by Bob Cesca
You might’ve noticed that the congressional Republicans have amped up their efforts to undermine the integrity of the FBI and the Mueller investigation. The latest chapter in the Trumpers’ “deep state coup” narrative has arrived and it goes a little like this: they’re focusing on text messages by an FBI agent named Peter Strzok, while at the same time the embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, apparently authored a memo in which he claims to have uncovered alleged anti-Trump surveillance abuses inside the bureau.
Of course it’s all horseshit partially manufactured by the Republicans in cahoots with Fox News Channel. We’ll get into the “why” presently.
The Strzok matter might be considered a problem given how mouthy he was in text exchanges with Lisa Page, another employee at the bureau. However, one thing you won’t hear too often on AM talk radio or in Trump’s Twitter feed is that Strzok was summarily removed from the FBI’s investigation of Trump-Russia back in July after the FBI’s office of the inspector general (OIG) caught wind of the texts. In other words, the FBI — not the Republicans or Lou Dobbs or Devin Nunes — discovered what Strzok was up to and demoted him for it. That should be the first sign that this Strzok text message thing is a weak attempt to out a guy who was already outed by the FBI.
The thumbnail goes like this: Strzok apparently exchanged text messages with Page that weren’t particularly pro-Trump. Then again, Strzok also texted anti-Hillary Clinton remarks as well. Indeed, Strzok had a lot to say about politicians from both sides of the aisle. But what the Republicans are focused on this week is a single message dated just after the 2016 election in which Page, not Strzok, texted: “Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”
Cue dramatic fanfare.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) appeared on Fox News this week equipped with news of this “secret society” thing, even though the word “perhaps” in the text message suggests it was a bureaucratic joke or a lighthearted throwaway text. Gowdy returned to Fox News the next day and wasn’t as sure about his assessment of the message’s meaning, telling Fox News audiences, “Now, I have no clue what that means because it was not the phraseology I used.”
Also on Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-“The Point”) announced that the Republicans have an informant inside the FBI who told them about a series of off-site meetings. Shocking, I know, for FBI agents to meet in locations other than in their offices, right? But now they’re attempting to link the “secret society” text with their so-called informant’s word of off-site meetings. Seriously. This is how flimsy their Strzok story is.
Oh, and now the Trumpers are crapping their cages over the fact that a bunch of the Strzok text messages were lost in what the FBI is calling a bureau-wide technical glitch impacting thousands of the FBI’s devices between December 2016 and May 2017. This is where the president jumped in, completely inventing the notion that 50,000 text messages were deleted. He’s clearly lying. No one knows how many texts were lost. No one.
Meanwhile, there’s this mysterious Nunes memo. It’s mysterious because we don’t know what’s in it. Nunes refuses to release it for some reason, despite the fact that everyone from Don Junior to thousands of Russian trolls and bots have circulated the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag. Nunes also refuses to deliver a copy to the FBI, even though it’s entirely about the bureau. Odd. Nevertheless, we at least know that it’s about surveillance abuses against, apparently, the Trump team.
It’s important to retrace what this could be. We’ve heard through various press reports that a roster of Trump operatives, including Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner, were picked up in conversations with Russian operatives who were targets of FBI surveillance, permitted under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Not to get too ‘splainy about it, but let’s keep in mind that the “F” in “FISA” stands for “foreign.”
Section 702 allows the intelligence community to collect communications from overseas targets without a warrant. Simultaneously, the process also sweeps up any communications from the “US Persons” with whom the foreign targets are chatting. However, the personally identifying details of US Persons must be “minimized,” which includes redacting names and other information. With a proper warrant from the FISA Court, those US Persons can be revealed to investigators.
This appears to be what happened with the Trump people.
In the real world, it’s obvious the Trumpers were communicating with Russian targets (and others), so investigators engaged the proper channels to reveal the names of the Trump people. We’ll likely find out there was a court order allowing it. But the Republicans would have us believe, possibly within the Nunes memo, that the FBI was illegally surveilling Flynn and the others because, they say, the FBI hates Trump. Plus, the secret society, the missing texts, and all the rest of the crapola they’re ginning up.
All of this just bleeds desperation. It’s all so pathetic — like a bungling criminal who’s defending himself in court by announcing he’s “putting the system on trial!” More specifically, it tells us that Mueller must be really damn close to collecting more scalps, and it leads me to believe Trump and his inner circle aren’t the only government officials who are badly compromised. There’s really no other explanation. Why else would sitting members of Congress put their reputations on the line in order to defend a feckless one-term buffoon like Trump? Why else would they go to war against the U.S. intelligence community, perhaps making themselves a target as well?
Ultimately, if Trump is so innocent, why are his lieutenants going to such great lengths to obstruct the investigation, including a war against federal law enforcement? The GOP counterattack aside, why aren’t Trump and his lawyers being more transparent about their records and therefore their innocence? If the president’s so clean, let’s see his tax returns. Let’s have a public audit of his business finances. Hell, maybe Trump should volunteer to answer Mueller’s questions in public on live television. Let’s have a full public accounting of the Trump team’s emails and texts — especially knowing how loudly Trump’s been demanding to see both Strzok’s, Page’s and Hillary’s messages.
No, everything they’ve done, including this “deep state coup” nonsense, makes them appear even guiltier than before. The scope of Mueller’s prosecutorial mission should be growing larger by the hour.
They say the cover-up is worse than the crime. Today, the cover-up extends beyond the White House and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the offices of the House and Senate Republicans. The American people deserve to know why they’re doing this. It’s not just politics at this point. It’s far deeper and more sinister, and we must demand answers.