Friday, May 25, 2018

Why is the Left Demonizing Devin Nunes?

Devin Nunes has become the poster child from the left's point of view of the blindly sycophantic Trump apologist.  His sole purpose, according to them, is to run interference for Donald Trump.  Any attempt to investigate the Justice Department or the Intelligence Community is nothing more than a transparent attempt to sabotage the reputations of those noble, vigorously non partisan, and infallible servants of truth, justice, and the American way.  And oh, by the way, in the process he aims to destroy the credibility of the Mueller investigation.  

Devin Nunes:  I Don't See Any Horns

I don't believe that, and I'm not sure if the folks on the left really believe it either.   They may just be attempting some character assassination of their own on a target who seems pretty effective in exposing the glaring flaws hidden down in the bowels of the deep state.  I'm not going to waste a lot of time trying to resurrect the reputation of Devin Nunes.  But I am going spend some time examining the circumstances of the incident that brought him to prominence as a favorite target of the left.  

That incident was his dramatic, the left would say overly dramatic, exposure of irregularities in the behavior of the Obama Intelligence Community and National Security staff during the presidential transition in late 2016 and early 2017. It all started in March of 2017.  This is a 25 minute video of the two press conferences Devin Nunes held on the subject of the politically motivated unmasking of the subjects of incidental collection.  One briefing took place on Capitol Hill before going to inform the president, and the other after exiting the White House having spoken with the president.  It's worth listening to get the details of his concern and a sense of whether he is sincere or not.  The executive summary is this:

Some one or some ones came forward through proper channels to inform Nunes of irregularities in the dissemination of intelligence products.  It seems clear that many of the journalists didn't understand the meaning of the phrase "incidental collection" by the questions they repeatedly asked on the subject.

There are all kinds of communications data that are routinely monitored by the intelligence community.  How they perform that monitoring is strictly controlled by rules, some of which are in place to protect the rights of American citizens.  The monitoring might be for a criminal investigation, a counter intelligence investigation or routine collection from foreign sources NOT associated with any specific investigation.  Nunes was reluctant to characterize the nature of the collection he was shown, possibly because, as he said, he only saw a limited amount of data related to perhaps a few dozen incidents.  There may have been more that he was as yet unaware of so he was reluctant to characterize what he saw.  Or perhaps it was a mix of routine, criminal, counter intelligence collection.  Whatever.

The point is, The intelligence community can legally listen to communications between foreign persons and US persons and between foreign persons ABOUT a US person.  But, in the recorded data about this monitoring, the name of the US person must be masked to protect their 4th Amendment rights "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects."  If there is no reason to suspect the American of anything criminal, then the name remains masked.  If it sounds like the American person is part of something criminal, then certain persons can request an unmasking of the name when included in the intelligence reports.  But there has to be good reason.  Nunes is suggesting that he discovered multiple incidences of unmasking when there was no obvious intelligence or law enforcement value.  Perhaps only political value.

So what he never quite says, but what he is clearly worried about is that someone (we later learn that the big offenders were Susan Rice and Samantha Powers) was unmasking names of Trump and/or Trump associates during the transition for no discernible legitimate reason, and incorporating the information into distributed Intelligence Community products.  Separately, it has been reported that in the last days of the Obama White House, the distribution lists of the various intelligence products were significantly expanded.  Someone was intentionally making an effort to disseminate a broader scope of covert communications intelligence to a broader cadre of people.  You could argue that there could be a legitimate reason for it or an illegitimate reason for it as Nunes suspects.  The point is, it happened.  Denying it happened is the first step to damaging the credibility of the deniers.

Back to the phrase Incidental collection.  Nunes' concern is that going into the transition, he witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of illegitimate unmasking requests of incidental collection subjects, said requests being initiated by high level members of the outgoing Obama administration, and they appear to be politically motivated.  This comes roughly 2-1/2 weeks after Trump Tweets the following:

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

Trump got the technical language wrong, and the Nunes information refers mostly to the transition, not the campaign, but the essence of what Trump tweeted was accurate. Trump was widely criticized at the time for tweeting uncorroborated nonsense. Turns out he was right.

From this series of press conferences up to the present day, Devin Nunes has been the target of constant barrage from the left.  Here's a link to an LA Times story.  Its tone is more polite than most.  It's mostly factual, but the anti Nunes bias bleeds through never the less.  I think I can correct for their bias.  Read the story first.  It's short.

The hit on Nunes from this time forward has been that, though we haven't learned the identity of the source, we have learned that he or she was located within the White House.  And since the source of the information was in the White House, Nunes' going from the Congress to the White House to inform the president had to be play acting for dramatic effect.  That's crap.  As a Nunes' spokesman later explained, the material was classified and the property of an executive agency that had not previously provided it to the Congress.  Furthermore, it had to be viewed in a classified setting.  I assume they're referring to a SCIF.  A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.

Congress has a SCIF, but the information was not located on Capitol Hill. Let's speculate the executive agency that has the information is the NSA. I  think that fact may have actually been subsequently revealed.  I'm not sure, but it isn't relevant to this discussion.  Maybe the source is someone working at the White House, but not someone with direct access to the president. And transporting such material must conform with significant safeguards. So the story that Nunes had to go to the White House to view the information in their SCIF instead of the information being brought to Capitol Hill to be viewed in the Capitol Hill SCIF is totally credible. I can think of plenty of people in the White House who could have brought the information directly to the president without involving Devin Nunes. Maybe someone on the National Security Council. But that's not the point. All one needs to do is to come up with one person who works inside the White House whose chain of command does NOT lead directly to the president, but who might logically be expected to respond to Nunes' request for information which he refers to in his press conference. That person would need Nunes to come to the White House to view the information. I don't know who that person might be or what their job description would be to fit the criteria that I just described, but it is NOT far fetched. Folks on the left (cough, Adam Schif, cough) whose motivation is to cover up malfeasance on the part of the Obama Intelligence Community, FBI, DOJ, and National Security staff or other so called deep state actors might use Nunes' back and forth to create a narrative of over dramatization for effect or a lack of credibility on Nunes' part. The truth might be a lot more obvious and a lot less nefarious. 

 Furthermore, this line in the LA Times story needs addressing:

"Later that day, his spokesman conceded that Nunes did not know "for sure" that any Trump aides had actually been subject to surveillance, just that their names had appeared in intelligence reports, which could have resulted from other people talking about them." ​

This statement implies that Nunes had been misleading journalists during his press conference and that Nunes had claimed Trump or Trump aides had been the target of illegitimate surveillance . As I mentioned earlier, Nunes went out of his way to clarify that Trump or his aides were not the targets of illegitimate surveillance, but the subjects of incidental collection that were illegitimately unmasked. There's a big difference, and despite the journalists at the press conference having a difficult time understanding that, Nunes bent over backwards to repeat several times where his real concerns lay.

Nunes has been a constant target of venom spewed from the left. It seems to have started with this March 2017 effort on Nunes' part to uncover what was going on during the campaign and the transition period that followed. Some people might infer that Nunes is tainted because of all the bad press he is getting. I'd be inclined to consider the source and largely discount the press attacks. I view the campaign to impugn Nunes' character in the following light: 

When you're starting to take flak, it is a sure sign that you're over the target!


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Facts, Schmacts!

I first saw the headline for this Ben Shapiro article a few days ago and made a mental note to come back to it.  I finally read it this morning, and it rings true.  Trump's Superpower:  He Can Make Democrats Defend Anything.  We can bemoan Trump's constant lying as much as we like, but how much do you want to bet that the Democrats will field a candidate for president in 2020 that is even more repugnant to more Americans than Donald Trump? 

I was watching Stephanie Ruhle this morning on MSNBC.  I call it opposition research , but in reality, it's partly that and partly that I think she is hot!  She seemed incredulous that, here they were explaining the truth to Americans every day, and the president is still rising in the polls, and the generic ballot for Republicans in the midterms keeps getting better and better.  She can't understand it.  Then she moves on to a story about the NFL owners and the kneeling players, and Trump's dumbass comment that maybe those guys should leave the country.  But of course, Ruhle needs to defend the kneelers.  And she can't understand why Trump is winning.

Many of you share my concern that Trump is a damaging influence on the country, and in my case to conservatism.  But at least I've got the consolation that, in the short term anyway, the Dems seem to be destroying themselves marginally more quickly than the Republicans are.  Of course, it can all turn on a dime if Mueller comes up with something.  But the bar gets higher every day he delays.  The longer he takes, the more egregious Trump's sins will need to be to have as big an affect.  Maybe Mueller's problem is that he doesn't understand politics any better than Stephanie Ruhle.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trump's New Strategy: The Chicago Way

Yesterday we saw the first elements of Trump's new strategy for escaping the clutches of Robert Mueller.  It was inspired by the movie The Untouchables.  Remember that scene where Sean Connery's character explains "the Chicago way" to Eliot Ness?

He pulls a knife, you pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.  That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone!

You can follow the evolution of Trump's strategy by reviewing the make up of his legal team.  It started off with people he knew like Marc Kasowitz, and Jay Sekulow.  These guys were not really ready for prime time.  They may have known their way around New York real estate sharks, but they were clearly out of their league in the DC swamp.  Then Trump brought in folks from outside his circle like John Dowd and Ty Cobb who presented a more establishment approach to the problem.  The early days of the Trump-Mueller interaction were characterized by cooperation.  Trump and Trump surrogates often cite the 1.2 million documents that Trump has provided upon request.

But as the months passed and the Mueller strategy got more aggressive, think the Manafort and Cohen raids, Trump fell back to his instincts.  He brought in Rudy Giuliani as part of his legal team, and empowered the more pit bull surrogates like Dan Bongino, Joe DiGenova and the panoply of FoxNews talking heads to try to discredit Mueller.

Then a clearer picture of the forces arrayed against him started to emerge.  Evidence began to surface that elements within the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, and the Intelligence Community (IC) had had the Trump campaign under surveillance during the presidential campaign in 2016.  These elements of the so called "deep state" were the same ones who had gone easy on Hillary Clinton during the investigation of her private email server.  They were the same ones who were now stonewalling Congressional committees and individual Congressmen and Senators and refusing to release documents that would make their actions in these disputed matters more transparent.

I think Trump has decided to fight fire with fire.  The push is now on to create a new Special Counsel.  Nineteen Congressmen in the House led by Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York's First Congressional District, have proposed a resolution to establish a second Special Counsel with a mandate to investigate whether or not elements in the FBI, DOJ, and the IC engaged in a politically motivated attempt to enhance Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the 2016 presidential election and to undermine a legitimately elected president Trump.  Some of those nineteen Congressmen held a 50 minute press conference yesterday to make their case.  It's a long video, but it paints a pretty comprehensive picture of the circumstances justifying a special counsel. 

Members of the press were keen to learn whether any of the proponents of the resolution had spoken to president Trump about requesting the Attorney General to appoint a second Special Counsel.  They all denied having spoken to the president, but the press were clearly skeptical.

In a possibly related development yesterday, former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo appeared in an interview with FoxNews' Neal Cavuto claiming that in May of 2016, he had been approached through an intermediary by someone identified as a contractor for a US Government agency offering to provide missing Clinton emails that were in the possession of that agency.  Caputo declined to name the contractor, the agency or the intermediary in the Cavuto interview.  On the previous night, Caputo had appeared on Laura Ingraham's Fox show where he first indicated that he had been approached in 2016 by someone whom he now thought might have been acting on behalf of the FBI as had Stefan Halper, the American professor from Cambridge University who has been the focus of so much attention recently for his suspicious contacts with at least three members of the Trump campaign in 2016.  Caputo expressed reluctance to offer any further specifics while he discussed alternatives with his attorney.  In his follow up interview with Neal Cavuto the next day (yesterday), Caputo claimed he had not accepted the offer for the emails out of concern that he may have been put in a position of having accepted classified documents, thereby making himself and the Trump campaign subject to criminal charges.  He suggested the source take advantage of whistle blower statutes to expose the existence of the emails.  Caputo further claimed that this alleged attempted contact was particularly significant since it was coming from a second person other than Stefan Halper, and the incident occurred in early May, 2016, almost three months from the 31 July date the FBI claims marked the beginning of the Trump/Russia counterintelligence investigation.

Then in a truly bizarre turn of events, late yesterday evening, Michael Caputo recanted the claims he had made on Fox with Laura Ingraham and Neal Cavuto.  In a written story from the Daily Wire's Ryan Saavedra, Caputo claims the who thing was just a misunderstanding.  WTF!!  If you listen to this Caputo/Cavuto interview (as if this whole story isn't confusing enough), you'll be hard pressed to explain how Caputo could have gone from such certainty about the nature of the contact to believing it was all just a misunderstanding.  UNLESS...

I have two theories.  Theory One is somebody got to Caputo to convince him to shut up.  Somebody from the FBI, or the CIA, someone on Mueller's team or some other tentacle of the "deep state" threatened him with prosecution, jail time, financial ruin, or worse if he didn't abandon his story.  That's possible, but I don't believe it. 

Theory Two is that having gotten the story out there without specifically naming any names or identifying the agency involved, he was insulated from any direct retribution.  And in the retraction story from the Daily Wire, reporter Saavedra names the intermediary, a friend of Caputo's named Kirk Bell.  Saavedra also describes a conversation he had with the alleged contractor though Saavedra does not name the contractor or the agency he worked for.  The contractor says it was all a big mistake.  A misunderstanding.  He didn't have direct knowledge of any Hillary emails, but had simply overheard some vague conversation.

I can't help but wonder if this was some subtle way for Caputo to break the story without names, thereby shielding himself from direct consequences, and then revealing the name of the intermediary in a story where he claims it was all a mistake.  Caputo is never on record as having claimed person X and Agency YYY are involved in suspicious outreach to the Trump campaign and yet, the story is out there, and at least one journalist knows the identity of the suspicious email "vendor".  Is it only a matter of time before the name becomes more widely known and more journalists begin investigating the background of said vendor?  This story might be starting to get even more interesting.

So what have we got?  We have an embattled president starting to feel some heat from Robert Mueller.  One can have differing opinions about whether that heat is justified.  What's important is Trump's perception and Trump's reaction.  Past efforts to end the affair only lead to escalation on Mueller's part.  Trump decides to go all Eliot Ness on the Democrats.  They want to put him in the hospital?  He'll put them in the morgue.  Out go the pit bulls to tarnish Mueller's reputation and his conduct of the investigation.  Republicans in the House are uncovering some serious, and very real evidence of malfeasance on the part of the investigators.  The Caputo piece may or may not further this narrative.  Michael Horowitz, the DOJ IG is due to publish a report in the next week or two which by most reports will be quite damning to the reputation of the FBI and the DOJ, and conveniently timed to coincide with that report we have a push by House Republicans to put another Special Counsel in place with some real teeth to hit Trump's opponents at least as hard as they are trying to hit him.  Trump has decided to bring a gun to a knife fight.  He may be just a local boy from Queens, but he has learned what he needs to know about the Chicago Way.

How does this all end?  Here's how I hope it ends.  I hope we get a second Special Counsel.  I hope they chase Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation down every rabbit hole they find.  If they are guilty of using their power and influence to enrich themselves and their vast phalanx of cronies and hangers on, then I hope every one of them gets prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  As Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger once said, "Once a year we should hang someone in government as an example to his fellows."  And if the "deep state" is found to have let political concerns rather than justice drive their investigation of Trump and the Russians, then I hope every one of them ends up in the dock with Team Hillary.

And if Mueller is actually pursuing a counterintelligence investigation like he is supposed to be doing, then I hope he continues until he is done.  If that entraps Trump in some way, then so be it.  If, as I suspect, the Mueller investigation is more political than counterintelligence, then I hope he is persuaded to go away as soon as possible.  Maybe the current trajectory of the politics of this affair are swinging enough in Trump's favor to the point where Mueller abandons the investigation as counter productive to his political objectives.

Here's how I'm afraid this story might end.  Trump only wants the new Special Counsel as leverage to castrate Robert Mueller.  Trump either abandons that pursuit in return for Mueller ending his investigation, or he gets his Special Counsel and they clandestinely negotiate a resolution where "little people" go to jail as scapegoats, and the big fish get away scott free while patting themselves on the back about how justice was served on both sides.  All the while, the average American will be barely be able to tear himself away from Dancing With the Stars long enough to even notice.  Think I'm too cynical?  I like this quote from Lily Tomlin. 

"No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up."

Or, in the words of Yakov Smirnoff, "America!  What a country!"