What has now emerged are two competing narratives designed to capture the minds and judgments of the US voting public. Each of the two will be presented here, starting with the easiest first, principally because it is built on evidence, some important bodies of which are in various stages of development.
Russian meddling and possible Trump administration involvement
To date, this narrative has provided convincing evidence that the Russians did interfere in our last election, and that they used our most popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google) to spread false information with the goal of affecting voter choices viz a viz the presidential candidates. H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor to 45 has referred to this evidence as “incontrovertible”. It has served as the basis for indicting 13 Russians who had either left our country, or engaged in their meddling from afar. In both cases, they are presently beyond the reach of our system of justice and are likely to remain at that distance.
This “baker’s dozen” of indictments is important for at least one reason: By criminalizing the behavior of the Russians, Special Prosecutor (SP) Mueller has established a predicate for charging any American citizen who knowingly helped them. Such cooperation goes beyond “collusion” and enters the realm of “conspiracy” for which there are laws on the books that make such activity illegal. We must wait to see if even a single person is so charged, something that hasn’t happened to date.
It is useful to think of the foregoing as “Phase-I” of the SP’s investigation. What comes next is an open question because Mr. Mueller has yet to give off any signals as to the direction “Phase-II” will take. It may bring to light, information that he has collecting from others indicted; i.e. George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort.
The very last-named person is of special interest because of his previous role as the manager of Trump’s campaign albeit for only about six months. But, in that role, he potentially may know something significant about any collusion that might have taken place between Team Trump and the Russians. In that specific regard, Manafort was one of three team members who attended a July 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians who allegedly promised them “dirt” on HRC.
At this juncture, it is justified to assert that there is sufficient reason for the Mueller probe to be sustained. We can safely predict that there will be a “Phase-II” and quite possibly a III and IV to follow. But, that presently leaves us with an incomplete narrative that begs a host of questions. We must hope that they will be answered, one way or the other, in due course.
Mueller, the FBI and Department of Justice (DJ) aren’t credible
Now many months old, the narrative here is that Mueller’s investigation, supported by an allegedly corrupt FBI and DJ, cannot possibly come forth with credible evidence of crimes committed by anyone in 45’s administration, especially Trump himself. The president’s supporters have cited various conflicts of interest and bias among some members of the SP’s team if not the larger Bureau and its’ parent department. These accusations were covered in some detail in previous blogs. They will not be repeated again here. What is worth reiterating is that there isn’t a shred of evidence that these conflicts and biases have so tainted the work of Mueller’s cadre that a guilty person has walked free, while innocent people find themselves in legal jeopardy.
There is one feature of this established narrative that deserves special attention. That is because it has become the focal point of both animated discussion, and as evidence that Mueller’s investigation has violated the law by invading the privacy of a US citizen named of Carter Page.
Page, for a period a member of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, had a history of interactions with Russians inside Russia that spanned several years. Having given speeches that were clearly pro-Kremlim, he drew the attention of the FBI as far back as 2013. In due course, the Bureau went through the special, secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court (named after the FISA act) and obtained permission to wire-tap Page. This permission can be renewed every 90-days but only if there is compelling evidence that the first round of surveillance bore “fruit” and thus needed to be continued. That was indeed what happened through a second and even third renewal of tapping.
The history cited in the immediately preceding paragraph brings us to what is referred to as the “Nunes memo” so-labelled after its senior author, the recused Head of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes and three of his Republican cohorts on this committee decided that the fourth FISA request to surveil Page was illegal because it relied on unverified (raw) intelligence contained in the dossier compiled by former British spy, Christopher Steele, that had come into the possession of the FBI. According to the four (Nunes and his three GOP colleagues) this was evidence of FBI overreach and illegality. In turn, this view was used to feed the narrative that the FBI was not credible and could not be trusted (see bold-faced heading). The problem is that the Nunes memo is deeply flawed because it is based on both subjective judgment and specious reasoning, to be discussed in detail next.
To begin, the request for the fourth wire-tap of Page was built on three parts: One was the aforementioned Steele dossier, the others on separate sources of information that the FBI had already collected on the target. It was the considered opinion of Nunes et al that the fourth request would not have been granted had it not been for the insertion of the questionable dossier into the body of the fourth request.
While we can respect the rights of the four to register a considered opinion, it can be shown that their arrival at it was based on flawed and quite possibly partisan reasoning: Recall that the fourth request that went to the FISA court contained three collections of evidence. Therefore, any conclusion about one of the trio is completely confounded by the impossibility of separating out its’ impact from the other two. In their memo, Nunes and his cohorts simply refused to acknowledge that the FISA warrant might well have been granted free of any effect created by the Steele dossier. Following this line or logic and reasoning, the assertion offered here is that the Nunes memo has been assigned a level of importance by Trump supporters that far exceeds its actual worth. It simply does not make the case that it purports to make and by extension, a debasing of the FBI and the Mueller investigation.