What did they know and when did they know it?
What did the FBI know about their source Christopher Steele’s investigation into Donald Trump and when, why and how did they decide to act on it?
These are the most important questions raised in the “secret”-no-more memo of Devin Nunes’ nudniks on the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican staff.
Because detailed answers to these questions are (1) almost certainly classified and (2) pertain to an open investigation, Nunes can remain confident that a complete refutation of the charges made or hinted at in his memo can’t be made public for a long time, perhaps a long enough time for the unrefuted charges to gain some measure of unearned public acceptance.
It’s kind of like the public accepting the all-but-immediate rises in their pay packets due to the Trump “tax deform” long enough for them to be a positive influence on voters in the 2018 election. When all the facts and all the real consequences of the tax law are known and felt, that election will be long gone (and presumably a bunch of the GOP jerks who perpetrated this legislative mess will have survived for 2 or 6 more years).
But maybe enough of the crucial answers to Nunes’ questions will be revealed in a timely fashion.
For example, the FBI knew very well who Christopher Steele was. They’d worked with him for years and found him to be a reliable collector and assessor of information about Russia.
We’ll see if the FBI knew who was paying Steele to gather the info he chose to share with them. But investigators often get info from shaky sources, and often that information is correct.
One would hope the FBI was fully or at least sufficiently informed, but, again, that’s at best a tertiary question. The crucial one remains – was Steele’s material useful?
On the “Did they know who was paying Steele?” question, there is confusion. Glenn Simpson, who runs the “oppo” research service called Fusion GPS and hired Steele, has said he never told the retired British spy that the source of his contract was effectively the Clinton campaign. Or at least, Simpson says, he hadn’t told Steele before he went to the FBI.
Muddying the water further, in the months after Steele met with the Feds, he met with any number of American journalists, offering negative information about Trump and the Russians. Steele has said, and Simpson has corroborated, the offers were made at Simpson’s suggestion.
For these media-baiting expeditions, Steele was working, not as he has said about his FBI visit, in the interest of protecting US security against dangerous and potentially criminal activities, but in the interest of GPS Fusion’s paying client, the Clinton campaign.
But again, for the FBI, the questions of who Steele was and who was he working for, while interesting, were of secondary import. The questions that mattered were: might Steele’s info be good? And did it raise questions of sufficient gravity that further investigation was mandated?
Not even Nunes has dared to suggest that the answers to these questions are anything other than yes and yes.
And why is that? Because the FBI also knew very well who Carter Page was. His frequent meetings with people suspected of being tied to Russian intelligence had been known to the Bureau by 2013, and had predicated an earlier investigation (and, it seems an earlier FISA warrant). Whatever the earlier investigation turned up may well have been part of the application for a new warrant. Nunes et al saith not.
Presumably, Nunes knows what he is not saying. He also knows, for reasons of law, protocol and national security, that the FBI is in no present position to explain all of this to the American people.
But, does anyone, even Nunes, believe that Judgment Day will never come?
Christopher Steele’s suspicion that Carter Page was indiscreetly and treacherously using his links to his favorite Russians to advance the interests of the Trump campaign may or may not prove true.
But that those suspicions were worth looking into, was validated within weeks of Steele’s presentation to the FBI.
That’s when Alexander Downer, a highly respected former Australian Foreign Minister told the Feds that another Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, had indiscreetly told him of his contacts with unnamed Russians who were offering help in getting Trump to the White House. At least some of Papadopoulos’ contacts had long been in US intelligence files as suspected tools of the Kremlin.
Were there links between Page and Papadopoulos? Were there links connecting their sources? Was there among all of them, Russian sources and American Trumpsters, a common focus, to foist the yellow-haired demon on the American people? Would this amount to a criminal conspiracy?
Even Devin Nunes might find it hard to deny that finding the answers to those questions was the very job the FBI was created for. Unless, of course, he doesn’t want to know.
We’ll know a lot of the answers about Page and Papadopoulos, and maybe about Steele, Simpson and the FBI, when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller files his report.
That’s when we should learn at least some tentative answers to 3 questions, I’m dying to hear: two to be asked by Mueller’s investigators, one already implicitly asked by ousted White House advisor Steve Bannon. All of them are for Donald Trump, Jr.
1. Given the acknowledged purpose of that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, did you ask Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, “So, whatcha got on Hillary Clinton?”
2. What did she reply?
3. And Bannon’s question: Why didn’t you report this obvious Russian interest in covertly influencing our Presidential election to the FBI?
And then, there’s the impending question for Daddy: When you, Mr. President, helped concoct the misleading description of that meeting, meant to fool the American people, what were you trying to hide? I expect Mueller to know and publish the answer.
We may never get all these answers, but Mueller’s recitation of the questions should be enough to bury Nunes and his very-short-term PR stunt for all time, and send Trump to resignation or impeachment.