The Memo

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So, I've read the memo. These days the word nothingburger has been sadly cheapened, but.

The argument is that the October 2016 FISA application for carrying on surveillance against Carter Page was a political assault on a Presidential campaign based on (a) political opposition to the candidate on the part of a handful of people in the FBI and the Justice Department, and (2) the financial interest of people being paid by the opposing candidate's campaign.

Let me be upfront about this: it is a bad thing for people in the FBI and Justice Department to obtain FISA warrants with false applications out of either political bias or financial greed. I do not defend this practice. In fact, the alleged manipulation of the FISA court is a vivid, if mild, example of what the hell we were all screaming about when the Patriot Act was passed in the first place. It is all too possible for people within law enforcement to harass or destroy innocent people (vaddevah innocent means) out of political zeal that can derive from bias or bigotry as much as national security. I don't remember being fussed about financial incentives in this case (tho' in other cases, yes) but those are also problematic.

The problem is that there really isn't very much evidence in the memo that the process was manipulated. There are two big things: first, the memo alleges that the FISA application hides the connections between Christopher Steele (who wrote the famous dossier) and the Clinton campaign. These connections are in fact quite limited—the memo refers to the dossier as being compiled “on behalf of” the Clinton campaign, which is sort-of true, although it seems to me from the timeline that Mr. Steele was trying to convince anyone who would listen and could potentially do anything about it of his concerns. There's no evidence that I've seen that Mr. Steele even knew for sure that his contractor Glenn Simpson had started contracting with the Clinton campaign before he attempted to alert the FBI of his concerns (previously Mr. Simpson had been contracting with Republican primary campaigns).

The other big allegation is that an Associate Deputy Attorney General named Bruce Ohr was colluding with his wife, who was an associate of Mr. Simpson, and also with Mr. Steele, to further the FISA application by concealing the relationship between Mr. Simpson, Mr. Steele and the Clinton campaign. This is possible! And disturbing! Although Mr. Ohr did, according to the memo, report on Mr. Steele to the FBI, and the memo doesn't indicate or even imply that there is any evidence that he had any influence of any kind on what was or was not in that particular FISA application.

So, the story of the allegation, as it stands, is this: Christopher Steele was running around the intelligence community with his hair on fire talking about the Russians having compromising material on Donald Trump all through the summer of 2016, including bringing it to the FBI, bringing it to Republican Senators and, eventually, in the autumn, just leaking it to the press. Then in October somebody (who?) decides to get a FISA warrant to wiretap Carter Page, and somebody (who?) leaves out (deliberately?) the (tenuous) connection between Mr. Ohr, Ms. Ohr, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Steele and the Clinton campaign from the application. Is that sort of information typically in such applications? Is the standard for FISA applications an extensive documentation of the possible biases of the people from whom the information was gathered? I certainly hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

Now, I don't really imagine that any Gentle Readers came to this particular Tohu Bohu with real concerns that the memo might really be uncovering a conspiracy in Department of Justice. I suspect that everyone here is more likely to assume that Mr. Mueller's investigation will find guilt everywhere it looks, rather than to assume that it is a politically motivated witch hunt. I wonder if some of y'all find it easy to believe that Chairman Nunes himself is guilty of colluding with the Russian government and the Republican Presidential campaign and thus will be an eventual target of the investigation whose FISA activities he is himself investigating. Y'all didn't come here to be convinced of anything. But I just want to ask you to look at the competing stories being told here.

One story is that there were various people in the Republican Presidential campaign (possibly including the candidate) who were colluding with various associates of Vladimir Putin to influence the Presidential election. In that story, several associates of Donald Trump who lied to the FBI about their meetings with those associates did so in order to cover up that collusion, and after his inauguration the President of the United States attempted to shut down the investigation into that collusion, obstructing the path of justice.

The competing story is that there was no collusion nor any real evidence of any significant wrongdoing, and that various people in the FBI have for political or financial reasons been leading a groundless investigation. In this story, the various people associated with the Republican campaign who lied under oath to the FBI did so inadvertently, or for reasons that could not reasonably be connected with any collusion. The President has attempted only to deflect that deceptive and possibly unlawful investigation, as is his responsibility as the head of the Executive.

This memo—leaving aside the question of whether it was appropriate to declassify and what context it leaves out and whether it is even accurate—was supposed to demolish the first story and powerfully support the second story. And… it doesn't.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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