Posted tagged ‘Comey leaks’

Judicial Watch: Justice Department Argues Comey’s Leak of ‘Flynn’ Memo to New York Times was Unauthorized, Compares Comey to Wikileaks

November 9, 2017

Judicial Watch: Justice Department Argues Comey’s Leak of ‘Flynn’ Memo to New York Times was Unauthorized, Compares Comey to Wikileaks, November 8, 2018

Judicial Watch argues that if disclosure of the “Flynn” memo would harm the Russia investigation, then the Justice Department should have taken steps to “address Ex-Director Comey’s removal of the memo from the FBI, leaking of the memo to the media, and subsequent testimony about the memo, to the extent that testimony was unauthorized and not coordinated with [the Justice Department], the FBI, and/or Special Counsel Mueller. Removal of government records is a federal offense.” While the Justice Department compares Comey to WikiLeaks, it makes no claim to have addressed Comey’s misconduct. Judicial Watch points out that its “failure to do so further undercuts any claim of harm” to an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

“We now have Justice Department confirmation that Comey was wrong to have leaked records to the media to settle a score with President Trump,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “How can this Justice Department defend its position that memos written for pernicious purposes to target a sitting president with a criminal investigation should remain secret? Mr. Mueller may have an interest in protecting Comey, but the public’s interest demands transparency about Comey’s vendetta against President Trump.”

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(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that the Justice Department is now comparing former FBI Director James Comey to WikiLeaks. After Comey was fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, he gave the New York Times a February 14, 2017, memorandum written about a one-on-one conversation he had with President Trump regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Judicial Watch is asking a federal court to order the release of all Comey’s unclassified memoranda about his one-on-one conversations with the president.

Comey testified under oath before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he authored as many as nine such memos about his one-on-one conversations with President Trump. He also admitted, regarding the “Flynn” memo, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter [for The New York Times] … I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” The New York Times published a report about the memo on May 16, 2017. Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed the following day.

On June 16, 2017, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the Department of Justice failed to respond to a May 16 FOIA request (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-01189)). Judicial Watch seeks:

FBI Director James Comey’s February 14, 2017 memorandum…memorializing an Oval Office conversation he had with the President on that date regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

In its lawsuit Judicial Watch refutes the Justice Department’s claim of exemption for law enforcement purposes:

Ex-Director Comey plainly did not use the February 14 Memo for any recognized or legitimate law enforcement purpose. He used it to settle a score with the President, who had just fired him.

Judicial Watch argues that if disclosure of the “Flynn” memo would harm the Russia investigation, then the Justice Department should have taken steps to “address Ex-Director Comey’s removal of the memo from the FBI, leaking of the memo to the media, and subsequent testimony about the memo, to the extent that testimony was unauthorized and not coordinated with [the Justice Department], the FBI, and/or Special Counsel Mueller. Removal of government records is a federal offense.” While the Justice Department compares Comey to WikiLeaks, it makes no claim to have addressed Comey’s misconduct. Judicial Watch points out that its “failure to do so further undercuts any claim of harm” to an ongoing law enforcement investigation.

On September 7, 2017, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on behalf of the Daily Caller News Foundation after the Department of Justice failed to respond to a June 9 FOIA request (Daily Caller News Foundation v. U.S. Department Justice (No. 1:17-cv-01830)). The lawsuit seeks:

All unclassified memoranda authored by former FBI Director James Comey that contemporaneously memorialized his discussions with President Donald Trump and his aides [during] the time frame…November 8, 2016 to May 9, 2017.

In the Daily Caller News Foundation suit Judicial Watch argues that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department prevented Comey from testifying, nor do they dispute anything he said. Comey is not under investigation for violating any non-disclosure agreements or removing records from the FBI when he was fired. “Their silence and inaction speak volumes,” Judicial Watch argues.

Judicial Watch further debunks the notion that Comey wrote the memos for law enforcement purposes:

[Director Comey] explained, “I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and – and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigation.” … He authored the records not for law enforcement purposes but for administrative and institutional purposes. His testimony could not be clearer.

Judicial Watch argues in both filings against withholding the memoranda under the guise of a national security exemption. The FBI fails to demonstrate that material contained in the memoranda was classified through proper procedures.

In its court filing opposing the release, the Justice Department also asserts that some of the Comey memos contain classified material.

“The Freedom of Information Act was designed to give the American people access to the records its government keeps,” said Neil Patel, publisher and CEO of the Daily Caller News Foundation. “This access is fundamental in a democracy like ours. Today, when so many Americans feel detached from a government that they feel often doesn’t serve their interests, this sort of access is more important than ever. When the Daily Caller News Foundation made a reasonable request for access to FBI Director Comey’s memos we were completely stonewalled. Our request is legally sound and completely within the public interest so with the help of our friends at Judicial Watch we are fighting in court to see it through.”

“We now have Justice Department confirmation that Comey was wrong to have leaked records to the media to settle a score with President Trump,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “How can this Justice Department defend its position that memos written for pernicious purposes to target a sitting president with a criminal investigation should remain secret? Mr. Mueller may have an interest in protecting Comey, but the public’s interest demands transparency about Comey’s vendetta against President Trump.”

Both cases have been consolidated in Cable News Network, Inc., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation (No. 1:17-cv-01167).

House Judiciary Committee Officially Approves Effort to Launch Investigation of Comey, Lynch

July 27, 2017

House Judiciary Committee Officially Approves Effort to Launch Investigation of Comey, Lynch, BreitbartMatthew Boyle, July 26, 2017

Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee has officially approved an effort to launch an investigation into former FBI director James Comey’s leaking activities and apparent mishandling of a federal investigation by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The new investigative effort, authorized by the passage of the amendment in the Judiciary Committee, 16-13 along partisan lines, digs deep requesting documents and information related to Comey’s leaks of conversations he had with President Donald Trump before Trump fired him. According to the Washington Post, Democrats on the committee were infuriated Republicans pressed forward with the probe.

“This is the most astonishing moment I’ve ever experienced in the Judiciary Committee,” one Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), said. “To take a question about the firing of James B. Comey and turn it into a question about Hillary Clinton? The chairman has left the room. Justice has left this room. Common sense has left this room. A lot of stuff has left this room, and maybe never entered it.”

The amendment was offered by Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Mike Johnson (R-LA). It passed Wednesday evening, authorizing the opening of the Judiciary Committee probe. It remains to be seen if subjects of the investigation will cooperate, and if they do not cooperate it remains to be seen if the Committee will use its broad subpoena power to compel document production and testimony.

It also remains to be seen if House Speaker Paul Ryan will support the probe, or intervene and use his power to block it. Ryan’s spokesman has not responded to Breitbart News’s requests for comment on this matter.

“There is little question that members of Obama’s administration repeatedly broke protocol throughout their investigations into Hillary Clinton,” Johnson told Breitbart News in an emailed statement. “What is unclear, however, is why we have received few answers over the past twelve months to our questions about their actions, especially concerning the former attorney general and FBI director. The House Judiciary Committee has continued to seek answers on various issues of interest stemming from their hearings and oversight responsibilities. This is simply an effort to finally get some of those important questions answered.”

The effort was first reported by Breitbart News on Tuesday, when a draft copy of the amendment was circulated demonstrating these conservatives’ efforts to probe deep into the left’s network of leaks and corruption.

The probe is wide-ranging and includes a mandate for the House Judiciary Committee to dig deep into Lynch’s order to Comey that he should refer to the criminal investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s illicit email server as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” Clinton was the failed 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.

The probe also will press for document production regarding Comey’s communication with Columbia University Law Professor Daniel Richman, Comey’s friend, of conversations Comey had with President Trump. Richman was the vessel through which Comey leaked to the media details of those conversations with the president after his firing, with an apparent intent of using the media pressure from said leaks to spark the launching of the special counsel investigation of the Russia scandal. That special counsel investigation is being led by Comey’s longtime friend Robert Mueller, another former FBI director.

The investigation will also, per the amendment passed by the House Judiciary Committee, dig into Comey’s decision to “usurp the authority” of Lynch by making his “unusual announcement” that Hillary Clinton would not face criminal charges over the email scandal. It will inspect Comey’s knowledge of the firm Fusion GPS, the firm that made the fake news anti-Trump dossier that Comey brought to Trump’s attention when he was president-elect, and look at any “collusion” between Comey and Mueller—the special counsel leading the Russia probe now—especially regarding Comey’s leak through Richman to the media.

The probe, too, will look into Comey’s potential knowledge of “unmasking” of intelligence and surveillance collected on Donald Trump’s campaign or transition teams—and specifically any role that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice played in that.

But that’s not all: The probe will dig into potential immunity deals given to “co-conspirators” in Hillary Clinton’s email server scandal, including specifically Cheryl Mills, Heather Samuelson, and John Bentel.

It will also look into matters related to the Clinton Foundation’s influence from foreign governments and specifically the Uranium One deal exposed by Clinton Cash—whereby Russians obtained ownership in U.S. uranium assets. And it will investigate the infamous tarmac meeting between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch in Phoenix at Sky Harbor International Airport.

Biggs, one of the sponsors of the now approved amendment to officially launch the committee probe, told Breitbart News in an interview before the measure was introduced that the American people want answers to these questions.

“My constituents ask the same questions that so many people want to know the answer to, and that is why have all these investigations stopped?” Biggs said. “There was a whole lot of fire there and they just seemed to end when the new administration came in and I think there’s two or three reasons,” Biggs said in a brief phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “Number one, I think you want justice and that leads to number two—if you don’t have justice and you’re not following the rule of law then government and lawmakers and those who enforce the law are held in derision by the public. They lose faith and confidence in those they elect and so I think this is really important to get back to those basics and find out what happened and so that’s why I think it’s important.”

Gaetz, another original sponsor, said in an emailed statement that this is a step in the right direction. “It’s time for Republicans in Congress to start playing offense,” Gaetz said.

And Jordan, the fourth original sponsor, added that Democrats have for years “obstructed justice,” but they will no longer succeed.

“For the past several years, Democrats have obstructed justice and blocked every Congressional investigation imaginable,” Jordan said in an emailed statement to Breitbart News. “Now they want to investigate? Ok, let’s investigate! Both parties have criticized James Comey over the past year for his performance as FBI director. Even Sen. Feinstein says there should be an investigation into Loretta Lynch and James Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation. Let’s have a special counsel for that and see how serious Congressional Democrats are about getting to the truth.”

DeSantis: House Intel Committee Has Brought in Some ‘Big Names’ to Answer Questions About Leaks

July 16, 2017

DeSantis: House Intel Committee Has Brought in Some ‘Big Names’ to Answer Questions About Leaks, PJ Media, Debra Heine, July 16, 2617

House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said that the House Intelligence Committee has already brought in some “big names” — “more than the press knows” — to answer questions about leaks of classified information to reporters.

When asked by Hugh Hewitt on MSNBC Saturday morning whether the committee was planning to call up Obama’s former “foreign policy guru,” Ben Rhodes, DeSantis said that he’s spoken to the committee’s chairman, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, about Rhodes but that he would defer to Gowdy to identify people of interest in the leak investigation.

DeSantis, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon last week that President Trump needs to purge Obama holdovers still working in the federal government.

DeSantis told the Beacon that “the holdovers and their allies outside the White House are responsible for an unprecedented series of national security leaks aimed at damaging the Trump administration’s national security apparatus.”

He singled out Obama’s chief propagandist, Ben Rhodes, as the person responsible for most of the leaks and called on Congress to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others to make sure they are looking into the situation.

DeSantis told Hewitt that he has drafted a letter to send to Sessions, asking that he investigate the leaks.

So I’ve prepared a letter. We’re going to be sending that next week, I imagine I’ll have a number of my colleagues joining it, asking the Justice Department to look into all these things, but then report back to us whether they are doing it or not, because, Hugh, you know, you’re very knowledgeable in national security.

We have certain intelligence authorities that are coming up for review this year. And if you don’t have anyone, say, being prosecuted for the Michael Flynn leaks, that was FISA material, then you’re not going to be able to do things like reauthorize 702 of the FISA statute, which is due by the end of the year. So I think if there’s no action being taken, I think it actually has a big effect on what we’re able to do in Congress.

And I’m somebody, I want to empower our intelligence agencies. I think it’s very important. But it’s very difficult to make that case to the American people if that information is then being used for domestic political warfare.

Asked if he would call Rhodes in to testify, DeSantis replied:

I’ve talked to Chairman Gowdy about it, and remember, they are doing things on the Intelligence Committee, and they’re doing a lot more than what the press knows in terms of some of the people that they have brought in. And they’ve brought in some pretty big names that I’m not authorized to say. So I want to defer to his judgment about whether that would be more appropriate in terms of the leak investigation that they’re doing on the Intelligence Committee. But I would like to bring him in to talk to him about it, because I want to figure out how all this information was getting out from the FISA intercept on…

DeSantis differentiated between the leaks that are coming from Obama holdovers in the Trump administration and standard “whistleblower” leaks.  These leaks, he argued, are an attack on the president.

“It’s not just people are leaking because they think something was wrong with the government and they want some sunlight,” DeSantis explained. “But this is concerted leaks designed to attack the sitting president. So I think the character of the leaks are different, and I think Comey’s leaks are part of that bushel.”

He cited as an example how conversations Trump has had with a foreign leaders have gone through the National Security Council and somehow ended up on the front page of the newspaper.

“And so we’ve gotten lot of information saying look, there’s only so many places that would come from,” the congressman said. “And the Obama holdover working with Rhodes, that’s a place we’ve been encouraged to look. So I want to look at that, because I think that it’s distorted the president’s ability to simply conduct foreign relations if there’s going to be selective leaking of his conversations with foreign leaders in ways that are damaging to him or at least purporting to damage him. That’s not the way we want our government to function.”

To answer his final question, Hewitt called on DeSantis to use his “prosecutorial chops”:

“If you had to guess who was going to get indicted, if anyone – Donald Trump Jr., James Comey or Ben Rhodes — what would your guess be?” he asked.

DeSantis answered: “I want to know what are in those Comey memos and see whether there’s classified information. I mean, I don’t think Donald Trump Jr. is going to get indicted. I think he had a meeting. I don’t think a criminal offense was committed. In terms of the political judgment, I think that’s fair to criticize. But I don’t think that there was a crime committed there.”

He forgot to mention Rhodes.

 

Printing The Legend: The Growing Gap Between Comey’s Image and Actions

July 12, 2017

Printing The Legend: The Growing Gap Between Comey’s Image and Actions, Jonathan Turley’s Blog, Jonathan Turley, July 12, 2017

(The media created the false Comey legend. Having created it, the media continued to rely on it, along with the false legend it created about Trump. — DM) 

In one of my favorite Westerns, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Jimmy Stewart reveals to a reporter that he was not the man who killed villain Liberty Valance — a legend that transformed him from a perceived coward to an inspiration hero and resulted in his being elected U.S. senator and ambassador to Great Britain. The seasoned reporter listens to the whole story, but in the end says that he will not print it.

He states the rule simply as “[w]hen the legend becomes fact…print the legend.” In many ways, James Comey is the Jimmy Stewart of the media production of “The Man Who Shot Lying Trump.” From the outset, reporters and Democrats (who had been calling for Comey’s firing or questioning his judgment) declared him to be the man who fearlessly stood up to a president demanding loyalty pledges and discarding legal and ethical standards.

It seems that in both Westerns and politics, you print the legend.

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Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the curious coverage surrounding James Comey and his leaking of his memos on meetings with President Donald Trump.  With the confirmation hearings of Comey’s replacement, Chris Wray, today, the status of the memos may come up in the Senate.

Here is the column:

In one of my favorite Westerns, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Jimmy Stewart reveals to a reporter that he was not the man who killed villain Liberty Valance — a legend that transformed him from a perceived coward to an inspiration hero and resulted in his being elected U.S. senator and ambassador to Great Britain. The seasoned reporter listens to the whole story, but in the end says that he will not print it.

He states the rule simply as “[w]hen the legend becomes fact…print the legend.” In many ways, James Comey is the Jimmy Stewart of the media production of “The Man Who Shot Lying Trump.” From the outset, reporters and Democrats (who had been calling for Comey’s firing or questioning his judgment) declared him to be the man who fearlessly stood up to a president demanding loyalty pledges and discarding legal and ethical standards.

The problem with that narrative is not the criticism of the actions of President Trump, but the consistent efforts to ignore the equally troubling actions of former FBI Director Comey. Yet, if Trump was to be the irredeemable villain, Comey had to be the immaculate hero. The script glitch centered on three allegations — all of which were actively denied by legal experts. First, Comey leaked memos of his meetings with Trump. Second, those memos constituted government material. Third, the memos were likely classified on some level.

Yes, the memos were leaked.

As I previously wrote, various legal experts went on the air on CNN and other cable news programs to dismiss the allegation (that a few of us printed) that Comey “leaked” his now famous memos detailing meetings with the president. Experts declared that leaks by definition only involve classified information — a facially ridiculous position that was widely stated with complete authority. Whether someone is prosecuted for a leak is a different question but a leak is the release of nonpublic information, not just classified information. University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Claire Finkelstein, CNN Legal Analyst Michael Zeldin, Fordham Law Professor Jed Shugerman, and others dismissed the notion that such memos could be deemed “leaks.”

Comey was a leaker, and he leaked for the oldest of motivations in Washington: to protect himself and hurt his opponents. Comey knew he would be called before the Congress and that these memos would be demanded by both his own former investigators as well as congressional investigators. That could have happened in a matter of days but Comey decided to use a friend to leak the content of the memos to the media (after giving the memos to his friend). In doing so, Comey took control of the media narrative and was lionized by the media.

Recently, the Senate Homeland Security Committee released a majority report that correctly referenced the Comey “leaks.” The report detailed a massive increase in leaks against the Trump administration but highlighted the leak by Comey. What makes that reference most troubling is that Comey was the person with the responsibility to find the leakers in the Trump administration. Yet, after the president expressly asked him to find leakers, Comey became a leaker himself. Moreover, as FBI director, Comey showed no particular sympathy to leakers and his department advanced the most extreme definitions of what constituted FBI information.

Yes, the memos were government property.

When some of us noted that these memos clearly fell within the definition of FBI information and thus they were ostensibly government (not private) property, there was again a chorus of experts dismissing such allegations against Comey. Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent assured CNN that these constitute merely “personal recollections” and would not fall into the definition of government material. Others joined in on the theme that these were like a “personal diary” and thus entirely his private property. Obviously, removing FBI material would not be a reaffirming moment for the Beltway’s lone, lanky hero. But that is what he did.

All FBI agents sign a statement affirming that “all information acquired by me in connection with my official duties with the FBI and all official material to which I have access remain the property of the United States of America” and that an agent “will not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”

These were memos prepared on an FBI computer about a meeting on an FBI investigation with the president of the United States in the Oval Office and other locations. The contents were important enough that Comey immediately shared them with his highest management team and consulted on how to deal with the information.

The FBI has now reportedly confirmed that the memos were indeed government property. The Hill, quoting “officials familiar with the documents,” has reported that the FBI has told the Congress that these memos are indeed government documents.

Yes, the memos were classified.

If Comey did leak government property, a third issue was whether the information was considered classified. Once again, the classified status does not determine if this was a leak (it was) or if it was government information (it was). However, many experts insisted that the material was clearly unclassified.

Comey’s representation of the unclassified status struck me as highly questionable at the time. I noted that the information would have likely been classified on some level, including “confidential” under governing standards. Moreover, FBI employees are not given free license (or sole authority) to write things in an “unclassified fashion.” That is why there are classification reviews. Information coming out of meetings with the president are routinely classified, let alone information deemed material to pending investigations.

As I noted earlier, the standards that Comey enforced as director belied his own account. The FBI restricts material generated in relation to investigations as “FBI information.” FBI rules cover any “documents reflecting advisory opinions, recommendations and deliberations comprising part of a process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated.” Under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI routinely claims this type of information as either classified or privileged or both.

Comey however repeatedly assured the Senate that there was nothing classified or privileged in the memos. In an exchange with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Comey said, “Well, I remember thinking, this is a very disturbing development, really important to our work. I need to document it and preserve it in a way — and — and this committee gets this, but sometimes when things are classified, it tangles them up. It’s hard…” Then Warner interrupted to say, “Amen.”

However, the issue was not the writing of the memos but their removal from the FBI and their leaking to the media. There is a reason why “sometimes when things are classified, it tangles them up.” It is called classification review. That does not give you license to transfer the information into a separate document and declare it a “Dear Diary” entry. That is a loose interpretation that Comey as FBI director never afforded to his subordinates and it would effectively gut the rules governing privileged and classified information.

Not surprisingly, The Hill reported that indeed the memos have been declared classified by the FBI. The newspaper maintains that four of the memos had markings indicating they contained classified material at the “secret” or “confidential” level. It is not clear whether the memos leaked to Comey’s friend and then the media included these memos or contained classified or privileged information.  However, the finding shows that Comey was wrong in claiming that he wrote the memos to avoid any classified information and the removal of the classified memos constitutes a violation of federal rules and FBI protocols.

None of this takes away from the seriousness of Comey’s allegation or the need to investigate possible obstruction of justice. However, it does raise serious questions about own Comey’s judgment and the legality of his actions. Yet, the coverage on these findings has largely been crickets.

It is much like that final scene in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”? After Jimmy Stewart unburdened himself that he was a fraudulent hero, he boarded the train back to Washington and thanked the conductor for his kindness. The conductor simply responded, “Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!”

It seems that in both Westerns and politics, you print the legend.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He was cited in the Senate Homeland Security Committee report on media leaks during the Trump administration.

The views expressed by contributors are their own ad are not the views of The Hill.

Putin Wins Big

June 23, 2017

Putin Wins Big, Jewish Media Resources, Jonathan Rosenblum, June 23, 2017

(Putin is winning because the national focus is on non-events. Hence, our faith in the electoral system has been damaged and the ability of the Trump administration to focus on the agenda Trump was elected to pursue has been limited. The Congress, rather than focus on legislating, is preoccupied with investigations of non-events. That’s good for America’s enemies and bad for America. President Trump’s successes in focusing on his agenda despite the many distractions speak well of him. — DM)

Smith makes an insightful distinction between “consolations, vicious self-sung lullabies” and “conspiracy theories.” Examples of the former would be: Hillary lost because the Russians hacked the election; our children died because the Jews poisoned the wells.

But such “consolations,” as vicious as they may be, only become full-blown conspiracy theories when weaponized through the mass media for political use. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion would be the classic example of such a conspiracy theory. And, Smith points out, Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” do not have the platforms “to proliferate weaponized narratives capable of doing real damage to our polity – the elites do.” And those elites — the press, the intelligence community, political parties – have been used to legitimize a conspiracy theory.

James Kirchik, another anti-Trump pundit (as well as a brilliant analyst on many issues) laments the way the “confirmation bias” has resulted in well-meaning, liberal anti-Trump journalists reporting stories that they want to be true and are emotionally true for them – e.g., stories of threatened or actual violence against minorities – but are factually false.

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It is certain that Russia launched a massive hacking campaign to undermine the U.S. electoral process in 2016. That is a major issue that needs to be thoroughly investigated, and steps taken so that it does not recur.

Though the Russian involvement in the 2016 election targeted both presidential candidates at various times, it likely damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign more. Confirmation in the emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee that the DNC had actively favored Clinton over her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, infuriated Sanders supporters. Conceivably enough of those supporters could have decided not to vote for Clinton based on those emails to have made a difference in the three crucial battleground states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Thus far, however, the primary focus on the Russian hacking has been with respect to the far-fetched claim that the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign fashion in some fashion The obsessive focus on that issue has turned the hacking into a major victory for Vladimir Putin by introducing an unparalleled degree of rancor and paralysis into the American political system.

James Kirchik writing in the May 3 American Interest (“Who Killed the Liberal World Order”), describes how at last September’s G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China, then President Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin about the Russian hacking of the DNC, and told him to “cut it out” or “face serious consequences.” In October, according to Bloomberg News, the White House used a cyber version of the “red phone” to convey to the Kremlin detailed evidence of Russian hacking of voter data banks in numerous states. On both occasions, Putin, who had long since taken Obama’s measure, did nothing in response.

WHATEVER THE REASON Putin decided to interfere with the 2016 election, it was not because he feared Obama or Obama’s legacy-bearer, former Secretary of State Clinton. Starting with Clinton’s declared “reset” of relations with Russia, shortly after the Obama administration entered office in 2009, until Obama issued his warning at Hangzhou, the United States had repeatedly stood down in every possible confrontation with Russia.

The 2009 reset itself took place in the wake of the assassinations by Russian intelligence agents of Alexander Livinenko in London, where the former Russian intelligence operative he had been granted political asylum, and of Russia’s leading investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Russia was also busy hardening control of areas of Georgia occupied by Russian troops. As part of the reset, the Obama administration abandoned plans to provide Poland and Czechoslovakia with anti-missile defenses.

During the 2012 presidential debates, Obama mocked his Republican opponent Mitt Romney for listing Russia as the United States’ primary international foe. “The 80s called. They want their foreign policy back,” teased Obama. And even prior to the 2012 campaign, Obama told Putin’s sidekick Dmitry Medvedev that he’d be able to be “more flexible” after the campaign, and asked for a little breathing room from Russia.

All Obama’s shows of good will, however, went unreciprocated by Putin. In 2013, Putin granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who had exposed the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance methods. The same year Putin cracked down on foreign-funded NGO’s, and invaded the Ukraine. Obama refused to supply the Ukrainians with defensive weapons, as the United States had committed to do in the Budapest Memorandum, drafted when the former Soviet republics gave up their nuclear stockpiles.

In 2015, Soviet forces entered Syria in force to shore up the Assad regime, fairly daring the United States to challenge them. Previously, Putin had humiliated Obama by offering him a lifeline, when the latter refused to enforce his own redline against Assad’s deployment of chemical weapons.

PUTIN HAD reasons to prefer Trump to Clinton. He harbors a paranoid belief that Hillary orchestrated protests against him in 2011. And, writes Kirchik in the Los Angeles Times, he appreciated that Trump’s ignorant outbursts made “American politics – and by extension America – look like a foolish country.”

Putin may also have thought that Trump’s neo-Jacksonian, quasi-isolationist campaign talk would serve Russia’s interest in carving out a sphere of interest in its near abroad. But, as Kirchik notes in his American Interest piece, Obama’s “interconnected world,” without American power to back it up, had already resulted in a reduction of American influence and allowed Putin free rein in Russia’s near abroad.

The Russians were as shocked as everyone else, however, by Trump’s victory. Their goal was not so much to defeat Clinton, as to render it difficult for her (or Trump) to govern and to thereby “weaken the world’s last superpower,” writes Professor Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations Prague in Tablet. And their means for doing so was to reduce America’s democratic legitimacy by calling the election results into question and reducing the scope for compromise and consensus in the American political system.

Or as veteran Moscow correspondent David Satter argued in the June 12 Wall Street Journal, Putin did not so much support Donald Trump, as he sought American political paralysis. The differences between Trump and Clinton were simply not that significant in his view.

Putin’s method is to sow chaos, to light a hundred brushfires and see which ones turn into full-fledged forest fires. “Putin is not a chess player,” writes Galeotti. “He and his people are improvisers and opportunists. They try to create multiple potential points of leverage, never knowing which will prove useful or not.”

One of those prongs was the so-called “Trump dossier, compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele based on information “sold” to him by Russian intelligence officials. The document bears all the marks of a classic Russian disinformation campaign. “The kind of gossip that fills the Trump Dossier, writes Galeotti, is common currency in Moscow, “even if very little of it has any authority behind it aside from the speaker’s own imagination.”

One thing is almost certain: The Trump campaign did not collude with the Russians. Both Senator Diane Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees investigating Russia’s electoral involvement, respectively, have confirmed that they have seen nothing to implicate Trump or his aides in collusion with Russia.

The absence of collusion is, moreover, logically demonstrable. If there were collusion, the Russians would undoubtedly possess evidence of it. Since coming to office, the Trump administration has taken a much more aggressive anti-Russian stance than Obama ever did – targeting with cruise missiles an airfield and planes of Russian ally Bashir Assad and just this week shooting down a Syrian plane in a dogfight; allowing Montenegro’s entry into the NATO alliance; denying Exxon-Mobil a waiver for energy exploration in Russia; and sharply criticizing Russian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. If Putin possessed incriminating evidence on Trump, he would have already revealed it in order to destroy President Trump. Elementary, my dear Watson.

DESPITE THE LACK OF ANY PLAUSIBLE EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION, Russian interference in the 2016 election has set in motion a “self-sustaining process,” in Galeotti’s words, in which “America is tearing itself apart with little need for Russian help.”

It is hard to know for sure whether those most actively promoting the Trump-Russian collusion narrative really believe it themselves or just see it as the best way of bringing down the president. About the latter they might be right. Already the anti-Trump forces have succeeded in gaining the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the scope of the special prosecutor’s investigation has expanded to legally flimsy charges of obstruction of justice against Trump. Once a special prosecutor is in the saddle there is no way of knowing where things will go. The longer the investigation continues the greater the chance of a prosecution for something entirely tangential to the original investigation.

Patrick Fitzgerald, for instance, was appointed special prosecutor to investigate the outing of CIA employee Valerie Flame. From the very outset of the investigation, he knew the source of that information; Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage was the one who told it to columnist Robert Novak. Armitage, however, was never prosecuted. But Fitzgerald carried on for years, until he claimed the scalp of Vice-President Richard Cheney’s top aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, on perjury charges, over statements given to investigators about which there were conflicting memories.

Putin has succeeded in driving a wedge between President and the intelligence agencies upon which he must rely for crucial decisions. Every week, a new leak emerges from some anonymous intelligence official – leaks which, if true, would subject the leaker to up to ten years in prison. Yet the source of these leaks has received little attention from the FBI or other investigative bodies.

Lee Smith bemoans in Tablet that the president’s very real flaws, which are “plain to every sentient being on the planet,” have been supplanted as a topic of discussion by a “toxic fabulism typical of Third World and Muslim societies.” “A vulgar conspiratorial mind-set [has become] the norm among the country’s educated elite . . . and is being legitimized daily by a truth-telling bureaucrats who make evidence-free and even deliberately false accusations behind a cloak of anonymity.”

Smith makes an insightful distinction between “consolations, vicious self-sung lullabies” and “conspiracy theories.” Examples of the former would be: Hillary lost because the Russians hacked the election; our children died because the Jews poisoned the wells.

But such “consolations,” as vicious as they may be, only become full-blown conspiracy theories when weaponized through the mass media for political use. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion would be the classic example of such a conspiracy theory. And, Smith points out, Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” do not have the platforms “to proliferate weaponized narratives capable of doing real damage to our polity – the elites do.” And those elites — the press, the intelligence community, political parties – have been used to legitimize a conspiracy theory.

James Kirchik, another anti-Trump pundit (as well as a brilliant analyst on many issues) laments the way the “confirmation bias” has resulted in well-meaning, liberal anti-Trump journalists reporting stories that they want to be true and are emotionally true for them – e.g., stories of threatened or actual violence against minorities – but are factually false.

He points to the non-stop anti-Trump vitriol from the Twitter feed of the New York Times assistant Washington D.C. editor, Jonathan Weissmann – anti-Trump vitriol that matches his own – as an example of the mainstream press having lost any claim to the public’s trust about the news stories it publishes.

In the short-run the beneficiary of the mainstream media’s reporting of baseless stories, such as that the Russians successfully hacked voting machines in key states, is Donald Trump. By refuting the wilder accusations, he can evade the more substantive ones and, at the same time, stoke the anger that brought him to the presidency in the first place.

But in the long-run, the current state of political toxicity, manifested last week in an assassination attempt against GOP congressman, and the loss of credibility of our major media organizations weakens America and its place in the world. And the big winner from that is Vladimir Putin.

New Lawsuits Could Determine Not Only The Legal Status Of The Comey Memos But The Legality of Comey’s Actions

June 18, 2017

New Lawsuits Could Determine Not Only The Legal Status Of The Comey Memos But The Legality of Comey’s Actions, Jonathan Turley’s Blog, Jonathan Turley, June 18, 2017

Of course, if these documents were viewed as FBI information at their creation, there remains the question on who would take the lead in investigating Comey as a possible leaker. The Justice Department [h]as cut Robert Mueller a great berth. Yet, Comey is now a witness for Mueller — as the recent leak confirmed by telling the media that Trump is now being investigated for obstruction. It is not clear if Mueller would view Comey’s possible violations are falling within the scope of his mandate or whether he would be willing to investigate his own key witness in the obstruction investigation.

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Last week, CNN filed a lawsuit seeking the famous Comey memos from the FBI, which is discussed in the column below in The Hill newspaper.  The lawsuit could produce an official characterization of the status of the memos as either personal or FBI information.  After this column was posted, Judicial Watch also filed a lawsuit seeking the memos which it maintained were the property of the FBI.  The lawsuit states “Upon learning that records have been unlawfully removed from the FBI, you then are required to initiate action through the Attorney General for the recovery of records.”  These lawsuits could prove vindicating or implicating for Comey.

Here is the column:

The lawsuit this week by CNN seeking the memoranda of former FBI director James Comey created something of a curiosity for viewers. In court, CNN is arguing that the memos are “FBI records” and should be turned over under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). On the air, CNN legal and political analysts have been insisting that these memos belong to Comey and are akin to his personal diary. The irony is that the CNN litigation could answer some of the underlying questions over the status of the memos and whether Comey was a leaker in the unauthorized dissemination of FBI information.

On Thursday, CNN filed for the release of the documents as “FBI records” in “unredacted” form and “without further delay.” There are two copies of these memos in FBI possession this week. First were the original versions created by Comey while he was FBI director. The memos were prepared on an FBI computer during the course of Comey’s investigation of the Russian matter. The memos were made in direct relation to the ongoing investigation and shared with his top staff as potentially relevant to the investigation. Second, there are the copies of the memos that were collected from Comey’s friend, Columbia Professor Daniel Richman, who received the memos from Comey to leak to the media.

I have previously written how these memos fit the broad definition of “FBI information” contained in federal rules and regulations. As such, the transfer of the memos to Richman and the sharing of the information with the media constituted a serious violation of legal and professional standards by Comey. Tasked with finding leakers, Comey became a leaker himself in order to strike back at the president.

Worse yet, Comey was fully aware that these memos would inevitably be collected as evidence by both the congressional committee and any special counsel — in addition to his own former team of investigators. Indeed, Comey was aware that he was being called to testify and could have shared these memos in a legal and professional way. Instead, he chose to use a friend to leak the memos early to the media.

CNN analysts came out immediately after Comey’s admission in his testimony, saying that first, this was not a leak because leaks are only classified (something I previously explained as entirely and facially incorrect), and second, these memos were like personal diaries that Comey had a right to disclose. Former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa on CNN balked at the suggestion of any leak as absurd because these were just Comey’s “personal recollections” like a personal diary. Others referred to the memos as being a private record or account of a private conversation.

By filing the lawsuit, CNN could force the FBI to legally identify the status of the memos. There should be multiple copies of these memos unless Comey deleted copies on his FBI computers (itself a potential violation of federal law). Each copy could be addressed in any FOIA production.

previously noted that Comey’s suggestion that these memos belonged to him (and thus could be leaked to the media) would likely not pass muster with folks at the FBI who have to make such decisions. Indeed, it would not have passed muster under FBI Director James Comey. Leakers were pursued under his tenure as FBI director, and many of those investigated may be rather perturbed by the image of someone who went from chief law enforcer to high-profile leaker when it was to his advantage.

The FBI restricts material generated in relation to investigations “FBI information.” The agreement Comey presumably signed clearly encompassed these memos as FBI material and he swore to comply with their bar on “unauthorized disclosure” — not just during his time at the FBI but “following termination of such employment.”

FBI rules cover any “documents reflecting advisory opinions, recommendations and deliberations comprising part of a process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated.” He is not at liberty to remove such documents after termination by the FBI, let alone leak them to the media. He also agreed that violation would terminate his security clearance and subject him to both criminal and civil liability, including injunctive relief.

Weeks ago, I raised the issue of whether the FBI would have turned over these documents under FOIA if they were demanded by the media. I expressed considerable doubt over such a notion as someone who has dealt with FOIA fights with the FBI for years.

The FBI would likely deny the requests under a number of exceptions. First, it could object that the documents were “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency,” under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2). Second, they could claim that they fell under  documents which are “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes,” (assuming they fell into one or more of six categories), under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). Third, and most importantly, they would also likely claim that the documents were “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandum or letters” which would be privileged in civil litigation, under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5).

The FBI specifically would rely on the deliberative process privilege in making such a finding. It has insisted that the release of such information is harmful to “the integrity of agency decision-making by encouraging both full and frank discussions of policy proposals and to prevent premature disclosure of policies under review.”

Any of these claims would seriously undermine Comey’s suggestion (and those of many at CNN) that these were his personal notes and that he was free to leak them to the media.

It is possible that the FBI could dodge this thorny issue by releasing copies received from Richman or finding a way to finesse the status of the original memos. However, the lawsuit could prove highly illuminating on not just the legal status of the memos but the lawfulness of Comey’s conduct. He could be vindicated or implicated by the results. On one end of the spectrum is the suggestion by many that these memos are like diary entries by Comey.

As I have said before, that seems rather hard to square and treats the account like some eHarmony date gone bad (with awkward dinners and uncomfortable silences). On the other end of the spectrum are field reports, often called 302s, where agents memorialize meetings with potential witnesses or important discoveries. This clearly falls somewhere in the middle.

Of course, if these documents were viewed as FBI information at their creation, there remains the question on who would take the lead in investigating Comey as a possible leaker. The Justice Department as cut Robert Mueller a great berth. Yet, Comey is now a witness for Mueller — as the recent leak confirmed by telling the media that Trump is now being investigated for obstruction. It is not clear if Mueller would view Comey’s possible violations are falling within the scope of his mandate or whether he would be willing to investigate his own key witness in the obstruction investigation.

Ironically, Comey may have preferred for this to remain somewhere in the middle — undefined and uncertain. CNN could have just taken a critical step toward removing that ambiguity by forcing the FBI to classify the status of the documents. It is the type of clarity that could prove exceptionally helpful or harmful for James Comey.

Putin quips he’s ready to grant asylum to ex-FBI chief Comey

June 15, 2017

Putin quips he’s ready to grant asylum to ex-FBI chief Comey, ReutersDmitry Solovyov and Vladimir Soldatkin, June 15, 2017

Former FBI Director James Comey pauses as he testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Russian President Vladimir Putin joked on Thursday that if former FBI director James Comey suffers persecution because of his falling-out with U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia is ready to grant him asylum.

The offer, made with Putin’s trademark sardonic humor, came as the Russian president poured scorn on Comey for his role in a row in Washington over alleged Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

At a congressional hearing this month, Comey said Trump asked him to drop an investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, while the U.S. president has accused Comey of not telling the truth.

Asked about Comey at a question-and-answer session with Russian voters, Putin said it was “strange” that, while still FBI director, Comey had passed the contents of a conversation he had with Trump to the media via a friend.

“What is the difference then between the FBI director and Mr. Snowden?” Putin said, referring to former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013 after leaking classified information about U.S. spy operations.

“In this case, he (Comey) is not the head of a special service but a human rights activist who defends a certain position,” Putin said.

“By the way, if he is subject to any sort of persecution in connection with this, we will be ready to give him political asylum in Russia. And he should know about this.”

Striking a more serious note, Putin said Comey, in his congressional testimony, had produced no proof that Russia had meddled in the U.S. election.

“I am not familiar in detail with the testimony given by former FBI director Comey,” Putin said. “Again, he gave no evidence of this (Russian interference).”

“And what about constant U.S. propaganda, constant U.S. support of America-oriented non-governmental organizations by giving them money directly? Isn’t it an impact on our minds? Isn’t it an attempt to influence how we should behave during election campaigns? This continues year after year,” he said.

Putin said many heads of state around the world had told him of similar U.S. meddling in their internal affairs. But they would not voice their concerns openly, fearing they would “spoil relations” with Washington, he said.

As for Russia, “we have an opinion of our own, we express it openly. But this is not any sort of underground, subversive activity”, Putin said.