Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A billion tiny October surprises

Image via INKinc.

A week or ten days ago this thing caught my attention: from Fox News's Maria Bartiromo, a story on the counter-counterintelligence investigation being conducted by John Durham at the behest of William Barr to look at the "origins" of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane probe of the relations between Russian operations in the 2016 election and a select group of Trump associates:

"It is unlikely that we will get a John Durham interim report or any indictments before the election. Now, just 37 days away, a debate has begun within the Department of Justice, as the timing of John Durham's criminal investigation conclusions. I'm being told by sources it is now too close to the election and could be seen as politically motivated," Bartiromo said on "Sunday Morning Futures."

This despite Barr's assurances, going back as far as July, that it would not be politically motivated

“I will be very careful. I know what Justice Department policy is,” Barr said during a long-awaited appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. “Any report will be, in my judgment, not one that is covered by the policy and would disrupt the election.”

My first thought was, well, that's the end of that; Durham can't get what Trump and Barr want him to get (indictments against McCabe, Strzok, and Ohr, and in their steamier fantasies Comey and Mueller, and in Trump's wet dreams Obama and Brennan), and he's throwing in the towel: another October surprise bites the dust:

Looks like this goes back to Nora Dannehy, the assistant US attorney in Durham's Connecticut office, and her sudden resignation on 10 September, according to the Hartford Courant because she is

not a supporter of President Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr, who appointed Durham, to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resigning for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

The next day, Barr announced that he, as opposed to Durham, was going to release an incomplete report before the election, arousing a good deal of comment:

U.S. Attorney General William Barr is planning to publicly release an interim report on U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe on the origins of the Russia investigation before the presidential election, the New York Times reported Friday. Lawyers and former DOJ officials lambasted the plan, noting that departmental protocol specifically prohibits leveraging an ongoing investigation in any way to impact an upcoming election.

Which signaled to me, I think, the answer that I had sort of been expecting all along, that there would be no indictments of the mostly FBI people that Trump regarded as his inveterate enemies, contrary to the president's hopes and, one imagines, Barr-encouraged expectations:

The Durham probe has also been under pressure from President Donald Trump, who said the investigation should be used to prosecute his political enemies. Trump repeatedly declared that the probe will vindicate his claims that the Obama administration illegally spied on him, even going so far as to say Barr’s legacy is entirely dependent upon whether top Obama administration officials are charged.

My idea on all this has long been that Trump, unable to distinguish his personal interest from his political interest, and unable to distinguish between his actual interest and his revenge fantasies, and locked into the conspiracy theories of the more rabid elements of the "base", has been after Barr since forever to nail these guys and punish them for their disloyal attempt to uncover his crimes, whether in the belief that he's going to lose the election and this is his last chance to get them or that because his base thinks the same way he does it will actually help him win. While Barr, aware of the inconvenient fact that the FBI guys haven't committed any crimes, keeps trying to soothe him like a colicky baby, and Senators Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson work to keep the flame alive from their position of more-or-less immunity where they can drop insinuations and falsehoods that make Barr look like an angel of probity, calling hearings and teasing documents, including garbage known to have been produced by Russian intelligence:

On Tuesday, Graham released a letter from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe stating that Obama administration officials were briefed on a Russian intelligence analysis alleging that Trump’s opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton, authorized “a campaign plan to stir up a scandal” against Trump by tying him to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russians’ hack of Democrats’ emails. In the letter, Ratcliffe acknowledged that the intelligence community is uncertain if the information in that analysis was accurate.

That's putting it pretty delicately, according to the official who conducted the briefing:

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Brennan responded to Ratcliffe's recent decision to declassify notes written by the former CIA director in 2016 after he briefed then-President Barack Obama on intelligence related to Russian security service reporting that Clinton approved "a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service."
"John Ratcliffe is anything but an intelligence professional. It is appalling his selective declassification of information. It is designed to advance the political interests of Donald Trump and Republicans who are aligned with him," Brennan said of the director of national intelligence.
"These were my notes from the 2016 period when I briefed President Obama and the rest of the national security council team about what the Russians were up to and I was giving examples of the type of access that the US intelligence community had to Russian information and what the Russians were talking about and alleging," he added.

It's a pretty odd picture, when you think about it, that Ratcliffe is trying to paint, where Brennan's reason for calling the president and the NSC team was to inform them that  he had learned from sources of Russian intelligence that Hillary Clinton (who is really and truly not running for president this year) was carrying on a plot against Donald Trump. "Mr. President, I have some evidence that the Russians are working with your chosen successor the former secretary of state to steal the election, which of course we all support as members of this conspiracy, so I thought I'd better let everybody know and get it all on the record." 

And then the Graham plan to interrogate Andrew McCabe in a Senate Intelligence hearing collapsed due to Covid-19.

Now DNI Ratcliffe is offering whole binders to the Department of Justice:

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has approved the release to the Department of Justice of a large binder full of documents to assist a review of the Obama administration's handling of the Trump-Russia investigation, according to a source with direct knowledge of the materials and confirmed by Ratcliffe.

Why it matters: The release, which is being revealed publicly for the first time today, comes as President Trump is urging his agencies to expedite the release of materials that he believes will be politically advantageous to him.

  • It follows a flurry of tweets by the president accusing the Obama administration of orchestrating a "treasonous plot" against him by investigating his campaign's ties to Russia.

Driving the news: The release of the documents to U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was tapped by Attorney General Bill Barr to carry out a sweeping review of alleged abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies investigating Trump and Russia, comes just hours before the start of the vice presidential debate.

In fact, it's in response to 'roid rage Trump, who's now more or less officially out of his mind:

Where are all of the arrests?” Trump said, after several dozen tweets on the subject over the past 24 hours. “Can you imagine if the roles were reversed? Long term sentences would have started two years ago. Shameful!”

By early afternoon, Trump was letting loose his frustrations in an all-caps missive that seemed aimed at nobody in particular.


Meanwhile Trump has, or thinks he has, declassified all these documents so they can be released to the general public, I think; we'll all be getting them if we want, at the same time as Durham, and the task of trying to find something wrong with the FBI will be outsourced right back to The Federalist and The Hill. It's all so ridiculous.

There really isn't going to be anything: a billion tiny October surprises trying out but not ready for a solo. It's a measure of how much the Trumpies don't have.

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