Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Once as farce.....

It's helpful to have a quick summary of how we got here:

Or, if you prefer (like me) a written summary:

Here's what we know for sure.
In July 2016, the FBI launched an investigation into the various ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The bureau soon acquired a warrant to spy on Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy adviser with longstanding financial ties to the Kremlin. After Trump’s election, the investigation took on considerably more urgency — with Comey personally approving more scrutiny, according to the Guardian.

In December, Sen. John McCain personally handed Comey a dossier from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, alleging that the Russians had compromising material on Trump and that the Trump campaign actively coordinated with Russian hackers targeting Clinton. By early January, the FBI had confirmed that Steele’s sources were credible and its contents could not be dismissed, forcing them to brief both President Obama and President-elect Trump on its contents.

The FBI’s investigations took on new urgency after Trump took office, and the Trump administration kept stepping on rakes when it came to Russia. That’s when the Flynn-Kislyak scandal broke and when Sessions lied under oath about his own contacts with the ambassador during the campaign, which forced him to recuse himself from supervising the Russia investigation in early March.

Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees had, at this point, started their own investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. On March 20, Comey was called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee — chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes — about the status of the FBI’s investigation. That’s when he dropped his biggest bombshell yet.

“[The FBI is] investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey said.

After this announcement, it became impossible — regardless of what Trump said in Tuesday’s letter — to separate the FBI’s investigation into Russia from an investigation into the president. Clearly, Director Comey had given consent and support for an investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. You simply can’t look into whether close Trump associates had improper contact with Russia without looking into the question of whether the president approved their actions. It would also come back to the core issue from Watergate: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Two days after Comey’s testimony, it became clear that the FBI’s investigation was extremely serious. CNN reported that “the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.” This information came from “human intelligence, travel, business and phone records, and accounts of in-person meetings.”

The information, CNN’s reporters cautioned, “was not conclusive.” But the point is that it was already pointing in a direction that could implicate Trump officials. If that happened — if the FBI actually uncovered hard proof that the Trump campaign had coordinated with the Russians — it would end up being the kind of scandal that topples a presidency.

By early April, the FBI investigation into Russia had gotten so massive that the bureau had to form a special unit for it in Washington. Meanwhile, the House investigation had stalled out due to Nunes’s weird insistence on backing up Trump’s wild claims about Obama spying on Trump Tower (which would eventually force Nunes to recuse himself). The Senate investigation, only given limited funding and staff, was proceeding slowly — to the point where senators were publicly complaining about the pace.

The point of all of this is simple: The FBI was conducting by far the most serious investigation into Trump and Russia in the country, one that simply couldn’t be matched by Congress or by journalists. The bureau had the money, the trained investigators, and the access to powerful surveillance tools. Perhaps most importantly, it also had a director who seemed to be entirely behind the investigation.

And then Trump and Sessions fired him.
Rachel adds that Sally Yates was fired shortly after she insisted there was a problem with Michael Flynn, a problem connected to Russia.  Ostensibly she was fired for refusing to defend the first Muslim ban in court; but more and more it seems matters weren't nearly as simple and clear-cut as that.

And yes, this firing is about the Russia investigation:

President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn't call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters.

He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

And that business about "cryin' Chuck Schumer"?  Yeah, expect to hear more of that from Trump:

But the fallout seemed to take the White House by surprise. Trump made a round of calls around 5 p.m., asking for support from senators. White House officials believed it would be a "win-win" because Republicans and Democrats alike have problems with the FBI director, one person briefed on their deliberations said.

Instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told him he was making a big mistake — and Trump seemed "taken aback," according to a person familiar with the call.

By Tuesday evening, the president was watching the coverage of his decision and frustrated no one was on TV defending him, a White House official said. He wanted surrogates out there beating the drum.
Instead, advisers were attacking each other for not realizing the gravity of the situation as events blew up. "How are you not defending your position for three solid hours on TV?" the White House aide said.

Two White House officials said there was little communications strategy in handling the firing, and that staffers were given talking points late Tuesday for hastily arranged media appearances. Aides soon circulated previous quotes from Schumer hitting Comey. After Schumer called for a special prosecutor, the White House huddled in press secretary Sean Spicer's office to devise a strategy and sent "fresh faces" to TV, one White House official said.
Kellyanne Conway was as mendacious and destructive of her position as anyone I've ever seen.

And then there's this:

The FBI director now joins acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as senior law enforcement officials who have been fired by Trump. While in office, Comey and Yates oversaw most of the tentacles of the investigative octopus looking into the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, and potential Russia ties. Bharara reportedly handled some parts of that octopus, too, and also would have exercised jurisdiction in the Southern District of New York over the Trump Organization. The seniority of these officials, and their potential investigatory relationship to Trump, suggests the most apt comparison here is to the “Saturday Night Massacre” initiated in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to try and block the Watergate investigation.

Concerns about the Russian investigation aren't going away; they are just getting started.  There are such clear grounds for impeachment here it's not even funny.  Trump had better hope he holds on to the Congress in 2018.

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