Smart Democrats are running from their Trump Russia narrative faster than Usain Bolt, because they realize they can’t have their cake and eat it too. But the main stream media is trying to eat the Russian Trump cake and have it too. They can’t demand to be taken seriously and be so wrong at the same time.
Let’s strip this down to the facts.
- The Justice Department, under former President Obama, sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for international calls from Trump Tower and Trump associates in mid-2016. Most DOJ FISA warrants are summarily approved, but this one was likely deemed too broad and controversial, and denied by the FISA judge.
- The FBI sought another FISA warrant in October, which was narrowed to specific individuals: Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. That warrant was granted.
- Former DNI James Clapper claimed there was no FISA order for surveillance on the Trump campaign (technically true, but disingenuous and evasive).
- Clapper, in the same Meet The Press interview, claimed that the intelligence community found no evidence of collusion between Trump, his campaign, and the Russians.
Now let’s talk presuppositions. Two poles of possibility emerge.
A. Obama’s IC and DOJ are infallible and incorruptible
There was enough evidence of the possibility of collusion and a smoke/fire relationship with Russia for the FBI and the intelligence community to mount a months-long investigation and continue that investigation past the election right through Trump’s inauguration.
ThinkProgress reporter Justin Salhani took this position last week. If the FBI tried twice for a FISA warrant, there couldn’t possibly be a political motivation behind it, right?
If that’s the case, then it provides some of the most compelling evidence yet that the intelligence community believes there was direct communication between the Trump campaign and allies in Russia. Democratic lawmakers and conservatives are calling for the release of any evidence that might have provided the basis for a FISA warrant.
B. It was a political hit job of Watergate proportions
Even Buzzfeed, a veritable fount of unverified and presumed-fake Trump allegations, expressed doubts about the snow-white-purity of Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s motives.
Even some Democrats on the Intelligence Committee now quietly admit, after several briefings and preliminary inquiries, they don’t expect to find evidence of active, informed collusion between the Trump campaign and known Russian intelligence operatives, though investigators have only just begun reviewing raw intelligence. Among the Intelligence Committee’s rank and file, there’s a tangible frustration over what one official called “wildly inflated” expectations surrounding the panel’s fledgling investigation.
They’re lowering expectations after they (the Democrats) themselves raised them. Now Democrats have been caught trying to blow thick black smoke and yell “fire!” where there’s only a whiff there to find.
If the president hadn’t called out the rumor-mongers and conspiracy hacks in his usual Trumpy Twitter fashion, this investigation would dog him for years. But now they’ve got to put up or shut up.
Either the investigation has or is about to yield something damning, or, people are going to buy into the fact that it was a political hit job, a fishing expedition of enormous proportions to find anything with which to destroy the Republican candidate and President-elect before he took office. That’s the stuff of Nixon monkeying with the South Vietnamese, or breaking into the DNC’s Watergate offices.
Given that: (a) The CIA helped cover for Benghazi; (b) DOJ under Eric Holder papered over Fast & Furious gun walking; (c) FBI Director James Comey swerved like Tony Stewart avoiding a wreck to not indict Hillary, only to reopen the investigation days before the election; and (d) his former boss Loretta Lynch had a not-so-secret tryst with Bill Clinton to seal the deal, nobody can claim that the FBI or the intelligence community is immune from politics.
There appears to be more evidence of the hit job possibility than the smoke/fire scenario.
A report by Circa indicated that the FBI and counterintelligence agents quickly found no evidence of collusion using traditional investigative techniques, and moved on.
Agents were examining allegations of computer activity tied to Russia.. Very quickly, they concluded the computer activity in question involved no nefarious contacts, bank transactions or encrypted communications with the Russians, and likely involved routine computer signals.
The towers are home to Trump’s business, personal residence and then-campaign headquarters.
The dangerous gamble
Journalist Matt Taibbi offered an arched eyebrow in Rolling Stone over the whole “we better find something” problem Democrats have painted themselves into. They’ve placed all their eggs into this Russia basket, and the basket is about to be thrown into a burning dumpster.
But the manner in which these stories are being reported is becoming a story in its own right. Russia has become an obsession, cultural shorthand for a vast range of suspicions about Donald Trump.
The notion that the president is either an agent or a useful idiot of the Russian state is so freely accepted in some quarters that Beck Bennett’s shirtless representation of Putin palling with Alec Baldwin’s Trump is already a no-questions-asked yuks routine for the urban smart set.
The liberal media is all-in on the Russia story. They’ve bet their credibility on it along with Democrats and likely deep moles in the administration and intelligence community. If there’s something to report beyond unsupported allegations, it’s going to have to come out completely and soon. But it appears there’s nothing there at this point.
If there’s any truth to the notion that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian state to disrupt the electoral process, then yes, what we’re seeing now are the early outlines of a Watergate-style scandal that could topple a presidency.
But it could also be true that both the Democratic Party and many leading media outlets are making a dangerous gamble, betting their professional and political capital on the promise of future disclosures that may not come.
And here we are. If there was something there on November 7th, it would have come out. If it was there January 19th, it would have come out. They’re betting on a losing proposition. If there’s a Watergate-style scandal brewing, it might not be against Trump, but against those who tried to topple him.
Taibbi saw the writing on the wall.
But what if there is nothing else to find?
Reporters should always be nervous when intelligence sources sell them stories. Spooks don’t normally need the press. Their usual audiences are other agency heads, and the executive. They can bring about action just by convincing other people within the government to take it.
In the extant case, whether the investigation involved a potential Logan Act violation, or election fraud, or whatever, the CIA, FBI, and NSA had the ability to act both before and after Donald Trump was elected. But they didn’t, and we know why, because James Clapper just told us – they didn’t have evidence to go on.
Thus we are now witnessing the extremely unusual development of intelligence sources that normally wouldn’t tell a reporter the time of day litigating a matter of supreme importance in the media. What does this mean?
The media war may be over
The entire main stream media establishment could find itself looking like Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault. A huge buildup, massive expectations, only to find an empty room.
“So as the program is unfolding, and it becomes more and more likely that I’m not going to find anything, there was a terrible, terrible sinking feeling, ‘My God, the whole world is watching,'” Rivera said.
When there’s nothing there, the media can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can’t say “we built this up and obsessed over it, but now you have to take us seriously.” Taibbi summarized this nicely.
If that’s the case, there are big dangers for the press. If we engage in Times-style gilding of every lily the leakers throw our way, and in doing so build up a fever of expectations for a bombshell reveal, but there turns out to be no conspiracy – Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future.
It worked during Trump’s campaign, and it’s about to happen in his presidency. The media war might be over, and Trump may have already won.