Sunday, August 30, 2020

Counterintelligence Matters

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, from a May 2019 piece by Murray Waas in New York Review of Books suggesting—with receipts, as they say—that Rosenstein really should not have been supervising Mueller's work in the first place, before Barr took over; because of a conflict of interest, since he was apparently a central witness in the special counsel's inquiry.

The New York Times's Michael Schmidt, who broke the story of Hillary Clinton's improper email storage habits and also of James Comey's memos on Trump attempting to shake him down to stop the Flynn investigation, has a book about to come out (Donald Trump v. The United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President—stop him, that is, from threatening the rule of law, and Schmidt doesn't seem to have adopted the GOP view that he shouldn't be stopped), and the big scoop, in today's paper, is that the FBI has no counterintelligence investigation into Trump's Russia connections.

That is, there was such an investigation, as we've been supposing (for me most embarrassingly here, where I suggested that I knew more about it than Jeffrey Toobin), but Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein shut it down days after acting FBI director Andrew McCabe opened it, just after appointing Robert Mueller special counsel, leaving McCabe under the false impression that Mueller would be taking it over: 

But privately, Mr. Rosenstein instructed Mr. Mueller to conduct only a criminal investigation into whether anyone broke the law in connection with Russia’s 2016 election interference, former law enforcement officials said....

If Mr. Mueller wanted to expand his investigation, Mr. Rosenstein told him, he should ask for additional authorities and resources.

But the special counsel built a staff — some inherited from the Justice Department and F.B.I., some of whom he hired — to investigate crimes, not threats to national security, which is the purview of counterintelligence investigations.

One of the inherited FBI agents on Mueller's team, Peter Strzok, tried to initiate counterintelligence inquiries, but of course he was sacked from the team in July after the publication of text messages exchanged with the FBI lawyer Lisa Page in 2015-16 revealed that he thought Trump was an idiot who should not be president. McCabe stopped being acting director in August, when Christopher Wray was confirmed by the Senate. And the investigation never got done.

Rosenstein's reasons for quashing it—

—seem really specious to me, given the stuff that was public knowledge by that point of Trump's own actions through the campaign through his pressure on Comey to end the Flynn investigation, of which Rosenstein was fully aware, and down to his Oval Office meeting with foreign minister Lavrov and ambassador Kislyak the day after the Comey firing, which he gleefully reported to the Russians, boasting that he'd relieved himself from the "tremendous pressure" he faced "because of Russia" as Tass photographers recorded the encounter while US press was barred.

It had led Rosenstein himself to suggest wiring himself for meetings with the president, and here he was weeks or days later saying there wasn't adequate evidence and the FBI was misled by its "grief"?

An interesting question is the extent to which Congress—in particular the Gang of 8, the House and Senate leaders and the chairs and ranking members of the two intelligence committees—was aware of this. Did the counterintelligence exist for such a short time that Rosenstein was never obliged to tell them about it? Did anybody—Schiff or Warner—think to ask about the counterintelligence aspects of the Mueller investigation or whether the FBI was working on them? In July, after the embarrassment of Trump's secretive meetings with Putin at the Hamburg G20 summit and Trump's effort on the flight home to hush up the emerging story of Junior's Trump Tower meeting with a Russian agent (which turned out subsequently to be two or three Russian agents plus Manafort and Kushner)? A year later, after Trump definitively took sides with President Putin at the Helsinki summit in Putin's dispute with the US intelligence community? After the 2018 elections put the House Intelligence Committee under Democratic control?

I wonder if it does anything to explain the division of labor between the Houses in 2018-20, the House of Representatives intelligence and judiciary committees focusing on questions of impeachment while the Senators conducted a really thorough counterintelligence investigation of their own, the very weighty and damning results of which have finally come out with volume 5 of the report?

Because it looks as if they understood that nobody else was going to do it.


Mr. Pierce reminds us of Rosenstein emotionally promising Trump that he would "land the plane".

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