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CAN WE JUST CUT THE SHIT FOR A MINUTE? We all know the Russians hacked our elections. And we know people associated with Trump's campaign offered sanctions relief and a freer hand in Ukraine to the Russians. The only real question is, was, and always has been whether this was a quid pro quo. Did Donald Trump promise to change American foreign policy in exchange for Russian help getting him elected? The rest is commentary.

On Friday, the New York Times revealed that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump in May of 2017 after James Comey was fired. The Bureau was apparently so spooked by Trump's bragging to the Russians and Lester Holt that he fired the FBI director to end the Russia investigation -- on top of everything else the agency knew from their own inquiry into Russian hacking and Trumpland's dozens of Russian entanglements -- that they feared the sitting president was a literal actual Russian asset.

The Times seems to have raced to publish because a guy named Jeff Carlson from a Chinese-American site called The Epoch Times, which loves Trump, far-right German anti-immigrant parties, and Falun Gong, somehow got his hands on former FBI lawyer Lisa Page's sealed testimony before the House Judiciary, Oversight, and Government Reform Committees. (Get your Shen Yun tickets today!) Now we're not saying the person who gave Carlson the transcripts has glamour shots of a cow on his desk, but we do note that Carlson is a really big fan of the California Congressman.

Michael Schmidt showed some portion of Page's testimony to Lawfare's Ben Wittes in December, while he reported out the details with Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos. But in-depth stories don't help the GOP, which needs to start shaping that LYIN' FBI FRAMED TRUMP narrative now before House Dems start releasing complete witness transcripts. So with the GOP revving up the selective leak machine, it looks like The Times jumped on the story Friday night and made Evan come back in to work. Thanks, Devin! ALLEGEDLY.

This is all extremely on-brand for 2019, which is already shaping up to be a weird-ass year, BUT WHAT THE HELL DOES IT MEAN? Let's ask Mr. Wittes, since that guy seems to know everything important before it happens.


[A] key point is not to get hung up on whether this is a counterintelligence or a criminal investigation. It is an investigation born out of "the FBI's enduring counterintelligence mission," which operates as a hybrid of the two.

... [A]gainst the backdrop of a hybrid investigation which was "always about Russia," let's now revisit the sharp line between the collusion and obstruction investigations. Everyone's working theory has been that there was this collusion (which is to say counterintelligence) investigation cooking along and then the president tried to interfere with it, first by putting pressure on Comey and then by firing him. The theory goes that this pattern of conduct predicated a separate criminal investigation of obstruction. If you're Bill Barr or Alan Dershowitz or Josh Blackman or the president's lawyers, this seems wrong because—as they have all argued—it would be an investigation predicated on an Article II-sanctioned exercise of presidential authority. If you're one of the myriad commentators who take a broader view of obstruction vis a vis presidential conduct, it seems like a sensible predicate for a criminal probe.

But what if the factual premise is more complicated than that? What if the pattern that jumped out at the FBI officials was that the President of the United States had just sought to interfere in an investigation of Russian intelligence activity and then boasted on television that his action was connected in some way to the Russia probe? What if the FBI knew that by the time he did so, the president had drafted a never-sent dismissal letter to Comey, and this letter also made clear that the Russia probe was on his mind at the time he acted? These are the facts that, the Times reports, led the bureau to open a new file on Trump[.]

You do not disappoint, Sir! Clearly this is exactly how the battle lines will be drawn. Team Reason accepts that this was an investigation into Russian ratfucking that led right up to Donald Trump's doorstep. They agree no one is above the law. So, even if the president is immune from federal prosecution -- and that's a big if -- career law enforcement officials should be able to conduct a normal investigation and turn the evidence over to Congress if they find impeachable offenses.

Team Treason is flogging a version of events where the FBI is a bunch of DEEP STATE Hillary-lovers who set out to take out Trump by ginning up a story about Russia. Fox is pushing that shit hard today. Lunatics like Rudy Giuliani arglebargle to reporters that the president's supposed immunity from prosecution means he's immune from investigation, too, while Trump's real lawyers are working hard behind the scenes to throw a blanket of executive privilege over all the evidence against him. The supine GOP attacks the entire FBI as corrupt, because Blue Lives Matter, unless they threaten to expose your own party's involvement in a criminal conspiracy.

Meanwhile "conservative" "thought leaders" barf out thinkpieces on the unfettered authority of our God-King-President, who can't be prosecuted because HE IS THE LAW. Attorney General nominee Bill Barr's job application memo argues that it's totally fine for Trump to shut down any case he wants, because he's the biggest cop in all the land. Even Jack Goldsmith, the "reasonable conservative" at Lawfare would have us believe that, by definition, the president can't act against American's national security, because the president defines what America's national security interest is.

Never mind that this logic would allow Trump to announce that he was handing Alaska over to the Russians to Make America Great Again, while simultaneously ordering the FBI to shut down any investigation into links between the Kremlin and his own campaign. Every Gipper has a part to play!

TL, DR? Republicans are going to try to draw a tiny circle around James Comey and shout YOU CAN'T INVESTIGATE THE PRESIDENT FOR FIRING THE FBI DIRECTOR! As if Donald Trump hadn't been cozying up to Putin for decades. As if he hadn't been the beneficiary of millions of Russian troll posts on social media while his campaign manager shared internal campaign polling with a Russian spy. As if he hadn't publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's email while his son was privately accepting offers of help from the Russians, seemingly in exchange for sanctions relief. As if the platform of the RNC wasn't mysteriously changed to nix support for arming Ukrainians against Russian invaders. As if Trump's son-in-law wasn't negotiating with sanctioned Russian banks while simultaneously asking for a secret back channel to avoid US government scrutiny during the transition. As if his national security advisor didn't promise to cancel sanctions on Russia after the inauguration and then lie about it to the FBI. As if Trump wasn't dragged kicking and screaming into sanctioning Russia by large majorities of his own party, and didn't set about immediately trying to undo them.

The GOP play is to pretend none of that happened. They're desperate to drive a wedge between the NO OBSTRUCTION investigation and the NO COLLUSION investigation, when those are exactly the same thing. And then they'll try to magic away the Mueller report by pretending that he was only appointed because Trump fired the head of the FBI. They're about a subtle as a heart attack.

The good news is that Democrats control the House of Representatives now. We have subpoena power, and we're not afraid to use it. So they won't get away with it.

AS BLOODY IF!

[New York Times / Lawfare]

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