WASHINGTON — Not only is President Trump soon expected to approve release of that controversial memo alleging surveillance abuses, he’s also now publicly attacking the top Justice and FBI leaders — including, we assume, the very people he nominated to serve in his administration.
“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!” Trump tweeted this morning.
The question everyone needs to be asking themselves this morning is: What is the bigger story — the Russia investigation itself, or the investigative practices that went into it?
Conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, who appears to have a heads-up on what’s in the memo, argues in favor of the investigative practices being the bigger story. And read her today to understand where the White House and Trump allies will likely say when the memo comes out:
- “Did the FBI have cause to open a full-blown counterintelligence probe into an active presidential campaign?”
- “If the FBI obtained permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Trump aide Carter Page based on information from the Christopher Steele dossier, that in itself is a monumental scandal. It means the FBI used a document commissioned by one presidential campaign as a justification to spy on another.”
- “The FBI may argue it had good cause to look into Mr. Page. But if months of wiretaps didn’t turn up anything (and surely we’d have heard if they did), the FBI also had a duty to cease such a liberty-busting intrusion.”
On the other hand, here is what we already know about the Russia investigation:
- The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election – to help Trump’s campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton’s. It included the hacking and release (via WikiLeaks) of Democratic emails.
- Trump actively campaigned on the WikiLeaks disclosures in the final month of the presidential election. “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,” he said on Nov. 4, 2016.
- In June of 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower — after Trump Jr. was told by publicist Rob Goldstone that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. (“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”)
- A month earlier, in May of 2016, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told Australia’s top diplomat — during a night of heavy drinking — that Russia had dirt on Clinton. (Two months later, “when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts,” the New York Times writes.)
- In the final months of the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. was exchanging direct messages with WikiLeaks, the Atlantic reported. (“‘Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,’ WikiLeaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to ‘just drone’ WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. ‘Already did that earlier today,’ Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. ‘It’s amazing what she can get away with.'”)
- Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and told NBC’s Lester Holt it was because of Russia. (“When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”)
- And in less than a year, the Mueller probe has resulted in the guilty pleas (for lying to the FBI) of Papadopoulos and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. And it has produced two indictments — of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign aide Rick Gates.
So ask yourself: What’s the bigger story — the Russia investigation or the investigative practices?
And what’s the bigger distraction?