Sunday, September 4, 2022

Minions. I

Drawing by Drew Sheneman, New Jersey Star-Ledger.

OK, let's start with attorney Michael Ellis, b.1984, Dartmouth and Yale Law (where he was president of the local Federalist Society), did a little stuff with the country-club type of Republicans (W and the Mittster) here and there on the way, and after his clerkship started working in Congress, first for Rep. Mike Rogers, then for Rep. Devin Nunes. 

So after the 2016 election he got a job with the new Trump administration—in fact, two jobs, it seems, one as deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council and the other as senior associate counsel to the president, where he played a central role in one of the more startling dramas of the early Trump administration, in March 2017, when Rep. Nunes went to the White House to warn the president about some evidence he'd found that some of his 2016 campaign staffers might have been subjected to problematic surveillance during the campaign, only then it turned out that Nunes had gotten the material he was delivering to the White House from the White House.

From that same Mike Ellis, to be precise, who got it from another young staffer, Ezra Cohen-Watnick (b.1986), a protégé of General Mike Flynn, under whom he had served at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration before Flynn got himself fired in 2014 and was now staying on at the National Security Council after Flynn got himself fired from that gig in February.

Cohen-Watnick gathered the cases­ of incidental collection on Trump campaign operatives after arriving at the NSC. One official said Cohen-Watnick did so as part of research unrelated to Trump’s wiretapping tweet [on his reputed belief that the Obama adminstration had spied on him]. Instead, the official said, Cohen-Watnick was assembling materials out of concern that intelligence information on U.S. persons was being shared too widely and that unmasking rules were being abused. (Washington Post)

He just happened to find these documents (transcripts of foreign nationals taking with Americans from Trump's orbit whose names, it was said, Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice had asked to have "unmasked") in the course of his normal duties that coincidentally appeared to relate to Trump's preoccupations of the moment, so he naturally got them to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (Cohen-Watnick denied having any idea they would go to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) so that Nunes would be able to send them right back, after the dramatic press conference in which he announced the discovery.

We're also told that

Cohen-Watnick raised his findings about Rice with the White House counsel’s office, according to [an anonymous] official. The counsel’s office ordered him to stand down because the lawyers did not want the White House to be running an independent investigation into the prior administration.

so if you assume some of the things the principals say are a little bit false, it's got the shape of a pretty simply structured little conspiracy involving Trump, who wants to see such information unveiled, Cohen-Watnick, who sort of knows how to locate it, Mike Ellis, whose boss is White House counsel Don McGahn, who doesn't want any part of it, and whose old boss is Chairman Devin Nunes, who's got the idea that being the guy who brings out this news is going to be a big career boost.

Which didn't turn out to be exactly the case, as you know. Nunes's collusion with Trump was now so obvious that even the other Republicans on the committee couldn't ignore it, and he was forced to recuse himself from his own investigation, and started on the lonely road of humiliation from bringing a defamation suit against an imaginary cow to becoming the CEO of one of the most inauspicious rollouts in the history of corporations— 

But before things got to that point, Nunes created one final gigantic cowpat in the path of the Russia investigation, in the form of his own secret investigation (secret from the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee), conducted mostly by another of his staffers, Kashyap Pramod Patel (b.1980), son of Gujarati parents with roots in Indian communities of East Africa, Pace University School of Law, and a former public defender who then moved into government

as a national security prosecutor at the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Obama administration, where he led investigations spanning multiple theaters of conflict and oversaw the successful prosecution of criminals aligned with Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, and other terror groups. This work necessitated Mr. Patel’s presence in locations across the globe, collaborating with host nation governments to successfully prosecute terrorists. He also served as the DOJ Liaison Officer to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), working with our nation’s most prestigious counterterrorism units (special forces) to conduct collaborative global targeting operations against high value objectives, in almost every theater of war.

Which earned him some kind of commendation from the CIA, according to Wikipedia, and the job offer from Nunes with the Intelligence Committee.

Nunes and Patel were working on yet another hypothesis of misconduct in the surveillance of the Trump campaign, the idea that the FBI had sought surveillance warrants against one of Trump's foreign policy advisors, Carter Page, a person of longtime interest to the FBI since he tried to get himself recruited as a Russian agent in 2013

“I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. ... He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up,” Podobnyy said. “I also promised him a lot ... This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself.”

who had given a commencement speech in Moscow's New Economic School in fulsome praise of Vladimir Putin in July 2016, around the same time as the Russian-stolen DNC emails exploded into our consciousnesses. Also, Christopher Steele's sources told him (apparently falsely, this was Russian disinformation) that Page had also been seen at the time in high places trying to do big energy deals.

Anyway, in early 2018, Kash Patel was developing the theory that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which later became the Mueller investigation and started investigating Trump himself, was the offspring of a conspiracy between the putative Democrats in the FBI (basically McCabe and Strzok) and the Democrat-connected law firm, Perkins Coie, that was at that point paying for Steele's research, aiming to cook up a fraudulent case for recording Carter Page's phone calls and getting that FISA order on him, because...

Uh, because why, actually? What thrilling secrets were they expecting Page to reveal? It's an Underpants Gnomes scenario:

  1. Record Carter Page phone calls
  2. ?????????
  3. Victory for Democrats!

You can accept that Nunes and Patel were deeply worried about this eventuality if you can imagine how it was going to work, but I can't.

I'll get back to this after a break.

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