Until the news of some Irish terrorist dying this morning displaced it, the BBC once again ran an anti-Trump opinion piece as its main story of the day:
After a bit of grandstanding on the part of the top members of the House Intelligence Committee and a warm-up act from National Security Agency head Mike Rogers, Mr Comey led with the big news of the day.
“I have been authorised by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes 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,” he said.
That there is an investigation isn’t exactly breaking news – the BBC’s Paul Wood reported on it in early January – but official acknowledgement is a significant development.
Well, yes. Some of us are wondering when all those making noises about Russia and the 2016 Presidential Election are going to put up or shut up. So far it’s been nothing but rumour, innuendo, and hearsay. We’ve not even been told exactly what Russia is supposed to have done and the mechanism by which this is supposed to have unduly influenced the election. I’d have thought this would be a good starting point before anyone worries about “links” between “individuals associated with the Trump campaign” and the Russian government. But this isn’t so much an investigation as a political campaign.
The fact that his investigation first began in July, during the heat of the 2016 election campaign, will likely leave Democrats howling. They will contrast Mr Comey’s wide-ranging comments on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server with his until-recent silence surrounding the Trump-related inquiry.
I am sure many people have noticed the contrast between the FBI’s treatment of Hillary over her email server and the noise being made over Trump’s alleged connections to Russia. Only it won’t be the contrast the BBC thinks it is.
Mr Rogers also said that the intelligence community stands behind the declassified report it issued in early January that concluded that the Russia government attempted to influence the US election in a way that helped Mr Trump’s candidacy.
The report which was full of woolly innuendo and contained no proper description of what this “influence” entailed, let alone any evidence for it?
The other big revelation of the day was how thoroughly both Mr Comey and Mr Rogers debunked the president-tweeted allegation that Barack Obama or his Justice Department had authorised the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration,” Mr Comey said, “I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
Well, the allegation will only have been thoroughly debunked if their denial is believed. Perhaps Trump wasn’t wiretapped and he made it all up, I’m quite happy to believe that. But if he was telling the truth, could we rely on the FBI in its current form not to mislead the public, e.g. by using an extremely narrow definition of “wiretapping” to sidestep the allegation? There’s been so much bullshit emitted that nobody knows who or what to believe any more.
Indeed, the ability to order such surveillance was outside the powers of any president, Mr Comey said.
Which, as Streetwise Professor noted at the time, is the sort of statement a lawyer comes out with. Sure, Obama did not have the power to authorise any surveillance, but that in itself does not make surveillance of Trump on behalf of Obama an impossibility. As a debunking, it probably only satisfies those who are politically opposed to Trump from the outset. Like the BBC, for instance.
Mr Rogers also dismissed allegations that Mr Obama had bypassed domestic surveillance controls by requesting that British intelligence oversee the operation, noting that the accusation “frustrates a key ally of ours”.
That’s neither here nor there, though: GCHQ would be equally frustrated if the accusations were true. Again, why the red herrings?
Although the FBI case has been open since July, Mr Comey said the effort is still in its early stages.
“For counterintelligence investigations, that’s a fairly short period of time,” he said.
That has to be more than a bit disconcerting to the Trump White House, which has been knocked off course by this Russia story since practically the moment Mr Trump took the oath of office. And while the administration seems intent on cracking down on unauthorised leaks out of this investigation, their efforts are unlikely to succeed.
A one-two punch of those revelations and any new developments in the FBI investigation is likely to keep the Trump team off balance for quite some time.
And finally we’re getting to the real story. This investigation is not about rooting out nefarious Russian plots to throw the US election, it is to ensure the Trump administration is so bogged down in “scandal” that it can’t get on with the business of running the country and, in the hopes of Trump’s political opponents, makes his position untenable. As has been pointed out many times before, this whole “Russia hacked the election” story is simply the one that his opponents picked as the most likely to generate the greatest volume of noise, having tried sexism, misogyny, vote-rigging, and fake news already. Trump’s opponents – the Democrats, most of the Republicans, the media, and anyone foreign – believe that by making as much froth as possible they can spin this into a scandal and plant the idea in the public’s minds that this is the next Watergate. They hope that people will think there is no smoke without fire and gain the impression that Trump is hopelessly compromised and should resign or be impeached, mere months into his tenure. This is why the BBC is running story after story about this, it is merely playing its part as political opposition to Trump.
The interesting question is how effective this will be. These are exactly the same people taking exactly the same approach they did during the election itself, and enough Americans were sufficiently disgusted at what they saw that they voted for Trump anyway. It’s hard to believe these tactics are working any better now. Sure, those who were already opposed to Trump will buy wholesale into this pantomime, but I can’t see anyone who held their nose and voted for Trump to escape the Establishment’s vice-grip on American politics thinking they have not been vindicated.
As has been noted before, the establishment politicians, media, and others appear hell-bent on making America ungovernable in the delusional belief that they can unseat Trump, get their hands on the levers of power again, and everything will go back to normal. They honestly think that it is merely the flesh-and-blood Trump that is preventing them from going back to the cosy status-quo where Democrats did whatever they want and Republicans meekly went along with it through fear the press would call them racist.
But those days are gone, and if Trump vanishes in a puff of smoke tomorrow the social forces that put him there will remain, and they won’t be in the mood to be ignored any more. Sure, half the country might endorse the any-means-necessary approach to securing political victory even if it destroys the nation in the process, but the other half won’t, not now.
But what would happen, [Lawfare blog editor Benjamin] Wittes wondered, if Mr Comey’s FBI investigation is turning up real evidence?
Well, indeed what? Trump’s going to get impeached because “former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort…had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians”? What’s the end-game, here? If there was serious wrongdoing it would have been described already and evidence provided. If the Establishment and their pro-Obama allies in the various intelligence agencies are going to bring down a sitting president over this kind of nonsense, and the American public accept it, then they deserve everything they’ve got coming to them. My guess is they won’t.