Election Investigations 1 21 October 2019.

James B. Stewart is nobody’s fool.[1]  His most recent book paws over what is known of the near-simultaneous and mid-election investigations of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.[2]

Hillary Clinton had used a private e-mail server for business and personal matters when federal regulations banned that practice.  She then “wiped” the hard-drive, deleting tens of thousands of messages about purely personal matters.[3]  The subsequent FBI investigation concluded that there existed no sign of criminal intent.

However, FBI agents in offices which had previously dealt with the Clintons (Little Rock, New York City) were “hotbeds of anti-Clinton hostility.”  FBI Director James Comey told Attorney General Loretta Lynch that “there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton.”[4]

The Inspector General of the Justice Department later excoriated Comey for having usurped the authority of the then-compromised Attorney General Lynch.[5]  He had denounced Clinton’s “extremely careless” handling of information.  Then, an unrelated investigation of Congressman Anthony Weiner revealed that his wife, Huma Abedin—Hillary Clinton’s chief aid—had not informed the FBI that she had another computer on which “sensitive” information had been stored.  This had forced Comey to re-open the investigation late in the election.  This may have cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election.[6]  Arguably, this was a violation of standard operating procedure in the FBI.

Stewart seems to suggest that there are a great many Republicans within the FBI and the Justice Department.[7]  Furthermore, they are motivated by their partisan commitments, rather than by a professional commitment to law enforcement.  “Comey felt bound to appease the Clinton-haters because they refused to accept any process that failed to yield their preferred outcome.”[8]

Exactly why Comey would feel obliged to appease the Clinton-haters is not clearly stated.  Would they leak embarrassing information about Clinton or someone else?  Would they compromise his re-appointment as Director?  Then, Comey seems to have leaked his memos to trigger appointment of a special prosecutor, who turned out to be Robert Mueller, a Republican.  Much remains to be learned.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_B._Stewart  I wonder if that makes him feel lonely?

[2] James B. Stewart, Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law (2019).  See the review by Jonathan Chait, “There Are No Winners Here,” NYTBR, 20 October 2019, p.  11.

[3] Apparently, she did NOT transfer this trove of treasured personal communications to an external hard-drive for future reference because she isn’t someone who dwells on the past or retains e-mails from her daughter.

[4] As I understand it, the New York office had wanted to investigate the allegations of influence-peddling suggested in Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich (2015).  They were not allowed to do so, probably because the source of the information was a partisan opponent seeking to discover harmful information.  FBI agents in the New York office may have leaked anti-Clinton information to conservative media.

[5] See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/world/scathing-justice-dept-watchdog-report-rebukes-james-b-comey-cites-major-missteps-by-fbi/2309/

[6] Actually, it is difficult to say exactly what caused Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the election.  See:  Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017).

[7] So it’s like military service.  Most Democrats will not fight for their country, although Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard are exceptions.  For that matter, neither will most Republicans.

[8] Chait, “No Winners.”

Barr the Door 17 October 2019.

By April 2019, the investigation into allegations of conspiracy between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russkies concluded with a sort-of “Scotch verdict.”  Depending on your point of view of course.  Soon, Attorney General William Barr ordered an investigation of the origins of the “Russia probe” that had been carried out by the FBI before and after Donald Trump was elected President.  Barr wondered if the FBI might have “abused its power” in the investigation.  The Inspector General of the Department of Justice already had launched an inquiry into the FISA warrants used to justify surveillance of Carter Page.  However, the IG could compel testimony and secure documents only within the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Barr’s new investigation, backed by a presidential order for all agencies and departments to co-operate and permitting Barr to declassify any documents that he thinks right, seemingly could touch on the State Department, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community.  Barr had asked US Attorney John Durham to carry out that investigation.

In early October 2019, Barr and Durham went to Rome.  The two wanted the cooperation of the Italian government in their investigation.  Why Italy?  It’s the operating base for Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who is suspected of having ties to the Russian intelligence service.  Mifsud had told Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  Later, Mifsud eluded the FBI and then disappeared.  Where is he?  Will he talk?  Furthermore, in early July 2019, Christopher Steele met with an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  They had known each other from having participated in investigations of Central Asian-Russian organized Crime.  Steele shared his early concerns with the agent, who reported them to Victoria Nuland at the State Department.  It might be useful to sort out the details not covered by the documents and e-mails.

In addition, the two hoped to get help from the governments of Britain and Australia.[1]

They are interested in Australia because Papadopoulos told the Australian High Commissioner to Britain and his assistant, that he had learned that the Russian had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during a meeting in May 2016.  Durham may want to know exactly when the Australians communicated this knowledge to the Americans.  Did they share the knowledge immediately, by mid-May, with the FBI or the CIA?  Did they share it in mid-June after the Russian hack of the computer server of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s secret server became public knowledge?  Did they wait until mid-July, as the timeline of the FBI seems to suggest?  If they waited, why did they wait?  It was interesting news.

They may be interested in Britain because of the potential involvement of the British intelligence services, both MI-5 (domestic) and MI-6 (the foreign Secret Intelligence Service).  Christopher Steele had been a senior member of MI-6.  Now he runs a private “intelligence” organization out of London.  Can that business thrive if the intelligence “community” doubts you?  So, what—purely out of self-defense—did Steele tell the British s well as various Americans?  Did British agencies share that information with their American “cousins”?

It is important here to not confuse William Barr with Rudolph Giuliani.  Nor—so far–do the subject areas of their investigations overlap.  Will Barr’s investigation survive?

[1] “Barr hunts for signs of a plot to undermine Trump,” The Week, 11 October 2019, p. 5.

The New Russia Investigation 1 31 May 2019.

So, I am puzzled.  First, when did the Trump investigation begin?

In mid-March 2016, George Papadopoulos visited Rome, where he met Joseph Mifsud.

On 21 March 2016, the Trump Campaign announced that Georges Papadopoulos and Carter Page had joined the campaign as foreign policy advisers.  Richard Haas not having joined.

On 24 March 2016, Papadopoulos met Joseph Mifsud and a woman Mifsud introduced as “Putin’s niece” in London.   She was, in fact, Olga Polonskaya.

On 12 April 2016, Papadopoulos again met Mifsud in London.

On 25 or 26 April 2016, Mifsud again met Papadopoulos in London.  Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of e-mails relating to Hillary Clinton.  “This occurred after public knowledge that Clinton had deleted thousands of her emails, but before there was public knowledge of the hack of Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta‘s emails.”[1]  NB: So, the most reasonable thing to conclude would have been that the Russians had hacked into Clinton’s private server while she was Secretary of State.

In late April 2016, the DNC began to suspect that its computers had been hacked.  The DNC informed the FBI and hired a private firm to investigate.

Papadopoulos knew an Israeli diplomat in London named Christian Cantor.  Cantor’s girl-friend (now fiancé) is Erika Thompson, then a political counselor at the Australian High Commission.  Thompson told High Commissioner (ambassador) Alexander Downer that he should meet Papadopoulos.

On 10 May 2016, over one or two gin-and-tonics, Papadopoulos told Downer that the Russians had damaging information about Hillary Clinton and might release it to harm her chances in the election.

[What Papadopoulos told Downer and Thompson] “was all good intel, relayed back to Australia in a cable written by Thompson.  But it was what Papadopoulos had said about Russia, also detailed in the cable, that proved critical.  He said the Russians might use some damaging material they had on Hillary Clinton, who was still some weeks from becoming the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee.”[2]  “But the cable came back to Canberra about an aide to Trump saying the Russians had some dirt on Hillary Clinton and were prepared to use it.”[3]

According to Downer, “There was no suggestion — [neither] from Papadopoulos nor in the record of the meeting that we sent back to Canberra — there was no suggestion that there was collusion between Donald Trump or Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians.”[4]  Moreover, neither Papadopoulos nor Downer remember any mention of e-mails in the discussion. Just “damaging information.”  That could be many things.

“The Americans weren’t informed immediately about what Papadopoulos had said to Downer, but when it became known that the FBI suspected a Russian hack of Clinton emails, the information was shared with the Five Eyes intelligence partner.”[5]

This is ambiguous.  Is there a way to nail down the approximate/exact date when the Australians did share the information?  The Russian hack of the DNC was known by 14 June 2016—not in late July 2016, when the FBI formally opened an investigation.

Also, is there a difference between formally and informally sharing?  Did Downer share the information with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Australia, but withhold the information from his own Senior Advisor—Intelligence in the High Commission?  If so, on what basis?

If Downer did share with the Senior Advisor, then did the Senior Advisor pass the information along to the CIA station-chief in London?  If not, why not?  This was a significant Russian attack on American democracy.

Did Erika Thompson share what she had heard with Christian Cantor?  If she did, then did Cantor share this with his own ambassador and his ambassador with his government?

If either the CIA or Israel did learn of what Papadopoulos had said in early May 2016, would they have acted on that knowledge once the Russian hack became public in mid-June 2016?  Would they have acted on it as soon as they discovered it?

Then, when Downer reported to Canberra, the DNC hack was not yet known.  Yet in his subsequent interview Downer refers to e-mails.

On 14 June 2016, the DNC announced that its computers had been hacked by the Russians.  And, what, the CIA and the NSA stood around with their hands in their pockets for the next six weeks?

Still, a pause ensued from mid-June to late July 2016.  What was happening during this period?

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks began publishing many of the stolen documents.

On 26 July 2016, the Australian government formally notified the United States of the report by Downer about Papadopoulos.

On 27 July 2016, Trump publically called for the Russians to release the 30,000 deleted e-mails from the Clinton computer.  So, he’d heard something about Papadopoulos’s claims?

On 31 July 2016, the FBI formally opened “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  FBI counter-intelligence officer Peter Strzok led the investigation and later served for a time on the staff of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In either late July or mid-August 2016, CIA Director John Brennan provided the FBI with “contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.”  According to Brennan, these leads “served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred.”[6]  NB: So the CIA had been investigating since when?  In what ways?  It was me, I’d spike Mifsud’s internet.  Come to that, I’d spike the on-line stuff of Thompson and Cantor.  Wouldn’t need a warrant for that.  They’re all foreign, same as that Radical-Lutheran Merkel.

From 31 July to 2 August 2016, FBI agents interviewed both Downer and Thompson in London.  From this point on, the Christian Cantor connection probably would have been known.  “Burned,” as John Le Carre says.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Papadopoulos#Involvement_in_Donald_Trump’s_presidential_campaign

[2] Since this was before the convention that nominated Secretary Clinton, it is fair to ask if they were trying to help Trump or help Senator Bernie Sanders.

[3] See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-22/george-papadopoulos-alexander-downer-meeting-what-happened/10286868  ABC = Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

[4] See: https://www.nationalreview.com/news/ex-australian-diplomat-explains-why-he-turned-papadapoulos-info-over-to-fbi/  For the somewhat different account of the NYT, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/us/politics/how-fbi-russia-investigation-began-george-papadopoulos.html

[5] See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-22/george-papadopoulos-alexander-downer-meeting-what-happened/10286868

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossfire_Hurricane_(FBI_investigation)  Was the August instance additional information or is it a simple error in the article?

The Deep State Strikes Back.

In a classic essay, George Orwell warned of the distortions of language that come with politicization.[1]  To the rage of their opponents, President Donald Trump or some of his followers have appropriated the terms “fake news” and “deep state” as charges hurled at those opponents.  The term “fake news” began to circulate late in the presidential campaign to describe the largely anti-Hillary Clinton rumors produced by many web-sites in Eastern Europe.  Now Trump slings the term around to answer media criticism.  In his view, the heavy reliance upon anonymous sources by the New York Times[2] means that editors assign reporters to write stories that conform to the paper’s ideological position and to claim that anonymous sources provided the “facts” cited in the stories.   The term “deep state” is a Western academic term[3] itself appropriated from popular usage in Middle Eastern countries.[4]

The current ugly controversy high-lights the reality that civil servants and scholars are not apolitical technical experts serving merely as instruments of a democratic government.  They have policy agendas of their own.  These can reflect belief, settled tradition, or bureaucratic interest.[5]   President Trump is the preferred candidate neither of the Democrats, nor of mainstream Republicans.  These are the groups from which most public servants are recruited.  President Trump’s clownish personal behavior[6] and lack of preparation make him widely disliked in the bureaucracy.  That animus extends to his more outlandish cabinet appointments.

President Trump’s criticism of federal agencies and his lack of a tame clientele with which to fill administrative positions “has put institutions under enormous stress.”  This, in turn, “has forced civil servants into an impossible dilemma.”  They can either defend their institutions against his assault or they can surrender to his demands to do things in a new way.   Either course will weaken the credibility of the institutions they represent.   So far, Trump has lashed out at the courts, the intelligence community, and the mainstream media (MSM).  The current “tribal” polarization of American politics shrinks the role for reason on both sides, regardless of which side has the “facts” on its side.[7]

Critics argue that Trump could be much more effective by working through the bureaucracy and with the press, rather than attacking these institutions.  He should, in short, accept the existence of the “fourth branch” of government.  In this view, the bureaucracy and the press operate as important checks on presidential power, hence as guarantees of American democracy.  The development of a powerful bureaucracy with policy positions of its own is one of the issues not much discussed in the Federalist papers.  Its power has only grown as partisan gridlock in the legislature has led presidents to act through executive branch writing of rules and regulations.  This seems to be what Steve Bannon has in mind when he calls for the dismantling of the “administrative state.”  In this sense, the criticism of Trump’s actions misses a point.

[1] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

[2] See: https://www.google.com/search?q=New+York+Times+public+editor+on+anonymous+sources&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8  Much of the concern has come from a series of a Public Editors.  On the origins of the Public Editors, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howell_Raines

[3] Academia leans left in the same way that professional military officer corps lean right.

[4] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/03/10/the-deep-state/  The term is now being re-appropriated by Trump foes.

[5] Most scientists believe in androgenic climate change and believe government should act to counter it.  Most military officers believe that the military needs bigger budgets and more generals and admirals.

[6] It should be remembered that most young children don’t like clowns.  They find them frightening and offensive.

[7] That is, Democrats would believe the charges even if they weren’t true.

The Deep State.

Anyone who paid attention to the Egyptian coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, or to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s battering of the Turkish military, civil bureaucracy, and intellectuals after a failed coup will have encountered the term “deep state.”  It refers to networks of officers, bureaucrats, journalists, and businessmen who actually control government by concerted actions behind the scenes.[1]  The “deep state” endures across generations, rather than being a momentary conspiracy; it recruits its members by invitation, rather than by public competition; and it is inherently un-democratic, both in its means of operation and its ability to manipulate the course of elected governments.  However, Middle Eastern societies seem particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Now the term has surfaced in American politics.   Breitbart News, other right-wing web-sites, and the social media feeds of many Trump supporters have been using the term for a while now.  When President Trump’s supposed “grey eminence,” Steve Bannon, used the term “administrative state” in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the New York Times construed his words to refer to the “deep state.”[2]  Newt Gingrich seemed to be playing Charlie McCarthy to Bannon’s Edgar Bergen when he said that “We’re up against a permanent bureaucratic structure defending itself and quite willing to break the law to do so.”  Their aim is to undermine the Trump presidency.   Some even see this conspiracy as being directed by former President Barack Obama, who announced his willingness to break the traditional silence of former presidents when the new administration threatened “our core values.”[3]  (This view ignores the roll-out of HealthCare.gov.)

Former Obama administration government officials rushed to denounce the charge, albeit in circumspect language.  One said that “deep state” is “a phrase we’ve used for Turkey and other countries like that, but not for the American republic.”[4]  Another expressed surprise that a president would suggest that civil servants would try to undermine the government.  So, that’s settled.[5]   The NYT sought to normalize this as habitual Republican back-biting.

What gets lost in this unseemly mud-slinging is the pedigree of the issue.  In his 1959 farewell address Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “military-industrial complex.”  In the 1960s and again in the last few years, well-informed people have analyzed the power of the national security bureaucracy.  Sandwiched in between these Jeremiads, the journalist-turned-open-novelist Fletcher Knebel hit the best-seller lists with “Seven Days in May” (1962), about a military coup, and “The Night of Camp David” (1965), about a crazy president.  More recently, Chalmers Johnson published three books on the costs of “empire.”  Democracy was chief among them.[6]  Well-informed people haven’t taken the issue as a joke.  Even if everyone else does.

Is there a “deep state” in America?  Of course not.  What seems more likely, and disturbing, is that there is a momentary open quarrel between a president and the national security professionals.   Would such a quarrel precipitate the formation of a “deep state”?

[1] If this is true, then the common public discourse and action beloved of academics has little real meaning.  Instead, the books on the shelves of junior army officers and school principals, and conferences on the middle floors of government ministries or dinner meetings in private homes hold the key to understanding events.

[2] Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “’Deep State’?  Until Now It Was a Foreign Concept,” NYT, 7 March 2017.

[3] It is worth comparing these remarks with the boom in sales of dystopian novels to alarmed Democrats.

[4] OK, so what’s the American term?  The NYT reporter did not ask.

[5] Although it doesn’t seem to have been the Russkies who leaked to the press news compromising National Security Adviser-for-a-Day Michael Flynn.

[6] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/13/cinay-sayers/;and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalmers_Johnson