OPED: John Fund: Will Media Ignore FBI
Coverup Of Agents Actively Conspiring Against President Trump In Russia
We may be about to learn if the
mainstream media can walk and cover two important but related stories at
the same time.
For over a year
the media have breathlessly followed every turn in the probes of
Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, along
with any possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
But now a new story is about to bust open, involving Rep. Devin Nunes,
R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes sent a
letter Thursday to the Justice Department demanding compliance by
Wednesday with the subpoenas his committee issued for information on how
the department and its FBI subsidiary have handled the Russia probe.
If the Justice Department stonewalls, the House could launch contempt
proceedings or even vote to declassify and release some of the
Nunes didn’t mince words in his letter. Noting the four months of
stonewalling he’s gotten, he concluded that “at this point it seems the
DOJ (Justice Department) and FBI need to be investigating themselves.”
Nunes documented a series of evasive maneuvers by the Justice
Department. As a result of these maneuvers, documents and witnesses
subpoenaed by his committee last August have still not been produced.
Most relate to the dossier of unverified alleged connections – some
financial and some salacious – between Donald Trump and Russia, compiled
by former British spy Christopher Steele.
The dossier was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the
Hillary Clinton campaign. But it attracted the attention of the FBI,
which dispatched three agents to interview Steele in Rome. The FBI even
planned a few weeks before the 2016 election to pay Steele to continue
Nunes wants to know if the FBI went further and caused the Steele
dossier to be used as a justification for warrants to engage in the
surveillance of Trump campaign figures before the election. The
congressman’s letter raises the intriguing question: are there two forms
of possible collusion from the 2016 campaign that need to investigated?
One topic of investigation could be possible contacts between Team Trump
and Russia. The other topic could be possible collusion between
intelligence officials and purveyors of partisan political dirt to
launch surveillance against U.S. citizens and taint Trump before voters
went to the polls.
Is the media capable of covering both stories? While Special Counsel
Robert Mueller’s probe grinds on, shouldn’t we also know if Nunes is
right that “DOJ/FBI’s intransigence ... is part of a broader pattern of
In other words, is there a cover-up going on?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who bitterly opposed Trump in the 2016
presidential primaries and has often been harshly critical of him as
president, went so far to tell Fox News on Friday that a special counsel
should be appointed to look into the handling of the Steele dossier by
the Justice Department and FBI.
“I've spent some time in the last couple of days, after a lot of
fighting with the Department of Justice, to get the background on the
dossier, and here's what I can tell your viewers,” Graham said. “I'm
very disturbed about what the Department of Justice did with this
dossier, and we need a special counsel to look into that, because that's
not in Mueller's charter.”
Graham continued: “And what I saw, and what I've gathered in the last
couple of days, bothers me a lot, and I'd like somebody outside DOJ to
look into how this dossier was handled and what they did with it…..
After having looked at the history of the dossier, and how it was used
by the Department of Justice, I'm really very concerned, and this cannot
be the new normal.”
Graham’s key point is that he has new information explaining why the
Justice Department has a motive to withhold witnesses and documents from
Nunes. In other words, a cover-up may be going on.
The Justice Department has offered up various excuses for not producing
the documents. At first, department officials claimed the documents
didn’t exist. But Nunes writes: “As it turns out, not only did documents
exist that were directly responsive to the committee’s subpoenas, but
they involved senior DOJ and FBI officials who were swiftly reassigned
when their roles in matters under the committee’s investigation were
brought to light.”
The Justice Department and FBI officials involved included Bruce Ohr. He
has been demoted from his former position of associate deputy attorney
general because he had unauthorized contacts with Fusion GPS, the
Democratic National Committee-paid firm responsible for the Steele
Ohr’s wife worked at Fusion GPS at the time. Other people reassigned
include: James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel during 2016; and Peter
Strzok, the bureau’s No. 2 counterintelligence official.
Strzok was largely responsible for kick-starting the FBI’s original
probe into the Trump campaign. He was later assigned to Mueller’s
special counsel staff. However, he was forced out after it was revealed
that he exchanged 375 virulently anti-Trump text messages with fellow
FBI agent Lisa Page, who was also on Mueller’s team.
Strzok also apparently attended meetings in the office of Deputy
Director Andrew McCabe discussing how to stop Trump. And McCabe’s wife
received $700,000 from close Hillary Clinton allies when running for the
state legislature in Virginia in 2015. Last month it was reported that
McCabe will soon be retiring.
Nunes wants to interview all of these players, along with FBI Attorney
Sally Moyer and FBI Assistant Director for Congressional Affairs Greg
The heat being applied to the Justice Department and the FBI over
possible misuses of the Steele dossier may have prompted some government
officials to launch a diversion. A New York Times story last week
reported that the FBI’s probe of Team Trump during the 2016 campaign,
didn’t originate with the Steele dossier. Instead, the story says the
probe was sparked by loose talk in a London bar from lower-level Trump
campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who has since pleaded guilty to lying
to the FBI.
The Times reports its sources are “current and former officials” inside
the government. But the newspaper never seems to pin them down on why
those officials didn’t interview Papadopoulos until late January of 2017
– nine months after he came to their attention – or if they even
bothered to make him one of their surveillance targets before that.
All of these loose ends and information stonewalling have started to
interest a few media commentators.
Paul Callan, a former prosecutor who is a CNN legal analyst, wrote last
week: “While I rarely agree with much of what the President does or says
regarding legal issues, this time he's got it right. The FBI's
reputation has been severely damaged not by the President's criticism
but by a systematic failure of the bureau's leadership … the bureau's
leadership ranks require a prompt and thorough house cleaning by the new
director, Christopher Wray. The bureau's leadership has forfeited the
reputation of a cherished American institution.”
President Trump has certainly behaved like the proverbial bull in a
china shop by denouncing the Russia probe as a “witch hunt” and lashing
out at former FBI Director James Comey. But obviously, the president’s
tactics haven’t worked.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe
because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, has defended
Mueller and apparently given him a free hand.
President Trump seems to be following the advice of his lawyers not to
unilaterally declassify any Justice Department records. As the Wall
Street Journal noted this week: “The Justice Department ultimately
reports to Mr. Trump. Yet he can’t even get his nominees at the FBI and
Justice to tell Congress what they used as evidence to get a FISA
warrant against Trump campaign officials in 2016. Who is the
unaccountable authority here?”
Former CBS News journalist Sharyl Attkisson has written a trenchant
commentary about how U.S. intelligence agencies have abused the privacy
of Americans. She lists 10 examples of such abuses and concludes that
intelligence and Justice Department officials sometimes “operate not
just in direct defiance of their superiors, but of the Congress, the
courts and the very laws of the land as well.”
You’d think that media obsessed with Russia’s involvement in the 2016
campaign would also be interested in that story. It would be especially
timely, given that the Stephen Spielberg movie “The Post” is now in
theaters retelling how major newspapers bravely overcame the
stonewalling of the Nixon administration in trying to keep the Pentagon
Papers from being published and revealing how the U.S. blundered into
But when it comes to the stonewalling of the Trump Justice Department or
Obama-era intelligence officials, there is only crickets. Chairman Nunes’
letter charging the Justice Department with misbehavior received scant
It’s time the media raised some questions of everyone concerned. If they
choose not to, they may be remembered in history as being complicit in a
cover-up, rather than emulating the brave Watergate-era journalists who
stripped away the cover-ups of that time.
John Fund is a columnist for National Review. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFund.