Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations as a result of the ongoing investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The indictment shows that the clear intent of their actions was to undermine the 2016 presidential election and to favor the election of Donald Trump. (Read the full 37 page indictment here.) The indictment details how the Russians conducted “information warfare against the United States of America.” This was no fly-by-night operation as the core entity, Internet Research Agency, had at least 80 full-time employees and a monthly budget of approximately 73 million Russian rubles a month (about 1.25 million dollars a month).
According to the indictment, the purpose of the covert Russian activity, which included putting undercover Russian operatives in the United States, was to engage “in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.” Once the nominees were selected, the operation focused solely on supporting Mr. Trump and denigrating Mrs. Clinton, including active efforts to discourage possible Clinton supporters from voting for her by spreading false and misleading information.
The Internet Research Agency had hundreds of additional support employees (trolls and other social media experts) beyond the core 80 and included a graphics department, a data analysis department, a search-engine optimization department, an IT department and a finance department. It was organized with branch heads and assigned duties. Very sophisticated.
Ultimately the operation’s interference in the 2016 election was not limited to social media or cyberspace. They also played “dirty tricks” at campaign rallies, organized their own rallies and otherwise put out derogatory and inflammatory information. For example, in the indictment it states that at one such event they tried to promote the idea that Mrs. Clinton was pro-Muslim by convincing an unaware American citizen to carry a sign “depicting Clinton and a quote attributed to her stating ‘I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of Freedom.'” They also bought ads on Facebook and other sources claiming that Mrs. Clinton committed “voter fraud” amplifying one of Mr. Trump’s constant refrains. And more.
But you can read the indictment for yourself.
Here’s the rub.
What is the President of the United States doing to protect our country from a sophisticated asymmetrical attack on our homeland? So far? Nothing.
As the NY Times says, Mr. Trump’s “conspicuous silence” is a clear lack of leadership. His only reaction as of this writing is to tweet that “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” It’s only about him — not the nation or our security. Oh by the way, how do you think the Russians and other adversaries around the world view his response? One word. Weak.
There are many factual errors in his tweet, among them the fact that the indictment said nothing about whether there was or was not collusion — a totally separate issue from this one — and the start date also has nothing to do with the activities of the Russians or the fact that they favored Mr. Trump and actively worked to get him elected.
(As and aside, for all you conspiracy theorists out there, Mr. Trump visited Moscow in 2013. Is it not conceivable that he conspired with the Russians then to aid an upcoming presidential campaign? Even though he had not announced it publicly? Or maybe the Russians blackmailed him into running with the express purpose of undermining U.S. democracy and attempting to install him in the White House? The operatives arrived in 2014 because it takes time to set up an effective covert operation, integrate into the community, establish ties and learn the lay of the land before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. But then, I am not a conspiracy theorist.)
Here’s my real point.
Where is the outrage? Where is the United States’ response to a clear and present danger? What are we doing to punish the Russians for this grievous attempt to undermine our democracy? No outrage from the administration. No warnings to Russia. Gosh, the president refuses to implement sanctions against Russia already overwhelmingly approved by bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate last summer. What is wrong with him? Will he continue to call the Russian involvement a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats as he has consistently and constantly done? Apparently so, if the statements coming from his press office today are any indication.
Remember that this is only one area of the Special Counsel’s investigation. Still to come is the result of investigations into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee; the hacking of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails; a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower which Mr. Trump Jr. thought would deliver “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton; and the guilty pleas of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, and another campaign adviser. Mr. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates have been indicted. Not to mention possible obstruction of justice charges. There is a lot going on for a “hoax.” Additionally, just because there is no allegation made in one indictment does not mean that it won’t be made in other ones in the future. If one saw or reads Mr. Rosenstein’s announcement releasing the indictments, he was very, very careful in his wording. To me he seemed to be signalling that just because no campaign or other U.S. officials were named in this indictment, it does not mean that there will not be some in other indictments yet to come.
Again. Read the indictment. Decide for yourself. I find it to be dereliction of duty by the Commander-in-Chief if the United States does not respond to this attack by the Russians. I am trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt thinking that maybe a response is being planned even as I write this. I hope so. However, even if the administration is planning such a response, one would rightly expect a clear, precise and strongly worded statement from the president condemning the Russian activity by now. It is discouraging to note that this administration has yet to hold even one cabinet level meeting or even one inter-agency task force meeting to address the issue. Just this week, all of the heads of our intelligence agencies testified before Congress that the Russians were still trying to disrupt our democracy and would surely attempt to disrupt the 2018 and 2020 elections. And we do nothing.
Where is the outrage? More importantly, where is the action to combat an attack by the Russians?
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Parkland, Florida.
Seventeen dead. Fourteen Injured.
18 incidents with guns at schools this year.
Approximately 150,000 children were exposed to a school shooting since Columbine High School in April 1999.
We are killing our children.
We are the only industrialized nation in the world with such a level of violence.
(Graph from everytownresearch.org)
From 2012 to 2016, an average of 35,141 Americans died from guns each year. That’s 96 a day.
Over eighteen years, from 1956 to 1974, a total of 58,131 Americans died from hostile and non-hostile actions in the Viet Nam War.
Gun safety is not un-American or against the Second Amendment.
Our elected officials need to grow a spine.
As a nation, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
So horribly sad. So meaningless. So disgraceful.
It is likely that by the time you read this post, a classified memo put together under disputed circumstances, will be released to the public. The entire process and related story is long, arcane, a little bit of “inside baseball” and dangerous to the rule of law.
In short, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee had his staffers compose a memo accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) of misusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the investigation of the Russian interference in our 2016 election. In contrast, the Democrats on the committee, the DOJ and the FBI argue that Congressman Nunes misused the data that was reluctantly turned over to him to present a misleading portrayal of how the system was used and indeed to condemn the system itself. As the story unfolds, remember that the protesting members of the DOJ and of the FBI, including Director Chris Wray are appointees put in office by the current president.
The DOJ and FBI are concerned on two fronts. First, the memo could reveal sensitive “sources and methods” to our adversaries. (Sources meaning where intelligence comes from and methods meaning the ways in which the intelligence is collected.) It is not hyperbole to say that this could easily put lives at stake. Second, they are concerned that the memo will inaccurately portray the way that the FISA warrants (issued by a special court for wiretaps and other methods of collecting information on suspected foreign operatives and their collaborators) are obtained and thereby undermine the confidence of us, as citizens, in the process and in the results.
Mr. Nunes is using an arcane rule of Congress to release the information. The rule has never — never — been used before. The intent of the rule is to provide a method for revealing relevant information when there is a gross misuse of intelligence that provides a clear and present danger to the nation. Mr. Nunes is using it for purely political purposes. At best, he is attempting to sow doubt about the investigation into Russian interference conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, thus undermining possible damaging information about the president. At worst, he is aiding and abetting the president in providing a rationale for ending the investigation entirely.
As background I point out that this week the president refused to implement sanctions against Russia under a law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by him. In a show of sloppy staff work or lack of seriousness (you choose), individuals on the sanctions list were reportedly lifted by administration staffers from a list published annually by Forbes magazine naming the richest people in the world. Anyone from Russia with over a billion dollars in assets was placed on the Forbes list which was transcribed to the administration’s list — even though some are known to be anti-Putin. Although I suppose it doesn’t really matter because Mr. Trump will not implement the sanctions. Perhaps this is a quid pro quo? Who knows, but there certainly have been a bizarre list of actions and statements by the president regarding President Vladimir Putin and Russia. As someone said, there is a long list of the “whats” that have occurred but there is still no answer as to the “why”.
How serious is this possible breach of national security? Representing the DOJ position, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Mr. Nunes and the committee asking that the information not be released. In the letter he said that to release it would be “extraordinarily reckless” and that the department had reviewed its processes and found no wrongdoing regarding the FISA process.
An official FBI statement concerning the possible release states:
The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to insure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.
With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.
Mr. Nunes and the president also know that there is a Catch-22. Several in fact.
The Democrats wrote a memo telling “the rest of the story” to put Mr. Nunes’ memo in context. He refuses to release it and the Democrats are trying to follow the rules and therefore won’t release it without committee approval. More importantly, the DOJ and FBI cannot refute the memo without themselves using classified information that would do further harm to the nation. By following the rules and taking national security seriously they find themselves in a bind that allows the president and his enablers to get away with their shenanigans.
Further complicating the response is that Congress has, and should have, over sight responsibility for the DOJ and the FBI. They should exercise that responsibility fully. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) contends that that is what is happening. (A further question for another day is why the Speaker did not step in, as he could do, and stop the release of the memo or at least allow a fully vetted process determine its viability. He abdicated his responsibility. I had hopes for Mr. Ryan as a buffer to the worst tendencies of the president, but apparently my hopes were misplaced.)
To fully understand how shady this entire undertaking is, read the unclassified transcript of the committee meeting where the issue was discussed. (You will find it here.) Among other things, it is apparent that Mr. Nunes never read the supporting information from which his memo was crafted. You will also note that Mr. Nunes never denies that the his staff may have worked with White House staffers as to the content of the memo. You will also find that the FBI and the DOJ requested to come in and explain the impact of releasing the memo and the harm it will do to national security but the request was denied. And on and on. One might think that the fix was in. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Nunes would not release the memo for review by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). Why?
Additionally, under normal circumstances, should the FBI concerns be ignored, “grave concerns” not-with-standing, and the administration releases the memo, FBI Director Wray should resign. I hope that he stays and continues to fight for what is right.
The word “unprecedented” gets used a lot these days. This event is truly unprecedented. The House and Senate intelligence committees are historically known for their bipartisanship, concern for the safety of our country, very, very careful in their use and review of sensitive information and generally known as a model for how the government should work. Well, that’s over.
I cannot over emphasize how critical this is to the norms of honest government and the impact on our leading law enforcement agency and the intelligence community as a whole. The politicization of intelligence is a dangerous precedent. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there will be, inevitably in my opinion, other instances of one or both parties (“paybacks are hell”) undertaking similar political use of sensitive information.
One must also think of the willingness of future potential sources of information to put themselves on the line knowing that what they do covertly could be blasted to the public for political reasons. Think also of foreign intelligence agencies and their willingness to work with the United States if they also think that sensitive sources and methods could be compromised. Some reports already indicate that other nations’ intelligence agencies have significantly cut back on the information that they share with us because they are wary of the ability of this administration to keep a secret — as evidenced by the president sharing such intelligence in the Oval Office with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador last year.
Credible reports indicate that the president has been pushing for the release of the memo — even without having read it until last night — since last week. He reportedly thinks that it will “prove” that the “deep state” is out to get him (remember that those opposing its release are his own political appointees). More ominously, it has been reported that he may use this memo as an excuse to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This is significant because Mr. Rosenstein, following the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, oversees Mr. Mueller in the conduct of the Russian investigation. Mr. Rosenstein has repeatedly said that he would never fire the Special Counsel barring egregious and unlawful actions on his part. This infuriates the president. By removing the Deputy AG, Mr. Trump would look for a replacement willing to fire Mr. Mueller or at least inhibit and undermine the investigation. That would be a travesty of justice.
As I’ve said many times over the last year or more, whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump, we should all be livid and concerned that the Russians clearly interfered (as even Mr. Trump’s own appointees to lead the intelligence community concede). And yet, not only will Mr. Trump not say that there was interference, more importantly there is not one federal agency or inter-agency task force looking into it or planning how to counter it for this year’s elections. In a recent interview with the BBC, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the Russians continue to interfere in our internal policy and that he fully expects that they will try to interfere with our next elections and continue to do so as long as they can. And we sit on our hands? Apparently this administration, abetted by Republicans in the House, would rather investigate the FBI and the DOJ rather than the Russians.
The sanctions that this administration is refusing to implement were designed specifically to punish the Russians for interfering in 2016. What they hey?
If Mr. Trump has nothing to worry about (even though two of his aides pleaded guilty and two others are under indictment — hardly a “nothing burger”) then why not let the investigation continue without interference and come to a quick conclusion exonerating him? In my mind it is because he is afraid of what will be found. Each event unto itself could be dismissed, I suppose. But it is compelling when one looks at all the things we already know happened between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I am positive that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what the Special Counsel already knows.
There are many more twists and turns behind this unfolding sordid episode. Because it is happening in slow motion, and involves arcane House and DOJ rules, I suspect many Americans are unaware of the details and even more than that are unaware of the implications behind this unprecedented action. Perhaps Mr. Trump and Mr. Nunes are counting on that. Meanwhile, the DOJ and FBI are under attack as independent protectors of the nation. The rule of law is in danger.
We are on the verge of a Constitutional crisis. It has been creeping up on us for several months. Soon its full-blown existence will make it so that no one can ignore what is happening. Mr. Trump will not do the right thing when the time comes. As he said last week at an impromptu meeting with the press when asked about the investigation, he said he is “fighting back.” One can only imagine what that will bring.