Monday, July 23, 2018
Civil liberties for white Republicans
My Salon column today is about the Carter Page flap:
Late on Saturday night the government released a trove of FISA warrant documents pertaining to the surveillance of suspected Russian informant/asset and former Trump adviser Carter Page. This release was highly unusual. In fact it was unprecedented. These were unclassified by accident when the president unilaterally declassified the notorious "Nunes Memo" leaving the door open for the Freedom of Information Act request that led to this release of the highly redacted underlying documents to which it referred.
For those following the rightwing "deep state" conspiracy, this was a big moment. Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his henchmen had charged that the FBI used the controversial Steele Dossier as the evidence to get permission to surveil Page during the presidential campaign. Their conspiracy theory is that the dossier is a partisan hit job which the FBI failed to reveal to the FISA judges and, therefore, the entire investigation into campaign interference in the 2016 election is discredited.
These documents do not prove their case. It's hard to judge specifically what evidence was presented because of the heavy redactions but one can still discern that the request was not solely based on the dossier and neither did the FBI hide the fact that it had been paid for by an opposing party. Steele had been an informant in the past and had proven to be reliable but there was plenty of evidence from other sources. Indeed, Page had been on the FBI's radar for several years as a possible Russian asset and when he started buzzing around a presidential campaign it naturally attracted their notice. In the documents, they describe him as possibly “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”
The FBI did not apply for permission to start surveillance until Page had left the campaign. And four successive (Republican appointed) FISA judges signed off on the warrant. There are plenty of reasons for civil libertarians to be suspicious of the FISA process but this really does not seem to be a case which merits it. A man who was long suspected of having been recruited by a foreign government was suddenly named as an adviser to a presidential campaign. The FBI would have been derelict in their duty if they hadn't looked into it.
In a sane political world Congressman Devin Nunes would be facing a world of hurt following the release of these documents and the president would be facing serious political fallout for endorsing Nunes' crude defense. But we do not live in sane world. This is what the president tweeted when the documents were released:
Yes, after having to choke out last week that the Russians did indeed interfere in the election he wound up his twitter tirade by once again saying that is all a big hoax --- and we're right back where we started.
Charlie Savage of the New York Times wrote:
Mr. Trump’s portrayal, which came as the administration is trying to repair the damage from his widely criticized meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, revived the claims put forward in February by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. But in respect after respect, the newly disclosed documents instead corroborated rebuttals by Democrats on the panel who had seen the top-secret materials and accused Republicans of mischaracterizing them to protect the president.
It doesn't seem to matter. Page himself appeared on CNN on Sunday with a crazed smile on his face claiming that the whole thing is "spin" and that none of it was justified. After being repeatedly pressed by Jake Tapper, he admitted that he had once served as an "informal" adviser to the Russia government but that it was unreasonable to say that he was wittingly or unwittingly working for them during the campaign.
It may be that he's innocent of the charges. But after reading the warrant application there is little doubt that the government had ample reason to be suspicious. And after Trump's performance in Helsinki last week, all the suspicions about Russian involvement in the election have risen to new levels, so Page's protestations ring even more hollow.
Republicans in congress demonstrated their spinelessness once again. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) played dumb saying on Face the Nation, “if the dossier is the reason you issued the warrant, it was a bunch of garbage. The dossier has proven to be a bunch of garbage.” Obviously he hadn't read the documents or he would have known that the dossier wasn't the reason they issued the warrant. Clever of him to put it that way though.
Marco Rubio was more rational telling Jake Tapper on CNN, “I don’t think they did anything wrong. I think they went to the court. They got the judges to approve it. They laid out all the information ― and there was a lot of reasons... for why they wanted to look at Carter Page." He hemmed and hawed about the implications but at least he acknowledged reality.
Other Republicans are diving deeper into the rabbit hole. National Review's Andrew McCarthy is all the way in, calling for the investigation of the Republican judges who signed the warrants:
After years of practice, Republicans have developed a knack for inventing scandals and getting the press to buy into them. Normally such scandals only involve Democrats, but Trump's Russia collusion scandal requires a bit of fancy political jiu-jitsu. It remains to be seen whether they can pull it off. The formerly patriotic staunch defenders of law and order have had to turn on a dime and convince their voters and the media that the American justice system has engaged in a corrupt conspiracy against Donald Trump and created this Russia conspiracy theory out of whole cloth.
In this case, right-wingers latched on to an old leftist trope about the "deep state," meaning the intelligence apparatus and other aspects of permanent government, and are running with it as if they were the second coming of Noam Chomsky. They feed the press cherry-picked bits of paranoid nonsense, which are then floated into the ether, supposedly providing a basis for an "investigation." Regardless of the actual outcome, millions of people will be convinced that there is merit to the charge because "if there's so much smoke, there must be fire." Millions more will listen to Trump's lies and believe them.
If these Republicans were acting from a set of constitutional principles, these concerns about the civil liberties of Trump campaign officials might wake them up to the offenses commonly committed against Muslim suspects and the ill-treatment of immigrants as well as other outrages of the American "carceral state " Unfortunately, this is a one-time deal. It seems that wealthy Republicans are the real victims and the only true citizens whom the Bill of Rights was intended to protect.
digby 7/23/2018 09:30:00 AM