper, the former CIA spy who was used by the FBI to try to trick Carter Page and George Papadopoulos into separately incriminating themselves as participants in the Trump-Russia conspiracy.

If Kavalec had informed the FBI about the suspicious source of the dossier, it should have set off alarm bells suggesting that Steele had been duped by his Russian sources and that the whole thing was a Russian disinformation operation to trick US intelligence agencies. If that was true, then it worked far better than the Kremlin could have ever imagined.

Despite these known facts proving that the dossier’s allegations about Trump were unreliable, both James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan included information about the dossier in their first intelligence briefing for then-president elect Trump on January 6, 2017. Word of the inclusion of the dossier in the intelligence briefing “somehow” got out and was dramatically reported by CNN, without the details of the allegations. However, just hours later, the entire text of the dossier, which had been widely distributed to the media by Steele’s employer, Fusion GPS, was published by the BuzzFeed web site.


With the latest revelations about the source of the dossier, it has become so disreputable that Comey and Brennan are now accusing each other of having promoted its acceptance in the intelligence community. According to former Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who saw some of the classified information about how US intelligence agencies actually used the dossier, Comey’s claim that Brennan was responsible is more credible. Gowdy notes that Brennan had been briefing congressional leaders about the Trump-Russia conspiracy in the late summer of 2016.

One of those briefings apparently led to an August 27 letter from then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to Comey, urging him to investigate “a series of disturbing reports” detailing the alleged meeting between a “Trump advisor” (Carter Page) and two “high-ranking sanctioned individuals” (Putin associates Igor Sechin and Igor Divyekin) in Moscow that July. The story of the alleged meeting is taken directly from Steele dossier, and has been vigorously denied by Page. That suggests that Brennan had pitched the story from Steele’s dossier to Reid, and was likely passing it around to other high-ranking US officials and members of the intelligence community.

Brennan insists that he and National Intelligence Director James Clapper never vouched for the authenticity of the dossier, because its claims had never been corroborated. Brennan claims that Comey was responsible for deciding to mention it in Trump’s first intelligence briefing, on his own, while Comey has testified several times that he mentioned the dossier during the briefing at the request of the other intelligence chiefs.

Commentator Andrew McCarthy believes that the only reason the dossier was mentioned during Trump’s first intelligence briefing was to provide a news hook enabling CNN to publicly report its existence. McCarthy also cites reports suggesting that Clapper had been in discussions with CNN immediately before the cable news network first broke the dossier story.


At this point, it is hard to tell who to believe. Both Clapper and Brennan are notorious for having lied under oath to Congress, and Comey’s credibility isn’t much better. All three are now trying to make a living off of the competition among themselves over who can say the worst things about Trump before a television audience.

In the end, it doesn’t make much difference. Even if Comey is right, and Brennan was the first person who vouched for the dossier, Comey still agreed to use it as the basis for the FBI’s applications for FISA warrants against Carter Page.

McCarthy suggests that at this point, we just wait for Attorney General William Barr and US Attorney John Durham to sort out the facts from the lies in their effort to redeem the soiled reputations of the FBI, the DOJ and other members of the US intelligence community, which plotted against Donald Trump, but ultimately failed to bring him down.



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