Friday, February 2, 2018

Memo Random

You'll be reading sounder versions of this all weekend, no doubt, but I wanted to organize and shovel out some initial reactions.

Stan Laurel in Pick and Shovel (1923), from gfycat.

Carter Page first attracted the attention of the FBI in 2013 as the subject of a conversation between two Russian agents recorded by US intelligence:
Mr. Podobnyy tells his Russian colleague that Mr. Page frequently flies to Moscow and is interested in earning large sums of money. Mr. Page was apparently interested in striking a deal with Gazprom, the Russian state-run oil firm, according to the transcript. Mr. Podobnyy called Mr. Page an “idiot” but said he was enthusiastic.... “I will feed him empty promises,” he was overheard saying.
The recruitment effort doesn't seem to have gone anywhere; nevertheless, by the summer of 2014, Page was being monitored under a US surveillance warrant (according to an August 3 2017 report from CNN). We don't know what that was about or how it further developed, but it seems he was still under surveillance when he suddenly surfaced in public in March 2016 as first on the list of Donald Trump's foreign policy advisers, "Carter Page, PhD", just behind citizen George Papadopoulus, now a convicted though not sentenced criminal in the Mueller investigation.

At the end of June or beginning of July Christopher Steele, who had been studying relations between Trump and the Trump campaign and Russians at the behest of the Fusion GPS research firm, which had been studying Trump's business affairs for a rightwing newspaper, the Free Beacon, from fall 2015, and subsequently for a Democrat-connected law firm, Perkins Coie, increasingly alarmed at the stuff he was hearing from his informants, sent the first memo from the subsequent dossier to contacts in the FBI.

That July, Page traveled to Moscow to deliver a peculiar commencement address to that year's graduates of the New Economic School:

"Ironically, Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change," he said, adding that US foreign policy toward Russia was "condescending" and "hostile."
Page stressed to the audience that he was there as a private citizen and not a Trump surrogate. But a spokesman for the school told CNN that Page's ties to Trump helped secure the invitation.
It's also possible that on this trip Page met with the chief executive of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, and with Putin's deputy chief for internal policy, Igor Diveykin; according to the Steele dossier, Diveykin told Page at the meeting that he had some compromising material on Hillary Clinton. We obviously don't know if this is true, but the FBI does, or rather knows if the meeting took place, because they were watching. When they received Steele's memo discussing the meeting, they would have known whether to take it seriously or not.

Later in the month, Page went to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention or to meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak with the rest of the clown car, including Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and J.D. Gordon, who were working with the Republican platform committee to remove language attacking Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. He was one of the few who never really denied meeting with Kislyak, though he was pretty coy about it at first. Immediately after the convention, the WikiLeaks searchable, curated edition of the stolen DNC emails appeared and it seems clear to those of us who aren't refusing to believe in it that the collaboration between the Russian authorities and the Trump campaign was in full operation in all its aspects, including the social media projects and the work of the Cambridge Analytica firm.

Around the same time, late July, the FBI began investigating the question of whether this collusion was taking place, but it had nothing to do with Page at this point, but involved tGeorge Papadopoulos and his boasts in the London wine bar to the Australian High Commissioner that he was working with Russians to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton for the Trump campaign.

Also, it seems to have moved fairly slowly. Sources told the Washington Post that the Bureau was reluctant to order surveillance on campaign workers "because of concerns that agents would inadvertently eavesdrop on political talk". They may have been stimulated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's letter of August 29 expressing fear that Moscow might have some plan to interfere with the forthcoming presidential election, referencing Page's July Moscow trip); and Michael Isikoff's article on Page's trip, published in Yahoo News September 23, for which Steele seems to have been one of the sources. Around the same time Page wrote to the FBI asking that any investigation of him be stopped (odd, if there wasn't any investigation, but Page is an odd guy) New surveillance on Paul Manafort (he too had been monitored before over other issue, beginning in 2014) began sometime after August 19 2016; Steele briefed the FBI on his findings in Rome in September; and Washington Post reported that surveillance under the FISA of Carter Page started in "summer", but the Nunes memo says the FISA order was approved on October 21. A couple of weeks and a couple of huge Facebook-transmitted Hillary scandals and one Mother Jones article by David Corn (which caused the FBI to cut off relations with Steele) later, Donald Trump was elected president by the lowest margin in US history, minus three million votes.



It now seems entirely likely on its face, given what we understand about the timing, that the Steele information played a crucial role, but only because Steele corroborated and filled out information they knew from their own sources. On the other hand the Nunes memo explicitly says that's not the case:

And then again FBI has publicly denied that the dossier was the main thing:
McCabe’s statement is notable because the FBI’s defenders have argued in recent days that there was no way the dossier could have provided the bulk of the FBI’s rationale for seeking the warrants.
So somebody's certainly not telling the truth here; I expect McCabe's statement has been distorted in some way.


The implication that Steele is not "reliable" is completely unwarranted. People at the FBI may have become uncomfortable about working with Steele if they thought their work was going to be exposed at Yahoo News and Mother Jones (Steele never had any formal relationship with the Bureau to be "terminated" from, however), but that doesn't mean his reporting was in any sense inaccurate.

What it shows is that previous accounts of why Steele went to the press are accurate; he felt the FBI was moving too slowly, and his fear that the Russians could seize political power in the United States were coming true, and his disgust at the venality and corruption of the Trumpies was growing unbearable; and he was willing to run a lot of risk to get the word out.

It also shows, like the case of Peter Strzok and his exile, that the FBI was determined to be unbiased at all costs, in its own strange interpretation of what that meant: to do absolutely nothing to hurt Trump's chances, and to do absolutely nothing that might help Clinton. They were so anxious not to harm Trump, and to keep their suspicions of him secret, and so anxious not to assist Clinton, and willing to violate all their principles of secrecy in the effort, that they ended up fucking making him president.

If the memo proves anything then, it proves that the Nunes hypothesis is diametrically wrong: far from biased against Trump, the FBI has acted in all respects as if it was biased in his favor, though I don't think it is, continuously, from July until Trump showed his gratitude by giving Comey the sack, and they have not begun to harm him as they could if they weren't so insistent on sticking to principle in the most idiotically wrongheaded way—as I've said before, Comey, especially in the Huma Abedin kerfuffle the week before the election, valued the FBI's reputation more than he valued the security and happiness of the American people, and he made a bad mistake.

But I hope people see from this memo just how absurd the Republicans' allegations are. Steve has a piece up too.

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